Colt Canyon developer Jonathan Mannshoven speaks with GamingBolt about the upcoming pixel art wild west shooter.
At first glance, the upcoming Colt Canyon will likely make a strong impression, thanks in large part to its beautiful pixel art aesthetic, and how amazing it promises to look in action when all the effects are bringing its action to life. But based on all that we’ve seen and heard of the game so far, Colt Canyon promises to have as much substance as style. Designed as a roguelike shooter, with its stealth elements, multiple playable characters, large levels, progression mechanics, boss fights, and a lot more, this promises to be a game that might become yet another indie wonder. Hoping to learn more about it, we recently sent across some of our questions about the game to its developer, Jonathan Mannshoven. You can read our conversation below.
"In general, I am trying to give the roguelike genre a bit more realism with Colt Canyon. This game won’t have any magic or crazy sci fi weaponry. I am not planning on adding things like magic wands, lasers guns, orbital beam strikes, or quadruple miniguns."
Colt Canyon sports a very distinctive pixel art style that immediately stands out- were there any particular games you looked at as inspirations?
Yes, I had one main inspiration. I remember seeing a gif of a pixel art game that used a minimalistic beige color palette on twitter once, before I even made the first prototype. When I had to decide for an art style for Colt Canyon, this image came back into my mind because I remember the style did an amazing job at giving the player a feeling of dry sand under his feet and the warm climate of a desert, or in my case could emphasize the wild west canyon setting. At that point I didn’t know what game the image was from, but later into the development of Colt Canyon I rediscovered it. The game in question is an adventure game called Sandstorm by developer Daniel Linssen.
When you have a look at it you immediately recognize the similar color palette. However, on a closer look you notice the two games convey different feelings and use vastly different visual effects and details. But I can’t deny that this image was a big part of my inspiration, especially for the first prototype version.
How many unlockable characters and weapons are there in Colt Canyon in total?
I don’t want to spoil everything, but there will be a wide cast of diverse unlockable and playable characters and companions. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able say anything precise because I will continue to add more weapons and characters to Colt Canyon until the day of release and beyond. The list of ideas is long. Even in the first Colt Canyon versions that we showed on events we already had 50 different weapons. Bows, shotguns, rifles, cannons, revolvers and various other guns. For release I am planning on at least doubling this number and even more if you include secret variations.
Can you talk to us about some of the best or craziest weapons we’ll be using in the game?
Actually, my favorite weapon changes time and again, but right now it’s the heavy bolt rifle. It’s just a great feeling to use this powerful rifle with its high penetration force and shoot right through obstacles and hit the enemies behind cover.
In general, I am trying to give the roguelike genre a bit more realism with Colt Canyon. This game won’t have any magic or crazy sci fi weaponry. I am not planning on adding things like magic wands, lasers guns, orbital beam strikes, or quadruple miniguns. However, this does not mean that the game won’t see anything that doesn’t fit into the wild west period. I know where to draw the line between fun, realism and believability. The further you advance in the game the crazier the weapons will become, and in the endgame, you will be able to play weapons you would usually never see in a wild west setting.
There will be “experimental” weapons that are arguably unrealistic but still remain not too crazy. Powerful but also much rarer and hopefully still fair and balanced. Some weapons are just too much fun to leave them out. I am talking about things like flamethrowers, fully automatic rifles, dynamite launchers, handheld gatling guns or explosive cannons. However, the biggest chunk of the weapons in Colt Canyon are weapons that could’ve actually been used in the 19th century or shortly after.
"In general, companions will be able to help you as riflemen in large shootouts, not only by directing some of the fire onto them and acting as human shields, but also by actively firing back."
What sort of a balance does Colt Canyon strike between its stealth and out-and-out action? Mechanically speaking, what sort of stealth gameplay should players expect?
