The Big Boy™ took some time to answer more than a few questions for me. Check ’em out down below, and if you haven’t already taken a look at Utrakill, you can see an early-access review here, but frankly I’d really recommend you just go ahead and try the demo instead of taking my word for it.
For anybody who reads this and isn’t familiar with who you are, mind giving an introduction?
I’m Arsi Patala aka Hakita, the main developer and composer of ULTRAKILL, a character action FPS that’s currently in Early Access at http://devilmayquake.com/. I’m a Finnish game design student and this is my first commercial game project.
Besides Doom and Devil May Cry, what’re the other influences behind ULTRAKILL?
There’s too many to name or even remember, really. It’s a huge melting pot of basically all the games I’ve played and a lot that I haven’t. There’s some Castlevania, some Bayonetta, some Vanquish, some Titanfall 2, etc etc. I also take inspiration from music and movies, such as Minos and his floodlight eyes being inspired by a scene from The Lighthouse (which in turn was inspired by the Sascha Schneider painting “Hypnosis“).
The Marksman alt-fire for the revolver is probably the coolest thing ever. Where did the idea come from?
It’s basically a combination of three things. I heard about Vanquish having a mechanic where you can throw your cigar and shoot it out of the air if you were accurate enough. It might’ve just been a grenade that you can shoot out of the air, but that’s the idea that stuck with me anyway. In early versions of ULTRAKILL there was a different ricochet revolver that would just ricochet shots that hit the floor or walls, but it kind of sucked for gameplay (see: The Revolver Ocelot inspired revolver in Jaykin’ Bacon mod for Half-Life 2, which always just ends up with you shooting the floor in front of what you want to hit instead of trying to go for cool trickshots) so I decided to redesign how it functions while keeping the general idea of ricocheting shots like Revolver Ocelot in a way where it’d be skill based, since that’s a big part of what made his skillshots in MGS so cool. The first thing that came to mind as a display of shooting skill is the Wild West trope of throwing a coin and blasting it out of the air to show how good you are at shooting, so then I just combined all 3 of these things into one.
Are you pleased with how the coin flip usage has evolved by the playerbase?
I’m glad it ended up being as useful as it is now, because the initial worry was that it’d just be cool but not very useful and it’d always be more efficient to just headshot an enemy directly. The only worry I have with the coin is the railcoin trick (using the railcannon to shoot through an enemy to hit a coin that would then make the railcannon shot hit the enemy again for double damage), since it does so much damage that once you learn it, it really trivializes some of the boss fights, and I want to avoid having high level players just skipping boss fights. On the other hand though, nerfing it would remove a lot of the satisfaction and coolness of it, which is why I haven’t nerfed it (at least so far).
Through ULTRAKILL’s development, it seems you’ve been pretty highly keen on having player-benefiting bugs retain their existence as features. Do you think there’s value in this? Should more developers be doing it? Or does it work mostly because of the nature of ULTRAKILL’s community?
One of the coolest things for a game developer is players finding cool things that you didn’t know were there despite being the one who actually built it. Art is an interaction between the artist and the audience, so it’s very exciting when that interaction doesn’t end up just being one-way. Some people have a very strict view of how their audience should interact with their art, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t see it that way. As long as a bug or exploit is fun, that matters much more to me than the fact that it’s unintended or “broken”, so whenever a bug appears, I weigh the benefits and negatives of keeping it (ie. would it make the game less fun by making options that are more fun obsolete) and decide based on that whether or not to fix it. Another important aspect is whether or not it can happen on accident, because if someone is trying to break the game on purpose, then I don’t really have much reason to stop them since everyone has their own kind of fun, but if you can end up clipping out of bounds during a casual playthrough due to some bug, then that needs to be fixed.
Furthermore, looking at ‘bugs’ as ‘features’ when does a bug become so egregious that you do decide to deal with it instead? What’re some examples?
I’d say a bug becomes an issue when it either disrupts play or ruins balance. An example would be the fact that, back when it was a bug, self-parrying (punching your own shotgun shots) used to be a full heal like all other parries. This was way too overpowered and made it so there was no reason to use any other offensive options, so it had to be fixed by removing the heal to give it a more balanced skill-reward ratio. In general it’s best to keep an eye out and see how players interact with a bug, because some exploits can seem a lot more overpowered than they actually end up being, such as dash buffering in ULTRAKILL, which allows you to have infinite iframes during a slide, which seemed at first like it would break the game but it’s barely a factor because of the close-quarters combat focused environments of the game preventing long single slides.
As someone who’s played a lot of DMC, I know that you draw a lot more from DmC than the rest of the titles in terms of raw gameplay. I definitely don’t think anyone will complain about the good notes having been lifted from the game (parrying everything, for example), but, why did you go for the style rankings from DmC?
