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“Tangledeep Started Out as More of a Learning Experience” — An Interview With Impact Gameworks

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Tangledeep

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.

For even more news on Tangledeep, be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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E3 2019

How Final Fantasy XV’s Lead Game Designer is Making a Rhythm Game — An Interview With No Straight Roads Developer Metronomik

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No Straight Roads game art 5

Wan Hazmer’s journey is an interesting one. Having worked at Square Enix on games such as Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy XV, Hazmer left the studio in 2017 to start his own development studio, Metronomik. The studio’s first game, No Straight Roads, is a music-based action-adventure game where players must fight the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) empire as an independent rock band.

OnlySP had the opportunity to speak with Hazmer about the game’s inspiration, gameplay, and art design.

OnlySP: What inspired you to make No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: I am a big rhythm gamer. I used to be really good since Beatmania 1 so that’s more than 15 years of experience playing rhythm games. I used to go to the arcades every week and spend like $50 just to play music games. (Laughs) Whenever I invited my friends to play rhythm games with me, they always said “I’ll just watch you play.” It baffles me because everyone loves music; I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love music. I think the problem is the way [music] participates in gameplay. Music is only used in two ways in games: soundtrack or rhythm games. I think everyone has rhythm sense. If I were to give you a guitar, and you didn’t know how to play the guitar, of course you’d admit you’d have no rhythm sense.

I feel like, when you listen to a song maybe five times, then you’ll know when the chorus is supposed to come even before it comes. I want everyone to use that musical instinct to play the game and that’s why we have the enemies follow the music. The input, the participation that you have in the game isn’t a pure action game. Other inspirations also include other rhythm games. Rhythm games’ stories are something I like as well, like Space Channel 5, Guitaroo Man and even games that put a lot of emphasis on music. I think you noticed that the outer stars remind me of Jet Set Radio. The word ‘radio’ is in Jet Set Radio despite it not being a rhythm game. [Jet Set Radio] was such an influence and I still have the soundtrack.

No Straight Roads game art 2

OnlySP: How would you say your experience on other games contributed to No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: Back when I was working on Final Fantasy XV, one of the biggest things about the game was that we had to make sure that Final Fantasy becomes relevant again. [Part of that] falls into how you travel in the world so we thought “What is one of the most current way of travelling romantically?” and we thought “road trip” and it’s the core experience in Final Fantasy XV. We spent a lot of cost and effort into making sure that that core UX does its job. We had to photograph an AI, Prompto, and that was actually very difficult to pull off. Can you imagine an AI taking a photograph of you? He’s a very bad photographer at first, but he gets better and better. The user experience is an emotional connection to the game.

I also wanted to make sure that [No Straight Roads] has a UX that everyone can adhere to and that’s something that is very relevant. With relevance, we talk about rock vs EDM. It’s a classic tale of “my taste is better than yours.” And another is “your music can change the world” is our big core UX. We have the transformation of the props into weapons. We also have three channels of music: backing, melody, and rhythm. We multiply that by that by three genres of music rock, EDM, and a boss specific genre [for the demo, it was disco]. Depending on the situation, depending on the story, depending on how you perform, we actually switch one of the channels to EDM, one channel to bass, and one channel to rock. There’s a lot of music going on in the game and we only do it if we know that it is going to sell something for the UX. That’s something I got from my Final Fantasy XV experience.

OnlySP: How was it like creating the music and implementing it in the game?

Hazmer: I am very lucky to have four composers who are very talented. One of them is Falk [Au Yeong]; he’s the music director. He actually used to work with me on Final Fantasy XV where he was a mixing engineer for the music. When you travel to Hammerhead, for example, a gas station in Final Fantasy XV, when you enter a diner the music starts changing a bit. We were discussing dynamic music for a long time. We also have James Landino who is working on the EDM tracks—he [worked on] Cytus [2], Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy as well. We have Pejman [Roozbeh] who is more of a funk/disco kind of guy, and Andy [Tunstall] who worked on rock.

What I love about working with these four composers is that they know the technicalities involved with implementing music in games. What we do is we come up with the concept for the boss first. We have a DJ who thinks he’s the center of the universe and he’s going to spin some planets. After that, we pass it to the musicians. They compose really great music and they pass it back to us and they understand that there are three channels and the programming involved. There are a lot of times when you make a video game, you outsource the music in the last minute. I really wanted the musicians to be involved from very early on so they are actually involved in the game design process as well.

OnlySP: In the demo, I noticed I got to play as two characters. Are there only going to be those two characters?

Hazmer: Yes. The concept seems like there could fit another person here. (Laughs) You can only control two characters, but there’ll be a bunch of bosses. You can actually play couch co-op as well, so one person can be Mayday and the other Zuke.

OnlySP: About how long would you say the game would be?

Hazmer: 10–15 hours. When you defeat a boss, although there are some RPG elements in it (like giving buffs to your weapons), but I don’t want to go with the New Game Plus route, so I’m [following] more of a Sonic or racing game [style] where once you complete a particular level, you can actually challenge the level again in a different difficulty. So there will be difficulties where you’ll have to parry almost everything in order to survive. For example, when you’re playing the game you only hear rock when you’re almost defeating a boss, you can play an entire boss fight in rock.

No Straight Roads gameplay screenshot 1

OnlySP: How did you go about selecting the genres of music for No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: First of all, we came up with interesting bosses in the game. My co-founder, Daim [Dziauddin], he’s really big into storytelling and he always wonders why people play music. We didn’t want this game to be a game about a bunch of bosses, who are awesome and big and that’s about it. Every single one of these artists has a reason to play music. From there, we see what kind of genre fits them very well. For example, we came up with a DJ who is egocentric and he thinks that he’s the center of the universe and, bam, the sub theme is space. From there, we figured we can do some disco and some Flash Gordon kind of things, and that’s how the genres came about.

OnlySP: Are there any plans to add in some post launch content?

Hazmer: Definitely. This is still all in talks, so it is not confirmed at all. I would love to collaborate with other games or different artists so that we can get their branding into the game [such as a being a boss in the game]. That’s one of the dreams for this game. Once we finish the game, I really want to collaborate, organically, with many different musicians.

OnlySP: Of the genres of music that are not in the game, what would you say would be the first one you’d want to put in post launch?

Hazmer: Oh wow. That’s quite difficult. I kind of like jazz in a way so jazz would be nice. Jazz and EDM would be really cool. (Laughs) I really like jazz, so I think a jazz boss would be really cool.

No Straight Roads game art 3

OnlySP: What influenced the art style for No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: I made a lot of realistic games and wanted to run away from realism. We thought that the characters in the game [don’t] have to be a human skin color. So we were looking at a lot of American cartoons like Steven Universe. The other thing is the funky art style of games that don’t take themselves too seriously like Tim Schafer games like Psychonauts. Sometimes ugliness is beautiful and beauty is ugly. In terms of the poses for the characters, we love ourselves some Jojo. (Laughs) Poses for us are very very important.


For all the latest from No Straight Roads and more from the world of single-player gaming, be sure to bookmark OnlySP and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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