Colt Canyon will have an advanced enemy AI that will react to noise and the player’s actions. In the early levels of a run or in levels with a lot of high grass (which you can use to hide in), stealth can be very useful to advance through without having to spend a lot of ammo and to prevent large groups of enemies attacking you all at once. If you’ve got the firepower and accuracy or the right character, you could of course also choose to just fight and have shootouts with larger groups of enemies.
The player gets to choose from different characters to play as, each with its own stats. Some characters might be better for stealth action and some might be better for shootouts. Additionally, the right weapon will make or break your strategy. You can use bows or other quiet weapons to silently kill enemies from afar, but you will have to make sure to also take out nearby enemies as fast as possible or they will notice the people around them dying and go investigate or even alarm their allies. Some enemies are smarter than others and will notice you earlier, you should take them out first. A different stealth strategy might be to hide in grass and let the enemies come to you. Just give of a shot from your revolver and enemies will come to investigate the noise. This close you can easily take them out before they see you with a melee takedown.
When hitting enemies that didn’t spot you yet, you will be able to inflict extra damage, once they noticed you though it will be hard to deal any melee damage with most characters and you will have to start shooting without any extra damage.
All the different weapons, characters and enemy types offer a lot of possibilities for various strategies with different degrees of stealth action.
However, later in the game, stealth will become harder as enemies get more powerful or more intelligent, especially without upgrades or the wrong loadout. Sooner or later you will get into big shootouts.
What kinds of upgrades can players make to their characters and weapons?
There will be the basic upgrades like being able to carry more ammo, finding more items, having more health or using more powerful dynamite but also more advanced upgrades that might be useful to specific playstyles. For example, that you are harder to spot or specific weapons become more useful or powerful. Other upgrades are used to compensate disadvantages, for instance a specific character might have a slow reloading skill or poor melee damage; this can be made up with the right upgrade. On the other hand, you can also upgrade things the character is already talented at and suddenly you’re playing a reload- and movement-god or an almost undetectable assassin.
The most interesting upgrade might be the companion upgrade though.
What can you tell us about the AI companions and what they add to the game, not just in terms of the moment-to-moment action, but also given the fact that they seem to be upgradeable?
In general, companions will be able to help you as riflemen in large shootouts, not only by directing some of the fire onto them and acting as human shields, but also by actively firing back. Some companions might have more health than others but are less talented at shooting, you might want to give them close range weapons like shotguns. Some companions have less health but are more accurate, so why not give them rifles? But every companion can use all weapons that you can carry yourself and when companions are hurt you can heal them. The more enemies a companion kills the better he will become, sometimes he might even get an additional health point. Some upgrades are also specific for companions and give them shields, heal them up or just make them more talented in general.
You will also be able to command companions actively and tell them to attack at a specific position and this way create a distraction. Or you can tell them to hold their position and then lure the enemies to their position or keep them safe if they are hurt until you find the right items to heal them. This will come in handy especially once you’ve reached your partner, because if your partner dies the game is over just like when you die.
"There are no plans for actual competitive modes, but I am thinking about having daily runs or online leaderboards."
Are you planning on adding competitive modes to the game?
No, there are no plans for actual competitive modes, but I am thinking about having daily runs or online leaderboards. After all, Colt Canyon is designed as a fun single player (and co-op) experience where you slowly learn to master the game with all its details and underlying rules to, sooner or later, be able to rescue your kidnapped partner.
How large is a typical level in Colt Canyon, roughly speaking?
The large and open levels between the boss fights will be about 30 times the size of what can fit on the screen at once. Some might be smaller, some bigger. If the level was empty you wouldn’t need more than half a minute to run from the left side to the exit. However, the levels are filled with obstacles, traps, enemies and various explorable canyon ravines, so you will spend far more time in every level. During testing, people often spent close to an hour in a run before reaching the final boss. In fact, I’m thinking of scaling down some of the levels as sometimes people spend surprisingly much time wandering around or looting instead of advancing.
Randomization of levels is obviously something that is bound to keep things interesting for players, but are there any other ways that the game introduces dynamism to its environments?
