The Last Exterminator: Ironworks Games buzzes about their bug blasting Boomer Shooter
They say if you love your job you’ll never work a day of your life, let’s hope this is true for Kira Parker, the protagonist of The Last Exterminator. The upcoming Boomer-Shooter tasks the player with ending an insect apocalypse in a world reminiscent of B-movies and late 90s nostalgia. The game comes from the two-man team at Ironworks Games, headed by Nick London, and runs on an engine of Nick’s design, the Mars engine.
The Last Exterminator has been in development for quite a while, and before James Dornan joined the team last year, it was an entirely solo effort. I am glad that the hard work has seemingly paid off as the game had its gameplay trailer presented at Realms Deep 2022. The trailer does an excellent job selling the vibes and violence in the game, and I am glad that more people have gotten their eyes on this project.
But before it had been brought into the spotlight, I had been keeping up with the development of The Last Exterminator for some time and had been eager to learn more. A short time back I reached out to set up an interview with the team to learn more about the bugs, guns, and puns that the game had to show. Thankfully, both Nick and James were able to get out of the game development cocoon for a moment to talk to me about the game, its roots, and all the fun that comes with making your own engine from scratch.
Getting the interview started, I thanked both Nick and James for their time. I was very excited to get to speak to both of them, as I had been following their work online for what felt like years. To get some perspective on the timeline for the project, I started out by asking Nick how long it had been since he took the first step on this game development journey?
NL: Since 2016. As a matter of fact, I have a bookmark of the exact tweet that I made when the project started. Because yeah, the entire thing actually started because I was waiting for Fallout 4 to download, because Australian Internet is fucking terrible, and yeah, while I was waiting for that to download, I started playing Unreal, like the original Unreal, because I had nothing else to play. And by the time Fallout 4 finished downloading, I realized that I didn’t want to play Fallout 4 anymore. I just wanted to play Unreal because I hadn’t played a proper FPS in so fucking long. It was just exactly what I felt like playing because I used to be a huge FPS gamer back in the 90s, and I just kind of fell off when it all became Modern Warfare stuff. And yeah, just going back to those old games and realizing how fun they were. And it was like, I really want to make something like this.
So I kind of got to thinking and also realized that I’d never made a software rasterizer which is just like a software renderer. And so I started making that. And back then it was called Project Mars. Just because Mars, in Doom. Software rasterization made sense to me. As a matter of fact, the project’s actually still called Project Mars, like, the project files and all that sort of stuff. But yeah, so I was working on this like, before Dusk even came about, like before Boomer-Shooters were even a thing. So it’s been pretty wild watching the thing which I thought “hey, nobody’s doing this” and watching as suddenly everyone started doing this. And just watching the whole thing now of people starting to get sick of Boomer-Shooters. Yeah, it’s like, watching the whole thing occur, and fast forward while I’m making my game. That’s what happens when you work as a single person, also making my own engine as well, which does slow things down a lot. But it does give the game its unique feel.
Making an engine is no small feat, curious to learn more, I asked Nick what the series of events was that led to him developing the Mars engine?
NL: So what happened was, I started making a software rasterizer from that tweet that I linked. And it was originally just supposed to be a fun little side hobby project while I was working on a different game at the time. And it was one of those things where I started making a tremendous amount of excuses to work on my side hobby project rather than the main project that I was working on. Which was also another indie game and everything. And yeah, eventually I came to the realization that if I’m making this many excuses to work on this other project then maybe this other project is what I should be working on. So I switched over to working on The Last Exterminator full time.
And basically I was just building an engine to begin with, like, it didn’t actually become The Last Exterminator till probably about four years ago, I’d say before that it was just a generic retro shooter, without a lot of direction. And yeah, eventually I sat down and went “alright, what exactly is this game?” And spent like, a year and a half trying to come up with a name for it because names are hard… I’m actually really happy with the name. Like, once I eventually came across it, I was like, “Aw, yeah!”
