Two-man team Powerhoof used their mighty boss laser to smash into our weekly community games night with Crawl way back at the beginning of April. We were instantly charmed by this asymmetrical 3 vs.1 dungeon crawler and have been following development ever since.
Crawl is now available on Steam Early Access, so just anyone can grab the game, some buddies and spend an evening or two testing the limits of friendship.
As for us, we took an afternoon off from murdering each other in dank dungeons to conduct a small interview with Dave Lloyd (half of the 'hoof) to see what challenges they faced making the game, and what's still to come!
GoPlayThat: You guys worked for Firemint and IronMonkey respectively, before they merged and became Firemonkeys. Did you guys meet each other during that transition? Did you work on anything together there?
Dave Lloyd: We first worked together a few years before Firemonkeys at another game studio in Melbourne. We worked on the same team there, and hung out together a lot after we’d both moved on. It was really fun when our separate jobs merged together again. We weren’t working on the same projects, but went out for lunch most days, and it made it easier to meet up for drinks Friday nights!
GPT: What made you guys decide to go it alone? Going from a team of around 60 to just 2 must be daunting.
Dave: For both of us it had been something we’d imagined ourselves doing at some point in our life. I basically realised that I would be better off trying to be a starving artist when I don’t have a mortgage or kids, and so the sooner the better!
It’s very different doing everything yourselves, you get so used to just doing the one job you were hired for, programming for me, and animation for Barney. When you’re suddenly responsible for managing a business, marketing, PR, support, accounting, QA, distribution, as well as every element of the game itself it can be overwhelming, but also incredibly rewarding.
GPT: After investigating your website, we discovered that you have also made a few adventure games! After the success of Crawl, would you consider making a fully-fledged graphic adventure game?
Dave: Yeah, I’d love to! I’m the big adventure fan of the two of us, but Barney’s excited about doing some adventure game style character animation as well. I have a half-designed game about a happy-go-lucky LARPer who’s a bit confused about where the fantasy ends and reality begins. It’s a modern day Don Quixote basically!
GPT: It’s a question we ask most devs, but what’s the indie scene like over there in Melbourne? Is there the same level of camaraderie and cooperation as there is in say, London or Toronto?
Dave: Melbourne’s amazing at the moment. The bottom fell out of the industry a few years ago with the global financial crisis, so there’s a lot less of the larger development studios here now. But there’s been a massive surge in the number of indies doing really exciting things, and the community is really supportive and constantly growing.
GPT: What inspired you to make Crawl? Are you big fans of dungeon crawlers in general?
Dave: Crawl started as a game Barney threw together in a few days for a little gamejam I hosted with a few game developer friends. We thought making local-multiplayer games would be fun, because we could have the emphasis on playing the games we’d made rather than just making them. We’re definitely both big fans of dungeon crawlers and roguelikes, and Barney’s initial idea was simply to see how a game like that could work at a party with everyone playing.
GPT: Most local multiplayer games focus on cooperation, or at the very least, balanced teams. What is different about the experience of one player (victim?) versus three monsters?
Dave: We’ve been seeing a lot more asymmetric multiplayer games recently, where players aren’t on an even footing. It’s complex to balance a game where players have very different abilities, but I always find those games really intriguing. Barney and I played loads of Left 4 Dead when we worked together, and we were talking a lot about the design of games like Spy Party around the time we started working on Crawl too.
One thing I really liked about Crawl from the first time we tried it out was the way alliances form between monster players and then are instantly shattered as soon as you swap to being the hero. For most of the game you’re really still competing with the other monsters, as you want to be the one who gets the most damage or the last hit to become the hero. But when you get to the boss, you suddenly have all three players coordinating to stop the hero from winning.
GPT: How has the initial experience of launching on Early Access been for you?
