Incision dev Sami Mäläski spills his guts about his game, and his love of gibs
These days, FPS enthusiasts are feasting, with Realms Deep 2022 behind us, fans of the genre are going to have plenty to keep their trigger fingers itched in the coming months. Among the litany of announcements was the launch of maximalist boomer-shooter Incision. Now, believe me, dear reader, the term maximalism is apt to describe Incision, as this title has taken the most horrific parts of every hellscape ever created and combined them into one relentless onslaught of lead and adrenaline through an unending array of monsters, machines, and meat.
In the time I have spent with the game I have been chewed up, spat out, straight-up humbled, and enjoyed every second of it. This game is truly a test of your skills, and it is rewarding to rise to the challenge. But before I got my hands on the game I was already keeping tabs on it and had wanted to learn more about the truly disgusting world being made. After reaching out to SmoothBrainDev online, I was lucky enough to get my hands on some time to speak with Sami Mäläski, the solo dev behind the viscera-soaked, nay, viscera-marinated world of Incision.
After speaking with Sami and learning his history, his philosophies, and his methods, I was even more excited to get my hands on Incision. And if you haven’t picked it up for yourself already, I am certain you’ll feel the same way after reading this interview. So sit back, kick your feet up, and learn more about the development of the title, because once you start playing Incision, you won’t have a moment to relax.
Rarely does a game dev manage to hit it out of the park on their first go, and rarely is a game dev just a game dev, so after brief introductions and thanking him for his time, I began the interview by asking Sami if he would tell me and the readers a little about himself, his journey as a game dev, and how he came to make Incision?
Sami Mäläski: Oh, well, my name is Sami. I’m from Finland. As you can hear from my English as well. I’ve worked on games for like 10 years, I guess on an off indie stuff not with any companies. But any of those projects from 10 years ago they never really went anywhere. I am primarily a 3D artist, so I always wanted to, like, create characters and just make them alive. And games are best for that. So how do I explain it? I’ve mainly made some Beat-Em-Up games more like cartoon or anime style before Incision. I don’t have much to show for those. How would I explain it? I saw the Realms Deep showcase two years ago, you know, it’s the 3D Realms show. And that made me realize that all of my game projects were like, way too big. I always wanted to make these huge story-based immersive things. And then I see games like Dusk, or Wrath, and I was like, “people still make games like this?” And I thought it would be really healthy for me… That’s where Incision came from. I made a game where I set my visual graphical standards so low that I can create a big game. And like, a fun game, and I can put aside all of my immersive story ideas, just make a game where you can go crazy… And it’s a fun style because it’s not so strict, strict. If you make like, cartoon characters, every polygon every, every shade, those are so strict. How would I say, it is like if you can just mash brown and red and make something really disgusting but cool. That’s really easy. And it’s also really fun.
I followed up by asking if he felt as though it was easier to make memorable character designs with a less restricting art style as opposed to the level of detail expected in AAA games?
SM: Yeah, that’s about it. When I started making Incision I kept in mind that I always get sort of stuck making something. I could have one character and I would work on that character for like months, and I just burn out in the end and with Incision I had this rule that every character is made in one or two days. Every monster in this game is made so quickly. The coding side, of course, takes much, much longer, but the graphics, the animations, the sounds, they are made in like two days, and I am still so happy about all of those monsters.
I commented that even when writing fiction I would sometimes spend so much time thinking about the character I would get burnt out before I wrote the story.
SM: Yeah, exactly. You end up kind of falling in love with one character and then you forget that you have to have that story too.
Moving on to the reason you’ve read this far, Incision, I asked Sami how he would describe the title to someone who had never seen the game in action?
SM: Oh, that’s so hard. If I just describe the game, I describe Quake. It’s like it’s a game about a world that’s being consumed by this massive, unknown alien entity simply called the growth, a flesh that sort of absorbs everything and reconstructs it into this hellscape and all living beings are also turned into monsters, mechanical things, body horror, things inspired from Cronenberg‘s movies and The Thing, and you have to kick their ass. That’s about it. The main character doesn’t have much story, so it’s hard to explain. But like, yeah, you just pick up the big guns and you shoot them into little pieces… Like I have a story for Incision. But I always wanted to keep it sort of hidden. Because there are people who want story from everything, So in Incision there is a story but there are these hidden glimmering things in each level that if you focus on 10, you get like two or three lines of sort of, like, internal monologue from the main character. And he sort of explains what’s going on. But those are really hidden, most people won’t find all of them… sort of like secrets in Doom and Quake, but like another level of that stuff.
