Ahead of Serious Sam 4’s launch (tomorrow!), we had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Daniel Lucic and Damjan Mravunac from developer Croteam. It’s been a long time between drinks for Serious Sam, with the third title in the series released in 2011 and Croteam has said, with Serious Sam 4, it’s turning the series up to 11.
In the interim, Croteam released the narrative puzzle game; The Talos Principle. Lucic and Mravunac told me the team “needed” to develop The Talos Principle. “We’ve been working on Serious Sam games for so long,” Mravunac explained, adding “we needed a new perspective.”
Interestingly, Croteam was developing Serious Sam 4 when it first came up with The Talos Principle. Mravunac explained, “While working on Serious Sam 4 we discovered and implemented some new techniques, some new stuff that eventually became a game of its own; The Talos Principle.
Serious Sam 4
“We loved working on The Talos Principle,” Mravunac told me, “It’s a totally different game than Serious Sam and developing it gave us the time to come up with new ideas and take a rest from the series for a bit.” That rest gave Croteam a fresh perspective on Serious Sam and renewed vigour which it hopes will see Serious Sam 4 be the best in the series.
That being said, it’s still been nine years since Serious Sam 3 and when I ask Lucic and Mravunac what the hell they’ve been doing this whole time, they laugh. “If you remember, we released like five or six VR games,” Mravunac argues with Lucic adding, “We made a Serious Sam VR game and VR ports of the other games in the series.”
“We’ve been upgrading the engine and working on the tech too,” Mravunac says, ” so that should explain the nine-year difference. Although, when I put myself in the fans’ shoes, why the hell was I waiting for nine years?!” Lucic laughs and is quick to follow up that Croteam promises fans won’t have to wait that long for the next Serious Sam. While I’m tempted to dive in deeper and ask about Serious Sam 5, I know better than to waste time asking questions the devs can’t or won’t answer.
So, with Serious Sam 4 in my sights, I ask Lucic and Mravunac about Serious Sam 4’s secret weapon; the Legion System.
“The Legion System is something that allows us to create believable battlefields, Lucic explains, “The point of that system is not that you will actually fight hundreds of thousands of enemies at the same time. Of course, you could try to kill them all. You’re probably not gonna do it, but you could try.”
“The point is that it creates the atmosphere you see in big movies. If you’ve watched Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, you see these huge armies on opposing sides and they’re clashing,” Lucic continues, “that’s what the Legion System aims to achieve.” What’s amazing about The Legion System is its ability to render hundreds of thousands of enemies at once and for players to interact with them. I wondered how much of a hit to performance your system takes while rendering all these enemies, but Mravunac and Lucic assured me it wasn’t much at all.
“The enemies that are really close to you are full 3D and they interact with you but the ones that are kind of far away like sprites. Even though they are real and exist in the world and you can kill those enemies in the distance they’re not rendered in detail. That’s why your hardware performance doesn’t take a hit.”
Croteam wants Serious Sam 4 to be able to “run on a toaster” which is why the Legion System has been designed the way it has. It’s also why Serious Sam 4 doesn’t include any ray-tracing. “We always try to find the sweet spot where we allow people with weaker hardware to run the game just as well as those who have a really powerful PC,” Mravunac says. “Those with a powerful PC get mre eye candy, but we always look to optimise our games in a way that everyone can run it.”
Mravunac tells me that during testing, testers had Serious Sam 4 up and running on a Celeron. “It’s not optimal but it can run,” he says. He attributes the success of Serious Sam running on all sorts of platforms to the “crazy team” of developers. “I don’t know what magic and what drugs they’re taking but they’re all incredible.” These engineers are equally excited about working with Google and the Stadia platform. Serious Sam 4 is coming to PC and is a Stadia exclusive until early 2021 when it will be ported to PS4 and Xbox One.
“We’re always excited about new technology, “Mravunac says, “that’s the reason why we embraced porting the games to consoles, mobile and ultimately VR. Now that streaming games is becoming a reality and becoming mainstream, that’s something that excites us.” I ask Lucic and Mravunac if there’s any chance Serious Sam 4 or any of the previous games could find their way to the Switch.
