In the meantime, stay tuned for our fourth episode where we discuss Shattered Pixel Dungeon! In addition, our interview with Oleg Dolya is now ready to be posted. View the full blog post to read the interview.
Before starting, I just wanted to note that because of our enthusiasm about roguelikes, my conversation with Oleg Dolya, creator of Pixel Dungeon, happened over a few conversations. The bulk of that discussion has been condensed into what you are about to read, and also edited a bit to make it easier on the eyes. The points are definitely as they originally were discussed, though this transcript is perhaps a bit more formal than the discussion that occurred. Enjoy!
Barry: I wanted to start by asking if there was anything discussed in our episode of Pixel Dungeon that you wanted to respond to?
Oleg: Well, I can comment on everything you discussed, but I’m not sure if that would be very interesting! One random thought I had, though: I didn’t know that the “hunger clock” was still considered a big issue. To be honest, I think it’s an illusion that players think the hunger is so important in the game. I mean, there is even a “Death From Hunger” badge that is not easy to obtain. On the other hand there is challenge mode where there is no food at all, and it’s one of the easiest challenges. It’s kind of a psychological pressure when you are always told, “You are hungry!”, “You are starving!”.
Barry: I really like that idea of psychological pressure from an illusion. One topic we’ve had come up multiple times in our discussions now is this idea of the similarities between roguelikes and survival horror, and I can’t help but think of that again now.
Oleg: Indeed! I think it’s a part of the genre: this uncomfortable feeling, being on the edge, etc. Plus knowing about permadeath and lack of a saving system add to it. I think that is an important aspect of roguelikes in general: the feeling of unsafety rather than real difficulty. If I feel confident all the way to the end of the game, then it’s not a roguelike for me! It doesn’t mean it’s a bad game, of course.
Barry: Absolutely! Well, before we get to deep into this, I do want to first ask what lead you to creating Pixel Dungeon?
Oleg: I was originally playing with some algorithms while learning Android development. I had level generation, path finding, and field of view… suddenly it started to look like a game! I continued to work on it and at some point decided to publish. I didn’t have plans t oturn it into a real game, it was just a prototype. I wanted to try some user interface things, collect feedback, and then based on that feedback I was going to create a “big” roguelike.
Barry: When you were learning to develop on Android was that the intention, to make games or, more specifically, a roguelike?
Oleg: Before Pixel Dungeon I published a couple of apps, but not games. I didn’t have any intention of becoming a game developer. I wouldn’t say roguelikes are my favourite genre, but I always thought that it would be interesting to create one. At the time there were also very few roguelikes with a decent control scheme, and so I had ideas I wanted to try.
Barry: Especially on mobile! Pixel Dungeon is one of the more “traditional” roguelikes I’ve seen on Android, and the fact that it controls so well is really important, I think.
Oleg: Even on desktops traditional roguelikes keep holding on to their original movement controls with a keyboard. Brogue was a major source of inspiration for me.
Barry: Yes! I had never played Brogue until I recently learned it has a lot of influence on the design of Pixel Dungeon. Were there a lot of other roguelikes you played? What made Brogue stand out in particular?
Oleg: Not a lot. I played Nethack and found it very impressive. Also Ancient Domains of Mystery. What I like about Brogue is that it’s true to traditions but it feels like a modern game. It’s friendly and nice looking. No overcomplicated, but deep enough for me.
Barry: What do you think, then, of the massive success of Pixel Dungeon? Over one million downloads is impressive, and Shattered Pixel Dungeon has over five hundred thousand! There are some games that don’t get as much attentions as a mod of your game has.
Oleg: It was very surprising, and of course I didn’t expect anything like that. I tried to analyze what I had done right, I wondered if I could reproduce it. I think that one of the reasons for the success is that I made a game that I also like. It sounds a little naïve, but there is logic behind it. I consider myself to be quite ordinary, and that means if I like my game, then there would be many people like me who would also like it. Another reasons is that I have always tried to listen to the players. Not always giving them what they want, but considering every idea people suggest. I’m not a professional game designer, so I can’t say that I know better.
Barry: This sounds like a great time to talk about the degradation system, since you were mentioning player feedback and that update got a very strong response! What was the original idea with implementing that system?
Oleg: I think you and Evan said it best on the podcast! The easiest way to play the game is not necessarily the most interesting one, but players always prefer the easiest way. I wanted to make people play a little differently. Technically it worked, but it has that psychological side effect we were talking about earlier. The difficulty of that system is an illusion, too. If you pay attention, and if you’re lucky of course, you will reach the final boss with equally good equipment as you would without the degrading system. But psychologically it performs poorly. It makes an impression that everything’s falling apart, and you can’t resist it.
Barry: Unfortunately we have to wrap up, but there is one more thing I would like to ask, partially on behalf of Evan and the Pixel Dungeon subreddit. Apparently no one knows if you’ve ever played Shattered Pixel Dungeon, so we’re wondering if you have and what you think of it?
Oleg: I played a bit of Shattered a while ago, so I don’t know about recent additions, but I liked it a lot. I think Evan should work on updating the graphics, as I feel his game deserves to have its own unique visual style. It’s almost a different game, after all!