Bringing the conversation back to the topic of the Mars engine and the herculean effort it takes to make a game, let alone make an engine, I asked Nick if there was ever a time when he considered scrapping the engine and switching to something like Unity?
NL: Multiple times, and it’s sort of like one of those yes-and-no things where it was like, the logical part of my brain was going “if we had made this in Unity, I would have been finished before Dusk even came out.” Which isn’t really true, but I would have been finished probably years ago by now. But there’s also the other part of me that goes, “but I really like working on the engine.” It’s a constant puzzle that you have to solve, like, you’ve got all of these design things that you want to achieve. And you go, “right, I have these pieces. How can I make these pieces make this outcome.” And when you’re using Unity, there’s a hidden middle layer, where it’s like, “I have these pieces, I want this outcome. I don’t have the right pieces, I need to make that outcome.” So I need to try and basically fumble in the dark to try and get the thing to do the thing that I want. Meanwhile, when I’m making my own engine, I know everything, I have access to everything. If my engine doesn’t do something, it’s because I haven’t made it. And that’s the only reason.
So yeah, I have a lot more control over what happens. And since I’m doing the design for the game, having that control really helps. But it is also really frustrating because when I want to do something that everyone else does, because Unity does it for free. I need to sit down and do that. For example, pathfinding, there’s no pathfinding in my engine at the moment, I’m using a very Doom style, sort of just walk-and-bump logic for the enemies. And I want to have proper pathfinding in there, because it gives me a lot more possibilities with enemy behavior. But I need to write the entire pathfinding system, which I haven’t done yet. So, yeah, it’s freeing and constricting at the same time, but it also means that the game has its own flavor, which I kind of like. Most of the people that I’ve given the game to, and have played it, have said that one of the first things that they notice is it doesn’t feel like a Unity game.
Even though I don’t really subscribe to the whole, like “a Unity game feels like a Unity game” with enough effort, anything you do through Unity can feel like anything else. Like, I’m actually a really experienced unity dev as well. And even when I used Unity, I didn’t use other people’s assets because I’m just so eager to learn how things work and also so I like being able to do things my way. Using other people’s code is just really frustrating for me at times. So yeah, there’s also a control aspect of it.
After hearing so much of the story behind the game, I asked Nick what he could tell me about the story of The Last Exterminator?
NL: Yeah um, there is a lot of backstory to the game, but none of it is actually important. It’s world setting. The whole idea with this game is it’s something that you can drop into and drop out of it. So it doesn’t really have a story so much as it has a setting. So like Kira Parker, who’s the character that you play, her impetus is she has been living in a van for ages because she got evicted because everyone in the entire city has been evicted. And yeah, so she has been living in a van doing odd jobs wherever she can. And while doing a job one night, alien roaches come in and start shooting up the place. She’s like, “Oh, fuck you guys. I’m taking this to you.” And like that’s basically the entire setting of the game is “aliens bad kill them aliens.”
But yeah, there’s also a lot of stuff going on in the background. So a lot of environmental storytelling about why the city is abandoned. why everyone’s been evicted, why this is happening now, all that sort of stuff. Don’t wanna go into too much, obviously. But it’s kind of what I call a choose your own investment story. Kind of like Dark Souls, where you can go through that entire game and have no idea what the story is about. It’s the sort of thing where if you start digging, you will have a story there that you can learn about. You can learn about the character, you can learn about the world, you can learn about even small sub-stories within that world. But it’s only what you put into it that you get out of it, which there’s something I love about that. It means that when you’re learning about this story, it becomes a lot more personal. Because you had to work to find out about it. Yeah, so that’s what I’m aiming for. At least
While discussing the game, I talked about the things in The Last Exterminator that made it stick out to me, specifically its 90’s grunge aesthetic similar to the straight-to-rental B-Movies I have enjoyed my whole life. It really helped the title stand out amongst the plethora of dark and violent Boomer-Shooters that have been releasing as of late. With this in mind, I asked Nick what the specific inspirations were for this title?
