[Prototype] Cult Smashers (Pirate Jam 2018)

edited in Projects
We made a game during Pirate Jam (which was a 7 day jam in Thailand).

Evan Greenwood
Robbie Fraser
Jarred Lunt
Marcelle Marais
Jason Sutherland


The theme doesn't resonate as much as we'd like (though we're a bit too close to the project to really tell). What we wanted was to set the game in a sort of racist cult-ridden middle America. There's a few confederate flags in there, but it doesn't really feel like a twisted version of America. Obviously the boxed in canyon breaks the illusion, but I'd welcome some feedback about how to make it feel like its about killing degenerate cultists.

Mechanically we wanted a rapidly leveling up shooter with upgrades in a randomly generated skill tree. This part of the game has been through the most iterations (because tweaking upgrades is pretty fun compared to trying to make the AI less stupid), but we'd definitely like it to allow for a lot more expression. More interactions and so more things that the player can choose to upgrade, or not upgrade. That's something we'd want to improve going forward.


Particularly we'd like to know which areas need improvement the most urgently. There's a lot of polish/improvements we can do, but some parts are going to be dragging down the experience more than others.

Compliments are also welcome :) I personally love this sort of game, and have really enjoyed working on it. And while I don't want to congratulate ourselves, I will say that the other team members really kicked ass.


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    Kinda gives me a top-down Contra feel, which is pretty rad. I have only seen the gifs so no knowing what sound you have, but if you haven't done this already give the enemies those good ol' redneck/hillbilly taunt/attack/death voices with hillarious one liners, that should give them that degenerate cultist feel :)
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
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    One random idea is that these cults often are based around a messed up hierarchy (cult-leader > deputies > male-cultists > female-cultists, etc). If you could make that more explicit in the way enemies behave, that might bring the idea across.

    Another idea these bigger cults don't typically live in an absolute wasteland. They are often in or near small towns; quite peaceful and orderly looking from the outside. Even though it is set in the UK, a movie like hot fuzz captures the weirdness and sometimes implicit violence of small towns (I grew up in one, and there are a lot of strange stories) and would probably carry better (and have more fun level design possibilities) than simply going for the easy target of adding redneck VOs. Stephen King is also a good reference as he writes a lot of about small America towns and cults.

    Another thing I find personally horrifying in America is images of suburbia like this:

    A last idea (which admittedly might be hard to convey in an action game like this) is that often these kind of people (racists, incels, flat-earthers, etc) are weirdly sympathetic. They are people who have been left behind and haven't really adjusted to the modern world. They can be terrible people, and be terribly pathetic. But at the same time, sometimes can be heroic

    Facinating piece of Americana:
  • Thanks! Those are great suggestions.

    Yeah, I think a lot can be done with level design to make it feel like outback, forgotten towns (instead of random canyon). And I think it'd make the level design better... Also,, a formalizing a kind of hierarchy with mechanics, like a kind of nemesis system, could be really rad in this, and tell a much better story!

    Going to check out those links. Thanks! I think that's exactly the sort of inspiration I was looking for.
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    OK I gave it a try...

    I love the simplicity of the level-up system. Basically it has that immediate playability like Crimsonland, no explanations needed.

    - The sound effects when picking up the green thingies and leveling up.

    - The simplicity of the level-up system.

    - Too hard for me, I don't last very long (although I do like punishing myself with Nightmare mode in Doom 2016).

    - The gun shoot sound effects and barrel explosions are a bit noisy and underwhelming. I think the sound samples should
    be very clear and also mixing a custom bass thud into the explosion and shoot sounds gives it more kick.

    - One time, I was able to keep shooting after my character died.

    - The basic enemies strike me as more zombie-like than human. Not sure if that's by design.

    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
  • Played the game a bit, some thoughts are below.

    [-]Random map generation is nice, made me wonder if there is some meta level map that would have a strategic concept to it
    [-]Would be nice if you can exit the upgrades window with [Esc] not just [Tab]
    [-]Have no idea why the stock bottom enemies are naked
    [-]Having some banjo music playing in the background with brainwashing propaganda on top of it would add to the setting
    [-]It's great that you have the controls mapping on the title screen.
    [-]Enemy progression is too random between lives, on some runs you will get a few waves of lower enemies, on some the higher enemies appear in the first wave
    [-]Two types of enemies seems on the minimum end, hope you add more
    [-]One of the dying villagers was asking for help, but the only thing I could do is kill it and get some experience for it, doing something with the NPCs could add another layer to the game
    [-]Sound was good, the gun felt good
    [-]Seems the bullets have a range, which is weird for ballistic weapons
    [-]Blocking the player from going backwards is ok, but blocking the player so close to enemies is too overwhelming, maybe put the barricades a bit back
    [-]Tech tree is a bit weird, I understand it's random, but maybe too much so, the difference is huge between plays and there are a lot of repetitions sometimes, adding just a little of structure to it would be nice

