Today we sit down with Das Humankapital, a team of 2 Indie Developers from Austria. Together they created their first hit Atomic Butcher back in 2004, after a coding spree that consisted of 3 days and 3 nights. 10 years later after over 500,000 downloads, they decided to team up again and founded the company Das Humankapital to bring us a sequel, Atomic Butcher: Homo Metabolicus. This game is about destruction, mayhem, and the state of western society..also peeing your enemies to death. In this post-apocalyptic, exploitation-styled platformer/twinstick-shooter you play the role of the eponymous “Atomic Butcher”, a crazed mutant stalking the ruins for fresh meat, driven by an insatiable hunger – he is the perfect weapon of mass digestion!
SGR – What was the motivation to go with a post-apocalyptic level design? More importantly let’s talk about the Atomic Butcher, what’s his story, his drive and the need to pee on everything?
Roland – The decision to choose a post-apocalyptic setting was made way back when we developed the original “Atomic Butcher” game in 2004. Player character, setting and their respective development was very interwoven. Everything started with 20-year old David and me locking us for a few days in David’s parent’s basement and trying to code a simple platformer. We gave precisely zero thought to gameplay or setting, just “let’s make a platformer”. We decided to start out with a weapon for the player that was similar to the default weapon of Quake 2 (we both were huge Quake fans): A “blaster” with an orange-yellow particle trail behind projectiles. Due to a small bug the particles were influenced by gravity and it sorta ended up looking like a yellow particle stream came out of the player in a ballistic curve…sure enough, we thought that looked like he was peeing and were tremendously amused by that. So that was the seed for everything else to come – we decided, alright, he’s gonna pee as default weapon, which our juvenile selves found hilarious. So, what kind of character could do such a thing? Obviously some sort of mutant with special peeing powers and a superhuman bladder…probably not a very smart mutant too, because it’s such a vulgar thing to do. Lack of intelligence and impulse control (he is pissing everywhere, after all) led us to imagine him as someone with an immense hunger. The hunger was kind of a stand-in for a desire for instant gratification, cause he needs to act on all his urges immediately. Among many others, 2 games we were playing at the time particularly influenced our further course: Postal 2 and Fallout – Fallout 1 & 2 that is, the only games deserving of the Fallout name . Postal 2 because of its anarchic humor and, well, the pissing of course and Fallout for the post-apocalyptic setting and the role of mutants in it. And that is how we eventually came up with a gorey game with off-beat humor about a meat-hungry mutant who pisses on things in a post-apocalyptic setting. The Atomic Butcher himself has real no origin story – he just is, he’s a force of nature basically. Ok, it was hinted at in the original 2004 game that he used to live with other humans in an underground “bunker” akin to the Vaults from Fallout. Somehow he mutated, started to eat all the meat and pee on people and therefore was kicked out under the pretense that he should find more food for the people in the bunker. Shortly after that, he forgot what he was actually supposed to do (he really isn’t very smart, you see) and just started to wreak havoc in the wastelands. But yeah, that’s about it when it comes to back story.
Before “Homo Metabolicus” starts, the Butcher has been spending some years underground again, munching his way through all the tasty meat he found in a bio-tech lab, upon which he stumbled at the end of the 2004 game. Again, this was a reference to Fallout 1 – there was organic matter growing everywhere, like in the Master’s lair at the end of that game. For the Butcher, that was great – he could munch on all the organic goo for years. The stuff he ate there caused him to mutate even further (explaining why he looks a lot less human-like than in the first game) and eventually, none of the organic matter is left in the lab. So his meat-finding instincts are driving him back towards the surface, where in the meantime legends have formed around the destructive exploits of the one they call the “Atomic Butcher”…
SGR – With Atomic Butcher: Homo Metabolicus being a sequel to the original Atomic Butcher that you and your partner created in 2004, what new tactics or points of interest did you employ to grab current and new audiences members?
Roland – We decided from the very beginning that gameplay should be a lot more dynamic and fast-paced than in the original, more akin to the feel of modern indie games like “Super Meat Boy” or “Hotline Miami“. We also wanted to focus on the “physicality” of the Butcher a lot more and make his body more of a weapon – first and foremost his pissing powers, obviously. Everybody we talked to who played the 2004 game remembered one thing before everything else: That it was that game were you could pee. We found that funny, since it was actually not such an important part of the game – 95% of the time you were using very standard weapons like shotguns and assault rifles and the peeing wasn’t really used in any important mechanics and level design elements. What that told us however is, that this is obviously something that stood out and we should focus on – it ended up becoming a source of game mechanics and design even. We started to think “What else can you do with pee?” so we integrated pee-based physics puzzles, were you have to use wind to piss around edges, if you catch fire you can extinguish yourself with pee, it is not a good idea to piss on sources of electricity and all such stuff…The role of traditional weapons took a bit of a back set to that in the new game, but they are still there as more of power-ups, simply because we thought it was cool and also wanted the Player to shoot stuff ^^
The Butcher is also just a lot faster and nimble than in the original game – he can run faster, slide on the floor and use slopes to accelerate himself into enemies, he can do a dash-attack to destroy enemies “Super Mario“-style, he can do double (and with power-ups even triple and quad) jumps and has some more bodily abilities he can use as weapons…there is a vomit attack and of course the “poop jump” special ability. So yeah, we decided to really go all the way with the gross-out factor, which was still more subtle in the original. From the feedback we get now, it seems to be the case that people sometimes think AB:HM is kind of a “novelty game” about peeing and pooping alone with nothing else behind it and then they are surprised by the depth of the game mechanics and the design when they play it. Not sure we did ourselves a favor there, but in any case you can bet we had a lot of fun during the design process .
