The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Dungeons of Dredmor

Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We at Joystiq believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, the gang from Gaslamp Games explain the hilariously time-consuming adventure of indie development with Dungeons of Dredmor.

What's your game called and what's it about?

David Baumgart: Our game is called Dungeons of Dredmor. It's a humorous, graphical, roguelike-inspired dungeon crawling RPG. The setup is the archetypal hero descending into the dungeon to defeat an evil dark lord -- that's Lord Dredmor -- by fighting, casting spells, collecting loot and experience, and generally being bothersome.

This is no sure process, for the dungeon is filled with traps, monsters, and bottles of acid. Everyone will die at some point. If a player has selected the traditional permadeath option, then upon death the player's character is dead forever and the player must start again with a new hero at the beginning of the game. It's more fun that way.

What inspired you to make this game?

Nicholas Vining: A combination of things. First, I (foolishly) thought it was something I could do quickly; second, I was playing a fair amount of Crawl at the time and was wondering what an "accessible" roguelike would look like. The combination of the two ended up being the initial impetus for the game.

As for the actual inspirations for the content in the game? Coffee and Italian Symphony Metal, mainly.

How long did it take to create?

Daniel Jacobsen: Dungeons of Dredmor took... a long time to make. Our development cycle for this project isn't something that we will be able to afford to do again, but when you have such a small team working in what is essentially their "free time," it is difficult to really hunker down and crank out code. As a group we have been working on this since 2008, but Nick initially started coding it way back in 2005 before we had formed Gaslamp Games.

What's the coolest aspect of your game?

DB: The sheer mass of content. I love drawing the little icons and writing descriptions and scripting abilities. We've got upwards of 500 unique items in the game along with a couple hundred skills and spells. There's a LOT to discover in Dredmor, and then once found there are all sorts of interlocking mechanics of their uses for players to explore. I'm continually surprised by how people exploit combinations of mechanics they discover, or how patient players can be -- and I'm surprised by all the ideas they have of where to expand the game mechanics that I never thought of. Just today I read a proposed revision of one of the game's skill lines that made an awful lot of sense. (Why didn't I think of that?)

When we get proper modding supported, I expect to be absolutely floored by the Dredmor community's creativity.

NV: There are also Diggles and Lutefisk. And acid drinking! And a dozen types of cheese!

Anything you'd do differently?

NV: If we had made it differently, it wouldn't be Dredmor. There are technical decisions that I would do differently if I was starting a new game, and I think that the same is true in the art, design, and company-running departments, but these are just learning experiences we get to take forward and apply to the next thing, so we can make it even better.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?

DJ: Honestly, because it is more fun. In the context of Gaslamp, every decision that we make is an attempt to make the game more fun, more exciting and more approachable; our belief being that the better we can do these things, the more copies of the game we can sell to fund more improvements or an even better game.

Those sorts of motivations and decisions just aren't possible with most established companies churning out AAA titles. The average programmer for a big studio is so far away from that design and creative process that it's just difficult to get excited by it; it's like they're at a zoo with a railing and 50 feet separating them from the, um... players. And we're in there! We communicate!

Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?
We're small enough and just crazy enough to ship something that no investor would have ever approved.

DB: Oh yes. Well, definitely in certain senses, though it might do the indie movement injustice to describe it in any kind of monolithic terms. If anything it's all the result anyone being able to get their hands on the means of creating and distributing games and making anything. The wild success of the likes of Minecraft, for example, means that small projects coming out of nowhere can be taken very seriously indeed by the industry, press and, of course, by gamers.

Indie games fill a void in the PC market that just can't be reached by the creatively conservative AAA blockbuster-style publishers. We're small enough and just crazy enough to ship something that no investor would have ever approved.

Sell your game in one sentence:

NV: You'll laugh so much you won't notice that you've just died again.

What's next?

NV: For us? Sleep. Possibly drinking. For Dredmor? Patches, new content and a female hero. For Gaslamp? Making further refinements on Dredmor, getting it into a state where we can sneak new stuff on it at night like a ninja, and then -- eventually! -- the next game.

Gaslamp Games has its own blog and a pretty sweet Twitter account -- get Dungeons of Dredmor for $4.99 on Steam or Desura now and see if it's worth your precious time to follow them.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.