Ever wonder what would the love-child of Doom and XCOM be? The answer is Jupiter Hell – a turn-based top-down strategy game developed by ChaosForge, an indie developer based in Poland. The game has garnered quite the following, recently reaching the Steam New and Trending chart.
We caught up with the lead artist of Jupiter Hell Lukasz Śliwiński to talk about how he got into games development, his influences, Jupiter Hell and its key art and gameplay inspirations, as well as what’s next for Lukasz and the team at ChaosForge.
Hi Lukasz! Thank you for taking out the time to talk with us. First of all, can you tell us how you got into the games industry? What is your journey like?
Hi! It’s a pleasure to speak with you. Well, I’ve always been interested in and have created “art” since I was a child. At some point, I got a computer and started creating digital art instead of just drawing on a paper. I got better and better, from paint to photoshop. Eventually, I started posting my art on forums.
Around that time, a friend of mine had introduced me to something called the Demoscene. During the 80s and the 90s, it was a very popular sub-culture where people would create art on computers, from full-fledged game demo to concept and pixel art. So, after joining the Polish Demoscene, I started submitting my digital paintings there and took part in some world-wide competitions. That’s around the time I stopped doing digital paintings too.
Why did you stop digital painting?
Well, you kind of have to invest a gigantic amount of time into drawing to be exceptionally good and I was never that good – thankfully I discovered 3D (modelling), which I gravitated towards. To be able to rotate models and see all angles was quite interesting for me.
How did you transition from putting up your work on the internet to landing a job in the gaming industry?
I was creating art for the demoscene, and I was getting better and better from taking harsh criticism; at that time, I discovered that this isn’t the only avenue and the demoscene isn’t the only place to share art. In Poland, we have our own version of Deviant Art, where I posted my demoscene 2d art and other work that I was creating. One of my works became art of the day – which gave me validation to continue. Eventually, I was contacted by an employer letting me know if I was interested in working. I went there, took a test, and they hired me as a graphic artist. This was 2006. The place I worked at developed primarily in mobile games. Slowly throughout the years, I kept going up the ranks. The company then transitioned into 3D games. None of the games really became famous, but one very fortunate thing that came out of working there was at some point Kornel (Kornel Kisielewicz, founder of ChaosForge) was hired behind DoomRL, and basically the idea-man behind Jupiter Hell.
Just to let our readers know, DoomRL is the precursor to Jupiter Hell, right?
Yes. DoomRL is the earlier project of Kornel Kisielewicz, he was working on it part-time just for fun, and it took off! People liked it and start working on it for years. He had the idea that why not create something similar and make money with it – he wasn’t able to sell it as Doom wasn’t his IP.
After quitting his previous company, he contacted me and asked me to join his team to develop Jupiter Hell. We started development officially in 2015. However, Kornel had already started work on the game.
Congratulations by the way on the success of Jupiter Hell and its release recently. It was on the new and trending steam charts. Could you talk about the influences you’ve taken in developing the game? Artistic influences as well as gameplay?
Thank you! First of all, I don’t consider myself an artist. I consider myself a craftsman. I feel closer to this than creating something. I very often try to approach many problems analytically – and try to solve art as a problem – maybe sometimes this isn’t a good approach, but that’s my approach.
Well, in the beginning, the game was supposed to look like Quake 3. Before I joined Kornel was thinking of making the game as a pixel art game similar to DoomRL as the beautiful graphics was made by Derek Yu, the creator of Spelunky. As the initial idea was a pixel art direction – I was not as comfortable with it, I mean, I can make pixel art, but I was probably going to get tired of it. So, we flirted with the idea of some 3D elements, and slowly thought, hey why don’t we add some lights, some shadows, normal maps – at some point, it changed completely into what we have today.
About inspirations… I remember when we had the first talks before, I got hired – I had the idea that Doom is one thing, as an inspiration – what else can we take inspiration from in terms of art style?
Well, one source was the latest X-COM, because it has a similar perspective and is turn-based as well – however, X-COM is kind of cartoonish in terms of its art style which is good, but we wanted to take a more realistic approach. I thought hey what if we took this X-Com approach to the perspective and showing the cells and mix it a bit with Deadspace? This was the initial idea – additionally, the biggest inspiration regarding the mood was the first Alien movie. The genre of art was a huge inspiration – which is called Low technology science fiction. This, along with the critical detail of having bullets instead of lasers.
So the approach was to ground the visuals and gameplay into some form of reality and not be too fantasy? Am I right?
That’s some amazing insights into the development. How does the art direction corelate to the gameplay systems when developing the game? Do they influence one another?
Yes. Well, there are two things. First of all, this game under the hood is basically an old-ass game. Pretty much DoomRL without the graphics. Because of that, the whole world is tile-based. Every tile is 2×2 meters etc. It was important to create a lot of different tilesets to still fit into the grid but maybe later start to break it. We created many of what we call complex corners and different elements bigger than one tile but composed of them. When I designed them, I considered what areas would be occupied and what not.
This is regarding the level design. When it comes to characters, the most important thing you have to consider is that the player will always see the game world from the top. So, the characters have to have very strong and distinguishable silhouettes. Interestingly, when developing for semi-realistic graphics, sometimes you are limited with silhouettes because working with silhouettes is a lot better when the graphics in the game are stylized.
With Jupiter Hell being a Roguelike, there is an element of randomness to the levels of the game. Do you have to take that into consideration when creating assets for the game world?
Hmm… Kind of yes and no. The generators and how they work is completely done by Kornel. I just deliver the blocks and my responsibility is that all the blocks work together. I provide the Legos and he builds.
What’s your favorite character/monster that you’ve worked on in Jupiter Hell?
The three headed, 5 tentacle enemy type. It was fun to create the transition of that character!
