Hey, I was on a podcast! This is new for me – I’ve been recorded talking at events and things like that, but I’ve never actually been a podcast guest like this. It helped a lot that I knew both of the hosts!
This was, uh, terrifying, but I think it went pretty well! Actually, it was a lot of fun – Started off a little shakey, but I relaxed a bit as it went on, and I think it ended up being pretty interesting. Anyway, check it out!
Hey! Welcome back to my series of seven daily blog posts on the run up to Dicey Dungeon’s launch! This one’s a bit overdue, as the game actually launched, uh, *checks watch* three months ago. Ah. Well, let’s have a news update and catch up on everything that’s happened! I barely know where to start.
…I still don’t really know how to talk about all this. That’s actually why this blog post is so late. I kept trying to write it and getting nowhere.
I tried to keep my expectations low – I’m really proud of this game, but there have been so many indiepocalypse stories in the last few years that I was nervous that it all might go wrong. And I, uh, took some risks. I blew a huge chunk of my Super Hexagon and VVVVVV savings to make this. I was quietly hoping it would do ok, but really I was just hoping that at the very least it wouldn’t end up being a total disaster.
What actually ended up happening is that it shot right past those quiet hopes, and massively exceeded my wildest ones – it’s been by far the biggest and most successful launch of my career. Within just its first month, Dicey Dungeons outsold the lifetime sales of my previous two games on Steam combined.
I might have more to say about all this when more time has passed. I’m probably not the best person to talk about business stuff, to be honest. I do think we did a lot of things right – going to expos, reaching out to press and streamers, cultivating a community on our discord. I think it’s worth talking about that and sharing that knowledge, and I hope to do it at some point in the future. But also, we owe a lot to Lady Luck. We’re really, really lucky to have been this successful, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully explain how we did it.
We won the Indiecade Grand Jury prize
This came as a pretty huge shock, to say the least. We were all really, really honoured by this, and it meant a lot to me personally <3 This was my third time as an Indiecade finalist – VVVVVV won the “Most Fun and Compelling Game” award in 2010, which was huge for me, and At a Distance was a finalist in 2011 – but winning the grand prize? That’s something I thought would never happen.
We’ve been updating the game, like, a lot
Since the game came out three months ago, we’ve released six updates, and we’ve also released a free DLC, the Halloween Special!
When Super Hexagon came out in 2012, I immediately moved on to a different project, and I really regret doing that. It was bad for Super Hexagon, and it was bad for the other project too – I was too exhausted from the stress of releasing that game to really get into anything else, and I ended up just resenting the amount of time it was taking to work on necessary things like bug fix updates and ports. That period of working on the PC port and fixing iphone bugs was actually more stressful than the launch.
With Dicey Dungeons, I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve decided to do what I wish I’d done with Super Hexagon: to have a long cool down period of maintenance work. For the foreseeable future, I’m gonna try to work normal hours, and just focus on making sure that this game is as good as it can be. I wanna start taking more time off, to actually play games and to relax and take care of myself and rest up a bit and actually figure out what’s next for me, instead of rushing into something new. I’m basically planning to keep working like this, making Dicey Dungeons as good as I can, until I can’t think of anything else that needs to be done.
The next update planned is v1.7, which will be shifting focus to modding support for a while (which is already pretty cool, as the Halloween Special shows!). As well as that, I’m also thinking about how we can do some more big updates… We’re not doing anything for Christmas – it’s too soon, and we need a break – but hopefully we’ll be doing more stuff like the Halloween Special in future. I’ll be sharing more about all of this in the coming weeks and months!
We’re planning ports
I’m really happy to announce that both Switch and Mobile ports of Dicey Dungeons are underway!
It’s worth saying that these things can take some time to come together, and there’s currently no release date planned. I think we’re talking probably next summer at the earliest. It’s really, really important to me that every port of the game be at an extremely high standard – I don’t want there to be any bad version of the game.
There’s not really much more to say at this point, but when I have something to share, I will! Probably the first step towards this that people will see will be improved touch controls on the PC version, and well as keyboard and joypad controls as we figure out the best way to make this work on a Switch! Am really excited to see this all come together!
I think that’s everything for now. Thanks so much to everyone reading for your support! Excited about the next steps <3
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.
Here’s a big thing that’s new for me about Dicey Dungeons: it’s not a solo effort. For the first time in my life, I put a team together to make a game.
