Downwell Creator On Designing The Gunboots

Downwell is an tight vertical shooter in which no single part of the game is wasted. I’ve tried many times to explain exactly how smart its design is, as has Adam, but it can be hard to appreciate the beauty of a clockwork machine by someone describing cogs and pendulums to you. This recent video from GDC 2016 might help: its Downwell designer Ojiro Fumoto explaining how he designed the game around its “one key mechanic,” the gunboots.

Watch it here:

He goes through the game’s design process build by build, from the initial spark of inspiration (‘Spelunky but on your phone’) to adding the gunboots for the first time to realising that the gunboots could be used to fight enemies, to aid movement, and could link into a combo system and… well, everything else in the game. The whole game is designed around maximising the player’s use of the gunboots, and the video covers things such as how the ammo reload system was tweaked to support that.

Spelunky and Downwell are important games, I think, not just because they’re excellent fun to play, but because their designs are clear and simple in a way that makes design seem accessible. Spelunky inspired Fumoto to make Downwell and Downwell seems just as likely to inspire someone else to make their own new thing. The video will help, too, in that it depicts the creative process where so many other things fail to do so.


  1. tonallyoff says:

    Didn’t he ‘design’ it by lifting it from Luftrausers?

    • bigpilgrim says:

      what are you talking about? those are pretty different games…

      • Defiant Badger says:

        Perhaps he’s thinking of the Gun Engine? Regardless it seems a petty thing to say when there doesnt seem anything to support said ‘lifting’.

    • Eagle0600 says:

      I understand your confusion, but Luftrausers is not, in fact, about a set of trousers that lift you into the air.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      I take it you’ve never played or seen Luftrausers?

  2. Herzog says:

    Really love this game. Sadly couldn’t beat it. Stage 4 always kills me so damn quickly. Only reached the final boss three times with one or two health left. Maybe will get back to it one day….!

    • Turkey says:

      Same. I could never react fast enough to the obstacles on level 4. It’s such a steep reflex check compared to the previous levels.

      • aerozol says:

        Late to the party, but do you guys mean the last area (all red?)
        It’s by far the easiest area in the game for me – I tend to go for a lot of gunboot upgrades, for instace ‘picking up gems recharges gunboots’, and usually try to kill everything/combo hard, so in this section I’m just shooting like crazy and my pace doesn’t really pick up.

        I really struggled with the underwater area, but once I adjusted my strategy (after a lot of attempts…) from “kill things” to “kill pretty much nothing and just go down”, it’s not such an issue anymore.

        Which just further proves the absolutely masterful game design – even though this isn’t a puzzle game, slight mechanic changes mean you really benefit from some quite extreme changes in your approach.
        Wonderful game.

  3. Frank says:

    Hm, I’d think Pixel (of Cave Story fame) counted as a Japanese indie game star, eh?

  4. Retrofrank says:

    What a clever and likeable guy.
    His english is great, considering that the japanese educational system does not put as much effort into teaching people to talk english fluently, as most western countries do.
    Even lots of developers of AAA-games, that sell all over the world have to rely on a translator, when speaking to western journalists.

    • Inph says:

      He was educated (or at least raised) in New Zealand, as he mentions in the Q&A at the end of the talk.