I would think that, particularly in this genre, a lot would come out over the course of development. There are very few good top-down hack-and-slash Diablo-style games; most of them never quite hit that right feel. It doesn't seem as fully understood as, say, the FPS.
RG: Right. That's very true. You can only take something so far on paper. You can map out your stats, and you can map out the interactions and all these things, but it really is [a matter of] sitting down with it, playing with it, and realizing, "You know what? You need to slow this combat down," or, "We need to speed this combat up," or, "We really need different types of weapons," or maybe, "We need to regenerate health faster. Something just isn't working at all." It's just a lot of playing and a lot of talking. You whittle things down to something that's good and works.
Having never made a game in this genre before, did it feel like a learning experience?
RG: Yeah, very much so. I'd played the games a lot; I was very familiar with it. But there are things that look great on paper -- "Ah, this is how Diablo does it. It must be easy!"
But then you really get down to it, and you realize, "Okay, this is a little bit harder than I thought." There was a lot of stuff -- balancing stats of all the weapons and how things all interact with each other. It's quite a complicated thing to really sit down and look at.
Despite the massive success of Diablo, why do you think there are so few games like this?
RG: I don't know. That's a really good question because it seems like a game that has been wildly successful. Other than Torchlight, which came out about a year ago.
Yeah, it did really well for itself.
RG: Yeah, that was a really good game. But it seems like a lot of people who try to do the Diablo stuff might miss the core and the essence of what made that whole game fun. I think there's a category of RPG games that are like paper doll games; it's about dressing up your paper doll, getting all this armor and putting it on. It's about weapons, and they all do different things.
With a lot of console games, you play it for awhile, and then, boom! You get this new weapon, and then that's the weapon you use. You play for the next hour, and you get to something, and then, boom! You got the new weapon, and that's the weapon you use.
I really didn't want to do that with DeathSpank, and one of the things I pulled from Diablo is that you could be a mage in Diablo and yet there are so many different ways to play that character. With all of the different weapons that you get in DeathSpank, if you're a melee guy, you can get all of the big melee weapons and you might get some stun weapons. If you are more of a ranged guy, there's a whole class of weapons that follow that.
It's really about how you approach problems; it's a personal thing for the players. That was something I liked about Diablo and something I really liked about World of Warcraft as well, which follows the same model. That was something I wanted to do with DeathSpank.
You baked that into the level upgrade system to an extent. Instead of a class system, you sort of "equip" these cards that mean you're faster, or you shoot better, and so on. Was that intended as an ongoing reminder to say, "Hey, you can pursue any of these styles, so feel free to equip whatever you want"?
RG: Yeah. The upgrade thing with the hero cards -- we actually did play around a little bit in the beginning with different classes for DeathSpank, and it just never worked, because he is who he is. He's not some magic-wielding guy; he's DeathSpank. We kind of pulled away from that, and we also looked at the hero cards as a simpler way to solve applying skill points.
Doing big skill point trees can be really complex. I think with console games, especially with an Xbox Live Arcade game, some of that stuff has to be simplified a little bit. The hero cards were a way to simplify those skill trees, but still give you that ability to kind of push your character in one direction or another depending on what your play style is.
When you say about DeathSpank, "He is who he is," who is he? He was born out of a little Flash cartoon thing, right?
RG: Yeah, he was a character that my friend Clayton Kauzlaric and I created for the comic strips we ran on my website for awhile, until we realized how hard it is to make comic strips.
So you decided to make a video game! [laughs]
RG: Much easier! [laughs] The comic strip was really about poking fun at the game industry. We did a strip where we needed a character, and he needed to be ridiculous. He needed to be the absolute anti-stereotype of every video game character out there. That's what we were really creating. We gave him the goofiest name we could think of, just dumb and over-the-top.
The more we played around with the character, we kind of liked him a lot. We said, "You know, we really need to make a game about this character." That's when I started looking for publishers or developers and tried to find somebody who wanted to do this. I ran across the guys from Hothead, and then I just went there for two years and made the game.