Wrought Flesh: from Cyberpunk to Bio-punk. An Interview with Narayana Walters
In this economy, you gotta do what you gotta do to get by. Sometimes, that means selling your organs to shady black market dealers, or, if you’re lucky, you can make a video game instead. That was the plan for Narayana Walters, solo developer of the Bio-Punk open world FPS RPG Wrought Flesh. Whose visual flair and visceral mechanics were born from the fascination of viewers on his Tik Tok and Youtube channel.
The aforementioned Youtube channel was where I had first learned of Wrought Flesh. The frantic gameplay and gruesome setting helped set it apart from other titles that had been popping up on my feed, so I was instantly attracted to it and wanted to know more. While I am sure that I could have scoured the many devlogs to learn the answers to my questions, I wanted to hear them directly from the creator themselves. Thankfully, I did not need to join a space cult to get the answers I was searching for, as they were willing to meet up for a short interview, and we were able to find some time to sit down and discuss their title.
The world of Wrought Flesh is very cool, it is reminiscent of the wastelands of films like Mad Max mixed with the Body Horror of movies like Videodrome, or Existenz. As a fan of body horror, I was very curious as to what the inspirations were for this title, so I began my line of questioning by asking about the conception of the game. I asked if this title grew from a mechanical perspective, or from the get-go, was the body horror part of the designs for the game?
Narayana Walters: Originally, you used to be cybernetic. And then at some point, I moved away from that… I think because I like the idea of making it as a fantasy game instead, and you’d be like a ghoul with necromancy. And then I went back to sci-fi… And then I noticed that, as I made it grosser, it started to get funnier reactions. Like I made an animation where you rip open your body to like, you know, when you open your inventory actually shows you rip open your body. And people are getting really disgusted by that. And I was like “Oh, this is funny, I should do more of this.” So I just tried making the game more gross.
And then it was originally like, a top-down view, with a more minimal 3D art style. Like, unshaded, flat colors and stuff. And then the low poly 3D aesthetic was starting to get big, and I’d done some tutorials on it. And I was like “I can do this. It’s pretty easy.” So I wanted it to be first person because I thought it would be funner and, like, more gory and interesting than a top-down game.
So I ended up switching to that. And I was working on that for a while. And then all of a sudden Cruelty Squad came out, which I had never heard of before. And then everyone started comparing my game to Cruelty Squad. Which is funny. But um, yeah. I don’t know, I didn’t really have any inspirations beyond just, like, Diablo-style grid inventory, but that’s where you actually equipped stuff. And then Ghost in the Shell for like, a lot of the body stuff.
I found it very interesting that the entirety of Wrought Flesh’s world had seemingly come to fruition through the influence of his viewers. But seeing as one can’t expect their fans to write every line of dialogue for their game, I wanted to hear more from them regarding the world of Wrought Flesh, so I asked, for the uninitiated, Could they give us a brief rundown of the settings and conflicts of the world?
NW: Let’s see, I guess it’s like, you’re a cultist, it’s space opera. You’re part of this giant cult, they revere the previous members. They’re considered saintly, and so everyone’s built out of limbs. Like the higher your rank is in the cult the more limbs you have of deceased saints on your body. And everything’s like “all of your body is sacred”.
And then you and everyone in the cult goes on different missions around the universe that are mysterious, and nobody is sure what the purpose of those missions are. And you don’t really find out what you’re doing until towards the end of the game, what the point of what you’re doing is. You’re just trying to find someone and kill them, and you don’t know why.
And the world itself, there are different factions. You’re on a colony planet that’s like, partially Terraformed, and there was a war, like, 100 years ago that stopped the terraforming process. So now it’s just mostly desert with breathable air, and there’s like, one spot with greenery on it. And you just kind of go around these little desert colonies trying to track down the person you’re trying to hunt.
With the style of the game changing throughout development, but the scope remaining mostly intact, I asked if that had any effect on the design and execution of mission structures?
NW: Yeah. So the problem was that when I started working on it, I wasn’t very good at design and kind of like working on it on the side for like, three years or so while I was making a bunch of other small games and building my YouTube channel and stuff. And so I learned a lot about game design while doing that, so like, a lot of my early ideas that are still in the game like how the world is designed and how you approach doing things come from more amateurish design ideas that I don’t think are very fun.
So kind of the big challenge is later on trying to fix ideas I had that weren’t as fun as I thought they would be. Like, for example, I don’t think I would do it as open-world as I did in the game, like if I were to redo it now I would probably do something much more linear and small.
