This year has been full for fans of legacy first-person shooter (FPS) franchises thanks to Call of Duty: Vanguard, Battlefield 2042, and Halo Infinite. The arena shooter subgenre has also been active with legacy titles such as Quake Remastered and newer indies inspired by classics like Doom, including Early Access release Forgive Me Father. Spaceflux developer Calin Ardelean said he's seen an "increase in enthusiasm" for retro-style shooters since starting work on his game in January 2018.
Ardelean has always enjoyed shooters, and a big influence growing up was Halo — especially 2010's Halo: Reach. He's also a fan of the puzzle-shooter Portal, and decided he wanted to make something more engaging than a simple puzzle game by combining its elements that "captivated" him with other inspirations like Minecraft in an online multiplayer shooter. Game Rant spoke to Ardelean about Spaceflux's "weird" take on retro shooters using impossible geometries and destructible environments.
Based out of Canada, Ardelean received a Bachelor's in Computer Science from the University of Toronto in 2019. He said he has a long history of toying with projects using different game engines but fell in love with Unreal Engine in 2017. "Once I tried Unreal I got hooked," he said. "I thought it was the greatest thing ever." He tried creating a few different ideas using Unreal before landing on the familiar idea for an FPS with portals — inspired by one of his favorite games — that evolved over time.
While going to school, Ardelean interned with the telecommunications company Qualcomm as a software engineer, and in 2019 he spent a brief time with a start-up called MentallyVR developing a virtual reality app prototype in Unreal that would set users in places like beaches to perform guided meditation as part of real-time therapy sessions. This professional experience did help with his skillset somewhat, but Ardelean said his main focus has always been game development, and Spaceflux's core concept was already there.
Ardelean is the primary programmer and designer on Spaceflux, but soon after work began on the trippy arena shooter he partnered with his good friend Raymondd Parisien — who offered to do art and sound design. Together with some freelance UI and graphic design by Ontario College of Art & Design University grad Jenny Gu, the trio had Spaceflux prepared for its Early Access launch in September 2020, and ran a Kickstarter campaign that August to help build hype and let Ardelean work on the game full-time. It raised $5,117 Canadian on a $2,000 goal.
"The Kickstarter was definitely successful beyond what my standards were, and the Early Access launch wasn't quite as good. However, I've noticed over the last year the game has been gaining traction little by little."
Spaceflux's Portal-Inspired Puzzles and Impossible Geometries
At its core, Spaceflux is a basic shooter with ideas pulled from Halo: Reach like abilities to help differentiate play alongside its weapon types. What makes the game really stand out is how its voxel-based maps are altered by impossible geometries that create different kinds of symmetries. There are currently six of these geometries that Ardelean splits into three categories: fractals, looping modes, and mirror modes.
- Fractal Mode: In which the map contains itself, meaning each players' character model can be found in multiple sizes at different levels of the fractal.
- Fractal Minimaps: In which a smaller model of the map exists somewhere that players can jump into so they can land at new spots.
- Horizontal Loops: In which the map repeats, or tessellates, in all horizontal directions across an infinite expanse.
- Vertical Loops: In which the map repeats atop itself, so players could fall eternally and build up speed akin to a Portal momentum puzzle.
- Mirror Mode: In which everything that happens on one side of the mirror also happens on the other.
- Portals: In which there are instant connecting points between two areas in certain maps.
"Some strange things" happen as a result of these impossible geometries that impact Spaceflux's FPS mechanics. Originally players were able to shoot themselves, but Ardelean disabled that after getting feedback about how frustrating it was to die after finding what they believed to be an enemy. Because of the infinite planes in fractal or horizontal loop modes, Ardelean said it's not uncommon to have players chase one another's backs or try to find a larger fractals for better line-of-sight. "It's pretty chaotic, but also dynamic."
There are a lot of ideas for modes planned, and Ardelean said he wants to keep developing Spaceflux similar to how Minecraft has been updated for 10 years. However, while the work is still manageable for one person in its Early Access state, Ardelean said he is looking to streamline development because it's "tedious" to add new content that works with every impossible geometry and Spaceflux's destructible environments.
Spaceflux's Destructable, Constructable Environments
Having levels with fully destructable environments was one of Ardelean's initial ideas for Spaceflux, and he wanted to create more "emergent, dynamic gameplay" by letting everyone place blocks as well. Though this destructability was apparently the biggest obstacle to making impossible geometries work, the idea has helped create dynamic games combined with abilities like Cube Cameo that let players blend in and hide.
"The two things coming together, repeating levels and destructibility, was kind of the ultimate nightmare for me. Especially networking that into an online game ... But after a lot of frustration, somehow it worked. I just hope I don't have to do it again."
Fans of Spaceflux have influenced development through mediums like Discord, where they can offer suggestions, report bugs, and take part in play sessions and tournaments Ardelean and Parisien aim to host every month. It's through these tournaments that the lead developer has seen emergent interactions like blending into a sea of cubes. For those who want to try the game, a free demo is available on Steam, and the next tournament will be a joint venture with Slap City - a title made by Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl developer Ludosity - throughout the weekend of November 27. The "Slapflux" tournament will have a $100 prize pool for both days, with Spaceflux's event taking place on Sunday.
Spaceflux is available now in Early Access on PC.
Source: Slapflux Tournament
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