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Hedon

Hedon is a retro-styled "boomercore" first person shooter running on the GZDoom Engine. It is designed, developed and published by a single person known as "Zan", who is coincidentally bearing the same name as the game's protagonist.

Development started in October 21, 2016 and the game was first released in March 21, 2019 on IndieDB and itch.io as a freeware version followed by a commercial release on Steam in May 16, 2019. Hedon was only released on PC, on Windows and Linux. It initially started off as a total conversion mod for Doom, but due to changes in the GZDoom Engine's license combined with the fact that it no longer required a base Doom wad file to run with, it became one of the first commercial titles to run on GZDoom.

The budget of the first chapter was non existent, the entire asset list of the game being built from scratch by the author himself, with less than 2000 USD later gathered through Patreon support and invested into the soundtrack, voice acting and box art.

Gameplay-wise, Hedon expands the formula of a classic FPS game with puzzle elements and exploration as well as a focus on story telling and atmosphere building.

Development & Setting

The game takes place in a fantasy setting mainly split between the overground and the underground (the latter also being known as "Hedon"). The world itself was designed many years before the game would enter development - initially by Zan (author) alone and later in collaboration with iamfailtacular, the creator of one of the most important characters in the game - Abhaoth.

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Overworld map sketch indicating the position of the Green Wall and Iron Division's (I.D.) mountain. August, 2015

The Early Iron Division

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Sexy pin-up/concept of the Lancer, representing one of the six castes of the Iron Division. August, 2016

Perhaps one of the most important elements of the game's setting, the Iron Division is a faction of amazonian Orcs and Goblins that constitute the main focus of the story in Hedon. Initially designed as just a series of sexy pieces of artwork/pin-ups featuring six castes/classes showing different outfits, weapons and abilities, the Iron Division ended up being the very cornerstone of the game's development in October, 2016.

The Iron Division was also designed along with their stronghold, Valc, built inside a mountain chain bearing the same name and surrounded by a dense forest known as "The Green Wall." This plays an essential role in the setting as almost all the action of the first chapter takes place underground, around Valc and its outskirts.

Zan's Evolution

Another important component that led to Hedon's development, Zan is an original character created in 2009 by the author who ended up adopting her name across different internet boards and communities. As a character, Zan went through various design stages culminating with her appearance as the protagonist of the game.

Crystal Fantasy

Although Hedon is built upon classic fantasy elements, there are notable original spins ranging from the eerie underground areas to the characters that populate them. Most importantly, the world is influenced by Magical Crystals of various properties and characteristics that are able to shape both the environment (through factors such as light, temperature, magnetic fields, energy etc.) and the technological advancement of those who use them. The Crystal Heart is very often mentioned, being the core of the Iron Division's culture and technology and representing a sacred place which all Orcs and Goblins are sworn to preserve.

The Demon Menace

Beneath the lowest layers of the underground world lie the Pits of Hell. Demons are an ever-present menace, growing in power as they subvert factions and corrupt entire civilizations, all of this culminating with devastating invasions. They come under different shapes and sizes and have plenty of servants to do their bidding, turning them into the highest threat towards both the over and underground worlds.

The Iron Division's Resolve

The action of the game takes place five weeks after the Iron Division and their Earthborn allies (a coalition of Dwarves and Minotaurs) set off into a long Campaign against the Demons with the main objective of defeating them once and for all. The campaign involves the great majority of Orcs and Goblins, leaving only few behind to tend to Valc - completely unaware that their secret invasion plans have been compromised.

Plot

Chapter One

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Zan wakes up battered in a mine cavern with no memory of how she ended there or what happened prior to that. She soon enough finds out that she is inside a mining outpost of the Iron Division, relatively close to her home town, Valc. The outpost seems mysteriously deserted and affected by a series of short earthquakes and invading Crawlers, causing cave-ins and other trouble. As she finally leaves the outpost, the protagonist discovers its inhabitants massacred outside the entrance. Upon finding a certain dead Reaver, she reads a note mentioning a woman swiftly appearing and killing everyone before they could draw their weapons, and leaving behind strange pentagrams from which Cultists began to appear. At the same time, a strange shadowy figure seems to be looming over Zan, luring her towards Valc.

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Outside the mining outpost, all the Iron Division inhabitants have been slain by a mysterious force. In the sky, an ominous dark figure can be seen floating away towards mountain Valc.

