May 20, 2013 2:30 PM | John Polson
Upcoming rhythm and roguelike hybrid Crypt of the NecroDancer developer Ryan Clark recently spoke with me to fill in the gaps left from the early alpha trailer above. His latest project is certainly different from his earlier work at Grubby, such as FizzBall and IncrediBots. He still likes creating title words with capital letters in the middle of them, though.
Now running Brace Yourself Games, Ryan speaks here about the groove meter that dictates how players can crawl, how enemies and your own music collection work, and how he aims to incorporate Dance Dance Revolution to make this Windows and Mac dungeon crawler aerobic.
What are the funnest things about NecroDancer that people can't see from the video?
When you kill an enemy and keep moving without missing a beat, you stay "in the groove". If you get hit or miss a beat for some reason, the groove chain ends. While in the groove, you receive a multiplier on the number of coins that enemies drop. I personally find it very satisfying to chain up big combos, especially while playing with some of the higher tempo songs! And if you really want a challenge, try killing a dragon while staying in the groove! That'll net you a ton of coins for your next shopping spree.
Also, we haven't talked a lot about the beat detection algorithm: it will be possible for players to use any digital music on their machines to play Crypt of the NecroDancer! Slay zombies while listening to Rob Zombie! Deliver beatdowns while listening to Beethoven!
Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was a big inspiration (the way the zombies move to the beat!), and it was quite fun the first time I got Thriller working in the game. You can also try hilariously incongruous stuff like Abba or high tempo death metal, if you like!
How do you do stay alive?
Well, the main survival strategy is to observe the movement patterns of the enemies and use those to your advantage. (Every enemy has a predictable, repetitive movement pattern.) Most enemies move only every second beat, while the player moves on every beat. This means you have time to hit an enemy and retreat before it has a chance to strike back. And, for the enemies that do move on every beat, we've generally made them weaker such that they can be killed in a single strike. The player simply needs to wait for them to approach, and deliver a timely blow!
What kind of research did you do for this game, and what did you find?
I didn't do a lot of intentional research, though I've certainly been inspired by a few recent games. Spelunky and FTL both rekindled my love of hard, roguelike games. So much so that I went back and played the heck out of the original Rogue, thereby reliving my childhood.
But by playing Rogue in such close proximity to Spelunky and FTL, I realized that Rogue is an extremely unfair game. Often it is simply unwinnable, regardless of your skill level. Games like Spelunky and FTL, on the other hand, boast fairly high win rates for truly skilled players. When you die in Spelunky, for example, it's usually your own stupid fault!
I did do a little explicit research on the rhythm game side, but that research quickly devolved into hours and hours of playing Rhythm Heaven Fever with my son. What I found on the rhythm game side is that there are many ways to inform the player of upcoming beats, and that we needed to iterate until we found the best match for NecroDancer. That process is still ongoing!
What are the most interesting things about the game to you?
I like the fact that it's reasonably close to a true roguelike, but while still preserving that same feeling of "when you die, it's your own fault!" of games like Spelunky. I want players to gain something from each death, not throw up their hands in frustration at the unfairness of the game.
Some roguelikes, such as Hack, also boast high win rates, but only after years of study. I want NecroDancer to be based on a player's skill more than knowledge of arcana. (I love secrets as much as the next guy, but I contend that a game should still feel fair and winnable, even without knowledge of those secrets.)
I also like the fact that the game's simple controls allow it to be played on a DDR dance pad! We've had some fun times with this at recent Vancouver indie gatherings, and I hope that I can bring that experience directly to fans if the game is accepted to upcoming festivals such as IndieCade and PAX. It's great fun roasting your enemies with a fireball (press LEFT and RIGHT arrows simultaneously) on a DDR pad! I want to share that with as many people as I can!
Any chance of hacking a DDR arcade cabinet for expos?
Hacking a DDR cabinet would be awesome! Not sure how the border guards would like me going back and forth from Canada with that much gear, though! Maybe if someone in the states already owns such a cabinet, we could set it up. It certainly would be attention grabbing if we could pull it off!
[We're going to talk some more soon about Ryan's past dev experience and about how he has created and works with a super indie team, including those behind Canabalt, Aquaria, and Infinite Blank.]