Dungeons of Dredmor has been performing fantastically since its Summer 2011 release. After PAX, I dropped in to talk to the game’s creators, Nicholas Vining, Daniel Jacobson, and David Baumgart. I assure you, few people have mastered such a passionate attitude towards spreading their love of absurdism with the rest of the world.
1. It’s been a while since your Steam release. What’s your reaction been to all the success earned?
DGB: I’ll have to get back to you a couple days after my cheque finally clears. When I sober up.
NV: Because I had to move to Vancouver, I ended up spending most of my Dredmor money – to date – at IKEA. Between them and Notch, I don’t know why we don’t just send enormous cheques directly to Sweden and be done with it. (Interestingly, did you know that the King of Sweden is 203rd in line for the British Throne? True facts.)
CD: Very pleasantly surprised that we are in what appears to be a good enough state to “make a go of it” as a “legitimate company”. Honestly I think I write for everyone when I say that none of us were expecting that, and we’re all totally thrilled by it.
2. If you had to say that there was a particular lesson learned or reality observed, what would that be?
DGB: Game development is suspiciously like actual work.
3. PAX was incredible this year. What was the experience like for you?
NV: Good! We drank booze with the staff of PC Gamer, and I ate an enormous ice cream sandwich. Seriously, it was larger than my head. In fact, it was kind of disgusting. We also tried to crash Notch’s party, owing to the fact that he put up a Twitter post that said something along the lines of “Hey, Indies, you should just show up!” So we just showed up, and were then unable to get in. I guess either Gaslamp Games is too indie, or not indie enough, or something. We ended up going back to the convention center and playing Battletoads.
We had our musician, Matthew Steele, with us at the time, and he got much better recognition than we did. We kept running into other musicians, who are all, universally, large men with massive beards. They did the whole “Hey! I loved Super Meat Boy’s soundtrack!” “Thanks! I loved the Dredmor soundtrack!” thing – and this kept happening. A lot. I think they all went to their own party for large men with beards that we weren’t allowed to go to. There may have been karaoke. It ALSO turns out that Matthew is a Battletoads Genius.
Next year, I think that Gaslamp will have to do the booth thing. Also, it looks like the Canadian Government may actually give us money to throw a party, so we’ll have to see what happens there.
4. Let’s move backward–where were you when it all started? How’s that different compared to now?
CD: Let’s see… Nicholas was (I think) just starting his master’s in comp sci, I was working on my physics degree, David was a starving freelance artist, and we were all in Nick’s dad’s basement which was excessively decorated with various flavors of wooden paneling. Now we’re all trying really hard to transition from our previous lives into “being a real game company”, but that transition is far from over. We’re sub-leasing a sub-lease of a large non-descript building in Vancouver, which has a bit less dead tree in it than the bunker, but it’s a lot warmer.
5. Indie developers have taken to working on hilarious re-imaginings of Dungeon Crawlers as of late. Do you think your title fits in that category?
NV: Sure, but we started this in… er, awhile ago. We are the Real Slim Shady, and everybody else just wants to be like us.
6. What do you think the obsession is with gamers and retromania and the old school?
DGB: Two thoughts come to mind. First, it’s probably a natural impulse that can be seen in any category of interest, it’s just that videogames are such a young medium that there wasn’t such a long history to get obsessive about 20 years ago. Second, it’s probably a reaction against the directions that mainstream gaming, AAA and “social”, have taken due to their business model and the structure of the industry. What is commercially feasible in a blockbuster or microtransaction model driven by investors is not always the same as what people want to play; huge gaps are opening in the market for indie developers to move into.
7. What kind of humor did you want there to be in Dredmor?
NV: Really, Dredmor’s humour has a lot to do with whatever made me laugh at the time. As a general rule, I like to put things in the game that make me laugh when I come up with them. I like to keep things in the game that keep making me laugh. (I think the most memorable thing for me is the mineral Bauxite, which David described as “a grudging source of aluminum” and which has never failed to make me giggle.)
DGB: A lot of this just ended up happening because we were stuck in a basement with too much coffee and felt like being silly. It wasn’t clear that any of it was a good idea at the time, but the point was to amuse ourselves. For my part, for better or worse, I find wordplay amusing so you get an awful lot of that happening once I started writing descriptions.
CD: It really is the case that when the three of us get together with big mugs of coffee that this stuff just comes out. We are gaming culture addicts; add in an unnerving desire to take every idea to the next level, coupled with a strong desire that we also share to add depth and a sense of authenticity in spite of our irreverent references, and Dredmor’s humor was inevitable.
8. I love the Dredmor Doomguy face. Were there any other blatant inspirations for the title?
DGB: Some direct influences you can probably see are UI, skills, and overall design from Diablo 1 and 2, Titan Quest, later Ultima games, particularly Ultima Online for me personally. Dwarf Fortress had a huge influence on our artifact and naming system especially, as well as crafting and general humour and references to some degree. There’s a tileset from Quake and one from Doom. The player sprite especially was influence by old Lucasarts titles. The roguelike genre in general are of course a huge inspiration. I’m a huge fan of Darklands so there’s a nod to that here and there. Also early Zelda titles are neat. There’s probably something of the Baldur’s Gate series and D&D generally (of course) going on. The skill icon illustrations owe a lot to Fallout. The list goes on.
