Over the past few years, the Souls genre has found tremendous success in the games industry. At first an unassuming game, Demon’s Souls went on to start a new trend inspiring countless developers. The success of the Souls genre has had ripple effects to indie developers as well. While some studios may not have the large staff of From Software, that isn’t stopping some, such as Aleksandar Kuzmanovic, from putting a different spin on this newly established genre.
Various developers are continuing their attempt at capturing the success of Souls genre ranging from sci-fi to pure imitations. Amidst this wave of new titles is Unworthy, a 2D game which combines both pixel-art and Souls style gameplay. Despite the crowded market of those two elements in gaming, Unworthy is seeking to prove it’s worth to players.
For Unworthy creator Aleksandar Kuzmanovic, the journey into the project was one which rooted in his passion for gaming. After graduating university with a degree in Civil Engineering, Aleksandar grew tired of the profession, and instead pursued his longtime passion for video games. After brushing up on art and animation in games, Aleksandar was able to lend his newfound talents in Runic: Legacy of Sin. Admittedly shallow given his minimal experience, there was a motivation within Aleksandar to continue learning and developing games.
Aleksandar was especially inspired by a Ludlum Dare submission by Benjamin Anderson titled Grave. Impressed with Benjamin’s usage of black and white visual styles, Aleksandar was keen to take the step forward and develop what would become Unworthy.
MASTERY OF MECHANICS
“The game mechanics in Unworthy are very much inspired by Dark Souls + Bloodborne; a little bit too much perhaps,” said Aleksandar. “Although I know Dark Souls and Bloodborne are pretty much mainstream at this point, to me they exemplify the pinnacle of game design. This isn’t because of the lore or the difficulty curve or anything of that nature that has attracted many fans, but rather the mechanics themselves.”
While some players may look at Dark Souls or Bloodborne on the surface, their true success rest in the mechanics. Such a thing is what makes any game successful, but there’s an almost fanatical approach by From Software when it comes to creating the mechanics, and ensuring they’re not only flawless but are cohesive to every element in the game.
This is something that Aleksandar is taking to heart when developing Unworthy. “It is exceptionally difficult to balance a game like Dark Souls and still make it feel realistic. Every attack, stagger, and parry is perfectly timed so that all actions matter, but the game flow is never interrupted. This is incredibly difficult to achieve. The biggest goal for me with Unworthy is to provide emphasis on engaging combat and to make huge difficult/complex bosses. Most of the enemies in the game can be approached from a puzzle perspective. Though, they have openings and things you can/can’t do when fighting them.”
WIELDING YOUR FATE
Like the Souls games, Unworthy will provide players with an ample arsenal to use. Whether or not players properly master these weapons to survive is another matter.
Compared to most Souls inspired games, Aleksandar is taking a different method to how Unworthy handles its weapons. “The player always has a primary weapon (sword and shield) and they can equip a chosen secondary weapon. Each weapon has its perks and weaknesses and a special ability that is available when a cooldown is ready.”
Continuing the elements of the weapons Aleksandar said, “For example, the base sword and shield allows you to mitigate an attack whenever the cooldown is ready. Whereas the hammer releases a short ranged but powerful shockwave. The sword and shield deal less damage than the hammer but are quicker.”
Players accustomed to Bloodborne may find this weapon decision to be interesting, and it’s another way for Unworthy to differentiate itself. Even more, players fond of action titles such as Devil May Cry may find other elements of Unworthy’s combat appealing. Of other combat elements, Aleksandar said, “The other interesting thing is you can swap weapons mid combo to chain attacks from different weapons together. This isn’t really necessary to complete the game. But if you can master it, it allows for some really cool combat decisions.”
NOT FOR EVERYONE
The Souls, Bloodborne, and most recently Nioh all have one thing in common – they’re brutally difficult. For some players, this can be a deterrent. Yet for others, it’s an entertaining, borderline sadomasochist, way of playing a game. Games in the Souls genre don’t hold their punches, and instead, throw out constant knock-outs from the very start.
For Unworthy, finding the right approach to the difficulty has been surprisingly easy. “There are always a few players that find the game a little bit too difficult, he said of the development. “Unworthy isn’t a game for everyone, and that’s okay. Typically players that have played the Dark Souls series have found the difficulty level appropriate. I’m sure some might give up.”
FREE TO ROAM
When tackling a game inspired by Souls, most developers take two routes: they either go full 3D, or go for a top-down perspective. Unworthy eschews these approaches in favor of a 2D one reminiscent of old SNES games. This may make it seem that Unworthy won’t have immediate depth in the environments and their size. But Aleksandar designing the levels in a somewhat familiar way.
“Unworthy very much follows the metroidvania formula in terms of level design. So there really aren’t “levels” but rather an open world to explore. The first parts of the game are very linear. This is to kind of serve as a hand-holding exercise to show the player what they can do and what they can expect from the game. The later parts of the game are a lot less linear and there are many branching paths for the player to explore.”
Despite the commonality of metroidvania games, it’ll be interesting to see how deep Unworthy goes with its levels. From the footage and demos released so far, Aleksandar is striking a balance between classic and modern design, which younger players will find appealing.
The Souls genre is one which is growing more crowded as more games are released, and others such as The Surge, are forthcoming. Unworthy may be a relatively small game, but it’s one which not only has a different visual style and it’s seeking to separate itself from the pack. This is more than obvious in the combat decisions Aleksandar has made, and his dedication to mastering the mechanics. Unworthy is on the track to proving itself, and now it’s a matter of if players can prove their worth once the game arrives.
Unworthy will arrive Q2 2017 release on PC, with consoles to follow thereafter.