“It’s a really nice platform, I love it,” Mravunac says, “We’ve ported The Talos Principle, so why not? It’s just a matter of if we have enough time and interest. That’s ultimately what it comes down to.” Lucic adds, “Even though we don’t have anything specific to announce now, anything’s possible. The engine is capable of builds for various platforms, Switch included. If there’s time and interest, I don’t see why not.”
Despite being the fourth title in the series, Serious Sam 4 is actually a prequel to Serious Sam 3 and the writers have created what Lucic calls “an Expendables type story with a much more elaborate story, however, it’s not imposed on players. Players who just want to shoot stuff and go through the levels can do so and they can skip the story. The story actually explains a lot though and it’s really well executed.”
The story in Serious Sam 4 is presented in cutscenes which take place between levels and Mravunac believes it “rounds out the experience.” He tells me, “If you play and try to discover all parts of the story, go on optional side missions etc, you’ll get immersed in the game. It’ll be much more than just shooting aliens.” Shooting aliens makes up the bulk of the gameplay in Serious Sam 4 and Croteam hasn’t really changed the gameplay much, however, there have been some improvements.
“There’s a formula to Serious Sam, “Lucic explains, “We call it dancing with enemies. It’s pretty established and we haven’t changed it for 20 years, we don’t think it needs changing. Ther are certainly some modern shooter improvements but when it comes to the pure brutal action, mayhem and movement, we are keeping it the way it is.”
Unlike similar games, looking at you DOOM Eternal, Serious Sam 4 doesn’t include double jumping or parkour. Instead, Serious Sam 4 is all about balancing your arsenal of weapons, using the correct weapon against the correct enemy and doing it at 60 frames-per-second. Players will be able to discover weapon upgrades and mods and Mravunac says, “enemies you struggle with, in the beginning, will become easy to pass after you find a few upgrades.” He adds that not all enemies will get significantly easier though and players will need to find tactics to defeat those enemies or just get good.
The player’s arsenal and weapon upgrades play into the dancing with enemies formula Croteam uses for Serious Sam. “Weapon upgrades add a flavour to something which has always been part of Serious Sam,” Mravunac says. “Finding the right weapon to use against an enemy is the core of Serious Sam and now we’re expanding on it.
“For example, when you’re early in the game, you’ll fight a huge enemy but it’s only the one. Later, that one huge enemy, which you may have had trouble with, there’s going to be a bunch of them. Players need an option to adapt their playstyle and get something more out of their arsenal.” That being said, Croteam is seeking to make sure the weapon upgrades system is simple. Picking up an attachment could give a weapon more firepower or an alternate fire mode but that’s it. It’s not going to be menus on top of menus or a crafting system. Players can simply pick up an attachment and get killing.
Serious Sam is infamous for the unkillable scorpion Croteam added to pirated versions of previous games. I ask Lucic and Mravunac if they plan on adding something to Serious Sam 4 and they say, “We’ll have something, we always have something.” Lucic tells me that the scorpion was so popular that the team had requests from players to add it into the game for those who purchased it. “Eventually we did and there are speedruns with the invincible scorpion chasing you. It brings a smile to our face,” Mravunac says.
“It’s fun,” he adds, “That’s the point of it. It’s not going to save us from being victims of piracy because eventually everything goes away but it gives us a chance to have a laugh with the players and that’s kind of cool.”
At launch, players will be able to play single-player and co-op though Croteam is considering adding multiplayer later. “Sam is going to offer some crazy fights and it’s going to keep you on the edge of your seat. We’re focusing on single-player and co-op for launch but we’ve done internal research on multiplayer. What happens after launch, we’ll see,” Mravunac tells me. And when it comes to next-gen, Croteam isn’t giving any specifics away though Lucic and Mravunac expect Serious Sam 4 to launch on all major platforms.
“The engine is capable of doing it and we have the crazy drug addicted programmers. Seriously, these guys are really wizards who can port to any system in a matter of weeks. We can’t promise anything but we’ll see what happens,” Lucic says.
For now, Serious Sam 4 will launch on PC and Stadia tomorrow, September 24, 2020.
Thanks to Daniel Lucic & Damjan Mravunac for their time.