Review: Guild of Dungeoneering – Pirates Cove

Guild of Dungeoneering is a game I reviewed some time ago. It’s a fantastic tabletop-style dungeon crawler with hand-drawn cards and kooky classes with a funny story. But it had one flaw…no pirates. Now Pirate’s Cove brings the buccaneering to the dungeoneering!
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Indie Dublin: One Game a Month and DubLUDO

Last week I published the interview I did with Colm Larkin from Gambrinous. We met at the One Game a Month (aka 1GAM) meetup they hosted at Against the Grain in Dublin, a lovely pub.

The meetup started three years ago and each month has a theme, like many other game jams, but the event is relaxed and casual, the theme only there if you can’t come up with anything else. “If you have an idea for a game, then just do that, the theme is just there to help.” Colm mentioned. He sees 1Gam as an opportunity to meet new talent and catch up with friends. And that was the vibe I go from it all, these were old and new friends, sharing drinks, food and a good laugh over their ideas. There were developers, designers, artists, composers and some writers.

For this jam the theme was depth, but the games were an eclectic sort, reflecting the creative freedom One Game a Month is all about. One of them was a procedural music game. In another you controlled a quicksilver shaft across a road, avoiding giant spheres and other obstacles and another involved digging and shaping a landscape to merge spheres together. There was even a point & click adventure game, developed with a new set of tools for Unity that allow drag & drop game development.

But while other game jams focus on the competition and a winner, One Game a Month, as I previously mentioned, is more about the community. The devs there were just as interested in showing their game to the attendants as they were of sharing a good pint, a nice story and a good joke with everyone else. It was a terrific and relaxed environment and one that I feel is great for new developers. There isn’t any pressure to deliver, just enjoy your time there.

Sons of Sol looks cool already!
Sons of Sol looks cool already!

Last Thursday I went to another Dublin indie event at Colm’s suggestion, DubLUDO. Compared to 1Gam, Colm described this as a more official meet, for more professional indie developers. And if the quality of the products on show is anything to go by, he was spot on.

Owen Harris started DubLUDO two years ago with the goal of creating a space dedicated to quality. Not for marketing and sale, but for indie devs to show what they were working on and could receive honest feedback on how their game played. He told me it came to him after spending years going to evens and only hearing chats about marketing and sales, but none on polishing a game until it worked.

As it is now, DubLUDO is a more casual event where the different developers can meet and catch up and work with each other, but Owen aims for it to become that collaborative quality-focused space he envisioned.

As I arrived at the event in the Odessa Club, Owen took the mic for a speech and revealed the meaning behind the differently coloured tags everyone wore (and which confused me on arrival). Whoever had a blue tag was someone offering their services to indie developers, be it coding, art, music, etc. And those with green tags were looking for help. It might seem silly to you but I felt it was a big step in the direction of Owen’s ambition for the event. The moment he put the mic down, I saw a group of people with green and blue tags huddle together and exchange business cards and speak of their different projects. It worked, it got people to talk and hopefully collaborate on building great games and I tip my hat to Owen and co-organiser, wife and Larian Studios writer Char for the brilliant idea.

As for the games, the ones I tried hooked me instantly. Sons of Sol: Crow’s Nest is an interesting SHMUP. Your ship is part of a squad protecting a vessel through an asteroid belt. You need to destroy the giant incoming space rocks and fight off enemy fighters. Sounds straightforward so far but what makes it unique for me is that there are proper Newtonian physics at work. Thrust will generate momentum in whatever direction you’re facing, and if you want to move in the opposite direction, you’ll first have to come to a stop by using your thruster in the opposite direction and fight the current directional speed. It makes maneuvering in the asteroid field extremely challenging but also quite rewarding when you pull it off. The game is on pre-Alpha, but developer Kevin Murphy—a dude with a cool name—plans to hit kickstarter next year once he’s progressed enough. He’s currently on the lookout for a pixel artist, so if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll get you together!

F-Drum is pretty awesome!
F-Drum is pretty awesome!

Ballistic started out as “The Paddle Game,” before Andrew Carass decided to give it a proper name. I only had a few minutes to play it but it struck me as a wonderful party game. Each player takes control of a coloured paddle in a multicoloured-walled cage. There are light balls bouncing around the room, and you need to intercept them with your paddle to change their colour and that of the walls they hit. But with the balls coming from multiple angles, you need to turn your paddle to face them or they destroy you, forcing you to respawn and waste time and possibly lose the walls you had already claimed. It’s fast-paced, engaging and extremely fun! The game is Andrew’s final project for university and he has plans on taking it further, hoping Steam or Xbox Live and PSN.

The Umbrella Game is a project by Stephen Larkin and Peter Cantwell, two of Owen’s students. It’s an umbrella-flying simulator. As the name implies you control an umbrella and you float, glide and pivot to move through the environment. What I played was a proof of concept demo, but the guys assured me they had a lot more planned. And to keep with the feedback and quality focus of DubLUDO, they grilled me for honest feedback on what worked and what didn’t and I obliged.

F-Drum Masta is Esteban Moreno’s graduation project. It’s a visually simple game but it’s extremely fun and complex. It’s a rhythm game, like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, but instead of playing on a guitar or similar instrument, you press button on a small number-pad-like controller. Each button has a color and it matches one on screen. As the notes scroll towards a black & white bar on the edge of the screen you need to press the buttons on time to keep the music going. It sounds simple but with 9 possible buttons to press, it takes precision and coordination, and I don’t have much of that to be honest. Still, I managed to clear the intro level and Esteban congratulated me for being the only one to finish it that evening. Then again, I only had one pint of Guinness in me while the rest had about triple that amount by the time I arrived, so maybe being sober is the way to go.

As I’ll be living in Dublin now, I think I’ll go to more of these events and see what new stuff the Irish indie community comes up with and to keep an eye out on the progress on some of these titles I’ve seen.

I’d like to thank Colm Larkin once more for inviting me to both events!

Guild of Dungeoneering Interview

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.

Might look like a potato had, but this chump is powerful!
Might look like a potato had, but this chump is powerful!

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.

Once a battle starts, you control the player's actions!
Once a battle starts, you control the player’s actions!

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!”

You build the full dungeon, down to monster placement.
You build the full dungeon, down to monster placement.

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.