Escapism Weekly: Crypt Run

What defines a game? That’s a question I rarely ask myself because life is so wonderful. Who needs video games? That’s what I would say if I wasn’t a self-appointed slave to gluttony and bouts of anger during social events, but the truth is, life is terrible. A few days ago I flipped on some little girls selling cookies outside of the grocery store. It wasn’t anything they did, or even something they said, it was just me hating that they couldn’t go door to door anymore because some pervert decided that they’d be more tasty than the cookies. In retrospect, given my reason it didn’t really make sense for me to get angry with them; or to flip over their table, or steal their cookies and money drawer, or hit their chaperone in the face with a nectarine.

You see, as a freelance writer, I don’t live as luxuriously as you’d expect. My refrigerator has exactly 3 items on the only shelf I trust not to collapse upon contact; leftover spaghetti and hotdog dinner, a single bottle of off-brand orange juice and one of those cheese sticks that you can peel. I could easily blame myself for not applying to better schools, or working harder to succeed, but honestly, Ralph Baer is to blame. So, if you think about it without a hint of common sense or logic whatsoever, he’s also to blame for my now pending court dates and house arrest.

It all started in 1995 when my Dad bought me the greatest birthday gift of my life: Sega Genesis and copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. I was quite the impressionable child, and Sonic appealed to me like no teacher could. I began painting my face blue each day before school, rushing down the hallways screaming random noises from the game, and,  when approached by an unfamiliar face, I’d attempt to jump on to their head — which usually ended with me fracturing a bone. The thing is, even back then I understood that life wasn’t as fun as video games could be. Granted, Sonic doesn’t offer a massive world to explore like Skyrim, or an interesting story that takes you on a wild ride through amazing environments like Uncharted. It does, however, have something life doesn’t quite manage (other than a blue hedgehog and an egg-shaped, oddly moronic scientific genius): immersion.  Honestly, if real life were a video game, the primary goal would be not to commit suicide. But that’s why we have interactive entertainment, isn’t it? Escapism isn’t just slaughtering Helghast, or escorting a young girl across the country; it’s about performing those same actions without the burden of lifes trivialities to weigh on your adventure.

This week we discuss the definition of games and escapism with Geoff Blair, creator of Crypt Run, “an ever-changing medieval fantasy hack ‘n slash that isn’t over when you die.”

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[Hardcore Gamer] As a developer, how would you define a video game?

[Geoff Blair] To me, a video game is any interactive experience. There seems to be a lot of debate about what is or isn’t a “game” and whether games are art. Games are absolutely art! Obviously, games fall into a broad spectrum, from interactive fiction to the most hardcore, text-based roguelikes to Halo. Personally, I prefer my games with some kind of challenge to overcome or system to master.

What was the inspiration behind Crypt Run, and did it at all involve the death of someone you know in a real procedurally generated dungeon?

Unfortunately, yes. Freak accidents in procedural generation have claimed more lives that I care to count. This game is about facing those fears and not letting procedural generation win.

Crypt Run is inspired by multiple sources, most notably the Legend of Zelda for NES and SNES. There’s also a healthy does of Smash TV and Gauntlet. The Realm of the Dead content is loosely inspired by Dark Souls and Soul Reaver. Most of the combat and weapon mechanics come from our first game, Onslaught! Arena. We’ve been wanting to revisit an expanded version of that game since we released it in 2010. Ultimately, Crypt Run is its own beast. It’s our take on hardcore, arcade games from our childhood. We think the death mechanic is especially interesting paired with the roguelike elements such as permadeath.

Do you believe games like Crypt Run offer a healthy form of escapism as compared to the less-creative yearly releases (such as Call of Duty, Madden, etc.)?

Absolutely! I certainly respect a player’s choice to play CoD or Madden, but those games don’t offer much escape for me. I’m drawn to experiences where fantastical things can happen, especially medieval fantasy.

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Do you see a strong future for games like yours with this upcoming generation of consoles?

From what I’ve been hearing (and hoping!), the next generation of consoles will be much more indie-friendly. I think the console makers are finally starting to understand what a rich ecosystem of games you can offer when your platform isn’t restricted to large development studios. Of course, you have to balance a lower barrier to entry with good quality control, but there are so many fantastic games created by small teams (or even one person!) that could do well with console audiences. The current XBLIG keeps indie games shoved away in a corner and there are hidden gems there which aren’t easily discoverable.

What draws you most to the medieval fantasy setting?

Medieval fantasy is one of the most interesting themes because it’s simultaneously like and unlike our reality. On one hand it’s loosely based on a period of human history, but on the other there’s magical weapons and spells, demons, dragons and all sorts of components that make the genre really epic. There’s this sense that it’s a completely separate world or dimension rather than a setting that has existed (like westerns, Roman, Greek themes) or currently exists (Call of Duty or GTA). Sci-fi has similar elements but laser guns and aliens aren’t nearly as awesome as fireballs and dragons!

How would you describe Crypt Run to a hardcore gamer that primarily enjoys massive worlds, or cinematic experiences?

Crypt Run fits very well with hardcore gamers. The “world” itself might not be the size of Azeroth, but there’s plenty of content for players to experience and explore. With the procedural content generation, players won’t see the same dungeon twice. In addition, players will have to master the game systems in order to complete all the game’s objectives and find the hidden rewards. I consider myself a hardcore gamer and I’m moving away from games that nudge me in the direction of exploring massive worlds or sitting through elaborate cutscenes. I’m probably just getting older which means that I have less time and patience for indirect gameplay (traveling from one location to another, watching cutscenes to move the story along). Crypt Run is meant to be a dense experience and we try to never take the controls away from the player.

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What are you doing to keep the game interesting in terms of playability and exploration?

I mentioned before that Crypt Run is a dense experience. To me, that means that players should be discovering new aspects to the game after many play-throughs. The procedural generation is one way we accomplish this goal. The game is structured so that you won’t be able to complete every single objective in a single play. Many of the goals will take practice, intimate knowledge of the game systems and a bit of luck!

Anything else?

Crypt Run is still in alpha and we have big plans for the game. We’ve just finished raising money on Kickstarter to complete the game so we’ll be spending the next few months fleshing out as much content as possible. Check out the playable alpha right in your browser! You can pre-order the game or purchase the early alpha access package directly from our website via Humble Store.