Last year, Berserk Studio and The Arcade Crew released Infernax, an amazingly good Metroidvania platformer, on all platforms. Since then, the game has received two major updates, the most recent of which added 2-player local co-op! Very few games gain multiplayer modes after they come out, so we interviewed Mike Ducarme, the "Get s*** done guy" at Berzerk Studio, about Infernax's unusual journey towards the land of co-op.
Thanks for taking the time to visit our medieval compound for this boldly in-person interview. First, could you tell us a little about your experience in game development and some of your favorite non-platforming games?
Berzerk has been around for almost 15 years now, which makes us old-a** farts. We started out as Flash devs in one of our basements, churned out over 25 bite-sized games on Newgrounds, Armor Games, Kongregate, Miniclip, etc., during our first 5 years, then finally made the jump to consoles with our last two games: Just Shapes & Beats, and the one I’m here to shill, Infernax.
Personally, I’ve been in the industry for close to 17 years and worn many hats: code monkey, QA, a short stint in UX, community manager, writer, coder again, marketing, PR, HR, and biz dev.
On the gaming side, I’ve been in a love/hate relationship with Path of Exile for the better part of the last decade, so that leaves me very little time for anything else. I do love me some Marios of the non-platforming variety once in a while, though: Mario Kart, Mario Party, Mario in [Super Smash Bros]… Do platform fighting games count? If so, I've just failed the assignment.
Mike Ducarme of Berserk Studio
Hey, that was close enough. Well then, Infernax is a modern Metroidvania platformer with a retro style. What are some Metroidvanias that impressed or influenced you, old or new?
I’ll be the unoriginal one and name drop the classics, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid (even though I’m effing terrible at it). When designing a game that’s supposed to emulate the feeling of playing an old-school game, you’ve gotta start with them. I remember playing SOTN back in college, not having any idea what a Metroidvania was; it wasn’t really a [known genre] back then, just a kick-a** videogame that broke my mind when the castle turned upside down.
Since then, I’ve played a few. I’m far from the genre’s best evangelist at the studio, but the indie space is super fruitful for bad-a** Metroidvanias. The Messenger, Axiom Verge, and Dead Cells all blew me away with their take on the genre and basically making new classics.
I love those games! Now let’s turn our gaze upon Infernax. How did the idea for the game come about?
Initially, Infernax was just supposed to be a weekend project. We wanted to do a Flash game that was an homage to Zelda 2 and Castlevania 2, but with the Berzerk twist, which was really just a ton of gore and dumb jokes. That was around the time when people were really vocal online about how they were terrible games, so we thought it’d be a good hook.
That’s a good starting point. How long did the initial development take, from start until release? Did you face any unforeseen challenges along the way?
From start to finish, the game took about 13 years to complete.
I just typed out a 17-paragraph history of all the challenges we ran into, but let’s be honest: ain’t nobody going to read that. Hell, it was so long, I didn’t even want to proofread for typos.
Other than being unable to find distribution partners at first, the Flash game market collapsing, the studio almost closing down, a very terrible garbage fire idea of a Kickstarter, rebuilding the studio [after the] previously mentioned events, two engine changes, turning the game on its head and adding a year and a half of production time over a gag we put in for a tradeshow build, a pandemic, and killer bees, everything went just fine, and the game is not cursed at all.
Early concept art for Cervul
That was an eventful timeline! Before we discuss updates, we should talk about the core game. What makes Infernax unique among other action platformers and Metroidvanias?
Well, first we have to talk about the fixed jump height; it’s a very integral part of our game design, and it’s what everyone loves the most about [the game]. There’s threads and threads about it on our Steam forums.
There’s also this little thing we put in that makes every single decision you take matter and directly affect the world around you, which quests are available, the spells you can learn, how the people in the world interact with you – basically just altering the entire fate of the world.
But that’s not as important as the fixed height jump. That’s *chef kiss*.
On that note, Infernax’s morality system provides a lot of freedom and leads to multiple endings depending on the decisions that players make. However, when playing without a guide, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between whether a choice will be interpreted as good or evil. Did you experiment with specifically communicating the morality of choices and actions?
We didn’t want things to be clear cut; that was the whole point. We wanted players to put themselves in the shoes of a goody two-shoes paladin and make decisions from [the character’s] point of view, not from the point of view of a modern-day videogame player. It’s a roleplaying game, after all, so color coding or explicitly telling the player what the outcome of a decision is [would take] away from the storytelling, in our opinion.
We never meant the first playthrough to be perfect. We wanted to keep a bit of that cryptic feeling that the games that inspired Infernax had, just without the “I am stuck and I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do” BS parts.
In addition to the beautiful retro visuals, Infernax features a wonderful chiptune soundtrack composed by Jason Létourneau, Jules ‘FamilyJules’ Conroy, and Olivier Couillard. I noticed that the soundtrack is available to buy on Steam, but not digital music storefronts like Amazon Music, iTunes, and Bandcamp. Will we ever be able to buy the soundtrack through these sellers?
Oh god, I’ve never been this called out in my entire life. I’m working on it, I swear.