By balancing turn-based combat with roguelike mechanics, Maryland-based developer Impact Gameworks made a splash in 2017 on Early Access with Tangledeep. Now ported to Switch, Impact has had a chance to reflect on the trials and tribulations of game development, as well as considering its plans for the future.
OnlySP: What was the studio trying to achieve with Tangledeep? In other terms, what was your mission statement before beginning development?
Impact: Honestly, Tangledeep started out as more of a learning experience and programming exercise! I did not have a clear vision in mind before beginning development. I knew I wanted to make a traditional turn-based roguelike, but that was all. It took the better part of a year for a clearer picture of the game to begin taking shape. For example, a few months in, I was playing around with the idea of a very traditional fantasy dungeon setting – with mechanics inspired by Dungeons & Dragons. Once I began working with our amazing artists, though, I decided to lean more into a unique setting and world with a JRPG-style aesthetic.
OnlySP: Permadeath has been used numerous times in recent games. How does Tangledeep approach this mechanic to make it fresh?
Impact: I’ll preface this by saying that Tangledeep is balanced around “Heroic” mode – one of three main difficulty options. In “Hardcore” mode, your run is all-or-nothing; if you’re defeated, you lose absolutely everything. In “Adventure” mode, it’s more like a traditional RPG; you lose some XP, JP, and gold – but that’s all. The goal of “Heroic” mode was to provide some kind of ‘meta’ progress between runs without making you feel like you had to die in order to get stronger. Lots of games now with roguelike elements have systems where you die – but your next character can have higher stats, more abilities, or more character options. I didn’t want to go that route. You can transfer certain things from one character to the other through the banker, monster corral, and tree grove – which are all parts of the home town. You can pay a fee to hand over items you’ve found to the banker, who will store them safely. Monsters can be captured and tamed for the corral – then leveled up, trained, and used as companions. The tree grove lets you plant magic trees that drop various healing items. Each of these things can be obtained in a single run. Thus, the purpose of the meta progression is just to help you get back to where you were a little faster.
OnlySP: The art design looks to be somewhere between job-based JRPGs and SNES aesthetics. Where do the major inspirations come from regarding art direction?
Impact: You hit the nail on the head. I’d say the biggest inspirations were Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy V and VI – with a bit of the PlayStation classic Final Fantasy Tactics thrown in. This means colourful backgrounds, memorable and stylized characters, and exaggerated poses. I went through a lot of portfolios before finding the artists that really helped bring the game to life.
OnlySP: Tangledeep certainly has a steep difficulty curve despite feeling accessible. Was this pacing a conscious choice on your part given the game’s reliance on repetition and multiple playthroughs?
Impact: The base difficulty level is intended to be challenging-to-hard for people without much turn-based roguelike experience, but moderate for people who do. If you go into it without planning your moves, you’ll get clobbered pretty hard. Once you start taking a little time (a lot can happen in even a single step, after all), it’s really not bad compared to many other traditional-style roguelikes out there! But the other part of my design intent was to provide more granular difficulty options. You can turn features on and off in the “Game Modifiers” section at character creation – such as health and resource regeneration – and play the daunting “New Game+” mode after defeating the regular game for a much greater challenge.
OnlySP: How do you keep levels engaging during random generation? How was the level design planned out?
Impact: Fine-tuning random level generation mostly involves a whole lot of trial and error! I’d start by writing a simple algorithm to emulate the kind of level I wanted to see. For example, a maze-like floor with lots of tight corridors and dead ends, or a naturalistic cave-like structure with big open spaces. Then, I’d run the algorithm over and over again – observing the results and tweaking it until I liked the final output. To keep things fresh, there are about a dozen different level generation algorithms used for different parts of the dungeon: caves, mazes, rooms, lakes, volcanoes, and so on!
OnlySP: How difficult was the conversion from PC to Switch? It appears that Nintendo is building a nice hub for indies now.
Impact: Since Tangledeep is made with Unity, we didn’t have any fundamental problems; the vast majority of the code was running on Switch within just a few days of setting up our dev kits. But as a wise man once said, the first 90% is the easy part; the last 90% is the hard part. It still took about 10 months to fully optimize the game for the console, which meant lots of code cleanup, new approaches to UI and controls, and numerous other improvements. All that being said, it wasn’t too painful of a port – and now that we’ve done it once, it would be much easier to do again for a future title!
OnlySP: In terms of game design inspirations, what sort of games stick out? The soundtrack bares similarity to Hiroki Kikuta from Secret of Mana and the game design itself certainly feels reminiscent of these classic Eastern titles.
Impact: The aesthetics of Tangledeep’s art and music are absolutely inspired by those classic SNES RPGs like Secret of Mana. Gameplay-wise, I’d say it’s a combination of Square RPGs like Final Fantasy 5 and Tactics (with the Job System), Mystery Dungeon games like Shiren the Wanderer, and classic Western dungeon crawlers – particularly the Diablo series.
OnlySP: What surprised you most by how players reacted to Tangledeep? Were there any left-field styles of play or unique approaches?
Impact: Lots of things have pleasantly surprised me with how people approach the game; there’s no single build or playstyle that is overwhelmingly dominant, and everyone has their own ideas of what approach works best. But one specific example that caught me off guard was how far people went with the pet system. By carefully breeding monsters, it’s possible to raise their stats and pass on powerful skills. Some players had done this dozens, if not hundreds, of times to create uber-pets with maxed-out stats that could pretty much tank and one-shot the game on their own.
OnlySP: In a sentence, why are single-player games so enticing for you as a team?
Impact: Single-player games allow you to have fun without worrying about matchmaking, skill disparity, connection issues, latency constraints or perfectly optimized balance!
OnlySP: Are there any plans for future content?
Impact: Absolutely. We just released the Legend of Shara DLC (PC), which adds a huge amount of stuff to the game – including a new main character, story, job, and more ways to experience the game. I’m also updating Tangledeep regularly – and there are plans for another expansion later this year. Both will be coming to Switch!
Be sure to re-vist OnlySP’s review of the game, which we called a lot of fun for old-school roguelike fans.