I had the pleasure of interviewing Julien Edison, the developer of the Early Access fantasy action rougelite; In Celebration of Violence. Having played his game for a number of hours and getting a feel for it I had a few questions for him, and he was more than happy to answer.
What is the untold story behind In Celebration of Violence? What’s the premise and plot here?
The story really exists in the background and can be discovered in the form of snippets of text that should slowly paint a picture of the situation. Essentially, the entire world has amnesia. Even the gods are affected which results in everything being forgotten and remade for every new playthrough.
Now memories and knowledge have become desirable commodities. Those experience crystals which drop from everything from enemies to broken items are literally shards of experiences and are highly coveted. More specific memories have taken the form of objects that I call mementos. They’re presented as whatever object best symbolizes the memory at the time of its inception.
This is stuff you can find from the scraps of lore scattered around but I would like to flesh it out a little more. Right now the background story only really explains the game’s mechanics; I’d like to eventually have it tie into the player’s motivations as well.
Why mirrors? (To those who don’t know, mirrors are the gateway to the next “level”/area)
Every living thing in the game has amnesia but some have augmented their memories by collecting mementos. Walking around with the memories of a king, a murderer, a child, and a bird can do a number on your sense of self. Mirrors tend to represent self-reflection. Every time you use a mirror to enter a new area I like to imagine your character is wondering whether that area is real or if it’s just a reflection of somebody’s memories.
The world is made of disconnected parts and the mirrors exhibit what should be there; so when you enter, it may be a literal portal to another area or it may be the earth god desperately trying to recall what the forest looked like and that manifestation is reflected back to you.
Is In Celebration of Violence your first journey into being a game developer?
It’s not my first attempt. There are about half a dozen incomplete projects across different genres on my computer that, mostly due to over-ambition and poor planning, will never see the light of day. Those incomplete projects also include early prototypes for this game that I had to scrap. In Celebration of Violence is my first and only game that has made it as far as the public eye.
What were your inspirations for this game?
If I had to choose one, I’d say the biggest and most general inspiration for In Celebration of Violence was Dark Souls, which may seem obvious to those who have played both. And similar to that game, In Celebration of Violence’s combat is very deliberate, with long windups and consequences for being caught off guard. It makes the combat much less spammy and, I think, more skill-based.
Dark Souls also tends to be very sombre, broody, and uncomfortable. I designed my game to appear similar to more arcadey titles like Realm of the Mad God or Nuclear Throne and I’m hoping that the stark contrast between the art style and mechanics makes for an uncomfortable atmosphere.
Dungeons and Dragons was a big inspiration for me as well. Beyond the concept of finding and avoiding traps, I enjoy how unforgiving and unbalanced a table-top game of D&D can become. You could be unstoppable or severely outclassed but either way the situation was your fault and you had to deal with it as best you could.
Plenty of games tend to overbalance everything to the point where your decisions don’t matter and every guided action you perform gets a pat on the back. And that way lies apathy.
There are also multiple indie games that were heavily influential. I loved the sense of god-like power you’d obtain at the end of a Risk of Rain playthrough. I have a breadth-first progression philosophy similar to Rogue Legacy’s in that you always have the option to go as far as possible but may want to train in easier areas first. I like to give players the ability to screw themselves if they get overconfident.
The catalyst to make In Celebration of Violence, however, was Hammerwatch. Hammerwatch is a great game but I found myself wishing I could play a similar game that properly utilized the mouse. Almost every roguelike I see allows players to operate in a maximum of eight directions. There are absolutely many clever strategies to play with using that system, but sometimes I just want to hit something that’s at a 71 degree angle from me.
Was this originally developed geared towards being a game you always wanted to play yourself?
Yes it was. I have always loved the Zelda-style action adventure games and unpredictable roguelikes but for whatever reason I could never get past certain pet peeves such as the aforementioned lack of mouse support or combat that relied on dice rolls.