A run will consist of three different areas with 3 levels and one boss level each. Every area will have their own unique enemy types, objects, color mood and music. The vegetation, obstacles and traps, prisoners and weapons might also vary between areas.
The biggest part of keeping runs interesting however is the randomization, wide variety of weapons, strategies, and new characters to use and unlock. The many destructible obstacles, loot containers and things like explosive barrels that you can incorporate into your strategies are part of the fun as well.
There will also be random encounters and secret levels in and between levels that will keep the game interesting and dynamic, but I don’t want to spoil too much.
Looking at Colt Canyon in action is quite fascinating, because of all the effects that the game makes use of, not just with its visual aesthetic, but also its animations. Can you talk about what all goes on behind the scene to achieve the look of game’s very distinct-looking action?
As I have mentioned earlier, I am in love with bringing my games to life by pushing effects and particles as far as possible. A large part of the movement on screen is not actually animated but uses a mix of particles and fine-tuned drawing of various static sprites in specific ways to create the illusion of detailed animations. Combining this with just the right amount of post-processing gives you a unique and moody style with a lot of details to discover even with such a minimalistic style.
Are there any graphical effects you’re especially proud of?
Yes, there are two visual effects that I enjoy the most. The first one being the persistent debris and blood particles. After a long shootout you will find debris and blood everywhere and unlike what you find in many other games this won’t just disappear. If you’re coming back later, you will find all the particles still on the floor making the level feel much more real and giving the player clear visual clues on where he has already been and what has happened. It also helps make the combat feel much more impactful and bullets much stronger, because every shot leaves clearly visible and permanent traces.
A second visual effect I am proud of is the dynamic grass. Not only the dense small grass but also the interactable high grass and cornfields. When the player moves through grass it will react accordingly. You can hide in high grass, explosions will burn the grass and create beautiful shockwaves that swoosh through it. This is one of the more hardware intensive visual effects, but I am sure even players with weak computers will be able to enjoy it just fine.
"The large and open levels between the boss fights will be about 30 times the size of what can fit on the screen at once. Some might be smaller, some bigger."
Given the game’s wild west setting, can we expect to see some interesting enemies and bosses centered around that theme?
Definitely, some people might even feel there’s a bit too much wild west in Colt Canyon, but I am not going to censor anything. There will be slaves, slave owners with whips, and other racist folks, natives, and native villages, and of course a whole bunch of bandits. You will never be forced to be a bad guy or do bad things, but of course you can decide for yourself whether to distinguish between outlaws and innocents or not and to what extent.
Speaking of bosses, can you speak more about how the game approaches the design of these encounters, and how many of these we can expect to see in the game?
At the end of every stage – so, every three levels – you will enter a boss level. These boss levels are small special areas where you must fight and defeat a very powerful boss enemy to advance. Unlike most other enemies you are forced to defeat every boss to be able to advance to the next stage. You should prepare for every boss fight in advance because once triggered you won’t be able to run away or look for some loot in other parts of the canyon. Some bosses will force you to start thinking differently about the fight and to try new strategies.
At launch you will fight a total of three different bosses, one per stage, excluding smaller boss-like encounters between the levels. Every single one of them will be a true challenge. So, don’t expect to defeat any one of these bosses on your first attempt without preparation.
Do you want to tell us anything about the music in the game?
I am probably not the right person to tell you any details about the music, because the music is one of the few things I didn’t make myself. Colt Canyon’s composer Luigi-Maria Rapisarda created over a dozen unique tracks for the game. Every stage and every boss fight will have their own music.
Because of Colt Canyon’s very dynamic stealth, looting, and combat system, with alternating phases of more relaxed looting and exploring in contrast to intense fast-paced action in an open environment, the idea was to have the music react to it accordingly. For that to work I had to implement dynamic music that changes smoothly between different tracks to keep the music fitting to what happens on screen. I hope this will keep the game’s music interesting, improve the intensity of action and atmosphere when exploring, and will give every player the feeling of actually being in the Colt Canyon.