On Restarts & Analysing Scope

Retro Slasher has been in development for quite a while. It was officially announced on December 2nd, 2017. A lot has changed since then; it’s undergone aesthetic overhauls, engine re-writes, major design changes, etc. But now I’m officially announcing a release date of Tuesday, October 30th, 2018. Mark your calendar!

In other news: it has a revamped aesthetic, and a lot of the rogue-lite elements ended up being scrapped.

If you’d like to hear more about the journey, keep reading below.

Retro Slasher has been restarted several times in its development process.

Most recently, it was restarted in September, just last month.

A lot of design work was done, but the engine I made for it had bad bugs, and it wasn’t very flexible. The code was turning into a garbled mess, and despite my efforts to clean it up, it still felt more like digging through trash than engineering a solution.

It seems every restart has the same story: start, codebase turns bad, quit. The same few problems always seem to show up to complicate the code, as well. I struggled with what direction to take the gameplay in, in more than one way. From reconsidering the entire gameplay loop, to reconsidering how much of a rogue-like I wanted the game to be.

But now I’ve got an almost-complete game, and a set release date! It happened slower and more painfully than I anticipated, but it is the first release from Silent Tower Games (not counting game jams).

How is the game different from the original vision?

Today, Retro Slasher looks something like this:

But nearly a year ago, it looked like this:

I’m really confident in the changes that I made to the visual aesthetic.

First, I revamped almost all of the pixel art in some way. Cabins now have sides that make them look more like they’re made of logs; the trees look like thickets instead of arbitrary borders; paths look gravely; there’s more decoration in general.

Second, there’s a somewhat subtle post-effect that stretches the screen horizontally. I did this to imitate the subtle stretching that you would see in early 80s console and PC games. I thought it might look kind of bad, but now that I’ve done it I have a hard time looking back at the old screenshots!

Third, I added a transition to night time. I received the criticism that the game just doesn’t look scary. I agree, it doesn’t. So I wrote a shader that turns everything either dark blue, dark red, or black. Everything you need to see – buildings, trees, paths – is dark blue; grass, floors, and other things you don’t need to see are black; and to blood & the killer stand out as danger signals, I made them dark red. If you have the lantern item, you can see everything clearly within a certain radius.

How light is rogue-lite?

For this game, the answer turned out to be: very. According to the Berlin Interpretation, there are high-value and low-value factors that can determine whether or not your game is a rogue-like. Here are the high-value factors:

  1. Random Environment Generation
  2. Permadeath
  3. Turn-based
  4. Grid-based
  5. Non-modal
  6. Complexity
  7. Resource Management
  8. Hack ‘n Slash
  9. Exploration & Discovery

Does Retro Slasher fit these points? Well, some of them.

You play in runs, so there is permadeath. The game is grid-based, being comprised of a grid of 8x8 tiles, though many objects in the game are more than one tile in size. It is non-modal, in that all of the gameplay happens in a single mode. The combat is more or less hack ‘n slash, though there’s only one enemy to be killed. Exploration & discovery are almost necessary to surviving.

I am hesitant though, as there are some other points that aren’t being fulfilled, at least strictly. Random environment generation is the factor most strongly associated with the genre, but while it was planned to be in the game, it has been almost entirely scaled back. There will be some randomly-placed items and obstacles, but the camp map will remain mostly the same from run to run. It isn’t turn-based; gamplay flows in real-time. I suppose you could say there’s an amount of complexity as defined here since there are multiple items with different capabilities, but I wouldn’t say it’s as elaborate as in a typical rogue-like. Resource management exists in that there are limited health packs and etc, but I feel like they probably mean something a little more elaborate than that.

So my conclusion on the matter is that Retro Slasher probably isn’t very rogue-like, so from here on out I’m retiring the term “rogue-lite” as a descriptor.

tl;dr

Retro Slasher has been entirely revamped with a much nicer-looking aesthetic; it’s not really a rogue-lite anymore; and it’s coming out Tuesday, October 30th, 2018!

- Swan
Developer, Silent Tower Games