…here’s the update on Witchfire. We will discuss the release date, a certain core feature of the game, and the fandom. And then it’s time for a fat Q&A session, the biggest we’ve ever done. There are some juicy bits of info in that section, indeed.
Armed with strange weapons and forbidden pagan magic, hunt a powerful witch holding the key to your salvation. Witchfire is a dark fantasy roguelite shooter from the creators of Painkiller, Bulletstorm, and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.
That is our current logline (a brief summary of the game that shows the main theme, character and conflict). It might change. I am using it here as a vague reminder of what the game is. For now, let’s focus on why we call Witchfire a “roguelite”.
The terminology is kind of messy. There are roguelike games, and roguelite games. Theoretically, the first kind is just like a certain ancient game called Rogue. Meaning features like “procedurally generated levels, turn-based gameplay, grid-based movement, and permanent death” are obligatory.
The second kind is more or less anything that vaguely resembles a roguelike.
But in real life, we’ve seen roguelites called roguelikes and vice versa. No wonder, literally just a letter of difference.
From our perspective, the best reason we found to call a game a roguelite is a certain level of forgiveness, usually in the form of the so-called persistence layer. In human language it means that you don’t lose everything when you die.
A few examples from some better known roguelites… In Hades, you lose gold but keep gems, keys, and many other things that allow you to upgrade your hero and weapons. In Returnal, you lose your personal upgrades but not the upgrades on the guns. In Dead Cells, you can keep some of the gold instead of losing it all and all the unlocks are persistent.
To sum it up, hard-core roguelikes are saying: “when you die, you lose everything, but hopefully you also learn a lesson”. Meanwhile, roguelites are saying: “when you die, we do punish you for it, but we also let you keep some stuff so you can unlock and upgrade cool shit that might help you in the future.”
We’re like that. And more. Our persistence layer is big enough for us to consider calling the game a dark fantasy RPG shooter instead of dark fantasy roguelite shooter. But, at least for now, we’re totally fine with the latter. Roguelite it is.
“My name is Witchfire. Prepare to die.”
Well, glad you asked…
PC, Early Access, fourth quarter of 2022. Final release/platforms: TBD.
Why Early Access? Well, this is something that never made any sense for basically any games we’ve worked on before. How exactly would EA work for a game like Bulletstorm or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter?
But it makes total sense for Witchfire. A game with world-building and lore, but heavily focused on the roguelite gameplay loop. We’re looking to how Hades or Dead Cells or Risk of Rain 2 or other notable roguelites did it, and will most likely combine elements of these paths to reach the full release.
Despite releasing in EA first, it’s still a big challenge for a team like ours. Gone are the days of EA’s past. Players no longer tolerate bugs, and they expect many, many joyous hours of play. We need to make sure we deliver on both fronts.
But why say the quarter and not the month?
We feel like being more specific than a quarter is pointless at this moment. After the countless delays of countless games, we don’t think it makes a lick of sense to name a day unless you’re 100% certain it’s achievable. And we’re not 100% certain it’s achievable. So even though this timeframe does look reasonable to us, we don’t want to make fools of ourselves and commit to a particular day and month. Of course, we won’t keep it a secret forever, but hey, it’s only January.
Okay, but that fourth quarter is solid, right?
It’s as solid as game development allows. Investors, platform holders, distributors or publishers may change our plans. Another pandemic may change our plans. Or aliens. Or we just may have underestimated the amount of work needed for the EA release. It’s not like it never happened to anybody before *cough*
If you wonder why we did not keep on being coy about the release date, then, it’s for two reasons. One, we’ve had enough of the whispers claiming this game does not exist, even if they were in jest. Two, even though we do consider the release timeframe reasonable, we wanted to give ourselves that extra motivating kick in the ass.
Remember the Scorn drama that happened back in November 2021?
If not, here’s a short recap. Ebb, the developers of a cool horror shooter called Scorn, released an update in which they explained why the updates are quite rare. There’s a lot of good points in there – no, really, they’re correct about almost everything…
The only thing that will get the game out of the door faster is concentrating all the effort on development. […] It’s time-consuming to make your game look presentable to the public. […]
…but the post was tone deaf, angry and patronizing. And the ending (“if our lack of updates bothers you, refund the game”) was a disaster.
