» Posted on Mar 22, 2013

Sinking teeth into juicy gameplay flesh

Development on Dark Matter proceeds at a fair clip, and we’re well into our first closed Beta testing phase. The game has assumed a shape that could be called final, if it weren’t for the numerous iterations that each component will undergo in the coming months.

The full Dark Matter experience is functional, if not complete or polished yet. We have finally reached that tipping point where more work goes into building the actual game experience than into building the infrastructure that supports that experience. Our change logs talk more and more about tweaks, refinements and new levels, and less about impressive new tech-y bits. That is a good thing.

These days, gameplay is absolute king. Most of the team   is actively building, testing and polishing new levels and set-pieces, while the rest start shifting gears towards polishing existing content rather than adding it.

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This past week, for example, we’ve been working hard on enemy encounters, and some recent changes in the light system have allowed us to refine the last light-driven aspects of enemy AI.

Enemies now are far more aware and aggressive in lit areas, and pull all kinds of anger-driven tricks on the player. Darkness is all of a sudden a safe place where enemies are less aware of your presence.. except you could be stepping on one and get mauled if you don’t use your flashlight. I suppose we should feel bad for creating such existence-tearing dilemmas in players, but it’s too much fun.

Today, we’re showing another integral part of gameplay that’s been kept under wraps so far: the player’s local and ship maps.

We know that giving the player objectives and actual guidance is anathema to the purest Metroid canon, but bear with us. Objectives currently serve both as guides towards interesting areas that the player may or may not be pondering whether to explore, and as markers for advancing the story.

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The way we’re currently building Dark Matter is as open as we can make it, with no magical blocks to your progress. Players are free to not pick up any weapons, not even the initial pistol. They won’t make it past the corridor just beyond where the pistol is found, but the choice is there.

The first basic weapons (Shotgun and Assault Rifle), along with the first nano ammo blueprint (incendiary ammo) are marked by objectives. The rest (all ammo blueprints, all weapon upgrade blueprints, rocket launcher, grenade launcher, beam weapon) are left to the player to find, should they wish to put the time into it.

That, for us, is the true core of a Metroidvania game: there is a linear, fast path through the game, and then there is the meandering and backtracking that you’ll perform in order to unlock and power up all the weapons you need. We have made our objectives system a helping hand in getting started with all that.

Enjoy the visuals, and keep your eyes peeled for the first release and closed beta recruiting announcements. We’re going to slink back into the darkness, to see what else we can dig up in there for you.

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