NL: I have this weird feeling that the reason why so many Boomer-Shooters are dark, because you look at the original Boomer-Shooters from the 90s, and they’re all B-movies, they’re all schlock, but I think what happened is because Dusk revitalized the genre, and that’s the tentpole, that’s the prototype that people are working from, and that’s why so many of them are coming across as really grimdark… I am really glad that you asked about the B-movie aesthetic, because honestly, this is the kind of thing that I like. I love things that can tackle serious topics, but can do them with a sense of levity. Because one thing I’ve noticed about a lot of modern media is that a lot of modern media is really, really grim. And honestly, the world at the moment is really, really grim as well. And I just want to make something a little bit lighter, a little bit more fun, a little bit simpler, and that you can just have a good time with it, rather than sort of going in there and just feeling the weight of the world on you.
But it also just gives a lot more emotional range to what you can do in something as well. Like if you start grimdark, comedy feels a bit out of place sometimes. And going even darker is just, you know, just kind of swirls around like a whirlpool going towards the vortex of sadness. And it’s just, it’s not fun. It’s not what I want. Like, I play those games, and they make me depressed. So yeah, just having something where I can just express my humor, make really bad puns, reference fun things that I enjoyed, and just have fun with it, that’s really what I want to get out of this. Because apart from anything else, it’s more fun to make this stuff. It’s fun to make stupid references to things. And yes, it keeps my motivation high to work on the projects when I can go, “Oh, I just thought of something dumb I can put in.”
I followed up by asking if there were any specific films or directors that he had in mind when creating the world of The Last Exterminator?
NL: Oh god, yes. I haven’t watched a lot of the films in a long time that I’m referencing, but Ghostbusters is a bit of a reference point. I have stolen far too many lines from that, and I should probably stop. And Sam Raimi as well. I really love Sam Raimi’s work and his directing style. Oh, I’ve got a bunch of others that are just completely escaping my head at the moment, and I will remember them as soon as this phone call ends.
JD: They Live, that was good reference.
NL: Oh, yeah, of course. Clive Barker has been a huge reference point. Clive Barker‘s music has also been a really big soundtrack to me making this game. I love that. that really 80s synth. Wait, is it Clive Barker I’m thinking of?… I’m thinking of John Carpenter! I keep confusing those two for silly reasons. Yes, yes, John Carpenter, not Clive Barker. Okay, so John Carpenter‘s music has been playing while I’ve been developing this thing. Because it’s just got that perfect synthy atmosphere… Escape from L.A. as well, how it’s got that sort of gritty, but still kind of bright and hammy as hell feeling about it, where the film itself knows it’s camp, but nobody lets on in the film that it is camp. I love that sort of thing.
As the conversation made its way back to the development of the title, I asked the two how they had come to work together, who had reached out to who?
JD: Was it last year that we started chatting? I think it’s been a year and a half.
NL: Yeah. I think I literally just messaged you on Twitter going “your work is cool. Do you want to do some stuff for me?”
JD: Yeah, I remember Nick reaching out because I had retweeted a bunch of his stuff just going “wow, this stuff, this looks really cool.” I really just liked the look of it. It just looks like a fantastic project. And then at some point, Nick reached out and I was like “Oh my God, try not to fanboy” but I really love your project. I was holding it back, I was holding back the fanboy.
NL: Oh, that’s really sweet.
JD: We just chatted for a while and you wanted somebody to come on board for a little bit and help out with some art assets. And I was looking forward to it, I was able to book some time with work and go help out. And when Nick showed me his engine, the project itself, I was completely blown away. It was like stepping into a goldmine. It’s just incredible to see how much work has been put into it. And yeah, it was mind blowing, seeing an engine written from scratch. And it’s got its own level editor and everything. And all the tools have been handwritten. It was like, wow. Because I was just working in Unity before. But stepping over into this masterpiece was incredible. And yeah, working with Nick was incredible. I mean, he’s taught me so much. And we’ve matched art styles up, got some stuff in and yeah, I still hop on the build from time to time to give it tryouts. And it’s just amazing how far it’s come.
