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Interview With Alec Stamos, Developer Of Inedible Pulp

Inedible Pulp is an upcoming collection of short video games, developed by Cold Vengeance and Venusian Vengeance developer Alec Stamos, that is inspired by pulp science fiction and fantasy. The game features four games in all: the third-person action game It Ain’t Enough to Survive; I’ve Got to Make It!, the twin-stick shooter Kill the Superweapon, the sci-fi Romanesque Souls-like Reavers of New Rome, and the third-person shooter Space Captain McCallery #1: Crash Landing. Stamos took to Kickstarter at the beginning of the month, seeking $12,000 to fund development.

I recently had the chance to sit down with Stamos and ask him several questions about the project. We discussed the inspirations for several of the games, how they fit into the Renegade Sector universe, arcade game mechanics that haven’t been seen in some time, how short games could “push games forward as a medium,” and more.

Me: What originally inspired you to go with the short-form pulp route with your latest project?

Stamos: It’s something that I’ve kind worked with for a long time. I’ve been inspired by pulp science fiction and fantasy for a while, which has led to me exploring that style in games. Back when I did Flash games, I made a lot of games in that style. I’ve been doing sort of episodic stuff a lot.

So, when I was trying to think of how to kind of [develop something that] felt worthwhile to spend money on, using the pulp format of having multiple small, in that case, stories, in this case, games, in one bundle made sense to me.

Is Inedible Pulp sort of a resurrection of your episodic Tales of the Renegade Sector series?

Yeah. I did the 2D Space Captain McCallery games and Tales of the Renegade Sector games and, you know, they’ve kind of been something I’ve done throughout the years and, doing this now, I wanted to bring that back and have that with me.

I never really was satisfied with how those games necessarily turned out. I always wanted to continue that story, but, because not a lot of people played the early games, it made more sense to start over than continue.

Start over with new branding and everything.

Yeah, exactly.

Is there anything in particular that inspired the design of any of the games? Reavers of New Rome seems to be vaguely inspired by Souls-likes and bullet hell shmups, whereas Kill the Superweapon almost reminds me of Clock Tower.

In regards to Reavers of New Rome, that was actually pretty directly inspired by Dark Souls, specifically when I was playing Dark Souls and was thinking “it would be really interesting to see this style of gameplay done in a sort of brighter and lighter fantasy setting,” something like Ancient Greek mythology or Arthurian fantasy—that sort of thing. That kind of coalesced with an idea that’s been sitting in my head for a while of a sort of future fantasy that’s inspired by a Romanesque aesthetic.

Sort of if Rome never fell.

Yeah, or if someone tried Rome again, but in space.

Kill the Superweapon, originally my idea for that had been a lot simpler. It was just going to be the twin-stick shooter in a sort of diorama environment. You had that fixed camera angle, which would then free up the second analog stick for twin-stick shooting while still allowing the buttons free for jumping, which would allow for twin-stick shooting in a 3D space, which I haven’t seen done much before.

Then that kind of combined with another thing that I’ve been wanting to experiment with, and have been doing little bits of experimentation with in some of my previous games, of bosses that don’t just wait around in their boss room, waiting to be killed, but actually come after the player and are a recurring threat.

The main inspirations for that are Sinistar and Hunt the Wumpus. Sinistar is a fairly big influence on this game, just in terms of what role the bosses play, [which is that] of this thing that is constantly after you, which you are then trying to go through the level, trying to find resources to help you fight. I think that’s a really interesting idea that hasn’t been explored a lot since and I want to explore that in a different setting, rather than the sort of arcade, like you’re just flying around in space, shooting asteroids, trying to fight this boss. Now you’re actually in a whole level, looking for the charge for your weapon that can harm the boss.

And you have to find keycards and fight other enemies along the way.

Yeah, exactly.

I do see the Sinistar influence and it really isn’t something that has been explored a lot since. It’s weird to think that we had all these classic arcade games that no one has gone back and remastered or remade for a new generation.

Yeah and there were a lot of interesting design philosophies going on back then. Just because of how limited the scope of the games are, the [things that people] would explore are different from what people explore now. When you’re confined to “there’s a space and there are enemies and you stay in that space fighting the enemies,” then where you go with that is “what do the enemies do? How do they interact? What are their behaviors? How do you earn points?” and you get a lot of interesting things, like games like Centipede, where killing enemies actually changes the layout of the level, or games like Robotron, where some enemies interact with the humans in different ways and each level becomes this emergent interaction between the different pieces in the game.

Is creating a set of games that are a little more emergent something that you’re really looking to do with this collection?

To a certain degree, but not necessarily. These are still fairly narrative driven. I think that the most emergent game in the collection would be Kill the Superweapon, just because of the fact that you’ve got this boss monster roaming around that can then interact with whatever is in each of the rooms. But it is definitely something that I’m interested in exploring in the future.

