Among today’s ID @ Xbox fiesta, you will probably have clocked Death’s Door, a game where a small, sword-raising crow has it out with a rocket-powered cathedral, among other things. This is the new game from Acid Nerve, the two-person studio behind the tense, one-hit boss hunter Titan Souls. It’s coming soon to Xbox and PC – “We’re getting to the final steps now, just polishing and bug fixing, so we expect it to be out this summer,” designer David Fenn tells me – and it looks extremely good.
The premise – not that this kind of spicy crow-on-chateau action needs a lot of embellishment – is that the little bird is a clipper, who has to go to collect souls from humans in a world where humans and things no longer die naturally. You report to some tired bureaucrats, including crows, who need to keep doing this soul-harvesting job to survive themselves, but one day one of your great souls is stolen, which is not good, and by you: the laser cathedral. Boss frog. Waves of gelatinous blobs and bubbling dangers in a strangely touching, gothic plasticine world.
The Titan Souls pedigree seems clear, obviously in the structured, big-on-small boss fights, but also in the slightly sad tone between the action (I saw a slightly different bit of the footage of the one above, with a bit more of combat – it looks very , very good looking). And yet Death’s Door is actually quite different. “A little opposite”, as co-designer Mark Foster puts it. Titan Souls was built on a simple, very specific idea: a game jam-message about “you only get one” that gave what Fenn called a kind of “textbook indie elegance – where there are no words, no user interface, everything is as effective as possible. “
Death’s Door is “kind of the same philosophy,” says Foster, “but more: what can we do with a formula?” It really is a Zelda game: health points, sword-based combat, the sticky upper worlds and what appear to be dungeons, an actual user interface. The point here was that Acid Nerve should see what they could do within the walls of the genre.
“It’s been a little liberating really,” says Foster, “because compared to Titan Souls in particular, it was just really removed, very specifically – there’s no room to” move “too much there. We kind of explored everything we could with While with this, you can take that Zelda formula and do lots of different things with it: you can say Dark Souls is the derivative of Zelda or you can say Hyper Light Drifter is.We have taken it and just kind of put our own spin on it , and did what we thought would be cool with that formula here. “
Fenn liked it – “I was just all for: Nah, let’s just make a proper game, let’s just give it an overview, let’s give it a story where there may be signs that speak! I wanted to go for it this the hallway. “
It has also shifted the team’s weight, somewhat. “I think the core this time is not so much a mechanic, but the kind of ‘vibe’ in this world we have created,” Fenn adds. “We put a lot of work into the surroundings and make it unique and distinctive, and have this very consistent atmosphere where there is a nice contrast between dark and eerie things, but also humor and sweet, loving characters – for me I think that is the core of it we are going for this time, rather than a mechanical core. “
“It was definitely still a process of figuring out how our structure fit into that ‘Zelda foundation,'” he says. “So it’s not like that: there are eight dungeons you have to get eight magic things from to beat a boss or something. We still put a lot of thought into the way our game is structured and how it has a mix. Between self-directed exploration, but also in the key moments, it tells you the story we want to tell you. It is still an element in our own unique structure that we have added to it. “
The team also expanded a bit from Titan Souls’ development, with a shift from 2D to 3D, the most obvious change. “With Titan Souls, we only had one artist who drew all the pixel art, and I modeled the 3D aspects of it myself,” Foster explains. “But they were all ‘hacky’ kind of things – while this process has been: we have a concept artist who draws a thing, and then we get a model to model it,” and so on. “It’s a more involved process, but it’s been a lot of fun, I think.”
They have been working on it since 2017, or around it, and brainstorming ideas around traveling through doors. “At some point, Mark sent me this prototype where it was like a sword-wielding crow, and we’re just like, ‘yeah, this is it, we have it now,’ laughs Fenn.” We just wanted to do things that were always a little surreal, “he says.” The other artist we brought with us just sent us a lot of sketches, and one of them was this wandering cathedral, and we’re just like: Yep, it’s going in.
The fun show, in other words. It’s surreal to watch a bird hit a house, but it’s also quite exciting. Acid Nerve is extremely good at this type of thing – we know this from Titan Souls, but also from the consciousness of it, as Fenn and Foster talk about it. And now they have expanded it, turned it upside down, built it into this world with an extremely tactile look, tactile-sounds like character and I would very much like to play it.