Dicey Dungeons is being made by four full time creators – myself focusing on design, Chipzel on the music, Marlowe Dobbe on art, and Justo Delgado Baudí doing the programming. We’ve also got about a half dozen other people contributing part time – including Holly Gramazio, who wrote the script, and Dana Trebella, who’s helping us with PR and Marketing (we don’t have a publisher!). (The rest: Philippa Warr helped us out with copyediting, Lars Doucet implemented his polymod library into the game, and Niilo, Adriana, Jules and Will did the game’s voices.)
By a lot of people’s standards that’s a pretty tiny team, but from my perspective, after a decade of mostly working on my own or with just one other collaborator, it’s a huge operation, and a huge change, personally.
It’s been an adjustment – I value working on my own a lot! Being in control of every little element of a game is a wonderful thing, and after Dicey Dungeons, I do plan to make more small solo stuff – but gosh, it turns out working with a team is really great as well.
A big part of it is probably who I’ve been lucky enough to work with – everyone on this project really gave it their all, and cared as much as I do about making it into something special. It’s a really amazing thing to be able to just rely on people to do great work – when you have a team like that, you end up with a project that is so much greater than just yourself. It feels like an obvious thing to say, but the version of Dicey Dungeons I would have made on my own would not have been on the same level as the thing that we have now.
Dicey Dungeons started as a game jam game for last year’s 7 day roguelike. I had a pretty simple ambition: I wanted to make a “dreamquestlike”.
I’d been replaying Dream Quest a lot at the time after rediscovering it again, and I was really interested in trying to make something small and different that was a bit like it, but with my own spin on it. I figured it’d just be a tiny 7 day thing, so I didn’t think about it much more than that. I tried using dice instead of cards, just as a random prompt to give me something different to do with the genre, and gosh, it turns out, that was a rabbit-hole that I’m still exploring.
Okay, so it looks a bit wonky, I get it. And actually, it plays a bit wonky too. At times, it feels ridiculously unfair and unbalanced! That’s actually a huge part of what I find so refreshing about it.
For me, there’s sort of a galaxy brain meme thing going on with this game – from first impressions to second impressions to still playing it five years later impressions, I feel like I’m always finding something new in it. Dream Quest challenged the way I think about game design, and gave me with a whole new paradigm for thinking about what I actually find fun in what I play, and what a good game “is” for me. I can’t think of another game off-hand that’s had more impact on how I think about what I do.
The closest experience I’ve had to this is discovering pop music in my 20s. As a moody teenager, I’d always been super into rock music and metal and dance music and things like that, and low-key dismissive about pop music. I used to really care about certain concepts that I thought were important: “authenticity”, “auteurism”, that sorta nonsense. Letting go of that? It opens up this whole new dimension of ways to care about music.
What I’m trying to say here is: Dream Quest is the Girls Aloud of videogames.
The thing I love about Dream Quest is that it’s WAY more interested in letting you find cool combos and discover things, and in letting wild and astonishing things happen, than in being fair, or in being neatly designed. It recognises that it’s more fun to understand and master the mechanics of its systems, to learn how to unbalance and break it, than it is to try and balance everything so that it feels broadly the same every time.
I love that Dream Quest just has playstyles and strategies that are clearly better than others. That is has the guts to be so unbalanced! It’s clearly deliberate – it presents you with different choices, all of which sort of work, but some of which really work once you learn the ropes. It also has other choices, which don’t work nearly as well, but if you know what you’re doing you can make them work anyway.
I think this demonstrates a huge amount of respect for the player, and leaves breathing room for them to set their own goals and explore this little universe, in the same way the designer did. It makes the game feel wild and free and playful and open. More than anything else, this is what I loved about Dream Quest, and what I wanted to explore with my own work.
Dream Quest, of course, isn’t my only inspiration for this game – it’s also influenced by gameshows, by the many RPGs I played as a kid, by Undertale, by Adventure Time, probably loads of other stuff that I haven’t even consciously realised yet. If you ask other members of the team they’ll have their own answers for what inspirations they brought to the project too.
I’m a big believer in talking openly about what’s inspired me, and I think more people should do it! Everything anyone *ever* makes is inspired by what’s in their head – what they’ve played or read or encountered or thought a lot about. Creation doesn’t happen in a vacuum – everything is a remix! You start with the ideas you love and obsess about, and go from there to make something that’s uniquely your own.
