Although Trinity Fusion was soft launched on Steam Early Access in April this year, it’s not being hard launched until 15 December 2023 when it finally gets a Version 1.0 update, and when it officially comes out for the PC, XBox and PlayStation consoles. And whilst the game has been in development by Angry Mob Games for over 4 years, it’s already getting “Very Positive” reviews on Steam – with players such as P4ndr stating that the game is “genuinely an under-appreciated gem“.
In my interview with Craig Hauser (Level Designer, Angry Mob Games), I was able to speak to him about Trinity Fusion, and was also able to ask him about his role on Angry Mob Games’ upcoming rogue-lite action platformer, as well as how people can get a foothold within the games industry. Enjoy!
How long have you worked for Angry Mob Games, and what is your everyday job when it comes to working on Trinity Fusion?
Well, I’ve been with the company for a couple of years now. I was a Community Manager for their previous game, Brawlout. It was a platform fighter similar to Super Smash Bros. And then when they began work on Trinity Fusion, I was brought on to the team as a Level and Combat Designer.
So what I do daily is that I either prototype or grey-box levels. I set up enemies in formations that are challenging to find, but not unfair. I do a lot of prototyping for weapons, tweaking how each of these weapons feel, tweaking the feedback on enemy animations, attacks… that kind of thing. There’s a lot of stuff that I do to the point where it’s just easier to say what I don’t do. I don’t do the art, and I don’t do the sound design and programming. But everything else, I have some sort of hand in.
How would you describe Trinity Fusion to people who have never heard of the game?
Trinity Fusion is a narrative focused rogue-lite, where the only way to save the multiverse is to end it. So the basic pitch is that the multiverse is man-made and it’s falling apart. And you are one of the last remaining people who has an account in each universe and you are psychically linked with each of them. And you are working to fuse the various branches of the multiverse back into one. So rather than being a rogue-lite where you play the game over and over and over again, just in the hopes of getting a little bit further… We have a set of universes that have their own set of levels, that have their own enemies in them, that have their own gameplay mechanics. And the idea is you have a specific goal, which is to reach the end of each one of those. And you can sort of criss-cross between them as well. So rather than you start at the beginning, and then you play through to the end, it’s more along the lines of you choose your route through the multiverse to get to your current objective. So rather than just one long gauntlet, it’s figure out your route, plan your route, and take it. And when you’re done with that, the next story objective comes up, and you have to ask yourself “Where do I go from here?”
How many levels did you design?
All of them…
How many levels do you intend to have in the final version of the game?
We want to have about 16.
And how long would it take for the average player to complete the game?
Right now, for the Early Access build, I’m seeing around 3-7 hours for a brand new player.
So would 5 hours be a good average?
I think 5 would be a good average, or at the very least it is the median.
So would you say that 7 or 8 hours would be a good average for the 16 levels?
I think so… I think that’s about right. It’s hard to estimate considering that I can play through the game very quickly. Because I’ve had so much of a hand in it, and I’ve been playing it for the last 3.5 years.
So the game has been in development for 3.5 years?
It’s been in development for about 4 years. I’ve been on it for about 3.5…
Just out of curiosity… On the one hand, a lot of people don’t really play games for longer than say, half an hour to an hour. And then on the flip side, they’re more than happy to spend £40 to £60 on a game. Given the fact that a lot of people don’t get beyond the first half an hour to an hour of the game, yet people still expect a lot of content for their £40 to £60. In what way do you think that dichotomy serves the developer / publisher of the game? I mean, you’ve obviously spent time working on the levels, and fully intend to work on 16 levels in total. But the vast majority of people who buy your game aren’t going to fully experience the 16 levels in their entirety, and will probably only experience 2. How does that make you feel, bearing in mind that so much of your effort will be overlooked, and will be potentially wasted as well?
I’m personally not too worried about it because…
Because you’re getting paid?
No… Because I’m very much the same way. I very rarely finish a game. I think the last game that I finished was Hi-Fi Rush, and the only reason that I finished it was because I basically played the entire thing on the plane. And I just played it on my Steam deck… I think that it’s not something that I am personally worried about. What I am personally worried about is that, and I’m going to be very generous with this estimate, the 15% of players that do make it to the end, I want to make sure that the ending is satisfying to them, so that they are glad that they stuck it out to the end. Players bounce off on games very quickly. It happens a lot. It happens to me. So I’m not worried about players not making it to the end. What I am worried about is letting down the players that do make it to the end…
Even though the full game doesn’t come out until the end of this year, what plans do you have in terms of post-release content and DLC patches?
I can’t really talk about that right now.
What are your hopes and fears for the game?
Hopes? Honestly, just getting it out on time. I’m actually really happy because leading up to Early Access, I was extremely worried. I’m very nitpicky when it comes to the tiny little details. When a player looks at the game, they don’t see it all. I’m like, “that doesn’t work, that looks a little bit off, and that’s a bit broken.” And then the players go in, and it’s like we’re sitting at something like 85% positive reviews in Early Access. And I’m like, “Oh, yeah, we made something fun actually.” So I just hope that train keeps going. Everyone wants a hit. I just want to be able to make another game. To have a game that has a good enough reception, that gets wide enough visibility, and that we get to do it again.
What are your fears?
That the game flops, and we don’t get to do another one. I don’t know… I mean, there’s plenty of good games that just don’t sell, you know what I mean? It’s like, there’s always that fear. What if no one buys it?
How many people have worked on the game?
10 people total have worked on the game.
The games market is incredibly congested, and you’re releasing Trinity Fusion towards the end of this year when all the big publishers release their big hitters. What steps are you taking to ensure that the game doesn’t fall through the cracks, and manages to get the necessary visibility that’s required on release?