A day later, the CEO of the studio apologized (twice) with class. “We may be tired, confused and frustrated at our own ineptitude, but there is no reason to lash out at you. For that I personally apologise. I will do my best for this kind of outburst not to happen again.”
It’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for the studio. When I read the post, it was clear to me what behind all that anger and frustration hides a brutal honesty that’s so rare to find these days. And I appreciated the insight. But yeah, they made a mistake. I’m glad to see they owned it and do seem to have recovered from it, though.
Anyway, and now I am getting to the part that’s truly important to us, another thought I had when reading the post was, “Shit, we’re taking our fans for granted, too.”
And we should not.
You played a crucial role in the development of the game, even though most of you are probably unaware of that. But the way you reacted to the reveal and anything else we showed later, built a certain hype around the game that helped us immensely along the way.
Just to give you one example, we were able to cooperate with some of the absolute, world class talent here in Poland somewhat because of that hype. We have already revealed Marcin Klicki and his Swordsman, Paweł Jaruga and his Galleyslave, and Marek Kaplita, who basically did all of our weapons — but they all contributed to the game before the big reveal at the Game Awards. However, in the future we will showcase the fantastic work of a few devs who decided to help us a bit at least partially because of the excitement surrounding the project.
And just you wait to hear who composes the soundtrack…
But, yeah, are we paying back properly? I don’t think so. We started strong, with an update every week or so …and then it was a month …and then it was over half a year.
Not on purpose, of course. Originally, we wanted you to be a witness to every step of the journey, say, like what the guys behind Kingdom Come did with their updates and YouTube videos and whatnot. But then two things happened.
First, we realized that just does not work for us. Not only people are confusing work-in-progress with final assets (understandable, especially when things look decent enough already), but, more importantly, now we know we do not want to show too much. We want to keep a lot of things secret. It’s a game full of mysteries to discover, but how to keep that puzzle intact and yet keep feeding the web weekly with the inside info and footage?
Second, well, real life slash indie game development happened. Again, there’s only nine of us. And Witchfire does not look like a game made by nine people. It’s not even a half of the Painkiller team, and no one believed how small that team was when we talked about it to publishers back in 2004!
But again, while the erratic post schedule was unintentional, I feel we should have done better with the updates. Or maybe we should have gone the way of Tim Soret and The Last Night and just go dark until we’re really ready for the release.
Look, thank you for being here and being patient with us.
Now, does it all mean we’re back to weekly updates? Sadly, impossibru. With our limited resources…
…we’d better focus 100% on the dev for now. We might post something between now, and, say, the summer, but we just don’t want to make promises we can’t keep.
But hey, look, a pretty picture!
Jokes aside, the game is fine, and we’re doing our best to make it our best. Apologies for the rare updates, but we promise we’ll pick up the pace when we’re nearing the release. Heck, I even have bits of one of the next updates already written, here’s a sample:
Officially, the Church forbids anyone to experiment with witchfire, “the devil’s breath”. There’s only one deviation to that rule. Condemned prisoners who committed unforgivable sins in their lives are given a choice: die and enter Hell, or become a preyer and live in this earthly vale of tears forever, hunting witches to refuel the witchfire that keeps you alive.
Q & A
And now it’s finally time for the big fat Q&A. Questions gathered from our Twitter and Facebook. If you asked us a question but don’t see it answered, most likely it means we don’t know the answer ourselves yet or we probably should not talk about it yet (like, “what platforms?”). Or that a somewhat similar question was asked and we already kind of answered.
Please don’t mention anything about NFTs or Metaverse next week.
We are currently experimenting with this. It’s not that simple, as the main problem is speed. Soulsbornes are Third Person-Perspective games with relatively slow movement. Witchfire is a First Person game with fast movement. Thus going back to an area and reaching your remains is much more dangerous in Soulsbornes than it is in Witchfire.
But we’re testing some ideas to see if we can raise the stakes. If not, it’s not a big deal, we have other mechanics in place to keep the tension and immersion.
If this game gets coop, it’s a 100% certain day one buy for me. This looks like an absolute blast to play with friends. So my question is, will it get coop? :) Keep up the good work!
It will most likely not get co-op. At least not for the EA release. One, it’s more than we can chew at the moment. Two, it makes the game too easy and trivial. Sort of like playing Souls in a duo.
