Below: Xbox One - Games Weekly

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Below: Xbox One

We've covered Capy Games’ modern take on the roguelike a few times since its debut during Microsoft’s E3 press conference last year. The game stars an adventurer who explores a mysterious island full of procedurally generated rooms where one wrong move could spell death. Once this character inevitably falls, the cycle starts again with a new adventurer, though the player retains all of the lessons learned last time. The idea is that the each new character ventures further and further into the depths, eventually learning the skills to survive all the way through. While this core concept remains the same, many of the finer details are constantly iterated upon to create the smoothest experience.


Crafting was only hinted at in April’s PAX East demo, but it was opened up fully at E3. While exploring the dungeon you could, for example, collect a container, some water, and an indigenous plant, and combine them to make a health potion. In a game where you can bleed to death from any injury, knowing this recipe is more important than ever. “Crafting is something that is meant to be relatively light,” says Capy president Nathan Vella.“You don’t have a ton of options in terms of combining 12 different things. Those combinations are not explained, like everything in the game, but they are always the same.” This means once players discover a recipe, they’ll have it forever as long as they remember it (keeping a notepad nearby is probably a good call).

The PAX demo also included a hunger/constitution mechanic that players had to manage. This was left behind for E3. “We’ve not necessarily thrown that idea out, but decided to remove it for the E3 demo and see how that felt,” Vella says. “See if it relieves some player confusion and questions like, ‘What is that thing in the right hand corner of my screen every time I enter a new level?’

Capy didn't only tweak feature sets; it also unlocked more of the world. Previous demos consisted mostly of natural cave structures filled with organic and ethereal monsters, but the latest build allowed skilled players to access a new zone that is obviously crafted, carved, and built by something or someone. “The game is not just, ‘Hey, you’re always in caves,’” Vella says. “There’s a lot more variation and a lot more of the world to explore than just what you see when you arrive in the depths.”

Laser-blasting spherical robots guard this new zone. The shield holds up against this attack and gives you time to observe the drones’ patterns. Players must dash in close for a quick sword slash between shots and be careful not to get surrounded or risk a blast to the back while blocking another shot.

We still have yet to see traditional boss characters outside of a black tentacle smoke monster in one of the trailers. So how do you go about creating a boss when every enemy in the game has the capability to kill the protagonist in one hit? “That’s definitely something that we’re trying to figure out on our end as well,” Vella says. “It’s not going to be easy on us to integrate big things like bosses or large-scale enemies because of how the health system works and how the game is permadeath and how it’s not a loot grab. There’s not a billion potions for you to find so you can keep healing and dispatch a larger more challenging boss in your first try, but we’ll figure it out.”

Due to Capy’s experimental process and dedication to getting it right, Below still has no clear release window, nor will it anytime soon. Vella says that there are still plans to add more “pretty big pillars” that are not in the current build, ranging from weapons and enemies to multiplayer elements to larger story components. “There’s still a ton of work to be done on the game for sure,” Vella admits. “But the reason we started showing it at PAX East and E3 was because we felt really confident that the core of the game the combat, the exploration, the survival, the art style, the music all of that was at a state where we were very happy with it. We felt like it was a great time to start shoving a controller in peoples’ hands and watching what they do.”

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