Terrible Posture Games
The disaster of 38 Studios scarred a designer and birthed the Quake-roguelike, Tower of Guns
It can be tragic when developers fail, but these days it comes with a silver lining. Those people who lose their jobs very often go on to form new companies, making the next wave of unique indie games.
When I first started chatting with Joe Mirabello, the creator of FPS “roguelike-ish” Tower of Guns, at the IndieCade booth at E3, I didn't realize that he was one of the many developers who lost their jobs during the implosion of Kingdoms of Amalur developer 38 Studios. But even more tragic than unemployment, according to Mirabello, was the five years of his life's work that will never see the light of day.
“It was a great project and a great team, and it was a great place to work,” said Mirabello. “It just got caught up in some nasty politics. It was a shame to see your five years of work, that you knew was good work…never be seen. It's a hard feeling.”
He was working on the Kingdoms of Amalur MMO, Project Copernicus. From what we've seen of the game it was beautiful, but so much of it will never be experienced by the public, and that's something he wanted to fix with his next project.
The Binding of Quake
Mirabello described Tower of Guns to me as a mixture of roguelikes such as FTL or The Binding of Isaac and first-person shooters like Quake. I had only been talking with him for a few minutes, but as soon as he said “roguelike…Quake” I was sold.
Tower of Guns is a first-person shooter that takes place in a randomized dungeon. The gameplay is very much like an old-school FPS. When the game begins, I'm double-jumping and circle-strafing through randomly assembled levels while razor blades and giant spikes are launched at my face. It felt immediately like I was playing Rogue Legacy through a first-person perspective.
“It's this really old-school, really fast first-person shooter experience,” he said. “Lots of circle-strafing, a lot of rocket jumping and moving very very fast. You can get double jumps, triple jumps…actually I don't limit it, you could get hundreds of double jumps.”
One of the reasons why Mirabello won't say that the game is a true roguelike is that the levels aren't truly procedurally generated. He called them “randomly composited.” The game doesn't create the game's levels and encounters randomly everytime, rather they are patched together from a pool of possibilities.
If there are 30 potential rooms, six of them could be stitched together to form each level. A similar process pieces together the encounters that you'll face within them and the power-ups that result.
This isn't just an old-school FPS playground, though. The structure of the game, and much of Mirabello's philosophy around its design was informed by the 38 Studios disaster.
“It's a single-sitting experience,” he said. “If you're going to beat Tower of Guns it's only going to take an hour, but it might take you 30-40 tries to beat it. So to keep it fun there's a lot of randomized elements.”
Why is it just a single-player experience that can be beaten in an hour?
“I had been working on a very large scale MMO, but the company disastrously went out of business. Very publicly. So I decided that after working on a game with hundreds of people made for thousands of people, I wanted to work on a single-player game made by just one person.”
“Everything in the game is being designed so that it can be handled by one person,” he continued. “I can't get too caught up on the art or the programming, I have to stay focused on the big picture.”
Beyond the design of the game, Mirabello also wants to ensure he never again has to live with a huge part of his life's work being scuttled.
“I was working on a super secretive MMO,” he said. “And so I wanted to work on something completely open so I'm blogging every day on what I worked on.”
Tower of Guns was immediately fun. You can pick up the game and start enjoying yourself almost instantly. There's no lengthy narrative cutscene to sit through or any tutorial. You sit down, you know how to play and you start dodging the many things that want to kill you.
There's a purity of design at work that's rare in the first-person shooter genre today. It's both sad and exciting to think that it took the dissolution of a gigantic development house for it to become a reality.
Tower of Guns is currently in an interative development phase, and Mirabello says the game is about 25% complete. Those who pre-order the game get access to early builds, including the one we played at E3. It can be pre-ordered for PC for $5, and is currently seeking votes on Steam Greenlight.