Hellpoint’s creative director Mathieu Boudreau and technical director Marc-André Jutras talk to us about the upcoming sci-fi Soulslike RPG.
The upcoming sci-fi Soulslike RPG Hellpoint, developed by Canadian-based indie development studio Cradle Games, is looking like a unique and exciting prospect. Though it clearly draws on Dark Souls for inspiration, it’s looking to add its own unique twist to a lot of the mechanics, while its setting is looking incredibly atmospheric in all the right ways, with slight hints of Doom thrown into the mix for good measure. Those are a lot of awesome sounding ingredients, which has led many to believe that the final product should be just as awesome. We’re among that group of people, and we’re quite excited to play Hellpoint when it launches next year. Recently, we sent across a number of our questions about Hellpoint, about everything from some of its most interesting looking mechanics, to what things its has been influenced by, to how it performs on each of the systems it’s going to launch on, and Cradle Games’ Mathieu Boudreau (creative director) and Marc-André Jutras (technical director) were kind enough to revert back with some really interesting answers. Scroll onward and give it a read.
It looks like the character will be a complete clean slate in this game. What made you decide to have such a character?
Mathieu Boudreau: Part narrative, part design, part production constrains. In the story, your character is printed in 3D by the authority of the station. In resume, he needed a clean slate to experiment with respect to the scientific method. Another aspect is that in multiplayer, every player incarnates a similar version of this same “Spawn” in a parallel universe. Finally, this decision allowed us to better concentrate on other features like combat variety, enemies and bosses. We had to be razor sharp focused to deliver a game like this with a small team.
On a related note, what impact do the player’s choices have in the game?
Mathieu Boudreau: I think the two main variables regarding player choices are character building and the game endings. That’s what we’ve been focusing on since the beginning. For us it was primordial to cover a wide range of play styles and attract the player towards exploring different parts of the game world in this or that manner depending on the specific type of fighter you planned to create. If you want a power caster that can withstand radioactivity, you’re going to want to explore this level first, if you want a tech tank able to venture in outer space, then you’ll want to go there first, and so on. Because the world is totally open, the order in which you choose to defeat bosses and talk to NPC’s changes which enemies will appear in which levels and what game ending you’re going to see. That’s a few examples of how we’re handling it now.
"You can play the whole game with a friend online or in split screen co-op and both players have their own saved profile. You can pop up your friend list at any time and send invites or match with “random” players. The game difficulty is adjusted in consequence."
It sounds like the Quantic system will really add a certain dynamism to exploration and gameplay. Can you tell us how exactly this system works?
Mathieu Boudreau: Sadly, no. It’s really an important part of the fun to discover all the surprises of the quantic system. I can tell about the thing that players will probably figure out first, is the clock shaped object in the top left corner of the game HUD. You’ll realize that sometimes mini bosses appear near you, hordes of enemies can assault some part of the station, or special areas can be accessed. And that also varies depending on where you are in the game station.
This real time dynamism is really what fascinates us the most as this is part of playing in a living and ever-creating world. We really think there is a cool future in this approach so we’re going to expand on this for our next IP.
What exactly does the multiplayer component have in store for players?
Mathieu Boudreau: Online and offline multiplayer, co-op and PvP. You can play the whole game with a friend online or in split screen co-op and both players have their own saved profile. You can pop up your friend list at any time and send invites or match with “random” players. The game difficulty is adjusted in consequence. So, in level design we often put multiple ways to confront a situation. PvP features will be explained a little later in development but you can expect invasions with consent, and tournament arenas. The game makes great streaming content by design, so we love to work with the community to provide the features that they need.
What can you tell us about the combat system in the game?
Mathieu Boudreau: So much to tell… To resume it it’s a lot like dancing, each enemy have their rhythm and dance patterns and surprises, and you must chain attacks, dodges, blocks and interruptions to succeed. Everybody’s moves can be chained with an attack commitment and we’re introducing a jumping button, allowing the fight to flow in three dimensions. It’s a stamina-based combat system more inspired by Bloodborne than Dark Souls I would say, but it grows to become its own thing. It has small and huge melee weapons, some high-tech mechanicals and some weird and occult, and guns and catalysts for range combat. All of which can be modified at crafting stations and various abilities are unlocked the more you fight with them.
The game has drawn comparisons to the Dark Souls games. Will it be similarly difficult?
Mathieu Boudreau: We’re hoping it’s different. Of course, you must pay attention to your surrounding and respect the enemies and have a bit of persistence in front of challenges but the consequences of that design direction on the player is so cool. We’re certainly glad the “casual game” era is in the past and the mass market accepts hardcore games once again. At the same time, we’re getting old and time is precious, so we’d like Hellpoint to be welcoming to the players who’ve been crushed by the other souls-like games. There are a lot of ways to overcome a challenge.
