For a well established, quite popular studio like Haemimont Games to take a step back from the traditional developer and publisher relationship and try to go it alone is fairly unusual. It’s a risk, to say the least, and especially so when you eye up Early Access and creating a brand new action RPG brand.
That’s what happened with Victor Vran. It hasn’t always been plain sailing, but they stuck with it to the point that they’re now bringing two major DLC expansions to the table, coming alongside the game’s release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in the first half of this year.
Looking back on the Early Access process, Haemimont CEO Gabriel Dobrev said, “I think, if Early Access is done right, it’s extremely positive. For our game it changed a lot of things. There were things that we didn’t know about the game that we learnt through early access.
“The key thing to succeed there is to really set aside time to read feedback and to respond, because sometimes respond means we end up with a huge new feature in the game. We have reserved developer time for what you’re going to do when you get this feedback, because if you don’t, people keep telling you stuff and you keep rushing through your initial plan and there’s really no place to incorporate this feedback.”
Bisser Dyankov, Producer at Haemimont, added, “There’s also the mentality to be ready for everything. You realise that you have this game in your head, but you release it on Early Access and the players are seeing a slightly different game. We were always thinking that we were making this very small game, up to eight hours and priced according to that, and then we got the questions asking what’s next?”
Certainly, that’s where the main game’s challenge system comes in, catering to the crowd that can happily play for a few hundred hours. This is also where the Fractured Worlds DLC comes in, adding procedurally generated levels for you to try and battle your way through. Within that, there’s naturally going to be new loot and new clothes for Victor to dress up in, but there’s also an overarching story for you to uncover piece by piece, as Victor travels from one time period to another, and you’ll be collecting the items needed to craft some of the talismans.
Gabriel explained, “This was one request that we had from the very beginning, about randomly generated content, and we did release one free update that had a level that had something like this because it had different zones opening and closing. But then that wasn’t quite like randomly generated content, so we decided to go back and do it the proper way. […] I think we made a really interesting system in the end that’s able to create levels that look great and play great.”
One interesting twist is that it’s Haemimont with the keys to the random generation, pushing out three new levels each day. The reason, as was explained to me, was to allow for all players to see the same level and the same challenges. There’s also an endless dungeon that, again, is the same for everybody.
“The lead designer, when he implemented the first instance of the story, he placed an artefact for the story on the hundredth level,” Blisser revealed. “We were like, ‘No, no, please. You can’t do that!'”
Somewhat more eye-catching than the Fracture Worlds is the second DLC pack, Motörhead Through the Ages. It’s steeped in the imagery that accompanied Motörhead’s music and a lore derived from the lyrics in their songs, creating three worlds to fight through that nicely combine with the action of the game. Of course, it’s also accompanied by a selection of 13 licensed Motörhead music.
“That actually started from playing Victor Vran.” Gabriel said. “We had the game working and we just played it with different types of music and Motörhead was really fitting, so we decided that we were going to try and license a few tracks from them […] we started talking to them, and one thing led to another!”
I’ll readily admit, I’m not particularly well versed in Motörhead’s music, but one nice and amusing twist is that you get to play with a magically powered guitar, firing riffs off at enemies, sliding on your knees as lightning strikes the ground all around you, and so on. That’s more of a ranged option, so being able to switch at the strike of a chord to a great big sword is always welcome.
Hacking and slashing your way through enemies is simple cathartic fun, making use of three abilities for either weapon you have equipped – one always available, with the other two being more powerful attacks with cool down timers. Of course, the real aim is to cause enough carnage and destruction to be able to trigger your much more powerful attacks, dropping a huge loudspeaker into the fight, making everyone in range to start head banging while I hurriedly tried to cut as many of them down as possible. Alternatively, I’d call in the bomber to drop a huge bomb on them and often practically clear the screen.
Gabriel said, “We really tried to make the game about Motörhead, and the test is simple. If you sort of change Motörhead to something else, is it still OK? If it’s still OK, then it’s not exactly Motörhead, it’s a bit of a generic thing. Unless you do that, you can’t have these bosses taken from the covers of Motörhead, you can’t have this music, […] we really tried to have something that is exactly Motörhead.”
Victor Vran and Haemimont have been on a long journey over the last couple of years, and I enjoyed hearing about their “second” launch, when the game left Early Access, and how they cut themselves off from the world somewhere in the mountains. The obvious question, with the console release looming, what do they have planned for their third launch?
“That’s a great one,” Bisser replied. “That’s caught us of guard. We don’t know what we’re going to do!” Gabriel laughed. “I think now we’re really just focussed on getting the launch done…”