Interview with The Living Dungeon developers
The Living Dungeon is a brand-new title from developer RadiationBurn, releasing via the ID@Xbox programme. Being crafted into a video game based on their own board game, it’s often touted as an experience like no other – something rare in itself amidst the industry’s fondness for sequels.
Let the trailer below familiarise you with the game and then scroll on down for an interview with the developers!
XboxOneUK: Before founding RadiationBurn you both worked on an impressive 40+ games that have been published across all the major platforms. Clearly having a love for development, what was it in the beginning that made you realise this was a calling you wanted to follow? And what subsequently influenced your decision to become independent?
Graham: Basically. I love creating things, and destroying things. The latter often ends up with you in jail so making games about destroying things seemed like a sensible compromise. Although I almost took up the offer of a scholarship to become an airforce engineer where I’d make real things that destroyed real things. Probably best that I didn’t.
Chantelle: I seem to remember taking one of those surveys you’re forced to at school to determine what job you’re best suited for; and whether I biased the results or it was always destined, mine came back as games coder! Maybe I was naive enough to think that entailed playing games all day and decided to follow the programming path! After university, Graham was nice enough to give me a job and here I am!
Graham: And she’s been nice enough to put up with my crap ever since.
XOUK: The inspiration for The Living Dungeon video game came from a board game you made, but where did the inspiration for that come from? Have you always been fans of board games as well as video games?
Graham: We were playing another fantasy game we’d created. Still are actually. Near the end of a two year campaign of that one. The general problem with it was that it took a whole afternoon to get through a mission. Basically, at five in the morning one night my brain just decided it wasn’t going to sleep but was instead going to design a system that allowed for immersive tactical play but let you get through a game in a couple of hours. The next day I made the first prototype which we still have.
Chantelle: I enjoy any game as long as I’m winning.
XOUK: Working as a small team, does that encourage you to have mixed skills and be able to dip in and out of various design facets or do you individually focus on particular areas and bounce ideas off each other?
Graham: It’s complicated. When asked we tend to say Chantelle codes, and I do other stuff, but in reality we each have a number of strengths and weaknesses. More importantly than that we have a number of friends who have helped along the way with areas that neither of us are particularly talented at, like creating the music, or being sociable.
Chantelle: I’ve tried to sneak some of my artwork into the game, but it’s usually so bad Graham nukes it.
Graham: She does the same to my code too thankfully.
Chantelle: But otherwise I’m in charge of all the code. That means I have ultimate power and every feature or idea lives or dies at my whim.
XOUK: Aesthetically there’s a fantasy-meets-Steampunk vibe: what is it about the fantasy look that seemed right for The Living Dungeon?
Graham: No steam. Just mechanical. I’ll admit the design of the mechanics came first. The universe grew from that with a good deal of input from everyone else. Definitely no steam though, mechanics and weird magic is what you’re getting.
Chantelle: If I’d managed to get any coder art in you’d be looking at stick figures instead. I think having mechanical contraptions makes sense because the dungeon is living (see what I did there) and that’s how it controls things. We’ve got characters that aren’t human too, which naturally lends to the fantastical.
XOUK: The characters in the game have a very pleasing level of detail – I particularly like the lizard that appears to be wearing a skull and wields what look like two deadly spanners (which is nothing but a win in my book.) What focuses did you have in mind when designing them? Were there some characters that had to be cut for the final game?
Graham: Focus is the wrong term. The universe and the setting was what shaped who they are and what they ended up looking like for the most part. The Lizard you refer to (Yokusel) is actually an accountant with a love for mechanical play, and a personality a lot like a smart puppy. One of his hands is also red, and there is a good reason for that which is never touched on in the game at all because, spoilers. There might be a hint in the prequel book but again, spoilers.
Chantelle: Who doesn’t love the idea of strong women (and men.. and lizards..) running round kitted out in armour and weapons and killing monsters?! I’ve even cosplayed the character Chantelle (what a nice name) twice because her outfit is both fun and sexy but incredibly badass. I think the character designs are all pretty practical for the setting and environment too.
XOUK: Staying with characters, in one of your previous games, BOOMBA!, there’s what appears to be a ‘Dungeoneers’ team. At least two of said team appear uncannily similar to characters starring in The Living Dungeon: another lizard/reptilian/velociraptor-esque creature and a woman with flowing brunette hair and a sword that looks particularly lethal. Was their inclusion in BOOMBA! a deliberate reference or am I barking up the wrong tree?
Graham: Yes. All four of them are Living Dungeon characters. The designs have slightly changed since BOOMBA! but it’s them. We were playing the board game of The Living Dungeon a lot by that point, and making characters for BOOMBA! is really quick. So I just threw them in and later gave them a really hard single player level. We actually have a half dozen teams that were finished but never made it into the game, but getting into BOOMBA! any further would generate more questions than answers.