You can make enemies harder or easier by performing ceremonies. Co-op player can die infinitely and run back to you. But also depending on the quantic system you might find enemies particularly aggressive or cowards under the influence of the black hole.
"The Xbox One X is an odd beast that can offer a lot, but we also must be careful. Our first goal is smooth engaging gameplay. We target 60 FPS on all platform so that when co-op splitscreen starts, the game stays smooth."
How exactly does the power crafting system in the game work?
Mathieu Boudreau: It was supposed to work like a spell editor, with sliders and modifiers you were able to create your own projectile, boss attack or support spell. But along development we chose to simplify the concept and keep that feature for our next IP. Playtesting showed that the power crafting system didn’t spark nearly as much interest as other systems of the game and it would have required a tremendous effort to bring it to a satisfactory level. We came up with another system that is more like what we’re doing with the melee weapon abilities but applied to guns and catalysts. Plus, we invented something called the “support cube” which we think players will enjoy.
It sounds like there are going to be some surprises with the game’s New Game Plus mode. Can you tell us more about this?
Mathieu Boudreau: We aren’t going to give away too much spoilers here, but like any game mechanisms, we like to twist it to our own liking. Especially when it gives results nobody else has done in the industry before!
The game will feature Xbox One X specific enhancements. What can players expect if they are playing the game on Xbox One X? Is 4K/60fps on the cards?
Marc-André Jutras: The Xbox One X is an odd beast that can offer a lot, but we also must be careful. Our first goal is smooth engaging gameplay. We target 60 FPS on all platform so that when co-op splitscreen starts, the game stays smooth. On other consoles, that would mean the framerate dropping in the 40is in splitscreen. We would love to be able to stay at 60 on the Xbox One X even in splitscreen mode! 4k isn’t impossible, but it will really depend how much it impacts the framerate.
"On a lot of aspect, the PS4 Pro is quite similar in power to the Xbox One X. Currently we haven’t set specific “enhancements” beyond the butter smooth framerate on both those boosted consoles."
And how will the PS4 Pro version turn out in terms of resolution and frame rate?
Marc-André Jutras: On a lot of aspect, the PS4 Pro is quite similar in power to the Xbox One X. Currently we haven’t set specific “enhancements” beyond the butter smooth framerate on both those boosted consoles.
From a development perspective, how do you find the Xbox One X to be? With so much GPU power, we are sure you must be doing some amazing things.
Marc-André Jutras: We don’t really see the X/Pro as a way to add new features, but more as a way to access 4k and more stable framerate, which is turn is what we feel is the most important for a great gameplay experience. However, as a developer I love the Xbox One X devkit, as it’s the first kit I’ve seen with a framerate counter on its front, and the remote control is just very useful.
How is the game running on the original Xbox One and PS4, frame rate and resolution wise?
Marc-André Jutras: Currently, our target is 60 FPS in single player at 1080p for all platforms – even the Switch! This isn’t really an option as the splitscreen co-op takes a good byte off the framerate when it’s active.
Next gen is coming sooner or later. From a development perspective, what is your biggest expectation from PS5 and Xbox Scarlett?
Mathieu Boudreau: You might find the answer underwhelming, but I don’t expect anything more from machines from a tech point of view, except perhaps to make development easier and faster. I think they can offer cool gimmicks, but the game development landscape allows to do pretty much anything ever since 2005 and now the innovation challenges rely on great design and great community involvement. Perhaps our tech director [Marc-André Jutras] has a deeper opinion on this but so far there’s nothing that I’ve asked him that he couldn’t do with current tech.
"Microtransactions are like a legal drug market, and some countries are creating new laws for it without properly understanding the whole context."
What is your take on the ongoing drama of loot boxes and microtransactions?
Mathieu Boudreau: I think the reactions are sometimes a bit excessive compared to how the issue really matters. It’s not a business model that we are interested in; we’re in for the long term, gameplay and more specialized in “expansion packs” than tiny DLCs. I think it’s a disproportionate reaction, and it could have been handled more with cooperation from the industry instead of direct legislation. Of course, I totally understand the issue, I too roll my eyes when I can’t just enjoy a game without constant wallet solicitation and I’m naturally more inclined to give money to CD Projekt Red for example. For better or worse, it’s a business model that’s very lucrative and people in general are buying it so they keep making it. It’s nasty business though, because there are few things more efficient at secreting endorphins than video games. That probably explains part of the sometimes-virulent reactions. It’s like a legal drug market, and some countries are creating new laws for it without properly understanding the whole context.