#nosewers: First-Person Sneaker Neon Struct Shuns Sewers

By Alice O'Connor on July 28th, 2014 at 8:00 pm.

You'll never see me, copper.

While John’s waging war on oceans (a traumatic crab experience as a child, perhaps?), I’ve decided that my first Official RPS Crusade will be against far less pleasant bodies of water. Cnut that I am, I set my throne before waves of lurid green sludge and futilely declare: no sewers.

I’ve chosen my first champion. A game bold enough to cut a sewer level because it wasn’t adding anything. A game that destroyed sewers even though you can probably, like, make a really powerful point about cyberpunk cities and waste flow and, like, society, yeah? Good on you, Neon Struct.

All of which is to say that we’ve only ever posted about Neon Struct (formerly Die Augen der Welt) bundled into DevLog Watches and that seems a shame, so I’m taking this sewer removal as a flimsy excuse to mention a game I like the look of. It’s a “political thriller stealth game” with gun-free, violence-light sneaking and hacking, as well as social bits where you wander around the cyberpunk future nattering with people. It’s being made by Minor Key Games, the folks behind Lovecraftian first-person roguelikelike Eldritch, who are going for a handcrafted campaign rather than procedural exploration this time–one reason why its planned sewer level must go.

See, the two-brother team aim to release Neon Struct in February 2015 and are carefully planning how to do that without delay or crowdfunding, which means being strict and realistic about what they can and should accomplish. Former 2K Marin chap David Pittman explained in a development blog post (a devlog, some might say) breaking this sewer news:

“… I was unhappy with its quality and had planned to rebuild it this week. While reviewing it, I realized that its problems weren’t in the way I had built it, but the level’s utter lack of purpose in the game. It was ostensibly a core stealth level, but its fiction required it to be only sparsely populated. The player had no particular objective except to get from point A to point B. And it was a grimy sewer level of the kind we’ve seen in hundreds of games before. In short, it failed at being a good stealth level and it wasn’t even remotely interesting. The obvious solution was to cut it and move on …”

Not fun, empty, pointless, yep, that’ll be a video game sewer all right.

I’m not being fanatical about this, though. My passion isn’t such that I would e.g. head up Weston-super-Mare on weekends to fling spadefuls of pebbles into the ocean while wailing “I’ll fill you in real good!” I’m not saying sewers are inherently terrible. Anywhere that can house a 15-tonne lump of fat and filth surely has potential. But sewer levels are, by and large, awful, and those which show promise tend to outstay their welcome. Tell me about sewers, dear reader. Tell me everything about sewers. Tell me about the sewer nightmares you relive and those sewers you long to visit.

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25 Comments »

  1. AlexStoic says:

    We all agree about sewers, yet devs keep putting them in games. The Banner Saga is a fantasy RPG with nary a single sewer, cave, catacomb or dungeon. Crazy, huh?

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      LTK says:

      Given the setting of the Banner Saga and what your actual objective in the game is… no, not that crazy.

  2. rexx.sabotage says:

    Forget harshing on sewers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a solid game that was like 80% sewers.

    What we should really be ragging on is underwater hold-your-breath levels and time-bombs! Definitely time-bombs, F that ish, seriously.

  3. GameCat says:

    “Not fun, empty, pointless, yep, that’ll be a video game sewer all right.”

    Or WAREHOUSE.

    • Canape says:

      Yes. WAREHOUSES.

      and engineering/boiler rooms. With broken machines to click upon.

      Have just pictured London without sewers. Sorry Alice, your campaign is actually rather dangerous (and wrong)

  4. ZIGS says:

    I like sewer levels. Done well they’re really cool places to explore

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    Chaz says:

    On the whole I have to agree, sewer levels are generally really tedious to get through. A maze of samey looking right angled tunnels is just not fun to navigate through. I hate to say it, but some times it just does feel a little bit like lazy design. Like the developer just needed something quick and easy to add a bit of bulk to their game.

    Anyway, even in times of trouble and strife, would you really head down to the sewers to navigate your way across town? I think not. Dark, filthy, and unless you were a city sewer engineer you’d probably have no idea where you were going.

    I wouldn’t say all sewers were bad in games though. Where they’re used to add a bit of variety to a level then generally they’re not too bad. Duke Nukem and HL2 had good sewer bits, but they were never really levels in of themselves from what I remember. Or if they were then they were much more interesting sewers than your average.

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      LTK says:

      The best quality of the sewers of the Black Mesa complex that they were really impressive places. It’s not just a bunch of watery pipes to walk through, it’s an intimidating monster of a facility that feels exactly like the kind of place that could process the quantity and various qualities of waste that a giant military research complex would produce.

  6. Wulfram says:

    The sewers of Amn in BG2 were pretty OK, IIRC. Some interesting fights and quests and whatnot, didn’t go on forever.