What improvements do you see coming to the title? Are walls going to be textured to match their base? Would a faster mode be possible which speeds up the character and enemies to balance it?
The biggest improvement(s) for me is stamping out bugs. That’s not an exciting answer, but most people don’t realize how much of a difference a bug-free game can make. I’m still playing with the art and tweaking values all over the place but right now I need to prioritize stability. The improvements I can promise will come in the form of more content. I would also really like to improve the music, something I’d never done before this game, but like the art it takes a backseat to stability.
I look at all the feedback I can find. I made the game with only myself in mind and now I need to make sure that others can enjoy it as well.
What is your favourite class in game and why?
The Coward; he is essentially a weak nobleman with no business going outside except that his bodyguard is an overpowered beefcake. I think it completely changes how the game is played. You become focused on keeping your bodyguard alive while simultaneously requiring that he takes most of the damage in dangerous situations. It also changes how you plan your playthrough because while the bodyguard may be powerful in the open plains, he’ll have difficulty surviving a trap-filled dungeon.
Are you any good at the game yourself?
I guess so? I’m not great at it but I’m probably better than most people if only because I know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. I’ve actually only beaten the game twice. It’s kinda hard.
What is your favourite type of enemy in game and why?
There are two very similar enemies called the Avatars of Pride and Shame. When you’re in a dungeon you’ll often see statues adorning the walls. Some of these aren’t inanimate and may attack without warning. An Avatar of Pride will remain a motionless stone statue while you look at it and charge as soon as you look away. Avatars of Shame are the opposite, attacking when you make eye contact. These two are indistinguishable so even if you’re careful around a suspicious statue you won’t know how to deal with it without putting yourself in danger. These enemies are very fast, very strong, and can be difficult to break while in statue form. I find that they add an element of paranoia to dungeons. Even if you do spot one before it catches you, you’ll need to find a clever way to avoid or destroy them.
I can see that enemies are bound by a lot of the same rules as the player in that they can suffer from fire, ice, stunning etc. but do they suffer other limitations such as a stamina bar and limited ammo?
Enemies and the player are both derived from the same base entity so they do share a lot of similarities. They have health, armour, stamina, temperature, stats, and resistances just like the player and these values react in the same way they do for you. They do not have to worry about hunger or ammo, but the biggest difference is that enemies don’t rage quit moments before bleeding out like I do.
Your opponents are also subject to morale and will often flee when low on health or witnessing some unspeakable monstrosity.
What is your favourite spell in game and why?
My favourite spell is Raise Dead. Any fallen adversary can be raised to fight for you. I find myself herding enemies to die in clusters so that I may more efficiently build an army of the undead. I’ve also been known to enjoy a good Corpse Explosion spell.
Currently the experience is used for levelling between runs, as a currency, and also as a sort of mana pool for using spells, will this always be the case?
I plan to use experience as the currency for almost everything. Each decision a player has to make engages them in the situation and forces them to consider their short and long term priorities. Do you cast a powerful spell and potentially miss out on purchasing a useful item? Do you bank all of your experience to level up later or do you hang onto it, hoping that it helps you beat the next boss? You take a different kind of risk either way.
I’m hoping these dilemmas add a certain amount of stress and strategizing into the game. If there was a different currency for everything then you would never need to agonize over what to spend it on. There’d be no drama.
Is there anything currently limited you wish you would be able to add?
This may seem oddly specific, but I wish I could add a jumping mechanic. In many table-top games such as D&D, skills like jumping can be improved and are called upon as more than a simple “hit spacebar and hop” mechanic. I originally wanted to add non-combat navigational skills such as jumping and climbing to In Celebration of Violence. Skills that could be built upon so that a gap that would have been impossible when you first began could eventually be cleared if you improved your ability to jump over it. Skills like those can create the opportunity for organic environmental puzzles.
