One of the early breakout indie hits of the 2010s came in the form of Rogue Legacy. This effort from Cellar Door Games was reminiscent of classic games like Castlevania and Ghosts 'n Goblins, but with one key difference. As more and more brave warriors died, their descendants would return to try again and they would all have their own unique genetic traits. It proved to be an incredible game, one that people would rediscover over and over as it made its way to more platforms.
Now Cellar Door is ready to work on a sequel. But what exactly can players expect out of a Rogue Legacy 2, especially since there weren't a lot of details issued with the game's announcement? To find out, Shacknews reached out to Cellar Door co-founder Teddy Lee to ask about Rogue Legacy 2, its development, its much larger aspirations, and how the studio is coping with the continuing coronavirus outbreak.
Shacknews: How long have you guys been working on Rogue Legacy 2 and what this the right time to announce it?
Teddy Lee, Cellar Door Games co-founder/game designer: We've been secretly working on Rogue Legacy 2 for about two years now. We jumped straight into development shortly after the release of our previous game, Full Metal Furies. We usually take some time off after projects, but FMF's lukewarm reception made us feel like we needed to kick start development quickly.
We always planned to announce our game around this time, but then the COVID-19 pandemic happened and made us reconsider. As a way to have some fun, we actually decided to release earlier on April Fools as a small joke, but then that announcement sort of exploded. We were just going to say it was real the next day, but suddenly that didn't seem like enough. So we rushed to get a few more tidbits about the game in when we made it official.
Shacknews: The first game was such a creative effort. What made you guys want to go back for a sequel?
Lee: We always wanted to make a sequel to Rogue Legacy. It was just a matter of 'When' instead of 'If.' Yeah, there's a business side to the decision, but a big driving force for me was always see what we could do to put a spin on the sequel, because it introduces all these interesting rules and restrictions.
You have to make something that an existing audience wants, but we still need to take our own creative gambles. If all we do is "bigger and better" then I think we'll be letting ourselves and our fanbase down. Rogue Legacy helped pioneer the rogue-lite genre, and while I don't think it'll be quite the vanguard this time around, it’s very important that we don’t just retread worn ground.
Shacknews: You only showed off a five-second tease, but in that tease, we could see an art style similar to the first. Should players expect Rogue Legacy 2 to look visually close to the previous game?
Lee: It's no longer pixel art, but stylistically it’s very similar to the original Rogue Legacy. From the beginning we knew we wanted to do something new, so we teamed up with Matt Hammill, the Art Director for Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (and fellow Torontonian), to do the art for RL2. And he's done an awesome job!
I think the art style is a perfect mix of old and new. Even though it's not pixel art anymore, it's still immediately recognizable and retains the charm of the original. We also brought on Glauber Kotaki, the pixel artist for all our previous games, except this time he's handling all the character animations. And even though the models are 3D, we're using stepped animations similar to games like Dragon Ball FighterZ to handcraft every single frame of animation. The results are really terrific and honestly, the static screenshots don’t do the game justice.
Shacknews: How much can you tell me about the setting? Are players exploring a new castle, assuming they're exploring a castle at all?
Lee: This game is much larger, and players will be exploring a kingdom rather than just a castle. The number of biomes in this world are going up, and we're trying to tie every biome together narratively. It's hard to explain now, especially since the details to the narrative stuff comes in very late, but we're excited with how we plan to tell the story to Rogue Legacy 2. At this point things are pretty fluid so it may not work out, but we can always pivot. We're also working on ways to make the biomes unique and interesting. Rather than just having the second biome have harder enemies, the structures of the biomes will change as well, with new rooms, environmental hazards, and so on.
Shacknews: Inherited traits were some of the most memorable elements of Rogue Legacy. What percentage of the traits from the first game are coming back and are there any new traits that you can tease?
Lee: Rogue Legacy 1 had about 35 traits in the game, and we're aiming to double or even triple that. (Probably not triple...) We have triple on the docket but that number is subject to change, because we're constantly culling ones that aren't up to snuff. Quality over quantity. But still... Hopefully quantity too.
A large portion of traits from the original will appear in the sequel, but they've all been tweaked to enhance their usefulness.
One major new feature that we've added is the "Universal Healthcare System." The more of a negative effect a trait has on the game, the more gold you will be awarded during a run, so everything has a payoff. And it brings up really interesting scenarios. Do I take the ranger who has dwarfism, because that combo is just awesome? Or do I take the brittle-boned giant mage who'll last only a few seconds, but will grant me a 60 percent gold bonus? It's a great system because it alleviates that whole meta where people would jump into the castle and immediately kill themselves to get a better roll of heirs. It also allows us to create some really unique traits. For example, one of my new favourite traits is Pacifist. You can't attack, but mannnn, can you make a lot of gold!
This is one thing that I think really helps separate Rogue Legacy from other games in the genre. The goals you set are personal and always changing. In most other rogue-lites the goal of a run is always the same. Try to beat the game or earn rewards for trying. But it's always a linear choice. But in RL, you might devote one run to trying to beat a specific boss and expanding where you can go, or you'll get a character whose good at making gold, so you might devote it purely to scrounging around the kingdom, or there might be a puzzle you couldn’t solve, so you lock the castle down and try it again. To me, these are interesting long-form choices, and one of my big goals was to expand on that.
Shacknews: I know there's a lot that's being kept under wraps, but what's at least one new mechanic that you want to tease?
Lee: So this is an example of how experimental we plan on being. Everyone called the original Rogue Legacy a Metroidvania, but it wasn't really one. Our game was missing many of the staples of the genre, like earning new abilities at specific progression points, gating off locations, and backtracking through biomes to find new secrets.
With Rogue Legacy 2, we're testing ways to add some of those Metroidvania elements back in, but in a way that works with the random generation. It's a crazy complicated puzzle, and I don’t know if we have the right solution (or if we’ll even keep what we’ve got), but I'm very excited with where we’re going with it. I'm kind of hoping this will help push the medium forward and expand the idea of what you can do with rogue-lites.
Shacknews: Rogue Legacy was inspired by so many classic games, but we've also had a lot of new classics (both in the AAA and indie space) come along since it first released. So what other games that have come along since the original's 2013 release would you say are inspiring the sequel?
Lee: Hollow Knight, Dead Cells, Hades, Animal Crossing, etc. Honestly whatever I've played in the past seven years is going to have some level of impact. I play a lot of video games, and every time I do it’s hard for me not to treat it as a job. What is this game doing right, what can be improved, and what is new and interesting about it? Everything I play I try to learn something, and any lessons learned will inevitably fold back into Rogue Legacy 2. Inspiration is also drawn differently when making a new game as opposed to working on a sequel. With new games there can be very clear influences, but with an established title you need to find the little things that can make the game better without upsetting the formula.
Shacknews: Rogue Legacy first released on PC and then it gradually released to consoles and handhelds. It took a while for it to get there, so is there a hope for console players that they'll get Rogue Legacy 2 soon after the PC release?
Lee: We hope so, but we're definitely doing a PC release only first. We're too small of a team to do a multi-platform launch, and we like to patch our game, and be iterative with our changes as it goes live. Consoles just don't give us that flexibility.
Shacknews: Lastly, to sort of go off the board, how is the team at Cellar Door Games coping with the COVID-19 outbreak? What's become a typical work day for everyone?
Lee: Before the pandemic struck our employees would work in our offices Monday to Wednesday, and work remotely for Thursday and Friday. Now they just work from home every day, so the transition was very simple. We also have a lot of contractors who have been working remotely since the beginning of development, so that wasn't an issue. We closed our office early on, so we've been doing this for a while now.
Productivity has still slowed down, but fortunately we haven’t announced any release date yet so we can just quietly push things back if we need to.
Rogue Legacy 2 is aiming for a Summer 2020 release on Steam. Dates are subject to change, so stay tuned to Shacknews as we continue following Rogue Legacy 2's ongoing development.