First Impressions of the Pit People Beta

First Impressions of the Pit People Beta

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2016 was my second year of experiencing PAX West in all its glory.  Even being plugged into the gaming industry through work and my own interests, I was blown away by the amount of games and experiences to be had in my first year, and 2016 was no different.  There are way, way too many amazing games and experiences for them all to be on one person’s radar.  So naturally, you go with a crew.  

Each person in my group had their own few things to be super amped about going into the weekend.  I’ll be honest and say that Pit People, formerly known as ‘Game 4’ by The Behemoth out of San Diego, wasn’t heavy on my radar, but it was one of those games that drew my eyes each time we passed their location on the floor.  Partially because of its location, but mostly because of some great convincing and flat-out sales work by one of my friends, we decided to brave the line on our last day.  

Playing at PAX

The wait for multiplayer was about 2 hours, so we opted for the much-more-sensible 45 minutes for single player.  We queued for the line around the playing area, so we were able to grasp the basics of the “fast-paced, turn-based” game which is set in “an apocalyptic wonderland” based on Behemoth’s own description.  What makes it so apocalyptic?  Naturally, in true Pit People style, a giant bear hit the planet.

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A fantastic and fantastical premise.

Long story short, the second I was done playing the demo at PAX West (formerly of PAX Prime fame), I knew I wanted play it again, and again…and again.  I fell in love with the game’s aesthetics, particularly the delightfully evil narrator Will Stamper (also in “Battleblock Theater”), as well as the music and overall soundscape.  Immersion can add so much to a gaming experience, and it’s something we hope to write about in detail at Hopeful Homies; that said, even on the always crowded, occasionally smelly, and eternally loud expo floor of PAX, Pit People drew me in in a big way.

I fell in love with the game’s aesthetics, particularly the delightfully evil narrator Will Stamper, as well as the music and overall soundscape. 

Playing the demo at PAX vs. Playing the Beta at Home

After playing the demo at PAX, I signed up and got invited to the closed Beta on Xbox One.  I started out by replaying, and falling in love all over again with the introductory story and battles.  Everything in the game just kind of makes me smile.  Even when surrounded by onlookers ‘patiently’ waiting their turn at PAX, it transported me to a happier place, and I couldn’t wait to get back.

Other than the more difficult to obtain immersion at PAX, there were some other differences – and frankly, advantages — of playing on the show floor.  At the stations, they had these hilariously large arcade-style levers to end each turn.  It really felt like a visceral experience to pull the giant lever and watch the destruction you had just doled out — so much so, that simply holding ‘Y’ at home was a bit shallow of an experience for me.  

As I mentioned above, it boils down to a turn-based-strategy fighting game.  At PAX, a lot of my fun stemmed from figuring out what strategies I should be using, or which weapon and hero was good against which enemy.  My second time through the easier levels at home in the beta, it certainly lost some small bit of its luster because I could employ the most base strategies and easily coast through beginning levels.  Of course, this is somewhat to be expected; early levels don’t usually garner the most replayability.  Even so, I still laughed my way through the experience due to scenes like this…

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Space Shuttle covered in graffiti crashing into a castle as a getaway vehicle? Check.

Hilarity Ensues

The plot of the game can be epically brutal and equally hilarious.  The protagonist’s son dies by way of a HUGE stomping purple foot on his house within minutes of beginning the demo/beta experience (worth noting, the game is not-yet-rated).  Nearly after, the narrator calls out the “Stupid look on his face.”  Breaking the fourth wall, the protagonist spews his adorable, nonsense speech back at the narrator.  It’s a pleasant way to induce humor as well as keeping the game extremely light because the player doesn’t really need to pay attention to paragraphs of conversation.

Pit People employs great hilarity through juxtaposition; for instance, a space shuttle lands in a burning castle and extracts medieval style warriors.  Another prime example is the entrance of the ‘speckled horseman’, a character that rides in on a giraffe, floating by balloon power, and wielding dual SMGs.  As if that wasn’t enough artistic ingenuity, there are even more cartoon-feeling and black and white cut scenes, which serve to break up any monotony that could possibly have existed.

Pit people employs great hilarity through juxtaposition…a space shuttle lands in a burning castle and extracts medieval style warriors

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The speckled horseman rides!

Gameplay

Fast-paced turn-based combat is actually a pretty apt description for the gameplay in Pit People.  Essentially, the players turn is made up of selecting each character and positioning them in a way that best serves your next attack.  Characters can move a certain distance across hexagonal spaces.  When the player is done positioning characters, a video sequence shows the result of the actions taken.

Each character engages in a battle sequence with a random enemy in their strike distance – the player doesn’t get to choose which enemy.  After the opposition takes its turn doing the same process, it’s back on the player’s shoulders to strategically position their characters.  Naturally, some characters are more offensively minded and well-equipped against certain enemies, while others have defensive ‘bonuses’ like shields.  Some have range attacks while others need to be positioned in the hexagon adjacent to an enemy.

Learning System

The gameplay in the beta and demo employs a fantastic learning system.  By giving strategy hints during in-game chatter and smack talk between the characters, Pit People slips in a well-paced and contextual learning system.  I found that there was near perfect timing of what and when I learned something.  There wasn’t too much information all at once, and importantly, the new features or moves were immediately usable for max destruction and fun (like throwing axes at your enemies).

