One thing that I’ve learned about myself (maybe a bit later in my life than expected), is that I have an addictive personality. Which is why when I finished my time with Below the Stone I turned to the director, artist, and producer of the game and said “This thing will need to come with a warning label.”
Oh, and to clarify: that wasn’t to three separate people, that was to one guy: Mike Strollart.
Below the Stone is marketed simply as a “Dwarven Mining Game”, and indeed, reduced to its core that’s precisely what it is. More specifically, it’s a procedurally generated spelunking game that involves a ton of digging, retrieving treasures, saving townspeople, and unlocking the mysteries of the vast caverns beneath your feet.
As I played through the demo, I asked Mike what some of his influences were in putting the game together. Turning the tables on me, he asked me to share what it reminded me of. Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past was actually the first thing that jumped out, as well as the more recent Steamworld Dig franchise. Mike agreed, adding in Terraria and Enter the Gungeon as a couple others.
When it comes to asking developers about the process of creating video games, I’m always reminded of what Alx Preston told me years ago when referring to his work on Hyper Light Drifter: “Video games are fuckin’ crazy to make.” Aware of the dozens of ways things can go wrong during game development, I asked Mike an element of the game that was particularly challenging.
“Creating unique environments.” He explained: “I’m planning on creating 50 different biomes. As you enter different areas, I want the creatures you encounter to be completely different. I don’t want it to be like those games where you go from fighting a green slime to a blue slime to a red slime.”
As I was familiarizing myself with the controls, I realized that indeed, there was a lot of room to dig and explore! Striking segments of the wall with exposed ore often yielded some precious metals, and right away I felt the constraint of limited inventory space. I discovered a blacksmith that was locked away below, and having secured a safe exit for him, he promised me his support.
Lo an behold upon returning to town, the same blacksmith was able to craft ingots of iron and copper for me so that I could improve my pickaxe! I also made a snazzy looking helmet that I was very proud of. The crafting system in Below the Stone is very simple, but the sound design and feel is great.
Equipped with a new pickaxe, I began to delve deeper, working towards an open cavern I spotted on my mini-map. It was at this point, conveniently, that Mike shared a bit more about the rogue like aspects of the game. “We put a bank into the game for a reason. It allows you to store extra items you don’t need – because if you die, everything that was on you is lost.”
He seemed to share this information with me gleefully as I fled from a pack of monsters looking to eat me for dinner. I kept yelling “No, not my helmet!”
But alas, I was struck down.
Yet, I had spent my entire block with this game – putting Turbo Overkill on the back-burner to properly explore this pixelated wonderland.
Overall, Below the Stone was one of the best games I got to try at PAX East 2022, and I’m happy to shine a light on it as it enters Early Access and works towards its proper, full release.
Many thanks to Mike Strollart and Apogee entertainment for the opportunity to connect!