Unconventional shoot ’em ups, whether they’re of overhead perspective variety or the twin-stick kind like Vertex Pop’s We Are Doomed, are nothing inherently new to the industry. That being said, We Are Doomed is unconventional even by the standards of typical video game presentation. Polygonal backgrounds clash with heavy swathes of purple and pink while the music seemingly reacts to the colours of its own volition. We Are Doomed is weird and it’s currently available for Xbox One, PS4 and PC via Steam.
GamingBolt had the chance to speak to Vertex Pop founder Mobeen Fikree on the development of We Are Doomed including the decision to go multi-platform, the game’s core mechanics and the rewards offered by its gameplay and the trials of being a one-man indie studio.
"Software development is always about making the right trade-offs for your project. A lot of AAA games benefit from going 30fps to push the limits on visual fidelity. Not just in polygon counts and animation, but more accurately simulating light, materials, etc."
Rashid K. Sayed: Before we begin this interview, can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Mobeen Fikree: I’m the founder of Vertex Pop, a one-man studio based in Toronto, Canada. I’m into making games with interesting mechanics, responsive controls and bold visual design.
Rashid K. Sayed: We Are Doomed is being released on PS4 and Xbox One. With most indie developers opting to launch their game exclusively on the PS4, what was the decision behind going multiplatform?
Mobeen Fikree: I want to reach the largest audience possible. Each platform adds a certain amount of effort, so I try to pick the major ones. Both PS4 and XB1 are selling remarkably well, so targeting both made sense to me. I also really enjoyed working with the people at Microsoft and Sony. Good people who are easy to work with go a long way.
Rashid K. Sayed: Microsoft has this parity clause on for indie games wherein they need to launch first on the Xbox One or at least along with other versions. What is your take on this policy?
Mobeen Fikree: I can’t comment on specific contractual clauses or policies. Personally though, I think reaching the largest audience means releasing on both platforms simultaneously. I really want to avoid the scenario where somebody reads about We Are Doomed, wants to buy it, but can’t because it isn’t on their platform of choice. This is my personal decision though. In general, leaving these kind of decisions in the developer’s hands is the way to go.
Rashid K. Sayed: We Are Doomed runs at 1080p and 60fps on the PS4. Do you think that the significance of 1080p and 60fps is being overplayed?
Mobeen Fikree: Software development is always about making the right trade-offs for your project. A lot of AAA games benefit from going 30fps to push the limits on visual fidelity. Not just in polygon counts and animation, but more accurately simulating light, materials, etc. We Are Doomed is a twitch action game with a sharp vector art aesthetic. So for me, 60fps and 1080p were absolutely essential. I think people like to latch on to “objective” technical figures, but honestly, 60fps/1080p is just the starting point.
There’s a host of subtle features that matter so much more. I spent an inordinate amount of time implementing and iterating on the camera behaviour, screen shake effects, visual feedback systems, animation tweaking, player movement, and so much more. These are all very technical, but subjective features. They can’t be measured, but can make or break a game just as easily.
"All the art is procedurally generated, so instead of drawing the art in Photoshop, it is generated using algorithms in code. In fact, every vertex on the screen is recalculated on every frame. It's pretty intense!"
Rashid K. Sayed: Having said that, which console did you found easier to achieve 1080p and 60fps on? PS4 or X1?
Mobeen Fikree: They are both absurdly powerful systems, so achieving 60fps/1080p was pretty straight forward. Polishing up all the systems and effects took far more time, and improved the game by a considerable margin.
Rashid K. Sayed: How is development on the PS Vita shaping?
Mobeen Fikree: As a one man team, how difficult is it to port from PS4 to Vita? I’ve only just started working on the Vita. So far, it’s been a fun system to work with. The API is low-level but fairly straight forward, and the hardware is pretty powerful. The difficulty is largely in scheduling all the work. I suspect I’ll have a little optimization work ahead of me (due to the heavy amount of blending used in the game), but I’ve made good progress in the little time I’ve spent on it so far.
Rashid K. Sayed: As someone who is working on both the PS4 and Xbox One, what do you make out of the differences between the two consoles?
Mobeen Fikree: They both have a very familiar PC-like architecture, and their performance is more than good enough for my needs.
Rashid K. Sayed: With modern indie games pushing visual barriers, We Are Doomed follows a more simple approach. What was the reason behind this decision?
Mobeen Fikree: I’m more interested in creating a game that looks unique and interesting. It’s fascinating to explore as an artist, and I take a certain pride in knowing that a screenshot of We Are Doomed looks like no other game out there. That said, the rendering in We Are Doomed is actually quite sophisticated, just not in a conventional way. All the art is procedurally generated, so instead of drawing the art in Photoshop, it is generated using algorithms in code. In fact, every vertex on the screen is recalculated on every frame. It’s pretty intense! This approach to art is responsible for the unique look of We Are Doomed, and also gives it a smoothly animated, constantly-in-motion feel.
Rashid K. Sayed: Can you explain us in great detail the gameplay mechanics of We Are Doomed and how are you planning to make it rewarding for the player?
Mobeen Fikree: We Are Doomed is a twin-stick shooter, but instead of bullets, the player is armed with a powerful but close-range laserbeam weapon. So if you want progress you need to dive right into the action. You also have a SUPERBEAM, which you charge by collecting Trinkets around the level. The SUPERBEAM is a brief triumph: it goes all the way across the screen zapping everything it touches in short order.
"I feel like keeping the team small allows me to take bigger risks, and make weirder games. A bigger team would have a bigger need for success. I'm not sure what the right balance is though."
You’ll want to make the most of it, but also remember to keep your cool since you’re still vulnerable when using it. The entire game is built on a risk/reward mentality. Every mechanic is designed to make throwing yourself into danger pay off. It makes for a fast-paced game of constantly evaluating your options while maintaining composure.
Rashid K. Sayed: How difficult is it being a solo indie developer and what kind of challenges does it bring compared to working in a team of several members?
Mobeen Fikree: It’s tough. In terms of production, I’ve definitely had to pick my battles wisely, but conversely, it has given me a real sense of focus. I don’t think We Are Doomed would have such a cohesive style if a bigger team worked on it. The other issue is that running a business means there’s a lot of admin and paperwork to do. So every so often I need to drag myself away from code and art, and just fill out documents for a day or two.
Rashid K. Sayed: What can you tell us about the profit margins for solo indie developer?
Mobeen Fikree: I’m not sure yet, but I’ll figure it out over the next couple of months. I feel like keeping the team small allows me to take bigger risks, and make weirder games. A bigger team would have a bigger need for success. I’m not sure what the right balance is though.
Rashid K. Sayed: Is there anything else you want to tell us about the game before we let you go?
Mobeen Fikree: Just that it’s coming out on PS4 and Xbox One in April. You can read more about We Are Doomed on the official website. I’d love to get We Are Doomed on Steam as well, so please vote for it on Greenlight (note: We Are Doomed is already available commercially). Thanks for your time!