It must be said that twin-stick shooters are pretty much two-a-penny, rolling out on a rather consistent basis to Xbox One. But when we first saw West of Dead from Upstream Arcade and Raw Fury, the premise delivered something a little different and most certainly something hugely exciting – twin-sticking mixed with a roguelite feel amid classic Wild West action. Oh, and the absolutely stunning art style helped that excitement push things along even more. So when we had the opportunity to find out more about West of Dead, via an exclusive interview with the team at Upstream Arcade, we couldn’t turn down the chance. And that is where Patrick Martin, part of the art team behind the game, came in…
Hi. Please introduce yourself – what is your role at Upstream Arcade and on the development of West of Dead?
Hello, my name is Patrick Martin, one half of the Art team on West of Dead.
So sell it to us, why should gamers be interested in West of Dead on Xbox One and PC?
West of Dead is a slick, stylised adventure featuring spitting six shooters, tormented twisted souls and lurking, corrupted enemies. We have combined twin-stick controls and cover-based mechanics into a roguelite structure that we believe will provide cracking classical western action sequences and will keep you wanting to return for more and more until you pop!
This game looks incredibly unique in several ways. Let’s start with the story: how did the studio arrive at the setting of Purgatory, Wyoming in 1888?
We have a love for the Wild West and Horror and we felt there were areas in those themes that were still to be explored. We wanted to do ‘Weird’ and also have a place where our hero could arrive and not really be sure how he got there or why he was there. Purgatory, Wyoming 1888 gave us a place for representing that era and that mystery and we are really satisfied with our creation.
The setting does not only look unique, but gorgeous too. What were the primary inspirations for the game’s visual style?
We wanted to hit a look for the game that would make people stop and take notice, so that any screenshot or video clip would be instantly recognizable as ‘West of Dead’. We drew inspiration from our love of modern gothic style comic book artists such as Frank Miller, Mike Mignola and Michael Avon-Oeming and we relished the challenge of turning that 2D aesthetic into a creepy, dark 3D game.
The setting and style only seem to be aided further by having Ron Perlman as the game’s narrator/protagonist. How did he get involved?
We have to take our hats off to our Publishers, Raw Fury – they asked us who we had in mind for the role and Ron Perlman’s voice is so distinctive and lovely to listen to, that he just had to be top of our list. Raw Fury worked their magic and we were so pleased to have Ron working with us. He gave us a perfect performance.
Moving to the gameplay side of things, the combination of twin-stick and cover-based shooters is an interesting design choice. How did you come up with that?
We are fans of the twin-stick genre – we just love the 360 degrees of movement and the awareness of space and hazards but we wanted to put our own spin on it. We decided to make the action more methodical and tactical and having cover in your levels gives that to you. It gives you a choice for how to encounter the room and its enemies. If it gets crazy there is the option of some temporary shelter and you’ll be needing that when your health is so precious.
I, personally, love the idea of cover that blocks all damage but falls apart if it takes too much. Was pushing the player to constantly be on the move one of your primary goals?
We wanted to create a rhythmic-like, alternating beat to the gameplay so that for one moment you are out in the open, shooting and taking down enemies and then in the next you are taking a breath behind cover and assessing the situation. It’s about creating a cohesive balance of moments and making sure the player is encouraged to move at the right time through the level and feel ready enough to tackle the next challenge thrown at them.
There are a lot of roguelikes out there nowadays. In what ways does West of Dead set itself apart from the rest of them?
In addition to the merging of twin-stick and cover-shooter mechanics we added our Light mechanics which, aided by the dark comic book art style, makes the game very tactical. We also provide an evolving story for the player to discover and there is a ton of challenging opt-in content, which rewards you with hidden history and lore.
When designing a game that resets the player after death, what did you have to do to ensure that the game stays fresh?
We knew we wanted to use procedural generation for the levels to create unique labyrinths through our version of Purgatory. This coupled with randomly generated Enemy and Weapons/Abilities placements means that each venture out from your safe haven feels unique – stepping into the unknown means that you can never get too comfortable in this game.
How long do you think it would take an average player to complete the game versus a speedrunner?
Your average gamer should take between 15 – 20 hours to complete the game but a speedrunner wizard with dying may get that down to 2 – 3 hours. I guess that sets the bar and I’ll be proven wrong at some point.
The reveal trailer for West of Dead has a great song by Cat & The Stoic. What was that collaboration like, and can we expect to hear that song in the game?
The collaboration was great – Cat & The Stoic created a bespoke song for the game trailer based on the tone and feel of the game. At the moment we can’t include it in-game but it is available on the soundtrack and on Spotify.
With the game being on Xbox One and PC, will there be any Xbox Play Anywhere support for the game?
Unfortunately we don’t support Xbox Play Anywhere at the moment, but we may consider it in the future.
And finally, going forward, what can we expect to see from Upstream Arcade?
Aw man, we would love to discuss this with you but now just isn’t the right time – sorry if this is a complete tease! We are committed to making wonderful things and we hope you will bear with us until we are ready to show.
Huge thanks go out to Patrick for spending the time to answer our questions. Just as much love goes out to the team at Raw Fury for setting up the opportunity. Our full review of West of Dead on Xbox One is fast approaching and should be able to sell a purchase of this twin-stick roguelite even more, but in the meantime if you’re sold on the premise, the visuals, or the chance to enjoy what Upstream Arcade have created then head on over to the Xbox Store and pick it up.
Our Let’s Play of West of Dead on Xbox One may be worth a watch too.