Well, one of the nice thing is that I think that the biggest hitters are all hitting right about now. So you’ve had Starfield, you’ve had Baldur’s Gate… Tears of the Kingdom came out earlier this year. So December, surprisingly, is actually looking to be not too super-saturated with AAA games. So we’re not worried about being lost in the news cycle. But I don’t know if there’s a perfect time, or a best time to launch your game. There’s never a best time…
How long have you been in industry for?
A little over 4 years.
So for someone like yourself who’s been in the industry for 4 years, what are the biggest lessons that you’ve learned during your time in the games industry that you’d like to pass on to other people who are probably looking to follow in your footsteps, or who probably also want to be level designers like yourself?
The first thing that you need to learn is that everything is going to take much longer than you expect. And that almost nothing is going to look or feel right until you’re getting close to the end. For example, I’ll be making the levels and I’ll create sort of this “feel”, this sort of architectural language to it… Heights of rooms, slices of platforms, etc. And then the art team will go in and finish up. They’ll do their art paths. And while they’re doing that, any unique mechanics that are in this level are being worked on by the programmers. And any of the enemies that are supposed to be in this level are still being tweaked by the animator, and all that stuff… Everything feels unfinished and broken until like everybody finally finishes everything they were working on and it comes together. So for the longest time, you’re going to be working on a project, especially if you’re working in a group, you’re going to be working on a project and you’re going to be like, “This isn’t done, this isn’t ready, this is going to be this, this just isn’t going to work.” And then when everyone’s finally done with all their individual tasks that go into that one product, it’s just like, “Oh, this is good actually.” It’s this feeling when everything finally comes together. And the problem is, it takes a long time to get to that point. And so for the longest time, you’re just going to be looking at the project and thinking, “This is unfinished. We can’t ship this.”
Have you ever had any doubts in terms of your own ability to be able to craft good levels?
Oh yes, constantly. Impostor syndrome is absolutely a thing. I remember prototyping one of the boss fights that is coming in a future update. And at one point, I made an offhand comment about like, “Yeah, no, no, he’s doing the animations for my terrible boss.” And then someone just goes, “It’s not a terrible boss. We’re doing the animations because it’s actually kind of good.” You know what I mean? You get this hyper-critical feeling towards yourself. And also you’re looking at what everyone else around you is capable of doing. And you’re like, “But I can only do this.” But then you look at the programmers, and it’s just like, yes, you don’t want the programmers doing art. You don’t want the programmers doing level design generally. So you sit in your little bubble, and you look at all the cool stuff that everyone else is doing, and you get this impostor syndrome. Absolutely…
Any last words?
Is that a threat (laughs)?
No, no… It’s just that I can’t think of anything else…
I know. I was just joking. You were asking about how someone can get into the industry… It’s hard. I would say there’s no good way into it. Just start making things and get seen, I guess. I mean, that’s all you really have to do. I remember when I would ask people in the industry as to how to get into the game industry, and they all basically said, “Just start making stuff.” It doesn’t matter what it is. Just start making things. Because someone’s going to see that and want it.
Do you think qualifications like Computer Science degrees and stuff are still as valid now?
No, I have a Fine Arts degree. I put myself through college for six years, and absolutely nobody has cared. The only thing they care about is your portfolio, and what you have been able to do. They don’t care about your degrees. They just want to see as to whether you have a work ethic… Because game design and programming and all these other things, they are a series of very interesting problems, and they’re almost always a unique problem that no-one else has actually ever had to solve before. Because in designing this thing, you’ve created this problem for yourself, so you have to figure out a way. Do you know what I mean? So it’s all about your work history, and your ability to actually be able to problem solve and build or create a thing. They don’t care about whether or not you have a degree. They care about problems and solutions. “Here’s the problem. Do you have a solution for that? Can you come up with a solution for that? Do you have a history of being able to come up with a solution to that?”
That’s why whenever anyone asks as to how to get into the game industry, it’s like, “You either make a game or you just start making things.” You know what I mean? Tools… Modelling tools… Whatever.
How did you learn your craft?
How did I learn my craft? Making Team Fortress 2 levels for my friends that were all like, silly gimmick levels… A lot of Mario Maker. That’s actually a really good level design tool, and I’m not even lying. And just a lot of studying. It’s important to be able to look at something and figure out how it works. I think that’s actually something that you can get from college, more than anything else and more than a degree, is this critical reasoning, which is being able to break something down into “what does this thing do and how did it get there?”. Do you know what I mean?
You obviously perfected your craft on Mario Maker from a 2d perspective. But from a 3d perspective, you obviously looked at Team Fortress 2. Do you think you’d ever want to maybe try your hand at a Quake style first person shooter? If so, what sort of game would you like to make?
Oh man… So the game that I would like to make is something a little bit more akin to Tribes… So one of the main mechanics of Tribes was that you could ski. The idea was like you would jump down and you would hit an incline and you could press a button and you would just become frictionless. And you could fling yourself and skate around a level. I would want to create a game, maybe not of that scale, but I would like something that has that kind of feel of movement – where the idea is you want to keep your momentum up as you’re skating around the level and as you’re fighting all these enemies.
That’s like the early Quake games…
Oh, yes… I love Quake III Arena. I also played so much of Quake Champions as well. That’s like my kind of FPS game, so that’s probably what I would do. It’s just something with a lot of kinetic momentum and also a skill based way of maintaining that momentum. Because I think that’s something that a lot of games just sort of do a little bit. When something like moving around really fast is a little too easy, it becomes less special, and it becomes a little bit less fun. There’s no feeling of, “Oh, I’m going to lose my momentum if I don’t do this.” You know, a little bit of mechanical challenge to it… That’s the kind of FPS game that I would want to make.
Thank you so much.