One of the best parts that I love about the game is just how metal it is. From the music to the atmosphere and tone, can you talk about the music specifically in Jupiter Hell?
The music is really great! I agree! The soundtrack is done by Roland La Goy – he’s the one who created all the music. He is a metal head and played all the instruments live, from drums to guitars which gives it a really special component. We’ll probably release the soundtrack in a couple of months!
I am not sure but what I know for sure is that we’ll have it available as a separate package on steam or as a combined package as well!
That’s great! What’s next for Jupiter Hell and the team at ChaosForge? What are you guys working on for support of the game moving forward after the release? Do you have any DLC in mind?
The idea right now is to fix some stuff and add some stuff. There are some things that are kind of done but not implemented in the game. We’re also focusing on adding more variety to the first level of the game because you die a lot. So, we would love to address the repetitive nature visually by bringing variety to enemies etc. After that as far as I know, we would like to keep adding content to the game. At first, we thought of DLC, but there is stigma attached to DLC at the moment. We would rather go the free DLC route by constant addition of smaller things.
We would love to not lock gamers behind a paywall to get some additional content. It creates even problems for us because it divides the community and creates two separate branches with differences to take care of. So, we’d rather keep adding content for free to the main game. We are trying to give this game long support. When we created it, we tried to avoid the problem in indie games where games are released and then abandoned for the most part with little patches and that’s it. We believe with Jupiter Hell we can add some stuff to the sides – by adding variety and improving a lot of things.
That’s a refreshing approach, it’s very similar to the approach of Hello Games with their title No Man’s Sky with constant free updates.
Yes, that’s exactly the approach we want to take. One way is to sell DLCs and expansions to have money for further development and survival as an indie. The other way we believe is to sustain patches and add content to prove to the community that there is a reason to invest in Jupiter Hell. Okay, you’re tired of dying and want a break because you’ve died hundreds of times. When you come back after 2 or 3 updates there is new things for you to discover. And of course, in the perfect world this would sustain infinitely but we have to plan for the next 2 or 3 years.
What is most likely to be the next big update for Jupiter Hell? New maps, new characters?
Variety in maps and enemy types is something we would like to improve drastically and add more. The biggest issue right now is the beginning of the game – we need to increase the variety for the opening level. Bugfixes are going to be a constant focus as well.
So, what’s next for you? What’s a dream IP or genre you want to work on?
I love working on Jupiter Hell at the moment. Every developer has a dream project. For me I love games with open worlds and big stories – but you need to have hundreds of millions of dollars to make those these days. But I also love city builders. I have this idea to merge Fallout and City Skylines. Similar to fallout shelter.
Any one tidbit about the development of Jupiter Hell? Anything you didn’t get to add into the game and had to pull it out?
There is an enemy in the last part of the game called the collector I think that’s what is called, I don’t remember because Kornel keeps changing the names! Haha! It’s a little fellow that shoots lasers. It was created a long time ago – its purpose was to fly around and pick up bodies. It wasn’t supposed to do anything to the player unless the player attacked it. We decided completely different instead and cut that enemy from the game.
Are there any easter eggs in Jupiter Hell? Any that you’ve put in personally?
I don’t want to say, but we have a lot—especially audio easter eggs. We have a lot of profanity from the main character voiced by Mark Meer the voice of Commander Shepard from Mass Effect series and we have some lines that really easter eggy. There are secrets too! There are 2 secrets that haven’t been found yet.
Do you know these secrets?
I know. Because I created some of those. I also have some ideas that I want to add to the game for sure.
There’s been this explosion of game development coming from Poland in the last 10 or 15 years. You have CD Projekt Red and Techland to name a few breaking out in such a small amount of time, even indie developers. What do you think is the reason for this rise in such a small amount of time?
To be honest, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because of the people. Polish people are very inventive in a peculiar manner and, of course, the success of the Witcher and accessibility to the tools. If you want to make a game, you can make a game which… sometimes is a bad thing! Haha. Also, The Witcher games showed that it’s possible to breakthrough.
Me personally I feel like Slavic culture is very different to western audiences. From the unique music to the lore etc. Are there any Slavic influences in Jupiter Hell maybe the monster designs?
Yes, I agree with you about Slavic culture being different for western audiences. For Jupiter Hell, no not really because I focused more on creating an 80s 90s movies influence like Alien etc. You know that’s not a bad idea – maybe later on I can add in some Slavic inspired monsters in the game!
What’s the next exciting project ahead of Jupiter Hell for ChaosForge?
The next project is going to be the recreation of AliensRL much like Jupiter Hell is for DoomRL. We are aiming for a harder strategic experience – these are Aliens we are talking about. It’s going to be a different kind of gameplay and structure of levels.
What is the possibility of having coop in the upcoming AliensRL game since you are colonial marines? It makes sense, no?
We actually thought about incorporating co-op in Jupiter Hell but after thinking about it more deeply it wasn’t possible based on the gameplay right now. Since it’s turn-based – you would have to wait for the other guy to move. It’s not like X-com where you have 30 moves, and after you, the other person has another 30 moves to play with. So, it’s not possible.
I feel like it doesn’t fit in with the pace of the game, correct?
Yes, and the entire game would have to be redone. Also, you have the freedom to stop whenever you want.
We’re nearing the end now. What is some great advice you could give aspiring game devs or people wanting to break into the industry?
I would suggest going to various gaming festivals – build your skills and contacts. You need to look at your work very critically and be open to harsh criticism to improve and work on yourself.
Thank you so much for your time. I would like you to let our readers know why they should check out Jupiter Hell?
If you like turn-based games but want to play with your own rhythm, love Doom, heavy metal music, and aren’t offended by swearing, then give it a try!
Jupiter Hell is currently available for purchase on Steam. For more information and news, stay tuned to eXputer!