Devader, the twin-stick bullet-hell shooter from Switzerland

Amusement arcades may be comparatively small in number these days, but the spirit of classic coin-op games lives on in modern indie titles like Geometry Wars and Resogun. Devader is cut from a similar cloth: its twin-stick action harks back to arcade classics like Robotron: 2084 and Defender, but its tower defence elements provide an additional layer of strategy, even as its psychedelic visuals dazzle the eye.

Devader’s the work of Marc Breuer, a freelance software engineer from Baar, Switzerland. Better known as Falkenbrew, Breuer began work on Devader back in December 2015, and he’s spent the past three years creating his bullet-hell shooter. As you’d expect from an arcade game, the concept’s quite simple, even if the flow of the action doesn’t seem obvious from a static screenshot. Cast as a heavily-armed robot called the Devader, it’s your job to defend your base – depicted as a pile of hexagonal columns, like Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway – from advancing waves of fast-moving and aggressive aliens. Allow the aliens past you, and they’ll nibble away at your pile of columns – and you can probably guess what will happen if you let the invaders gulp down the last bit of your precious base.

To even the odds, you can equip a variety of exotic weapons, while gun turrets can be placed around the screen to help break up the enemy ranks. Figuring out which weapons work best against which enemies is, Breuer says, a key part of the game.

“By choosing different upgrades, the game plays out differently,” Breuer tells us. “So not only does it change the Devader, but also what enemies you will encounter and which bosses you will have to face. This means that your decisions can make your life better or harder and you won’t have to rely on luck to give you the right weapons at the right time.”

The sheer number and variety of enemies we’ve seen in Devader so far is rather mind-boggling.

Although Devader might sound like a relatively self-contained project for a solo developer, the sheer range of enemies Breuer has created is quite staggering. In a few minutes’ footage you’ll see tiny scuttling robot spiders, scores of glowing, angry amoeba, and colossal, shadowy bosses that look like they’ve slithered up from the bottom of the ocean.

“I’ve possibly gone a little overboard for a one-man studio,” Breuer admits. “It’s a one-room game – I guess you could compare it to movies like Cube. This freed me from actual level creation, so my main focus was on mechanics and enemy design. The final game will have 25 unique bosses, five difficulty levels, and 12 special endings.”
Where most indie developers tend to go for Unity, Unreal or GameMaker these days, Breuer made Devader in Google Chrome with HTML5, WebGL and JavaScript. It’s a setup that Breuer praises for its speed – “Google’s done an amazing job here, and I would never have continued working on the job if they hadn’t,” he says. He adds, though, that development on Devader hasn’t been without its challenges – partly due to the sheer number of alien monsters he has whizzing around.

Not all the bosses are huge. These swarming baddies are deliberately modelled on fidget spinners, Breuer tells us.

“In spite of all the improvements, JavaScript isn’t exactly known to be the fastest technology,” Breuer says. “I also have a huge amount of enemies on screen at the same time. I also use a lot of alpha blending, something that everyone tells you not to use if you read up on it online, but I think it looks nicer. Maybe with more knowledge on my part I’d find better solutions, but I’m learning on the job.”

Making Devader may have been a learning process, but Breuer hasn’t faced the task entirely by himself. Taking his work in progress to events like Gamescom and GDC has given him some much-needed motivation, while a handful of collaborators, among them Austrian musician Mathias Binder and artist Rosen Simeonov, have helped lighten the creative load a little. Mostly, though, it’s been a process of refining and honing for Breuer. “I’ve never stopped making improvements,” he says. “To be honest, it’s just playing the game thousands of times and watching people play at events. It’s going in the right direction, but it’s tough as a one-man team.”

Visually and aurally, at least, the process of refinement is clearly paying off. The action’s fast and colourful, and the huge, shadowy bosses are true stand-out: some are as large as the screen, and range from crawling, insectoid things to what can only be described as spinning octopuses from hell. And while Devader’s development is almost finished – it’s currently scheduled for release in March 2019 for PC, Mac and Linux – Breuer still has a few nightmarish abominations left to create. “I’ve not completed all the bosses yet,” Breuer says. “I still have at least four more to go… and a lot more to tweak.

Are you a solo developer working on a game you want to share with Wireframe? If you’d like to have your project featured in these pages, get in touch with us at wfmag.cc/hello

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