Yeah, I don't mind stealth in my games - it can be great for breaking up the shootybang sections - but when it's kinda forced on you in weird ways, like how Dishonored would turn its nose up at you for not properly stealth beating a missions, I'm not so into that. Marshall: Yeah exactly. So for me, The Swindle kinda feels like a stealth game for the rest of us. It's one of those things where being discovered and setting off all the alarms is more an inevitability than a fail state. You pretty much will get spotted at some point - it just depends on how long you can keep it up. All that happens when you get discovered is that the focus of the game shifts. Instead of being a sneaky sneaky trying not to get spotted, it becomes an all-out action game. It turns into walloping guards on the back of the head and trying to get around the level as quickly as possible. When you get spotted, the amount of money in the level starts draining, so all the computers start draining of all their cash. If you want to maximize your take-home, you sneak around and try to get as far as you can without setting off the alarms, and then once they've gone off, it's a kick-bollocks scramble to grab as much as you can and leg it before the cops turn up. It looks like the game is using a lot of the same features and effects that you put together for Gun Monkeys. Marshall: Yeah, it steals a few bits of codes from Gun Monkeys. Some of the explosions are swiped. It's not a massive amount though - it's mostly the character-control stuff that's been taken from Gun Monkeys. It's one of those things where, I'm not going to rewrite a load of camera code when I can just copy and paste it across, and it'll work first time. The stuff that has been taken has been massively tweaked though.
I got hooked on Spelunky. I was playing it, and it was suddenly crystal clear to me. This is what The Swindle needed."
Tell me, then, about the XCOM elements. I know you're super into your XCOM, so I can't say I was massively surprised you're putting those sorts of elements into it. Marshall: I did a talk years ago at the first Bit of Alright festival [now Feral Vector], called Tea and Death. It was about death in video game narratives, and how it just doesn't make any sense. It's this really weird hang-on from the olden days of arcade games. Nathan Drake is constantly dying, and everyone is mourning him briefly, and then time resets. It's a weird concept, but I never really found a solution to it. What I found the solution was here, we randomly generate a new thief for you every time you die. When I was first testing that, if it generated you a really cool character, and then they died, it had that XCOM feel of being really disappointed that your fake man had pegged it. Especially when I put a random name generator in as well, so every character has a random name. Sometimes it would generate you an Ian Smith or a Laura Jones or whatever, but then every once in a while it'll generate you a Captain Billworth Humpington or something. The combination of having a cool name and a cool character, means that when they die it's really horrible. It's got that permadeath, gutting, "you don't want these little chaps to peg it" feel. How does your procedurally generated stuff work then? Is it similar to Spelunky? Marshall: The building is a tilemap - it's a load of tiles, and the game digs out rooms in the building, and hooks up all the rooms with corridors, then starts eating away at the building. It starts forming bits of roof and adding elements. Then each room is decorated, so it says OK, this room is a kitchen, so I'll have a fridge and a washing machine here. This room is a library, or a bedroom, etc.
I did start reading that article about how Spelunky generates random levels, but I got really confused and scared by it and stopped. As I understand it, Spelunky takes pre-made sections and sort of bolts them all together. This is much more random on a tile-by-tile basis, I think. I'm surprised that more developers aren't doing Spelunky-style games. Marshall: I don't want everyone to think I'm ripping off Spelunky! Oh no, I don't think it looks like a Spelunky rip-off - my reaction was more, "Oh cool, this looks a bit like Spelunky!" And honestly, I think even if you were ripping off Spelunky, lots of people would be very interested in that! Marshall: The thing is, it feels quite different to play compared to Spelunky. It doesn't send you back to the start every time you die - it doesn't have that roguelike feel to it. You're constantly building towards something, and your progress isn't completely gone when you die. It's more of a persistent universe, and the structure of what you do is actually quite different to Spelunky too. So I'm not hiding from the fact that it's very Spelunky-like, because Spelunky basically made me realize what was wrong with my game. You say there's some buying and upgrading elements to it? Marshall: Yeah, so the way it works is that you break into a building, and you nick a load of cash, then escape again. You can spend that cash on upgrading your thief with all these bio-mods and upgrades. There's bombs for blowing away sections of the map, for example, double jump, EMPs, remote mines...
"The Swindle kinda feels like a stealth game for the rest of us."
The cool thing is that when you first start, it's this really down and dirty gritty game, where you have to get up close and personal with the guards. You're basically hanging in the rafters, dropping down behind them and thwacking them over the head to take them out. As the game goes on, you can start taking them out from a distance. You start detonating mines from a distance, or you can hack them and turn them against each other. Or hack a drone and send that in to take them out. By the time you're a few levels in, you're not necessarily having to take them out point blank. Is there a story to it? An end-game? Marshall: There kind of is. I haven't entirely worked out what it is yet, it's influx. I don't really want to stick a load of plot into it, because I don't think it's that kind of game. It feels superfluous, and any sort of cutscene stuff just feels like it gets in the way. I think it's going to be book-ended in a, "OK, here is your motivation for why you're breaking into buildings," and as a result, there will be an end goal. It's taken me a while to think of something that isn't just, "There's a nice big diamond, you should steal it." It needs something a little more exciting than that. But yeah, I'm not ready to talk about it just yet, in case I scrap it all, which is quite possible. Who's doing the art for the game? Marshall: A guy called Michael Firman is doing the art for me, and that's why it looks so pretty. He's a very talented young man. It's been really weird, because I've always done the art for stuff myself - Time Gentlemen, Please, Gun Monkeys etc - and it was just one of those things where I had the prototype, and I thought, "This is really good, but I need to do it justice with someone who knows what they're doing with the art style." I always usually struggle with art. I do my best and cobble stuff together... but this time I got Mike involved, and he's been amazing and really into it. He sends me stuff and I animate it and stick it all together, so it's very my style. The dreaded "when" question. I'm guessing it's still quite far off? Marshall: Yeah, it is quite far off. A lot of it is down to when Michael can get me stuff, but the core of the game is in. I'm hoping it'll be done by early next year. So not massively far off, but still a while.