The elevator pitch for Necropolis is the sort of tantalizing morsel that seems to provoke an instinctual urge to possess and play: It’s Dark Souls lite mixed with Spelunky, Mike McCain tells me.
And amazingly, the play lives up to the pitch.
Even in its early alpha stage, Necropolis is a tightly constructed, unforgiving third-person action rogue-like that procedurally generates your dungeon with each death, which means it churns out a lot of dungeons.
The art style is a gorgeous curated low-poly look inspired by what McCain, developer Harebrained Schemes art director, tells me was inspired by a growing trend toward minimalistic geometric design.
“Stuff that is rendered well, shapes carefully chosen,” he said. “I’ve seen it described as a log cabin, all of the building materials our on display. All of the polygons are on display, we’re not hiding them with a bunch of textures.”
And that’s the game as it stands today, then McCain starts to talk about the “purely speculative” stuff the team is considering for the game.
Death, death and death
The Necropolis is home to the greatest collection of magical items and treasuries the world has ever know, but it’s also a brutal murdering deathtrap.
Constructed thousands of years ago by the archmage Abraxis, the Necropolis is now run by the Brazen Head, a sort of insane caretaker.
“You’re an adventurer and each time you restart the game you are playing as a new adventurer,” McCain said. “You are trapped in the Necropolis looking for a way out and the only way out is down.”
Play is fairly simple: There are buttons for light and strong attacks, locking onto an enemy, using a potion, blocking with a shield, jumping and evading. You can hold either attack button to charge the attack. Surviving the enemies is about learning the timing of your attacks, how to evade and when to block.
In action, Necropolis does have a sort of stripped down Dark Souls feel to it. There’s the constant knowledge, as you duck and weave, poking your enemy with sword, that one misstep will cost you health, eventual death and a complete restart of the game. So you always play with caution.
The demo, which lasts about ten minutes, was just enough to give you a taste of combat, what some of the enemies look like and how the world comes together.
For such a seemingly simple game, there’s a lot of stuff going on in the background.
At one point, McCain lead me to an area that featured a Gemeater, a large shark-like man, that proceeded to chase me around trying to eat my character.
The Gemeater, McCain told me, likes eating adventurers, but he likes eating crystals even more.
When I ran into an area filled with the Grine, crystaline enemies, the Gemeater stopped chasing me and started attacking them.
McCain called this basic idea of getting enemies to attack one another the ecology of threats.
“Basically in the demo you saw how the Gemeater preferred to ear the Grine, the crystal characters, over you,” he said. “Once you learn that, you can use that to your advantage and lure him over to the Grine and have him attack them.
“We want to add a lot more examples of that. Certain creatures hate other creatures or have a favorite food. If you lure a certain creature to a room full of a certain plant he’ll eat that, then he’ll be cool and he won’t attack you anymore.”
The game also has a basic crafting system, which will allow you to collect drops and plants and things and at any point pull up the crafting menu and make potions.
“You can craft things like an invisibility potion, a grenade potion, and later on maybe things like feather fall, various buffs and utilities, maybe a potion that lets you fly for 20 seconds or so,” he said.
Currently, the game has one character class, the rogue-like Blackguard, but more may come. There are also a variety of outfits you can find and unlock permanently for your play sessions.
With the game so early in development, there are still a lot of things that haven’t been locked down and a lot of glorious ideas that may show up in the title.
The one and only
“So this is purely speculative,” McCain said, ” but it would be cool to have a weapon that is unique across the game.”
That means a weapon that exists only once across all of the games being played in the world by all of the players.
“And when you get it an automatic tweet would go out from the game’s account saying you got it. When you die, another tweet would go out saying the weapon is available again.”
The game is designed to be very social, even the snippets players find in the single-player game are all designed to be 140 characters or less, so if the team decides to incorporate Twitter into the game, they could be tweeted without any problems.
Already the game is designed to keep count of total player deaths and can inject that number into the game at appropriate places. It can even show how many players have gone through an area. And the team is talking about perhaps populating areas with player corpses, complete with accurate, auto-generated obituaries that explains how they died.
“We thought that would be cool to do,” McCain said.
While the game is currently single-playing only, McCain said the team would love to add a form of multiplayer eventually.
“We’ve thought about that sort of thing,” he said. “One thing we’d love to do is drop in multiplayer in a style like Journey where you would come across another adventurer and work together or kill them and take their stuff.
“That’s not something we would include when we ship the game. It’s more likely something we would add-on. We want this to be a game that we continue to push content and updates to down the road to continue to broaden the experience.”
Play in progress
Necropolis is still very much a work in progress. In the demo, the game only features two weapons: a greatsword and a light curved sword. The plan is to have a half-dozen weapon types and within each type a variety of weapons to choose from. There will also likely be different types of shields and the team is talking about doing a couple of ranged weapons, which would require both hands to use.
Currently, each time a player starts a game in the demo they can choose from one of an even mix of male and female procedurally generated adventurers.
The adventurers also have procedurally generated names like Dioscuri Aryx, son of Ekeko, a blackguard of the Last Towns or Hecat the Archon, daughter of Chiron, a blackguard of Sandakar. Eventually, though, those characters will be customizable with clothes and items found in the dungeons.
Players will also be able to find and collect codex, which will each bring persistent unique upgrades to the characters you control.
“You won’t be able to equip them all, but you will have one or two or three slots to equip them in,” McCain said. “They deliver unique bonuses like maybe making your character very defensive or some other, more interesting things.”
For the love of Dark Souls
Necropolis was born out of a love of Dark Souls, McCain said.
“Chris, our technical director is a massive Dark Souls fan,” he said. “There are a lot of Dark Souls fans at the studio.
“We noticed that there are a lot of fun, exciting rogue-likes on Steam, but that not many of them have taken that to 3D. So we thought that would be a cool combo of things we’re passionate about.”
The game, which is being self-funded, is in development for PC but the team would “really like to bring it to consoles. We’re starting to have conversations,” McCain said.
“As far as a release date, it will be really late this year or sometime next year.”