Interview with an indie developer: Alec Stamos on Ninja Outbreak
When I spoke with Alec Stamos, creator of Tales of the Renegade Sector Games, we had come to an arrangement: I would test his upcoming game and he would tell me whatever I wanted to know. Tips, lore, easter eggs. Anything.
Now, I hold within me secrets. Secrets that if I told them to you, a ninja would be sent to eviscerate me. Readers, I live in constant fear now that I have played Ninja Outbreak.
Are all your games interconnected?
Most of my games take place in the Renegade Sector universe, which is sort of a sci-fi setting where humanity has gotten into space and has been there for millennia and kind of lost the art of space travel and rediscovered it. [Ninja Outbreak] takes place within this setting but closer to the modern day. In fact, this game takes place some time in the ‘60s. Rather, an alternate version of the sixties where the Soviet Union won the Space Race.
This game is a spinoff of a previous game of mine, Venusian Vengeance. I had been working on a series of articles for my website on level design, and the articles had playable examples in them. I had been doing one on building levels around resource mechanics like ammo. I decided I wanted to explore that more, so the natural way to do that was to make a survival horror game which is a well-known genre for scarcity of resources and ammo.
At the same time, I was re-releasing Venusian Vengeance as a series of episodic flash games. And so I was remembering the last level from Venusian Vengeance, which was a laboratory overrun by a ninja virus. It was a joke in that game, sort of tongue-in-cheek. The station was quarantined because of a zombie outbreak but then you get there and it turns out it’s not zombies, it’s ninjas.
And, of course, ninjas have been a recurring theme for me because of my interest in the film library of Godfrey Ho, a Hong Kong director who created over a hundred movies in the ‘80s through quite a bit of stolen footage and created a fairly entertaining mythos with those schlock films.
Are these ninjas weaker than the one before?
It’s the inverse law of ninjas. You find this out later in the game in one of the research logs.
You put the inverse law of ninjas into this game?
For those of you who don’t know, The Law of Inverse Ninja Strength, also known as The Conservation of Ninjutsu, is a trope in which ninjas become proportionally weaker the more ninjas are present.
A lone ninja is an unstoppable badass.
But an army of ninjas is just meat for the grinder.
This same math makes its way into Ninja Outbreak.
Would you categorize this game as survival horror?
For the most part. It’s got a bit of an action element to it, so it’s probably closer to a Resident Evil 4 than it would be to a Silent Hill.
Were you concerned with making the game scary or did you just want the mechanics of a survival horror?
A little of both. My main interest was with the mechanics. I didn’t want to create a scarefest—the game doesn’t have jump scares—but I did want to create a sense of tension and create that interplay between the resource management and situations where you’re uncomfortable being where you are, surrounded by ninjas, away from a save point. You need what you’re looking for, so you go deeper and deeper into the level rather than going back to safety.
Why did you choose to limit the ammo and other resources?
[In other games,] you always feel the hand of the developer guiding you and you know that you’re going the way you’re supposed to go, that you’re making the right decision because there’s only one way to go and there’s only one right decision. But when you’re searching after resources you don’t necessarily need, you’ve got to take into account the risk of what you’re doing and you might start to get nervous.
"Am I going the right way? Am I going in too deep? Am I going about this the wrong way? Should I be here?" That’s the sort of tension I wanted to get out of this game.
From this point of the game here, a few areas in, you can go straight to the final area of the game and try to face it. But of course, if you don’t come prepared, if you don’t get the special weapons that will help unlock the path, it will get very difficult to go through the entire area. Not impossible, but very difficult, and there’s a boss battle at the end. And if you die, you go back all the way before the final area.
There are a few easter eggs in this room. Read the black ninja description. That’s almost a verbatim quote from Thunder Ninja Kids in the Golden Adventure, which was the first Godfrey Ho movie I ever watched in its entirety.
Basically, there’s one bit where two main characters are going:
“Black ninja! What are they?”
“They’re all black!”
“Sounds like black ninja.”
Did anyone else work on this game with you?
No. I’ve worked with other people in past projects, but Ninja Outbreak was entirely by myself.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
The game is coming out September 20th. Vote for it on Greenlight. The dragon’s fire burns hot.
The dragon’s fire burns hot?
Yes. That’s important.
I beat the entire game that day. It took a little over three hours.
Stamos assured me there are still more secrets to be found. “You got most of the items,” he told me. “And there’s some more secrets you missed.”
The rest of our playthrough and discussion, though, went strictly off the record.