Because I mean, it’s pretty much just been me making it. Like after I released it, I’ve since hired a writer and QA people and stuff to like, help me improve it and stuff, but before that literally I had done everything. I hadn’t done the music and like, the cover art. I had done everything else myself, which is really hard to do on a large scale game like that. So a lot of it was just like trying to reuse assets as much as possible. And just, yeah, trying to make assets and characters that look interesting enough that you can just reuse them 20 times in different spots, kind of things.
I followed up by asking if they felt like the post-game work they had done had been in service of getting the game to where they originally wanted it, or was this additional content for the game planned out after the game had been released?
NW: It’s more content, yeah. Which is kind of getting to my original vision, because, like what I wanted originally was lots of content. And then I just got so burnt out, I had to release it the way it was and take a break, because I needed money and just, like, a vacation. And so now, I should have released it in early access, I think, but it’s alright, whatever it is now.
But, yeah, I’m adding more content, I think there is like twice as much in it now as there was that release. And there’s gonna be another major content release, at some point, probably this fall.
With all the work being put into Wrought Flesh, including new areas, enemies, and items for the player to use. I wondered if there was more planned for this world beyond this game. So I asked if they ever planned on returning to the world of Wrought Flesh in future titles?
NW: Oh, I’m definitely gonna return. I mean, I already did another game in this setting. Before I did Wrought Flesh, I did a game Theyest Thou that I did in January of 2020. I like, challenged myself to make a game in a month and release it. So that was the same setting, completely different mechanics, and like, art style and everything. And then my next game is going to be in the same setting. I like the Sci Fi setting of this. I feel like it’s very easy to just do lots of different things with it. So I would like to just explore it in lots of other games. It’s gonna be my default sci-fi setting, I guess.
With games like Wrought Flesh, which offer multiple ways to complete your objectives, I am always curious to learn how the devs themselves play the game. I asked if they still enjoyed playing their game, this far past launch, and if they had any specific toolset or playstyle that they typically adhered to when running through the campaign on their own?
NW: Yeah, I enjoy playing. I don’t enjoy doing quests and stuff, because I already know all the stories and whatever. The things I enjoy are just like, playing around with the base mechanics. You know, max speed, get a few guns and just run around and shoot everything, and just mess around with the AI, and fighting them from different approaches. Kill everything on the map, reload the save and then just go and kill them all again, like, I’ll redo the same boss fight five times in a row. I just, yeah, I enjoy the movement the most. That’s the main thing for me. Just running, jumping, skating around.
Curious as to how the fans who had helped shape the style of the title reacted to his game after launching, I asked if they ever took the time to watch streams or reviews of their game?
NW: No, not really. When I released it, I did, and I saw a lot of bugs. And so I was like, alright, I’ll fix this. But otherwise, I don’t enjoy that as much as I did years ago. I guess now I’m like, I already know everything wrong with my game. I feel like I’m just seeing the same people or seeing people say the same things about it. It’s like, I don’t know, it doesn’t do anything for me. I already know the mistakes that need to be fixed. And I know the things that are good about it, after I’ve read like, the first five reviews or something.
I followed up by asking if they had seen any players use the tools in the game in ways that he had not expected?
NW: Oh, well, there’s a speedrun community and there’s some, like, movement bug I didn’t even know about. Where apparently if you run into a corner, there’s like, a certain way you can do it that just like will launch you flying across the map. That yeah, I thought that was funny. I didn’t know about that. I don’t plan to fix it. It’s not something you normally discover in gameplay, so I don’t mind it being there. Otherwise, I can’t think of anything.
While reading about the game online, one thing I have seen parroted many times is the notion that Wrought Flesh in some way owes its success to Cruelty Squad. I had always found this to be rather reductive, and I know that while comparisons can be flattering, it can also be frustrating to have people force a narrative onto your development. I asked directly, how had the constant comparisons made them feel?
NW: I mean, it was definitely, I mean, it’s definitely kind of annoying, because it’s like, I feel like the games have nothing in common like, you know… it’s like a stealth, tactical shooter. You sneak in, you know, mission based kind of thing. And mine’s like, this super fast-paced movement shooter where you’re like a tank in a super high speed environment.
