Dodgeroll makes a dungeon crawler: An Interview

Hey guys! After seeing Enter the Gungeon on a PAX South stream, I knew I had to talk to this team. Luckily for you, they emailed me back. I hope you enjoy this awesome interview!

1. What is your role in the creation of Enter the Gungeon?

I’m the lead game designer and general cat herder on Gungeon. Truthfully, the design of Gungeon has been hugely collaborative amongst the Dodge Roll team, with ideas coming in from everyone. That said, it usually falls to me solidify the vision of the game, concept bosses and enemies, fine tune enemies, drops, and mechanics, build rooms, etc. I do all the stuff that that isn’t drawing or coding. Basically I spend a great deal of time looking at excel sheets and project management software. I also usually handle planning and dealing with Devolver and other external teams.

2. Throughout the design process, has Enter the Gungeon changed in any big way, or has it stayed similar to early ideas?

By and large Gungeon has stayed mostly on course, but there were a few big shifts in how we approached the design of the game. Probably the biggest is that in the original design we had intended to have the player constantly switching guns. There was no way to refill ammo on any gun that you picked up. Instead we were planning on just dropping new guns very frequently and the player could hold any number of them. Every time a gun would run out of ammo, you would just throw it and switch to the next one in your inventory. This created a crazy and chaotic experience, which was pretty cool, but it deprived the player of really enjoying getting a rare gun- it seemed to go against the principles of a good dungeon crawler or loot RPG. It would be like playing an RPG and having your brand new mythril armor break after an hour with no way to fix it.

To resolve that issue there are now various, but still relatively rare, ways of refilling ammo. In addition, you can hold three guns at once (though there are items that increase this). That said, we still drop guns more often than ammo. This creates a scenario where the player can keep their favorite weapon locked and loaded while needing to continually swap out their secondary guns. Hopefully, this creates a nice balance between showing off the variety of weaponry in the game and giving the player a nice chance to celebrate and reap the benefits of a rare drop.

3. Besides the Dodge Roll, what is your favorite mechanic at work in the game?

Other than the dodge roll, it is probably the environmental interaction that we are trying to integrate into EtG’s gunfights. The ability to flip tables to create cover, or kick and roll explosive barrels, drop chandeliers etc is all pretty cool. There is more to come, like liquids that spread on the ground that might be flammable or poisonous, but some of that is on display is the videos that have hit the net already. We are trying to make this interaction as organic feeling as possible, and really give the player a fun set of tools in the environment to aid them in their shootouts. Along those lines, we’ve also done a lot of work to make the environments feel like a real space with a good sense of depth (the game is secretly 3d).

4. When designing floor layouts, what is the biggest challenge to making a functional room?

Each floor of the Gungeon is comprised of hand-designed rooms that are procedurally assembled according to a set of rules that we believe dictates optimal dungeon design. When creating the individual rooms though, there is quite a bit to consider, so really the biggest difficulty is how many things that we have to account for. To help us deal with it all, one of our programmers (our procedural generation expert) Brent created a custom tool we call DWARF. Gungeon rooms can be of any size or shape with any number of doors. We can dictate if each door is mandatory, directional, whether or not it can only be an entrance or an exit, should it be a secret door etc.

On top of that you have to consider enemy placement and variation, hazards, traps, pits etc. Next we determine tilesets this type of layout will work or look best with, including decorations and lighting. On a meta level you then have to decide what the player should have seen in order to encounter this room, so we set prerequisites. For example, the first time a player sees a spike trap, it should be in a room that gives them an easy way to experience how they work. So if I am making a room with a bunch of spike traps that is quite a bit harder, I would want to have the generator check to make sure that the player has experienced a spike trap “intro room” before this new harder room can be placed on a floor by the generator.

Beyond that, its just testing, testing, testing, and watching how people play. Do they get stuck on this corner? How about trapped in that alcove? Is the combination of these two types of enemies just too hard to deal with for this far into the Gungeon?

5. Were there any planned features that didn’t make the cut?

Well we are about halfway through development right now, so you should probably ask me this question again closer to release! I have a feeling that the first things on the chopping block aren’t features but extra secret content, that we will try to get out as an update to the game post-launch.

