Hairbrained Schemes may not be a household name like other indie studios like The Fullbright Company, Frictional Games, or Obsidian Entertainment, but you’d be surprised at how the developer has grown since its Kickstarter breakout with Shadowrun Returns. The studio is now hard at work on Necropolis, which is a significant departure from cRPGs, like Shadowrun, that they’ve made their name in. It takes a big team to manage multiple projects at once, and Hairbrained has grown to accommodate this. While seeing Necropolis at PAX Prime, I got to visit with Christopher Kohnert, Hairbrained’s CTO, and Dennis Detwiller, Necropolis’ Design Director.

“We have somewhere between three to four teams right now, “ said Hairbrained CTO, Christopher Kohnert. “We’re at now sixty people now. But we avoid a mistake — what we consider to be a mistake — of staffing up, releasing a game and then having to staff back down. Whereas if you have a lot of people on, and you’re smart about it, you can roll people on and off as necessary.”

It’s nice to see Hairbrained putting its extra manpower toward something as different for them as Necropolis. The gloomy, neon-accented action-adventure is a seemingly endless dungeon that is wickedly challenging, but also one that is a joy to slash and dodge through. What surprised me is the confidence in Necropolis’ early design. It feels like a game Hairbrained has an extended history in making, rather than a studio testing new waters.

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“Dennis here comes from a storied background of 3D action games,” Kohnert said.

“I’ve done a lot of 3D action in the past,” Detwiller agreed. “Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and Prototype, so I have a great love of 3D action.

The look of Necropolis is striking. Players slash their way deeper and deeper into the strange world, battling lumbering monsters and undead soldiers. Shades of black are lathered throughout the environment, but the darkness is juxtaposed with a neon blues and reds that create an unsettling glow throughout the game. The world doesn’t bother with realism and opts for a lot of polygonal shapes in itsmodels. Detwiller offhandedly mentions Dark Souls — a game that has touched a great deal of developers, both indie and otherwise — and how it has affected Necropolis.

“A lot of games get caught in the realism aspect, but it’s more about the environment you are trying construct,” Detwiller said. “A lot of times if you give people the bones of the environment — the essence of it — it resonates a lot more emotionally.”

Blending with the dark humor of the game is an equally grim humor from the main antagonist/companion, Brazen Head. He seems to think that he runs the necropolis, but Hairbrained hinted that his control will be confronted as players journey through the game. Brazen head might be a bad guy, but he’s not without a touch of black comedy. He reminds me of Borderland’s Handsome Jack, he’s depraved and evil, but you can’t help but chuckle at some of his lines, and Kohnert said that he thinks one of the mistakes that games do is try and take themselves too seriously.

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“I wanted to do a fantasy version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with lots of blood,” Detwiller said. “I think it fit perfectly with Necropolis and Brazen Head. He’s such a snot. One of the rules we set early on was, ‘Can I tweet it? Can I tweet the entire story and it be funny?’ We’re pushing that where it works and we want to keep that in the game.”

All of this adds to Necropolis, but boil it all down and you still have gameplay thatis cleverly designed and executed. My long string of battles in my time with the title were defined by tight escapes and exciting moments when I would go in for the kill. Not only does Necropolis give you tough enemies. It thew them at me on a much larger scale than other Souls-like games. I found myself forced to constantly retreated and use the environment to artificially construct one-on-one fights that you can win. After whittling down foes one at a time, I then begin to go after some of the bigger and more substantial enemies. Using the hairtrigger dodge to escape seemingly impossible situations where the enemies of Necropolis have you surrounded is thrilling. Delivering a killing blow is highly rewarding. The sense of fun is still something that the developers experience in the day-to-day development of Necropolis.

“We work in a small office with a lot of people, occasionally you take your headphones off and you hear this ‘Ahh! God, argh!’ from three desks over and that because some system just clicked on and a laser beam shot someone in the back,” Detwiller said. “We’re just trying to do our jobs, but we can still capture that moment of fun even when we’re not looking for it.”

I didn’t have to look hard to find the fun in Necropolis and eagerly await it’s arrival on Steam.

About The Author

The Glorious Predecessor

As I write this, I am listening to Striking Matches and eating a blueberry muffin. The music is good, the muffin is even better. I dance when I drink and have been known to occasionally free-style rap, none of which benefits society.

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