Into The Pit is a fast-paced roguelike shooter with hints of Doom, and excellent hands that shoot magical bullets. It's not the first occult-themed game to turn hands into guns (and I sure hope it won't be the last), but is inspired by one. I spoke to Into The Pit's creator, Tom Betts, who told me about the game's Devil Daggers influences, from weaponry to aesthetics, and why the occult setting works so well for the roguelike genre.
"I loved Devil Daggers from a pure aesthetics point of view. I really liked the fact it was such a specific vision, and I have an interest in how people were trying to emulate those old PlayStation looks, recreating that nostalgic feel with modern technology," Betts tells me.
Using visuals like this gives the game a macabre look, making it seem as though objects and colours are slightly warped. When I played, I started to notice that, despite the spooky look, Betts hadn't used any black to darken the environment. Into The Pit manages to create a colourful world that maintains a gloomy atmosphere. Betts tells me this style was almost entirely based on the fact he was really into the Nicolas Cage horror movie, Mandy.
"That film has that approach, even the shadows are deep magenta," he says. "I used a special kind of post-process so that when something goes beyond a certain level of darkness, I make it a deep purple or magenta colour, rather than black. It gives you this nightmarish feel."
It's an interesting little titbit, considering the only other game I know doesn't use any black is Slime Rancher. The idea almost works in reverse for the cutesy farm sim, where lots of pastels are used to give the game a more dreamlike visual style. Betts makes the comparison that both games have a "hand-painted comic book feel", rather than a more "realistic" look.
Of course, all the very obvious occult symbolism helps maintain a less realistic look too. Perhaps it's just that time of year, but a number of demonic indies have started cropping up recently, and I'm curious why all this occultism is so popular. Betts reckons it's down to how flexible the theme is.
"It doesn't quite dictate things the same way a high-fantasy concept would, where you expect elves, and more particular things," he says. "The occult can be almost anything - it's got that element of mystery and unknown lore baked into it.
"The occult can be almost anything - it's got that element of mystery and unknown lore baked into it."
"I also really love the idea of mixing up arcane ingredients and creating things from that, which feels like a very occult thing," he adds. "So the game is based around combining powers, creating portals, summoning different dimensions."
Now, a large part of shooter games is that you need something to shoot with. The initial go-to with an FPS is obviously a gun. But when your setting is a medieval village with a demon-spawning portal in the centre, firearms aren't always the most fitting weapons - firehands, however, do nicely.
"'I've made a few games over the last 10 years or so and they all tended to have some sort of gun in them. I felt it might be interesting to go further away from that because I was more interested in this magical element, it made more sense," Betts tells me.
"Also, I didn't want to have to make a million guns. I wanted to combine things, and the only way to do that with guns is the kind of Borderlands-y approach, but I didn't really want to go down that path."
But while Betts has moved away from guns, he's continuing to use procedural generation. He's used it in every game he's made so far, such as The Light Keeps Us Safe and The Signal From Tölva. Now, with Into The Pit, Betts tells me he's realised how effective using both proc-gen and handmade things can be.
"There's a level of proc gen with the chambers you explore, the rewards, the creatures and loot are randomised, but there's some degree that I can guarantee a certain experience is going to occur," he says.
"There's randomness, but it's controlled as well... handmade templates drive that generation".
"Into The Pit has hardly any of the problems you get in other procedural games where, for example, there's a dead end and you're stuck and can't get out. Or there's just nothing here, or too many things here. There's randomness, but it's controlled as well. It's a two-tier approach where it takes handmade templates that drive the generation."
This is noticeable while playing too. I never really found myself confused on where to go next, and never discovered sections of levels where there was nothing to do. Each room you need to clear is random, but full of enemies and fit for purpose. This helps when it comes to blasting your way through too, because part of the fun of Into The Pit is seeing how quickly you can clear dungeons.
"The whole timing has been a really big to-and-fro, there was a point I was going to put time limits on the rooms," Betts tells me. "But when we did a bunch of testing, people found it a bit too punishing, and it only encourages one sort of playstyle, playing for speed."
In its current state, you can take as much time as you need to complete each room in the Pit, carefully murdering all the monsters and collecting all the loot. There's no need to be a speed demon, but challenging yourself to a little speedrun here and there is on the cards, because you're still timed.
"It's always difficult with a roguelike or a procedural game because there are a lot of random elements that mean you're not playing against the same conditions as someone else necessarily," Betts says. "But I certainly would like to see how fast someone could run it, because you could choose not to collect things and try and get through on as slim a set of powers as possible. Whereas, usually you're better off redoing levels to increase your powers before you venture any deeper."
If you fancy venturing in yourself, Into The Pit is out now on Steam, GOG and Humble priced at £12/€15/$15. You can check out our Into The Pit review too, where Matt calls it a gorgeous roguelike that perhaps makes you feel a little too comfortable inside a demonic eldritch hell portal.
Disclosure: Tom Betts first pitched Into The Pit with RPS co-founder Jim Rossignol, who wrote the game's narrative.