How do each of the games fit into the Renegade Sector universe? We’ve got Space Captain McCallery coming back, but what about the other games?

Yeah, and they all do fall into that sphere. The main time period of the Renegade Sector is obviously this [time period] that Space Captain McCallery takes place in, that some of my other games have taken place in. But I’ve also made some links to that shared universe in Venusian Vengeance, Cold Vengeance, and Ninja Outbreak.

For example, Kill the Superweapon takes place basically around the time of Cold Vengeance. I haven’t actually decided whether it’s a little bit before or a little bit after, but it’s not really something that’s in the forefront of that game, but it’s definitely there.

The three games in the set that have gameplay footage or demos available at this time are all variations on the third-person or twin-stick shooter genres. Will It Ain’t Enough to Survive also be a shooter?

It will be a third-person action game, but it will have a focus on melee combat.

What will be out there in the wider world of It Ain’t Enough to Survive, waiting for those who dare to go outside of the safe zone and risk permadeath? From the description, it sounds like you can just go through the safe zones and be fine the whole time and just keep dying and being resurrected, but you can go outside of that, so what kind of incentives are there?

I don’t want to necessarily go too much into spoiler territory on this, but you can kind of glean a bit from the name. There are two, or probably three, endings to the game and you have two paths, basically, one of which is to escape this area that has been threatened by this demon portal opened by a wizard and the other path is to actually try to fight the wizard, solve the problem in this way, and essentially become a hero.

The player will have to balance the risk and reward of “do I try to just survive and get through from town to town, going mostly through safe areas, maybe a few short areas that would have permadeath, or do I go off the beaten path, go away from safety, and try to make it to the wizard?”

So it will completely change the story based on what you do.

Yeah and this is probably going to be the shortest of the four games, but it will essentially have two different possible playthroughs.

So It Ain’t Enough to Survive is much different, with the focus on melee combat and the wizard. How does it fit into the universe?

Again, this is something that I think people will sort of gradually realize, but something that is in my head about this setting is that there was a long period after the initial colonization of space where, for reasons that will gradually become clear, all of the planets essentially lost contact with each other. So, at this point, you have room for either post-apocalyptic or fantasy stories that occur just before they reunite.

You said on the Kickstarter page that you believe that “short games have the potential to push games forward as a medium.” Can you elaborate on that?

I think there are a lot of advantages to short games, both in terms of how they’re made and how they’re played, the most obvious one being that you can try something a bit more experimental or a bit more risky because you’re not investing quite as much time creating the game and you’re not necessarily putting as many resources into the game, in much the same way that new authors can start to play around with their style and establish themselves by writing short stories, as opposed to writing full novels.

But also in terms of just how games are played. There are so many games out there now that people don’t really have time to play every 20-80 hour game that comes out. But if there are a lot of shorter games coming out, people can play those more quickly and you can start to get more of a dialogue about the games and there’s more of a chance for developers to get feedback on those games and evolve their style through that before they then try to make a larger project.

Are you planning to have demos of all four games out before the Kickstarter ends?

I’m hoping to get one more demo out before the Kickstarter ends, probably Space Captain McCallery. It Ain’t Enough to Survive is still kind of in the concept stages for the most part. There will probably be a gameplay prototype before the Kickstarter is over, but not necessarily enough for a full public demo.

If successful, do you intend to turn this Inedible Pulp into a yearly series?

Ideally, I’d like to do that. I definitely have a lot more ideas in the tank for this style, scope, and size of game. Something else that I would like to do, if this is successful, is open it up to other developers and make this into something that really is styled after old pulp magazines, being a venue for short, narrative-focused games to have a space where they can actually earn some money.

Sort of like UFO 50.

Yeah, and I was honestly really happy to see that that got announced. This has been in the planning stages for me for a while and then, about a week or two before I launched the Kickstarter, I see a bunch of very talented developers, a few of whom I know, announce this UFO 50. I think it shows that I’m on the right track with this, that this is something that you’re going to be seeing more of in the future, of short games being a viable format.

What happens if the Kickstarter fails?

I have thought about that a lot and it’s something that we’ll kind of have to see. The fortunate thing is that, because these are fairly small-scope games and this is what I’ve been doing for the past eight or nine years, I’m going to keep working on these. It’ll probably be slower going and I might not financially be able to hold off on releasing the games to make them into a bundle like this. I’ll probably pick one of the games to focus on, expand it a bit, and release that as its own commercial game before moving on to the others.

So it’ll be a more rapid set of individual releases.

Yeah, then maybe, once they’re all done, I’ll put them together in some sort of nice package, but, you know, only time will be able to tell that.

Inedible Pulp is currently on Kickstarter. As of this writing, it has garnered $575 of its $12,000 goal. Demos are available for Kill the Superweapon and Reavers of New Rome.

Matt Chelen
Matt has been playing games for as long as he can remember. He got into games journalism during college.
http://twocredits.co

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