    Also I applaud you for actually making a game in Thailand, I was there recently and it's such an awesome place that coding is the last thing on one's mind. :)
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
  • There's never any love for mac users D: booooo

    Just from the gif: The telegraphing of enemy shooting intent is a neat-o touch that break from the usual backpedal top-down shooter feel, so hopefully that may make dodging and such feel good and satisfying.
    Thanked by 1NickCuthbert
  • I feel like there is a lot I can say, but not sure if it will all be useful information. Do you guys know what direction you want to take the game in yet? I feel like the game wasn't focused enough on a specific experience that it wanted to create. To me it was in an uncomfortable middle ground between action and suspense, not quite knowing which one to commit to so falling short on both(hope that makes sense).

    That being said, I really enjoyed playing it and exploring the possibilities of the skill tree.

    Some specific things:
    1)Enemies are not interesting enough. They all seem to be meatbags with bigger and bigger sets of hitpoints. Adding enemies that throw grenades, or sprint but then stop attacking for a while come to mind.
    2)Show more details on the skills screen or somewhere like the current fire rate/clipsize/reload rate. It will really help to know how the percentages interact without having to guess.
    3)Have the exp canisters move towards the player faster and faster until collected once the player has managed to come close enough.
    4)Put a rug or some indication of the position of a house entrance. It was sometimes difficult to peek in and dodge afterwards since I didn't always quite now where the door was.
    5)Add doors to the houses that can be opened/closed and blown off(obviously).
    6)Add windows to the houses that can be shot through but not moved through.
    7)Remove the extra experience canisters perk. Creates way too much of an advantage if picked up early enough.
    8)Allow the player to collect different weapons. This might not work out, but I think it'd be really cool to have "generic" skill trees that apply to all your weapons.
    9)I like the idea of the random skill tree, but the progression paths combined with imperfect information when choosing them sometimes made me feel slightly cheated. I feel like it should be slightly more structured that there is at least some consistency between runs...but I also have the feeling that this will break the intent of the skill tree.
    10)Remove the "free" skillpoints from the tree and allow the player to pick one from a selection every time they level up.
    11) The ammo mechanic feels clunky. I'm assuming it's meant to create suspense, but the problem is that once you start reloading and have a mishapp roll you are pretty much dead. There are no suspenseful moments where you are just about to be reloaded and just barely make it. I would like for it to happen more quickly and immediately reloading to full...but the 0.5 seconds or whatever it takes to reload only starts once I release the trigger.

    I really did enjoy playing it and I love the art style. I actually enjoyed the canyon style as well. It made the areas where it opened up feel really scary since the enemies could come from all sides. Hopefully the feedback was helpful and not too negative.
    Thanked by 1EvanGreenwood
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    Thanks for the detailed feedback @Rigomortis! A lot of what you've said reflects my thoughts, and the things I want to tackle first.

    Not sure when I'm going to have a moment to crack at this again... I started making a new enemy that behaves differently, but it started getting complicated quickly and I couldn't make it look nice without help from the artists. There's some improvements that can be implemented more quickly, but I reckon the enemies desperately need more tactical variance (and there's a reason why you put that at the top of your list).
  • hiya, this looks awesome and polished already from an art perspective, so well done to the people doing the animations and the art. I'd be interested in understanding plans for mechanics and progression. ;-P

    Killing degenerate cultists is a theme currently explored in Farcry 5, although I haven't played that title yet. So it seems to be in fashion :P

    Currently the enemies seem to have 2 variants... melee rushers and slower ranged shooters. It would be cool if there was also some kind of cult/KKK leader that some enemies worship for a short bit (slowing them down while they worship, but at the same time they're being buffed incrementally as they do it). It could add a mechanic where the player has to prioritize targets... do i take down this rapidly approaching dude, or circle around him to take out the cult leader before he buffs those worshipers too much, or take out the worshipers first? Also cults seem to have innocents who they hide behind when the law comes knocking, Waco etc comes to mind. One could explore that as a mechanic... and it might work if done tastefully. Don't shoot the human shields/children etc.

    Maybe the protagonist is a agent of the law, or a cultist himself trying to escape? I'd like to know.
    Also it could be cool half-way through to allow the player to "choose a side", then there might be at least 2 paths to progression/end game that way... 1 stay with the law bringers or 2 help the cultists.

    One could look at things/places that society in general hold dear and then have the bad guys stomp on those in game to solicit empathy as well.

    Curious, what does the depleting cursor circle represent? Enemy health? Do you have to hover over an enemy to see their health or is it an accuracy or ammo thing? :)

    Terrain can be further explored further to add to the mechanics. Maybe give enemies cover to hide behind, so you have to destroy the terrain/barrel first before you get to shoot them, or setting broken barrel oil spills alight to halt the rushers.

    This is very cool and polished for a jam entry, I like :)
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