On Deathstate, Pizza Toppings and More
by Michel Corey | published Oct. 20th, 2015
Mike Burns and Peter Lazarski are both employees at the Rochester-based game studio Workinman Interactive and contributors to the Mac and PC game Deathstate, which is set to be released October 20. Deathstate is a "rogue-like bullet-hell single-stick shooter set in a bizarre world of dimensional exploration," according to Lazarski.. We interviewed Burns and Lazarski about their contributions to this particularly insane game and covered some hard-hitting questions everyone is curious about, along with some random tangents that are just too good not to share.
What is the object of this game?
Peter Lazarski: You're a character who's sort of trapped in this abyss between worlds and you're trying your best to find out what's going on or trying to solve who opened up this portal or began this weird, supernatural event that's taking place, but the majority of the game happens with you traveling to other planes and dimensions while fighting skeletons, aliens, things like that. It's very supernatural but also has kind of an acute feel sometimes.
Your typical bullet hell game is usually a forced scrolling shooter where you're a ship or a little person flying around dodging bullets. One of the main reasons people play them is because of the challenge, but it's also memorizable so you learn through multiple plays, like, death and trying again. So, with it being a rogue-like game, you don't necessarily have the reliability of memorizing every situation because situations are always going to be different. You might not run into the same combination of enemies. It's more about knowing maybe what can happen and then trying to judge and snap.
Mike Burns: It's an easy to learn, difficult to master kind of thing because the mechanic is consistent throughout the gameplay too. Once you kind of get it down in the beginning, then it's just building on that through each play-through, so I think based on that you pick it up pretty quickly once you understand how it works. Then it's just about figuring out the different behaviors of enemies and the different balancing of items. It isn't all presented all at once, so you can kind of ease into it.
PL: Yeah, you start off your play with only one ability that's tied to your character and then as you go you'll get more items or spell books, like a sword that flies around behind you or a golden idol.
MB: There's a lot of appeal for long-term gameplay too because while it is starting with very little, each thing that adds on kind of changes everything in a way.
What is one main thing that you each contributed to this?
MB: Personally, I'm usually a developer and I did do some stuff in terms of development, but for this game I actually made a couple of music tracks. Pete Johnson is usually the sound guy and he does all of the sound effects and tracks, but I just thought I would try to throw a couple in and it ended up kind of appealing. I definitely think it helps add a lot of atmosphere.
PL: Both Mike and Pete have done a lot as far as the music tone of the game. 90 percent of the music is composed with a sound blaster sound set. We were thinking if we were going for this kind of updated, retro look, let's actually go for an authentic sound too.
What is your favorite pizza and why?
MB: Buffalo chicken, probably because nobody else ever wants buffalo chicken pizza.
PL: Or just like pineapple pizza, it's just so tasty.
MB: Well, I like pineapple pizza.
PL: I like smelly food, probably onion, green pepper, mushrooms. If I were to get pizza from anywhere and be super happy it would be O'skuggnitzzos. If you spell it out the way it would sound it's like that, but it's pronounced "oh-skuh-neets," and they do some of the best sauce-on-top tomato pie I've had.
MB: There was a place in my hometown where I was growing up, PT's Pizza. That is the best pizza. There will not be a better pizza, and I've tried, I've looked.
PL: (laughs) There was this place we always used to get pizza from called Jockey Joe's in Syracuse, and it was like, the best pizza. Then it closed and my mom was talking to someone and it came up casually in conversation and they told her, "Oh yeah, that place got busted because it was a marijuana front."
What is your favorite part of the game?
PL: It sounds corny but the actual death state of the character which is sort of where the name came from. You're floating around in the abyss or some projection place. You're not physically there, your sort of thought form is there, and when you die you get sent back to the library, which is sort of like your starting place. You're trapped inside this magic library. You're not physically there but your projection gets sent back and it's a really violent, energetic thing, so you're being forcibly removed or banished from somewhere when you die. You're standing there and you get struck by lightning and your body explodes and stuff.
MB: The different names and the kind of lore behind everything. It gives us a sense of depth and that there's something more there.
PL: It looks like a game where if you found it in 1996 it would have haunted your parents computer and given you some weird VHS nightmares.
MB: Right, like you would just find some floppy disc somewhere in an abandoned building.
PL: Yeah, marked "DEATHSTATE: DO NOT PLAY" (laughs).
Who are you voting for this presidential election?
PL: I'm probably going to go left no matter what. Donald Trump is fun to watch, but he's a comedian more than anything else.
MB: Yeah, he certainly is. I'm leaning towards Sanders right now but we'll see how everything plays out when it does. Still have a lot of time for people to make statements, so I'll be listening.
PL: Yeah, (laughs), pizza in hand.
What would be your favorite part about being dog for a day?
MB: Being able to just not have the stresses of life and the things I need to worry about. If I had a human brain in a dog's body I would probably still worry about that kind of thing, but I've always sort of envied dogs and deer. They're just being in every moment and I feel like there's something kind of zen to that.
PL: Yeah, and you could sniff everybody's butt and get away with it.
Any final comments? PSAs?
PL: I just hope people check it out and enjoy it. This is a game that if I had found it when I was 13 I probably would have pooped my pants.
MB: Yeah, that's the dream, to make a game that you've always wanted or always thought, "Man, that would be so cool." It's that kind of genre that's kind of nerdy and maybe some people are like "Ehh, I don't get it." For the people who do get it, I feel like it's really going to resonate with them.