You might already have heard about Legend of Grimrock, the dungeon crawler from indie developer Almost Human. The team are currently polishing the game, which harks back to classics like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder, and preparing for an impending launch on Windows, followed by a release on Mac OS X and iOS. After their swift introduction of an alternate control scheme to accommodate a disabled fan was lauded on the front page of popular social media website Reddit, we decided to find out a bit more about the game and the studio behind it.
The team aren’t new to the game’s industry; Almost Human Ltd. was founded in Finland by Petri Häkkinen, Antti Tiihonen, Olli Pelz, and Juho Salila. Petri and Antti hail from Remedy Entertainment, having worked on games like Max Payne 2 and Alan Wake, while Olli and Juho come from Futuremark Game Studios, where they worked on the benchmark software 3DMark and the innovative space shooter Shattered Horizon. Between them, they have over thirty years of experience.
“After working for many years on big projects at bigger companies, we felt that we wanted to work on our own games with a smaller team,” Olli told me. “Also, the development of digital distribution in recent years has opened new possibilities for tiny indie studios, and it was that change that gave us the confidence that we may actually have a chance to succeed. Compared to bigger studios, we can afford to concentrate on a more niche market and still make a living.”
He tells me that the team’s primary source of inspiration was Dungeon Master, even going as far as to say “in our opinion, it is perhaps the best game ever made”, and that the “grid-based movement enables mind-bending puzzles and tactical combat in a way that is very welcome to modern games”. We can’t say we disagree: certainly, games in this vein have been missing from the mainstream market for over a decade, despite the legendary status of many classics of the genre.
“We are not sure why this style of game has declined in popularity after the ’90s,” Olli admits, although he suggests that perhaps “the arrival of real 3D graphics made the grid-based games look old”. The impressive visual fidelity of Legend of Grimrock may put this hypothesis to rest, however; screenshots and video from the team show a gorgeous game which may just have what it takes to revive the genre.
Naturally, it’s Olli and Juho from Futuremark that are in charge of the visual aspects of the game, with their background at a studio well known for crafting computer-intensive, ultra-attractive graphics. Olli is in charge of rigging and animations, while Juho creates the monsters and environments; Petri is responsible for programming and the project’s core vision, while Antti works on level design, items, and sounds. It truly is a team effort, and the group have had to overcome many challenges in the game’s development
“The biggest challenges have been in merging the old-school gameplay with modern expectations. Most of the old gameplay mechanics had to be reinvented in order to match the expectations of the gamers of these days. On top of that, the GUI had to also be reinvented. We did a lot of iterations and testing to finally come up with a concept that works well and feels natural. These challenges have basically been present through the whole development of the game – and the guys are still polishing it as I write these words.”
“The interaction with the community has been one of the centre pillars in the development of the game,” I’m told after bringing up the game’s official blog. The team have kept the blog updated throughout Legend of Grimrock’s development, making regular updates as new content and features are added to the game. “As a developer, it is extremely motivating to get continuous feedback from such a dedicated and supportive community, and it ensures we keep going on the right track. You just can’t go wrong with this approach.”
Indeed, it’s thanks to the developer’s keen attention to the words of fans that they’ve achieved such fame on Reddit. One disabled gamer’s simple query about the dropping of the on-screen arrows from the game interface was soon escalated into a priority fix for the team, who introduced an alternate interface to account for the fan’s inconveniences.
“After hearing of the requests, we thought it was important to implement it, and it all came out really nice and quickly. That’s the advantage of a small team. We can make such decisions on the spot and implement them right away. And it also shows the important of keeping close interaction with the community. After all, they are the ones we are making the game for!”
Olli tells me that we “won’t have to wait too long to start your journey in the dungeons of Mount Grimrock”, with the game slated for a launch early this year. They’re hoping to see the game on Steam someday, they’re thinking about mobile platforms besides iOS, and they’re going to consider a Linux port, but most importantly, they’re getting ready for the PC launch.
“We put a lot of love and effort in making Legend of Grimrock and we hope it will sell well enough to enable us to make more games with the same kind of dedication. We hope that the game will prove that the old dungeon crawlers still have an audience, and that it will spark a new era of old-school dungeon crawling.”