I commented that it sounded like James’ role was just as technical as it was artistic.
NL: He was brought in as an artist. Because one of the things about my style is I think it’s a bit weird. Because I do it in a very technical way I’ve never been able to find anyone that can emulate it. Which makes it really, really hard to find artists to work with me because, you know, writing an engine, writing a game, and doing all of the art and all level design, It’s a lot to deal with. So I wanted to bring someone else on and I had been looking for ages and everyone that I’ve seen that does the low-poly pixel art style. Most of them, they basically draw high res stuff, and then they size it down. And they don’t put a lot of effort into it and then they just sort of crunch the colors and they go “that’ll do.” Which is fine because like, it all looks really, really good. But I love doing things a lot more precisely than that, and it takes forever to do.
So trying to find someone to help out with it was really, really difficult. And I saw some of James’ stuff online and his stuff was just phenomenally good, like really, really good understanding of lighting, of how to do low-poly pixel art stuff, and not make it too 16 bit but also don’t make it too PlayStation, it’s like there’s this exact point in between them where you get pure DOS FPS magic, and James was absolutely nailing that. So I messaged him and asked if he’d be interested in doing some work for me. And he did a test and he nailed the art test, first time, it was like he managed to replicate the art style super, super, super well. And yeah, so it was really, really good, bringing him on for that, because he managed to get out a lot of textures and assets that I’d kind of been dreading getting to, because I didn’t really know what I was gonna do with them. And he just knocked them out of the park. And they’re all still still in the build. I need to get you to do some more at some point.
Joining a game mid-development is sometimes a bit jarring, I asked James what the state of the game was when he arrived, was it fairly put together, or was it mostly textureless checkerboards?
JD: It was a mismatch, there was a bunch of stuff that had been done. So that was quite helpful, because it gave me a reference point to say, “okay, that’s the art style. That’s what I’m aiming for.” So it wasn’t just completely blank, there was a bunch of stuff already done. So it was sort of like filling in the holes, I would say, which is, it’s just nice from an art point of view, to be able to say, “Okay, this is how many pixels that’s needed. Here’s the pallette color.” Yeah, it was quite easy to sort of come on board and say, “Okay, that’s what you were aiming for. You’ve done a bunch of work already.”
NL: I’m not used to hiring people. So I think I over prepared a bit when you came on.
The team that is Ironworks Games had put a lot of effort into making sure that their style was exactly how they envisioned it. I asked if they had any tips or words of wisdom that they would give other game devs who are aiming to emulate that era of late 90’s PC shooters.
NL: It’s one of those things where it’s like, I have a million tips and tricks for people that want to do this style of art. But I think my biggest tip and trick is: don’t it takes forever. Like, it takes me probably about five times longer to do a model than a lot of other people just because the process that I have is kind of involved. Like it all involves really particular UV layouts, texture layouts and stuff, using very, very specific color systems and all this sort of stuff, that just takes a really really long time to do.
JD: Oh, yeah. We sort of set some rules in place to really get the feel of these older style games. So we had a color palette and we had to stick to it, and had certain polys that we also had to stick to, and they all had to fit in the right bounding boxes, so we couldn’t have any really complicated meshes going on. But having these restrictions, it gives you a sense of creativity, you’ve got to think outside the box.
NL: limitations really do breed a particular kind of creativity, which I really enjoy, like I said it takes me a long time. And it is kind of frustrating. But at the same point, it is really fulfilling when you get just that result that you’re looking for.
JD: Yeah, definitely. I do remember I was really fussy with colors. And I think one of the biggest chats was “are we sure we want this in the color palette? What about this?” How do we commit to this color palette?”
NL: That’s the weird thing about the color palette, like the color palette has been a big thing. Earlier on in the project, I thought in order to properly emulate the feel of old DOS games, I should establish just a set 256 color palette that everything uses. And I honestly regret that decision just because of how much it slows things down. Like when I’m trying to get a texture to look right. And the one color that I need is just completely missing from the palette. But yeah, ultimately, I think that’s one of the things which has helped give it its particular feel, especially that particular DOS build feel, is having that set palette, because it makes me make color choices that I otherwise wouldn’t.
