Toronto-based Capybara Games co-founder Nathan Vella says his studio started working on a prototype for their next title, Below, many years ago, long before the resurgence the randomly generated, often ultra-difficult “roguelike” video game genre has experienced lately through titles like Spelunky, FTL and Don’t Starve.
“We were really interested in crafting an experience about exploration around randomly generated levels and permanent death. We wanted players to have to learn how to survive, and to have discovery be one of the main rewards for both exploration and survival,” said Vella.
Vella explained he feels part of the genre’s appeal is the inherent challenge that stems from a game that is always randomly generated, making the experience different each time someone plays it. In an industry full of games that sometimes feel like they play themselves, Rogelikes offer players who have been craving a more difficult gaming experience the type of title they’re been waiting for. But Vella says Below is more than a traditional roguelike and that his studio is taking the concept in a new and original direction.
“For Below, we definitely have some core elements of a roguelike, but at the same time we also have our own new ideas and gameplay injected into it. It’s definitely not a traditional roguelike, and that’s part of the reason it’s so exciting for us to be developing,” said Vella.
Below follows the journey of the Wanderer, the name Vella and his team has given to the game’s main “characters.” Each time the player dies in Below, their virtual avatar is truly dead – there’s no respawning in Capybara’s upcoming title, at least not in the traditional sense. Each new playthrough features a different character taking on the role of the Wanderer (this concept is reminiscent of ZombiU on the Wii U).
This raises the stakes for players since every death in Below actually means something, forcing the you to start the experience all over again from the beginning.
Capybara’s trademark minimalist approach to game design and visuals continues with Below, as does the studio’s reputation for creating challenging but fair titles that don’t hold the player’s hand (two trademarks of the roguelike genre). The game is played from a zoomed-out top-down perspective reminiscent of classic two-dimensional The Legend of Zelda titles but with a unique art style only Capybara Games is capable of creating. In some ways the Below’s visuals continue in the breathtaking aesthetic direction Capybara became known for after releasing Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP back in 2011.
“There is no text in the game outside menus – no spoken or written dialogue expositing story. Whether it’s the character we call the Wanderer’s backstory, or the reason you’re fighting your way down the Depths, these story elements are in the game, but they’re there for the player to explore and discover,” said Vella.
While Below was originally set to be published by Microsoft Studios (it was even shown off during the Xbox One’s reveal), Capybara Games now plans to self-publish the title as part of Microsoft’s ID@Xbox independent publisher program, a shift Vella says Microsoft was supportive of.
“While we were working with Microsoft Studios for a time, that’s no longer the case. We definitely enjoyed working with them,” said Vella.
Last week Vella headed down to Los Angeles for the Electronic Entertainment Expo to show off Below to journalists, publishers and video game enthusiasts alike. E3 helps give a studios like Capybara, despite being one of the premiere independent developers in the gaming industry, the media attention necessary to build hype surrounding a title’s release.
“E3’s also about taking the pulse of the industry and learning what new things are happening – what games the big platforms and publishers have coming, what new tech is on the horizon, and what other amazing independent games are getting people excited. Mostly though, E3 is just a few days of constant running around and endlessly talking about your game. Its exhausting, but it is a hell of a lot of fun,” said Vella.
Below is set to be released for the Xbox One at some point in late 2015 or early 2016.
Capybara is also releasing a PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita version of Super Time Force in Spring 2015, featuring Sony’s worldwide studio president, Shuhei Yoshida, the traveller from That Game Company’s Journey, and Sir Galahad from Ready at Dawn’s The Order: 1886, all as playable characters.