UK-based artist-turned-developer Jamie Degen has just launched a Kickstarter campaign for his project Hellscreen - a first-person shooter inspired by hellish '90's PC classics such as Doom, Quake and Unreal. With a striking duo-chromatic, pixelated art style and tons of firepower combined with a strong story and lore, Hellscreen hopes to find a home on Nintendo Switch. We were luck enough to catch up with Jamie to his discuss his new labour of love, retro inspiration and mashing the old with the new...
Hi Jamie! So what exactly is a 'Hellscreen'?
The Hellscreen is an ancient machine created by the gods millennia ago to determine objectively who should go to the afterlife and who should go to Hell. It exists in its own dimension, outside of space and time and is a vast evolving, biomechanical machine. It consumes the natural resources of its surrounding environment and slowly expands across the entire planet it inhabits like a plaque.
Sounds awesome, so how did the project start?
The project initially started as a way to learn new plugins for unity called 'playmaker'. It allowed me to use a node-based scripting language to prototype some FPS mechanics and create a little playable inspired by devil daggers, but with a Game Boy palette. After I got the basics in, I started revisiting an old idea for an FPS which I had in my head for about 15 years - Doom but with a heavy emphasis on Giger-inspired architecture. Taking that seed and mixing it with more recent ideas for mechanics and until it began resembling what you see today. Since then, I added more idle clicker style elements, the rear-view mirror and transforming weapons.
Your body of work is split between being similar in tone to Hellscreen, and then... not at all! Did your roles differ much from project to project?
The roles only really changed in terms of responsibility from project to project. Generally, throughout my jobs have involved creating environments and props. The last few projects tended to have me wearing a few hats and looking more at technical ways to achieve features and effects and performing a more senior role. More recently I have been freelancing and has seen me return to a small environment/props based role.
Has any of your other work influenced Hellscreen in any way?
A lot of my work has been so stylised and kid-friendly that that side of my experience hasn't really influenced Hellscreen much. Killzone Mercenary kept reminding me that I wanted to develop the old idea of Hellscreen at the time but no direct influence was really there. I'd say I was more inspired by other games - Devil Daggers inspired me in terms of scope but the main influences are Alien Trilogy, Jedi Knight, Classic Doom, DOOM 2016 and more recently Dusk. I play as many indie FPS as I can to see how they compare.
Hellscreen is a retro-inspired game in 2018 - is that difficult to balance in terms of consumer expectation?
I think its always difficult to convey the idea of the game effectively. This has been especially apparent in the Kickstarter where I could have had more emphasis on the unique gameplay features in the game. People tend to judge very quickly too (who can blame them with so much new information being released every minute!) so trying to convey that it isn't just a devil daggers clone is an ongoing issue. On the flipside, the '90s FPS revival also makes it easier to share and be part of a community. People don't need a lot of references to understand that it is in that genre of games.
There is a heavy backstory and lore to the game- what works of popular culture influence you?
The Alien movies and by extension, the works of Giger are a primary influence on the art style which in turn informed the story. I actually started with the art style and design and worked the story into that. Arthur C Clarke's writings are a huge influence on the world building too, especially with some of the grander ideas that are present in his books. Old pixel art from some Amiga games as well as a particular stage from Streets Of Rage II are always present in my mind too.
How is the aesthetic integral to the experience?
The aesthetic is designed to stand out from other games initially but also has a gameplay language. The redder colours stand out and draw the eye to dangerous elements allowing the player to focus on the second to second gameplay and be aware of all hazards. The rear-view mirror plays a part in the aesthetic too, with the mirror allowing for different view modes (i.e the Hellscreen version of night vision, invisible enemy detection etc).
What kind of locations can we expect and do they influence the gameplay?
The game takes place in the Hellscreen dimension and will explore the history of its growth and evolution. Existing outside of time, the machine looks to human history to its continued, ongoing design. What was the Hellscreen like during medieval times? What was it like in the primordial era? What was the planet like before the machine was created? Is it alive? These questions will be answered throughout the game. There are five planned locations, each with the Hellscreen twist. These areas will have their own traps and mechanics and will allow for lots of interesting encounters and will feel different to each other.
As a fan of the genre, what elements are a priority for you when developing the game?
Recreating that feeling of playing a fast-paced FPS is the number one goal, but also adding new twists to refresh the genre. The weapons have to feel chunky and the levels must be interesting to navigate. The enemies should feel dangerous but the player should also feel powerful. As a games artist, It is important it has its own identity and try to do new things with the genre to give it its own flavour and feel different to anything that you have played before.
You've announced only PC, but Switch is definitely on your radar?
Nintendo Switch is my ultimate goal. Hellscreen looks great on small screens and the Joy-Cons even look similar to the colour palette in the game. It's ultimately up to Nintendo though! I think it would be seriously cool to play on the go.
We would like to thank Jamie for his time. You check out the Kickstarter for Hellscreen above. Let us know if you think it would a good fit for Nintendo Switch in the comments section below...