A Couple of times, I’ve wanted to go for a particular kind of light blue-gray that isn’t actually in the palette. And so I’ve had to make a completely different color choice to actually make it fit in the palette correctly. That ends up making it look more interesting than the kind of dull color I was coming from. I’ve had a lot of people say that the game is really colorful. But I think the reality is: the game is actually really, really gray and brown, but it has accents of colors. And I think that’s what sells it to people, people remember the accents but they don’t remember the fact that the basis that all of those accents are sitting on top of is very, very green-brown…
So two of the main tips that I think can really, really help people emulate the style are: making sure that when you’re laying out your UVs for texturing, lay everything out on a primary axis. So don’t have anything tilted slightly to the right or anything like that, make sure everything’s straight up and down, left and right, wherever you can. And that will make it so that the characters actually have that sprite looking feel to them, rather than looking kind of messy, like a lot of the other ones do. Because you know, they just go into Blender, they press unwrap, it does it for them, and it rotates everything. But yeah, having those straight up and down UV islands, as they’re called, really, really helps.
And the other thing is to paint your lighting in. A lot of people rely on Unity’s lighting system. And that’s one of the things that gives a lot of these other games that Unity feel. In The Last Exterminator, there is almost no real time lighting at all. Characters and weapons and items and all that, they’re all flat colored, based off the light map that they’re standing on. And I paint all of the lighting onto the characters. And that’s one of the things that gives them that sprite feel as well. Because it allows me to really accentuate things like muscle definition and depth, and all of that sort of stuff, which can get lost when you’re using real time lighting. So yeah, those are the two big tips that I would probably recommend…
I never want to come across, like I’m saying “I’m doing things the right way.” I’m just doing things the ways that I like to do them. Like, people are making these models really quickly. But they don’t look bad, they just don’t look, what’s the word. They don’t fit with the 90s aesthetics, they have their own aesthetic. So yeah, me trying to emulate that 90s aesthetic makes it very, very different. makes it feel different to a lot of the other ones, I think.
We had spent so much time talking about the technical aspect of the engine and the aesthetics created therein, wanting to learn more about what to expect from the gameplay, I asked the team if they had any specific games they would compare it to, as far as the flow of gameplay?
NL: Yeah, there is one very specific combo. Duke 3D on the Quake engine was sort of the original nexus for what I wanted to do with this and that’s stuck pretty much the entire time from when I made that first Project Mars spinny cube thing to now. I love Duke 3D’s environments, I love how they present real spaces, and they put gameplay inside of those spaces. And they just put all of that effort into making these worlds feel like places and just filling them with detail and weird things that you can do and all that sort of stuff, and I love that. So I’m absolutely going for that. But closer to the limitations of the Quake engine where it is full 3D, we can have things moving around arbitrarily. We’ve got light maps, we’ve got animated lights, and all that sort of stuff. So yeah, that’s pretty much the exact feeling that I’m going for with this. And also trying to emulate the Quake, player movement as well, because I still feel that that’s some of the best player movement that we’ve seen in games ever is the original Quake
Something Nick has talked about during our conversation was the replayability of The Last Exterminator. Seeking elaboration, I asked Nick if the replayability of the title will stem from the tools at the players disposal, and the immersion of making their own choices during combat, or if it was more so about taking the time to go back over the levels and find the things they may have missed before?
NL: It sounds like a cop out, but all of the above. So one of the things that I’ve been doing while I’ve been designing this game is trying to make the weapons and the enemies have their own unique way of dealing with situations, or more to the point, weapons create intriguing ways to deal with situations, enemies create intriguing situations to deal with. Like, I’m very much sort of going off two prototypes for this, which is the Doom 2 style of enemy design where you have enemies that fulfill some sort of purpose on what they make the player do. You have the archviles, that is a super high priority target that you always go for the second you see them, you have the hellknights that are sort of small bruisers that you can sort of leave for a while, because they’ve got slow projectiles and that sort of thing. So they make you move around but they also take a fair bit of ammo to put down. So you really want to get some distance and hit them and all that sort of stuff.