I say this all the time, and I’ll say it again – I think Dicey Dungeons is the best game I’ve ever made. But here’s another thing: Dicey Dungeons is also, by a wide margin, the biggest game I’ve ever made.
It’s only when I actually sat down to figure out how long it was that this fact really hit me. We never set out to make a huge game – it just sort of happened, bit by bit.
My previous two games, VVVVVV and Super Hexagon, are very different here.
VVVVVV takes most players 2-3 hours to complete, a bit longer maybe if you do things like complete the time trials and hunt down all the trinkets.
Super Hexagon, played perfectly, takes six minutes to finish. Many players take… longer. But even then, the game is fundamentally a minimal one. It’s just a very different design – making it was about refining it down until it was right, rather than exploring it and expanding on it, like Dicey Dungeons is. About cutting things out rather than putting them in.
This game is different. It’s taken me about about three times as long to make as either of those – they were six months each, this is gonna be closer to 18. Also: I’m not making Dicey Dungeons alone! VVVVVV and Super Hexagon were just me and a musician; Dicey Dungeons is made by a full team – four full-timers and quite a few others contributing. So, on every axis, this really is the biggest game I’ve ever made.
So, how long, exactly?
Well, let’s do some quick maths! The game has six playable characters. Each of those characters has six “episodes”, which are like levels. There’s also a separate final episode, so that’s 37 episode in total.
A normal player, playing the game for the first time will probably beat the first few episodes in about 20 minutes, but some of the later ones like the Witch episodes take more like 40. On average, I think it probably takes about 30 minutes an episode, give or take.
To “complete” the game, though, you don’t have to do all 37 – you can skip one episode per character, so for a minimum completion, the total is 31.
So, uh, a half hour times 31 is… 15 and a half hours? For a minimum completion. Gosh.
But actually, that’s probably not right. That assumes that players beat every episode they play the first time through, which is… probably not going to happen. But lets be generous, and say that a player wins 2 out of every 3 matches? That brings the estimated minimum playthrough time to, uh, 23.25 hours. And many players will take longer, probably. There are already people with 100s of hours on the alpha.
If this scares you off a bit, that’s really not my intention! I think of the game not as having a lot of content (although, it does!) – but of having a lot of what you I guess you could call “replay value”. In fact, the way the game is paced, I think you’ll see a lot of great stuff even if you don’t bother with the episodes, and just do the introductions for the first five characters.
Dicey Dungeons is what some designers like to call a “stuff” game – a game with lots and lots of atomic stuff in it, all of which plays against each other in interesting ways. A thing about Dicey Dungeons that I’m really proud of is that you really don’t need to see all of that stuff, or even most of it, to have a great time with it.
My hope is that most people’s experience will be much slower, and less focused on trying to “complete” it. Maybe playing a quick episode every few days or so over a long stretch of time! This is how I like to play games, and what I hope Dicey Dungeons is for most players.
Ok, deep breaths! Next Tuesday, I’m launching Dicey Dungeons. This is my third commercial game – my last one, Super Hexagon, was seven years ago. I’m excited, but also: pretty anxious!
I feel like I have a lot on my mind right now, so, I wanna try something this week! I’m going to write little blog posts every day about various things related to the game, to maybe try and explain why this thing turned into such a big project, why I think so much of this game, and why my team and I have been working so hard on it.
So, here we go. I’ll update this with links as they go up!
So, today! What’s changed in Dicey Dungeons since the last alpha?
Well. Kind-of a lot.
A new soundtrack
Niamh felt pretty strongly the the music from the alpha versions of the game was only meant as unfinished placeholders: just early sketches of what she really wanted to do. Which, over the past couple of months, has really come together and developed into something spectacular. You can check out a few clips of the new soundtrack here:
We’re also adding voices! These aren’t line readings – they’re more characters sounds, Simlish-style, providing extra personality and inflection for every single character and enemy in the game. We’ve got new sounds too – in general, audio has just *massively* levelled up since the last alpha.
Loads of new art and animation
Thanks to a lot of hard work from Marlowe, things have really come together on the visual side of the game too! All the placeholders in the game are gone now, with every screen given care and attention. There’s new stuff too! More backgrounds, lots of extra polish, more enemies…
Yep! The final version of the game has 11 completely new enemies, and re-adds 3 that were dropped in the v0.16 enemy design audit.