After fighting numerous Cultists throughout the Green Wall forest, the Halfblood manages to enter Valc through a secret tunnel and finds herself in the main Plaza area. All the citizens and fighters left in reserve have been massacred by the invading Cultists which took them unprepared by spawning through pentagrams spread all around the town. At this point, the protagonist understands how grave the situation is, especially as she finds notes from a surviving Reaver, Tiati, mentioning an extremely powerful Elven Warlock leading the invasion and presumably intending to break into the Crystal Heart. As a sworn warrior of the Iron Division, Zan cannot allow the secrets of Crystal Technology to fall into the wrong hands, thus she sets off to stop this Warlock.
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Tiati, the first living member of the Iron Division encountered, is locked behind reinforced glass. She feels uneasy to see Zan in Valc, knowing she was supposed to be away with the rest of the Orcs in the campaign against Demons.

Her second stop inside Valc is the Barracks, where she hopes to regroup with any defenders and fight the invaders back. However, she finds out that she is too late and the Bear Warriors stationed there have already set off to protect the Crystal Heart under the command of Captain Dura, the mining outpost foreman who happened to be in Valc at the time the invasion began. As she is about to leave the Barracks, Zan finds a note from Tiati, addressing her directly and instructing her to use the portal inside the Forge to quickly reach the lower part of Valc and subsequently the Crystal Heart. Tiati also appears to be confused about Zan's presence in Valc, asking whether she wasn't supposed to be away with the Iron Division Campaign.

Heading towards the Forge through a ventilation shaft, the protagonist passes out from exhaustion and has visions of a battle between the Orcs and the Demons before a dark citadel, where she is unable to move because she is held in place by a dark figure - Abhaoth - a name that she suddenly remembers but is unsure of who it belongs to.

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The Grove portal surrounded by dark corruption. The sludge grows during the level, assimilating nearby ground and vegetation. Three pseudo-hearts parasite the nearby clusters of power crystals, hampering down the portal's activation.

The warrior wakes up the following day and reaches the Forge. Tiati is waiting for her in the portal chamber but she is locked in by the Cultists and once again, Zan finds herself being too late and unable to catch up with the survivors. She reads a new note telling her that her only hope of getting to the Crystal Heart now lies with another portal located in Valc's Grove. After crafting a mithril gear by herself, she blows up a path back into the Plaza and heads to fix the park gate leading to the Grove.

Here is where she uncovers a strange organism corrupting the portal she needs to use. After a massive fight with a last ditch effort from the Cultists to stop her, she activates the portal but much to her confusion, she gets spit back into the Grove, except now there is no sign of corruption, nor battle.

Rot. 509, Day 241

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Abhaoth shows Zan a projection of Nithriel, the leader behind Valc's swift invasion. She explains her reasons and that she had received help from inside to bypass the anti-magic ward, allowing her to summon her entire army in and take everyone by surprise.

Moving on, Zan realizes she is no longer in the real world. After returning to a dream version of the mining outpost, she finds a projection of herself lying in the cave where her adventure began, and as soon as she touches her body, Abhaoth finally contacts her directly. In an attempt to recover Zan's memories, she shows her the grim fate of the Iron Division campaign, explaining that the Demons corrupted the Forge Elementals, causing them to turn against the Orcs and their allies, destroying their siege weaponry and disabling their supply lines. Left surrounded before the Sin Citadel, the Division warriors lasted for a week before being starved out and overwhelmed. Abhaoth proceeds to explain that Zan's demonic blood is the key to defeat the Demons and that she is very important both to the Orcs and to herself.

She then tells her about Nithriel, the Elf warlock who appears to have launched the invasion with help from inside Valc, which was otherwise protected against large scale magic attacks with special crystal wards. Abhaoth shows her a mysterious Disk Artifact and asks her to stop Nithriel from obtaining it at all costs, while also mentioning Tiati's lack of trust towards Zan. However, just as she finishes explaining what happened, Nithriel senses her presence and attempts to sever her connection to the halfblood's mind, all of this culminating with a first boss fight between Zan and a giant projection of the Elf.

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When playing on the Brutalizing difficulty and if managing to keep their companions alive, the player can see them cheering over the activation of the crystal ward, striking a deep blow to the invading forces.

Banishing the warlock from her mind, Zan finds out that the corrupted portal spat her outside of Valc, on the outer side of the mountain. Much to her luck, she finds herself close to the Parapet, a trading post of the Orcs that also hosts one of the anti-magic crystal wards supposed to prevent magic attacks. She soon learns that a Witch named Lith recently visited the base with a signed order from Chieftan Zura to request the deactivation of the ward in order for an unspecified magical ritual to be performed inside Valc. Being caught up with several problems, the commander of the ward base, Lancer Dendra, approved the order without much questioning, thus unknowingly opening Valc to Nithriel's assault.

