Below is designed to be a difficult game and deals with concepts such as permanent death and brutal combat. Revealed at E3 2013, Below takes place in a mysterious world in which a tiny warrior explores its depths. Featuring randomly generated environments, Below takes a creative approach to rogue-like gameplay. GamingBolt caught up with Nathan Vella, who is the co-founder of Capybara Games to talk all about this exciting upcoming indie title for the Xbox One. Check out his response below.
Ravi Sinha: When it premiered for the first time at E3 2013, how did it feel to see a top-down rogue-like game featured among titles like Dead Rising 3, Sunset Overdrive and Forza 5, and especially to find out that it stood among them?
Nathan Vella: We knew Below would be quite different compared to a lot of the other games that would be on stage, but that’s how we like it. That’s what videogames are these days – some feel quite familiar, some very unfamiliar. It was good to see that represented on the E3 stage last year, and to see that trend continue into 2014.
We really believed Below deserved some spotlight, the folks at Microsoft agreed, and we were very proud to see it revealed in such a major way. It’s now been over a year since the reveal, and looking back I am still very pleased we got a chance to do it.
"We really believed Below deserved some spotlight, the folks at Microsoft agreed, and we were very proud to see it revealed in such a major way."
Ravi Sinha: Where did the idea for Below come from and how what was the process of refining it to become the game we see today?
Nathan Vella: Our creative director, Kris Piotrowski, pitched the concept for Below many years ago. It was probably 2009 when we first started talking about it, and eventually prototyping it with a tiny team to see if we could make something cool out of his initial concept. After about a year of bouncing the idea around, we had something we really believed in, but official production didn’t start until a while later.
The process that brought us to what people are seeing now has been quite challenging – design-wise, visually, technically. The game is by far the biggest we’ve made, and it required the most investment of time on all fronts. But we believed in the idea of creating a game about exploration, inspired by roguelikes, featuring a tiny character trying to survive procedurally generated single-screen dungeons. We never let go of those core concepts, and we iterated and iterated until they worked. I am really proud of the team for fighting through the challenges and not giving up on the goals, cause I think we’ve got something pretty special now.
Ravi Sinha: Below features brutal combat, randomly generated environments and permanent death. How does these aspects tie into the overall story and theme for the game? Considering that exploration is the key goal, isn’t a high difficulty detrimental to that?
Nathan Vella: We believe that exploration isn’t as rewarding or as enjoyable if you’re told how to do it or where to go. We believe that challenge is what emphasizes the feeling of real exploration, and the difficulty provides a concrete reason to think about how you’re doing it. Simple games or games with tons of hints have their place, and many of them are great fun. But for a game like Below, we think that challenge and exploration are intrinsically linked, and that’s what drives us when we play our own game.
"We believe that exploration isn’t as rewarding or as enjoyable if you’re told how to do it or where to go. We believe that challenge is what emphasizes the feeling of real exploration, and the difficulty provides a concrete reason to think about how you’re doing it."
Ravi Sinha: What can you tell us about the combat? Does the scale – in which the player character is radically smaller compared to the environment – play into it?
Nathan Vella: The combat is brutal, but it is fair. You are weak, but you are very nimble. You are always one hit from death, but you have the tools (and, over time, the skill) to never get hit. This balance is key to Below’s combat, and I feel like we’ve done a good job of striking it.
On the subject of the players’ scale, it is a constant reminder that you better not make a mistake, as almost everything is going to be larger than you and likely quite dangerous!It’s also about crafting an aesthetic that enforces the tone and atmosphere in the game. We’re really trying to balance gameplay and aesthetics, without over-emphasizing either.
Ravi Sinha: How long will Below be in play-length on the first run-through? Having rogue-like elements and randomly generated environments, how many hours of play time could a player potentially get out of the experience?
Nathan Vella: We’re not focused on duration. We just want players to dig into the game, and replay it often. Whether a single play through is 5 hours or 15 hours, our goal doesn’t change. That being said, as it stands, the game definitely isn’t over quick!
Ravi Sinha: Capybara Games has had titles published by Microsoft, with Super TIME Force and now Below. How did your association with the studio begin and how that factored into Below’s development for the Xbox One?
Nathan Vella: Below is being published by Capy for PC and Xbox One, and Super Time Force was published by Capy on Xbox One. So far Microsoft has only published Super Time Force on Xbox 360, where they were great partners. We love the ID@Xbox program, and Sony’s 3rd Party program, and all the other platform programs thatare tasked with getting everything out of the way of self-publishing.
" I believe the concept of a “superior” indie platform is not important. The best case for developers is that all platforms do a great job selling downloadable games, and developers (indie or not) have opportunities to put different, interesting games out on console."
Ravi Sinha: Below is a timed exclusive for the Xbox One. When can we expect it to arrive on the PC or Xbox 360 and perhaps on PS4?
Nathan Vella: Below, as mentioned above, is being published by Capy. It’s not even a timed exclusive. The game will be arriving on PC and Xbox One. It definitely won’t be coming to previous generation consoles like PS3 or Xbox 360.
Ravi Sinha: From a development perspective what are your thoughts on the Xbox One’s 8GB RAM and PC like architecture?
Nathan Vella: Not specific to the Xbox One, but the fact that new consoles have moved more towards PC-style architecture means that developers have an easier, cheaper, more enjoyable time bringing their games to different platforms. That’s a big win for devs everywhere.
Ravi Sinha: What are your thoughts on the PlayStation 4 as a platform and on Sony’s indie policy? Given all the controversies that the Xbox’s indie policies have had and reforms taking place with ID@Xbox, which console strikes you as the superior indie gaming device?
Nathan Vella: I believe the concept of a “superior” indie platform is not important. The best case for developers is that all platforms do a great job selling downloadable games, and developers (indie or not) have opportunities to put different, interesting games out on console. Past that, it’s the best case that all platforms support and promote these games – give them space on the dashboard, include them in promotions, showcase them as a reason to own a console alongside the $50 million dollar showpieces.
Ravi Sinha: Is there anything else you want to tell us about Below?
Nathan Vella: Below is a procedurally generated terrarium full of life, mystery and death. It’s a game where players won’t see tips and arrows and tutorials – instead, they’ll see a game that is about them exploring every element for themselves. And while they’re exploring, they’ll get to look at a game with an aesthetic vision very different from any other, and listen to a soundtrack by #Sworcery& Indie Game the Movie composer Jim Guthrie.