With the pre-alpha now in the hands of my brave testers, the time has arrived for the first in-depth look at ‘As you wake’, and a look at the core aspects of the game.
‘As you wake’ is a 2D science fiction RPG modelled after the classic PC video game, Rogue. With a thick horror atmosphere, ‘As you wake’ is an intense and unforgiving rogue-like different from any you’ve played before.
Unlike most rogue-likes, ‘As you wake’ does not employ high-fantasy conventions, instead focusing on an industrial sci-fi setting. Inspired by the James Cameron film ‘Aliens’ and the John Carpenter film ‘The Thing’, ‘As you wake’ is grounded in a world that feels unique, practical and lived in.
The game takes place in the far future, aboard a vast deep space exploration vessel. The game begins with the player regaining consciousness after an emergency has broken out across the ship. You quickly discover that an alien life-form has invaded the starship, and it has eradicated the ship’s personnel. You are the only surviving crew member.
The alien life-form is unlike anything ever encountered, capable of optiolution – forcing deliberate and specific genetic mutations to occur in its offspring. This unique ability allows the alien to leap-frog around the evolutionary web. Instead of requiring thousands of generations to adapt and survive, it only needs one, making it an incredibly deadly adversary.
‘As you wake’ places a strong emphasis on atmosphere. The realtime lighting, unique musical soundscape, exploratory story and relentless A.I., all work together to create palpable feelings of dread and unease that form the heart of the experience.
In addition to the unique setting, enemies, and atmosphere, the game also forgoes the usual 8bit and 16bit styling of most rogue-likes, and focuses on the 32bit sprite work of the original Playstation era. This creates a more visually interesting and diverse world, while still retaining the personality that only 2D sprites can provide.
Instead of mixing genres, ‘As you wake’ is a pure rogue-like with all of the expected features, updated with a modern interface and presentation, with a few new ideas thrown into the mix, and a couple of major alterations. The first major alteration is removing the mandatory character specialisation present in most RPG character systems.
The first step towards this is also the first major addition to the game: the Evolution system. In keeping with the concept of optiolution, the enemies in ‘As you wake’ evolve and adapt to the player over the course of the game. In practice, this ensures that not only are the levels that players explore going to be unique, but the enemies they face will change as well.
The Evolution system works by populating a level with enemies specifically picked to work together and counter a given player’s play-style. The system observes the player as they make their way through the game, and takes note of their weapons, skills, attributes, abilities and tactics. When generating a new level, the system uses this information to select the most appropriate enemies from a hand created roster to defeat the player.
For example, if the player is favouring melee weapons and using a high armour skill, to simply brute force their way through, the system will react accordingly. The system might populate the enemy roster with a weak fast enemy with a lot of health, to box the player in, a weak ranged enemy with a strong attack, to damage from afar, and an explosive enemy, that damages anything in proximity when it dies. The player will have to swap weapons and change tactics in order to survive.
This system encourages player’s to keep their options open, and explore all avenues of gameplay. In combination with the random nature of the loot system, the Evolution system ensures that play-style changes occur naturally. A player might find a shotgun early on, which grants them a sizeable advantage – but also changes the evolutionary track of the enemies, which in turn feeds back to the player, creating new gameplay experiences organically.
The second major alteration is a strong focus on artificial intelligence to create the difficulty of the game. In most rogue-likes, enemies do little more than charge towards the player, attacking and using their special abilities, before eventually dying. The difficulty there simply stems from larger numbers of tougher enemies with stronger attacks. In ‘As you wake’, the enemies are capable of so much more.
As the game progresses, the enemies increase in intelligence, and as their intelligence increases, they gain access to new and surprising tricks. They begin only able to see – once the player is spotted, they simply charge in. However, they quickly gain new abilities. If the player locks a door to block passage, for example, the enemies are able to break it down. If the player tries to force them into a bottleneck, a few enemies might manoeuvre around the player and attack from behind – trapping the player.
Things get nastier as the enemies continue to evolve. For example, they gain the ability to hear – and can hear the player opening and closing doors, or scavenging in a cupboard for loot. They’re eventually even able to hear the player’s footsteps, though the player can take off their shoes to quieten their steps. The ability to hear is accompanied by new evolutions – such as blind enemies that will alert all nearby enemies to the player’s location once heard.
As the game continues, the enemies become much more advanced. Once evolved enough, they gain the ability to smell the player, and are able to follow their scent trail around the level. They also gain the intelligence to analyse a fight – and know when to run away. They can form groups, and attack the player when they know they can win. They can create ambushes, and lure the player into traps. Eventually, they’re even able to hack into the ships computer network, and take control of the security systems. Chasing an enemy into a room, only to find yourself locked inside with a hacked sentry turret is a nasty surprise.
Although the artificial intelligence will provide an immense challenge, the player has many different avenues through which to fight back.
The first is the skill and attribute systems. These are interconnected, wherein different attributes improve different skills. While this is not unique, it is combined with the loot system, wherein nearly all armour and weapons provide substantial skill improvement for the player. This enables them to change tactics quickly by changing their equipment, while still allowing them to improve their character in key ways.
