Indie Game of the Week: Basement brings drugs, corruption, and joy

After the clean lines and straight-laced legality of last month’s drug sim Big Pharma, it’s time to get a bit dirtier with Belarus-based developer Halfbus. Basement has you donning a Walter White-esque yellow boiler suit, and managing a drug-dealing subterranean world to strategically construct your own illicit empire.

“It was the first real-world Ludum gathering in Minsk, which we organised in a cosy Techspace,” explains programmer Alexander Degtyarev regarding the game’s origins. “We got the theme ‘beneath the surface’ and interpreted it in a figurative meaning as something illegal and criminal. We started developing that idea and with our love for hardcore strategy games we ended up with the Basement concept. I could mention XCOM, FTL and Evil Genius as the closest references and inspiration for us.” The Ludum Dare version, created in only two days, was so successful that the team decided to take the time to craft a full game – and doubled its original Kickstarter goal in November, ensuring a 2015 release.

Producing and selling a raft of illegal narcotics is the basic goal, and you start out with only a few rooms where you need to organise ingredients and sell to consumers directly. As your nefarious profits grow your premises get bigger too, and you’ll be upgrading your rooms from mere growboxes up to hash ranches and then, finally, hydroponic plants of marijuana-producing badness. As you start to expand as a company, as well as watching your pixelated underground world evolve with satisfaction, you’ll need to take on staff and start sending drugs out across the city map in trucks.

Inevitably, as things get more profitable and you expand your lair, problems start to arise. Drug sales from trucks will unsurprisingly prick up the ears of local law enforcement, so you can expect regular inspections of your premises. Interestingly, you can try bribing the cops with cash, or donuts (mmmm… ), or try hiding your activities under new buildings such as shops and churches. If things get too hairy you can even set up traps or security to attempt to slap away the long hand of the law.

Plus, if worrying about the legality of it all wasn’t enough to give you a stomach ulcer, it seems that danger can come from inside your own drug-addled empire too. “Fires are one of the random events that can happen in your basement,” says Degtyarev. “It can happen due to carelessness, or be a sabotage planned by a worker who didn’t get his salary at the end of the week. There are also lots of other random events that effect demand: prices, police, gang raids and so on.” Halfbus is also planning quests for when you fancy heading outside for some vitamin D… that isn’t being used for growing class C drugs.

The soundtrack plays a big role in Basement: dark, gritty electronica beats away menacingly in the background, and the team at Halfbus is passionate about its music choices. The original version was scored by a friend, but the new Basement utilises the talent of Australian composer Matt Mclean. “Our artist and programmer are both musicians, and they have a very strong vision about Basement’s soundscape,” explains Degtyarev.

“A few months ago we met Matt, who perfectly understands that vision, has great works in his portfolio, and loves Basement. We decided to work with him closely to produce a deep, atmospheric soundtrack that will make Basement more catchy. Music in a strategy game really matters, and it heavily improves the whole experience.”

When it comes to feedback on the game since the original, there has been plenty of praise for the rich strategy involved and excitement around the new build. However, it’s not been plain sailing for Halfbus in its home country. “I need to mention that we’re from Belarus, which is a mostly Russian-speaking country,” says Degtyarev.

“The American and European gaming community met us warmly and we’ve had lots of positive feedback, lots of suggestions and offers of help. People don’t hesitate to share words about our game, discuss it, and thank us. In the Russian-speaking community we’ve had lots of negative feedback, blame and wishes to fail.

“Their point was that we’ve crossed the line of morality, that making a game about drugs is wrong and that we don’t show good examples. But we always mentioned that there is no winner in the game; you’ll be constantly facing the inevitability of punishment.”

There’s no doubting that this dances along ethical lines with its narcotics-based subject matter. But if a moody electronic score and a suitably grimy pixelated style is your drug of choice, Basement looks like it can sort you right out.

Want more Indie Games of the Week? Here's how Clandestine warms up the cold war. And here's how you live with wolves in Shelter 2.