So enemies that we’ve got in the game, I’ve tried to split them into their five different categories. Like they’re heavy, support, grunts, they’re special enemies, as well, that have their own unique behaviors, and all that sort of stuff. And all of them are designed to make the player engage with them in different ways. So that when I use them together in combat, the combination of the enemies that I have completely changes the dynamic of the fight. So you know, having a few melee heavy enemies will have the player moving completely differently to a handful of melee enemies, and a sniper, for example. Completely different dynamic. And yeah, you add a healing enemy in there as well, and then your priorities shift quite a lot like do you go for the ones that are going to cause you damage now or the ones that’s going to cause you pain later? Stuff like that. And, yeah, I’m very similar with the weapons as well, the weapons are supposed to deal with enemies in different ways. So when you come into combat, you can use a particular weapon that you’d like, and it can take care of it, or you can go for an optimal weapon that will take care of everyone, very, very quickly. Or you can just go with a gimmick weapon, because it’s fun… Basically, I don’t want to go Doom Eternal with it, where there is like a very clear, best way to deal with enemies. Because that’s another thing with the weapons is I want the weapons to be better suited to dealing with groups rather than individuals. So yeah, your explosive weapons are for dealing with large amounts of low tier enemies. You’ve got trap weapons that are better for chasing enemies and that sort of stuff.
While discussing the gameplay loop of The Last Exterminator, Nick discussed his philosophies regarding the way the story is presented to the player, and how the level is structured with player exploration in mind.
So the original question was about replayability, and there’s a really, really big thing I wanted to touch on, where I’m designing the entire game to have minimal interruptions. So I have setpieces, but not cutscenes, is a good way of putting it. The whole idea is that if you want to jump into the game, you don’t have to sit through a tutorial, you don’t have to sit through a cutscene, and that whole level flows from start to end, you’re always playing the game. Like you have in the original Doom, the original Duke 3D, the original Quake, and all that sort of thing, you’re never waiting for the story to happen. It’s always users in control of the story, or looking at something cool blowing up. And that’s one of the very, very core design principles that I’ve had with this game is to just leave the player in control, and do my job as a game designer to direct the player, but never force them.
So yeah, like, one thing that bugs me about a lot of games that I’ve played recently is that they have these levels that are filled with secrets, and I fucking love secrets. But then you’ll get like halfway through the level. And you’ll reach this point where you can’t actually go back to look for those secrets. So yeah, another design principle that I have with level design is that you can always go from the start to the end of the level at any time. It does kind of cause a little bit of complexity with some of the level design, but I think the game is better for it. Because it means that you can just explore it, you can always have fun exploring, you never feel like you have to check out everything right now.
Having learned so much about the game and the foundations it was built upon, I still had one question left in my mind. Why bugs? I wanted to know how the team felt about bugs in general, so I first asked Nick, who lives in Australia, known for its bugs and creepy-crawlies, if he got along with insects?
NL: (laughs) I do not, I hate bugs. I’m really really bad with them, I have to get my girlfriend to deal with spiders in the bathtub and stuff. But it’s a weird thing, It’s like, Americans specifically have this idea that Australia is full of all of these horrible creepy-crawlies that can kill you, and you have fucking bears! Like yeah, I have something I can squash with the shoe. You can’t fucking do that with a bear or a fucking angry raccoon.
I told them that in my defense as an American, a bear was never going to hide in my shoe and pop out.
JD: Never say never
NL: What would you rather deal with, the soldier or the spy?
When asked about insects, James was not as concerned as Nick was.
JD: I’m in England. So the worst thing we have is weather and English people, and apparently our foods not great either.
I asked them both, if they could make a handshake deal with a wizard, and rid the world of either real bugs or computer bugs, which would they choose?
NL: Real world bugs, definitely, hands down. Computer bugs are interesting. It’s like being a detective, man. What’s not cool about being a detective? When there’s a deadline, that’s when it kind of bugs me.
