Sublevel Zero Is Procedurally-Generated Descent

I’ve only spent around an hour playing Sublevel Zero [official site] but that’s enough for me to predict that it might become one of my favourite games released in these final months of 2015. It’s the Descent spiritual successor that I assumed I’d be playing within a fortnight of the great Kickstarter revival period, offering precise combat with six degrees of freedom. The controls are tight, it looks lovely and the procedural levels appear to use finely tuned generation tools. A new trailer informs us that it’ll be out on October 8th, for Windows and Mac, with Linux to follow shortly.

Here’s the word from developers Sigtrap:

“Sublevel Zero is a first-person, six-degree-of-freedom roguelike shooter set in a universe where reality is falling apart. Take the helms of a lone gunship and prepare to navigate your way through a dizzying labyrinth of procedurally-generated 3D levels, puzzles and raging enemies to source valuable ancient artefacts. Descend into a vast underground facility in your mission to loot and craft ancient technology which holds the key to your clan’s survival!

“Exterminate enemy fighters, annihilate surface foes and wipe out menacing turrets- you never know what’s lurking around the corner! Fly and rotate in every direction while attacking from all angles. The emphasis is on survival and ammunition is scarce so you will need to strengthen your tactics, adaptability and skill in order to survive enemy encounters. Make every shot count, as there are no saves!”

I wasn’t convinced that procedural levels were the right way to go but given that my memories of Descent’s maps are like my memories of a tangled ball of wool, I’m not sure that the deliberate handcrafted approach is necessary. Far better if the game can build labyrinths of unexpected danger and delight, which enables the permadeath approach to function without forcing replays of the same opening levels over and over again.

My relationship with Descent is odd. I loved it when I first played it, right around the time of release, but I’ve never felt particularly tempted to go back. Sublevel Zero makes me wish I’d never left.

27 Comments

  1. FreeTom says:

    I was really bad at Descent and consequently had a really bad time with it.

    It was a long time ago though, so I remember it fondly for no good reason.

    • Spongbo says:

      I too was initially bloody awful at it. But then something happened: I read the README. And it said you needed a good joystick. One with a hat!

      My flatmate had a Thrustmaster full FCS system and was flying circles around me on our 10BaseT LAN. Kinda literally.

      And I got myself a Sidewinder 3D Pro… (and used that and the keyboard) and it was amazing. And I got much better.

      I’m not sure mouse and keyboard – or current dual-stick controllers – will ever be as good for 6DOF shooters – you really need to lose a dimension (or add more fingers) for it to be as viable But, like wow.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        Got a confession to make here – I’ve only ever played the Descent series with the keyboard.

        I’m a guy who switched to mouse+keyboard for doom fairly early on. I OWN a decent joystick. But I got so used to playing Descent with just the keyboard that I’ve never been able to switch away.

        I’m not half-bad at it, either. Not amazing, but not bad.

  2. hollowroom says:

    Want. I loved descent, many happy confusing, headache causing hours spent twisting around its tunnels.

    With joystick support this will be great.

  3. ryanrybot says:

    This looks quite promising and makes me a little sad that other games of this genre don’t get more attention. I don’t think I’ve even seen a Descent: Underground article here at all.

  4. Morcane says:

    EleGiggle

    Sold

  5. internisus says:

    Poor Retrovirus. Nobody noticed you when you were on Kickstarter, and now nobody remember that you existed when a new indie Descent-like appears.

  6. Razumen says:

    What’s with the shitty pixel explosions? I mean even Descent had decent animated explosions with bouncing debris-this…this just looks lazy.

  7. Telkir says:

    If the price is right I’ll be giving this a go.

    However, I’m afraid I can’t avoid the obligatory mention for Sol Contingency. Hopefully RPS will put an article out on that when they release their “Proving Grounds” demo, hopefully in time for the project’s 3rd anniversary next month.

  8. Kaeoschassis says:

    As someone who recently replayed and completed Descent 1 and Descent Maximum and is currently (in theory) playing through Descent 2, just gonna say that the level design in those games was actually fantastic. (Well, Maximum less so, but still good)

    Doesn’t mean I’m not excited about the idea of procedurally generated Descent, mind! Sounds like a blast. The interesting thing is the emphasis they’re apparently putting on scarcity. I have to say, since most of your primary weapons in Descent were energy-based, it didn’t often feel like you were short on anything. (Except shields, of course) Will be interesting to see how something of this sort plays out.

    Incase this comment somehow sounded too low key – WOOO!

    Seriously, more 6DOF stuff, please.

  9. DevilishEggs says:

    This is really promising. I wish there was a guidebot for my life, moving ahead of me and opening doors.

    I can get on the procedural generation train with this one, but I’m not as sure about limited-ammo-survival and resource gathering. I want my true spiritual successor to be about unbridled firepower!

    Part of Descent 1/2’s enjoyment for me was playing custom missions. I hope there’s good mod support and/or an official level designer, procedural mapping aside.

    Meanwhile, the Descent Network still sort of exists as a shell of its former glory

    link to descent-network.com

  10. buzzmong says:

    Don’t forget that a proper Descent game was KS’d and is being made called Descent: Undergound.

    With regards to Subzero, something about the retro pixel style of it doesn’t gel with the Descent concept for me. Lots of quick movement and heavy action doesn’t go well with large pixels.

    • EhexT says:

      Ah yes, the “Descent” game that is primary a multiplayer arena shooter that sells special ships at ridiculous prices and generally takes all it’s cues from Star Citizens method of money-making.

      Totally a “proper” Descent game that.

      • EhexT says:

        Oh and they also CnDed the actual proper Descent fan remake too so they’d have less competition for their joke of a “descent” kickstarter campaign.

        • Spongbo says:

          … I’m a backer.

          And the CNDd one was posted with a video of pure screaming LAN play awesomeness, which really captured the feeling and magic. Jaw dropped watching it. Looked perfect, though obviously a tiny slice.

          Then I watched a recent LAN test with the current developers… and not one of them looked competent at Descent multiplay. I’m not sure if the game looked right or not at all.

          Looking at the video, nobody seemed to have a joystick with a hat, everyone was having problems negotiating the space other than backwards and forwards.

          I crack out Descent (and 2) every so often, and play for a bit… the level design was genius, the ship handling amazing, the floaty goodness wonderful, and the robot AI scary as hell. Sigh.

  11. Sinjun says:

    They’ve since announced a prologue SP campaign and more solo content, but don’t let the facts get in the way of bitching!

    • Sinjun says:

      Meant to be a response to the Descent: Underground comment, whoops.

    • Catweasel says:

      Eeh, it shows where their priorities are that people had to complain for them to toss us a bone, and killing off the truer descent game is still objectively shitty.

  12. Kentauroi says:

    I hope it comes with a demo, cause I’m still not sold on the idea of procedurally generated Descent. It definitely could be nostalgia as I know the first 6 or so levels of Descent 2 by heart even after all these years, but still, that combined with roguelike elements makes this a try before I buy kinda deal.

    I’d love to be proven wrong though.

  13. SuicideKing says:

    I’ve been considering picking up Descent 3 on GoG for a while, so this is good.

    That said, is this a rougelike or descent-like?

  14. Poolback says:

    Most interesting part is that Sublevel Zero is actually VR compatible. It is one of the best demo for the Oculus Rift DK1/2, very well optimised with a good sense of presence, and surprisingly NO motion sickness at all. I am definitely going to play it on my DK2 / CV1 when it’s out.