Axiom Verge is an upcoming indie game focusing on action and exploration. You play as Trace, an ordinary guy who awakens alone in a strange, labyrinthine world. You explore this world to find items and upgrades which in turn allow you to explore further. The style of play should be familiar to anyone who has ever played a “Metroidvania” game such as Blaster Master, Bionic Commando, Rygar, Cave Story, or the genre’s namesakes, Metroid and Castlevania.
The sole developer, Tom Happ, is responsible for all the music, art, and programming in this game.
Hey Thomas! Thanks for agreeing to the interview. We here at GatherYourParty.com really appreciate your time!
Thanks! This is my first interview. So, I’m pretty excited.
This project, Axiom Verge, is purely made out of your love for classic action adventure games, which is obvious as you have done everything yourself. How do you feel that this passion shows in your project?
Well, I’ve really tried to make a game that replicates the feeling I had as a child when first playing those games, rather than the feeling I get as an adult going back to re-play them, or the feeling a younger player gets when playing a game from my generation. So I’d say if anyone ever plays AV and feels a sense of mystery, curiosity, and discovery – or perhaps even a degree of isolation and alienation – then my passion is showing.
The title Axiom Verge can be seen as allegorical to the main character evolving and being on the edge of evolution, but how else does the name tie in with the themes of your game?
One definition of “Axiom” is “a universally accepted principle or rule”. From a certain point of view, “existing” and being part of a “reality” are a perception derived entirely from any emergent system of rules that describes beings capable of that perception. So there’s an infinite number of possible rule systems (realities), and we only get to experience one of them. Axiom Verge – both in its narrative and its gameplay – tries to be concerned with the implication of rules and their many variations – in a physical context as well as a more metaphorical, sociological context – and what happens when they are applied in different ways, manipulated, transcended, or broken.
You’re obviously inspired by games like Metroid, Bionic Commando and other ‘Metroidvanias’, but what are you doing to make your title in the genre your own?
There is an extensive “meta” element to AV that I’ve yet to really discuss at length – it relates to the “Secret Feature”, as I call it. That said, I sort of wish I didn’t have this responsibility as an indie to be out in the Oort cloud with innovative ideas; as a gamer I’m actually getting a bit tired of every indie game having some post-modern hook to it. Sometimes I just want to experience a strange, new world, and not have to figure out the mind-blowing new mechanics.
Your game is going to be released on Xbox 360 as well as PC, so is your game developed with that controller in mind, or will players have their keyboards as an option?
In my development build I use both. I actually do better playing with the keyboard. I’ve yet to make a key-mapping screen (I’ve got it hard-coded to WASD), but yes, it’ll be in there.
How many of the 60 items hidden throughout Axiom Verge will create emergent gameplay rather than just boost the player’s stats?
My design docs call for about 80 items, but I’m promising only 60 to give myself cutting room. About half of these are upgrades to your power and health, 15 are items/equipment that give you new abilities, and the remainder are various weapons – most of which are there to give you variety and a reason to explore, but aren’t necessary to progress (this is meant to be an alternative to offering capacity expansions to the 15 items that you do need to progress). The weapons do change in size, range, rate of fire, etc. as you upgrade your weapon power, so a tile that was beyond range when you had only 1 power node might become within range at 10 power nodes (hence, incentive to find them as early as you can).
Your video depicts the player breaking down barriers with a specific weapon. Knowing there are 20 weapons in your game overall, what are you doing to make each one feel unique but useful?
Most of the weapons are meant as weapons and not as tools, though there is some overlap (the drill, for example, is both a tool and a weapon). Generally each weapon is meant to be completely different. I was inspired a bit by Star Control and its approach to making sure every ship would have an entirely different gameplay style. So there are some weapons that are ranged but only after a delay, some that require additional input to activate after firing, some that apply additional debilitating effects on foes, that kind of thing. They also change as you acquire more power nodes, so it will be worth trying out your old weapons from time to time to see if they’ve been bumped up to a new level of usability.
You’ve expressed that you don’t feel that bosses are a necessary thing in video games, but your trailer shows what seems to be a boss battle. Why did you choose to include a boss?
I actually included 7 or 8 bosses – I’ve drawn and animated their sprites, but only coded one of them so far. They are more key to the narrative than anything else. They talk, and are characters. It’s funny, you see so many boss fights in games, and the protagonists always jump up and cheer afterwards, but in reality, a person faced with a boss fight would be traumatized by such an experience. They’d feel guilt, and have nightmares and PTSD. I experimented with this by adding some dialogue where the main character displays remorse after killing a boss, but players hated it! They don’t like any time the action stops and a character tells you what they think about what just happened. I think you have to somehow make them feel the remorse themselves, like in Shadow of the Colossus. It’s a very tricky thing to do without seeming heavy-handed and preachy. If I can’t find a way to do this – if the boss battles just turn into a power fantasy of little good guy beating the big evil guy – I might still take them out.
You mentioned a “secret feature” that you’re going to unveil. Any chance you could give us some details on that?
Either hubris or a certain amount of paranoia (or both) keeps me from coming out with it – I’m truly afraid that someone with more resources than I would use the idea for themselves. However, I left a clue in my answer to your second question! Regardless, I’m trying to make the game be awesome just with the features I’ve already announced, in case, you know, the Secret Feature isn’t quite as cool as I thought it would be.
Axiom Verge is due for a 2013 release on Xbox 360 and Steam. For more information, check out http://www.axiomverge.com.