October 19, 2018

Thriving in Early Access, AMID EVIL is a Retro Fantasy FPS with a Modern Mind

By Shawn Petraschuk

If you knew nothing of AMID EVIL and fired it up for the first time, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ve already played it at some point in the distant past. Upon further inspection, you’d discover a modern game with crafty AI, blistering fast gameplay, and ultra cool, out of this world weapons. 

Built with a healthy respect for the games that inspired it (DOOM, Quake, Heretic, and more), AMID EVIL wears its inspiration on its pixelated sleeve, but that doesn’t mean it lacks modern mechanics that make today’s games great.

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Recently releasing its fifth of seven distinct and unique episodes, AMID EVIL has enjoyed great success in Early Access and received a ton of input from its dedicated fanbase. Not letting the community's valuable feedback go to waste, Indefatigable has taken the time to read comments and implement changes based on what they’ve seen. Showing their fans they value both their input and their faith in the game’s direction surely lends itself to AMID EVIL’s 98 percent ‘very positive’ rating on Steam.
 
To learn more about the project, we took a moment to chat with Simon Rance and Leon Zawada from Indefatigable about their game, their journey to indie development, and their experience with Unreal Engine 4. Stock up and reload as we talk modern-day retro shooters below!
 

AMID EVIL is the first game from your studio, Indefatigable. Tell us a little bit about what brought the team together and why you decided to jump into indie development!
 
Well, we (Simon & Leon) have been friends since 1994. We grew up playing games and making mods. Most notably Return of the Triad - a full Rise of the Triad total conversion mod for GZDoom. This eventually led to us joining Interceptor Entertainment to work on the official Rise of the Triad reboot in 2012.
 
That was our first jump into indie, so I guess this isn’t our first rodeo. After shipping some other titles with Interceptor, we left in 2016 to start on our own thing, which we had wanted to do for years. By that point, we had a lot of experience and the time just felt right. And so... Indefatigable was born!
 
A few friends who also used to work at Interceptor have joined us as well, such as the mighty Andrew Hulshult, who’s making the (seriously great) music and also doing some sound design. Daniel Hedjazi has helped us out with some of the level design. Chris Pollitt made the really awesome key art for the game, as well as some dope concept art pieces. James Miller (who was the ROTT 2013 QA lead) has helped a lot with QA. Finally, we teamed up with producer Dave Oshry who also worked with us on ROTT 2013 and now runs New Blood Interactive - our publisher. So, to make a long story short - Rise of the Triad brought us all together!

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The studio name, the word ‘Indefatigable’, carries the definition of 'incapable of being tired out; not yielding to fatigue, untiring'. How do you bring this philosophy to your studio, game development, and AMID EVIL in particular?
 
We got the name “Indefatigable” from the Horatio Hornblower stories. It was the ship of Admiral Sir Edward Pellew. An amazingly successful ship, in both fiction and real life - hopefully, our studio can be, too.
 
But we do run on low-stress levels at our studio. We don’t crunch and tend to work whenever we feel like it. Some days you just get tons of work done in no time, other days there’s just no mojo flowing and nothing happens; but we don’t sweat it. Trying to force creativity can burn you out easily, and by countering that we’ve gotten a ton of work done between us. Luckily our publisher is also pretty chill about it.

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You make no qualms about your inspirations for AMID EVIL. Built on the Doom Engine, and released in 1994, Heretic is looked back upon fondly by genre fans. What was your biggest reason for using a game like Heretic as the inspirational building block for a game released into Early Access in 2018?
 
Well, it’s not just Heretic - we set out first and foremost to make a Fantasy FPS game with gameplay inspired by many of the classics such as Doom, Quake, Unreal, etc. A core gameplay loop focused on fast movement, cool weapons, cool enemies, fun levels, and lots of action.
 
There's Heretic DNA for sure. We got inspiration for soul mode from Heretic’s Tome of Power - which is a really satisfying mechanic. Heretic also had a lot of color going on, which we’ve got happening in AMID EVIL as well.
 
And what most people don’t know is that AMID EVIL actually started as a Doom mod when we were kids way back in 1997. It then evolved into a top-down game. We even made a prototype of that in UDK. That prototype design had a sword that would transform into different weapons, which eventually evolved into the Axe that the player wields now. There are other elements from those old design docs we used in the current game as well. Maybe we’ll dig them up some day.
 
What features does AMID EVIL have that sets it apart from Heretic and other old-school FPS games?
 
Thanks to Unreal Engine’s versatility and use of modular assets, we’re able to have seven distinct episodes - each with a unique setting and unique enemies. This gives the game a ton of variety and means we can constantly keep it feeling fresh. There’s no being stuck in ancient Egypt or Atlantis or military bases or whatever for an entire game. We can change it up.
 
