Asymmetrical multiplayer is just a cool concept, it really is, and I don’t know why we hadn’t come up with it sooner as an industry. Crawl feels like looking through to an alternate timeline, to what might have been if gaming had pushed the boundaries of what multiplayer games are just a little earlier on. Up to four players enter a dark, sullen dungeon through which a single hero, controlled by the player who killed the hero last, fights his way through to the end. The other players possess traps and monsters (literally, their incorporeal forms enter physical objects), or have access to other abilities that can hinder and kill the hero. Turns out, I’m actually really good at using one of the end boss’ bubble attack abilities, as remarked on by developer David Lloyd. Does receiving a compliment from the developer of a game, while playing that game, make you some kind of gaming God? Probably not. David shared his thoughts on Crawl with me after I deflated my ego.
As the hero, however, I lasted a collective twenty seconds.
Where did you get the idea for Crawl?
We had like a little local multiplayer game jam at my place. Normally if you do a game jam, you don’t really get to play the games, you spend the whole time making them. So, we wanted to kind of make the games before hand and work on the local multiplayer there so that, when we bring them around, we could all just get drunk and play them. So, Barney, the artist, put together this really small, two-day, really early version of Crawl where one guy is controlling a hero, the others are controlling monsters. You try to kill the monsters as the hero and if you kill them, you just kind of get to keep going, and if they kill you they become the hero. It didn’t have any point to it it, you just kept going back and forth, but it was pretty fun and we thought it would be a pretty awesome project to do as our first thing.
So the asymmetrical multiplayer element was there from the beginning?
Yeah, absolutely, that was one of the things we were really excited about at the time when we were exploring it because there wasn’t really much like it at the time.
Where did you guys get the idea for the theme, the whole dungeon crawler aspect?
It’s kind of like all the tropes of RPG’s and, I guess, all the things you’d do in a single player game, we wanted to see what it would be like if you were controlling the monsters or the bosses or the traps and all that stuff. We wanted to play around with those sorts of ideas because it’s all stuff that people are already familiar with and it makes the game easier to pick up. You’re kind of like, “Oh, yeah, I know what a monster’s supposed to do, and I know how XP works!”
I love the visual style, that kind of grim-dark, eldritch by way of the NES look. Is this exactly how it started or has it been refined over time?
The very first thing, the game jam thing where this started, it was much simpler and brighter. Barney is a really huge fan of Diablo, the first Diablo, where it was really dingy, and we wanted to evoke a bit of that. The whole Dungeons and Dragons, kind of RPG thing is a bit tired, so we thought we’d go for more of a Lovecraft-y feel and get that in there as much as we could.
You mentioned Diablo, Lovecraft, and D&D, were there any other particular inspirations for this?
There’s also a bit of Gauntlet in it, also things like Legend of Zelda, Bomber Man and those sort of games. Bomber Man just because we played a lot of local multiplayer of that, you don’t really think of it immediately, but that was one of the things we were thinking about when we were making it.
“… It’s all stuff that people are already familiar with and it makes the game easier to pick up. You’re kind of like, ‘Oh, yeah, I know what a monster’s supposed to do, and I know how XP works!'”
So, since you’re not finished with development yet, what else are you planning on adding in before full release?
The main thing is bosses; we’ve got two at the moment, but we really need three at the minimum, so we’re working on a new boss at the moment, and it’s going to be really sweet. That’s the main thing right now; we’ll try and get it released as soon as possible and then we can concentrate upgrading after that, updating it with more stuff. The release is what we’re focusing on at the moment, I’m really excited for it (laughing.)
You were on Steam Greenlight for awhile, and you’re currently on Early Access, is that right? How long has Crawl been in development for?
Yeah, we’re still in Early Access, we’ve been on there for about a year now, and development overall has been about two years. It’s been a lot longer than we expected, but it’s been going really well, the community stuff’s been really cool on the Steam forums. We’re still supporting it on Early Access, and we’ll probably keep supporting it even after we release, which will probably be early next year.
What’s your experience with Early Access been like? It can be pretty mixed for some people, ranging from great to catastrophic, what’s it been like for you?
Yeah, mainly good. The initial launch was a bit weird because a lot of websites and media weren’t really sure how to deal with Early Access. Like, do you review it now, or do you leave it? So, it felt like it was a bit of a flat launch, but then the community building and stuff that we’ve had has been great. We’ve been able to update a lot, and people are expecting updates, they’re excited when they see them, they keep looking at what you’re doing, and I think that side is really positive. I think it also depends on the game, [Crawl] is a really good game for that because it’s sort of like having a board game. You can bring out with friends, and every time you bring it out it’s like there’s a new expansion you can play, a new set of cards or something.
Because of Early Access, have you had to really promote the game a lot or has it really just spread by word of mouth?
Well, we kind of do all the promotion and so on ourselves, so we never felt like we needed a publisher or distribution person. Barney’s really good at doing animated gifs, and we do the trailer stuff ourselves; we got a friend to do the voice, and that went really well. It’s really cool just showing people the stuff we’re making and that’s been the best way for getting the word out for indie guys like us.
“The whole Dungeons and Dragons, kind of RPG thing is a bit tired, so we thought we’d go for more of a Lovecraft-y feel and get that in there as much as we could.”
What’s been the biggest challenge for you in making this game?
Well, we’re both working from home, and sometimes we go a bit stir crazy and get annoyed at each other (laughing.) I don’t know; we haven’t hit any huge snags, really. It’s been pretty good, it’s just, like, a lot of work between the two of us so we’ve had to suddenly figure out all the business-y side, and accounting. Stuff that we’ve, got no idea about and it’s like, “Oh, I guess we have to figure this out now?” Because before we started Powerhoof, we were just working in a company and working for a salary, so yeah…
Just running your own company has been the hardest bit?
Yeah, you’re making a game, which is a bit of a challenge already, then you’ve suddenly got to become a business owner or something. It’s weird, it’s something you don’t really think about when you start.
Finally, what’s your favorite game?
Ah, man, I don’t know – it depends on what game I’ve been playing recently. Grim Fandango was always a big favorite and playign that again recently was pretty cool, so that’s kind of in my top-favorite-y bit at the moment, so yeah – Grim Fandango.