Parallel Universes and Bonus Rounds
Parallel Universes are one of the highlights of the game now: a substantial new episode for every character, with totally new equipment and rule changes to how every status effects works. These might be the best episodes in the game – I really felt I was pushing myself harder as a designer than I ever have before, and I”m so proud of them.
There’s also a new episode 6 for every character: the Bonus Rounds, where you start out with normal rules but as you continue through the dungeons, more and more weird and awkward rules are added to it, different every time. These episodes kind-of take all the best stuff from the game and put it in one place – so Parallel Universe and Vanilla equipment in one episode, along with random rules that widely change how you play. They’re the game’s “infinitely replayable” mode!
No spoilers, but: I’m super excited for people to see the game’s ending. It’s a whole extra episode that unlocks once you’ve beaten the Bonus Rounds – big and ambitious and very different from anything else in the game. Honestly we probably all got a bit carried away on this one. I’m super proud of this.
Loads of new writing
The last alpha had three short cut scenes, two of which weren’t animated. The game now has, er, eighteen short cut scenes, plus short outros when you beat an episode, a load more lines that enemies might say when you defeat them, and lines from the shopkeeper characters – none of these are long, often it’s just one sentence at a time, but they really bring the whole game together. I really love where we ended up with our story! (I wrote a little bit more about this last week.)
Lots of other little things
Too many to list, honestly. But as well as all of the above, the final version of the game has:
A challenge system: As you progress through the game and complete certain challenges, you unlock a gallery of enemies with tiny profiles for each!
Shopkeepers: We’ve had the art for these around for a while now! Finally, they’re implemented and in the game!
Improvements to existing episodes: I’ve done a design pass on all of the episodes and tweaked most of them, and made very substantial changes and improvements on a few.
Loads of bug fixes: So many fewer bugs. Lots of extra little polish things too!
Nearly there now. I can’t wait to share this with everyone <3
Hey everyone! It’s two weeks till we launch Dicey Dungeons, so I thought it was time for a quick update!
I’d expected to be feeling really nervous round about now, but actually I think we’ve all been too busy for that to sink in. It’s kind of a rush right now, seeing all the pieces of this weird game finally come together: sound effects and music and animations and writing and missing chunks of game design, all coming together and fitting into place. I can’t wait to share this with everyone!
One thing that’s changed quite a lot in the couple of months since the last public build is the story – not what the story is about, but just how much of it there is. I originally imagined that Dicey Dungeons would have an almost invisible story – just enough to hang the game together, a line or two here and there explaining why everyone is down here fighting monsters and walking around as giant dice. I never imagined the writing would be a substantial part of the game.
But once we started putting those little moments of story in, it worked so well! Lines for the monsters in the dungeon to say, just occasionally, when you beat them. Introductions to each new episode from Lady Luck. Tiny interviews explaining who the six main characters are and why they came to the Dungeons. Once the writing and the sounds and the animation of the characters all began to fit together, it really helped to make the game feel like one big whole world. So, I asked our writer, Holly to write us some more!
This is all great, but it’s caused a problem: We’re probably not going to have all of the localisations ready on launch day.
I originally got our translators to sign on for a much smaller job – about 4000 words or so – but as the game has been getting bigger and bigger over the past year, the word count got bigger too. Right now, I think it’s closer to 20,000 words, about five times more text than they were expecting.
None of the jokes or incidental lines or cutscenes in the game are actually very long – there’s nothing that runs more than 15 or 20 seconds, and a lot of the key moments are only one sentence long. But there’s a LOT of those – broken up into hundreds of different tiny moments. Also, since v0.17, I’ve more than doubled the amount of equipment in the game too (thanks to the new Parallel Universe episodes).
We’re still hoping to have a couple of languages other than English ready for launch (I should know more about which ones over the next two weeks), and then, after launch, I’ll be updating the game as soon as the remaining translations come in, which I expect will happen over the first couple of weeks. I’ll keep Steam updated with details of when languages are coming as I know more.
Thanks for playing <3 Into the final stretch, now…
I’m so proud of how far this little dice game has come since it started as a janky prototype for last year’s seven day roguelike. I’ve pushed myself harder as a designer than I ever have before, and worked with an amazing team of talented people to make this the best it can be. I really think it’s the best thing I’ve ever worked on – Super Hexagon and VVVVVV don’t even come close. I’m so excited to finally share the finished thing with everyone <3