‘As you wake’ also features two separate crafting systems, designed for different purposes. The first is the Improvisation system, which focuses on combining everyday objects into new, helpful items. Taping a flashlight to your pistol to help you see, for example. It can also provide slightly more complicated items. Wrapping gunpowder in a sheet of office paper with a piece of string for a fuse, for example, provides a weak explosive. Using sticky tape to wrap nails around it then provides a basic nail bomb. Placing this inside a length of metal tube and adding chemicals to increase the yield crafts a basic anti-personnel grenade, and so forth. The Improvisation system focuses on crafting basic items on the go to help you right when you need it.
The second crafting system is the Manufacture system. This is designed around using machinery to create more advanced items. For example, crafting an extended clip for your pistol, adding a second barrel to your shotgun, or even creating armour plates from scrap metal and then manufacturing basic combat armour. Unlike Improvisation, which can be completed anywhere, Manufacturing can only be completed at a Work Bench, and there might not be one in every level. Manufacturing rewards players for their foresight and planning, and patience.
In addition to the skill, attribute, item and crafting systems, ‘As you wake’ also features biological modifications for the player, which grant them special abilities to empower them.
When the player discovers a biomod canister, they are able to select one of two abilities that it holds. Once selected and installed, a biomod cannot be uninstalled or overridden – making these choices incredibly important. Each ability is designed to be unique, and create new gameplay options for the player. For example, the Shockwave ability damages all enemies and objects in the player’s vicinity, granting them more effective crowd control. The Teleport ability allows the player to instantly shift to nearby tiles, making them difficult to catch. The Force Field ability allows the player to block numerous tiles, creating roadblocks for enemies.
The combination of all of these systems in unison with the enemies’ evolution and A.I., results in an incredibly diverse gameplay experience across dozens of play-throughs.
One of the core pillars of ‘As you wake’ is its dark and tense atmosphere. This is achieved and maintained for the player in several ways.
Set aboard the deep space exploration vessel U.N.A. Yersinia, each level of the game takes place on a single deck of the ship. Each deck is designed to fulfil a single purpose – such as storage, logistics, fire-station, engineering, etc. Most directly inspired by Syd Mead’s design work on James Cameron’s film ‘Aliens’, the levels for ‘As you wake’ are highly industrialised; the Yersinia was built for practicality, not comfort.
Working in conjunction with a custom procedural level generation system, one specifically created to produce levels that feel contextualised and plausible, the levels in ‘As you wake’ are highly grounded in a world that feels used and lived in. This focus helps immerse the player in the depths of the Yersinia.
In addition to the industrialised design of the levels, ‘As you wake’ features a 2D real-time lighting system, complete with real-time shadows projected from 2D geometry. This creates a dark and nightmarish world for the player to explore, and helps keep tension high as enemies pop-up out from the suffocating darkness.
‘As you wake’ also features a rich musical soundscape unique amongst the genre. Instead of focusing on catchy melodies or sombre tunes, ‘As you wake’ avoids expectations and employs a collection of experimental electronic soundscapes that create a wholly unique personality. Like the levels and the enemies of the game, player’s will never know quite what to expect.
Lastly, thanks to the alien life-forms’ optiolution, ‘As you wake’ features a vast array of creatures for the player to encounter. Inspired by the inventive and horrific creature designs of John Carpenter’s film ‘The Thing’, the enemies are as terrifying as they are relentless. The game begins with the standard infected human Zombies players are used to, and progresses to ever-more inventive designs, keeping the player guessing. Crawling spider-legged human heads, exploding walking pustules, and self-replicating millipede-like horrors are just some of the nightmares cooked up to keep players afraid of the dark.
The final piece of the puzzle is a focus on fair challenge and natural difficulty. Rogue-like staples like permanent death are certainly included, however ‘As you wake’ also changes focus from typical rogue-likes in a few key aspects. Most rogue-likes are designed to provide challenge and punishment by simply providing tougher enemies. As I mentioned above, the enemies in ‘As you wake’ adapt to the player and become smarter as the game progresses. This provides a natural difficulty increase without relying on bigger health bars. This in turn challenges the player to think and learn, instead of simply finding bigger guns, and rewards them accordingly.
The game’s systems are also designed to provide a fair challenge, instead of the random success and failure that occurs in some rogue-likes. This sometimes even means reigning systems in, or effecting large changes. In the initial versions of the A.I., for example, the enemies were able to equip weapons and armour, just like the player. Unfortunately, this lead to impossible no-win scenarios, where rooms of shotgun-wielding enemies could kill the player as soon as they opened the door. This feature was removed, to ensure that the game is as fair as possible at all times.
While punishing in its difficultly, players will learn from their failures, and better utilise skills, abilities and their environment with each death.
‘As you wake’ is the rogue-like I always hoped someone else would make. A sci-fi rogue-like with a dense horror atmosphere, focused on tactics, foresight and planning, and populated with adaptive and ever-changing enemies. Having to make it myself ensures that I can bring the passion and dedication necessary to make the game as good as it deserves to be.
With the pre-alpha out in the world, its time to turn my attention to the future of ‘As you wake’. In order to take the game from alpha to completion, I’ll be investigating avenues such as crowd-funding the game through Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. There’s a long and exciting road ahead, so please follow along on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to my email list, to get the latest news and updates as I continue development on ‘As you wake’.