Screencheating, what was once a totally reviled no-no for couch multiplayer games has now become the core mechanic for one of the better games going at PAXAus this year. Up to 4 players can enter an arena with the catch being that no one can see you but you. Players locate each other by checking their opponents’ screens for tell-tale visual clues about where they are and then fire their weapon mercilessly in that direction. Sometimes you hit something. I always hit something. After I was done thrashing the developers at their own game, Nick and I spoke to Nicholas McDonell of Samurai Punk about what it was like to develop a game in which you can’t even see yourself.
Where did you guys get the idea for Screen Cheat?
Nicholas: We had the idea from Global Game Jam 2014 where the theme was really weird, it was “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.” We decided we wanted to make a split screen co-operative game about sharing information and communicating. But it wasn’t working because split screen games have the problem that everyone screencheats, so it would make it redundant – so we thought it would be cool to just make screencheating a mechanic. We took that and thought back to what we played when we were kids, like Halo and Golden Eye, from there we’ve created this fun, party shooter.
So you’d say you guys really work well and thrive under that sort of pressure and spontaneity?
Nicholas: Yeah, we work really well under pressure and really fast – we just like creating cool things and jams, you might not think this, but they sort of relieve all the stress of development. When you go into a jam, you’re not thinking about your overheads or how much money it needs to make, you’re not thinking about your demographics and who it has to appeal to – you’re just thinking about what it is and that’s really nice, it’s freeing, really.
The level you’re demoing here is very brightly coloured, there are lots of landmarks for people to use – was it difficult creating balanced levels?
Nicholas: Yeah, as a level designer my job is basically to communicate information in space. Every level is colour coded, from then on levels are full designed, structurally, with screen cheating in mind. Every single element is built for screencheating – weapons and the maps. It’s really hard learning how to make maps for it because it’s so different from every other game that I’ve made before. It really is just about communicating space, but it’s so different from what I’m used to.
There’s also so many weapons, are there some weapons which are just better suited for particular levels?
Nicholas: There is some of that, we also just wanted to encourage a good variety of play styles. So there’s eight weapons at the moment and we wanted everyone of them to play totally differently – that was our intention. There result, some are slightly better on some maps than others, but overall the majority of them are pretty good on every map.
How many levels are there, is the game as it is finished?
Nicholas: There’s five maps in the game – we’re just showing this one at the con because it’s a good one for new players to pick up and learn on. We’ve got eight weapons, six game modes, supporting controllers and keyboard and mouse, supporting Linux and Mac. We released on Wednesday last week ( of October) on Steam and GoG.com – it’s totally available for everyone at fifteen dollars, or you can get a four pack and get a copy for free.
You said there were six game modes, what are the others that you’ve got?
Nicholas: We’re demoing deathmatch, but we’ve got King of the Hill – which we call Hill Campers because it’s funny. We’ve got one-shot, which is that everyone has one shot until everyone has fired or until fifteen seconds has expired. There’s Party Mode, nicknamed Pinata because everyone has to get the pinata and get kills with it – you get points for holding it and bonus points for getting kills. There’s murder mystery, which is a mode where everyone starts without a weapon and two cards. The cards say where their target is and what weapon they need to kill them with – so if the card says red, their target is in the red area. If there’s two people in the red area, that’s where it gets interesting. So that’s the mindf*** mode, honestly.
What was the biggest challenge for you guys as indie developers?
Nicholas: The hardest challenge for us is communicating that it’s local and online multiplayer at the same time as pitching the strange concept of a shooter where everyone’s invisible and you have to Screencheat. Also, just getting it out there in general – we’re Australian, right? So getting it overseas is a real challenge. It costs a lot of money to do that so it’s really expensive for us when we want to take it to overseas conventions. It’s been fantastic for us, but it’s a drain on development time and, honestly, our bank accounts – so it’s been hard in that regard for getting te game out there.
What are you guys hoping to get out of PAXAus by demoing the game here?
Nicholas: Well, honestly, we got the showcase so we had the space provided to us – but we’re just getting all this love from the community, our Australian crowds have been amazing. So for us, we’ve just launched and it’s great to get some acknowledgement for our work – also, the press is nice.
Because Screencheat has been a pretty big success, is there any advice you want to give to other indie developers who are trying to reach this same point?
Nicholas: I have two pieces of advice: One – make lots of games, that’s how you get good at making games. Two, take it to every convention you can. Start local and grow from there, do what you can afford and honestly – try to make a lot of friends in the indie scene, because they’re really, really friendly and really helpful.
So now that the game’s completed, have you guys got plans for future projects?
Nicholas: For future games, yes, we’ve got plans, we have some very interesting prototypes being developed right now – but I can’t really talk about them. We’re definitely experimenting with VR because we think that, as a platform, it’s really exciting. But at the moment, I’m keen to keep supporting [Screencheat] for a while longer get it onto some other platforms and then getting back to doing some jamming before moving onto other stuff. We want to jam again, we haven’t jammed since January – we need to jam so badly! It’s just (laughs) – it’s our jam!