The style rankings were a coincidence, actually. I wanted to come up with style ranks that weren’t used by any DMC game, but since I don’t really care much about DmC, its style ranks slipped my mind entirely. A lot of the similarities with DmC I think are more so coming from me taking inspiration from the same source and coming up with similar conclusions on some aspects. The almost-universal parry actually comes more from Royal Guard than anything from DmC, but I wanted to do parrying in a way that was (almost) purely offensive rather than (almost) purely defensive, since that felt like it would fit the hyperaggressive gameplay of ULTRAKILL better.
What’s your take on DmC, specifically?
It’s a pretty good action game but a bad Devil May Cry game, which should come as no surprise considering the insanely high bar that DMC has set for itself. It’s marred by the awful writing, but the actual mechanics and gamefeel are pretty good for the most part, better than most western action games I’ve played. If it had come out with a different name it probably would’ve become a cult classic and one of the more liked western takes on a primarily Japanese genre.
And here’s the big one: given that ULTRAKILL is a first person shooter, how do you interpret the concept of style and combos, both how it pertains to ULTRAKILL, as well as general gameplay of any title?
That’s one of the most difficult aspects of designing ULTRAKILL. Trying to find the balance between the sandbag style enemies of character action games and the fragile enemies of first person shooters is tricky, and I still feel there’s room to improve. Making enemies tanky would detract from the high tension do-or-die quick action and would make the enemies feel bulletspongey, which would detract from the FPS aspect of the game, but keeping them fragile means they can’t really be comboed, which greatly diminishes how much players can express themselves and show off, which would detract from the character action aspect of the game. As for style, in general ULTRAKILL’s style system is more about trying to get players out of the headspace of “path of least resistance” that FPS players (and most genres’ players for that matter) are used to, than being an accurate gauge for performance of intricate stylish combos, but I try to find a compromise here as well. The current style point system is a bit lacking in the latter regard due to the lack of stale move negation, which I wanted to avoid since I wanted the style system to be more about positive feedback (giving bonuses for changing things up) rather than negative feedback (giving no style points unless you change things up), but I will be implementing some version of that as well as other style balance changes in some later update.
ULTRAKILL is the fourth highest rated game on Steam for user reviews. What’s your opinion on that?
Cool. I’m glad people are connecting with it as much as I have, it’s always good to hear that people want what you want. I think the game still has a lot of flaws, but luckily it seems for most people the good things outweigh the weaker aspects.
“Boomershooters” actually seemingly are pretty decently rated overall, with ULTRAKILL, Dusk, and Prodeus being pretty well in the top percentile. What do you think that says about the genre and the market?
There’s plenty boomer shooters that are rated mixed and some that are rated negatively too, but since it’s a pretty small niche still, those games get very little or no exposure at all. We’re still at the initial wave of excitement though, so these games can get decently high ratings just by being adequate, but as the movement matures, the initial freshness factor will wear off and players will have enough of a point of reference to be more discerning of what is a good boomer shooter and what is not. I do hope that, as the movement continues maturing, boomer shooters can keep evolving and expand by trying out new things rather than just emulating the past, because that’s how it’ll become a stable subgenre of its own rather than a movement that will eventually dry out. The future is promising though, and there are many cool boomer shooters coming out in the nearish future that manage to put their own spin on things.
On someone’s iceberg meme recently, I noticed that they had a ‘Hakita didn’t read the Divine Comedy’ – is there any truth to this?
It’s completely true, I have never actually read the Divine Comedy. ULTRAKILL’s Hell isn’t strictly “based on” Dante’s Inferno as much as it is inspired by it. When I need ideas, I usually look up what the Divine Comedy does and then use that as inspiration for my version (ie. the punishment of Lust is harsh winds, so ULTRAKILL’s Lust takes place high up in the air where wind is cold and harsh).
I picked Dante’s Inferno as an inspiration for the setting mainly for the Devil May Cry reference, but I’m glad I did, because a lot of shooters now are taking place in Hell and most of them are a pretty dull standardized interpretation of it with a primarily orange color scheme, brimstone and fire, which ULTRAKILL’s prelude was already playing off of in a tongue-in-cheek way to build up to the payoff of Hell itself being nothing like that once you reach it.
That’s it for now, but I’d like to take some time and once again recommend that anyone who hasn’t tried it yet give ULTRAKILL a shot as it’s nothing short of an experience. You don’t necessarily have to take it at mach speed, nor do you have to immediately be styling on enemies.
I do think, though, once it’s gotten its claws into you, you’ll be wanting to climb higher and higher.