An interview with Pixelscopic, the team behind the indie retro-roguelike Delver's Drop.
What if a Zelda game went on forever? Pixelscopic, the studio behind the indie game Delver's Drop, conceived of a classical action RPG in the vein of the Zelda series mixed with elements from roguelikes. The result is a promising project that, even in its unfinished state, blends familiarity with longevity.
The "drop" in the title references the progression between stages, as your hero travels ever-deeper into the dungeon by dropping through pits in the floor after solving puzzles or battling enemies. Indie studio Pixelscopic showed off the "Endless Drop" mode at PAX East. The studio is working on defined dungeons with exact level layouts, but Endless Drop randomly mixes levels. The feedback was mixed.
"For the PAX East build we just created a lot of rooms for endless drop mode and didn't really do any difficulty testing," co-founder Coby Utter told Shacknews. "There was a pretty definite segregation of the players into two groups: those who thought it was too hard, and those who thought it was hard but loved that."
Utter is one-third of the team, and the programmer behind the game. Ryan Baker, his co-founder, handles the illustration and animation, and Ryan Burrell works on design and scripting. It's a small operation of only three full-time staff complemented by a handful of contractors. But the team size has produced impressive results, and now they have their sights set on game balance.
Joking that their priority is to make it more of a "difficulty curve instead of a difficulty cliff," Utter said they key now is to make sure players understand the game mechanics. For the players who enjoyed the challenge, it will offer a hardcore mode with permanent death, just like a classic roguelike.
In the campaign, Baker says they're doing "a lot of mixing and matching" from classic games, and Zelda serves as an inspiration as one of the best of the genre. "The goal is to feel somewhat familiar from Zelda," Baker said, "but we do want it to feel a little more mysterious. That's where some of the random generation and things like that come in."
The random generation also introduces a new design problem: it makes puzzle design more difficult. "[Secondary items] will also be used to solve puzzles in some cases," Baker said. "But since ours are going to be random-dropped, we're not going to have the same progression -- where you get doodad A to beat the boss in that level. We want it to be a little more organic than that."
He says that while some items will be required for puzzles, they're working out algorithms to make sure you get the items before reaching the puzzle room. On top of that, the game is going to attempt to steer the player towards item conservation, to keep items until they're really needed. And since the campaign is class-based, the studio is working on tutorials to introduce the different play styles for each character.
Pixelscopic hosted a successful Kickstarter campaign for the game in February and early March, just before it showed the game at PAX East. It ended up doubling its goal of $75,000, shocking the team.
"We set the goal based on what we needed for the base game, but we also thought it would be the upper reaches of reality," Utter said. "You know, we're an unknown studio, none of us have worked on blockbuster AAA titles. So we didn't have a lot of the things in our favor that a lot of the Kickstarter successes have. I thought we could get to 75 [thousand] but I thought it would be a grind."
Now that it's funded, Pixelscopic is being careful not to rest on their laurels. They mentioned that they don't want to go dark until release, so they're keeping active through their Steam Greenlight and the official site and forums. Most recently, it announced monthly streams of the game to be showing on Twitch leading up to the release.
Delver's Drop is aiming for a full release in October on PC, Mac and Linux, with plans for mobile and Ouya in February 2014.
Steve Watts' youthful memories are are a blur of pixels, princesses, castles, and Mega Busters. After writing about games as a pastime for years, he got his first shot at a paid gig at 1UP. He's freelanced for several sites since then, and found a friendly home at Shacknews. His editorial duties include news, reviews, features, and lunatic ravings. He lives in the Baltimore-Washington area with his shockingly understanding wife.