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[Created as a Kickstarter bonus for indie website Venus Patrol supporters, Gun Godz marks the first entry of Super Crate Box developer Vlambeer into the first person shooter genre -- and with one inspired by gangster rap at that. In this postmortem, Rami Ismail & Jan Willem Nijman explain how the project got its genesis and what went right and wrong as it was developed.]
When our good friend Brandon Boyer asked us to make a small game for his Venus Patrol Kickstarter, we knew we couldn't say no. The idea of a new Offworld -- a website about the cultural relevance of video games -- is something we consider of extreme value to the medium.
What we didn't know is that we'd end up making a gangster rap-inspired first person shooter. Neither did we expect that we'd end up spending five months of part-time work on Gun Godz -- a game that will be played by at best 1500 people and a lot of pirates. Not for money, but for cultural literacy. For Venus Patrol.
Two things brought us to the design of Gun Godz. The first was a fascination with aggressive culture that our designer, Jan Willem Nijman, had. The two of us over here at Vlambeer have seen an increase of violence in our neighborhoods lately.
The business guy and programmer, Rami Ismail, was confronted with a mall shooting and was robbed at knifepoint just last year, and we realized that the world around us seems to have roughened up a bit. It's not something we can easily ignore or keep out of our heads. Violence -- mainly fake aggression -- is something we weren't used to seeing.
For Jan Willem, that violence turned into a fascination, which in turn led to him listening to a lot of 50 Cent and better, older gangster rap. We both agreed that that was a quite disturbing development. Either way, we decided to take what was once part of popular culture and throw it on a big pile of influences to make a game that we'd use to express our position in all of this.
So what form did that game take? An old-school first person shooter that takes place in the only building on Venus -- in a world in which rappers really are gods. We were suddenly making a gangster game. We didn't need to justify the violence in our game, like modern shooters try to with some pretentious nonsense scene where they take away player control and launch a nuke in the background, or kill a kid.
A true gangster rap-inspired first person shooter in the vein of the classics. If we wanted to pull this one, we would need to be dead serious about our theme: No jokes, all gangster.
1. Iterative Design and Instant Prototyping
At Vlambeer, we believe a game isn't a game unless it's being played. Without that, a game is a bunch of code and assets and an icon. So when we have an idea, we prototype it. We whip up a really, really crude prototype in a few hours at most and we check whether the core design ideas work.
For this project, the first thing we came up with was a top-down roguelike shooter. People would play through the game as one of three Gun Godz -- machine gun god, shotgun god or bazooka god. They would be chased through the one building on Venus by the cops and have to race to the next floor while killing as many enemies as possible.
We had planned to have lots of diverse, stacking powerups that would allow players to forge their own playing style. We had traditional powerups -- rate of fire, reload time, damage -- but also more ridiculous ones. Some powerups would make your projectiles circle you, or make bullets bounce of the walls, or wrap around the screen. It was pretty fun coming up with more ideas.
The core idea worked, so we worked on it for two days every week for three weeks. At that point, the prototype quickly ran into trouble, though. The game could potentially be fun if we pumped it full of content, but we couldn't know for sure that the design would work if we did that. We scrapped everything and started anew.
After a lot of creative projects and experimenting with new gameplay, we started working on making a really good first person shooter that could outdo the classics. The machine gun god turned into the antagonist. The story quickly solidified from escaping from the cops into a Prometheus story in which the player brought guns to mankind and was being chased by the wrath of the Gun Godz. It the end, it turned into the story of the prisoner of a malign rap label owner. Obviously, everything fell into place.
A prototype screenshot of the FPS version of Gun Godz.
2. Having a Simple Game
We tried to keep the game simple. The reason is twofold -- we had limited resources, as this was a free project, but we also believe in minimalist game design. The fewer rules your ruleset has, the more responsibility you can give every single one of those rules, and the easier it is to make small, incremental improvements.
Simplicity does not exclude depth, as a strong combination of simple rules can make for incredibly deep gameplay. We've applied this philosophy to most of our games, with the most obvious example being Super Crate Box. The thing is, this simple game could solely be about really good shooting.