When we started the games section, we knew we wanted to get in touch with developers of all kinds, and one of the first ones we reached out to was Bret Ware of Item42, one of the primary developers of PERISH. In fact, this particular interview is somewhat tied to the birth of Fecking Bahamas’ Games section in general.

We remember it like is was yesterday: originally we were chatting with At Home With Monsters on Discord about the Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater remaster, but at some point, he mentioned he knew a couple guys that were working on games, some of which had only recently been released. This included PERISH, which we had just seen drop on Gamepass. It looked fascinating with its myriad of mythological influences, fast paced challenges, and unique rewards system.

After deciding we were going to go ahead with the new section, we bought the game, and it proved pretty fresh and creative in a what feels like a brewing sea of underworld shooters.

(Bret is also a member of ZILF, the group behind the game’s thunderous OST.)

If you’re looking for a lightning-quick multiplayer FPS that’s altogether different, it’s absolutely worth a shot – imagine Doom meets Powerslave or Painkiller, but with co-op and biblically accurate angels. You can also kick your enemies into giant spikes like in Anger Foot or Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, and you can’t really say enough about that kind of satisfaction. Shortly after the game landed on Gamepass, Bret was kind enough to talk to us about the evolution of PERISH’s development, how being in a band influences his work, pressures in the industry, and how mythology would influence things like characters and level design.

FB: Before we get into PERISH itself, can you give us a quick rundown of how you got involved with video game development? What inspired you to pursue game design?

Bret: My journey into game development was a little wonky; at university I studied a very traditional Philosophy programme rather than anything technology-related, but in my third and final year, when I should have been writing my dissertation, I started playing with Blender and 3DS Max.

I wrote music, articles, short stories, drew sketches of fictional worlds, but never settled on any of them. I then read an interview with Lorne Lanning, creator of the Oddworld franchise. He abandoned his traditional art pathway out of a belief that video games were the perfect amalgamation of all of these disciplines for people like me who needed an outlet for all of these things at once. I was quite taken by his thoughts on videogames so my brother Regan and I started making little shooter projects in the earliest paid-for version of Unreal Engine 4.

FB: Being that the game was developed using Unreal Engine 4, were there any particular reasons for choosing this engine other than practicality?

Bret: Outside of game development, my brother and I have been Unreal specialists for nearly 8 years. It’s the program we know and love, which is part of the reason we never use anything else. We know how to get a lot out of it in a short amount of time. More than anything, we use Unreal because it just works, dangit! There’s nothing worse when you’re trying to rapid-prototype a new project – which is already an expensive and time-consuming process – than hitting up against a technological barrier that prevents you from taking a game or a mechanic in the direction you want to take it.

As an artist, Unreal provides a great balance between expression and technique – I can update scenes in real-time while checking performance against the visual budget. That’s an extremely dry and boring way of saying Unreal engine is hot stuff for artists who just want to get stuck into creating a scene without overthinking technical hurdles early on.

(Item42 teased a content updated called Exodus last year as well.)

FB: What are some of the challenges when it comes to Unreal Engine? Was it difficult to get the game playable on multiple platforms?

Bret: It is so profoundly difficult to get any game working on multiple platforms. It’s frankly an awful experience. I do not recommend it. However, PERISH absolutely needed cross-platform! In the end, we went with Epic’s brilliant Epic Online Services SDK which allows cross-platform communication between different PC clients for indie teams like ourselves who needed to spend more time working on the game rather than months or even years of custom netcode stuff (which I can’t do myself, as an artist – that’s for my brother to figure out!) Alas, PERISH co-op remains siloed for console players for now. Consoles are a bit of a walled garden for indie devs.

FB: I also heard you are in ZILF! PERISH is metal as hell – did being in a heavy band factor into more than just the composition of the game’s music?

Bret: Indeed, I am one half of the guitar and vocals of ZILF, and Joe Campbell-Murray – composer for PERISH – founded the band and is the other half of guitar and vocals. From the start, we wanted to make a soundtrack that wasn’t like this (very awesome) genre of “Argent Metal” – music that sounds like Mick Gordon, basically. We wanted our soundtrack to sound more like how we sound as ZILF, that is, like a live touring band – a bit grungier, messier, more raw and suffused with the anatolian soundscapes and instruments of a more experimental band like Tool. It’s this emphasis on anatolian instrumentation that hopefully helps to present PERISH as a coherent vision, one that is definitely an FPS but rooted less in the trappings of science fiction and more in our crumbling vision of the Greco-Roman underworld.

FB: When did the concept of PERISH initially begin, and with who?

Bret: Regan and I were working on a British tactical shooter idea which was proving to be cumbersome, so we pivoted to this idea I had for a long time – combining my old ancient philosophy studies into a Painkiller meets Left 4 Dead style shooter. It sounds like an absurd combination but from our feedback over a year since release, people totally dig the lore and were surprised by the effort we put into the characters and their backstories.

I like the way FromSoftware’s arguably most narratively coherent game Bloodborne evokes its narrative through passive world exploration and optional NPC interactions. Not only is that narrative style more achievable for an indie team, but it allows us to tell more of a story without wasting weeks and months on mocap and cutscenes.

