Interview with Ryan Clark of Crypt of the NecroDancer: Rhythmic Charmer and Indie Darling
Anyone who attended PAX East in the last two years has probably meandered by Crypt of the Necrodancer in the Indie Megabooth. Just look for the crowd, upbeat tunes, and the DDR pad.
Brace Yourself Games' upcoming title is definitely one of the more innovative ideas from the indie scene in the last few years--a rhythmic roguelike dungeon crawler is certainly unique. Players guide the protagonist through dungeons to the rhythm of her still beating heart, which was stolen by the Necrodancer.
Ryan Clark, the one-man team behind the programming and design of Crypt of the Necrodancer, shares some details about the game, its release, and the upcoming custom DDR pads.
Firstly, please, tell us about you and your team!
Ryan: "Well, "Brace Yourself Games" is just me, but an all-star cast of indie devs have joined me on this particular project! I'm Crypt of the NecroDancer's designer + programmer; I've been indie since 2004 and have released 10 games, 4 of which have been IGF nominees. You may also have heard of Ted Martens, our pixel artist, best known for Hexels and Pixel Fireplace, or DannyB, our composer, best known for the soundtracks of Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac. The rest of our rather large team have similarly interesting resumes, and you can find out more about them here!"
Crypt of the Necrodancer is obviously a unique game that offers a very... well, rhythmic challenge. What is the single hardest part of developing it?
The most difficult design challenge has been to keep the controls simple enough that moves can be executed on the beat of the music without being overwhelming, while still complex enough to offer depth of gameplay. We want it to be easy to get into the groove right away, but still have layers of gameplay strategy to explore as players improve in skill. This is in contrast to most rhythm games that simply have you follow a script -- hit this button, then this, then this, etc -- with gameplay challenge coming from increased speed or accuracy requirements, rather than gameplay strategy.
"This game is truly a test of your skill and knowledge, not of your luck. I felt that many roguelike games relied too heavily on luck (and the accompanying frustration of dying due to poor luck)."
On that same token, what is your favorite aspect?
My favorite aspect is the fact that the game is 100% "fair", in my opinion. We refuse to include any enemies, traps, or items that make damage or death unavoidable. In fact, it's possible to complete the entire game without ever taking a hit, and without ever missing a beat, even with the most basic weapon and equipment. This game is truly a test of your skill and knowledge, not of your luck. I felt that many roguelike games relied too heavily on luck (and the accompanying frustration of dying due to poor luck). Crypt of the NecroDancer is my attempt to resolve that problem, and I'm pleased that this solution seems to be working reasonably well!
Was Necrodancer developed with the idea of using a DDR pad, or did that idea come later?
No, the dance pad integration came much later. In fact, even the rhythm aspect came later! My goal was to make a "fair" roguelike game, so I started out by bringing skill into the equation by forcing the player to move quickly. But moving quickly felt kind of like moving to a beat, so I tried playing to the beat of "Thriller" by Michael Jackson, and it felt great! It was clear that this needed to be a rhythm game. As mentioned above, rhythm games are mentally demanding so I needed to keep the controls simple to avoid overwhelming the player. As a result, I decided that the game would be played with only the four arrow keys. My friend Alec Holowka (Aquaria, Towerfall, Night in the Woods) saw this and said, "Hey, you could totally play that on a dance pad!" And so we did :)
The dance pads are great for parties and shows, but I actually prefer to play on the keyboard myself!
This game has received a lot of positive attention and people are pretty excited about it. Do you ever feel nervous about Necrodancer’s ability to meet expectations, or are you pretty confident?
Certainly a bit nervous! But we have a large pool of testers, and I've been getting feedback from every indie dev that I know, so hopefully we have worked out the major kinks. We've even let a few Twitch streamers have the game, and they seem to really enjoy it, so fingers crossed that it will meet everyone's expectations.
Are you confident about releasing on Steam? Did you explore other distributors, or was Steam the main focus throughout development?
We've been traveling a lot (PAX East was our 8th show in 9 months!) so it has been hard to find solid chunks of time to work on the game. Releasing a game on even a single platform is a ton of work, and since we've been so busy with travel we decided to simplify things and focus 100% on our Steam launch. We will consider other platforms after that.
As part of the indie community, how do you feel about the indie scene right now, especially in terms of support from big names like Sony and Microsoft?
The indie scene is solid! Indie developers are so supportive of one another, I find it to be an extremely rewarding environment to work in. Sony seems to be doing whatever they can to help, and we've had some great conversations with them. Microsoft are playing catch-up a bit, but I think they've seen the light and will hopefully also be a positive force in the indie scene.
"As long as the game feels amazing on that platform, we'd like to do it. But there's no way we'll ship something less than awesome. This is our baby. :)"
Necrodancer is coming out for PC, Mac, and Linux on Steam sometime this year; any plans or thoughts on trying to adapt the game towards the new indie support systems on Xbox and Playstation, or even the Wii U? Any thoughts about using the Xbox Kinect or PS Eye?
We'll definitely be exploring consoles after our Steam launch, and yes, we have considered using their peripherals for unique NecroDancing experiences. :) It'll all boil down to the feel. As long as the game feels amazing on that platform, we'd like to do it. But there's no way we'll ship something less than awesome. This is our baby. :)
How will players be able to use their own MP3s for Necrodancer (and why would they want to, the soundtrack is perfect!)?
It's quite simple! Just point the game to the MP3 on your hard drive, and away you go! It performs beat detection on whatever song you choose, and does a pretty darned good job of it. We're using one of the best beat detection algorithms in the world. It's open source, too, if any other aspiring rhythm game developers are reading this. Go have a look! http://essentia.upf.edu/
The Necrodancer Twitter account is really active! How important is your community to you?
Very! I've always been a community guy, active in the forums of the games I've created. The community has given NecroDancer so much already: Tons of pre-orders, alpha testers, and amazing gameplay feedback. NecroDancer would be a lesser game without their help. The least I can do is to respond to tweets, forum posts, and emails! And I really enjoy doing it.
I noticed that there was a tweet about a Kickstarter for custom DDR pads, and I think it’s a fantastic idea. Can you expand a little more on this project?
Whenever we demo the game at shows like PAX people ask us, "Where can I get a dance pad?!" Unfortunately the creators of the high quality pads of yore (like Cobalt Flux and Red Octane) are now defunct, but luckily there's a guy in Tennessee who runs a family business making high quality pads! We've used his pads successfully at numerous shows now, so we decided to team up to create NecroDancer-themed dance pads. You'll either be able to buy them via a Kickstarter, or direct from our website, later this year.
A big thanks to Ryan for taking the time to sit down and talk with me! You can expect Crypt of the Necrodancer to release on Steam later this year for an estimated price of $14.99. The game will be playable with a gamepad, your keyboard, or a dance pad!