Rogue Mansion: Almenara games discusses their upcoming rogue-like title, and the challenges of being reliable and random
If you are anything like me, dear reader, then Rogue Mansion might be right up your alley; as you have most likely felt the fatigue that can come from completing your favorite games so many times. As much as you love stepping into the shoes of your favorite horror hero, you can only be surprised by a dog jumping through a window, or a man bursting through a wall so many times. With enough playtime, every single scary moment will become another stop on your all too comfortable trip through familiar territory. While some people have gotten around this using randomizer mods, even those have their shortcomings, as when the system is not built to handle mixing up the locations and items, it can lead to dead ends and soft-lock your progress, costing you time.
While rogue-like games have been around for a while, the attempts I have seen at applying that style of game to the genre of survival horror have not been able to capture the same feeling of item management and exploration that is so prevalent in the genre. Games like Vaccine and Outbreak: Endless Nightmare do their best to emulate the basics of the genre, but fall short on creating the right atmosphere, due in part to the random element of the genre. It is extremely difficult to find the perfect balance of supplying enough items to make sure the player has to act conservatively without leaving them with too few supplies to proceed. This on top of the prevalence of puzzles in the genre, another thing that is hard to handle effectively when randomizing the layout of the level each time.
Needless to say, quite a lot of effort goes into setting the pacing of both gameplay and progression, and that can be quite difficult to replicate a similar atmosphere with a randomized element. I am always curious to see how it will play out when it is attempted, which is why Rogue Mansion initially caught my eye. It aims to be the next contender in the Rogue-like survival horror category, and from what I’ve seen and heard, it has what it takes to be the champ. I wanted to learn more about the project, and learn about the team’s approach to controlling the random element to ensure that the engine the game is built upon is not the monster the player is fighting against. As a die-hard fan of the genre, a great rogue-like would be a dream come true for me and many gamers like me.
I reached out to Almenara Games, to see if they were interested in setting up an interview to talk about the title. Thankfully they obliged to my request for information and we were able to navigate the time zones and find time to speak so I could learn more about the haunting happenings of the ever-changing, mysterious mansion. The team is located in Tenerife, Spain, and with their spoken English not being the best we opted to hold the interview over Twitter DMs, with the team responding as one.
The elements of the game that have been so far show a lot of promise and polish. I wanted to get a good idea of the roadmap of development so I started by asking the team how long the title had been in development?
Almenara Games: The development started in November 2018 and the project has been through a lot of changes until now
The game was initially show with a “Sneak peek” build being shown as a part of Humble collection, so I asked if the team was going to launch the game with Humble or if the demo showcase was the extent of their involvement with Humble.
AG: Right now it’s not a platform we are considering. We work with them just to develop and publish that demo under their Humble Original program, but that’s it.
We then started to look for funding and had some talks with other publishers until we found Top Hat, or we may say, they found us, ha ha.
On that note, I asked if Top Hat was helping to bring the game to consoles, and how difficult would it have been to do so without them?
AG: Yes, they are helping us with all the console ports, localization, marketing, and funding, so, we could say it would be almost impossible for us to do all of this without them.
This is our first commercial game, so having a publisher is a big help for a small indie team like us
Now while I believe that the gameplay and atmosphere account for more of what makes a game survival horror than the story does, and that story can also be hard to tell in a rogue-like game, I was still curious as to how the team was going to approach this. So I asked them how they were approaching the story for this title, was it integral to the experience or did it exist to set-up the gameplay loop?
AG: That’s a good question. We always wanted to make a retro survival horror game like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness, etc. But none of us were good at writing good stories, so the Rogue-Like genre allows us to focus more on gameplay than on story and deliver a good experience besides maybe lacking a deep story.
Every character has a brief story about a personal fear they have to overcome in order to escape alive from the Rogue Mansion. And the mansion as well holds many mysteries to unravel, but our focus has always been to deliver a good gameplay experience.
On the topic of gameplay, we all know that survival horror has its own rules that it plays by, and I wanted to know what the team thought were the most important. So I asked Almenara Games what they thought were the aspects of the genre they felt like they had to put in their game?
AG: Well, we are big fans of Resident Evil, so, as we are taking the franchise as our main source of reference and inspiration, we always knew we wanted to have item management, puzzles and backtracking in the game. On top of that, we wanted to implement a “sanity system” similar to what Eternal Darkness or Amnesia had. The combat also has to feel good, that’s one of the aspects of retro survival horror we wanted to improve.
I love seeing the DNA of Eternal Darkness find its way into modern gaming. With that in mind, aside from the Resident Evil influence, the game is very supernatural. I asked the team if this spirituality affected the way they approached the design of the enemy monsters?
