Every indie game or developer has a fascinating story behind its upbringing. Some developers move from large studios to have more control over their work, and sometimes a pair of college roommates team up to do something constructive with the time they spent cutting class.
For Alix Stolzer and Calvin Goble, games were clearly a part of their lives, and they decided to do whatever it took to turn their passion into a product -- even if it meant living in a treehouse.
The husband and wife duo that is Robot Loves Kitty ate, slept, and coded their upcoming dungeon crawler, Legend of Dungeon, from within the confines of a treehouse. They made it out to PAX Prime to show gamers what someone can do with a humble budget and relentless motivation. I got a chance to play through some of the game’s levels and spoke with Stolzer about her story and the game’s unconventional, but welcoming dynamics.
How It Began
Stolzer and Goble began development on Legend of Dungeon over a year ago. They'd been living in their treehouse working on a game called Tiny Plumbers (released last year), but their experience prior to that was mostly just Visual Basic. Once they were confident enough to post some of Legend of Dungeon’s screenshots on Reddit, they began building the support they needed to not only have a dedicated following, but also finance the game.
Reddit kept Robot Loves Kitty’s work highly visible by consistently upvoting updates, helping in the team's efforts to build a backing; Stolzer partially attributes this to the game’s dynamic shading, an uncommon aesthetic approach for an 8-bit-inspired title. Stolzer and Goble saw the game’s early popularity as a sign to move forward and put up a funding project on Kickstarter, asking for $5,000. In 26 days, they received approximately $33,000, exceeding their goals by six-fold and helping them move into an apartment and expedite the game’s delivery. They were eventually approved for Steam Greenlight and now have a near-final beta to let Kickstarter Backers and PAX attendees try out.
About Legend of Dungeon
Legend of Dungeon plays almost exactly like a classic 8-bit dungeon crawler. You take your hero through a series of 26 dungeons, bopping dungeon critters, spirits, monsters, and picking up useful gear along the way.
Legend of Dungeon’s challenging gameplay has bested Stolzer and Goble every time; neither they nor their fans have completed the game’s full 26 levels, showcasing the challenge and throwback to the days of storage-limited cartridges. To improve chances of success, 4-player local coop stands as an option with multiple peripheral input support; you can even use some of the NES-inspired controllers out there to make your gameplay experience more retro.
A Reflection of the Developers
What I like most about Legend of Dungeon is that it purposely does not follow the dungeon crawler rulebook all the time; in fact, it sometimes satirizes it. I came away from my interview realizing that the game’s quirkiness, humor, and unpredictability are straight from the creator’s imaginations and that the game is best off that way.
When I picked up a potion, I asked Stolzer what it healed or improved, and she said I would have to see for myself. I took the potion following a skirmish, hoping to heal some HP, but my character ended up falling asleep (so glad I did not use it during battle). It's almost reminiscent of early D&D campaigns, where potions and herbs had to be cautiously tested to unveil their effects -- and every now and then, that maybe-healing-potion turns out to be a fireball potion. Oops.
Legend of Dungeon encourages trial and error for its weapons, items, and environmental interactions, helping build familiarity with what will help in a conflict. And if you really want to piss your friends off, you can always pass them a useless potion or claim that the can of beer you just dropped makes you 50% more resistant to enemy attacks.
These items, as well as the enemies, are all randomly generated. There are no formal bosses you’re forced to fight in a closed-off room, but there are larger, boss-sized enemies that appear randomly. How you take down your foes also varies, as you’ll pick up melee weapons, spell books, and even firearms like a tommy gun. Yeah.
Environmental interactions are unpredictable, too. For instance, a statue can be summoned that will either help in battle or try to kill the player, lending no disclaimer nor clues as to the outcome. As a further example of the chaos, levers are littered throughout the dungeon that reveal secret chambers or unleash new enemies to overcome; one of the levers I pulled revealed a secret chamber full of ... cats. Stolzer tells me if you kill a cat, you’ll summon a wave of demons who will instantly kill you; you can’t defeat them. Tartar sauce!
Supporting the People Behind the Game
Street cred: Accompanied by the devs, Team GN scored one of the highest scores by day 2 of PAX.
Legend of Dungeon keeps you on your toes most of the time but balances this with quirky gameplay elements and unexpected comedic moments. I’m thinking you’ll need about 3 hours to beat the game and, if you play it a couple more times (for faster times or higher scores), you'll easily get 10+ hours of gameplay.
It’s amazing how video games can bring people to push themselves to their limits – limits we don’t think of – to do what they love. My time with Stolzer revealed how the community’s involvement wasn’t just about supporting the game – but supporting the people behind the game. I definitely encourage you to read more of Stolzer and Goble’s story in this article from Venture Beat.
Legend of Dungeon releases on PC, Mac, and Linux on Friday, September 13 for $9.99. Robot Loves Kitty plans to release an expansion in the near future but has not announced a date.
- Nick "stuBEEF" Pinkerton.