JD: Game bugs are the best bugs, sometimes you just get funny results. Sometimes you get really mysterious results.
Having learned about Nick’s hatred of insects, I popped the question, and asked if The Last Exterminator was made as a tool to help him get over his hatred of insects?
NL: The reason why I went with bugs in the first place. Is because like when I was talking about the enemy design and having different behaviors and all that sort of thing. One of the things that really struck me about Doom‘s enemy design was that when you walked into a room, you could immediately identify every enemy that was in the battle. Every one of them looks distinct, and that’s really important when it comes to combat because it means that you walk into a room and you know which weapons to choose, you know what movement behavior you need to be doing, all of that sort of stuff, it gives you information that you can then use. And yeah, like a lot of games don’t really copy that they just sort of go with dark humanoid enemies and that sort of thing.
And what I wanted to do with The Last Exterminator was I wanted to have a very visually distinct collection of enemies, like every enemy looks very, very different color-wise, statue-wise, silhouette-wise. And so yeah, like going for insects, apart from just having an exterminator fight alien bugs, it’s just kind of funny. The insect Kingdom just has so many different variations of what I can do, that I have a lot that I can pull from. So it won’t just be roaches, there’ll be spiders, there’ll be pillbugs, there’ll be all kinds of stuff all very visually distinct and all hopefully immediately identifiable. So when you walk into a room you know what you’re dealing with. That’s a long answer. Short answer is because it’s funny
That wrapped all of the questions I had for the team behind The Last Exterminator but before I ended the conversation, I wanted to speak to James about his separate project. That’s right, it’s time for a….
Like a kinder egg surprise, I have snuck another interview into this interview, as James is also developing his own title, an upcoming rogue-like FPS. From what I had seen, the game looked great in action. I had learned about this title a while back, when he had first begun showing gameplay footage on his twitter. The game looks like a lot of fun and it would be a shame to not take a moment to share it with you dear readers.
I told James I was excited to see more of the game as he developed it, and asked him how far along the project was at this time?
JD: At the moment, it’s in a prototype stage. So most of it is just experimenting, trying to get a good feel of what the game’s actually going to be. So there’s been a lot of experimentation, a lot of trial and error, lots of backwards and forwards. So I haven’t really been able to show off too much because some parts that I thought, “Oh, this is going to work really well.” I’ve just had to sort of recap and go, “Oh, no, it doesn’t actually work as well as I thought it would.” But the aesthetic, the style of it, and the action. I think I’ve got nailed down pretty well.
NL: It looks amazing.
JD: I mean, I keep calling it ugly. Nick keeps going “No, it’s beautiful.”
NL: It’s fuckin Beautiful, I won’t hear a word against it.
JD: I really wanted this fantasy sort of crunchy aesthetic. You can’t really pinpoint which era it’s from. But it’s, it’s from way back when. And yeah, I’ve just sort of been developing it. As time has gone on, there have been a couple of things that have sort of become a, I’d say roadblocks in development with it. Initially I developed stuff on Unity, but with the recent events with Unity, and also my time working with Nick, it’s sort of pushed me towards more of a build-it-yourself attitude. Nick, the whole time. He said, “No, don’t do it. You’ll regret it.” But I think it just makes me feel better working on something that I’ve built rather than having it pre-built. And also, it feels nicer working with something that’s more source based, rather than working for a big corporation that obviously needs to make money. And there’s fun parts to it, as Nick’s touched on, you know, having to build your own tool sets, having to learn the nitty gritty of things.
NL: Making an engine is amazing.
JD: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s annoying, because a lot of the work has to go into the fundamentals and base parts for the project. But just having my hands on everything is such a mood… because when you work with Unity, most of the systems are pre-built for you, they’re designed in a particular way. But sometimes you just want to get around it. So you have to sort of cheat the system, and hack it a bit. But when you’re actually just working directly with the hardware, you sort of just do it in your own way. And it’s nice. it feels more legit.