    The sewers of V:TM-B weren’t.

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      lurkalisk says:

      Well at least the sewers were largely optional in Bloodlines. Granted, the bits you had to go through were some of the worst parts of the game…

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        But now the most recent unofficial patches for Bloodlines allows you to skip the whole sewer section, so that’s a great addition to an already great game. Damn that section was really long, that’s what I disliked most about it.

        I liked the sewers of The Witcher 1, they felt gloomy and nice, very atmospheric together with the music.

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    LTK says:

    For all Zeno Clash’s crazy, off-the-wall art direction and world design, they sure managed to get the stereotypical sewer level down to a tee. Pointless except for exposition, utterly bland and one-note, and completely boring except for the few dumb enemies in it. Fortunately it didn’t last longer than a couple of minutes.

    The sewers in Deus Ex: HR were a trove of copy-pasted art assets, filled with gang members and drifters, but the original Deus Ex actually had interesting stuff in its sewers. Hell’s Kitchen, the mole people, green greasy greasels, need I say more?

    • vedder says:

      I was thinking the same thing about the Deus Exes.

      I was also thinking about Dark Forces, which has one of my most treasured gaming moments, the sewer level. Those creepy Dianoga’s whose tentacles would pop out of the sludge from time to time, getting lost in finding all the machinery to make the water levels rise. The level design in that game was so outstanding and the sewer levels were the icing on the cake (ew!)

  8. AyeBraine says:

    The strangest thing is, as far as I understand, the gamey sewers are almost always fantastical, modeled after some vague abstract notion of sewers put together from Third Man catacombs, Japanese deluge tunnels and… I don’t know, ventilated government underground bunkers that house hobos and connect to the streets by sewer hatches, for some reason?

    It would be nice to set a scene in a game when you dash into the sewers, and get stuck in the narrow, filthy tube that threatens to drown you, poison you with gas and trap you irreversibly if you make a wrong move. The sewer that you must get out of ASAP, and that can take you NOWHERE USEFUL (and most likely lead to you being captured in a pathetic way, enemies mocking your Darwin-award stupidity).

    On the same note, I wonder how many years will pass until games stop using air-vents as tunnels ) Or do the same bait-and-switch trick showing you how useless they are. I don’t mind them so much, but I mean just how long will they survive as a story device. Oh, oh, or they can show you an “alternate path” through the airspace above the false ceiling and make you fall through the frail thing after the first few steps, all tangled in Ethernet wires!

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    thedosbox says:

    We need a “no escort missions” tag too.

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      Chaz says:

      So the “Say no to ……” in games list now extends to:

      -Sewers.
      -Warehouses full of crates.
      -Time limited missions. (Usually due to a bomb timer.)
      -Escort missions.

      I shall add my personal pet hates to that list:

      -Constantly respawning enemies (Usually with some vague invisible cut off point you have to advance to. See the COD’s, especially MW, oh how I loathed that game for it.)
      -Siege survival situations. (Where you have to holdout against increasingly difficult waves of enemies. Either against a set number of waves or surviving a set amount of time.)

      • Velko says:

        Timed underwater escort mission, where the person you’re escorting walks faster than you walk but slower than you run. IN A SEWER.

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        Say no to box fights, i.e. you enter an enclosed area and need to defend the people trying to open the next door or just survive until help arrives. That is not a common issue with proper PC games, because there’s no need to restrict movement to one small area at a time, but some ported games still have that “feature”.

        Say no to invisible barriers that leads to a Game Over screen if you dare venture beyond them. I mean, do gamers really think they can walk just anywhere just because there is no conveniently placed obstruction blocking their way. Oh no, they must remain on the narrow path we have chosen for them at all times, because of reasons.

  10. Geebs says:

    I would like to play a game with a section where you transport a wide-necked container of water. An ewer level, if you will.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      There’s a ‘dungeon’ in World of Warcraft set in a brewery. A brewer level, so to speak.

  11. Bob says:

    The sewers in The Nameless Mod, a total conversion mod for Deus Ex, have some interesting, dangerous, and entertaining sewer action. There are two (sewer) maps, one which can only be played when doing the World Corp playthrough and it’s got an outrageous way of infiltrating a mission related building.

  12. lordcooper says:

    Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance had a pretty cool sewer level, mainly due to it containing some of the most fun enemies in the game.

    Final Fantasy VIII had the worst. Maybe I was just a stupid child, but finding my way through the almost identical screens took hours.

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    funkstar says:

    The Mirror’s Edge sewers were pretty fun IIRC, mostly because of the momentum you built up and when they opened out it was more like a puzzle of how to get back up to the top

  14. Dances to Podcasts says:

    Mandatory FPS Sewer!

  15. BlueTemplar says:

    The most infamous sewer game ever :