I recently caught up with Pixelbomb Games' Project Lead Lee Blacklock to give us the rundown on this blood-spattered project.
Jez: For the uninitiated, how would you summarise Beyond Flesh and Blood?
Lee: Beyond Flesh and Blood is a 3rd person action shooter set in a post-apocalyptic version of Manchester, UK, 200 years in the future.
As a gamer, you get to pilot a variety of powerful Tactical Combat Frames (Mechs) through the crumbling Manchester city to tear and blast your way through human rebels and alien monstrosities to regain strategic footholds.
Jez: There are a lot of post-apocalyptic games on the market. What made you guys want to make a game like Beyond Flesh and Blood? Do you think BFAB can bring something to the table that other similarly-themed games may not?
Lee: The post-apocalyptic theme is something that mankind does seem to be drawn to, in games, movies and books. With Beyond Flesh and Blood admittedly we are not totally reinventing the wheel here or perhaps doing something ground-breaking with regards to the games design. What we have set out to do is to create an experience that is fun, and to create a game that we will still enjoy when it is fully complete. We have forgone the cover-based mechanic of most other third-person shooters in favour of a more frantic, fast-paced experience where the player must forge ahead into combat to regain health and use a set of mechanics to dodge and gain advantages in position against your opponents.
We've also put the player in control of the very powerful Tactical Combat Frames that can and do tear their opponents to pieces.
We've also put the player in control of the very powerful Tactical Combat Frames that can and do tear their opponents to pieces. Beyond Flesh and Blood is violently over the top, and harks back to games and movies from the 80's and 90's. We have set Beyond Flesh and Blood in Manchester, UK, partly because most games are usually set in American cities. We wanted to see a game set in the UK but also because Manchester is our home city and we wanted to see what a post-apocalyptic Manchester set 200 years in the future would look like.
Pixelbomb has also gone further with Beyond Flesh and Blood than other games that are set in real-world locations. We have a lot of landmarks, areas and buildings of Manchester in the game, rather than just the suggestion of a place. For example, if a game is set in London you will normally just get Big Ben in the background with some red telephone boxes dotted around, but we wanted to go further than that.
For our game in Manchester – if you've ever been – you'll recognise the following; The Town Hall, Albert Square, Beetham Tower (which is the tallest building in Manchester, we couldn't miss that); Great Northern Warehouse, the old Corn Exchange, Deansgate. We've almost got the whole city centre covered.
So I guess to summarise my ramblings I would say that Pixelbomb Games is a small indie development team embarking on their 1st project in Beyond Flesh and Blood, we are aiming to create a very exciting adrenaline-fuelled, addictive experience that players will love, we are creating a game that we as gamers want to play. Mechs, violence, fast-paced shooting, a very interesting mix of enemies of ALL sizes and difficulties for you to chew through!
Jez: In Beyond Flesh and Blood you pilot a mech remotely, that itself can pilot larger mechs as well. Will these mechs be customizable at all?
Lee: Yes, in Beyond Flesh and Blood the player character is sat in a space station on the edge of the Earth's atmosphere. The player character Ethan Cunningham – that's the full official name, by the way, which you've heard here first – controls these Combat Frames from the space station.
This has an interesting implication for gameplay as Ethan does not die, only the combat frame he is piloting is destroyed. There is no customisation of the frames, but the player will gain access to the different frames throughout the game's progression and will unlock different abilities and weapons in much the same way. As the player progresses through the game, they will take control of four Combat Frames each with a differing set of capabilities, attributes and weapons. I do not want to divulge fully all the details… however I will give you an example of how this goes. We have already shown the first two frames that the player will control in the game, below are the Mk.1 and Mk.2 frames.
The Mk.1 is essentially an engineering frame used for heavy lifting and similar duties. It is armed with a welding laser and is very strong, it can lift heavy objects to use and throw.
The Mk.2 is a smaller frame then the Mk.1 and is usually used for similar duties but has extendable arms; it is also more agile but a little less strong. The last two frames are fully-fledged Tactical Combat Frames, with more advanced combat capabilities. From the Mk.1 to the last mech the models get smaller but are armed with more weapons, and yes these frames can, in turn, climb into and pilot manned mechs.
