First impressions: Pit People
Behemoth, the developers behind Alien Hominid, Castle Crashers, and BattleBlock Theater are currently developing their 4th title, Pit People, and I finally got the chance to play at Microsoft’s Spring Showcase in February 2016.
Formerly known as Game 4, Pit People is a turn-based strategy game that takes advantage of a set of simplified mechanics familiar to anyone familiar with the strategy genre, however very approachable to those brand new to these kinds of games, which the mechanics and depth the game has to offer start manifesting when you have your bearings. The art style is by far one of the main selling points for Behemoth’s games, with Newgrounds creator and studio founder Tom Fulp along with Dan Paladin and his signature art style. Also of importance is the team’s unique sense of humor that has found it’s way into their games. In Pit People this sense of humor and style of storytelling are present, but things have taken a much darker and more apocalyptic tone.
Will Stamper, the narrator from BattleBlock Theater has returned to reprise his role in the previous title, however he seems much more directly involved with the games status quo rather than being a passive observer as before. In the game’s intro the narrators monologue describes his formerly peaceful planet thrown into chaos by a space bear crashing into the earth, causing varying degrees of societal breakdown, mass hysteria and emerald colored storms of bear blood, fracturing the land along with space and time itself.
The Xbox Spring Showcase demo was an updated version of the PAX demo, and though a handful of assets are still work in progress the overall art direct is very impressive with extremely well done with regards to the animation and environmental design; everything in the game feels very much alive and active in the world. After the initial intro we hear our “Narrator” introducing Horatio, a Blueberry farmer who is in the middle of defending his farm and his family from a group of raiders bent on pillaging the farm and consuming his child, Hansel. The narrator announces that it was nice knowing him and now that it’s time for him to die as you are walked through the basics in the game’s first introduction to combat. The raiders comment on the severity of the bear blood storm and hasten their pace, not that you would be able to tell without the text boxes.
Every character in Pit People (besides the narrator) speaks an unintelligible language which to me sounds like a mix of Latin, Medieval English, and pure gibberish; luckily it’s much more humorous then annoying. As the battle commences you are given some basic instructions, you select your character’s positions and they attack on their own with the game telegraphing which enemy or enemies specifically are within range of your next move. After your turn completes the enemy AI takes it’s turn by moving units and attacking, at this point you’re told the bigger the shield your characters have the better they are at blocking arrows fired from archers who are typically several hexes back and act as siege units. “I said Horatio dies.” squawks the narrator. The battle continues as you beat your way towards the enemy forces, when the storm picks up and wipes out the lot of them. Immediately afterwards the narrator exclaims “I said Haritio dies!” as his house and son is crushed under the weight of what appears to be a black and purple claw.
Horatio having lost everything sets off into the wilderness “with nothing but a handful of blueberries and a stupid look on his face” according to the narrator, as he continuously belittles Horatio and by proxy you as the player. The rest of the demo consists of aiding a princess in defending her burning castle from barbarians who escape from the battle in a Space Shuttle of all things, a journey to a city to compete for spare cash in medieval style blood sport, and a job to clean up the beach of hooligans to repay the local constabulary for providing you with shelter.
It’s all very amusing and surreal at times, with Stamper continuously demeaning you throughout and it’s implied he (the narrator) has certain powers within this universe but only delving farther into the games narrative will reveal more come launch. Overall the biggest take away from Pit People for me was building approachability into the experience while maintaining enough depth and overall complexity to keep veterans and more experience players interested. The closest comparison I can make is to the Disgaea franchise. Pit People does humor is a way that generally will appeal to most tastes, while anime and internet references with the occasional obscure inside joke combined with the insane difficulty associated with the Disgaea franchise is typically what keeps people away and the fan base relatively small. Pit People’s biggest strength in my opinion will be how it’s able to court players typically uninterested in the strategy genre through a combination of phenomenal writing, design, and art direction.