SGR – How did you and Das Humankapital feel after the initial success of Atomic Butcher? Did you ever dream that you would be making a second one? After playing through a bit of Atomic Butcher as well as Atomic Butcher: Homo Metabolicus, the differences are remarkable. How has your experience been developing the two? Any major changes in how you guys approached the latter title?
Roland – We didn’t expect much from the original game and really just did it for ourselves. Making games was something we just kinda…did back then, going back to when were around 13 years . So we were pleasantly surprised by the success of it of course. We also in hindsight thought “hm, maybe we should have sold it after all instead of giving it away for free?” but oh well…at least more people played it that way, I guess ^^ But yeah, already after a relatively short time we felt like we should do a “proper” sequel where we could use everything we learned from part 1. We started multiple times with Atomic Butcher 2 over the course of the following 8 years…with little success, for various reasons. When we made the original game, we were in that sweet spot when we just started studying, didn’t have many responsibilities and a lot of time. Circumstances never were so relaxed ever after again. Then, we also both moved to different places – when we made the original game we already started studying but still spent a lot of time in both our hometown of Schärding, so that also made it easier back then. I think it was mainly 2 factors that allowed us to finish the sequel after all: First, we are both living in the same city again and second, the availability of Unity3D. Most of our prior attempts didn’t even get out of the “let’s build an engine and a level editor first” phase.
The experiences were certainly different – first of all, we both have been working as software developers for some years by now, so we obviously had a lot more technical experience this time around. But also, this time we wanted to make a commercial product – so at least in the final phase of development, things were a lot more…tense than the first time around . Development of the first game really was just something we did for fun without any stress, just for us and a few of our close friends. This time around, we had some serious crunch time and especially in the end I think it is safe to say it took a strain on both of us. Nonetheless, we regret nothing and are very pleased with the end result :).
One thing that should be mentioned maybe is how the graphical style of the new game came to be: We started out developing prototypes only with placeholder graphics in the attempt to find an artist interested in working with us. For free. How naive we were…so after development already was long underway, we still had no graphics artist and it became clear we also wouldn’t get one, without shelling out some serious cash, which we didn’t have. So eventually I just said, fuck that, I’m gonna draw stuff myself…I also made the graphics for part 1 and did dabble around drawing comics and such as a teen. Also, I played around with Deluxe Paint on my brother’s Amiga as a kid . So I eventually taught myself pixel art, read tutorials and after some practice discovered that I could kinda, sorta do it…so that was a big relief, that experience that we actually can do everything we need now to finish the game on our own. That was the point when I really knew we would get it done this time around.
Oh, and then there’s the soundtrack…this time, we had immense luck that a friend of ours, who has many friends in the local metal scene, pointed us in the direction of a member of Austrian metal band “Locus Neminis”, Franz Enkner. Franz always wanted to make music for a computer game, so that was perfect. At some point he sent us a few sample tracks and said we can have them for free…I was completely blown away when I heard that, I never expected we could have that kind of soundtrack for Atomic Butcher! So big thanks again to Franz Enkner and Xarious Neminis from Locus Neminis. Check out their band if you are into metal!
Also, well…I really don’t wanna sound like one of those pretentious indie game developers worshiping their own farts, but this time around, a lot more well, let’s say “subtext” has found its way in the game. There is a certain “anti-consumerist” attitude in the game, using the Butcher’s hunger and vulgarity as a symbol for need to fill the holes in our souls with material stuff and just making the world an ugly place in the process of doing so, things like that. That wasn’t planned, it just kinda happens that parts of your own worldview influence the final product when you work on something for so long… The whole post-apocalyptic setting – we tried to approach that in a more “abstract” way, it’s not so much about a realistic scenario of what would happen after the nukes fall, but more like – what would happen if we take certain modern-day trends to the apocalyptic conclusions in a satiric exaggerated way? “Apocalypse” after all means “lifting of the veil”, so maybe it’s not so much about what exactly happened, but more about what you see afterwards…There’s more in the game than meets the eye at first, but I won’t spoil it further . I don’t like it if people over-explain the stuff they make anyways.
SGR- The gameplay I have seen looked amazing, with some really good attention to detail among the different levels, you mentioned the birth of the Atomic Butcher started from a 3 day stint of coding. With how much work you put into this game i’m curious, how many days and nights did you spend on this project?
Roland – Thank you 🙂 Woah, that is not so easy to answer…we didn’t really keep track . What I can say is that we started throwing around first ideas for “AB:HM” end of 2012, seriously began working on the prototype around January 2013 and worked more or less steadily ever since whenever we could find the time. It surely were over a hundred days and nights over those last almost 4 years . Especially with having to code, design and draw everything the work load increased enormously. I really can’t give you a more precise answer than … “a lot” .
SGR – What future endeavors can we expect to see from Das Humankapital? Maybe a third installment within the Atomic Butcher series?
Roland – Right now, we are just happy it’s over (well, kinda, there’s still some updates planned for the next months . Keep an eye out for achievements and a speedrun mode we have planned!) Also, marketing and trying to get some kind of coverage turns out to be a lot of work and harder to do than expected. Currently we are still very unknown and we really need the exposure…but I am optimistic. At the moment, we don’t have any specific plans for further projects, but I am sure eventually we’ll come up with something. Whatever the future holds, I don’t think there will be more Atomic Butcher on the horizon, I feel motivated to do something completely different now…but then again, never say never !
The Atomic Butcher: Homo Metabolicus released on October 21, 2016 and is available on Steam at this link. Below is the announcement trailer with some gorey gameplay! Stay tune for SGR’s Indie Game Spotlight Playthrough of it coming soon!