NV: There are a bunch of mechanical influences, too, lifted from roguelikes. There are also a handful of things in Dredmor that we do simply because Diablo did them, and that seemed to work well. Great artists steal.
9. The monsters certainly have an interesting flair to them as well. Why was the decision made to include such a broad variety of enemies?
NV: We wanted to eschew the standard fantasy monsters. Orcs, goblins… bleh. We wanted to do something more interesting, and I’m pleased that we managed to. A big influence here – for me at least, when I came up with the original monster ideas – was Dragon Quest, and how it has iconic monsters like Slimes. We want a piece of that, and I think that Diggles have been hugely iconic for Dredmor. So, yeah. It’s our inner Akira Toriyama coming out.
I would actually like to have *more* monsters in Dredmor, but we’ll be addressing that further down the road. We hired some contractors and they’ve been drawing things like fish warriors and astronauts and things… it’s all good.
10. The game’s UI has a certain unique diction to it, with its own sense of tongue-in-cheek absurdism. Is that direction your own aesthetic choice?
DGB: It’s a loving reference to the games we grew up on and an acknowledgement of their inherent absurdity. Beside all that, I actually just love doing intricate UI art.
NV: Sometimes, it is too intricate. I think we’ve learned a lot about UI development that we want to apply to the next game.
11. How strongly did you want the game’s aesthetics to factor into how players perceive the title?
DGB: Humour plays a huge role in making players feel okay about dying horribly and irreversably. I don’t think Dredmor would be nearly so appealing without something to help players swallow that bitter pill.
12. Ideally, how did you want players to perceive the game?
DGB: I love the tagline from a review site – “A Roguelike For The Rest Of Us”. This cuts right to the core of what Dredmor is about, being a roguelike-inspired game that’s also accessible to non-roguelike players.
13. Turn-based RPGs typically want to inspire their characters to be thoughtful. Do you think the roguelike wants something different from the gamer?
DGB: Masochism, probably.
CD: Roguelikes definitely require the thoughtful aspect, as they are at their best when every choice you make is the difference between success and defeat. But more than that, a procedurally generated world has at its heart a desire to be random enough that it forces you to take a bizarre string of events and turn them into the only narrative you could comprehend to make sense of them, and it becomes very uniquely your story in the process.
14. Scale-wise, your game has a high amount of visual activity. How do you think that balances with the thoughtfulness of the turn-based gameplay?
DGB: I’m drawn to ornate aesthetics and visually complex scenes so it’s probably where I’d naturally end up going no matter what the case. It all plays a role in flavour and ambiance, of giving a sense of place and feeling of discovery, so I think it’s important even if it does not necessarily make the choices available absolutely clear-cut.
15. Given your success, are you looking to try new and different things in the future, or stick with what you know best?
DGB: Something new, definitely. There’s so much we want to do and we certainly don’t want to be the Dredmor-only Dredmor-all-the-time company. Heck, I wouldn’t even say we know roguelikes best — it’s just what we happened to do first. Second actually. It’s what we happened to do first successfully.
CD: We have learned so many lessons on the right and wrong ways to approach game design that I have no doubt you will see Dredmor’s DNA in what we produce next. What form that takes is something we’re spending a good bit of time debating right now =)
16. What are your plans for subsequent releases?
CD: Our first priority (as of this writing) is giving what we’ve been promising to the very patient Linux fans. After that, we’re going to do the mod support that we’ve been talking about. And then it gets a bit fuzzy: there is talk of an expansion to Dredmor and of course eventually a next project. We are really looking forward to divulging the details on these things but until we know for sure what you can expect, we don’t want to get your hopes up.
NV: Our project to re-create the Elder Gods via selective in-breeding of Digby Scallops has yet to meet with success, but we’re hopeful. All we have right now, though, are scallops with bad teeth.
17. What’s the feedback process for patching the game generally like?
NV: We go through the list of user complaints and suggestions, merge them into our own database, and then work through it until some sort of predefined point is reached. At this point, we send a build off to testers, and they test it. During this time, we drink martinis.
At some point, things stabilize enough that we feel comfortable releasing a patch, and we release it. It’s worth noting that this is a new system that we set up after some unpleasant learning experiences; it seems to be working well so far.
18. What’s it like working in shared office space now?
NV: I need a better chair. This one is awful. Unfortunately, nowhere in downtown Vancouver buys better chairs – you actually have to go down to East Hastings, one of the most poverty-stricken and troubled neighbourhoods in all of Canada, to buy ergonomic chairs. For some reason, this is where all the chair shops are. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.
I’m also not sure how I’m going to get the chair back from East Hastings down to our offices in Yaletown.
DGB: We’ve worked in the same space before in various arrangements. The real difference is that we’re actually sharing with other people who are trying to work. This means that, unfortunately, we can’t blast Italian fantasy metal through the office like we used to.
19. What non-Steam channels will you be distributing from from now on?
CD: One of the necessities with a Linux version is of course an alternative distribution model. Linux isn’t officially supported by Steam, and while you can do clever things like hiding the linux build inside the bundle that you download from them, it also gives us an opportunity to do something else that fans have requested: the ability to pay us (mostly) directly.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to experience Dungeons of Dredmor yet, definitely swing by a pick up a copy. It is well worth it! Thanks to the Gaslamp Team for taking the time for a great interview!