Facepunch Studios has been around for quite some time, having been founded in 2004 by Garry Newman. If that name sounds familiar, there's good reason for that, as Newman lent his name to the 2006 sandbox title, Garry's Mod, which uses Valve's own Source engine and assets to let players build whatever hilarious creations they want.
After that Facepunch worked away at a slightly different game, retaining some of the elements of Garry's Mod but creating a fresh experience all of its own. This project was called Rust, and first emerged onto Early Access in 2013, before a full release in 2018. It incorporated multiplayer, crafting, and survival elements, and over time a large community gathered around the game.
Both of these titles were extended projects, admittedly with very different goals, that worked to bring players together in open worlds to create and build together. They were expansive and ambitious, not to mention ongoing to this very day, but the studio's most recent release has managed to provide something very different without disrupting the teams working on these two projects.
Last month Chippy released to the world, a game that doesn't share many similarities with either of these two successful games. In fact, it's a "twin-stick, bullet-hell, boss-rush shooter", as explained by programmer Ryleigh Kostash when we caught up with him recently, and Newman also joined us to talk about the reason why the studio is changing things up so dramatically.
"When I first started making games I always thought that if only I could spend 8 hours a day making games instead of working a real job. I'd get so much done - I'd get my game finished in 3 months and be a real game developer," he said. "That's what our incubator program is. We hire people we think can make interesting games without much/any guidance from us, give them wages, tell them to do whatever they want."
The best part about this approach is that these teams are entirely separate, and Kostash even said that "most of us haven't done any work on Rust or [Garry's Mod]".
"Our expectations are always low, we don't ever expect these games to be as big as Garry's Mod and Rust," Newman continued. "Our focus as a company is always on the worst case - not the best case. If they pay for themselves and we're proud of them - we can afford to do that right now."
Chippy actually has a longer history than you might expect, and Kostash told us it's the "third version of a smaller prototype game called Space Usurper". Of course, its legacy stretches back far further than that, as the influences of classic arcade titles like Asteroids is clear, as well as Minecraft, surprisingly. "The enemies are mostly comprised of little pixels you can individually destroy, which is satisfying in a way not unlike digging through Minecraft blocks," Kostash said.
Another thing that Facepunch aims to do is provide a higher level of challenge than other similar titles, although if players want to coast straight through with lower scores then they can. Those who want a higher score, however, will really have their work cut out for them.
"With Chippy the difficulty is more strict in some ways, while in other ways being more lenient. Some shmups give players infinite continues, with the price of setting your score to zero. So you can blunder through the whole game as long as you don't care about getting a good score. Chippy doesn't allow you to do that, and you also can't select an easy mode," Kostash explained.
"At the same time, however, the collision is quite lenient compared to other bullet-hell games - the bullets are very forgiving when it comes to near misses. Grazing them slightly repels the player, slows down time a bit, even vibrates the controller so you know which side you're in danger from."
"And I'd say the pixel-destruction mechanic is a differentiator too - lots of shooters let you target specific parts of bosses but I haven't seen one with this type of destructibility. Also, there are no points or complex scoring systems to learn - your score is simply how fast you destroyed the boss."
This format of the title also allows Facepunch to let the community make content, and there's a roadmap of planned features on the way too. Regarding future content though, Kostash emphasises that this isn't going to be a really long project:
"Nothing TOO grandiose [is planned] as this was supposed to be a simple polished game, not a "games as a service" perpetual experience, but we do want to give players the means to create more content for each other. So we plan to enable workshop sharing, make a level creation tutorial & wiki, add a couple of new [game modes], and add some new official levels to the game. We're looking into ports and localisation too, that sort of thing."
"Chippy is an ideal candidate for consoles, so we're looking to make our first real attempt into console gaming with it, which will be a good test for future projects," Newman adds.
In terms of how the studio is laid out, these separate teams mean that work on Chippy can continue without affecting other projects, and "there's very little crossover between people working on Chippy and those working on Rust/GMod, so it won't have an effect," as Kostash said.
"Yeah, our incubator projects are generally self-contained. This isn't a rule - our people tend to manage their own priorities really well," Newman continues. "If someone on the Rust team wants to jump over and do some time on an incubator project I'd encourage that - I feel it's important to work on a variety of things to sharpen your tools and recharge that way. But they're professionals, they understand that projects are dependent on them and we've never really had a problem with someone spending too much time away."
Perhaps the biggest question is whether Chippy has given the team an appetite to try more new concepts in the future, perhaps taking them out of their comfort zone, to which Newman provided the simple response:
"We've got a very long list of stuff we want to do in the future, some small, some big. Our priority is getting the company in a position where that can all happen while I'm watching Columbo in bed."