[As part of a series of "Road to the IGF" interviews with 2011 IGF finalists, Gamasutra speaks with Danny Day of QCF Design about quick-burst roguelike and Seumas McNally Grand Prize nominee Desktop Dungeons.]
Roguelikes are famous -- or infamous, depending on who you ask -- for their somewhat impenetrable design and epic, life-engulfing quests that can take months to complete. But there's no reason they have to be that way, as IGF entry Desktop Dungeons proves quite adeptly.
Born from the South African trio of developers at the pithily named Quarter Circle Forward + Design (QCF), Desktop Dungeons condenses the procedurally generated, perma-death infused questing roguelikes are known for into a streamlined package, so that each quest takes an average of only 10 minutes to complete.
The game is up for two 2011 IGF Awards, including the Seumas McNally Grand Prize. We talked to QCF's Danny Day Rodain Joubert about the game's inspiration, creation and future plans for monetization.
What background do you have making games?
Danny Day: There aren't really industry veterans here in South Africa (apart from one or two notable Canadian imports) so we were all on the hobbyist side until a few years ago.
I did some really eclectic game design freelancing after accidentally starting a development community and ended up briefly working at the only console development studio in the country. When they closed, I started QCF as a place to make the sorts of game ideas that you keep wanting to make, but never get around to.
What development tools did you use?
DD: The Desktop Dungeons prototype that exploded into the free alpha is built in Game Maker. It started seriously creaking at the seams last year, so we moved over to Unity in the hopes of hitting as many platforms as possible.
How long has your team been working on the game?
DD: Just over a year now. I think the IGF announcement came around about the time Rodain was first working on the prototype last year. Half that time has been testing ideas and balance tweaks with the free version, the rest was "nose to the grindstone" for the full game.
How did you come up with the concept for Desktop Dungeons?
Rodain Joubert: It basically stemmed from a white-hot desire to play stuff like Crawl in convenient, ten-minute sessions. Condensing a genre as deep and nuanced as the venerable roguelike into an accessible coffee-break game proved to be tricky (and at the time felt kinda like borderline heresy).
To get the game working in a single-screen environment, many roguelike features needed to be abstracted or eliminated entirely. These changes became some of Desktop Dungeons' strongest qualities: Enemies couldn't move due to the limited dungeon area; exploration drove regeneration since game time didn't progress normally; etc.
For you, what's the attraction of the roguelike genre?
DD: Anything that's procedurally generated is always a big win. Add in permadeath and you have intense play sessions that are never going to be 100 percent the same.
Very few game genres are as inherently replayable and rewarding as roguelikes. You're creatively and emotionally engaged as a player because it's your story, even if you end up dying horribly, which is something that "load-after-any-mistake" game design often chases away.
A lot of rougelike vets seem to feel like roguelikes are "supposed" to be very difficult and relatively inaccessible. Do you agree with that sentiment to an extent?
DD: Difficult yes, inaccessible no. Difficulty is a measure of the density of important decisions a player has to make. Rodain built everything in DD to be a tough decision - if it was a no-brainer, it got taken out.
Accessibility is a completely different story, games that rely on inaccessibility challenges are dexterity tests - fighting games, twitch shmups or even high-level RTS play. We don't think roguelikes need to obscure their deliciously detailed systems with confusing interfaces and controls. Then again, we don't code in VI either...
How do you plan on making DD commercially viable?
DD: We're going to start courting Steam very soon, then once the full game is out on PC/Mac we're be heading for iPhone and Android as fast as possible. If we can figure out a way to make the same kingdom carry over to your portable device, that'd be perfect.
We've had some rather out there ideas for Facebooking the game too, but those are still a little more tenuous. We've basically got a core that a lot of people find really fun, so we want to give them the best possible version of that with features they didn't know they were missing.
What's next for the development of DD?
DD: We're eating sleep so that we can have a playable test of the new version at our IGF stand. It's been too long since anyone but us played the latest DD and we could do with the feedback.
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?
DD: Minecraft destroys huge chunks of my time every time I load it up (potions next Notch, potions of speed, flight, resist fire!). Between us we've enjoyed Amnesia, Solipskier and Super Crate Box. Rodain keeps threatening to "throw a party" so that he can break out B.U.T.T.O.N.
What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?
DD: I think the indie scene is so large and varied that you get out what you put in - it's very participatory. Coming from a rather isolated place in terms of game development, we tend to view the international indies as this big collection of people doing a bewildering array of awesome stuff.
It's exciting being able to emerge from our local sphere and meet all these cool people that we've only read about before. We're realising that you need to just get out there and poke people, make stuff happen.
Without the local scene DD wouldn't have formed. Without the international coverage it got it wouldn't have grown. I'm dying to see what we end up making after all the things we learn and the people we meet at the IGF and how we can bring that all back to SA.