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Andrik, a lone survivor, tells about how Lith spiked the fort's well, contaminating all its dwellers with her dark poison.

After turning the crystal ward back on and severing the Cultists' ability to keep teleporting reinforcements in, Zan seeks to return inside Valc, the quickest way to do so being an elevator built inside the Dwarven fortress of Icepeak. As she navigates towards the snowy peak of the mountain, Zan finds out some notes left by traveling Lancer Dendra expressing concern towards the Dwarves not maintaining the roads to their fort. Later on, she stumbles upon Earth Mother Eva's grove and discovers that she has been poisoned by someone who is neither Dwarf nor Cultist. She eventually reaches Icepeak, finding a handful of Dwarves who died battling the Cultists outside of the fortifications. Upon further investigation, she discovers Andrik, a Brewer's Guild Dwarf left for dead in a cell by the Cultists. He unveils that Lith was the one who spread the deadly poison that decimated the rest of his brethren, and turned them into the strange, dark corruption mass encountered before in the Grove. After Zan offers him some Dragonbrew, his powerful metabolism allows him to purge the poison and recover, and he hands the half Orc the key to the elevator to Valc, asking her to find Lith and bring her to justice. However, the elevator is affected by spreading corruption and crashes down with the protagonist inside.

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Zan encounters Chieftan Zura in Lith's experiment tank, but is unable to free her.

Zan wakes up after the crash the following day. The nearby portal room is littered with receding corruption and blood, showing signs of Dura and her warriors having passed through. Strangely enough, there are no bodies around and the blood trails point towards the Witch Clinic on the other side of the street. As she explores the clinic, Zan finds out that Lith was in charge of biologic research and had one of her projects turned down by the Lancer Council prior to the campaign's beginning, causing her to have a breakdown. Lith kept log entries mentioning her belief that the campaign was doomed to fail and that Demons would prevail, while also detailing her mental downfall and Nithriel eventually preying upon her state of mind to manipulate her into doing her bidding. It is also found out that it was Lith who created the Crawlers, and later on proceeded to work on the Golems, after taking over the clinic for herself and capturing Chieftan Zura. Zan ends up being captured by her too, but Tiati, who previously suspected the halfblood to be the traitor, also found out about Lith's deeds and was sent by Dendra to deliver her execution.

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The last defenders of the Iron Division, holding the final line before the Crystal Heart.

After being freed, Zan makes her way towards the Lancer Temple, ready to carry out her final battle. It is there where she finally meets up with the survivors, led by Lancer Dendra who appears to have made her own way there from her Parapet base. Captain Dura and the rest of her squad is also there, holding out the defense against Nithriel and the last of her Cultists. Dendra informs Zan that she has lost contact with the defenders in the other wing leading to the Crystal Heart and that Nithriel has vanished from the front line hours before. After being briefed, Zan is reminded of her rank as a sergeant Bear Warrior and is given command over a small squad to help her find out what Nithriel is up to. Going through the ravaged defense lines, the warriors end up reaching the Crystal Heart where Nithriel attempts to delay them with the help of a giant Demon she has conjured by sacrificing several Pit Lords.

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Reaver Tiati appears wounded after trying to stop Nithriel from getting the Disk Artifact.

A brutal boss battle ensues, but as soon as Zan defeats the Pit Lord Alpha, she finds Nithriel holding the sacred Disk Artifact. As the warlock opens a portal to escape, the halfblood swiftly chases after her into places unknown. Dura and Dendra follow up after a while only to find the carnage and the Disk Artifact gone, both Zan and Tiati (who was previously sent to find Nithriel) having vanished.

The invasion is over, but the price paid is immense. The few surviving members of the Iron Division are now left with cleaning up their Stronghold and hoping that a messenger will return with news of the campaign against the Demons.

Gameplay

Although it runs on the GZDoom Engine and the combat style is akin to classic FPS games like Doom (first person, fast paced, projectile & movement focused), Hedon attempts to bridge this with a rather different style of level design. The maps are large and progression focuses on finding keys, solving simple puzzles, reading texts and exploration. In this regard, it takes inspiration from titles such as Hexen, Arx Fatalis or Thief.

As a reflection of this, Hedon's difficulties do not only make the combat harder, but also remove certain guidance elements that would help the player navigate as they increase the skill level.

Difficulties

There are five different difficulties in Hedon which adjust the gameplay in many ways, most notable through puzzle-related features, modifiers and actor placement.

