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The Axis Unseen: A Dive into the Development of a Heavy Metal Horror Game

Nate Purkeypile has told us about the development process of his upcoming project, The Axis Unseen, shared how he came up with the concept of a heavy metal horror game, and how his experience working on titles like Skyrim, Fallout, and Starfield influenced the development of his new game.


My name is Nate Purkeypile and I have been making games for about 19 years now. I have worked for Bethesda Game Studios, Retro Studios, and Terminal Reality.

I've worked on multiple games, including Starfield and Fallout 76 as Lead Artist, and on Fallout 4, Skyrim, Fallout 3, Fallout 3's Point Lookout, and Fallout 3's The Pitt as Lead Artist/Co-Project Lead. I've also worked on other games like Metroid Prime 3, Aeon Flux, and Bloodrayne 2. Additionally, I worked on a game called Demonik, which was featured in the movie Grandma's Boy. Although it was canceled, it lives on through its appearance in the film.

Perks of Being an Indie Developer

It’s nice to just spend the majority of my time making things and not in meetings or trying to build the tech. Using something like Unreal, the tools are largely just there and work. I can focus a lot more on the game. So that is nice. Normally, while building tech and a game, it’s like laying the train tracks for a train you’re already riding on. Also, the train is on fire.

I decided to go the solo indie route because I wanted to just focus on learning new things and making what I wanted to. I also don’t have a ton of time because I have small kids right now, and my schedule is pretty erratic. This way, nobody else is impacted if I need to take time off for whatever random things come up. So, it works well in a lot of ways.

Challenges of Indie Development

The biggest challenge is definitely that nobody just automatically cares about what I’m building. There isn’t a set audience like when I worked at Bethesda. They can just announce something and you can guarantee people will pay attention. The fact that I worked there for 14 years helps me, but still, it’s a lot of work to promote a brand-new IP as a solo dev. 

Balancing Creative and Business Aspects of Game Development

I mostly just try to split up my day a bit. I take care of business and PR stuff either at the start of the day or right around lunch. Having blocks of time that way works well for me, that way I am not constantly distracting myself by answering emails.

As for marketing strategies, I am sort of a believer that you never know what is going to really stick and where, so it’s best to try a lot of different things all over. It’s good to be intentional about it and make it high-quality, but still, you just don’t know. The more things you put out the more likely it is that one of them will take off. Like a random #screenshotsaturday a couple of weeks ago was one of my biggest wishlist days. I just made that post in five minutes while my kids were watching Bluey. I had no idea that would do that well.

The Axis Unseen

Initially, I was going to do a series of prototypes and then build the game I liked the most, but looking at my list, I just knew that this was the one I wanted to make. I really liked the depth and pacing of Hunting Simulators like theHunter: Call of the Wild but when I was playing them, I just couldn’t help but think "This would be so much cooler with monsters." After all, I grew up in the woods thinking about monsters all the time.

Regarding the heavy metal angle, I always felt there weren't enough heavy metal games. Though there are a few, they tend to be a bit more of the "dudes head-banging" kind of thing and really over the top. This game is sort of what pictures come to my mind when I listen to metal.

How Experience on Skyrim, Fallout, and Starfield Influenced The Axis Unseen Development 

I would say that if I didn’t work on titles like that, the idea of doing a massive open-world game would probably have been a horrible idea. It is a lot of work, but if anything, it’s what I know the most. I have shipped so many open-world games it’s sort of what I do. So if someone asks, "Does it scare you to make such a large game with so much art?" Well, not really. I know how to do all that. That’s my jam! I have zero concerns about being able to make all that.

Developing a new IP is a lot of fun because I don’t have to work with existing pre-conceptions. I can just make the game what I think it should be and what makes sense for it. As much as people say they want new things, if it’s within an existing IP, that can be really difficult. If you change too much, it can backfire. It’s nice not having to worry about that.

Implementing AI for the Game's Monsters

This was the first part of the game I implemented. So, there were a lot of challenges in setting up the AI to handle all the different kinds of perceptions and reacting appropriately. For instance, you don’t just track them, they can track you. So the footstep system isn’t just a visual one, they exist as actors that the AI can detect and follow.

Then I just need to make sure they react properly when all the different things happen. Like, what happens if they are tracking your footprints but then smell you? Or if they hear you? It needs to react in a way that makes sense and feels natural. Also, each creature is different, like the giant tree creature doesn’t smell at all. Others might be blind. They all need to work well and react in their own ways.

Upgrading the Player's Senses with the Powers of the Creatures

These cover all the major senses, but broadly speaking they all help you either hunt the creatures more effectively or to access an area you couldn’t otherwise. So, some powers might let you do things like feel tremors when creatures are nearby but then another might let you breathe poisonous air and let you access a region you couldn’t before.

Technically none of them are super complicated, it’s mostly about where you unlock them and what things they gate in the world.

Journals and Drawings Left Behind by Previous Hunters

For these, I am involving some external people to do the drawings and writings. I have a bunch of writers from different backgrounds, that way all the journals have their own style and voice. It’s also something that is relatively easy for me to implement without it being a big distraction while I make the game. I am giving the writers the framework and rules for the world and letting them tell their own stories.

I think this adds to the world by being a natural extension of what is already there. These journals don’t exist to tell you where to pick up a red keycard to unlock a door or anything... It’s about world-building.

Collaboration with Clifford Meyer

Working with Clifford Meyer was awesome. When coming up with the game, I thought that the band ISIS had a great style that matched what I was going for. So, I just e-mailed their Bandcamp page on a whim to see if they license music. Turns out, they do, but also Clifford asked if I was looking for anyone to do music for my game and he said he was a fan of Skyrim!

Right from the start he nailed the style and tone I was going for, which is a blend of metal and primitive instruments. Most of the tracks didn’t need to be iterated on that much because he understood what I was trying to make.

Integrating it into the game has been fun, since I made my own system to control when the different tracks play depending on the region, what is going on (combat, unlocking a power, etc.), and other events.

Challenges Behind Preparation for the Game's Steam Release

I think the biggest challenge will be QA. With a game this large and with all the different computer specs people have, that will take a notable chunk of time. It is another one of those things I am somewhat likely to involve external companies on. I can only test so many computers myself.

Gaining Audiences

I tried to make sure my game was a mix of things that I thought had done well but also something distinct. A lot of the style of my game is reminiscent of stuff like Subnautica or Shadow of the Colossus where there is a lot more trust put into the player.

Gameplay-wise though, the hunting genre is one that has done very well but there just aren’t that many games out there that are very good. So, it seemed like a safe bet to me while also being something I wanted to make.

Advice for Aspiring Game Developers

Start smaller than I am. Usually, they tell you to ship something small. I think normally that’s a really good idea. This is pretty far from my first game though, just my first indie game. We’ll see if that was a good idea or not though. You never know until you ship!

Nate's Future Plans

Right now I am finishing up the rest of the creatures for the game. After that, I have to add a lot more locations/polish to the map, and at that point, the whole game is there and in Alpha. So I’m getting closer and closer to shipping it. I have an extensive schedule with a lot of buffers for unknowns in there.

I’ve recently shown a new trailer as part of the Future Games Spring Showcase by Games Radar. That trailer showcases a lot of these new creatures and even some news about when the game comes out! I hope everyone likes it!

If this all sounds cool, don’t forget to wishlist The Axis Unseen on Steam. Each wishlist really helps solo indie devs like me.

Nate Purkeypile, Game Developer

Interview conducted by Ana Kessler

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