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Meet Your Maker remembers when game designers loved deathtraps

Hidden in plain spike.

Are you reading this, Muszkatuł Gałkowy? Up yours, you spike-obsessed, wall-faking, bomb-dropping disgrace. I'll get you. I'll get you. Oh, sorry everybody! This article began life as an expletive-filled Xbox Live message. Some context: I'm playing Meet Your Maker, a post-apocalyptic, asymmetrical multiplayer FPS from Dead by Daylight developer Behaviour Interactive, in which you build trap-filled bases using materials either taken from other bases, or gathered from the cooling bodies of those who come to raid your own.

You're doing all this on behalf of a giant, frantic jellybaby in a Bacta tank, who shrieks at you constantly to gather genetic material or "genemat", that she may raise a new and superior civilisation from the sands. It's sort of Mad Max by way of Warhammer 40,000. But any and all plot shenanigans are soon forgotten in the face of the simmering, unspoken rivalries of the player community. Despite the title, you don't actually see opposing base-builders - or as they're here known, Custodians - in Meet Your Maker, but by golly do you come to know them from their works.

Meet Your Maker's base-building is as intuitive as the average base is nightmarish. You place unlockable, upgradeable blocks, ramps and hazards in first-person, reloading the map periodically to test the results out. While some map templates have certain criteria, such as a minimum number of AI guards, the only overarching requirement is that each base needs a clear, walkable path from the perimeter to the genemat extractor in the centre.

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When you're raiding other bases, this path is indicated by a crawling harvester ghoul - a sort of FedEx box on legs who scuttles in and out ceaselessly, guiding you to the heart and thereby, setting you up for any number of unpleasant surprises. You can destroy traps to harvest their parts, but the game wisely limits your initial offensive options to a sword and a rickety two-shot railgun. The latter's bolts arc, which complicates aiming just enough that you can't quickdraw your way through every encounter. More importantly, you'll need to retrieve your bolts from each destroyed trap or slain guard, as there are no spare ammo packs to find. Needless to say, any halfway-devious base designer will likely arrange for you to meet a grisly comeuppance while replenishing your gun.

Even at this early stage in the game's life, these dark materials have spawned a wide and inglorious range of architectures - proper illustrations of just how much you can sculpt the ambience by vaulting the roof, spacing out the windows a tad, or hiding a furious, blade-armed gorilla behind a corner. In the course of five hours, I've scrambled over Stygian lava bridges and wandered through Escher-esque, deceptively inert chasms of ramps and dead ends, with just the one, fake floor expertly positioned to catch the invader out at point of peak confusion. I've survived horrible staircases of spike strips, only to eat a faceful of superheated piston at the summit. And I have made a nemesis of sorts in the shape of Muszkatuł Gałkowy.

They're the architect of Rockford, which sounds like the kind of English suburb where landlords hand-make their own no-fouling signs, but is actually a colossal, clockwork pyramid's worth of things that go boom-stab-splat, not necessarily in that order. Indiana Jones would have a really bad day here. I'm currently on my 15th attempt.

A screenshot of Meet Your Maker, a shooter with base-building elements, showing the end-of-match screen
A screenshot of Meet Your Maker, a shooter with base-building elements, showing the player looking up at a cavernous interior.
Meet Your Maker.

While I have the usual anxieties about the longevity of a game that depends on its players for content, I'm fascinated by Meet Your Maker. Coming into it, my initial realisation was that it's been years since I've played anything that's quite this devoted to traps. They used to be all the rage during the early days of 3D console gaming - there was Core Design's Tomb Raider, of course, but also Asylum Studios's Deathtrap Dungeon, FDI's spacey oddity ODT, and From Software's King's Field, to cherry-pick a few.

Today's 3D games still have traps, but they're seldom the crux of the experience and, From's latter-day creations excepted, they don't spell game-over quite as readily. Getting poisoned or lacerated while investigating the average 2023 dungeon is more of a nuisance than a reversal. The recent Dead Island 2 has a few tripwire-heavy siderooms, for example, but it's never as heart-stopping as feeling the ground shift beneath you in classic Tomb Raider. The trap-maker's art survives mostly in the hands of modding and UGC communities, like the architects of Minecraft adventure maps.

I have a hastily conceived pet theory about this: games are supposed to be fair, however difficult, whereas the whole point of a trap is that it isn't, so games that focus on traps have always been fashioning their own (albeit probably C4-rigged) glass ceilings. Today especially, there's such an emphasis on smooth progression and balance, and such an enormous corresponding ability of players to nitpick, that sticking a couple of deadfalls in your 3D shooter is just asking for trouble. In building a game where trap-making is not only the focus, but an important means of acquiring materials for progression, Behaviour Interactive is taking the bull by the horns. The developer's greatest challenge is cultivating a community who devise bases that are the right kind of unfair, that are intriguing and, even when your failure count enters double digits, admirably designed, rather than being a procession of invader-farming killboxes.

I can only wish them the best, because one thing Meet Your Maker reveals is that there's real genius to the creation of a truly dreadful trap - and much as I want Muszkatuł Gałkowy's head on a platter, I have to admit that Rockford is teeming with terrific examples. There are traps that guard traps that guard traps. There are feats of misdirection involving a single innocent glass block, and some seriously impolite experiments with ramps and cluster bomblets. I'm still mustering the courage and patience to build a proper outpost myself, but I already have plenty of inspiration. Perhaps I'll call my first map Fockrord.

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