Dave: It’s very scary launching a game for the first time, but it must be so much harder launching when you don’t have the opportunity to respond to feedback and improve the game afterwards. We’ve wanted to do early access from the start - it just made sense to us for this style of game. Our friends have been enjoying playing Crawl over and over as we’ve been adding content so far, and we wanted to share that with others. You do get less exposure launching on early access, but since we’re such a small team we don’t have to worry too much about making huge sales immediately like bigger teams might.
It was a big decision to have an initial release without online multiplayer too, since so many people can’t get buddies together in front of a PC. But since the game can already be enjoyed by so many people, it seemed right to get it into those people’s hands, with the goal of adding online afterwards.
GPT: What are the key challenges of developing a game like Crawl?
Dave: One thing you do a lot as a game designer is fall back on what other games do. So if you’re making a fighting game, you might look at the way Street Fighter handles choosing the winner and the loser, and if you’re making an RPG you might refer to the rules Final Fantasy uses for levelling up and purchasing things from stores. A big challenge for us was that most of the time we couldn’t look at another game to solve a design problem we had, since it didn’t fit with the game being both a competitive fighting game AND feeling like an RPG.
One of the things we’re both most proud of is the design of the Boss. Usually bosses will have repeatable patterns or telegraphed attacks with long windups for you to avoid. Neither of these things work well when controlled by players, and it took us quite a few tries to get something that felt like you were fighting a boss for the hero, and controlling one for a ghost.
GPT: Crawl released at the perfect time, as 2014 has set a really high-water mark for local multiplayer. Which local multiplayer games have been grabbing your attention this year?
Dave: We’ve had lots of excuses to get friends around to play games when we’ve needed to test things in Crawl. Nidhogg, Pole Riders, Broforce and Gang Beasts have been getting the most giggles recently. I’m really looking forward to trying out Push Me Pull You which I only just realised was made by other devs in Melbourne!
GPT: In our experience the first thing that new players do is immediately smash up the scenery looking for stuff! Will we see more loot in the game?
Dave: The scenery’s fun to smash and it’s the first thing everyone tries to do, but it’s another thing [that] ended up having extra design considerations because of the nature of the multiplayer. When we added smashable scenery we realised the game slows down a lot while you wait for the hero to go around smashing everything. The end solution was for smashables to spawn pickups for the ghosts, rather than the hero.
We definitely have plans for a whole lot more interactive scenery, which does various things for both for the hero and the ghosts. I like the idea that certain props would have either good or bad results, adding to that feeling of discovery when you first try drinking from a particular type of fountain, reading a book, or tossing a coin down a well.
GPT: We really enjoy the boss encounter, as the monster players really have to collaborate to defeat the hero. Can you give us any hints on what else is to come in the boss battles?
Dave: Ooh, we’ve got lots of ideas, and we’ve already been getting a lot more from the community. It’s hard to tell which we’ll try and which will actually work out when we do try them. But I’m looking forward to trying bosses where one player controls the movement of the boss while others control different limbs, or even where multiple players are fighting over group controlled movement. Basically anything that involves a lot of shouting at each other, and lets Barney draw some crazy looking monsters!
GPT: Which is your favourite monster in the game? Which is your favourite hero item?
Dave: Usually whenever we put a new monster in, it becomes my new favourite, at least for a while. I’m still fond of the blob fish because it’s so pathetic looking, but I love the recent changes to the dragon which feels really fierce now.
I love getting the berserk spell because it constantly backfires for me but is still really fun. If I actually want to win however, I’ll go [for] the hyperdash. I like coupling that with the club or crossbow which are really slow and hard to hit with, but do loads of damage.
GPT: Finally - As self-confessed merchandise addicts, we need to know: will there be any possibility to buy stuff related to Crawl? Plushies? T-shirts etc.?
Dave: We don’t have anything yet- I’m sure we’ll get on top of that soon. I decided to take up cross stitching a while ago and cross stitched a bunch of pixel art from some of my favourite games. My skills have been getting rusty though, I should start cross stitching a bunch of Crawl pixel monsters!