The ‘90s shooter is experiencing a strange rebirth in the indie scene. Games like Strafe and DOOM have been bringing maze-like level design and non-stop action to a modern audience with mixed results. It only seems natural that a game like Amid Evil should pop up at PAX brandishing fewer polygons than Gordan Freeman’s face. I managed to shoot Simon a few questions about how and why you can shoot literal planets from your murder cane. Yeah. Planets.
What is Amid Evil?
It’s a ’90s inspired – definitely Heretic inspired – first person shooter, all action, dark fantasy game. You got staves, you swords that shoot blades, you can shoot planets at people and suns if you’re in soul mode.
I’m noticing a strong Heretic inspiration. Were you going for old-school maze-like levels and that kind of stuff?
Totally. Maze-like, abstract – If it doesn’t make sense, who cares if it’s fun? That’s basically how we’ve developed it. If it’s cool, put it in! We think about how old games felt when you played them, we didn’t just go back and copy them for now. When you’re a kid, it just feels cool, and we wanted to capture that. When you’re a kid, these games looked really cool, but now they look… Not so great. So, we tried to capture that and keep that aesthetic colours. Bright colours, crazy weapons that don’t make sense but they’re really cool, you’re a crazy being from a million dimensions that’s cleansing the lands. Get all the weapons… There’s gonna be seven realms…
The most ’90s term for levels.
Totally, dude! That’s the whole idea. But we don’t just wanna copy a whole game, so we’re taking homage from Quake and Doom, Heretic’s a big one, but there’s no classes and no stats. It’s just all action.
Strafe came out earlier this year, and this seems to be a slightly different take on the same idea. I take it you weren’t much of a fan?
I think it’s that procedural generation. Like, it’s infinite levels, but none of them are fun? These are all hand crafted levels, and we’ve been making Doom levels all our lives. We still remember how old games and old levels were made. We wanted to keep it going, and we didn’t just want to have the same rooms in a different order. It takes a lot longer, but we can craft every single encounter and make it look as cool as you like.
How are you making a 90s game for a modern audience?
First of all, the AI. They’ll chase you anywhere, they’ll jump off platforms – Oh, like right now! [Simon and I watch as the guy playing gets a lovely surprise from above] They won’t just stand there. We’re not going full old-school either. We’re not making a maze with two keys in it and you gotta go find them and spend 50 minutes figuring out where you are. But we’re also not hand-holding. There’s no markers or arrows. The levels have multiple pathways but it’s not a maze with dead ends. It’s a bit more directed. Like, Quake 1 had four episodes. We’ve got two episodes then a choice of three. So, it still teaches you the game, but it opens up later so you can go wherever you want.
We also have the soul mode, because without that, it would have been a straightforward, boring game. Back in the 90s, because it was new, 7 weapons was enough, but we need something new. So, the soul mode triggers over and over giving you more powerful guns for a short time before returning to normal. It keeps the gameplay a bit more varied, and it’s what people expect nowadays. If you just released a literal Doom copy, it’d feel too old. Enemy variety too, instead of just three.
I’m seeing these enemies, and your 3D modeller must just be having a great time.
Well, that’s me! If you’re going to make your own game with two people, make it as simple as you can. Three polygons for a head? Fine, who cares, that’s what it looked like back then, but they still react to shading, it’s got PBR rendering and stuff.
So, what are you making this in?
Unreal Engine 4, which is amazing. We couldn’t have done it without Blueprint, that was a game changer. It’s like a visual programming language like a flowchart, so you connect nodes up instead of typing it out. The iteration times are so quick, you can just try it out in the engine, it’s just amazing. Without that, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we want to do.
What’s the development process been like with hand crafted levels and a lot of testing with two people?
We kept it really simple. We didn’t let feature creep happen. There’s seven weapons, you’re just killing everything, there’s some story and lore in there, but we just kept it as simple as possible. We both knew what we wanted was a game with levels you go through, kill the bosses, finish it off. Apart from that, we didn’t want to go too far. When we came up with a new idea, we asked, “can we do this in a day?” and put it in.
Well, from previous experience, it’s easy to sit there and go, “Oh, let’s put this in, that’ll be cool! That’s cool too!” But then you have to think have to give it graphics and sounds, and it all adds up. So, we kept that under wraps and stayed disciplined about it.
You’re focusing on doing one thing really well?
Exactly. Avoiding an all right game with a bunch of things, keeping it really tight. Also testing a lot as we go, because Unreal lets you do that. You change something, press play and you’re in the game trying it out. Thanks to New Blood, we’ve got a bunch of testers who’ve been with us for a while now.
I imagine testing would be fairly easy with a game this simple.
Yeah, and not much has gone wrong because it’s so simple. The worst thing has been saving because there’s been so much to sort out. Honestly, that’s been the most difficult part, there’s just so much to take care of. Another thing is that we’ve been working with Unreal for years and years, so we’ve got a lot of experience in it. It’s free, it looks amazing, and we just know how to use it.
Any other inspirations apart from 90s shooters?
I was playing a lot of Dark Souls when I started making levels, so that was a big inspiration for the medieval stuff. Like, we didn’t want to make another 90s shooter, The fact it’s not just guns, it’s mana and maces and swords and stuff. It’s that stuff from Hexen and Heretic that we wanted to keep.
What is platform/release time frame you’re aiming for, and how can we support the game?
On Steam early next year, but the page is up right now!
Here are some other places where you can show your support for Amid Evil: