One more day! I’m so excited 😀
7 – What’s changed since the last alpha?
6 – How big is this game anyway?
5 – Who are all these enemies you’re fighting anyway?
4 – What inspired Dicey Dungeons?
3 – What’s it like working with a team?
2 – Have you ever made a game like this before?
1 – Launch day
The last question:
Yes! Well, sort of. I’ve never finished a game like this before. But I’ve, uh, taken quite a few runs at it.
The website Hardcore Gamer wrote a very lovely article about Dicey Dungeons from when it was at Indiecade’s E3 showcase, which began like this:
It feels like it’s been a while since we’ve heard from Terry Cavanagh. The acclaimed indie developer delivered amazing work with VVVVVV and Super Hexagon earlier in this decade, but since then he seems to have been happy just making smaller, experimental Flash titles. But now he’s back with his next major game, Dicey Dungeons.
Yeah, lol, fair. I can see how it looks that way! Actually, I considered making today’s question “Super Hexagon was in 2012! What on earth have you been doing for the last 7 years?“. So let’s quickly answer that one first!
The way I usually work is to prototype a bunch of small ideas, and then try to develop the promising ones into bigger projects. This worked pretty well for me until about 2012 (both VVVVVV and Super Hexagon started out as jam games!), but over the last couple of years, it does seem like my success to failure ratio has gotten pretty bad. Or maybe my standards are too high, I don’t know. In any case.
I’ll say right off the bat that I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position at all. VVVVVV and in particular Super Hexagon were both very successful, and that’s meant that it was possible for me to have a few years of failed projects. I’ve been living off my savings from the initial releases, and through what I’ve made from various ports of both games over the last few years. It helps a lot to be a solo developer without much in the way of expenses.
But: yes, I’ve had a few years of failed projects. Since Super Hexagon, I’ve attempted four commercial games, all of which are currently either on hold or cancelled – State Machine, Halting Problem, Four Letter Word, and Nexus City – I’ve also spent a lot of time working on projects that I did consider making commercial, but ultimately ended up making available for free, like Tiny Heist and Naya’s Quest.
I have been a little bummed out about that over the past few years. But it’s kinda hard to feel that way just right now, a day away from releasing the best thing I’ve ever made.
Which brings me back to today’s question:
I’ve never finished a game like this before. But I have spent a lifetime trying to make games just like it – all the way back to when I was a teenager and discovering Final Fantasy VII for the first time. When I have to describe Dicey Dungeons, I tend to call it a deckbuilding roguelike which, is a kind-of modern genre term. But what it really is in my head, is an RPG with a combat focus rather than a story focus.
The way I think about it is: The distinction between a rogue-like and an RPG is that an RPG is about developing a single character over the course of a game, having your character grow and change over time. Whereas a rogue-like is about changing your character and starting over from scratch and taking that character in a different direction every time you play. For me they’re two sides of the same coin, and I’ve always been really interested in both – from the combat system angle and from the character and world angle. Dicey Dungeons is definitely not a traditional RPG, but I think it’s probably actually more RPG than roguelike.
Anyway! For today, I thought it might be fun to have a look through my unfinished games folder and pick out a bunch of things that didn’t work out, and see what I even remember about them now! Fun for me, I mean. This is, uh, a super self-indulgent blog post, sorry!
The Guardian (2002)
This is the oldest thing I can actually find and get running, a pure QBASIC game that I worked on as a teenager! I was really into this kind of stop the dot gameplay loop for RPG combat – and still am, to be honest! Ah, the past.
Unfortunately I don’t seem to have any of my other qbasic stuff or blitzbasic stuff on this computer, which is a bit sad. Hope I haven’t lost it. This is probably going back a bit too far anyway. Let’s skip ahead a half decade!
Untitled RPG prototype from 2007
Earliest *playable* thing I can find is this, which looks like it was basically just a tech demo for when I was learning to use flash for the first time. I think I reused the graphics here in Hero’s Adventure, years later. The NPC you talk to says “HOW CARE AOUT THE GRAPHIC?”, which was some kind of early dumb TIGSource meme.
Hmm. You know what, if I show all of these, it’s going to take forever. I’ll stick to the highlights from here on out! Ok, what’s next!
Sixty Hours in (2009)
Oh, this one’s kinda cool. Features some art by my friend Dock, who later did the art for Chatchat!
Basic idea was to make a single, complicated RPG battle that played like a puzzle, where there was one perfect solution that involved figuring out how everything worked. I’m not really sure why I never finished this one – vaguely remember that I played something on Kongregate that had a similar idea, and then I lost interest? Oh well.
Big Hero (2010)
Ah hah, so this dumb thing started as a game a month project that I failed in February! I wanted to make a simple RPG with action inputs, so I ended up with this thing where you fight skeletons and level up your arms and legs separately. Arms are attack power, legs are magic power and skills! Another one I always meant to finish, I’m not sure why I didn’t. Probably got busy with other things.
Randomly Generated Tales (2010)
Oh, this video is a bit rubbish, it looks like I left this game in a broken state – it hangs during the first battle. But I actually spent about a month on this! It has a fully developed inventory and skill system and everything, and a bunch of different baddies. I think the idea was that when you defeated an enemy, you got to keep one of their skills and use it future battles – so you could take this Acolyte’s heal ability, or a goblin’s Attack, or whatever, kinda inspired by Gogo from Final Fantasy VI.
Untitled Dancing RPG (2011)
This one was a Jam game that I made with Jasper Bryne (who made Lone Survivor!). You explore this world where everyone is constantly dancing, and challenge people to dance offs. Looks like we only got three or four screens in before getting busy with other stuff, oh well.
Nexus City (2010-2012)
I feel a bit weird posting much from this one, and apparently I wasn’t smart enough to keep a backup build of this with working combat anyway. So here’s a short video of some of the various areas with a couple of NPCs.
Nexus City was my big attempt to make a proper, serious RPG after VVVVVV, and I put a lot of time into it, but somehow it looks a lot less developed than other things here! It is worth noting that I took some serious breaks here to work on other projects – including Super Hexagon.
The thing I was really interested in exploring was party mechanics – the game has this big cast of characters, and it worked by switching them in and out on the fly to react to various situations. Different combinations of characters could learn to do different things, like how combined skills work in Chrono Trigger.
The idea in this game that I loved, but never got as far as implementing, was the the combat rules *themselves* would change in each area – so one place would have very standard jrpg rules, and another would have turn based movement, and another would change what each of your standard actions did, all while playing off this core system of swapping characters in and out all the time. It’s an idea I’ve kinda come back to again and again over the years, and in a big way with Dicey Dungeons.
Wild Selma (2012)
Wild Selma started as a spin off to Nexus City, since that project had gotten pretty big and complicated. This one was meant as a simple, short, combat focused RPG. It looks super rough in that video, but actually I think it’s the best thing here, and one of the things I worked the hardest on.
The basic idea is that your group fights against groups of enemies, and you both have three cards in front of you. You can play one of these cards, for example, Shoot or Defend, and it will perform that action, but if you have more than 1? It’s doubly effective. Match all three and it’s four times as effective.
The twist, which really makes me wish I’d finished this, is that you can *switch* cards with your enemies at the start of your turn, forcing them to have a bad hand with no matches, and you to potentially have something really powerful. This was really, really fun, and made each turn interesting and strategic, without being too overwhelming.
The switch command is the main character Selma’s ability, but other characters could do other things. This was really shaping up to be very cool, with little puzzle like battles and set pieces, but I burnt out on it after a couple of months and never managed to come back to it.
Dream Logic Roguelike (2013)
Yay, this one was a #7drl entry, that’s cool!
Anytime I try to make a roguelike, the number one problem I have is that I really hate parity puzzles – you know, where you move, and then the enemy moves, and you’re both in sync and have to bang into a wall or another enemy to sync up. So, mechanically, I was trying make a roguelike that was really focused on ranged attacks, as an attempt to work around that. I made about a half dozen different ranged weapons and got *somewhere* with it, but lost interest after a few weeks once I started working on a game called Halting Problem.
“Vanda” game (2014)
I definitely have more complete, playable versions of this knocking around, but it’s all in Adobe AIR and I can’t figure out how to get it compiling at the minute!
This one was a collaboration with Cristian Ortiz, aka CROM, and started out a jam game I made at the V&A. (VandA!)
The big inspiration here was Dark Souls, and wanting to make a combat RPG that was all about timing and street fighter-esque move execution. I still really like this one, but it was taking forever and wasn’t actually shaping up to be that much fun, so I scrapped it.
Untitled Card Drafting Game (2016)
Looks like I didn’t attempt ANY rpgs in 2015, which is pretty rare! But for summer’s Ludum Dare in 2016, I had a go at this card drafting RPG.
The idea here is that you have a deck of cards, and your enemy has a deck of cards, and at the start of combat they’re all shuffled together, and then you both take turns playing stuff from it. When you finish a battle, you get to keep one of their cards!
I was pretty excited about this idea, but it turns out to be confusing and over complicated and not nearly as interesting as I was hoping, so I scrapped it after a couple of weeks.
It’s very cold (2017)
There’s not actually much more here than an walkabout demo with a basic inventory system, but I still really love this 2017 jam game which was secretly planned as an RPG. I wanted to try the stop-the-dot action mechanic again, but in a wilderness survival setting where you had to hunt for resources, search for shelter and hopefully solve some sort of bigger challenge. At the time I was mostly working on State Machine, so I resisted the urge to work on this one too much – but I still think about this one from time to time. Maybe I’ll finish it someday.
Dicey Dungeons (2018-2019)
This is the earliest youtube video of the game I could find, by Randomise User! Since I’ve actually been developing this one in the open for once, it’s meant that people could actually play it and see it develop from a tiny little jam prototype into what it is now.
One day left <3