Game dev postmortem: Backstabber Hero (part 1)

Niklas Berg
Sep 16 · 4 min read

Games that inspired Backstabber Hero

This year’s js13k game development competition has come to an end. For those who don’t know, js13k is a yearly competition to create an HTML5-based game for a given theme and with a maximum total size of 13,312 bytes, including assets. I’ve decided to write a two-parter post-mortem from the development of my contribution. This first part is inspiration behind the game and the second one will have technical focus.

Cover art for Backstabber Hero. No one probably noticed, but the skin tones of all enemies and the hero itself is randomized and updated when a level starts. I was thinking of representation but you don’t want to point out a group of people as a back-stabbers nor make a game about backstabbing people with certain skin colors. I ended up wasting too much time on a randomizer to solve this. :-)

When the theme for this year’s js13k competition (“back”) was announced, my first thought was “backstabber.” I’m a sucker for pixel art games, and in particular NES-looking retro games (I know I’m not alone) and wanted to do something inline with that. Three NES favorites have been my main inspiration: Metal Gear, Kid Icarus and Rush n’ attack.

An enemy that walks back and forth and occasionally turns, with the inspiration to the right.

Kid Icarus was maybe surprisingly my first source of inspiration. To be more specific, I thought about the reaper enemies which I had a love/hate relationship with as a kid. The reapers walk back and forth on platforms and seem quite harmless. However, when they get their eyes on you, they call for additional enemies at the same time as they goes bananas themselves. I was always fascinated by them, but they were hard (and I was never any good at Kid Icarus). The core mechanics of the enemies in Backstabber Hero mimic this behavior. If they see you it’s over, forcing you to always attack from the back. Some enemies even copy the occasional turn behavior of the reapers.

The sleeping enemies in Backstabber Hero have countdown until they wake up. Even if it’s the opposite in Metal Gear, this exact enemy is the inspiration for the sleepers in my game.

Metal Gear was the first stealth game I encountered, and it really sucked me in with its great narrative and exploratory adventure in a mature setting. As the protagonist Solid Snake you routinely sneak up behind enemies and take them out to be able to progress unnoticed. Bullets are rare and without a silencer you would draw attention. I wanted to recreate the feeling of taking down an entire area without ever being noticed. The first encounter in Metal Gear is a sleeping soldier, which was brought into my game as a possible enemy behavior.

The Backstabber Hero doesn’t hesitate to stab when needed. The “stab pose” is inspired from Rush n’ Attack. In fact I think the actual knife is a pixel perfect copy, you don’t get that much creativity for a 5x3 pixel sized object…

Rush n’ attack (Green beret) isn’t the kind of game I usually enjoy. It’s kind of a linear runner where you defeat your enemies by stabbing them. It’s just that in Rush n’ attack the stabbing is so surprisingly satisfying. The sound, animation, and one-stab kills almost feel physical. I wanted to reproduce this feeling in Backstabber Hero and studied the gameplay to identify what I thought was so captivating.

Are you my father?

I obviously added some more modern features like no life count and stars to collect for completionists. I wanted the character itself to be a shady person sneaking around (tried my best with the animation). Perhaps an unexpected source of inspiration is the zapper game Gumshoe.

So there you are. The mix of this, the limitations of my imagination, and 13kb resulted in Backstabber Hero. It may seem pretentious to write an article based on a 13kb game I developed during a month. However, not even small ideas come from nowhere. By studying and revisiting my sources of inspiration I’m certain that the end result became a far greater game than it would have been if I didn’t.

It you haven’t played the games listed above you should. At least all but Gumshoe.

Links:
Backstabber Hero at js13kgames.com
Source code at github

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