Like Grimrock But Steampunk? Yes Please: Vaporum

It’s with a tentative fondness that I see the success of the Grimrock games might be bringing about a minor revival of grid-based first-person RPGs. Tentative because it has to be done for the right reason. Nostalgia isn’t enough – such games need to understand the advantages a lack of free movement offers. Grimrock certainly does, allowing you to develop (or rediscover, if you’re an oldie) the skills inherent to 90 degree turns and one-square-at-a-time dungeon crawling. So that is my hope for Vaporum [official site], a steampunk dungeon crawler from veterans-turned-indie, FatBot Studio, which is already looking most attractive in its very early footage.

Clearly just the word “steampunk” sets this apart from the usual fantasy dungeoneering. I have no doubt I’ll be corrected below, but I can’t think of vaporous robots appearing in the genre before. It has always been the realm of D&D-a-likes, and indeed of course, official AD&D licenses. The exceptional Captive cannot be forgotten, but that was pure sci-fi. So good start! Then comes the footage, which certainly appeals.

It’s interesting to note that it’s a single character being played, rather than a party. They’ll have to put a lot into that lone chap/chappess to keep it as interesting as looking after four people/creatures of different classes and skills. FatBot have said that instead of upgrading the character themselves, instead the focus will be on the suit worn, alongside “items, skills and traits”. They go on,

“Vaporum uses a simplified character development system that despite its simplicity makes every player’s choice matter. The player can develop their own personal playing skills rather than number-crunching power to defeat enemies and overcome obstacles.”

It’s still a way off. The team is currently looking for funding, and pondering a crowdfunding campaign. Certainly what I’ve seen so far makes me want to see some more, which is always the best possible start.

From this site

36 Comments

  1. Casimir's Blake says:

    But still no free-movement / free-look? Disappointing. Roll on Underworld Ascension… (And hopefully others? Why is this such a rare genre!?)

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Where is the edit button? I meant Ascendant of course.

    • shadow9d9 says:

      This game is intended to be an rpg and not a fps, like Ascendant is.

    • Steve Catens says:

      The moderate success of the Grimrock games are about people conflating the joy of first person dungeon exploration (yes, more of this please), with archaic control systems (no what…why would you do this) built around ancient hardware limitations that are no longer relevant. It’s not like the distinction between real-time and turn-based combat, where both approaches have distinctive gameplay advantages and experiences. I’m not aware of anyone who enjoys the Grimrock games saying they like them because, “Finally, a game that restricts my movement and viewpoints to hard 90 degree angles, just like the old days !” We liked these games of this style in spite of grid based movement, not because of it.

      Their praise is usually centered around the satisfaction of exploring a stone labyrinth with a variable party of adventurers in the first person, and coming face to face with unspeakable horrors and inscrutable puzzles. Grid based movement no longer serves any meaningful purpose, makes nobody happy in and of itself, and needs to die a fiery death–possibly by failing a number of saving throws vs the particularly nasty end of the Beholder ray spectrum.

      I both love and hate the Grimrock games for this. Their success is inspiring a number of copycats that are missing the point. When the pro-first person dungeon exploration market starts rejecting these games because they keep coming bundled with the awful, pointless grid based movement affectation, the fans of this genre will once again find themselves under-served.

      • Hunchback says:

        I agree with what you said. I loved Grimrock 2 for it’s setting, mystery and all, but i also hated it fiercely for it’s retarded controls, very clumsy inventory management (omg, run out of ammo in the middle of a fight? Better run for it or simply reload… :S ) and hard to use viewport making you lose on the beautiful locations. Such a waste. I never finished it, the controls were driving me mad, having to click on 4 buttons on the screen, no way to bind keys to simple actions like attack or drink a potion… Notnx, sadly. And i so wanted to know what this island is all about, and who’s leaving the mysterious messages.

        Making games horrible just for “old time’s sake” is starting to REALLY annoy me, especially how many “indi” devs are riding this thing making silly 8bit graphics games with close to no content and selling them for the same price that other studios have to sell their much more complex, polished and generally better games.
        One or two months ago i was scrolling through the RPS pages and i really felt if it was the 1997 and this was a site dedicated to Nintendo games… I wish this would end, because it’s unfair for the talented people.

        As for Vaporum, it looks nice already, but sadly i’ll probably never finish it either, seeing how it’s going the same way as Grimrock.

        Also, one thing i’d like to see changed in these kind of games is the lack of anything that’s not hostile. Why’s there never anyone around to talk to, even if it’s not a helpful person, still just someone who’s around and not trying to kill you. Or even hell, if can be someone who’s trying to kill you but for a reason. As it is, it’s like Diablo – everything you encounter is “evil” and is after you, for no other reason than being “evil”. All those athmospheric dungeons and places and stuff could really benefit of a bit of people/persons inhabiting them, some interaction other than puzzles and killing.

        • matej_zajacik says:

          In Vaporum, you only control one character and most actions can be activated by both mouse and keys, so you don’t have to spamclick. I myself am a heavy keyboard user, so I’ll make sure everything where it’s applicable can be controlled by keys as well as mouse.

