Interview: Terry Cavanagh on Dicey Dungeons

Interview:  Terry Cavanagh on Dicey Dungeons

Dicey Dungeons is a dice based roguelite RPG that just recently launched on PC after having been in early access since March. Prior to launch, the game was featured at several events and was even nominated for the Excellence in Design Award at the 2019 IGF Awards. We interviewed Lead Designer Terry Cavanagh about influences, mechanics, and other various aspects of the newly released title.

¬†IndieHangover: Where did the idea for having dice based gameplay come from, I’m guessing there’s some Dungeons & Dragons influence?

Terry Cavanaugh: I’m pretty new to dice, to be honest! My only real experience with Dungeons & Dragons is things like the Baldur’s Gate games and other video games – pen and paper RPGs are actually a big gap in my gaming history.

So, Dicey Dungeons started out as a game jam RPG prototype, where I was interested in making a deck builder, but wanted to do something a bit different from the usual formula. Dice was a kind of arbitrary, spur of the moment decision – an experiment, really. What could I add to the formula with Dice rolling?

Turns out, LOTS AND LOTS. I feel like I stumbled into this vast, amazing space, this combination of deck building and dice rolling that works so, so well. It’s the wonderful thing about game jams – just by trying out random ideas and exploring things, occasionally, you hit on something that’s so much bigger than you could have imagined.

I decided really early on to stick to D6s, and not to mess around with D20s or whatever. I think it’s really interesting that so many people have this almost instinctive sense of how probability works with regular dice. They know right away how they work, and, without thinking about it, can make complicated decisions about probability.

IH: Why did you decide to put each character on their own difficulty setting, rather than having more traditional difficulty settings?

TC: To be honest, it’s better to think of them as game modes than characters. The game’s core design is really all about taking the basic system in as many different and weird directions as possible, and the different characters are like, a different take on that.

Taking inspiration from Dream Quest, which is a major influence on this game, I figured the best way to represent all these rule changes is to give them to characters that all play in fundamentally different ways – so the warrior has these pretty straightforward attacks, the robot plays a mini blackjack game to gain dice, the inventor is required to keep breaking down the equipment they have and making new gadgets, and so on.

IH: So if you don’t use one of your dice in a turn, you lose it rather than keeping it for next turn as you might in a card game. What influenced this decision?

TC: I played around with doing it that way! But like a lot of design questions, the reasoning is pretty boring – “I tried it a few different ways, and it just worked best this way”.

IH: When the player dies, they have to start the whole episode over. What inspired this and why not include a more traditional saving progress/reloading function when between battles?

TC: Runs in Dicey Dungeons are short, random, and full of new situations! It’s a roguelike, at the end of the day, and permadeath is one of those things that is just a lot more fun in this genre. Basically, you don’t actually want to get too attached to whatever build you had – the interesting part of the game is re-building your character around the new equipment you find, and maybe making the best out of sub-optimal equipment! In this sense, Dicey Dungeons is way more roguelike than RPG (although it’s quite RPG is some ways too).

(There is a save function in the game, by the way! But it’s for if you wanna take a break mid run, not for “saving” your progress and reloading if you die.)

IH: So there’s an editor feature where players can experiment and see how different fights play out, what inspired the decision to include this?

TC: It came out of the way I developed the game! It’s been in early access since the start, with free web prototypes going up from a week after it started development. Having the editor in place was a nice way to let other people in on the process of thinking about these mechanics, which has been great for me and great for the game.

The editor feature is going to be slightly hidden away in the final version, since it’s not really important to the core game – but it’s still a thing anyone can turn on if they’re interested in poking around how the game works. The game has some pretty elaborate mod support thanks to our modding engine Polymod and our interpreter hscript, which lets you edit anything your want into the game, and write your own scripts for everything.

Even already with the early alphas, people have done amazing things! Jackeea’s More Fluff mod adds more than 200 items to the game, and TheMysticSword’s MegaQuest mod adds about a dozen new episodes to play.

IH: What other games helped influence Dicey Dungeons, maybe those that may not be as obvious?

TC: I’m glad you asked! GO PLAY DREAM QUEST. Dream Quest is a classic iOS deckbuilder, kind of the grandfather of this whole genre, and it’s one of my favorite games. It’s a beautifully designed game, and I’m not sure why it’s remained such a cult thing and not become the smash hit success it clearly deserves to be.

Dicey Dungeons started out as jam game about trying to explore the design space of Dream Quest – I called it a dreamquest-like instead of a roguelike, at first! The game has since gone off in it’s own direction, but it’s still hugely inspired by it – everything from characters to systems and more. Anyone interested in my game should absolutely check it out – it’s really wonderful.

IH: What were the biggest challenges during development?

TC: Well, I’m working with a team on this one, which has been a pretty huge change for me personally! In the past I’ve usually worked on my own or maybe with one other person, but for this game I put together a whole squad – amazing people who’ve helped me to create something that’s way better than what I could have done on my own. We’ve got Marlowe Dobbe on the art, Chipzel on music, Justo Delgado Baudi programming, Holly Gramazio writing it, and a few part-time people contributing to things like voiceovers and PR too. That’s definitely a real step up in complexity! I have very little experience at managing a team, and it took a bit of getting used to.

I’ve also struggled with deadlines sometimes! At first I as releasing a new alpha version of the game every week or two weeks, and that was really stressful – I definitely couldn’t have kept it up for the whole development cycle.

IH: Could we see Dicey Dungeons on other platforms in the future?

TC: Can’t promise anything right now – I just want to focus on PC for launch, but I definitely hope so!

Dicey Dungeons is available on PC via Steam. To learn about more of our initial thoughts on the game, checkout our spotlight on it.

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