  • Greenhorn - the easiest difficulty meant for players who are new to the genre or wish to play without having to face a major challenge. This difficulty adds map markers for keys, quest item interaction spots and texts containing clues/key words. The pick-ups are aplenty, ensuring that the player will never run out of resources, even without exploring and hunting secrets. Monsters deal 40% less damage and have 30% less health;
  • HeadOn - easier than average, this difficulty aims to create a more relaxed feel of combat. There are few extra ammo pickups and texts containing clues/key words get marked on the automap. Monsters deal 20% less damage and have 15% less health;
  • Hedonistic - the default difficulty, providing a well rounded experience;
  • Hardcore - a harder difficulty meant not only to challenge a player's combat skill, but also their wit and resource management. There are less ammo pickups laying in the open, and texts no longer contain highlighted clues/key words. Monsters deal 50% more damage;
  • Brutalizing - a chaotic difficulty that shifts the gameplay towards more combat and carnage. There are many new monster spawns, and tougher monsters appear earlier in game, but the player is also given access to more ammo and stronger weapons earlier on to dispatch this new threat. Extra companions are also spawned on this difficulty and if the player finds and recruits them they will follow across levels, sometimes making their own comments and observations. Monsters deal 60% more damage and have 20% more health;
  • Bearzerk - a special difficulty that removes access to standard weapons and instead brings a new arsenal of martial weapons which heavily shift the gameplay towards melee combat. Monster and item spawn parameters are similar to Brutalizing, but there is a random factor that replaces ammo drops with consumables and healing potions.

Combat & Weapons

Pile o Stuff

Hedon's combat is violent, fast paced and most importantly projectile-based, which makes movement the primary way of staying alive. Enemies vary in design, each having their own abilities, strengths and weaknesses, which often reflect in what weapon is used against them. There are 7 weapons in game, each featuring a primary and secondary fire mode (except for the Fists):

Health & Armor

Health n Armor

Zan's life mainly depends on her health and what protects her from losing it. Instead of armor, she wears crystal amulets which provide complete body protection without costing her any mobility.

Inventory & Consumables

Consumables2

Aside from weapons, Hedon's gameplay relies on an array of consumables which enhance Zan's combat capabilities:

Quest Items & Keys

QuestItems Keys

In order to progress through the levels, the player will often be required to find (or craft) certain puzzle items (also named "Quest Items") as well as use them in the right place. These items share the same inventory space with the consumables, except they are only used directly when interacting with their required world object/destination. In addition to Quest Items, Hedon also employs a classic locked door system where the player needs to find keys before advancing through parts of the level.

Lore

Hedon's story and lore is well defined and features its own workings, conflicts and relationships, with the player being able to understand more of it by paying attention to detail and exploring. The most common ways of learning about the world is through logs and notes left behind by different characters, but by also reading the environment and piecing data together.

Locations

Factions

Characters

Main Characters

Secondary Characters

Enemies

Friendlies

Critters

Deities

Elemental Gods

Soundtrack

Hedon's soundtrack is often bold and steps up from the being a simple background sound. It ranges from chilling and atmospheric to bursts of heavy metal and lively mod music. The entire soundtrack consists of works from various artists.

  • Akhzul - Hedon's OST dedicated composer, Akhzul began his career composing once with the game's development. His first track, Cold Rock encompasses his style for creating an atmosphere with its own personality that doubles and enhances that of the level itself, all with just one guitar. It is to note that several times his music dictated the flow of the level design instead of it being the other way around (with tracks such as Pale Wind or Longing).
  • Alexander Brandon - a true legend from the mod scene, Alexander Brandon has composed scores for many games including Jazz Jackrabbit, Unreal and Deus Ex. Expressing an interest in Hedon, he allowed the license purchase for some of his personal tracks, including The Craftsman (written as a homage to his roots in video game music), One Calm Day, Heavy (also known as Conspiravision playing in the Deus Ex secret ending) and Underworld (an iconic track initially composed for Unreal but never made it past the beta version of the game).
  • Breathelast - an alternative/hardcore metal band formed in 2010 and based in Bucharest, Breathelast allowed for some of their instrumentals to be used in Hedon, including the iconic main menu song, Sinking Ships and the metal tracks that play during arena segments: Ascuns în Pereți (Bath House fight), Dead Coins (Grove Portal fight) and Unsung Foes (Pit Lord Alpha fight).
  • Methadone Skies - another Romanian band, this time playing psychedelic/progressive/stoner metal. Their masterpiece instrumental tracks, Exit the Void and Hyperspace build up the eerie atmosphere of Map06 - Errant Signal.
  • Shivaxi & Xenofish - Youtuber, streamer and electronic music composer, Shivaxi is also a great fan of Unreal. With the help of his friend, Xenofish, he made a remix of the aforementioned Alexander Brandon's Underworld, which plays during the second part of the final level.

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