I got Black Hive Media on the line to tell us about their upcoming debut on the indie scene: Kova —a Blade Runner-esque Metroidvania that looks like it will give even Samus a run for her money. From what I’ve seen, it’s both beautiful and brutal, offering a unique, crafting-based weapon system, tough-as-nails combat, and an extremely absorptive sci-fi setting with an unnerving synth-punk ambiance. Fans of the cyberpunk aesthetic and sci-fi at large will definitely get a kick out of this platformer, but you should find out for yourself. Here’s what Black Hive’s Blake Lowry had to say about their brainchild, along with images and footage from the game.
Can you tell us a bit about your team and what you do and why you do it?
We’re a small team and have a central office in Austin, Texas. We’re a husband and wife that founded Black Hive ten years ago. There are three of us full-time and a handful of contractors, mostly for consulting work that we bring in. Mandy and I have both been in the industry for a combined 20 years. We do it because we love games. Both of us have had game controllers in our hands since a very early age. I have been an artist since I was old enough to pick up a pencil to draw (mostly Ninja Turtles!). Mandy is our programmer. She’s self-taught and lives and breathes code. Our junior artist and designer, Robert, an ex-Marine, started out as our intern, but being a fast learner with talent, he’s graduated quickly. We feel our areas of expertise lend themselves well to an art form that has captivated us our whole lives.
If you had to describe Kova in just a few sentences, what would you say?
Kova is an atmospheric, 2D, sci-fi Metroidvania that borrows elements from other genres, including shooters and RPGs. Players will control Kova to take missions from multiple factions and along the way discover much more about the world around Kova than she ever bargained for. During her journey, Kova will acquire new skills and abilities to aid her in overcoming classes of enemies as well as complex and high risk platforming situations.
What are some of your favorite cyberpunk books, movies, games, etc?
The “cyberpunk” genre seems to mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but for us it’s generally the theme and specific, accompanying visuals that resonate in a way that is meaningful for us. Obviously, Blade Runner (original and 2049) has inspiration that has spanned generations and quickly became one of our favorites. While not really a “cyberpunk” film, the beginning of the movie Trancers has been a guilty pleasure ever since I saw it five or so years ago. Dark, moody, neon-soaked with a synth-heavy track layered on top. We’re in the camp that likes rain and neon in our cyberpunk, though we understand that is a larger debate amongst cyberpunk fans. While less cyberpunk, but certainly entertaining some themes, the original Terminator was brought up by the team. In terms of games, the Deus Ex series has been one of the better examples to bring the genre to gaming. They have been around since I was in high school. Even Metal Gear Solid, with characters like Raiden that underwent heavy cybernetic enhancement. As of late, pretty much everyone on the team is drooling over Cyberpunk 2077.
How much did titles like those influence the creative process behind Kova?
Oh, it’s huge. We’re of the generation that grew up so heavily with gaming that it likely influenced every part of our creative process more than any other medium. The team is always referencing past games, many more which weren’t even mentioned above, when we’re figuring out how we want to tackle something.
In addition to those titles, newer dark retro wave music and visuals from the likes of Pertubator and Carpenter Brut seemingly penetrated interest and likely influenced some of the overall feel. I think our most played music in the office is probably Pertubator. The team even went to see one of his shows here in Austin.
Why did you decide to make Kova a Metroidvania?
It was actually an evolution over time where we decided that this is a genre we could probably do something cool in. Some of our early prototypes were around procedural generation of enemies and environments, but the further down that hole we went, the more we realized we wanted more control of the experience. After a while, it was clear that what we were actually wanting to make was something related to the Metroidvania genre, even if we aren’t adhering strictly to the standard tropes seen in past games.
We’re also a very 2D-heavy studio, doing 2D art and animation consulting work in addition to our own projects. The Metroidvania genre enables teams like ours to devote time to this style of art, which also helped seal the deal. I mean, who wouldn’t want to make a game featuring a female, gun-wielding badass, blowing away weird otherworldly creatures and enemies in a futuristic setting? It’s an artist’s dream game.
Can you tell us a little bit about the main character, Kova, and her backstory?
Kova is a lone space mercenary with a past that transcends beyond her own memories. Being isolated and with a scrambled, troubled past, she sets aside personal issues and focuses on surviving the here and now. This life of solitude allows her to carefully choose her interactions to survive this harsh reality of aggressive faction politics and an uprising on the horizon.
On the player’s first mission, and Kova’s first interaction with an artifact, portions of her memory that she doesn’t recall suddenly are thrust to the forefront. An unrelenting desire overcomes her to unravel the mystery behind her broken mind. This is a jumping off point for players to discover more about her and the world, universe, around her by way of taking on missions with factions that trickle information.
What about the setting, Triadyne City?
Triadyne City is actually just one of three main settings that players will be exploring. The city is a huge metroplex on a terraformed planet developed solely by the Triadyne Corp, one of the factions in the story. The city is large and spans from a large subterranean area to a bustling “floating” precinct above the main metro area. It is dirty, known for high crime and very financially divided classes of citizens as it’s controlled completely by a private entity.
All that said, that is just one of three planets that Kova will explore as each faction has their own territory.
Can you give us any details about the game’s release date and distribution?
Kova will be releasing on PC and console. The release date has been elusive to us due to the scale of the title, but in general we’ve been taking a “when it’s done” approach. This upcoming winter season is in our crosshairs, though.
Anything else you’d like to relay to our readers?
We do get the question about release date somewhat often, which is a fair question. We want to do it right, so we just ask for patience to those that are eager. Other than that, we’re trying to make something different while also adhering to tropes that we all hold so dear. We really do think Kova is something special, and we can’t wait for people to play. Those that want an early taste, we do plan on having a beta or early access sign-up that we’ll announce some time later in the year. We’re collecting email sign-ups on kovagame.com to be able to communicate to fans when and how this will happen (when we know!)
Personally, I can’t wait until they finish the game, so I can get my hands on it and really dive into its complexities and setting. It sounds like it’s going to shake up the Metroidvania formula in some very interesting ways, and the game’s overall aesthetic is surely something to see. We’ll write more about the platformer as soon as we get to play it. Until then, check out the gameplay below and keep an eye out for updates from Black Hive.