Story, Game Design, and Meet us in Sofia!
We asked on the comments what people would most like to hear about, and both Story and Game Design came out top. So, more details of those below. But first… Next weekend (26-27 November) both Kornel and Darren will be in Sofia, Bulgaria for the International Roguelike Developers Conference. It’s a free event, so if you want the chance to meet some of the Jupiter Hell devteam then come along! Kornel will be showing off a build of Jupiter Hell and Darren will be giving a presentation on Story in Roguelikes.
Game Design in Jupiter Hell
Game design is perhaps the most important element of roguelikes. With the constant replays that the genre offers the base game mechanics must remain engaging and interesting, and the game must still offer challenge and the feeling of reward.
Jupiter Hell stands very heavily on the shoulders of DoomRL, which was widely praised for its fast and fluid gameplay. Unlike many traditional roguelikes, DoomRL had a simple interface that let the player mow through many enemies with ease. Challenge came in the form of optimal tactical decisions and resource management, rather than remembering obscure key-presses or spending lots of time scumming for the best items.
To ensure that we get this right for Jupiter Hell we have defined 6 pillars of game design ethos that run through all of our decision-making:
- Replayability - If it gets boring after 100 plays, then remove it or change it or make it skippable. It doesn’t matter how cool the idea was at first, it must stand up to multiple replays. This also means the game must fluidly restart, so that once you die you get right back into the action without any annoying menus or story fluff.
- Balanced Randomness - Random shouldn’t mean unfair. No sudden deaths, no insta-win items, no impossible situations. This means putting constraints on the generators and doing a huge amount of playtesting to get the balance right. We’ll also have multiple difficulty levels and challenges to push even the best players to their limits.
- Meaningful Choices - If everyone always chooses option A over option B then option B needs to be removed or replaced. There will be no “better” path or strictly “best weapon in the game”. If players aren’t arguing over which is the best build then we’ve done our job wrong. It also means choices can’t be boring - level ups and weapon upgrades should not mean +3% to a stat, they should change the way you play.
- No Grinding - There will be zero opportunities to do repeated actions for limitless rewards. No item hoarding (inventories are limited), no scumming enemies for xp (it’ll get capped), no resting for HP recovery. Jupiter Hell is not allowed to be boring!
- Accessibility - The whole user experience has to work with ease, even for the newest players. Simple controls, pick-up-and-play interface, no need to mess around with manuals or tutorials (the game will have both, but the aim is not to need them). Accessibility also means working for everyone, and to that end we’ll have customisable controls, multiple input methods (mouse, keyboard, joypad) and support for screenreaders in ASCII mode so that blind players can still fully enjoy the game.
- Dynamic Flow - The pace of the game must be just right, allowing smooth and seamless flow throughout. Decision-making must come easily, without having to dig through menus. There should be no slow moments, no backtracking, and the player will be pushed forward throughout the game so that they never feel bored. This also applies to other game elements - dynamic soundtrack, adaptive animation, zero loading times. The game as a whole allows a satisfying run (ie a glorious death after having lots of fun) within 20 minutes, and completion within 2-3 hours, though actually reaching that stage will involve many attempts! We look forward to seeing what speedrunners can achieve.
Following these pillars will help us make sure we have a game that is rigorously designed and fun to play. We also take specific inspiration from well-designed games like Brogue, DCSS and FTL, with the fun of Doom thrown into the mix.
Some people asked about progression across games. Jupiter Hell will not have a system like Binding of Isaac or Rogue Legacy, where you can carry over upgrades or get benefits for future plays. This is a conscious design choice to avoid what can feel like scumming across multiple games to get the optimal run. Every character is equally likely to die in Jupiter Hell :) However we will have some tracking across games, such as multi-game achievements, story discoveries and potentially new character classes and starting position unlocks.
Of course a big part of the design will involve consulting with players. Alpha backers in particular will get a lot of opportunity to input into the content of the game, but if you want a significant voice into the design elements of the game then Inner Circle members (‘Supporter of Chaos’ tier and above) will be in a very unique position to do that. They will get builds of the game from the end of the Kickstarter and access to internal design discussion forums.
Jupiter Hell’s Story
A lone marine facing down against demonic hordes across the moons of Jupiter… The underlying story will be deeply familiar to any Doom or DoomRL player. And if story in games is something you don’t really care about then that’s all you really need to know. Every story element in Jupiter Hell can be ignored entirely. What you need to shoot at will be made clear, and you can blindly follow that if you wish. Background info can be ignored, log files can be walked right past, and there will be no unskippable cutscenes to get in the way of your thirst for blood.
But if you want to probe further, then a dystopian sci-fi universe awaits. With Earth’s natural resources vastly abused, the corporations have spread their corruption across the Solar System. Giant mining facilities pocket the asteroid belt, Mars is closed off by the megacorps, and the desolation of Jupiter’s mineral-rich moons has recently begun. The corps are unhindered by the pesky regulations and morals of previous centuries. They dig and they dig deep.
Jupiter Hell begins on Callisto, where the player has crash landed after a computer malfunction on their shuttle. What was a mining and industrial facility has now been infiltrated by strange demonic creatures, and what were your fellow marines are now crazed former soldiers. You must butcher your way through to the massdriver transport to get off the moon and over to the scientific base on Europa, hoping things will be better there (hint: they won’t).
As you progress through Callisto and Europa and, finally, a mysterious facility in Jupiter’s Red Spot, you’ll find computer logs and other scraps of information which will shine a light on exactly what has happened. These will include personal stories of the last few days, details of corporate misadventure, and records of a strange cult with roots going back thousands of years. And you’ll find out more about what it is that is infiltrating the human bases, how They got through, and what needs to be done to kill every last fucking one of them.
If you think this all sounds like stock sci-fi, then don’t worry. Our lead writer, Darren Grey, also wrote for Tales of Maj’Eyal, a roguelike which on the surface has a generic fantasy setting but boasts a very layered and complex world underneath. The use of tropes is deliberate to make the game accessible and easy to play without having to care about the plot. Those that choose to explore the plot in depth will find those tropes subverted by original and engaging stories.
There will be little or no character story in Jupiter Hell. The lone marine’s actions and personality are entirely at your own discretion, and Mark Meer voices neither Paragon nor Renegade - it’s pure pissed off swearing throughout.
Exposition will often come in the form of computer logs - descriptive pieces of text that can be found as you progress. Not all will be discoverable in any one game, so you’ll have to piece together elements of the story across multiple playthroughs. Beyond that much of the story will also be told through the environment and atmosphere of the game.
We are working on making the story remain engaging through multiple playthroughs. This will be done through having a high variety in potential story elements that get revealed in each game, branching quest systems, and some randomness in interactions in the game. For instance, an AI friend in one game might be an enemy in another, or corrupted and half-crazed in the next, and you could change its personality by completing or ignoring relevant quests.
Got more questions? Just post them below and we’ll answer. Or join Kornel in his next livestream on Wednesday, 6pm UTC. On the last stream he leaked a lot of details about stretch goals and future plans ;) Hopefully we’ll feel confident enough to talk more formally about those soon!