How a Game Jam prototype turned into a frantic deathtrap that’s best enjoyed on PlayStation
In a departure from SMG’s usually frenetic arcade titles, Death Squared is a co-op puzzle game with an emphasis on teamwork, discovery, and above all else excellent communication.
Looking back, the game almost didn’t happen at all. To me it’s now a good reminder that a little persistence can pay off while trying new ideas.
It began at the 2015 48 hour Global Game Jam, themed “What do we do next?” I started thinking about four people stuck in a dangerous contraption together as a core mechanic; a situation demanding life or death cooperation. As an avid co-op gamer, it seemed like a perfect opportunity.
I refined the idea down to a more abstract form. Cuboid robots with free movement in a grid-like level, puzzles that can be visibly clear, but with interactions that are unexpected. For the next 48 hours I set about testing it out, but I remember well that I nearly stopped half way.
I had a design crisis that seemed like the end of the road. 30 hours in, my first puzzle involving a laser and a jumping mechanic, wasn’t working out at all. That’s what prototyping is for, though. If an idea doesn’t work, maybe you’ll just move on to trying a completely different game. I had a few more paper scribbles to test out in the engine, so I gave one more a try.
I ran the new level a few times. Relief. It worked. I mean it functioned, and I was pretty sure it would catch people off guard at least once and have them think about what was happening, and more importantly to communicate together on what to do about it. I handed some controllers over to friends that were also at the jam, with no real idea what to expect.
“Dude, this is fun!”
I was surprised. I’d been feeling like a sleepless mad scientist building a weird machine nobody asked for. A response like that is incredibly energizing. Maybe I was onto something.
That was the beginning of Death Squared. A game with no instructions, just a question; What do we do? The answer being something two people had to find specifically together.
I couldn’t wait to get started on it properly with the rest of the SMG team. We got straight to it, spending time exploring those gameplay aspects of discovery, surprise, codependency, and shared lateral thinking. We also got to throw a lot of love at those little game jam Cubebots and bring the whole thing to life.
At its first PAX it was selected for the Indie Showcase, and we got to really put it to the test. It’s my favourite game to demo of any I’ve worked on. “Have a controller. No instructions.” You can’t ask for an easier spiel to deliver. It’s hugely fun for me to watch people play it as well, and to see how each group approaches things differently. We frequently see total strangers get deep into conversations and high fives only minutes in.
Fast forward to nearly two years of dev later and we’ve done a huge amount with the game. There’s a two-player main story mode, a four player party mode, extra tough vault levels, and a hilarious voice acted narrative by Mick Lauer.
We couldn’t be more excited to bring Death Squared to PS4. We’re huge console gamers, especially couch co op. It’s been great to tap into PS4 features like the controller light bar, speaker and touchpad, and all in all we hope it’ll be a great addition to the PS4 library. We’re also including PS4-exclusive vault content: super tough puzzles for the ultimate relationship test.
Death Squared will be releasing on PS4 early 2017, so get your super co-op team together, and prepare to accidentally destroy them!