Dodge Roll's Enter the Gungeon is a twin-stick shooter and roguelike that has a lovely pixel art style and an astonishing array of weaponry. Players really seem to love the way its procedurally generated dungeons throw wave after wave of bad guys and bizarre bosses at them--according to Steamspy, it has sold over 200,000 copies on Steam alone in less than two weeks. (It's also available on PS4, GOG, and the Humble store.)
We spoke to Dave Crooks of Dodge Roll for more background on the design decisions that went into making this surreal dungeon crawler. (Beginning with an explanation of its unique name.)
CROOKS: I was listening to Doseone and Kozilek’s Gun Godz soundtrack, and the next day the word “gungeon” popped into my head.
I asked a buddy what about a game called “Enter the Gungeon” and he just said: “Yes. Now, what is it?”
We hashed out the basic lore of the game over lunch, and the rest slowly fell into place over the first weeks of development.
Absolutely. Binding of Isaac is one of the most wonderfully designed games I have ever played and it was easily the biggest influence on Enter the Gungeon.
Sitting above my desk is a signed boxed copy of Super Meat Boy. Edmund McMillen is a personal hero of mine.
Other influences include Wasteland Kings (Nuclear Throne), Spelunky, Dark Souls and Metal Gear Solid.
It came out of a great deal of trial and error.
We quickly realized that the game was going to be more fun and more fair if we hand designed the rooms. This made teaching the generator layouts a bit simpler. We created a room and played it over and over again, and then structured floor layouts based on rules that we think make good dungeon designs.
"These designs are very much influenced by the Legend of Zelda, with a splash of D&D."
The biggest challenges for making a procedural dungeon are: 1) making it fun but fair, and 2) making it have a sense of structure. I like to say that we tried to teach our game to make Zelda dungeons. I don’t think we quite hit that mark, but Zelda dungeons and the layouts of the Gungeon share various similarities in structure.
We honestly just messed around over the course of two years. Many of the funnier or wacky guns came came from our artist. I would get into work one day and he would just say “ Hey you should check out this Lamp gun I made.”
There are a huge number of guns in our game inspired by other games. The light gun is an obvious reference to the Zapper from the NES. The Mega Hand will make Megaman fans happy. The Bounty Hunter Arm will be a favorite of Metroid enthusiasts. The Demon Head should be familiar to Shadow Warrior fans, and the Serious Cannon will drive Sam fans mental.
There are 190 guns in the game. My favorite is the Unicorn Horn.
During development we briefly had auto-reload, but the moment of tension created by needing to reload is something that the whole team appreciated. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who don’t agree with that decision, but I enjoy learning the rhythm of a gun and its reload timing.
Actually, when we first prototyped the game, all guns had an active reload system very similar to Gears of War. Eventually we decided to put this feature onto an item because we found that players really had enough things to worry about and learn when they started playing. Always having to care about the active reload was a bit too much- but it worked well for advanced play.
There are 21 bosses in the game total. The design process for them is fairly varied. In general either our artist (Joe Harty) or myself would pitch the idea for the boss, and as a team we would hash out the basic details. After that, our gameplay programmer (David Rubel) would start experimenting with bullet patterns, which the whole team would give feedback on.
My favorites are probably Gatling Gull- because he was our first boss and has had the most refinement, the Beholster- because he is the easiest symbol for our game and what we are trying to make (D&D meets bullet hell) and the High Priest- because his attacks are ruthless and varied, and mastering him means you are probably good enough to beat anything Gungeon is going to throw at you.
The dodge roll is the first mechanic other than shooting that went into the game. When we discussed merging a bullet hell game with a dungeon crawler, we immediately started talking about hot to “pull an Ikaruga” - or otherwise give the player a way to deal with the massive amount of bullets, that wasn’t just weaving through them.
The entire team counts Dark Souls among their favorite games, and including the i-frame laden dodge roll from the Souls series was an early suggestion. It worked so well, and so fast, that I can honestly not remember a playable version of the game that did not have the mechanic.
We love dodge rolls so much that we named our company after it!
One of the things that we think makes Gungeon special is that we provide the player with the opportunity to have complex interactions with the environment. Flipping tables is the most obvious example of this.
We want the player to feel like the place they are having the gunfight is important. In the first chamber you can flip tables, roll explosive barrels, and drop chandeliers. Later on you can knock over coffins or ride in mine carts.
There are several passive items that buff the effects of flipping tables, including one that shoots the table off like a rocket, exploding on impact. One extra piece of data about flipping tables that you might not notice when you first start playing is that the impact of the table being flipped actually deletes enemy bullets in a small radius.
Our game has always been designed and intended for players who are attracted to challenge. Because of this, it is no surprise that some people are finding it very difficult.
I truly want everyone to overcome the difficulty and win, and I want to say that it is absolutely possible to do so even with the starting gun. One of the greatest joys I have ever experienced is watching players go from terrible to reliably beating the game. I assure you practice does make perfect.
For the moment, we are still working on bug fixes and quality of life improvements for Gungeon. We are hoping to include some of the more prominent feature requests that we have been receiving from players in free DLC, along with a few things that we wanted to get in the game for launch but that didn't quite make it.
After that, who knows. Somewhere soon we need to take a vacation; we have been working seven days a week for nearly a year, and I think every member of the team is ready to do absolutely nothing for a couple of weeks.