AG: Yes, the theme of this game is more supernatural. The monster designs are based on demons of different cultures. For example, “The Hugger” (the floating head) it’s based on the Penanggalan, a ghost from Malay myths. There will also be final bosses for each character that resembles their worst fears.
I was absolutely loving what I was hearing so far, but I was curious to learn more about these characters and their unique fears, so I asked the team to elaborate a little bit more on the heroes and the role they play in the mansion.
AG: There will be 5 playable characters in total, each one with their own set of equipment that allow for a different playing experience. Of course, we would like to add that on top of different equipment, every character has their own stats as well. For example, Valentina Diaz, which is the only character available right now in the upcoming demo, is the most balanced character, with balanced stats, and starts with a pistol.
On the other hand, Fumiko Yamamura is a more difficult character to play with, because she is weaker than the rest of the characters and doesn’t start with a gun or melee weapon.
Also, every character will have a special skill, but we are currently working on that aspect.
For now, Valentina in the demo can force locks, but that could change in the future.
In the end, every character has their strengths and weaknesses, so it will all depend on your playstyle.
Items are and always will be an integral part of survival horror, how you find them, how you use them, or in some cases how you don’t use them until the very end of the game wherein you unload 36 magnum rounds into a flesh-monstrosity’s skull to win. I asked the devs what considerations they had made to ensure that the tight-rope balance of scarcity-versus-security had been achieved in their title?
AG: Yes, that’s one of the challenges we have to face while developing this game. We want to maintain that aspect of the scarcity of resources, but making sure everything feels fair for the player. In fact, our main source of inspiration for this game were the multiple randomizing mods that exist for Resident Evil Remake. We wanted to turn that into a game that you could actually complete from start to finish.
I followed up by asking the devs if the puzzles were also going to be procedurally generated, and if that had created any problems for the team?
AG: The answer to all the puzzles is procedurally generated, so you can’t memorize anything and have to look for the clue every playthrough. It’s not an easy task to design the puzzles that way, but we are working hard on that.
We want every playthrough or “run” to feel as different as possible, and having puzzles with randomized answers is one of our tools to accomplish that.
When the initial demo had been shown on Humble Choice, it had featured an isometric camera, but since then, the team has abandoned that camera to feature the classic over-the-shoulder style made popular by Resident Evil 4. I asked the team what led to that change being made, and what changes had to be made to the game as a result of it?
AG: The reason for abandoning the isometric view was mainly because of the problems it introduced to the combat system of the game. It felt a bit limited and it also made the game harder than we wanted it to be. We think that with this new camera the combat feels more dynamic.
I followed up by asking if the recently shown 1st person gameplay had forced the team to reconsider the players spatial awareness and how it affected combat?
AG: Not much, really. You will be able to alternate between 3rd person and 1st person anytime in the full game and the game feels almost the same. Of course, each perspective has their pros and cons, but that’s a matter of playstyle.
The game has been in development for almost half a decade, and that can be a long time to wait for people to see your project. I asked the team if there was anything in particular that they were excited for players to see when the game finally releases?
AG: If we have to pick something specific, we can’t wait to know what the people think about a rogue-like with puzzles. We can’t wait to see their reactions to that.
But, this mix of survival horror with rogue-like elements is not something that you see everyday, so, there are many things to be excited for.
They were most certainly right about that, I for one and am very excited. Speaking of the release, the game is being crowdfunded on Kickstarter soon, and I wanted to get an idea about how the team felt about that. So I asked if they were at all nervous, or if the overwhelmingly positive reception the game had received so far had made them confident in reaching their Kickstarter goals?
AG: Well, we would never have considered launching a Kickstarter campaign on our own, but as we are working with Top Hat, we really feel confident on reaching our goals. Also, the reception of the game until now has been very good and we are really happy and grateful for that.
I followed up by asking if they had considered adding stretch goals to the project?
AG: Yes, we plan to add stretch goals like more zones for the mansion and more content In general, but we are still discussing those details with Top Hat
My last question involved the future for Almenara Games and for Rogue Mansion. I asked if they had plans for any future projects, or if they had considered making another rogue-like game with more inspiration from a different survival horror series?
AG: We have some ideas for future projects that even had something to do with Rogue Mansion storywise, but we can’t say right now if it would be another survival horror. It most likely will feature some elements, but we would like to explore other genres as well.
With that we wrapped up the interview and I again thanked Almenara Games for making time to speak with me about their procedurally generated mansion of madness. I am very excited to see what comes of the project, as it would be a lot of fun to have an endless survival horror classic.
In the interim we will have to keep our eyes on the Kickstarter page to see when it goes live. You can also learn more about Almenara Games and stay up to date on their machinations by visiting them on Almenaragames.com or by visiting their Twitter page. And of course, if you are fiending for more ghoulish gossip on the latest in gory gaming, then head back to DreadXP and read more of our frightful features!