EGX Rezzed: Interview with Danny Garfield (The Weaponographist)
I think I see a pattern forming in Puuba’s games, and say this to Danny Garfield when I see him at Rezzed this year. Not that the games are in any way alike – their differences are pronounced – but in an underlying theme; Danny guesses what I’m going to say.
Danny is larger than life – almost cartoon-like – as he bounces back and forth from speaking with me and the people coming to play the game, displaying more energy and enthusiasm than you’d expect from someone who’d been on their feet in public all day.
He was much the same at Rezzed in 2014 when we spoke about Concursion, the totally-different game I find myself making a comparison to. Concursion is a game made up of five other games bleeding into each other, where cute platform sections can lead into spaceship shoot-em-up, or maze games might provide a shortcut to a jetpack section. It involves taking a multi-discipline approach to playing, getting good at several genres and better at exploiting how they effect each other.
This year he is presenting the Weaponographist in the indie room at Rezzed, a top down dungeon brawler… except that you are forced to keep swapping weapons every few seconds, once again trusting the player to take a multi-discipline approach in their application of violence.
It seems he likes games that make players play in a range of ways… Get ready to master a lot of combat styles.
Danny gives an approximate number of 30 different weapons to lay your hands on. “The biggest thing for me was that each of the weapons in some way feel a little unique. It would be so easy to create a sword and a stick and they all work the same. But I really wanted to do something different, [with] pros and cons.”
Talk about different. Swords and bows you’d expect from a fantasy title; but when the enemies start including gangsters with machine guns, masked chainsaw attackers, and laser pistol carrying octopii you know to stop taking it seriously and just wonder what’ll come next. It might be an aggressively wielded sousaphone, for example (potentially Danny’s favourite item).
Controls are handled almost like a twin stick shooter, but not quite. Instead, the four right hand buttons on a joypad attack up/down/left/right – button presses felt to give a more tactile response. “Imagine twin-stick, it’s inspired by that. You can actually have the right stick [as] an attack button, but when we start introducing melee the buttons felt more comfortable for me. [...] For a three hit combo it felt right to be pushing buttons.”
Only attacking in four directions may sound limiting, as the enemy can sometimes – though not always – get the drop on you. In return, there are nuances to learn and balances in the player’s favour. “Simple basic hit boxes might be more generous in the player’s favour. But [...] our weapons have secret side effects that we haven’t discussed.” He gives two quick examples of a bo staff – “if you hold the button you swing it [around] and do constant damage. But it also works like a propeller and pushes you around the room faster” – and a massive troll’s hammer – “it slows you down but in exchange it destroys projectiles, so you can’t dodge as quickly but you can smash them out of the way.”
The game itself has our protagonist Doug McGrave fighting all manner of monsters as he advances through a series of dungeon rooms and levels. In the display demo these remind me of the first Zelda game – a single room per screen and needing to clear the enemies out before the door will open. However, you are being pressed to work as quickly as you can. Every weapon you hold quickly decays away and monsters keep arriving; but they regularly drop their own weapons when defeated, leading to a pattern of fighting and scavenging.
Protagonist, not hero. Doug McGrave is a bit of a dick. “On passing through the town of Hellside from one adventure to the next he’s recognised as a celebrity by the [local] witch, who asks him “I’ve heard of you, our town is beset by demons, is there any thing you can do to help us?” And of course Doug goes “yeah! That’d be great – what can you afford to pay me?” They cannot unfortunately afford his fee, so he turns to leave and is – I would say very deservedly – cursed.”
The curse doesn’t just make the weapons decay – Doug is fighting an uphill battle with his skills too. RPG elements of experience and skill levels are there, but unfortunately don’t only go up… Killing enemies adds both experience and to a combo meter delaying the effects of the curse; if this runs down then experience starts to bleed away. If you can keep taking monsters down, you’re fine, but if not you’ll face losing all the advantages that levelling brings.
When you die – and not only will you die, but at times it will be tactically helpful to do so – you will return to the town, where you can upgrade abilities and weapons. For example, there is an ‘unhexer’ (“He can remove the curse in parts, make the combo meter a bit slower, make you run a bit faster, more max health, [...] you can even increase the durability of your weapons – a bit.”) and a weaponsmith (“[he'll] allow you to train with each of the weapons respectively. So if you love the sword you can put some levels in [and] hit harder with it.”), and they – along with the others – can all help you push that bit further and harder on your next visit.
Graphically, the art matches the cartoonish nature of the story, and Danny feels lessons were learned between the two games. “Working with a much more local art team made life a lot easier. [...] we got dinner and lunch and hung out, and it’s just a very, very different vibe to the last game.” Letting the artists play very early helped too. “Everybody that did art played it before we ever had a piece of art, when it was all moving rectangles. And that makes such a difference that everybody’s really invested and cares.”
You’d think that musically this game would go for something simple after Concursion, which had five overlapping scores for each game that mixed as you went through them. However, this is also scored by Christopher Hoag (“I always feel compelled to say – even though he hates it – Emmy-nominated Christopher Hoag,” Danny says), and there is again a dynamic nature to the soundtrack.
“What we’ve done actually is kind of three stems of music, and so you have the base music, which is kind of like a thumping baseline, percussion, and you have a bit of a harmony. The higher your combo goes, you actually add extra instruments to that soundtrack, and [when you health drops to] one heart or less you have this glitchy electronic soundtrack; that’s kind of a bit of a warning track. So you can have all of those going at once. I guess it sounds best when you’re on low health but high combo!”
It’s an interesting idea, suggesting that you could ignore all the meters at the periphery and focus entirely on the action, relying on the soundtrack to update you on how you’re doing.
Danny is clearly a fan of speedrunning games – he streamed himself speedrunning Concursion not long after release – and talks of several ways that the Weaponographist can be measured. However, ability isn’t the purest way of speeding through the game, as running without deaths – and therefore upgrade opportunities – would be inefficient. Some strategy of when is needed too.
“Five of us were doing [a] speedrun head to head last week, and we were debating out loud in real time “ok, I’m going to beat the first boss, and then die, that way I can buy my upgrades”. And you also unlock more upgrades when you beat a level, so it’s a good time to die. But I was like “no, I’m going to beat the first room of depth two before I die, so I can find those new depth two weapons and power those up”, even though it does mean I’m going to lose [temporary upgrades from the first level] because there’s no checkpoint [...]. And so we were really debating “where’s the best place to die? Where’s the best place to return to town and spend your money?””
Even while we’re speaking, Danny is taking notes about the game as it is being played, and sometimes considering out loud how alternate play modes could work. As the game currently stands there is the basic game, and a harder challenge mode to take on with some practice behind you. “In the game proper your combo meter gets faster and faster the higher your level is; in hardcore mode it gets faster and faster the further into the dungeon you get. And so it’s almost like if you’re doing really good, your speed is flat. But if you’re doing poorly then the speed actually slows down.”
At this point it’s late in a busy day and I think my head might burst taking this in, and although Danny’s obviously had a busier day and isn’t flagging he takes pity on me. “It’s super hard to explain. I guess the best way to describe it is it rubberbands to how well you’re doing.”
But it sounds like the game is pretty near to completion, and I ask when release might be happening. “We’re looking at a demo in about three weeks. And we’re looking at the full game at the end of April [or] first week of May.”
Look for the speedruns shortly afterwards.
The Weaponographist is due for release on PC and Mac via Steam.