We’ve also got weapons the likes of which have never been seen before. Like an interdimensional mass of glass ribbons that shoots literal black holes and a staff that pulls planets out of space and launches them at enemies; sometimes even Earth (sorry, Earth!).
 
Soul mode is another cool feature which upgrades and overpowers your weapons for a short amount of time, allowing you to shred enemies. This was inspired by the Tome of Power from Heretic but we use it to a much more devastating effect. We don’t think anyone has ever turned a battle axe into a boat propeller… until now!
 
Not to mention that the AI is much more crafty than in most classic FPS games. They path extremely well and will jump up and down ledges to get to you. Some reflect your attacks back, some are able to dodge and flank etc. It adds a lot of depth that the classic games just didn’t have - but also a lot of strategy and fun.
 
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What were some of the developmental challenges of bringing a retro-FPS to life in the modern era? How did Unreal Engine 4 aid you in realizing your vision?
 
Development wise - it’s been pretty easy! We have a lot of experience with Unreal Engine, so the challenge for us is mainly in our small team. We wouldn’t have been able to make this game if it wasn’t for our experience and Unreal Engine 4’s amazing tools and workflow.  We’d say the real challenge with any retro FPS is trying to appeal to both fans of the classics while trying also appeal to newer players. And creating kick-ass levels.
 
Has anyone on the team worked with Unreal Engine before? If so, how has that experience benefited you in development of AMID EVIL? If not, how difficult did you find it jumping into Unreal Engine 4 for the first time?
 
We’ve been working with Unreal for... six years? We first started using Unreal Engine 3 with Interceptor Entertainment on Rise of the Triad 2013. We jumped to Unreal Engine 4 for the development of Rad Rodgers. The jump to UE4 wasn’t difficult at all honestly. It’s got the fastest workflow of any engine we’ve used by far. You can rapidly turn your ideas into something working in no time. We’re big fans.

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If you had to choose a favorite Unreal Engine 4 tool, what would it be and why?
 
It would definitely be Blueprints. The iteration times and ease of visual scripting etc. has been one reason why we’ve been able to make this game in less than two years. The game mainly relies on Blueprints, in fact. We don’t have much C++ going on.
 
The visuals in AMID EVIL are very unique. How did you manage to blend ‘90s FPS and modern looks so well? Is it true the weapons are actually sprites?
 
What we’ve created is a style that combines full PBR rendering and other features that Unreal Engine 4 offers (such as volumetric fog, GPU particles, extensive use of the robust material system, and reflection captures) with the old school, unfiltered texture look of the mid-90s FPS games.
 
And yes, for example, the first-person weapons and pickups you see are actually sprites with individual frames using masked materials, complete with normal, roughness, and metalness maps. They’re then baked with perspective from hi-poly 3D meshes, with a fairly unique workflow. We’ve actually got an upcoming technical blog about this aspect of the look we’ve gone for and how it’s done. Stay tuned!
  
Recently launching your fifth of seven total episodes, the feedback from fans and critics alike is hugely positive. How important has feedback been to the further development of AMID EVIL since entering Early Access in March 2018?
 
The feedback has been amazing and we’re truly blown away by how much people like the game. Early Access turned out to be a much better idea than we thought, mainly because the game is practically bug-free because of it!
 
Moreover, the episodic release schedule we’ve taken on has kept players interested and engaged during Early Access as well. So it was definitely the right decision. It’s allowed us to read nearly every comment and suggestion people leave during development since there’s always room for improvement and new ideas. We’ve taken many of these player suggestions into account and implemented them into the game, too - which is cool. Having a community invested in helping you make your game better every day is something seriously invaluable. AMID EVIL wouldn’t be what it is without them.

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With two episodes to go, has your approach to development changed in any way since that initial release? Have you 'course corrected' on anything realizing it could be done better or more efficiently?
 
AMID EVIL’s development is actually quite unusual for us. We don’t really have much in the way of documentation or concepts. We basically just experiment with ideas until we build something cool, then iterate on it ‘til it’s solid all around. It’s neat because each episode has its own feel because of that. Sure, there are always things that could have been done better, some systems could be more modular, more optimized, etc. But it’s been fairly smooth sailing. And Unreal Engine 4 definitely helps with that.
 
What have you learned along your journey so far that you'd pass onto another developer jumping into Unreal Engine 4 for the first time?
 
Unreal is its own thing, some things within it are very similar to other engines, but others definitely not. Take time to read the documentation. Use the tutorials. And remember that the Unreal developer community is huge and welcoming, so there’s a lot of help out there if you ever run into anything. Talk to them!
 
Where are all the places people can go to learn more about AMID EVIL, New Blood Interactive, and Indefatigable?
 
●      http://AMIDEVIL.com
●      http://Newblood.games
●      http://Indefatigable.co.nz
●      https://twitter.com/TheNewBloods
●      https://twitter.com/indefatigablenz
●      http://discord.gg/newblood