          Also, we will most likely have allied bots that you can construct, so there will be friendly entities. And not just robots. The story has some mysteries to be explored, too, in terms of interaction. What kind of interaction, I don’t want to say to spoil it. :)

      • Sakkura says:

        Grid based movement does serve a meaningful purpose, it cuts down on the cost of development. You don’t have to spend as much time working on collision and stuff like that, so you can spend more time working on other aspects of the game.

        You do lose something with grid based movement, in itself it’s clearly inferior to free movement – but the tradeoff as a whole may be worth it, depending on how much the rest of the game benefits from the time and resources that is saved by using grid based movement instead of free movement.

        • matej_zajacik says:

          Exactly!

          Another big advantage is the level architecture modularity. In a grid-based game, super-modular & perpendicular level design is well accepted. Not to say that a free-movement game cannot have levels just as squarily-modular, but it’s not that common, I guess.

        • fish99 says:

          It also makes AI programming and level construction far easier, quicker and cheaper. I’d also say the engine is much easier to make and needs less optimizing. For an indie dev with a small team and limited resources, there’s some very good reasons to choose this style of game over free movement. It also plays quite different to a free movement game, with it’s own set of gameplay mechanics and conventions. Complaining this isn’t free movement is like complaining that every turn based game isn’t real time.

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            teije says:

            Exactly. Any game – as an artificial construction – has inherent constrictions due to its design – some due to conscious design, others due to budget, engine, etc. It’s okay to not like a game because of its design decisions naturally, but that doesn’t make it a bad game. I actually enjoy games where the restrictions are well thought out & implemented and explicit, because it clearly sets the parameters for the gaming experience within which you play.

      • Michael Fogg says:

        I disagree. The fixed perspective system has a distinct advantage – every scene is framed in a specific way, basically like a nice tableau. Important things are front and center, the player sees what he needs to see all the time, items are not likely to be lost somewhere on blurry floor textures. It also reinforces the idea that you move around as a party that actually takes up space, not as a single person. And the step-movement system is the basis of many of the games’ puzzles. So I think these things are a deliberate design decisions, not just for the sake of emulating old times.

        • Rise / Run says:

          I’d say that all good things are born out of some restrictions. Understanding the costs and benefits of these restrictions allows you to create something new and interesting. As noted above, there are a great deal of benefits to grid-based development, though it doesn’t give you as seemless an experience as free motion. I personally never found it immersion breaking.

          Also, as much as the inventory management can be challenging in e.g. grimrock (and not for everybody), successful management is important. If you keep your healing potion under your old shirts in your backpack, you’re probably not going to be able to reach it when you need it. Keeping everything organized so you can find it is part of the planning for an encounter. Similar systems existed in e.g. system shock 2, and it’s an important part of the design — one I enjoy. Though it might not be for everyone.

      • slerbal says:

        I’m not conflating anything, so speak for yourself. If anything prefer the movement system over the dungeon setting. The limitations of the movement introduce some really interesting dynamics. It is fine that you didn’t like it, but don’t assume you speak for everyone else. Plus LoG were more than moderate successes, way more. Most games devs would kill to sell as many copies of their games.

      • anon459 says:

        Then let me be the first to say that I love Grimrock, in part, because it restricts my movement and viewpoints to hard 90 degree angles. Not because it’s like the old days(I never had a chance to play those types of games back then) but because the grid-based movement feels satisfying in the timing and prediction required to dance around enemies’ attacks while sneaking your own attacks in between theirs. Having to manage enemies on a grid makes the game feel somewhat more like a chess match than the mindless hacking and slashing in most RPGs.

        Everything in Grimrock has a strong degree of management. Managing stat and ability upgrades, managing equipment, managing health and food, managing attacks via a little box in the corner of your HUD, managing the map to find all the secrets, and managing the combat grid. Not to mention solving puzzles. Grimrock is a strategy game first and an action game second. The difference is absolutely like the one between real-time and turn-based games. I’m not sure I would even enjoy a Grimrock game without grid movement.

        As for having people to interact with, I can agree with that. That is, as long as human interaction is a rare event. Part of the atmosphere in these games is, to me, the sense of isolation, similar to Dark Souls. If a few instances of human interaction throughout the game could offer a bit of relief without compromising the atmosphere, great, but it would have to be done right.

      • horrorgasm says:

        That’s odd, because if you were to go on the Grimrock forums or their facebook page or any other number of pages devoted to classic dungeon crawlers of this type, you would easily find tons of people claiming the exact opposite about the grid system. In fact, if you picked any random person who likes these kinds of rpgs and was alive when they were prevalent, they would almost certainly say the same thing.

        I mean, why do you think Grimrock was designed that way to begin with? Just some completely arbitrary decision that not a single person ever showed interest in, except it somehow got massively crowdfunded and was popular enough to warrant a sequel? Haha.

    • Sakkura says:

      It does have free-look, just like Grimrock does.

