Five Bucks To Feel Like a God
The glorious, sparkly carnage of Vampire Survivors.
I haven't been blogging lately, because, honestly, sometimes it feels nice to be quiet for a while. I’m only being driven out of my shell by my need to push the Kickstarter for our next indie RPG, Geneforge 2 - Infestation.
OK. I did my begging. Let’s talk about games.
There is a surprise hit indie game I really like, and breaking down that kind of thing is very much in my job description, so let's talk about Vampire Survivors.
What Is It?
It's one of those great, plucky little indie hits everyone loves. A low-budget production from a tiny company, selling for a comically low price, that is carried to huge success by word of mouth and basically perfect implementation.
Vampire Survivors is inspiring. As in, it's the sort of indie title that inspires people to follow their dreams, quit their jobs, spend years weaving their ideas into a game, and completely ruin their lives.
Many people can create a competent game. However, the Muse of Vidya Gaems deigns to visit very few.
(Protip: If your idea involves punching a tree to get wood to make a wood axe, just set your computer on fire now. ALSO, WOODEN AXES WON'T WORK. WHY DID ANYONE EVER THINK THEY WOULD?)
But What Actually Is It?
Vampire Survivors is part of a new genre called the Single-Stick shooter. It's like a Twin-Stick Shooter, but aiming is automatic. (Brotato is a fun game in the genre when you're tired of Vampire Survivors.)
You get dropped on a battlefield. Waves of monsters run at you. Your guns automatically fire to kill them. You pick up experience gems. Get enough gems, and you get a new weapon or upgrade. A fixed period of time into a run (usually 30 minutes), Death appears and kills you. (Usually.)
It's a Pure Experience
I think one of the best things a successful game can do is give you a pure experience. As in, you forget you're playing a game. You aren't being distracted by lots of stuff. You are just doing one thing, and you completely lose yourself in it for a while.
It's a game that passes the Pee Test. You're so involved you forget to go pee.
(In other words, the opposite of what God of War Ragnarok gives you. Vampire Survivors got big at about the same time and really showed what the much bigger AAA game does wrong. It was great timing.)
When playing Vampire Survivors, you are doing one of two things:
1. Wasting tons of bozos with giant, sparkly weapons.
2. Choosing how to make your weapons more awesome and sparkly.
It has the perfect amount of design. You can just lose yourself in it for a while.'
Of Course, It Has All the Other Crappe
It's a game released in 2022, so of course it has to have all sorts of extras bolted on. Currency. Permanent upgrades. Secret characters. Secret levels. Tarot cards. It's all there.
But it works. First, it's all managed between games. Second, it all makes you stronger, so it feels good. Third, the new characters and levels are fun and prolong how long you play the game.
There's no balancing. No downsides. You just get relentlessly bigger and more able to make pretty light shows that incinerate zombies.
Video Game Pricing Will Never Be Solved
One notable thing about Vampire Survivors is the price. In Early Access, it was 3 bucks. Now it’s five. So, cheap. It’s a ridiculously good deal.
On the other hand. indie megahit Factorio is constantly raising its price and never has sales.
It is very tempting to try to learn lessons from this. I recommend against it.
The only thing you can learn from this is: If you write a hugely popular and addictive viral indie megahit, you can get away with whatever you want. If you still live on Earth, you’ll be charging $20. $25 if your game is extra-fancy.
Twin-Stick Shooters Show the Perils of Game Design
This has been my favorite genre since the first of its kind, Robotron: 2084, came out in 1982. If you find a copy of it in a hipster bar somewhere, totally play it. It's one of the few retro games that still totally holds up. It's a banger.
A lot of indies have gone to this well over the last few decades, and very few do it well. Here's one example. Here's one. Here's another. Here's another.
It's very easy to blow this formula. For a Twin-Stick Shooter to really tap into the visceral quality of the genre, it needs two things:
1. Relentless Carnage. It's the most Power Fantasy of genres. You point a joystick, and hell pours out in that direction. Don't be a fussy designer here. It's not about math and prissy game balance. When you fire, it should be AWESOME.
2. Visual Legibility. The screen has to be clean. Because so much is coming at you so fast, you need to be able to decode the things that can kill you, and you have to do it REALLY QUICKLY.
Not Every Game Where You Shoot With a Stick Is a Twin Stick Shooter
Nitpicking about the True Meaning of Game Genres is always a dumb waste of time. That being said, suppose a game has one joystick that moves and one that shoots. It's not necessarily a twin-stick shooter.
If you are spending lots of game design wandering empty rooms, hoping you get good loot, and planning where to go (all valuable time that could be spent kickin' ass), you are playing a Roguelike that uses twin-stick combat. Potentially fun and generally popular, but a very different sort of game experience.
Give It a Try
It's practically free, it's a hoot, and, if you care about games, there's a lot to learn in there.
If you want to learn about our newest game when we announce it, follow us on Twitter or join our mailing list. It will be the opposite of Vampire Survivors, but it'll have its own humble charms.
Subscribing is always free and gets my ramblings sent straight into your inbox. Our Kickstarter is going great. If you want to be surprised by a really neat indie RPG in a year or so, it’s not too expensive.
Vampire Survivor is honestly one of the best designed video game experiences I've ever playws, and it's only $5. Every time I turn it on, it whisks me away. I can't reccomend it highly enough for a long plane or train ride.
The creator used to design games for the gambling industry, and the best aspects of his experience have made their way into Vampire Survivor, without microtransactions and ruined lives. https://www.news.com.au/technology/gaming/creator-of-addictive-4-game-vampire-survivors-was-gambling-industry-programmer/news-story/3a58941869837cd1b03b73c07798f050
Left this link on Twitter but will put it here for posterity ... Monsters! is a great little twin-stick shooter that gets you right in and shootin'. Its innovations are tasteful (basically different weapon patterns), and it's a lotta fun to build combos and rack up the points. Ridiculously high value to price ratio at 99 cents. 👍🏻👍🏻
Steam page: https://store.steampowered.com/app/336160/Monsters/
Gameplay vid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8WN6p_doY0