Witchfire is The Second Game From The Astronauts
Again, if you never played The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, you may not have heard of The Astronauts. However, the fact that they’re working on Witchfire is significant for several reasons. Ethan Carter won countless awards at the time of its release for incredible storytelling and eye popping graphics that had no business being in this generation of gaming.
With their first title, The Astronauts firmly rooted themselves in a position of dependability as developers. While the team is made up of less than ten people, quantity is not important so much as quality. Witchfire being a frantic shooter is well suited to The Astronauts as not only are they clearly capable of making it beautiful but also play well, with devs on the team hailing from Bulletstorm and Painkiller.
So What Is Witchfire All About?
The player will inhabit the shoes of a badass revolver wielding witch hunter. In this world, an evil witch’s influence has stretched across the land, awakening an army of the dead and all sorts of other monstrosities. Put like that, Witchfire could sound at risk of going the way of Evil Dead but The Astronauts are going to great lengths to ensure Witchfire is a gritty and dark tale.
Speaking of dark tales, The Astronauts have come back with fairly ambiguous answers when it comes to the question of Witchfire’s story. On a particular blog on the official Witchfire website, The Astronauts go into detail about how there will simultaneously be a story… and no story at all. Witchfire won’t be comprised of one area after another, buffered with cutscenes. They simply don’t have the manpower or the funds to make that happen. Instead, they liken their approach to storytelling to From Software games. Which means Witchfire will offer various branching pathways that each tell snippets of the game’s story through the strength of its world design.
While this may be concerning to some, it’s a safe bet this concept is in great hands as the quality of storytelling in Ethan Carter is certainly not in dispute. They confidently state “for those who care, there will be lots of dots to connect” and go on to quote a tweet they took a shine to which stated “a well designed world could tell its story in silence”.
The Astronauts’ “Combat Philosophy”
In another blog post from the official site, The Astronauts take time to explain their approach to combat in Witchfire. In a nutshell, combine Painkiller with Shadow Warrior and you’re about there. Witchfire’s combat is going be very jumpy, very strafey/dodgy – heavily focused on smart player movement while taking care of crowd control situations. In said blog post, they bring up Call of Duty while talking about the concept of regenerating health. They feel segments of Call of Duty put players into on-rails situations where loss of health is inevitable. To some, this can feel a little cheap and unfair. But to The Astronauts, the concept of regenerating health removes an element of tension.
If a player has just defeated a boss and moves on to find more enemies with little health left over, it adds an intensity of decision making in the moment that health regen shooters lack. If you have 5% health to get through this wave of baddies, defeating them and coming out the other side will feel all the more satisfying and that sense of relief upon finding a health pack makes for a range of emotions and play styles that The Astronauts are really focusing on. If the players gets hit, The Astronauts want to make sure the player feels it was their mistake and not some cheap shot the game threw at them for the sake of a quick shock.
This commitment to a vision is what is taking the game so long to be made under just a handful of devs. You can be sure it’s also the reason Witchfire will be one heck of a polished product once The Astronauts are happy with it. We may take shooting a gun in a game for granted these days. But The Astronauts released an interesting video of the many stages of work required to create a convincing gun doing its thing. The below video really puts into perspective just how much work it is taking to make this game.
Witchfire Is Visually Arresting For A Reason
While being built on the Unreal engine, a vast majority of Witchfire’s world is brought to life through photogrammetry. This is all about finding structures and areas in real life, taking various shots from various angles and loading them into a smart piece of software that rebuilds and renders them. This is not a lazy workaround. The whole process takes a lot of time and effort as the images need to be captured in exactly the right light and after the initial wireframe is reconstructed a lot of texturing and polishing needs to be placed on top.
The end result is crazy photorealism. It is partly for this reason that, for the time being, Witchfire is being developed exclusively for the high end PCs that can run all of this while processing the frantic fights that will be going down.
The Astronauts Are Committed to Their Audience
To say a development team are committed to their audience feels odd these days. In these cynical times of gaming, as a games writer, it’s a lot easier to talk about how money hungry game developers are. How that plays into their design philosophy while making the game. Although, in some rare cases as seen in the Witcher 3 by CD Projekt Red, a development studio can show compassion to their audience and it ultimately pays back in dividends as far as PR is concerned and more importantly – the design ethos of development.
The Astronauts are committed to keeping interested gamers up to date with their blog posts which, since the very beginning, have taken us through the highs and lows of Witchfire’s development. They are not a studio afraid to say “we messed up, so back to the drawing board on this thing”, and it is frankly a delight to keep up to date with a studio that is being so honest and transparent. Not only that but these blog posts are written in a way that relates to the gamer, with references to well known games and mechanics we all understand in order to get their points across, be it for a great update or a disappointing one.
A great and recent example of this is how they talk about what devs know as The Vertical Slice. This “slice” is a designated part of the game that will be used to show off the game at events and in trailers. It’s often the only polished part of the game for the several years it takes to make the rest of it. But again, The Astronauts were honest with us and said they had a decent Vertical Slice ready for us to see but there was still an issue with the skyboxes. While they were itching to show off their hard work, they ultimately cancelled their new gameplay reveal video as they are committed to showing us something as close to the final game as possible. One without a weird glitchy skybox to go viral on rant fuelled blogs.
It’s Worth Keeping an Eye on Witchfire
Witchfire has so much going for it and it is frankly a crime that there isn’t more exposure out there for it. It has an incredibly dedicated small team of people that have a specific vision. One from which they won’t waver, no matter the challenge. They are dedicated to incredible detail, amazing world design and what looks to be fluid and thrilling combat. If you like what you’ve read today and would like to follow Witchfire’s progress, check out the official site as most of the blogs there make for a good read, not only in understanding the game, but also in learning just what a small dev team goes through.
For any substantial future updates on Witchfire, you can be sure we’ll cover it right here at KeenGamer.