Below, the gorgeous, mystery-dripping roguelike explorer from Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery collaborator Capy, is looking tremendous. It's got a uniquely dreamy vibe about it and atmosphere that hits like an 18-wheeler driven by a throng of stampeding rhinos. It was set to be an Xbox exclusive, but Capy managed to wriggle loose from Microsoft's iron grasp and set about working on its first ever day-and-date PC launch. That lack of experience might make you wary of a slipshod port, but the developer is dedicated to getting things right on PC. Shortly after citing Ultima VII as a (rather surprising) influence, Capy creative director Kris Piotrowski told me why excluding full-blown mod support from a game - indie, triple-A, or otherwise - simply doesn't make sense in this day and age. On top of that, he added, Below is now being designed with a PC crowd in mind, and that stands to change the game entirely.
"I'm personally super excited," Piotrowski told RPS. "I've always been a big PC player, and we've just never had a chance to release anything like this on PC. I mean we've released games on PC but they always started off somewhere else and then came to PC. So I'm interested in seeing what it means to have a game that's been built both for Xbox One and PC at the same time. I think that will influence it."
But what exactly does that entail? I asked about PC mainstays like mod support, and Piotrowski's opinion about it was extremely strong even though he's not entirely sure Below has the resources to launch with it.
"This is going to be our first big PC game, so a lot of is is a learning experience for us, so I'm not exactly sure [if we'll have mod support initially]," Piotrowski admitted. "Definitely we're going to be trying to take advantage of the multiplayer aspect of it, the community aspect of it as well."
However, he wasn't at all afraid to admit that he much prefers it - both as a creator and a player - when developers provide mod tools to fans, as it allows games to take on a life of their own long after fickle sales chart decide their days are numbered.
"Personally I think games that support Steam Workshop and the ability for players to sort of engage with the game and take it where they want to take it is something that really kind of defines PC gaming. Is one of the most interesting aspects of it. I might be a huge fan of Skyrim, and I love playing the shit out of the version that I had on 360, but you know the game sort of comes to life on PC when people add Randy 'Macho Man' Savage flying around as a dragon. That's something you can't really plan for, but it sure is interesting when it happens."
But really, what happens when developers don't include mod support? Well, if fans care enough they usually find a way to start poking and prodding away at a game's innards anyway. Piotrowski, then, is of the opinion that you might as well make mod support a priority, because at the point, why not?
"It's almost like if you don't support that you're fighting against a certain current on PC, and why do that?" he said. "If you don't go in there to support those kinds of things they're going to happen anyway whether you support them or not, so why not support them? Why not make it a little bit easier and let people do what they're going to do anyway?"
Even if Below doesn't get mod support right off the bat, though, Piotrowski is thrilled to be developing a game with PC in mind as opposed to on the periphery. As a creator he gets new options and an audience that's more likely to appreciate them.
"The other thing is that the PC audience in my opinion is the smartest audience that's out there," he enthused. "That's something that, in terms of the way the game world is being built, because there's no hints, there's no tutorials, there's no dialogue, there's no text, that's something where I think the PC audience really shines as well too. The PC communities that form, and the communities that are built around games on the PC side of things are so vibrant and so rich and so capable."
The understanding that Piotrowski and co are creating a game for that community, then, feeds back into their creative process. They can afford to make brains sizzle and gears churn until they mash their own teeth because they know PC players aren't afraid of that sort of challenge.
"It's something that we're very aware of, and I really hope that Below is one of those games that brings a community together to allow them to do the thing that they do super well, which is just become a super brain and crack a crazy code," he explained. "I want to go as deep and obtuse as possible [with places to explore and secrets to discover]. And then there's a lot of interesting things that you can do with the community and with networking, and also there's just so many crazy ideas that are just sitting there to be explored if that's the focus, and for us that very much it."
Below doesn't have a release date just yet, but it's looking quite nice. Check back soon for my full interview with Piotrowski in which we discuss everything from Below's mechanics to Sword and Sworcery's legacy to Ultima VII to Dark Souls to why Below is a personal game but Piotrowski will never, ever reveal its "true" meaning. You now have my permission to anticipate.