Jez: I think one of the aspects making BFAB's setting interesting is the divide between the high-tech futuristic mechs that you pilot and the gritty make-shift tech sported by the rebels. Usually, games seem to go for one style or the other. Is this split to do with the game's setting?
Lee: The U.G.R. left the planet to live on the space station taking the greatest minds and the fattest wallets with them, the rebels are the people left behind in the wake of the great global war that plunged the planet into its post-apocalyptic setting. To highlight this, we made a stylistic choice to give distinct characters to the opposing factions of the game. As you say the U.G.R. (United Global Remnant) have very high-tech equipment, and the rebels have a similar technology albeit not as advanced as the U.G.R. tech. Also the rebel factions have to build from what they have, which a lot of the time is a scrapyard approach bolting together parts from other machines, etc. think Mad Max and the Steampunk aesthetic that we've borrowed from which you can see in some of the concept art, for example.
Jez: With that in mind, what sorts of games/movies do you guys draw inspiration from?
Lee: Well, our team have a lot in common with the sort of games and movies we collectively enjoy and draw inspiration from, but also some individual differences, I believe that both are very important. Being a small indie team means everyone has an influence on the game, and everyone has an opportunity to offer suggestions. It can also make things much easier when setting an artist or designer something to do, having those shared experiences with games and movies can instantly give an idea of what we are going for. The team often go to watch movies together after work, most recently Mad Max and before that Avengers Age of Ultron. A lot of the team also watch anime; I personally love anime and big mechs!
To answer your question is a rather difficult one as the team have lots of similarities in what we draw inspiration from but also many differences, I believe that this is very good for creativity in itself.
Jez: The demo level reminded me of Gears of War's Horde mode where co-op partners can battle waves of encroaching enemies. Are you guys planning any multiplayer support? Or will this be a dedicated single player story-driven experience?
Lee: Beyond Flesh and Blood is a single player focused game consisting of a Single Player story campaign, and Wave Survival mode. The Campaign will take the player through the story of Beyond Flesh and Blood, leading the player on a journey through Manchester. The demos that were released up until Valentine's Day are in Wave Survival mode - this mode will allow the player to fight against wave after wave of ever increasing difficulty. The player faces all number and combination of enemy forces and has to defend the area attempting to last as long as they can and leave with the highest score.
The reason for us releasing the arena-like Wave Survival was to allow the player to experience the action and combat of Beyond Flesh and Blood in an open and direct fashion, this kind of a demo has also been tailored towards shows like EGX Rezzed, where someone coming to demo the game at a show could sit and get straight into the action. There will be a number of Wave Survival maps in iconic locations of Manchester.
In the single-player campaign, the player will use the TCF's abilities to traverse the game world and solve environmental puzzles, combat enemy forces and experience the full sci-fi story.
Jez: Will there be big boss battles?
Lee: We have an interesting balance in Beyond Flesh and Blood that swings back and forth, the Mk.1, for instance, is 12 feet tall while the enemy rebels have their scrapyard mechs that must be piloted, which are bigger than the Mk.1.
There are also other enemies that are either large in number and attempt to mob the player or very small in number and gargantuan in size.
Jez: How have you found working with the ID@Xbox team?
Lee: The ID@Xbox program is fantastic for Pixelbomb Games; simply because it's made things easier and more accessible for the studio to fulfil our dream to be on Xbox One. Microsoft have been uniquely enthusiastic and pro-active with us being on a console, and we can't wait to announce more news about the release alongside their team.
Jez: And finally, what sort of launch window are you guys targeting?
Lee: We are releasing Beyond Flesh and Blood on PC in Q4 2015, then Xbox One and PS4 soon after.
A big thanks to Lee Blacklock and PixelBomb Games for dropping in!
Post-apocalyptic fever is settling in once again, courtesy of Mad Max: Fury Road and the huge Fallout 4-shaped announcement from Bethesda a few weeks back. As a British fan of mechs, Beyond Flesh and Blood has certainly piqued my interest (and my pixelated blood lust).