Preview of Door Kickers and Exclusive Interview with KillHouse Games’ Dan Dimitrescu Keith Sayer October 24, 2013 Previews “We’ve got the place surrounded” comes across on the loud speaker as the SWAT team bursts into the building from every outside door. Shots are fired; hostages are rescued. It all takes just over a minute. This sort of action is precisely what KillHouse Games aims to capture in its upcoming game Door Kickers. It is currently available for purchase as a pre-release alpha (currently in Alpha Build 5) from the KillHouse Games website and from Steam for $14.99. I had a chance to interview lead developer Dan Dimitrescu about the game and the company itself. Dimitrescu started in the games industry by helping a friend start a local computer game magazine after high school. He later got into game development and worked with such companies as Ubisoft Romania and City Interactive. He described his decision to go independent with KillHouse games as a matter of seeking more creative freedom. “Well, working in a big corporation is very stressful, also you don’t have the creative freedom that we need. It’s ok for a couple of years but not on the long term. So we wanted to do other kinds of games than what we were told to do. Also we wanted to do them on our own [terms and time].” Dimitrescu and his coworkers Mihai Gosa and Catalin Saitan started out working on a few projects for smartphones when a revelation hit them. “We were toying with some other project on an iPhone, and suddenly realized how well suited it would be to have a building plan shown on a small screen, and that you could have a game designed around drawing paths for troopers.” This idea was the seed for Door Kickers, and Dimitrescu says that it was easy to envision because of his interest in military and law enforcement ops, counter terrorism, close-quarter combat (CQB) tactics, and tactical shooter games, which he names as the most direct influences on Door Kickers. I asked him whether the team was planning to go back to the root of the idea and release on smartphones and tablets, and Dimitrescu said that all their efforts right now are going into making the PC release the best game it can be. As of alpha build No. 5, Door Kickers consists of several distinct missions that display as a building plan of quite varied environments, from an embassy building to a seaside manor. There are particular slots for the player to place a certain number of troopers for that stage; these are usually spread out over a few different entryways. The game consists of a planning component at the beginning where you place the troopers and give orders and a fast-paced action component while the troopers carry out your commands. Several different orders can be stacked, allowing for thorough strategies to be concocted. Success depends on effective coordination of the troopers through these orders so that the stage’s victory conditions, which might include killing all enemies or saving hostages, can be met. This structure reminded me of several different genres including strategy, tactical simulation, and strategy role-playing (SRPG). When asked if he thought of the game as fitting a particular genre, he said, “To be honest … no?! It’s basically a tactical shooter transformed into a real-time tactics game! Taking into account long term developments on player options, I guess you could call it real-tme strategy, though it’s hard to put it on the same creative page as Starcraft or even Company of Heroes, right?” We are aiming to portray real life CQB operations and they’re very fast and furious, and for me real-time is a better solution to portray that. I agreed because Door Kickers is played as a squad based tactical game. Losing a trooper is always a massive setback because they are very limited in number. I mentioned XCOM: Enemy Unknown as a similar experience, but Dimetrescu said, “We are aiming to portray real life CQB operations and they’re very fast and furious, and for me real-time is a better solution to portray that.” Door Kickers clearly meets this goal based on my experience. The game feels very fast, even though the player can pause it at any time with the space bar to issue new orders. I often found myself scrambling to react to an enemy being in an area I had not anticipated. These moments set my heart racing and really helped immerse me in the experience. This quickness means that very few games will last more than five minutes. I found that most stages, for me, averaged about 3:30, which according to the target times displayed was pretty slow. This quickness of the matches means that Door Kickers is a perfect game to play on a lunch break or when only have a few minutes to spare. Even so, the game has a long lifespan because I found myself wanting to play stages many times to get better scores or try different strategies. Also, with the recent release of alpha build No. 5, a random mission generator was introduced that lends the game nearly infinite replayability. When I interviewed Dimitrescu, the update was still pending, so he gave me a rundown of what to expect. “Well, our aim is to take an existing map (there will be lots more maps and layouts than what is included in the game) and create a believable storyline on it. So if you take an existing map, say the Embassy … you might still get Hostage Rescue on it, but say there’s only one hostage and he’s being executed in the Dining Room on top. Or maybe there’s a bunch of hostages, and some of them are hiding in locked rooms. And the bad guys number and disposition will also change appropriately. On the long term, what we plan to do is offer the player a one-click way to get a new mission, and make it feel like it was new but handcrafted.” This goal will take a few more builds to realize as more features and weapons are added to the game. Another important addition with alpha build No. 5 is the trooper equip screen. In the fourth build, players’ only options for weapons were to put either the pistol trooper or the carbine trooper into the starting slots; each individual trooper’s equipment could not be changed. The fifth build adds the ability to customize trooper’s equipment before a mission. This customization includes choosing between breaching tools—flashbangs and charges primarily—that determine how your troopers deal with entering new rooms with an unknown enemy presence. Dimitrescu confirmed that in subsequent builds they will be adding more options for breaching a room including a “dynamic hammer” that can open most doors in a single blow, picking the lock, and a “shotgun breach.” With the release of the fifth build, I asked Dimitrescu what the team was planning to tackle next. He said, “Well, it’s not 100 percent decided but probably mission replay since A LOT of people ask for it … and also some improvements to the map engine, either larger maps or multi-story buildings. Of course, more little things too … new weapons, new trooper classes, and so on!” With both the new features of alpha build No. 5 and these planned features for the sixth build, Door Kickers is looking to be a unique and fun tactical shooter that can scale in play time to however much time you have available. The controls are simple to learn but difficult to master, the way any good tactics-based game should be. While it is not complete, it looks very promising and the team seems highly motivated to see the project through to completion. Now is the perfect time to purchase Door Kickers. Since KillHouse Games is located in Romania it is not eligible to hold a Kickstarter campaign. Instead, the game’s development is being wholly funded on pre-order purchases. By buying now, you can help fund development, and it is being offered at a discount compared to the final retail price. The game is available both on KillHouse’s website and on Steam, but I recommend purchasing it through Killhouse because more of your money will reach the developer and you will receive a Steam key anyway, making it a win-win situation.