“It’s like DUSK trapped inside the Super Gore Nest”@DaveOshry
Incision does mechanically share a lot with Quake, but aesthetically it is on an entirely different level, and I wanted to know more about how he came to create it. So I pried a little more and asked if there were any other inspirations for the world of Incision?
SM: Quake 2? (laughs) But there’s more to it, like originally when I started making Incision, it was basically indie Quake 2. Like, industrial factories and machine flesh soldiers. But it started changing eventually because I wanted just to make Quake 2 and I got into this bigger scale, like, cities overrun with this flesh stuff and cosmic horror or maybe I’m not sure. Yeah, other influences. Maybe Silent Hill. I loved Silent Hill back in the day when I was younger. I don’t have the energy to play those games anymore, but like that rust, the grimy dark foggy stuff That’s, that’s definitely Silent Hill. I don’t think about Silent Hill when I’m making the game, but it still likes seeping into there… I kind of consciously try not to take too much inspiration from anything. I don’t ever like, look at pictures or even draw anything. Everything just comes from my subconscious. That’s sometimes a problem when making maps but it’s a problem I’m willing to live with.
On the topic of creating maps, I asked if he ever fell into the traps of working too much on one map as he had before when designing characters?
SM: Yeah, I went there. Originally, levels were much simpler. They were mostly made top down like in Doom. But I just wanted to make them cooler, and bigger. And eventually they just got super detailed and stressful. I’ve had many burnouts over these two years.
One thing that was touted on the Steam page before Realms Deep was the soundtrack made by JM and Frédérick Chicoine, while this has since been updated to reflect the launch, I had asked him at the time about the music featured in the game, and how it came to be that these artist were working with him?
SM: Originally, I was just JM. He’s my big brother actually, and he just said “Hell yeah, let’s make a game.” But like, the information on the [Steam Page] is actually old, JM isn’t on the project anymore. He’s way too busy. And Fred is making the music now. 100% of JMs music has been replaced from the game. Fred is like, he’s a madman. He has this absolutely huge studio full of, I don’t even know what the hell they are, like, music machines. He’s like, he lives in his own world. He always makes music that just blows my mind. I’m always thinking like “can I even make the levels as good as this music?” But like, yeah, you asked how it came to be. Fred just sent me an email. He said that he loved how the game looked and sounded. Like the right, badass, no-fucks-given Quake attitude was there and he loved it so much that he wanted to make music for the game. And I’m like “Okay, I can’t make music.”
I commented that it must have been a good feeling to have somebody from outside come in and say “your game looks so cool. I want to work on it”
SM: Yes. I’ve always had kind of low self-esteem or like, I don’t view my game as big as many people say, like, there’s a lot of people just praising Incision. And I’m like, here thinking like, “it’s just a bunch of dudes that you can gib with a shotgun.” But like, people seem to like it. And I’m happy for it.
I told Sami that for me, the Boomer-Shooter revival came at a perfect time when AAA gaming was becoming exhaustive, and the simpler gameplay loops and nostalgia associated with Boomer-Shooters and other throwback FPS had given me an experience that had been lacking in recent years.
SM: I can understand that. Yeah. I still have so many fond memories of just playing Quake on PS1, just the first moment I gib a soldier with a super shotgun, and it just blows my eight-year-old mind. Like, I still think of that when I’m making Incision. So it is really a love letter to those days, but still not entirely limited to the technology of those days. There’s still some inspiration from things like Doom Eternal also.
On the topic of Doom Eternal, we spoke about difficulties in videogames, and the difference between overwhelming the player and challenging them.
SM: I love that, I also play like Devil May Cry and God Hand on the hardest difficulties. I love that, I love difficult games, I don’t mind dying 100 times to something as long as it’s like, my mistake. And that’s actually something that’s in Incision too. Because it’s like, the first big project that I’ve really started working on. So it has technical limitations, and I couldn’t make a save system. So if you die and you don’t have a one up, you have to reset the whole level. And the combat is really hard, so this game really does expect something from the player. You can’t just run through and expect to win all the time. And like, the game has one ups that give you 50 health when you’re about to die, and like 10 seconds of god mode. So those are the only things that’s gonna keep you on your feet. And I like that idea, lots of people have complained but I’m not gonna change it. Not yet, maybe never.
With all of the things that Incision was doing to separate itself from its peers in the genre, I wondered if Sami felt that the term Boomer-Shooter was a good fit for the game. I asked Sami if between the extreme difficulty and lack of typical comforts, would he say that Incision isn’t a typical Boomer-Shooter?
SM: No, I would. Yeah. It’s retro looking. It doesn’t hold your hand. It’s challenging. It has no gimmicks, you just have guns and fluid movement. The enemies don’t fuck around, they just chase you and shoot at you all the time. No cinematics that ever stopped the gameplay, the stories hidden like that. It’s just about shooting a lot of things and getting to the exit. Yeah, it’s a Boomer-Shooter… Just going back to those roots, and making it as fun as possible.