6. What is the hardest part about making a dungeon crawler?

Finding the right balance between a directed, designed experience and an ever changing, infinitely replayable game is a huge, interesting problem to take on. I think our biggest obstacle (and one of our most fundamental design goals) was creating a procedural generation system for the floor layouts that felt structured, offered a good sense of progression, and maintained a nice balance of risk vs reward. Related to this is the difficulty in finding a way to offer a rewarding meta (persistent across multiple runs) progression, that doesn’t undercut sense of triumph over difficulty, by directly influencing their power.

When people talk about dungeons in video games, there are a few games that are the obvious kings. For me, it’s the Legend of Zelda games. They are directed, wonderful dungeons that minimize backtracking–you continue down a path, and just when you’ve completed a section (got the boomerang, for example), you open a door and you are back in the main central hub of the dungeon, ready to choose a new path. Dark Souls’ famously knotted level design is another great example of this. That alternation between choice and direction- a continued sense of purpose as you explore a complex space. In a lot of procedurally generated dungeons, you’ll have tons of rooms, almost always rectilinear, connected with lots of intersections or looping hallways. Sure, this provides a ton of layout variety, but the directionality–the sense of progressing through a designed structure–is lost. It can feel random, confusing. If you make the space too big the player can get lost, or have to do a ton of backtracking (something we additionally combat with teleporters), which can grind the pacing of the game to a halt.

I’ve always considered procedural generation best used to augment design, rather than replace it. So, in Gungeon, we have spent a great deal of time teaching our system how to design spaces that emulate the titans of dungeon design.

7. How was the fan interaction during PAX?

Completely awesome! We got to meet so many nice people, and almost everyone seemed to be really excited about the game. We only just announced in December of last year at Sony’s Playstation experience, so lots of people had never heard of the game. PAXSouth was pretty light on big press outlets so, we spent the majority of the time talking directly to gamers, and they really made us feel like we are going the right direction. Thanks to everyone who got to check out the game! We’ll be at GDC and PAX East too!

8. What is the most important focus for Enter the Gungeon during the development process?

It is all about the feel and fairness, everything from controls to interactivity in environments, input buffering and tuning the size of hitboxes. We are making a game that by its very nature has to be difficult to be fun and have that huge replayability, but when the player dies they have to understand why they died and feel that they had all the tools provided to them to succeed. It’s the reason that Dark Souls can be as brutal as it is, while still attracting a rabid fan following (of which everyone at Dodge Roll is a part of). At its most basic level it means making sure the controls are fast and responsive, or that the dodge roll feels fluid and helpful.

A more nuanced example is that explosions delete enemy bullets out of the air. We do this because explosions should feel powerful, but because of how large and jarring they can and should be, they can obscure the dense bullet patterns that might be heading towards the player. If a player gets hit by a bullet that they weren’t able to track, they are going to say “hey #*$hole game designer, that’s not fair.” So now, if an explosion touches a bullet, the bullet is gone. This has actually resulted in some new and interesting gameplay mechanics, because now explosive weaponry and explosive barrels have defensive properties as well.

9. Is your team for or against Early Access for Enter the Gungeon?

I wouldn’t quite use the word “against.” Early Access is great for some games, but one of the many wonderful things about working with Devolver is that we have the resources we need and can focus on what is best for the game, and right now that is putting in dev hours. It is important to note that the game is just now approaching alpha, so we have plenty of time to decide what the best release structure for the game is. Whether or not we end up doing Early Access, the first time Gungeon is made available for purchase it will be a complete experience, and one that will be added to and supported until we truly feel the game is ‘done.’

10. What is the most Overpowered weapon you have created?

Probably the Yari Rocket Launcher, which is a chaingun rocket launcher that creates a storm of heat seeking missiles like you might see in an episode of Macross. Or the gun that shoots black holes. It probably isn’t the squirt gun.


Thanks again to Dodgeroll’s Lead Designer for taking the time to answer these questions. Make sure to check out their site, Dodgeroll.com.

If you want to see more about Enter the Gungeon, we posted about it a few days ago, HERE!

Have a developer you want us to talk to? Let us know in the comments!

 

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