Below the Stone Preview
Below the Stone is an action roguelike from developer Strollart and publisher Apogee Entertainment that sees players taking enterprising dwarves into the depths below the Dwarven Kingdom to bring back riches to help the kingdom’s growth. As part of PAX Online, RPGamer was given the opportunity to talk to Strollart’s Michael Carrol and Apogee Entertainment’s Scott Miller to learn more about the game and its development.
Each trip underground features its own procedurally-generated cave system with its own biomes and creatures, before players return to the hub area in the Dwarven Kingdom. In the hub area, players collect missions, craft, or store any valuable treasure attained. Strollart aims to both push and pull players into investigating the caves. On the push side, players will have a minimum objective that they must complete before they can return to the surface with all of their goodies, while the pull comes from the promise of the chance of getting more and better treasure the further they go.
Dwarves who die lose all the items they were holding, but all the treasure and items that have been stored are available for new characters. Being sensible with storing items this way lets players build up to important runs later, such as when they decide time is right to take on a layer’s boss. There will also be some permanent progression as players unlock new layers in the depths by defeating the bosses. Crafting will also play a role in this; for example, there may be an area filled with lava that players aren’t able to cross until they craft an item that allows them to do so using resources gathered from previous areas. Players can also add new NPCs to the hub area by rescuing them from the caves, which in turn give players more crafting and trading options. Each biome is intended to have its own environmental threat or unique creature.
The dwarf’s abilities are determined by their current items, with Michael drawing comparisons to Terraria, with abilities, magic, etc. locked to particular items rather than being part of the character itself. This lets players be flexible in their builds, with a couple of potential example being a paladin-esque warrior that can heal themselves in an emergency, or a wizard that uses a crossbow. Players can also utilise tools in combat, such a grappling hook that lets players fling themselves through enemies swinging their axe as they go. With players controlling a drawf underground, it’s a given that some mining will take place. Resources are spawned around the caves and players can gather materials such as tin, iron, platinum, magical ores, etc., which players can bring back to the Dwarven Kingdom to create items to use in future runs.
Below the Stone is initially planned to ship with five layers, with Strollart estimating that each layer will offer players a minimum of five-to-ten hours worth of content, though there will be much more if players want to go out of their way to explore everything they can. Each layer itself will have twelve to fifteen different biomes with their own resources, giving players lots to find. The game’s lore makes sense of a rotating player character as the dwarves treating the Dwarven Kingdom itself as the higher power. Helping to progress the kingdom is a great honour even if it requires ultimate personal sacrifice, which also leads to a bit of dark humour. Players will also be able to find extra lore within various artifacts found throughout the game.
Strollart has previously run a Kickstarter campaign for Below the Stone, though while it didn’t meet its goal, the developer has considered it a success because of what has come after in generating interest from both potential partners and fans. Michael offered an amusing tale about how the studio came to work with Apogee. Following the Kickstarter, Apogee repeatedly tried to get in touch with Strollart, which ended up being inundated and having to shut out most of the attempts. However, Apogee’s persistence ultimately paid off, with Scott stating that the publisher was very excited by its potential — with it likely being the first title signed to label — as well as how it reminded him of his earlier Kroz series.
Below the Stone has a fun-looking art style, with Enter the Gungeon, Nuclear Throne, and Terraria cited as some of its inspirations. The game actually started with Michael simply creating some art for a hypothetical game, sending it the lead programmer Andrew Leonard, and seeing if he wanted to make a game based on the art. The team behind the game is made up of just three people, with the other member being composer Karam Bharj, who endeared himself to Michael and Andrew with his passion and interest in what the game had to offer players.
Below the Stone is planned for release on PC and consoles. There are definite plans to provide additional updates to the game once it is released, including new levels, biomes, crafting options, and more. Both the developer and publisher are also exploring the possibility of including some form of co-op in the game. Partly in order to satisfy the clamouring fans gained in the first attempt, Strollart and Apgoee will be embarking on a second Kickstarter campaign, which will launch at the end of August, with an Early Access version planned for mid-2022.