I asked James if I could get the DreadXP exclusive as to what the title for this cultist-blasting game?
JD: I’ve been thinking about calling it something short and sweet. Something that you could just Google and find it easy. At the moment, I’ve got the title Cruel. I thought that sort of matched up with the Doom and Dusks of the world. But yeah. I’m not 100% Sure on it yet. But at the moment, I’m running with that.
Cruel is a very cool title for a very cool game. I asked James what he wanted out of this game in the end?
JD: It’s, but yeah, another part of the project is to just downscale. I’ve always headed higher than what I’ve always been able to achieve. So I kind of want to take a step back, and make something that’s a much smaller game, much smaller mechanics, something that I can build on to, something that’s achievable, would be my words, but a small game that you can pick up for half an hour, play, have a good time with, you die, and then you go, “Okay, well, that’s fine, fine. I’m gonna go off and do a bit of work” or whatever you need.
NL: I so desperately want more games like that.
On the topic of the rogue-like elements of Cruel, I asked James if there was anything to expect aside from random levels and weapon parts?
JD: So I guess the first thing to touch on with the replayability is the random generation side, because that’s the one I’ve been most interested in. I’m using an algorithm called the wave collapse function. And it’s a recent one that’s been popularized by a short game called Townscaper. And it’s just a way of collapsing down certain tiles to form out a level. It’s complete chaos when you first run it, but when you start putting in constraints, you start to build 3D worlds that are just amazing. And I took the time sort of learning how that all works. And the levels that are coming out of it are quite coherent, and they’re different. So I’m really looking forward to seeing how that goes.
In terms of gameplay and stuff. I didn’t want to go overboard with weapon buffs, etc, but I did want to add to the gameplay. So on each level, you draw tarot cards and each of them pose certain challenges, certain debuffs or buffs to the character, so a good example would be if you complete the level in this amount of time, you’ll be rewarded for something, or a debuff where you’re just constantly bleeding so you have to complete the level faster otherwise you will die. It’s just things like that to make you go “okay, I need to do this in the level and change how I work with things” and yeah, I’m going to have a lot of fun tweaking those to make them different but yeah, with the weapons and stuff I didn’t want to go too overboard because I think there’s a lot of time and tweaking that has to go into that sort of things but I am experimenting with add-ons to guns, crazy stuff like that.
Since James had mentioned the guns, I asked him about something I had noticed, specifically, I asked if there was any concerns that he might blow someone’s computer up if he made the revolver any louder and punchier?
JD: (laughs) Yeah, I mean I had earlier on… weapon attachments… and at one stage I had you put on a machine gun mag on to the revolver. You can also replace the barrel so they shoot out fire bullets. And there’s this one attachment was the ‘big stubby’ so it makes the barrel bigger, but stubbier, and it makes the impact so much bigger, I still have to put that in. But yeah, having that gun feedback of having a powerful weapon was a big one for me. I like actions where you fire the thing and it just feels meaty and chunky, you’re really doing some impact on things. That’s something I’ve nailed sort of straight out the gate
I asked James what he thought the next things he was going to show might be?
At the moment it’s ironing out the game design, getting in those micro decisions to aid gameplay, just getting something that just is fun to go through. I am looking forward to showing off more. But yeah, game design and development just takes forever. You know that advert That pops up and guys like “hey, yeah, game development is easy.” He’s a liar.
With that I actually wrapped up the interview, I thanked them both again for their times and for the fantastic conversation. The title may be a ways away with a projected release date of 2024, but the work for a game dev is never finished, so I appreciate them giving me some of their time to talk about their titles.
If you want to be notified when The Last Exterminator launches, you can wishlist the title on Steam. To stay up to date on the latest involving Ironworks Games, be sure to follow the Twitter page for the studio. For more info on the day-to-day of the men behind the game, you can follow Nick and James on their personal Twitter accounts. And as always, if you are absolutely fiending for more gossip on the latest and greatest in horror gaming then be sure to head back to DreadXP.com and read more of our frightful features!