I don’t know, everything’s different about the games, except they’re made in the same engine, they have low-poly low-res art styles, and they’re first person shooters. And so, I don’t know, I guess it’s annoying when people compare, because they don’t seem the same to me at all. But I can’t do anything about it. It was also kind of nice to see that [Cruelty Squad] succeed because it was like, “Okay, so there is a market for this”. And I also saw that he charged $20 for it, and I was like “You can charge $20 for a game like this? Okay, I’m going to do that”. (laughs)
Aside from the games, Narayana Walters has their hands in a few other pies. Including a podcast called Yeah, I make Games wherein they talk shop along with a revolving door of indie dev guests. I asked if this came about as a means to help people promote their upcoming titles, or if this was something meant for devs by devs to help shed light on some of the struggles that come with the domain?
NW: Yeah, so basically, I started the podcast as an excuse to make friends with game developers. I was just like, “Oh, these people are cool. I want to be friends with them”. So I just asked, like, you know, Adam Pype and Breogan Hackett. I was like, I’d like to be friends with them, so I just asked if they wanted to do a podcast. And yeah, then we invite on guests.
I’m just like, these are people that are cool that I’d like to hang out with. And then you know, if you hang out with somebody for an hour and a half talking about something you both are really passionate about, then you become friends. So it’s just like, that’s really all it was for me. (laughs)
I followed up by asking if they ever saw it expanding beyond a podcast in the future?
NW: Right now? I’m pretty happy with it. Yeah, I mean, I don’t see it for like, a long time ever being like, profitable, or an actual business thing. Right now. It’s just kind of a hangout for fun. I wouldn’t mind if it got big, but yeah, I don’t know. I don’t see it ever going that way for a long time.
Aside from the podcast, they have been active on Youtube for quite some time. And it was through their dev logs that I had even learned of the title in the first place. Curious as to what the main focus of the Youtube channel was, I asked if they started the channel to offer an inside glimpse into indie game development, or if it was to help them get the game in front of more eyes?
NW: Literally, the only reason I got into YouTube was marketing my games. If I could have had sales without doing it, I never would have done YouTube. I mean, now I kind of enjoy it. I kind of like making videos and it’s like, it’s like creatively satisfying or fulfilling to me like, yeah, the video making process, but it’s like, I don’t know, it’s still a lot of work. And I feel like I wouldn’t, you know, like, I mean, I haven’t made a video since like, I don’t know, December, because I haven’t needed to.
But I am going to soon to promote the next stuff. And it’s like, I don’t know, I like that it helps people, and people learn from it and stuff. But the main reason is just sales. My main goal in life is to make games.
Also, there’s the aspect of I, I like watching some game dev videos, but most of the ones on YouTube, I don’t enjoy watching because they’re just, I’m not their target audience. So I try to make videos that I would want to watch in the hopes of other people seeing that and being like, oh, I want to make videos in that format. So then I’ll have more stuff to watch.
As we reached the end of our interview, I touched back on a topic we had spoken about earlier. I asked if they had an affinity for body horror as a genre, or was it something that was born purely out of the viewers fascination in it?
NW: Yeah, I never was into body horror until I yeah, I just found that people, you know, got a lot of it got a good reaction out of people. And I’ve just kind of found that it’s a great marketing thing. Like you just make something that’s gross and disgusting. And like, like, I think it’s hilarious when I see body horror now. Like, I don’t have any interest in watching body horror movies, pretty much ever. Like even if I saw something gory, I think it’s funny. Like I saw hereditary. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there’s like a part where she liked the piano wire cutting off her head. And I was like, Oh, this is hilarious. Like, like, I see something like that. I think it’s funny. But I know other people get really grossed out and like, especially on tick tock like, the making videos on there to promote wrought flesh and like, you just show like five seconds of like, Oh, here’s my game where you rip out organs and equip them in your own body. And it just like, immediately gets people’s attention and gets them to stay. And so yeah, it’s mostly kind of a marketing thing right now.
I followed up by saying that I had most certainly expected to hear reference to a Cronenberg film or something similar when it came to inspirations.
NW: No, not really. All I know about Cronenberg is that there’s a reference to him and Rick and Morty, which I watched in college.
With that, we shared a jovial laugh and ended the interview. I thanked Narayana Walters again for their time and for sharing some stories about the development of their title.
If you are interested in seeing more, you can purchase Wrought Flesh from Steam and Itch.Io, or follow the post-game development of the title on their Youtube channel. To keep up to date with their other projects, visit their Itch.io page, or follow them on their personal Twitter account. Also be sure to check out the Yeah, I make Games podcast.
And as always, if you are searching for the latest and greatest in gory, gruesome gaming, then be sure to stay on DreadXP.com and read more of our frightful features!