Never say never and we do bring up co-op every now and then in internal meetings. But for now, we’re 100% focusing on the single player experience.
Questions: What is the world style like? Is it mission select? A hub like Monster Hunter or Destiny? What kind of inventory system is there? Grid-Based (REvil 4/8, EFT), Weight, Item Slots, Limited, is it Upgradable, None? Can you upgrade Weapons & Spells? Is there a bestiary?
There’s your hideout, your safe space — everything else is a hostile land of pain and misery. The inventory is both unlimited (hoarder’s paradise) and limited (what you can equip going out for a run) at the same time. You can upgrade weapons and spells. Not sure if we’ll do a bestiary, but it’s possible.
Glad to be finally hearing from you guys. My question: will the game be playable offline (no internet connection) on PC once it’s validated and fully up to date ? I’m kind of sick of “always online games-as-a-service” and just wanted to confirm. Thank you!
Super excited for the update! My question: How are you handling the sheer density of foliage on display in your game here? It alongside the quality of the other assets is just on another level, especially with regards to how well such a fast paced game has to perform.
Thank you. We learned a lot about foliage when making The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. There’s no magic here, it’s “just” a question of skill, experience and proper tools (like mixing SpeedTree and custom work). It’s that “simple”.
Will the game support RTX/DLSS? Moreover, I remember that many of your devs use ultrawide monitors. So, I hope that the 21:9 aspect ratio will be supported?
UE4 gives us a lot out of the box, so we can develop the game and have it look nicely even without the extras. But of course we’re exploring RTX/DLSS and other tech from Nvidia, AMD and Intel. We won’t implement any of it just as a marketing gimmick but if something makes the game look or perform better, we’ll certainly try to squeeze it in.
Indeed, some of us use 21:9 monitors for dev, so the game is already working in that ratio.
Yes, Destiny 2 is the very first video game in which you can freeze enemies. No other game has done it before. It is a breakthrough, an idea never before seen, certified fresh. We just had to rip it off.
Just so there’s no misunderstanding, that was sarcasm ;)
On a serious note, our elemental system is based on the four classic elements. One of them is water, and so some of our spells are ice-based, including freezing enemies. There’s only that many ways in which you can show a frozen enemy, so I guess we will always be compared to the latest big game that did it “first”.
Our other element is earth, meaning, for example, the decay. Fingers crossed we’ll release before Destiny 2 does it.
I’ve got one question: are you still going for the “randomized lootable weapons” instead of more unique weapons? I think I’d still prefer unique weapons with maybe even cool secondary fire modes or something like that.
Since you’re a small indie-studio, I guess Witchfire won’t have a very long playtime or end- or post-game content and going for randomized lootable weapons just makes sense if you have something like that where the gameplay is centered around getting the best equipment.
Actually, you might be pleased to hear we dropped the randomized perks on weapons. Balancing the RNG against the preset is a tough act. You want enough RNG for replayability, but also enough of the preset for mastery. And we felt that random perks on weapons, on top of other things we already have, was just too much.
Weapons will be upgradeable, and that process will require some dedication and skill. And there are some new mechanics connected to weapons that we’re not ready to talk about yet. But that’s it, no RNG.
Also, we’re trying to make sure the game is long enough and replayable enough to satisfy the modern gamer.
Good to hear from you! Do you plan to expand on lore, or are you focusing strictly on gameplay and replayability?
In the immortal words of a certain little girl, why not both?
We’re making a pretty-but-tough shooter but our ultimate goal is immersion. That, in our opinion, requires a believable world with interesting, deep lore. Even if only a part of that lore is on display. So yeah, we’re investing in the “adventure” part of the game, too.
Difficulty levels (or just one)? And what about plot/storyline?
There’s only one difficulty level, Git Gud. Well, it’s not really called that, but you get the idea. We might have something to make the lives of the hardcore even more miserable but top level, the game offers just one universal difficulty mode.
There will be a separate post about the storyline but we hope you enjoyed a short preview earlier in this post.
Will there be an option to have the crosshair centered rather than offset? It’s always been a pet peeve of mine in any game that does that, and I really don’t want something minor like that making me frustrated in such an otherwise great-looking game.
