Making failure fun in Rogue Legacy, a new 'lite' Roguelike

By Ozzie Mejia, Aug 02, 2013 11:00am PDT

Roguelikes are known for the punishing idea of perma-death, but Rogue Legacy gives the whole concept a new twist. When one character's story ends, the next character's continues. Teddy Lee from Cellar Door Games spoke to Shacknews about the side-scrolling platformer and explains the game's origins, along with the unique manner in which they made death into a desirable feature.

"Rogue Legacy is a genealogical rogue-'Lite,'" Lee told Shacknews. "When you die, your children take over your cause, and each child is unique. One of the children might be a dwarf wizard whose near-sighted, and another could be a ninja whose a hypochondriac. We labeled this game a rogue-'Lite' because it takes elements from roguelikes but is a little more accessible."

Rogue Legacy didn't always start out as a charming throwback. In fact, Lee notes that aspirations originally started out much higher, saying that the game everyone sees now took shape after budget cuts and a lot of exploration.

"We started with a big idea, much different to what Rogue Legacy is now," Lee explained. "Originally it would have been a much more linear Dark Souls/Symphony of the Night-inspired game -- very, very different. But when we were making it we knew we were in way over our heads with costs, so about a month into development we changed gears and turned it into the procedurally-generated game that it is now. Aside from a very general overview of what we wanted the gameplay to be, everything else came in during development."

That development happened over the course of one to two years, with various members of the team jumping aboard at different times. Lee's brother, Kenny, was on the project from the beginning as a full-time programmer/producer. Lee joined the team six months before the project's completion, while artist Glauber Kotaki and musicians Gordon McGladdery and Judson Cowan jumped aboard about halfway through production.

The most unique aspect of Rogue Legacy is, without a doubt, the manner in which they've incentivized failure. It's an idea that Lee said was there from the very beginning. "Rewarding death was a definite goal for us," he said. "When we played other roguelikes, dying when you're really far into the game is really heavy. We wanted to alleviate that somewhat. So when we were tackling this game, we wanted to resolve some of the issues we've had with the roguelike genre in general -- make it less punishing, add some form of permanency, shorten play sessions, and upfront the changes early on, as opposed to letting the changes occur slowly throughout your play session. Those four main issues were resolved mechanically first (classes and traits at the start, money/XP is carried over to the start), and then we overlaid the lineage to add a thematic element to it. So it all came together very piecemeal."

With the infinite amount of possibilities available in Rogue Legacy, don't expect to see much in the way of additional content. Lee notes that the game does have a definitive beginning, middle, and end, so adding new levels or enemies would disrupt the game's overall flow. In fact, several enemies found themselves on the cutting room floor, since they no longer fit with Rogue Legacy's overall theme.

Rogue Legacy has been praised heavily since its release for its unique approach to a classic genre, even making into this year's PAX 10. It's validating for Cellar Door Games, who are measuring success by innovation, not sales. "We make games because we love the challenge," Lee added. "We feel there are a lot of mechanics that have yet to be tried in video games, and we want to be a part of that. Of course, anyone who ventures out to do something on their own always dreams of becoming rich in the process. We dreamt about it and spoke about it too, but it was more for fun and we never really settled on a hard number. We're definitely happy with the sales and reception of Rogue Legacy, but we never made this game specifically to be rich."

Rogue Legacy is currently available on PC, with Mac and Linux versions confirmed for the future. As for whether Rogue Legacy would eventually find its way to other platforms, Lee simply said, "Totes."

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