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Examining the amoral world of big business in Cruelty Squad

Road to the IGF: Cruelty Squad puts the player to enacting nasty corporate violence in a world of lethal liquidations.

This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series.

Cruelty Squad, nominated for the Nuovo Award and Seumas McNally Grand Prize at this year's IGF Awards, puts the player to enacting nasty corporate violence in a world of lethal liquidations. Colorful, fast, and brutal, it offers surreal deaths, vicious weapons, and a look at the amoral world of big business.

Game Developer spoke with Ville Kallio of Consumer Softproducts about the choice of visual style for the game, what drew him to add an organ stock market side activity, and the design ideas that go into making a compelling shooter.

Who are you, and what was your role in developing Cruelty Squad?

Ville Kallio: I'm the owner of Consumer Softproducts and the sole developer of Cruelty Squad.

What's your background in making games?

Kallio: I've been using different game development tools since I was 12 years old, beginning with Clickteam's Klik & Play. Cruelty Squad is my first finished project.

How did you come up with the concept for Cruelty Squad?

Kallio: I started following an FPS development tutorial and at some point it turned into an actual project. I didn't really have much of a concept; everything was very gradual. Originally, I just wanted to make a simple Quake-style shooter with amoral corporate themes.

What development tools were used to build your game?

Kallio: For the game itself I used the Godot game engine. For levels I used Trenchbroom, for 3D models I used Blender, for music and sfx I used LMMS, and for texture drawing and other 2D work I used Krita and Affinity Photo.

Cruelty_Squad_1.jpg

Cruelty Squad features a vibrant, almost-overwhelming visual style. What drew you to this look for the game? What made it feel right for the action, world, and themes?

Kallio: I simply tried to make something that looks good to me. The visual style is a direct continuation of my earlier non-game works.

High-speed gunplay is a core piece of the game. What thoughts go into getting this kind of intense action to feel just right? To balance it so that it pushes the player, but is still fair?

Kallio: I think it's mostly a matter of doing a lot of playtesting. If something wasn't fun for me, personally, I would change it. This mostly meant not having lots of bullet sponge enemies and making the enemies kind of dopey and predictable to balance out how fast you die when you mess up.

Likewise, you feature a variety of weapons for that high speed-combat—some offering interesting gunplay, others for a bit of humor, and others still where the cruelty feels like the point. How did you choose the weapons you did for the game? What did you want the player to feel from their combat options?

Kallio: Mostly I wanted all the guns to feel powerful. I didn't really worry about balance since it's a single player game. Most of the weapons are based on obscure real world guns. It's sort of an alternate reality where every strange gimmick in weapon design actually ended up being widely adopted.

Cruelty_Squad_3.jpg

How did you design the surreal death mechanics of the game?

Kallio: I like Dark Souls a lot and wanted to implement similar mechanics. This influence is also visible in the level design - mainly the toxic swamp level. The debt system is basically directly lifted from Armored Core.

The game features a few systems besides the gunplay like an organ market and fishing. Why add those elements? What do you feel they brought to the game?

Kallio: I like it when games have different side things to mess around with. I was obsessed with fishing in Stardew Valley for a while. The stock market also serves as world-building, giving you more of a connection to the ever-present corporate influence.

Cruelty Squad dances across emotional states, being an exhilarating shooter while also offering a deeply bleak feeling about the pain you're inflicting on others. It feels vengeful, exciting, empty, and deeply hopeless at various points. What ideas went into creating a shooter that encourages the player to feel so many different things while going through it?

Kallio: I think media products should try to be more emotionally manipulative. I enjoy it when something manages to fish out some kind of reaction from me, so I try to apply this kind of design in my works.

This game, an IGF 2022 finalist, is featured as part of the IGF Awards ceremony, taking place at the Game Developers Conference on Wednesday, March 23 (with a simultaneous broadcast on GDC Twitch).

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