While Gun Godz looks like a game from the Wolfenstein 3-D generation, it doesn't play like one. We took the simplicity of old-school shooters and tried to approach such a design from the perspective of modern game design. We decided to base the game on just three things: guns, enemies, and levels. We would tell our story through these things. Our game is the story.
Games like Quake and Outlaws are some of the best we've ever played. Quake (and more recently Rage, to an extent) manages to get extremely intense gameplay down right from the start. Put the player in a level; give them a weapon and something to shoot. It's simple and elegant -- it's beautiful gameplay.
We liked that approach, so we decided to limit ourselves in terms of level design. We have walls, door and bars. Bars obstruct player movement but allow bullets to pass through.
These three level elements turned out being all we needed. The levels in Gun Godz tell the story, host ammo and health pickups, have some secrets and the rare explosive barrel -- mainly, they shape the way the player interacts with the enemies. That's what the level design in Gun Godz does: shape battles.
Enemies are designed around making battles exciting, slightly unpredictable, and fast. They all have very specific roles and are designed to work well together in any combination. Most enemies are weak but dangerous -- something we used to keep up the pace.
We spent weeks making the guns perfect. Jan Willem spent days tweaking the screen-shake just to make the minigun feel right. We have an all-purpose but never-useless pistol, a short-range death-dealing shotgun, a rapid-fire, room-clearing minigun, and a deadly bazooka. Speed runners will love their right mouse button, used to "shank" enemies quickly with their knife.
Being good at Gun Godz involves switching weapons constantly. Every weapon is useful for a different situation and firing every weapon feels good. Gun Godz is about firing every weapon; hell, firing every weapon is Gun Godz. That's what our fiction is about, that's what our game is about.
Gun Godz has more swag than you or we will ever have. Vlambeer has always existed due to a sort of dynamic of disagreement between the two of us -- Rami being a bit of a triple-A gamer, coder and business-minded person, and Jan Willem more of an artistic game designer. That dynamic is what -- in the end -- leads to what we make.
With Gun Godz, we tried to magnify this "do what you do best" attitude in the style of the game. We brought together a diverse set of influences: our artist-in-crime, Dutch pixel artist and shooter-hater Paul "Pietepiet" Veer, Finnish "wrong but lovely electro" music wonder Jukio "KOZILEK" Kallio, and finally, American rapper Adam "Doseone" Drucker.
Instead of wasting this diversity by telling them what to do, we gave all of them a general idea of what we were going to create and the technical limitations. We really believe that if you get freelancers to work on a game, you should allow them to have total creative freedom. They're better at what they do than we are -- otherwise we wouldn't have needed them.
Paul's dislike for shooters allowed him to create a truly fresh style -- it's a bit Wolfenstein 3-D but way more intricate, vibrant and alive. Jukio started making gangster raps in a non-existant Venusian language, which turned out to fit the mood perfectly. Adam ended up rapping an amazing theme song and doing all the sound effects and voice acting.
1. The First World
Most of the levels in Gun Godz were made chronologically. Work started with the first level in the first area, and the last level we put our hands on was the secret level of the final area. While working, we got better at making levels, going all out with the tools we had; the final area has some of the most intense battles and interesting uses of enemies.
We decided to go with the old-school "introduce a new weapon or enemy in pretty much every level" -- which also allowed us to work with tools we knew as we started a new level. The basic enemies were in the game from day one, so by the time we had finished the first levels, we knew how to place them for cool battles.
While the early levels all have limited possibilities when it comes to enemies and weapons, we made a few mistakes. The first area in the game is the jail environment, where players have just escaped from their imprisonment. Players fight their way through the sewers, past the basements of the hotel, and finally to the top of the hotel of the hip-hop executive and Gun God for a final confrontation. The only thing is that in the first world, we used the bar elements to make cells. This makes it seem like the first three levels have a lot of corridors.
In hindsight, we probably should have given players a chance to get used to the game in a super-basic environment, not in a place where it looks like you could get lost easily. The cells slow down movement in the first world a bit and make people expect a different pace from the rest of the game.
One might argue that it's not bad to start the game slowly, but our game is about going fast. The game picks up speed once the player gets to second world, a sewer -- even though we designed the worlds in packs of three and made the first level of a new world easier than the last level of the previous world.
This caused a notable difficulty spike in the second level of the sewer world -- instead of running into rooms guns blazing, which is exactly the optimal strategy, people carefully peek around corners to see if the cell is empty.