Wireframe

Living out the John Wick fantasy in black-and-white shooter, OTXO

By Aaron Potter. Posted

It used to be that firing away at endless enemy waves was enough. These days, however, indie devs have been quick to notice the John Wick generation’s desire for an experience far slicker, more stylish, and faster-paced when it comes to top-down shooters. Enter OTXO (pronounced oh-cho), an unabashedly violent genre entry that fits squarely into the rogue-lite template, but lets players see the level of chaos they are able to inflict by liberally painting the black-and-white walls with blood. As artful as this presentation style seems, as is often the case with solo projects, it was a decision born from practicality.

“To be completely honest, I made that choice because I wasn’t confident in my ability to use colour,” says solo developer Nate Haddock, better known by his Lateralis moniker. “Restricting myself to a simple greyscale and red palette meant that I would be able to produce art assets faster and more comfortably. On top of that, though, I feel like the colour scheme is a bit unique for games like this. The splash of red blood covering the ground when you kill an enemy is a great indicator of ‘you’ve made something happen’, which is important for a fast‑paced game.”

The action in OTXO is purposely designed to be quick, with players encouraged to blast their way from room to room in a nondescript mansion, using rapid reactions so as to not get caught off guard themselves. When played with a mouse-and-keyboard setup, the game puts us in mind of those early Newgrounds and Miniclip games from the Flash era – in a good way. But it won’t surprise many to learn that OTXO owes a great debt to arguably the king of indie twin‑stick shooters.

OTXO originally started out as a project between Glass Revolver, Spencer Yan, and myself. We were all going to make relatively short, incredibly violent top-down shooter games and release them as a pack,” Lateralis reveals. “Spencer made the infamous Hotline Miami mod Midnight Animal back in the day, so I think the plan was to kind of harken back to that era of indie games and just make things that were simple and easy to play. Glass Revolver finished his first and released it as Heaven’s Machine. As I got deeper into mine, I realised I had the makings of a full-scale project, and shifted into that.”

In addition to its unique colour palette, where Lateralis’s title differs from both Hotline Miami and the games from his peers is in its rogue-lite aspect. No one run in OTXO ever need play out the same, largely due to the inclusion of various gun types, yes, but also due to there being a whopping 150 handcrafted rooms that can be generated in any order. Combine this with over 100 game-changing cocktail abilities that can be purchased from the mansion’s mysterious bartender at the start of each area, and you have a relentless twin-stick shooter made up of various unpredictable ingredients.

As you can imagine, getting all these elements to piece together in a way that wouldn’t make runs feel cheap proved quite the tricky task for Lateralis. “I’ve kept a spreadsheet of ability ideas for about two years,” he says. “Something interesting I found was how many abilities you have determines how mechanically dense your game is, because at a certain point you need new things to affect. So player speed, fire rate, and ammo were all easy to affect with abilities, but after I had to reach for weirder mechanics like ‘when you throw your gun, it turns into a turret’. Another issue was making sure abilities played nicely with each other.”

Lateralis finally reached a balance he was happy with after a rigorous testing period, but knew that one more crucial element was needed to help players truly feel like an unstoppable one-man army. “Reloading is underrated in a lot of games,” he explains. “I originally added reloading so that I could have boss fights – you get unlimited ammo in boss rooms – but realised that a snappy reload animation makes you feel absolutely badass.” Similar to the action, reloading plays into OTXO’s inherent rhythm. “It’s like the bit before a drop in a techno song – reloading builds that tension before you turn a corner and just start unloading. I worked hard to give each individual gun in the game a unique reload animation, and they all have unique sound effects as well.”

All sights are set on OTXO hitting a 2023 launch sooner rather than later, by which point Lateralis hopes twin-stick shooter fans will be pleased with the brutal, noirish murder cocktail he’s created. “It took forever, to say the least,” he notes.

That said, years after challenging himself to take on almost every development aspect – from visuals and gameplay to art and even music – in what he originally thought would be a smaller offering released as part of a collection, there’s no approach with OTXO he’d take differently. “I don’t think I’d change much, but maybe try some more wild things.”

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