Last month, during Rezzed 2015, I had the chance of visiting the Versus Evil room and check out some of the of the publisher’s amazing lineup for 2015. Toren drew my eye with its surreal environments and ICO-like gameplay, but the one to really tickle my geekiness was the visually simpler yet much quirkier Guild of Dungeoneering, a card-based game where you build the dungeon for an adventurer but then use cards to help him fight, becoming part Dungeon Master and part player.
Last Thursday I met Colm Larkin from Gambrinous (a word that according to Colm comes from an urban dictionary and means, “to be full of beer”) during the One Game a Month meetup they organise, to talk a bit about the game and its development.
Guild of Dungeoneering’s (GD) started out as a simple One Game a Month prototype, one of many he developed over the months, to get his feet wet in game development and design. As time passed he decided he wanted to turn one of them into a full-fledged game and picked this title because it evoked fun memories from his childhood, as he fondly remember playing Dungeons & Dragons with his older brothers. The RPG is the title’s strongest inspiration, as well as many other tabletop games.
At the start of development, Colm thought it would be a three-month project. It’s now over a year in development with four full-time members on the team and a part-time artist, this in part thanks to Versus Evil taking them on as publisher. Once he had a demo built, Colm says he spent the next few months looking for a publisher, but not large ones like EA or Sony but the small but powerful like Versus Evil and Revolver Digital.
It’s thanks to having a publisher that they’ve been able to go to events such as GDC, PAX and Rezzed, so they can show the game’s progress and core gameplay. The build they showed at Rezzed and which other sites covered in the past months, consisted of a single dungeon to explore. The version I saw had significant progress, having multiple dungeons, catchy theme-tunes (more on that later) and the ability to build up your guild, to expand its rooms and skills, giving you more adventurers and powers to choose from when you go out exploring for loot & glory.
During Rezzed I thought Puuba games The Weaponographist was the only non-unity title on show, as every other developer seemed to favour the engine, but I realise now that Guild of Dungeoneering was the other one, as they’re using Flash, Flex and Adobe Air for its development. The upside to this is that it even runs smoothly on Colm’s 8-year-old laptop, which for me only expands its potential customer base, as people still using older operating systems will be able to play it without issue.
One of GD’s more striking’s features is its simple yet charming art style. Colm mentioned he interviewed a number of artists before settling for his friend Fred Mangan who lives in Australia. He based the style on what he could do on his own, with his own drawing skills if he didn’t have an artist working for him. Fred liked the idea of ‘purposely bad’ and polished Colm’s original ideas and sketches into the current look. He’s one of two members of the team not in Dublin, the other being the game’s primary designer who lives in London.
One interesting thing to note is that the artist has done very little in the way of animation for GD. Colm says they “animate by cheating,” making all animations programmatic, adding effects via code.
For the music, they went for traditional Irish music, which works really well in a dungeon-crawler fantasy game. The composer actually found a traditional singer and between the two of them created the game’s theme song “This is the Guild of Dungeoneering,” which plays from the main menu and which they were excited to have people hear. In addition to that, there are many more in-game songs. Every time I died for example, a song would play out lamenting my death but basically saying, “meh, there’s more where that one came from!” Helping to sell the cynical corporate guild idea Colm loves, to make you question if you’re really the good guys or just some monstrous organisation sending chumps (the starting class) out to die.
We shared a laugh when the composer, Steve Stems, turned to us, dead serious and said, “I hate the song,” referring to the main theme. “It’s good, but I’ve heard it so many times and it’s been stuck in my head, I hate it now.” He mentioned.
Part of the deal with a publisher is that they need a fixed goal as they can’t afford to keep a game in development indefinitely. Because of that, and in his new role as Director—or Overlord as I suggested, to make the titles more interesting—Colm has had to shut down some of the team’s ideas for content, even something ‘simple’ as battle music, keeping it focused on the single player dungeon-building, guild-expanding experience. There will be no overarching plot, just different tiers of adventures and possibly even challenge/harder modes. As we spoke, and joined by Owen Canavan (another developer in the team) and Steve, I had the opportunity to see Colm in his director role live, mediating with team members and keeping them focused on the end goal. It was perhaps one of the most interesting moments of the night as you rarely see indie devs talking shop with one another.
Colm says that if the game does well and has its audience, they’ll spend the next year developing add-on content, which could even include some multiplayer functionality. One mode he’d love to see in the game is a cooperative/competitive multiplayer mode, where you have to decide if you’ll use your resources to help your adventurer, or screw with the other player’s little chump.
One question I love to ask developers is what would they do with their game if money and time weren’t a consideration, if they could do everything they wanted, what one thing would they add to a game. Colm was perhaps the first one to tell me, “I have no clue. I’m more used to working with the constraints of time and money!”
More than anything, he’s sensible and grounded on Gambrinous and GD’s future. He’s been working full-time on it for over a year after quitting his previous job. Thanks to a start-up incentive by the Irish Government and the publishing deal with Versus Evil, he could hire staff and pay them, but everything from expansions to sequels to other games in his head all depend on GD being successful. “If it is, we’ll use it to build more fun stuff…if it doesn’t, then we can at least say ‘we had fun building this thing we love’ and we’ll disband.”
Guild of Dungeoneering is set to release later this year and Colm is confident they can finish the game within the next two months. As he states, “We’ve already added systems, now we’re adding content.”
I want to thank Colm Larkin for taking the time to talk to me and for introducing me to the One Game a Month event. I had a fantastic time and I will be talking about that soon.