The design of the temples in the levels is somewhat inspired by a mid-1700s artist called Charles-Louis Clérisseau. He created what is known as “architectural fantasy”, taking licence with classical design forms to create a grand fictional image that is evocative of romantic antiquity.

FB: Despite an air of familiarity, Perish fits uniquely between shooters like Doom and Powerslave, and has a nearly-rogue-lite atmosphere. Did the game design / design pillars pivot at any point or does Perish stick pretty closely to its original concept?

Bret: PERISH changed design quite dramatically from its first instantiation. When we released a prototype demo in 2021, the only level was an enormous platform ascending to the heavens. Each objective completed would raise the platform closer to the vaults of heaven, fighting figures from classical and occult mythology on the way up to Elysium. We then signed with HandyGames and decided that, although the platform was a cool idea, the replay-ability of the level design did not fit with the rogue-ish game design. So we went with a more tried and tested formula, having distinct levels each set in their own fantasy reimagining of various scenes from the Odyssey and Platon’s Myth of Er.

FB: Was it difficult narrowing down what creatures / characters would make an appearance from the chosen mythologies? Were there any characters or scenes that ultimately had to be cut?

Bret: I think in the end we created 24 characters in PERISH, so I think we managed to get almost all the majors and minors that we wanted! Our principle guide was simple: we only wanted to put obscure mythologies in the game. That meant no Gorgons, no Zeus, no Phoenix. Instead, we had kourai khryseai or “golden maidens” and erinyes or “furies/avengers”.

There was one slightly more leftfield creature I never managed to get in, and it’s probably a good thing it never made it into the game because in retrospect it just does not fit with the strict mythology inspiration of the rest of the characters. It was a floating eldritch octopus with candles burning on top of its body. It was a mobile spawning portal for other enemies in the game. It looked fine but it just really did not fit the game at all. I’m glad it’s not in there.

(Can you believe this badass doing a solo run through the realms? We’ve tried it and spoiler-alert: it’s hard as hell.)

FB: What / who were some of your greatest influences during development?

The Arabic/Palestinian music group Le Trio Joubran kept me totally inspired during the whole development of PERISH. They make such evocative instrumentations but the tempo is still fast and uplifting – perfect for a fast-paced FPS rooted in antiquity. In some small way PERISH also pays homage to Gustave Doré. While in no way could it ever match his singular visions of purgatory, some of our setpieces were inspired by his etchings. Several times during development we would also play through Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. This resulted in us naming one of the cards in the buff selector eponymously.

FB: The bosses and level design on display are incredible, and have a uniquely huge feel to them with great transitions. That being said, did those elements create a lot of tricky for development?

Bret: The toughest boss to develop was Karkinos, who in our game is visualised as a hulking crustacean defending the mouth of Charon’s Harbour. Six “inverse-kinematic” legs (basically legs that procedurally move across the landscape rather than animated by hand), two procedurally animated claws – it was a nightmare riddled with bugs until we finally (somewhat) nailed it.

Humanoid bosses were easier to develop, but the final boss again was tricky due to his initial state as the wall of a bell church which transforms into a kind of hulking temple golem. That was a hard transition to animate by hand.

FB: The game’s collectible lore adds a good amount of depth to the experience as well, almost like a single-player experience. Did you have to balance things like lore and setting with the fast paced multiplayer experience?

As two brothers making games, one thing that helps us immensely is that we don’t tread too much on each other’s strengths. My brother could focus on the fast-paced multiplayer experience while I could sit back and write some lore pieces. It’s a very interesting dynamic and it allows us to achieve more than if we were making solo projects. I personally feel that the cinematic story moments and 10,000 words of lore is what I am most proud of about PERISH. It just felt great to flesh out this world that we could have easily left untold and unexplained. Either way, the collectible lore is a nice pace-change to the frantic action.

FB: What would you say is a feature or mechanic in Perish that players likely overlook, if any?

Bret: Daggers and kicking! It’s so easy to forget these two mechanics, but if you bind them to a key you are comfortable with, you can absolutely blast through most of the levels without taking a single hit. It’s a lesson in game design that we should probably learn from, to be fair. We should have given more opportunities than we did to max out on mad leg-kicking and profligate dagger-throwing.

FB: Are you excited / inspired to do more, or are you feeling the pressures of the industry?

We are currently working on a (mostly!) undisclosed project that, although is definitely still an FPS, could not be more different from PERISH if it tried. We are definitely feeling the pressures and pinches of what is a saturated and rocky industry, but one thing that has kept us going on this new project is some brilliant prototype funding from the UK Games Fund, which is a government-backed project that allows us to properly explore and realize the seeds of our new idea before we take it to publishers and see if anyone is interested.

(Man……. we need one of those! Massive thanks to Bret for taking the time to rock out with us on these questions and also to much gratitude to At Home With Monsters / the homeboy Haunt Luma for linking us up. Check out PERISH here – thanks for playing! If you’re looking for more music, check out our Bandcamp compilations here. If you like us, or possibly even love us, donations are appreciated at the Buy Me A Coffee page here.)