I told Sami that I loved to hear it, and that I was glad that with the success of games like Dusk and Murder House, people were really turning around on the idea of making throwback titles.
SM: Yeah, same. I’m so tired of modern games. I just check Gamescom and whatever other shows and it’s just so soulless. So it just kills me when I watch those game shows. They rarely even show any gameplay. It’s just boring looking characters talking, trying to be witty and when they show combat it’s like, staged with effects on the screen and I’m like “Show your fucking game sometimes, please.”
I understood where he was coming from, in a world where every year we see the same released from the same series with little deviation form the formula, it can become exhausting, I did however, relent to Sami that I do enjoy the occasional Call of Duty campaign, in the same way I enjoy cheesy action movies.
SM: Yeah, I’m not judging people for playing those games. Like, I played Life is Strange. It was a fun game. But it’s like, people laugh at those who play those types of games sometimes and I have my, what’s the word? Guilty Pleasures? And Boomer-Shooter devs probably very rarely play games like Quake or Doom. I don’t play those games much. Lately I’ve been playing Yakuza 7 and Tomb Raider. [the Yakuza Series] is just amazing. I played six of those. And I’m not tired of them yet at all. It’s just pure love, like, the best kind of game I’ve ever seen. The writing, the gameplay, everything.
I told Sami that I needed to start playing Yakuza because everyone who recommends it never mentions combat, they only mention things like petting cats, playing pachinko, or singing karaoke.
SM: Yes. that is fucking us. And still, the combat is really good.
Back on the topic of Incision, I brought up the missed launch window that was on the original steam page, moreso that no one could ever blame an indie dev for missing a launch window, as making games is hard work.
SM: Yep. Reminds me of the fact that my computer is dying and I’m crunching on Incision right now. It blue screens randomly. But I’m getting a new one, I have to… now is not the time to give up.
I followed up by asking him if he had an updated launch window, to which he responded by sharing a link that had been shared during our conversation, revealing the release date. We spoke a bit about the luxury of having publisher backing, and Sami spoke about his experience with Hyperstrange and his history with their games.
SM: Hyperstrange, those guys just came to me like “hey, we want to release your game.“ And I’m like “okay yeah,” I get to keep the IP, I can just work on the game, I don’t have to think about anything else, they do the marketing and everything… Postal was one of the reasons why I actually joined them because I used to play Postal 2 a fuck ton when I when I was really young. Perfect game to be played at 12 years old.
I commented that it was good for the players as well if it meant they got to experience the game sooner.
SM: Exactly. Yeah. We’ve been talking about that with the Hyperstrange people. The “very soon” actually means very soon. So that’s why I’m crunching, we had to cut some things from the release. And originally I was like “No, we’re going to delay the release because of that,” but like, they explained that it’s best to release it at a good time, and then just keep releasing new stuff after the release as quickly as possible. Like, people love that. I’m not sure if that’s related to what you said, but like, that just came from my mouth… And really the only cut thing right now is one boss, I did the bad decision of making three bosses for one episode, and thats like 6 maps, so like 2 maps and a boss, and that’s insanity, but yep, the next episode is gonna be a bit smaller because of that, I don’t want to burn myself out anymore.
Wrapping up the interview, I asked Sami what his plans were after Incision, did he have current plans for any future games, or was he solely focused on the task at hand?
SM: I have two thoughts about that, the first thought that comes to mind now is that I made a Boomer-Shooter and people seem to love it, can I make anything else besides a Boomer-Shooter, or like, a retro game? Can I make anything that’s not retro now, and I’m not sure about that. I would love to go back to the game that I made before Incision which was like, this cartoony, a bit adult-oriented Beat-Em-Up and I would love to work on that again, I love the characters that I made for it. It’s been on my mind all the time, I wanna go back to it but i’m not sure if i can or if I should, money wise… it’s anime basically, I love Beat-Em-Up games, I want to make something with a similar style to GOD HAND… something like that, like over the shoulder, kinda janky but still like super satisfying and fun.
With that, I thanked Sami again for his time and let him return to his work crunching to complete the title. The good news is that it was all worth it, and Incision is available for purchase right now on the Steam store. If you nab it before 09/23/22 you can save 15% on this excellent exhibition in extreme violence and viscera.
For updates on the future of Incision, you can follow Sami’s work on the Twitter page for SmoothBrainDev. And as always, if you are absolutely fiending for the latest and greatest in gruesome gory gaming, then head back to DreadXP.com and read more of our frightful features!