  2. melnificent says:

    I’m tentatively excited about what they do with this.

  3. bill says:

    I haven’t gotten around to playing Grimrock yet, but what Iread sounded like you have to use movement to win battles (eg: step forward, attack, step back when enemy attacks, etc..) Is that right?

    Because something about playing a grid-based party game and using real-time fps movement tricks sounds all wrong.
    It seems like there should be a “dodge” skill or button or something, but that once you engage with an enemy then the combat should be resolved on that square.

    • slerbal says:

      To an extent, but it is quite a bit more nuanced than that, and certainly in Legend of Grimrock 2 there are plenty of monster that can handle that tactic and pull some surprises of their own on you. I personally enjoy the rhythm and timing element to the combat.

  4. brulleks says:

    “It’s interesting to note that it’s a single character being played, rather than a party.”

    A step in the right direction from my perspective. Having to juggle four different inventories in LoG without being able to pause the game put me off it within a couple of hours. Good to hear this might cater for players who want a little more exploration and a little less micro-management.

  5. Alien says:

    grid/tile based movement in a 3D first person environment is a total immersion killer for me.

    I simply don’t understand how people can like it.

    BTW: And I love grid based movement in strategy games (X-Com, Civ etc.)

    • slerbal says:

      Because it is fun? I love these games – I also love Xcom and the like – but they scratch different itches. It might not be your cup of tea, but it is definitely mine and many the people’s. The grid movement limitations opens up some really interesting environmental dynamics and interactions as well as bringing a somewhat chess-like mechanic to movement. Variety is good in games :)

      • Mr Coot says:

        I am a fan of grid movement. But that’s because I grew up mapping games like Bards Tale. Mapping is one of my small guilty pleasures associated with dungeon crawlers.

        • matej_zajacik says:

          Hah! I can fully understand what joy it is to map out all the levels by hand! Funny, because we had an old-school dungeoneer on one of our focus test sessions, and the guy went on mapping the whole demo, tile by tile, and the session took about three times as long as other sessions because of that! Also he refused to use any other weapon but the basic crowbar to beat the game, as a sort of a challenge, I guess. Great experience for me to see how you mapping-savvy people do it. :)

  6. slerbal says:

    Ooh I am tentatively excited. Captive was brilliant – I would love to see a modern remake of it. In my opinion Captive and Bloodwych were the best two games in the genre back in the day, and I loved them both, but Captive felt so fresh and different. That said I am up for other new and interesting explorations of this reborn genre, so I shal follow closely.

      • slerbal says:

        Oh yes, I am following StarCrawlers really closely, I would have picked it up already but they never replied to my email with a query on what was included via the humble widget. But yep following and most likely buying on release :)

    • Robmonster says:

      Captive was really good, one of my favourite games. Bit of a shame there were a few bugs that stopped progression after a while, things like door keys being placed behind the door they opened.

      I really liked the idea that you were tracing a route from base to base, and you had to start off a destruct sequence and then get out before it went off.

      • karnak says:

        A real shame that Captive 2 never was ported to the PC.
        The developpers had the sad idea of making it an Amiga exclusive. Unfortunately the game appeared in the last days of the Amiga. As a result the game is hardly known by anyone.

        That game deserved to be on the PC. The Amiga (even the 1200) had a lousy hardware for that. The game ran too slow.

        • slerbal says:

          I had Captive on the ST/STE and had no idea they had even made Captive 2, which is a shame as I would have loved to have bought it. The rush to escape the base when you blew it up was amazing, though I always felt sorry for the shop keepers :D

  7. Diatribe says:

    I really hate this style of game. It could have been a good game, but using real-time clickfest combat strategies in a grid based system that rely on cheesing movement around enemies such that they can’t ever actually hit you in a meaningful matter with an unintuitive control scheme really ruins it for me.

    I tried Grimrock and the entire time wished it was turn based. I quit because the clicking became too annoying and as soon as you push the wrong button navigating around difficult enemy encounters you have to reload. It’s basically a button mashing pattern memorization game in the guise of a dungeon RPG. Never played Grimrock 2 because I knew I’d hate it.

    So games in this style are dead on arrival for me. I assume I can’t be the only person who feels this way?

    • fish99 says:

      Seems odd to me to want a type of game to not exist when plenty of people enjoy them.

      • drinniol says:

        Clear case of ‘I don’t like it, nobody can have it’.

        • slerbal says:

          Agreed. I’ve never really understood that. There are many games out there that I have zero interest in but I have no issue with others enjoying them or that they exist at all. As far as I am concerned variety is great in games. There are more than one target market / group of players for games…

        • Diatribe says:

          Except it’s not. I don’t begrudge its existence, I’m just sad they could have had a good game and threw it all away by choosing poor mechanics that ruined the whole experience for me.

          It’s sad to see what is already a niche area of interest get flooded with games you have no interest in because they’re aping annoying mechanics from a success you hated.

          • horrorgasm says:

            Luckily the world is made up of billions of other people that are not literally “you” and many of us are very glad that “you” aren’t allowed to decide these things for us.