One example of a similar approach can be found in Dark Souls 2. The main hub contains a giant hole that would kill any new player who fell down. You can see your goal at the bottom but need to improve your stats to make the fall without dying. It provides more nuance and significance than simply requiring a key to access the next area.
Ultimately, the 2D top-down tile-based format killed these features. I decided (well… more accurately I realised after a failed attempt) that a 3D game would be too ambitious for my first title and a side scroller wouldn’t be able to provide the style of combat I was hoping for.
Do you have a final vision for In Celebration of Violence or do are you planning to expand content until you feel it is optimal?
Right now I honestly just plan on expanding and adjusting the content in relation to player feedback. I do have a general sense of how I’d like to tie everything together in terms of lore and continuity as well as some planned features that I’m playing with like quests, ranking, and, dare I say, co-op.
Words of wisdom for want-to-be or up-and-coming games developers?
The big one that every single game developer hears: finish a small game. Go through the entire process of development and distribution with a project that only takes a few months at most. Whatever you do, just finish something. It gives you so much perspective. And by small I mean like one or two major mechanics. This is advice I heard and promptly ignored so over the past year I’ve realized just how much work goes into relatively simple concepts.
Completely in opposition to that advice: start over. Seriously, if you aren’t half a year in yet, start over. The current version of In Celebration of Violence is actually the third iteration of the title. Each time I scrapped everything and started over the whole process became easier, I became less attached to failing concepts, and I was able to adopt new procedures and programming practices that I had learned.
Having got more of an insight into the game I decided to prod a little further into Julien as a human being. I feel this is greatly demonstrated through the Pivot Questionnaire, which is instantly recognisable to anyone who has watched Inside The Actors Studio:
What is your favourite word?
I’m guessing this is where most people say “fjord”? My favourite word is a number and my favourite number is 2. I like that everything in the universe can ultimately be broken down into a binary question of true or false.
What is your least favourite word?
I haven’t really followed gaming for a year or so, does everybody still describe their game as visceral? If so, I’m going with visceral.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Gloomy weather; I just think there’s something so dramatic and calming about clouds and fog. Everything turns green and blue which is a much more pleasant colour scheme than the bombardment of garish colours you get from the sun. People tend to act differently too. They slow down and it feels like we become more unified under an oppressive blanket of clouds. If I ever leave the United States I’d want to live in Ireland.
What turns you off?
When a company (usually Comcast) sends you a letter hoping for your business and they include a fake credit card shaped advertisement stuck on the front. I don’t understand it. Is it supposed to be a subliminal thing where I get excited by the shape of a credit card? I just get mad.
Oh, another one! The cookie cutter way that casual and mobile games advertise; the trailers will have a few cutaways with text saying “Fight powerful bosses!” or some variety of “Verb adjective noun!” Then the screenshots will all include the same text but spoken by a foreground image of one of the characters. Makes the whole game look like it was automatically generated by some algorithm.
It’s kinda telling that this is my longest response to the personal questions…
What is your favourite curse word?
Fucktard; usually said lovingly while describing a dog.
What sound or noise do you love?
Kinda cliché, but rain; I do love me some gloomy weather and the sound of rain lets me feel like I can just slow down for a while.
What sound or noise do you hate?
Trapt – Headstrong
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I’d love to design fonts; it’s amazing how much variety and personality you can achieve with 26 letters.
What profession would you not like to do?
I wouldn’t want to be an internal auditor again.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“Okay, there’s a reasonable explanation for everything and I’ll get to it. But first, look! It’s all your pets!” Then I assume he scampers away without explaining anything.
So there you have it. Julien is a heartfelt and interesting man who seems truly driven to improve this very promising game, and I look forward to seeing what he does with it. After getting all of this from him, I was left with one question in mind; if he was any relation to Thomas Edison, and I’ll leave you with his amusing response;
“Probably no relation… My guess is there were plenty of guys named Ed and a lot of them probably had sons. That said, my interest in creating games stems from when I was a child and thought my ancestor was a great inventor.”