Chantelle: Oh god, I just got a flashback to cross platform network physics code synchronization.
(XOUK: You can find out more about BOOMBA! here.)
XOUK: Virtually playing a board game isn’t an experience that always translates – you don’t have the die to physically shake and roll, little pieces to pick up and move around and then subsequently lose and stand on in the middle of the night. What makes The Living Dungeon successful as a video game?
Graham: I’ll happily admit there was a lot of trial and error to get the controls to “feel” right, but what really makes the video game work are the core mechanics. You never roll a miss. It’s always just rolling tactical options. The story and characters are interesting and involving which makes the single player campaign great fun, but I still think the game really shines when you get a bunch of friends around to your house and play multiplayer. That’s where the real magic happens. Most of the magic words are not repeatable in public however.
Chantelle: I always love watching people play the video game; partly because I have a chance to look for bugs and partly because I love seeing how much people are enjoying it and how they’re actually managing to deal with it. People get really, REALLY into it. Games can get pretty intense. It’s difficult whilst making it because we’re so close to it we already know how to play the game and what buttons to press, but watching others highlights what does and doesn’t work. We had to rework certain things, for example how you selected dice to reroll because people didn’t find it very natural. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to figure out how to simulate real-life board game controls.
As for dice rolling, I use good old physics to determine where the dice will land. And I would like to state on record that it is completely random and I don’t use any behind-the-scenes coding trickery! It’s not my fault you didn’t get the roll you wanted.
XOUK: There may be quite a few people out there who haven’t played some of the classic board games and therefore might view The Living Dungeon with a certain apprehension, harbouring preconceptions of complicated rules and esoteric mechanics. Does the game accommodate for them in any way, be it gentle hand-holding or polite directing, or has your ambition been to create a game that really appeals to the board game fans, something that will allow them to enjoy board games via another medium? Or perhaps both?
Graham: It’s definitely a game that needs your brains, but prior knowledge of board games is irrelevant. There aren’t really any board games I know of that have similar mechanics, and on top of that we have two completely different visual styles to choose from. The tavern mode looks and plays like a board game with actual rolling dice and everything, but the dungeon mode looks and feels more like a claustrophobic tactical adventure game.
Chantelle: We found some people did approach it with fear, but very quickly they managed to pick it up and were laughing maniacally as they plotted the death of their friends. We’ve tried to find a nice medium between constrictive tutorials and gentle prodding to teach the players the game. The beauty of the video game version is there’s nothing you can do to break the rules and it will only let you make a valid play. Whether it’s a smart play or not is something players pick up once they’ve figured out the rules and tricks! Just start pressing buttons. You won’t break it. You also don’t have to clean it up at the end of the day.
XOUK: On your website there are links to other independent developers and a couple of freelancers: do you think there’s more a sense of collaboration than competition in the independent sector?
Graham: I really need to update that thing and get rid of all those idiots. I’m joking of course. I don’t need to update it. I do actually, but I stand by my assertion that we’re all idiots. Being an indie developer sometimes feels a little post-apocalyptic. Resources are scarce and it always feels like any developer could get picked off at any time. So we help each other, share knowledge, skills, and occasionally just randomly do things for other people’s projects. We all make different types of things and release at different times, so competition doesn’t really come into it.
Chantelle: It’s a good community. Sometimes I invite them round to the office to play The Living Dungeon and kill them. Virtually of course..
XOUK: The future tends to be vague and unfathomable, but what are your plans at RaditationBurn going forward?
Graham: Quick side note. That line from the trailer never appears in the game. In the Trailer Rojef is kind of requoting Sajotir (the other lizard dude), who knows exactly what his own motives are. Rojef is just not the sharpest barbarian in the wastes, so he just plain doesn’t understand what the hell Sajotir is up to.
Numerous and complicated is the honest answer, but as a tiny developer we have to be ready to change things up depending how the wind blows. We keep a big list of possibilities. This map for example…
If there is demand for it we’ll do a free update for the Living dungeon with some fancy new features.
Chantelle: There were some cut characters too such as a floating, mechanical ball. Some players are pretty bitter about the fact it’s not in the video game. Maybe we can bring it back for DLC?
Graham: If the game does really well there’s also something else which we have in the board game version but I’ll keep quiet about for now. Beyond that I’m not saying,
Chantelle: Probably more killing things and victory.
XOUK: Many thanks, Graham and Chantelle!
The Living Dungeon is due for release in the months coming soon. If you’re of the opinion that this game sounds the best thing since sliced bread and would love to have an actual board game version, head over to RadiationBurn’s Kickstarter where you can make that become a reality.
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