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Iconoclasts developer talks making a game that just 'feels right'

January 24, 2018 | By Bryant Francis

Iconoclasts, out this week on Steam, PS4, and PlayStation Vita, is the product of developer Joakim Sandberg, who spent seven years tuning and tweaking the side-scrolling adventure game to his personal taste. The result is a game that's strikingly precise, and one that reflects the passions and interests of its sole developer. 

That's a rare thing in games, which often benefit from being touched by many hands in the course of development. Today on the Gamasutra Twitch channel, we were lucky enough to talk to Sandberg about his influences and the decisions he made producing this game. 

You can watch our full conversation up above, but just in case you're *checks spreadsheet* trying to escape a iron-fisted theocratic government that's angry at you for choosing your own career, you can read some quick highlights down below. 

Building a side-scrolling action game with auto-aim

Most side-scrolling action games, while not relying on precision aiming, do ask players to pay some attention to where they're pointing their gun/otherwise magical item. However, Sandberg told Gamasutra that he was largely interested in creating a game where players could keep moving, so he wanted to give a small degree of auto-aim to players so they wouldn't be stopping to shoot all the time. 

To that end, he explained he designed a cone-centered system that only asked players to be pointing the gun toward the correct 90 degree angle, and as long as they were in range, an auto-aim system would take care of the rest. There's also a fairly limited degree of tools the player picks up in Iconoclasts, since Sandberg said the insane feature creep of some modern games (He jokingly references Batman: Arkham Knight) reduces the impact of what encounters can be meaningful to players. 

Shooters shouldn't have boss battles

Amidst our discussion about the game's many creative boss battles, Sandberg shared his thoughts about what roles a video game "boss" has in modern game design, and how some action-oriented games shouldn't be employing them. Sandberg explained that his game has bosses because he essentially designed his control system around 1 on 1 encounters, not battles against hordes of enemies. He argued that in games where players face hordes of enemies (like shooters, for instance), singular boss encounters tend to slow down the general flow, and thus become less memorable. 

In Sandberg's eyes, action games that currently use bosses as narrative crutches would benefit more from structured setpieces that can either accommodate large amounts of enemies, or are crafted with unique moments that don't occur elsewhere in gameplay. 

Iconoclast's inspiration includes Metroid Fusion and...Monster World IV?

Again, since Iconoclasts is such a personal effort, we thought it was worth talking to Sandberg about his game design inspirations. Broadly, the game does feel reminiscent of the so-called "Metroidvania" genre, but Sandberg points out that the game's linearity and lower emphasis on exploration means it doesn't quite fit in that description. 

One game that Sandberg wanted to call out was Monster World IV for the Sega Mega Drive. It's a side-scrolling action game that manages to build a narrative world out of 2-dimensional space, and since we don't hear that game cited often here at Gamasutra, we figured other developers interested in following in Sandberg's footsteps may want to revisit its structure when studying other games. 

For more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel. 

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