This question is almost a meme at this point. We’re asked this at least once a week. But look, we get it, we’re gamers too. So keep asking, and we’ll keep answering. Yes, there will be an option to have the crosshair centered. We don’t fuck with with PCMR.
BTW, in case anyone missed it, all the videos in this post are with the centered crosshair…
This a very, very good question. Honestly, this is worthy a post in itself. We actually did talk about it some time ago, but there’s been some developments and new discoveries since that.
But not to leave you hanging, this is something we are looking at almost every day. It’s not easy. A thing like this affects the entire design of the game. But if implemented, it does not just make speedrunners happy, it makes the entire experience better for literally everyone. Because if speedrunning is possible, it means the mastery is possible, and mastery is one of the four crucial, core elements of a well designed game. So …fingers crossed.
Do you guys have any plans to move Witchfire to Unreal Engine 5?
Not for now. We know that UE5 is a cool new shiny toy, but UE4 is still an extremely powerful, modern, beautiful engine. And, most importantly, it’s quite mature — while UE5 is not production ready yet.
Are you guys putting in Easter eggs and secrets? Or is that not something you’re prioritizing?
We’re not necessarily big fans of Easter eggs (they can take you out of immersion, like the assassin’s corpse in The Witcher) but we’re certainly fans of secrets. Expect secrets.
How many weapons will there be? I hate when a game has like 5 weapons with no alt fire. Need variety.
We kind of disagree with the sentiment, because we feel it heavily depends on the design of the weapons. If it’s something as cool as Half Life 2’s gravity gun, then we don’t mind the arsenal being on the limited side.
Just a thought. But as for Witchfire, there’s definitely more than five weapons.
How much is this a ‘traversal-ey’ shooter (with exploring, roaming, puzzles, etc.) vs. an arena shooter where you walk briskly between big battle zones?
Also really curious how many of the environment assets are from the Ethan Carter photogrammetry, I’m guessing a lot!
It’s kind of both. Arenas are close to each other, but at the same time it’s all a large piece of land you can almost freely explore.
We’re using almost none of Ethan Carter assets. We’ve learned a lot about photogrammetry when making the game, and because of that knowledge – and sweet new tech that keeps on improving – we’re making new assets.
Will the ‘Elements’ play any part of the gameplay, eg Water and Electricity causing shock, water and Ice + heavy weapon = shatter? you know that type of thing?
Mark. Are you a spy? Did you install Pegasus on our phones? Because yes, that how it works, that’s how all of this works.
Do you think of ironsights as appeasing people who’ve grown up with COD, or as a way to properly balance your shooting mechanics? or neither?
Honestly, neither. Some of our guns, like shotguns or bolt action rifles, have iron sights simply because it made total sense for them. Others, like hand cannons or machine pistols, have magical sights for clarity. Just going with the gut here.
Wait, maybe you mean ADS-ing? Aiming down sights? If so, it’s purely for immersion. It does have a certain interesting gameplay implications too, though.
What areas of innovation are you most excited about with this title? Is it in the AI, or gameplay, graphics, story, immersion?
Genuinely interesting question. Made us realize: we don’t care about innovation. Not that we don’t value it, it’s just that it’s not our focus. Like, when a director makes a movie, is “innovation” the first thing on his mind? Or a great story told in the language of cinema?
Same with us. We just want to make a great game, with engaging gameplay in an immersive world. Any innovation is just a by-product of that process.
It so happens that we do have some innovative, we believe, elements to the game, but we’ll keep them under wraps for now. What we’re most proud of at the moment are the visuals and gameplay that feels personal, like you’re really fighting forces of darkness, and not just cool looking bots.
Had development been “smooth” sailing since last update or have there been any significant changes/hickups to the game and/or development?
Smooth. Just slow. Because there’s only ni… *slap*
What is the playthrough time? If less than 500 hours, I’m not buying.
Any game can be 500 hours if it has a pause option *taps head*
Dark Souls difficulty or more in line with Doom 2016?
Ken Lund Klejs
Not sure how to answer that but the design goes more towards Souls. In a meaning that pure skill is not the only way to be successful. Anyone who finished a Soulsborne game knows that Skill is obviously the splashiest way, but Cheese (like exploring different routes for a backstab) and Grind (like overleving) are also an option.
Probably missed a few questions (sorry!) but we hope it was a good enough shot of info. Take care for now, preyers, and till next time!