Strafe Interview: Procedurally Generating Doom

Pixel Titans co-founder talks about the upcoming retro-esque shooter.

Posted By | On 23rd, Jan. 2017 Under Article, Interviews


Many games have tried to capture the magic that defines id Software’s Doom and Quake series. It’s given rise to some of the better franchises in recent years like Serious Sam and even a rebirth of the franchise with 2016’s DOOM. Pixel Titans’ Strafe is an altogether different but familiar beast. It features the outright violence of classic Doom games but throws in roguelike elements, procedural generation and other interesting twists that you wouldn’t expect.

With Strafe out for PC on March 28th (PS4 gets it in Winter), GamingBolt spoke to Pixel Titans co-founder and director Thom Glunt about development. Will this whet your appetite for first person destruction? Let’s find out.

"I still think focusing on single player, focusing on rogue like spy items, upgrading yourself. Even dominating Doom and loving it, I still feel like we’re very different."

Strafe has had quite the journey from its crowd funding campaign till now. What inspired the desire to pay homage to games like Doom and Quake, especially since the former has had its nostalgia revisited in this year’s Doom?

When we started development in April 2014 – since 2004 there was no new Doom. I don’t think there was any new announcement for a new Quake at that point, Quake Champions. So I had a really deep hunger. At the time – it comes down to a really simple solution: I was playing through Quake again, I was playing through Doom; and when I got to Quake I said, “f**k this is so good.” It was just a matter of, “I wish games still felt like this. “But I remember where everything is at, even though it’s been five or 10 years. I wish that could change. I was also into Spelunky at the time,  and I was digging and spending a lot of time in that.

How come I hadn’t found a really good procedurally generated FPS? So the focus on the things that makes Quake great: The speed, the snappiness, the verticality of level design, like all that stuff. So I pretty much asked a friend if he wanted to start development. We kind of filled an itch that we wanted to play. There was no sense of business at the time we, just thought this was cool and we should pursue it. Doom wasn’t even revealed at that time. Doom I think was revealed in 2015, and it came out 2016. It’s awesome and I was psyched about it. But I still think focusing on single player, focusing on rogue like spy items, upgrading yourself. Even dominating Doom and loving it, I still feel like we’re very different.

How tough was it to nail the proper 32-bit look in Strafe? How did the Unity Engine assist in making this possible?

For us there was a lot of testing to figure out what felt good. When we initially started we were a lot lower res. We have a few rules we stick to internally that we think looks great for models to interact with the have a certain pixel unit. We had to do a lot of testing and feel for that because I really like the low poly, retro aesthetic. As far as Unity is concerned – I come from film. I was a video director – my experience with game development was in modding levels for the original Half-Life, making Doom mods, trying to make multiplayer games for my friends.

I found out that a PA from one of my sets was this amazing programmer, so I said let’s make a game together. Unity was for sure we could figure it out. We know many great games were made with it, it’s kind of user-friendly in the regard that he was a C-sharp programmer not a C++. So we started with that and we were really happy.

"When you start the game you choose between a shotgun, Machine gun, or a rail gun. Then that’s your gun for the game. That’s your gun that you own."

The story is usually not paid much he two in Doom but we are curious – is there something to Strafe’s plot that players won’t expect?

We hope so. Just a general layout of the game is we like the idea that if you want to go into it, turn your mind off, you can just play the game. There are no audio logs, there are no text logs, and it’s not something that you’re going to have to sit through this. When you start the tutorial it’s an FMV tutorial that sets up the world.

It’s like a training video for your character and game, you understand who you are, who you’re playing in the context of what you’re playing in. Now each sound gives you aspect of the story through the enemies we put in through, the art, through the things you interact with. It’s going to be more lore driven like a game that’s really rich in, like, Dark Souls, where you can put it together through the art and not have to be told it constantly.

What kind of weapons can we look forward to in the game? Can players purchase altogether different weapons from vendors or will there be a loot shooter aspect with lots of different steps involved?

So there’s over 20 weapons in the game, but the way were handling is when you start the game you choose between a shotgun, Machine gun, or a rail gun. Then that’s your gun for the game. That’s your gun that you own. Your statistics as you play, trying to make it stronger, giving it a better rate of fire, but you can also give it to these robots in vending machines that look like Zordon on from Tom Hanks’ Big. You had it over to them and they’ll change the firing modes, dumb they could do weird stuff. So the shotgun can become a grenade launcher that shoots a volley of grenades out.

Or like a flat blaster that shoots out, and ricochets off things. So you’re getting for different variants for the secondary and primary for each gun. But also we have these guns is power ups, where if you find a heavy pistol and pick it up it only has 10 shots in it. When I play these old cheaters I would hold onto all of the guns for a boss battle that never came. I have all these guns that were awesome that I never used. So the way we do that is, you can’t keep getting ammo for the big powerful guns. You have to use the weapon in its completion, you can’t reload it, but then use the gun as a weapon itself. For example is: if I pick up the pistol, shoot it I can then throw the pistol like a ninja star in an anime.

So we wanted to make the game really fast, you’ll see a plethora of weapons as you play, you won’t be able to buy any from the shops. The shops are based on the – merchant items are more mobility, offense of, weird things. So you can get turds that will fight for you, you can get double jump boots, shotguns on the heels so you can kill enemies while your double jumping over them. Stuff like that.

"We have about 50 to 60 rooms per zone. Since they’re all made by hand each zone has very drastically different aesthetics and gameplay gimmicks."

What can you tell us about the upgrade system? Is it a way to promote enhanced movement and different ways to kill with the guns or simply the means to increase damage/health?

There are two types: there’s the perks you collect through crates, those are the status. Where is the machine to run to that will actually take your gun, and change its firing mode?

How much variety is there in the procedurally generated levels? Do they constantly changing rooms at a certain rogue – like element to the entire experience?

I hope so. I hope they have a changing experience. The point of the game when we started out to make it was to create a game where you never knew what exactly was going to happen. I didn’t want you to – it should never be a timing memorization. It should never be about understanding the Systems that are involved. We are generating the rooms by hand.

We did a lot of experimenting early on, I wasn’t able to find a way to procedurally generated good shooter levels from code. You could do good voxel-based stuff – the visuals weren’t there. I really liked the verticality; I think having a bunch of walkways, tiers for enemies to fall off of for you to use – rocket jumping is very important. We have about 50 to 60 rooms per zone. Since they’re all made by hand each zone has very drastically different aesthetics and gameplay gimmicks.


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