Impressions: Sapience

Don't look at me

Remember those first fiercely atmospheric moments of Doom: you peering into the soupy murk, only stark corridors around you, and the echo of what sounds like someone clearing their throat repeatedly, but is actually something that will come to make you tense your muscles and prepare to mash ‘Fire’? I got this feeling when I started up the demo for Sapience, a retro-style FPS with RPG elements by Peter B. Funnell. It’s a sort of tingly feeling you get from your youth, I think.

It might be because Doom is sort of present in all PC gamers: that pixellated muzzle fire deeply ingrained like bullets in the Other Guy. But Sapience is different, in that play is based on how much oxygen you have left. The stark green and black lines and the groan of the ominous soundtrack around you are oppressive as you watch that oxygen bar deplete. Fail to get to the next oxygen cannister and you’re dead; run out of bullets and you’re dead. Run into an alien that looks like the bunny from Donnie Darko: DEAD.


Aliens, when they first loom 2D out of the dark, are more comical than terrifying, and part of me wishes that they had that ‘shit I can hear them’ element before they hit you with Doomesque fireballs, but there is nothing easy about defeating them, though headshots are easy to make (they have giant heads). In fact, “Shit At FPS” Cara Ellison was quite entertained by how it appears, in blood red at the top of the screen: HEADSHOT as you drill some visor-wearing Donnie Darko-hassler a new face. So satisfying.


Scattered around are the disparate hints of story: the mystery of what went on to make the ship this way, the key finding and the broken item fixing. I love the ‘starship adrift in space’ trope as much as the next Alien fan, and it’s hard to get that formula right. I wonder if making the enemies more awful, more terrifying, and inserting a sound effect of your own laboured breathing slowing and slowing would improve my desperation to get to the next oxygen tank, get to the next part of the story?

Blood on my dancefloor

The real panic sets in though, when you are in the middle of a battle with some fireball-flinging jerk and your oxygen is low – the HUD screeches its alarm at you and you are trying to gun down this stupid Lewis Carollian-nightmare and EVERYTHING is going wrong and OH LOOK the screen is flashing red I am almost dead and SHIT I didn’t save at that last door and OH GOD THE MENU DOESN’T PAUSE ANYTHING AHHHHH.

That is the best part.

First of all, Papa Smurf didn't create Smurfette. Gargamel did.

At demo stage the RPG elements seem rudimentary, and it’s hard to know how they’d play out. You can level up by killing enemies of course, in the tradition of Our People, and then add points onto your attack, defend and stamina abilities and a few other skills unavailable at demo besides.

And yet: there’s something a little wrong with the gun reload, I think. I would run out of bullets or have to reload, and there needs to be some indication in sound that you’re out apart from the top right Mag counter. At demo stage there’s a lot to be improved (though Peter seems absolutely on this on his GameMaker page), and the environments do tend to feel too stark; your footsteps too laboured. I’d like it to be faster (though there’s no need to make it harder – it has 3 difficulties) and perhaps more finely tempered for the lull and adrenaline of a polished Amnesia desperationathon. But have you seen that video of the Spacesuit Men? Argh. They look throw-mouse-at-the-screen-and-run-downstairs horrifying. I’d love to see this fully developed into something we can buy.

Suicide or killer bunnies?

Atmospheric and contemplative, Sapience is something that has made me reflect on how powerful simple tools for creating games actually are these days. Before I began writing this post, I thought to myself how much of a joy it is to actually have a job where I celebrate the creativity of someone who one day just opened up GameMaker and began to map out their brain. Have a play. I think you’ll like it. And when you’re done, you can vote for it to be made on Greenlight.


  1. Dudeist says:

    What a fresh idea…

    • The Random One says:

      Remember back in 1999 when realistic shooters where you had little health and only two guns were a brand new and imaginative idea? I do.

      • Geen says:

        There are three guns, to be precise. And he’s probably referring to the atmosphere.

  2. killmachine says:

    well, doom is still out there, open source and you can mod the heck out of it.

    i personally just started mapping/scripting for it and it’s so much fun. it really brings you back to the good old days and make you appreciate actual game mechanics instead of fancy optics. i find it fascinating everytime i launch doom, how much fun it still is, given you use a modern source port like zdoom. the classic looks rather dated in 320×200.

  3. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Marathon had some levels in which you had to watch your oxygen levels. Made for some tense gameplay.

  4. SuperFastJellyfish says:

    You know what classic fps were missing? reticule bloom. I know I always hated how my guns would just keep shooting straight.

  5. Joshua_Anderson says:

    my buddy’s step-mother makes $62 an hour on the internet. She has been fired from work for eight months but last month her payment was $15028 just working on the internet for a few hours. Here’s the site to read more… link to

  6. Casimir's Blake says:

    Brilliant. Just brilliant. It’s taken long enough for people to start making “old-school” FPSs, I’m pleased to see an indie FPS in 2013! I don’t particularly care if people view this as archaic; some abstract, sci-fi shootery that isn’t linear or interspersed by cutscenes every 5 seconds is more than overdue!

    • SuperFastJellyfish says:

      Weird timing too. Have you seen this?
      link to

      • Casimir's Blake says:

        Like the visuals, but so-called “wave defense” is very tedious in single player (and not much fun multi-player imo), and says to me they’re not interested in hand-crafted level design, which Sapience has in spades.

        Sadly, I suspect 99% of people will look at Sapience, laugh, and run to the next COD-man-shooter. Cretins. Obviously it takes taste to appreciate a purposefully retro visual aesthetic. Anything that is vaguely similar to System Shock is fine by me.

    • cunningmunki says:

      Good to see the gun go back to the middle of the screen. Not for any practical reason, just for pure nostalgia.

      Pop Quiz: What was the first FPS to move the gun to the right?

      • Geen says:

        Wolfenstien had your knife to the right.

        • cunningmunki says:

          Yes it did, and there were loads of RPGs before Wolfenstein with swords, clubs and knives to the right. But that’s not what I asked.

      • cunningmunki says:

        Ok, ok, enough with all the guesses already, I can tell this is a hot topic. Anyway, I’ll put you all out of your collective misery and tell you that it was…

        Dark Forces!

        …well, probably.

        It could also have been Bethesda’s Terminator: Future Shock, and there’s a chance it could actually have been Capstone’s William Shatner’s Tek War (to give it its full title), which, engine fans, was the first game to use Duke3D’s ‘Build’ engine.
        You see, the problem is release dates (if you go off release date rather than start of development, which would be very tricky to pin down!). All of these games were released in 1995, but Mr WWW Internet isn’t certain when in 1995 the latter two were released (because, who cares, right?). I’ve even found evidence that T:FS may have actually been released in 1996 (the game is set in 1995, which may have led to the confusion).
        But since we know for almost certain that Dark Forces was released in February 1995, there’s a pretty good chance it preceded the release of the other two.

        Feel free to use this as a pub quiz question.

  7. jon_hill987 says:

    I know it is an early build but the option to invert the mouse should be one of the first thing you put in a first person game. Unless I missed it, there does not seem to be one rendering it unplayable for me.

  8. JackMultiple says:

    Yeah, what was that throat-clearing fake-motorcycle-revving noise in DOOM, anyway? I just replayed both DOOM and DOOM 2 earlier this year and I don’t think I ever did figure it out. Just what sound was it “supposed” to be?

  9. DrScuttles says:

    On the subject of Donnie Darko, some strange force compelled me to watch the sequel, S. Darko, recently. I have come here to in an attempt to warn others and stop them from doing the same.

  10. cunningmunki says:

    “Would you buy this game if it were available in Steam?”

    Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes