Old School Gamer Magazine chats with “Cargo Cult” creator Ryan Kwok, to find out how “Mad Max” and pod racing lended themselves to one of the most intriguing survival horror games on the indie scene today. Powered by sinister retro visuals, it’s a game OSGM is extremely excited about.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How was this game born?
Ryan Kwok: As most games, Cargo Cult began as a mess of rectangles. I was finishing my final year of college while working on a project I called Rat Blasters between classes, but was unsatisfied because it felt too similar to other top-down shooters. Around the same time, I bought a new version of Gamemaker and couldn’t figure out how to easily port Rat Blasters, so to learn the ropes I started a new project that would later become Cargo Cult. By the time I graduated, I had a prototype featuring little rectangles with legs that moved in the same, thrashing movements as the Cargo Cultists of today.
Click Here to Play the Demo.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Why are survival horror games still important?
Kwok: To simulate every zombie apocalypse and alien invasion scenario imaginable so that when the time comes, we’ll be prepared!
Old School Gamer Magazine: How do you improve upon and play with the formula?
Kwok: Cargo Cult looks sinister, and terrible things happen in its world. But there’s a few things I think that are different than what people expect from the survival horror genre. For example, the player doesn’t embody any single character, there’s most of an emphasis on combat than stealth and flight, no jump scares, and enemies wield guns. This game will feel more like a roguelite, shoot-em-up, or radial shooter than a survival horror.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What inspired the visuals?
Kwok: As soon as I got the prototype working and saw those little rectangles with legs wiggle for the first time, I knew the characters of this universe would be wild. Their movements were creepy and jerky so I designed the cultists around that. I also gave them metal claws because they’d be clinging to the sides of rockets. I’d like to think it’s like they chose their own design, since the physics system gave them an emergent personality.
For the game world I was aiming for a cross between Mad Max and pod racing. My biggest inspiration though, at least in the beginning, was the artwork of Fernando Faria.
The overall aesthetic of the game is spooky and dark yet colorful, I think that stems from my own visual art’s style.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What was development like?
Kwok: Impulsive, rewarding, and such a pleasure! I’m in my prime as a developer, any further down this path and I’ll probably be answering to someone, either a boss or a target demographic. I think maybe I’ll reminisce longingly of these days, so I’m trying to make the best of them.
When I first started working on Cargo Cult it was a lot more tedious, because I was building up the lower-level systems. I spent a sizable chunk of time trying to get those rectangles with legs to walk in a certain direction. But since I built that part I can reuse it and focus on the larger picture, now I can create cultists with any number of limbs of varying thickness and length. I’ve hit a sweet spot where I can make significant changes to the game world with a couple lines of code, and the feeling is very liberating.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What makes this game special?
Kwok: I think what draws people to Cargo Cult is its unbridled ridiculousness. You can leap from your ship to an enemy’s, dismantle their thrusters, and before it crashes harpoon yourself back to the safety of your own vehicle. You can impale your prey with a giant fork and throw them towards an opposing faction to create a distraction, all while steering your ship with the other hand(s). You can even do all of that as a giant maggot, if that’s how you roll.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What games influenced this one the most?
Kwok: Cargo Cult was mostly inspired by FTL: Faster Than Light’s crew management and ship systems, but I wanted to make something that was more freeform and less controlled. So instead of fixed ship layouts, you can build your ship up from parts you find in the waste world and put the pieces anywhere on your ship to create your own layout.
It also drew influences from Nuclear Throne in terms of theme, pacing, and gunplay. A key difference is that in Cargo Cult, mutations drastically change the appearance of your character in addition to granting abilities.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Kwok: Something fun happened pretty recently, actually! On the game’s Twitter, the subject of pigeons was just kind of organically brought up. Someone followed up with a joke asking when I’d implement mutant cyborg barbarian pigeons into Cargo Cult. So I told them, “Next update!”, and instantly started working on it. It turned out better than I anticipated, and the next day when I posted a video of the pigeons the community loved it! It was absurd to see flying pigeons piloting a flying vehicle, but fitting since most of Cargo Cult is absurd anyway.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new games is important?
Kwok: I think experimentation is more important. A lot of devs try to play it safe and emulate proven mechanics that players are familiar with, but I think that tends to stifle innovation. Of course, I’m guilty of that too. But since I don’t have anyone to disappoint like those bigger names do, I’m a little more eager take a risk when the opportunity comes along.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s your favorite memory as a gamer?
Kwok: There’s so many to choose from, but here are my favorite two:
In the beginning of Halo 3’s “Crow’s Nest” level, my brother and I made a game out of trying to team-kill as many human NPCs as possible, and then attempting to survive the entire base’s retaliation. I don’t think we ever succeeded.
The only time I ever played for an achievement was for Half Life 2’s Little Rocket Man in which you are vaguely instructed to “send a gnome to outer space.” I found the garden gnome in the first map and decided to hold onto it until an opportunity arose to send it up. I had no idea what I was about to get myself into. I carried him through headcrab infestations and antlion attacks and actually grew pretty attached to him. Near the end of the game there was a room with a rocket and an open hatchet, and I was so sure that was his moment so I said a heartfelt goodbye, dropped him in and watched that rocket launch. But I never got the achievement! To this day I still don’t know how to do it.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Who will enjoy this game the most?
Kwok: Do you like to drive with the windows down? Have you ever felt cynical about the future, and then reassured yourself that “A.I. will fix it”? Have you ever dreamt about commandeering a hovercraft in a post-apocalyptic wasteland? Then this game might just be made for you.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Bottom Line, why must someone play this game?
Kwok: Cargo Cult is a grim and grotesque world. It explores themes that I find interesting and I hope others do too; undertones of intolerance leading to the destruction of humankind, the potential dangers of a society that worships technology (guilty as charged), the future of artificial intelligence, and an increasingly futile pursuit of a dream. But, if that doesn’t sound like your thing, that’s okay! It’s not a game intended for everyone.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How do you want this game to be remembered?
Kwok: If my game could inspire someone, as other indie games have inspired me, I would feel like my time was well spent.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s next?
Kwok: Unfortunately because I’ve graduated recently and need to eat, I’ll most likely be looking for a “career job” after I finish Cargo Cult. But who knows? If the game does well enough to support me making another game, that’d be the best case scenario. At that point I’d either make a sequel, or start working on an idea I have for a game about playing as a parasite on a giant’s body.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Anything else you’d like to add?
Kwok: I just want to thank everyone that has supported my game in subtle ways, especially the Twitter community. I couldn’t have made it this far without their encouragement.
Also, stay tuned for an upcoming Kickstarter campaign, where I’ll be releasing an early access version of the Cargo Cult. If you like what you see about this game and want to help make it a reality, follow on the social medias for the announcement!
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the author of the book, “The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Video Game Developers,” from McFarland And Company. Featuring interviews with the creators of 36 popular video games–including Deus Ex, NHLPA 93, Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, Wasteland and NBA Jam–the book gives a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of some of the most influential and iconic (and sometimes forgotten) games of all time. Recounting endless hours of painstaking development, the challenges of working with mega-publishers and the uncertainties of public reception, the interviewees reveal the creative processes that produced some of gaming’s classic titles.