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The humor is maintained in basic teaching moments like pointing out the health meter.

To give even more aid to novices that have no idea how to fight dual-SMG-wielding baddies in a post-apocalyptic wonderland, Pit People includes on-screen thumbs-up and thumbs-down indicators for which battles a player might actually be able to win or not.  This will probably help folks avoid frustration when they are still just learning.  An interesting wrinkle that I mentioned earlier is that the player decides where to place their fighter, but the actual enemy they engage is randomized.  Clearly there’s some luck involved, but the fact that this was happening was pretty clear, so players shouldn’t be frustrated by that.

Even after progressing to having just a few fighters on my side in our battles, I felt the tug to continue just to see how far they could take the fights.  Each character has some strengths and weaknesses of course, and the game even does a good job of alerting the player about these more detailed facets of the gameplay and strategy.  Without playing for hours and hours, this feels like an easy-to-pickup game that could maintain interest for quite some time.

I haven’t spent too much time personalizing characters, but it seems there’s a robust system for doing so; the customization options seem well thought out and of course, pretty damn funny.  It’s also nice to see the inclusion of music choices in-game as well.  

Music and other Goodies

Flat out, the music is just fantastic, and I can’t emphasize that enough.  Sometimes country western, sometimes electroswing, sometimes loungy walking baselines, sometimes retro 8bit gaming jams, but yet it somehow all tells the same story and is just incredible to play along with.  Delightfully, there’s even an 8bit mode which allows the player to transform everything on-screen to look like they’re playing on an old-timey screen.

Sometimes country western, sometimes electroswing, sometimes loungy walking baselines, sometimes retro 8bit gaming jams, but yet it somehow all tells the same story and is just incredible to play along with.

This video uploaded by The Behemoth to YouTube includes some older graphics and is missing some of the updates, but you can get a sense of the soundscape by watching the first 20 minutes – if you want spoilers, that is.

I also absolutely have to mention the narrator and writers for this game again.  The dry, witty humor is perfect for the style of the game and I legitimately want to keep playing just to hear the narrator hurl insults and witticisms all day long.  Will Stamper was also the narrator for Battleblock Theater, and it’s pretty obvious why people are stoked for his return.  

Final Thoughts

Overall, I seriously can’t wait to the buy the crap out of this game.  I’d buy a children’s book narrated by Will Stamper and I’d buy a soundtrack for my life that was coordinated to Pit People’s.  I’m a little amped.  That said, it’s possible that the gameplay itself could get repetitive, depending on the variety of settings, obstacles, enemies and warriors.  But the customization of the characters and the super high quality of everything surrounding gameplay would probably extend most players’ time with Pit People.

If you’re down for some slightly irreverent but always hilarious storylines that are well past bordering preposterous, prepare yourself for Pit People. 

If you have the chance to check out the beta, do it.  Otherwise, if you’re down for some slightly irreverent but always hilarious storylines that are well past bordering preposterous, prepare yourself for Pit People.

TL;DR:

Pit People is invigorating.  It’s easy to pick up, nearly impossible not to fall for, and just plain fun.  The learning systems make the already-easy-to-understand gameplay good for both gamers and novices, while the overall look and feel of the game is likely to appeal to a wide audience if given the shot.  Give it a whirl; I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Gameplay Design Worth Advocating For:

  • Learning systems that are super well-integrated with both the plot, gameplay, and overall style (humor, in this case) of the game.  Tutorial moments should be contextual so they actually make sense, timely so you don’t immediately forget them, and they might as well be fun and include an actual in-game action. 
  • Enemy strength feedback in this type of game is a nice add-on that we could get behind in other games.  Other RPG type games have this feedback as well, but the simplicity of Pit People’s version is nice.  Players probably don’t have to heed the warnings all that closely in the beginning, but it’ll be interesting to see how important this is as the game gets more complex. 
  • Immersion that is built on a well thought out and integrated environment.  This comes from the overall style of the game working together, from the narrator to the music to the writing and gameplay.  Well done Pit People and The Behemoth.  This is the secret sauce.
  • Music & Narration worth writing home about.  Whether it be a great talent reading a script/writing music or a good set of ears listening for hot tracks to bring atmosphere to a game, this is such a critical piece of development that’s often overlooked.

Recommendations Based on the Beta:

  • Recommended for fans of this genre?

100% Yes – No reason to think fans of the genre or of The Behemoth in general wouldn’t go crazy for Pit People.

  • Recommended for non-fans of this genre?

Yep – I think the low barrier to entry and the extremely light and humorous nature of Pit People lends itself to a wide appeal.

  • Recommended for non-gamers?

Give it a shot – I think this is legitimately worth a shot for those who don’t call themselves gamers.  I could see the humor and style being a bit much for some people, but I would certainly point my own non-gamer friends in Pit People’s direction.

Semi-arbitrary score: N/A for a beta

-tom

tom is a games, media, and tech enthusiast working as a user researcher.  He studied psychology and has worked in industry for years both as a games and apps researcher and loves writing about what inspires him in games and technology.  

 

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