Er. We didn't entirely plan that well, did we? The IGF Awards have been and gone, but our series of interviews with the finalists in the 2014 version of the world's premier indie competition continue. Moonwalking excitedly up to the plinth this time is Brace Yourself's appealingly mad roguelike/rhythm action mash-up, Crypt of the Necrodancer . Read on for how to play the bally thing, if people without rhythm can cope, lead dev Ryan Clark's take on the bastardisation of the term 'roguelike' and the importance of Michael Jackson's Thriller to the whole endeavour.
RPS: A practical issue first - what do you consider to be the best way to play NecroDancer? Are we missing out on anything if we play with keyboard or gamepad?
Ryan Clark: I personally enjoy playing with keyboard the most. Playing with a dance pad is a fun challenge, and great exercise, but mastering the game is hard enough even if you're using your fingers. Though I suppose it's just down to personal preference. The two methods of input are functionally equivalent! No matter which input method you use, the game only uses 4 directional keys. The question is: Do you want to play with your big slow legs or your small fast fingers? Up to you!
RPS: What happens if you've got no sense of rhythm? Asking for a friend.
Ryan Clark: The rhythm aspect of NecroDancer is extremely forgiving. It isn't like DDR where you're expected to have precise timing. Instead, the rhythm is just a pacing mechanism: You can only move once *per* beat. It doesn't matter how close you are to the actual beat. Spamming keypresses doesn't help -- you will only move once per beat, no matter what!
The fact that the enemies also move once per beat forces you to think quickly, especially during higher tempo songs, but your "beat accuracy" never affects the outcome. The people who find NecroDancer the hardest are not those with poor rhythm, it's those who become flustered under pressure,
RPS: What is the most well-suited song you've tried with the game (its own soundtrack excluded)? And the worst-suited?
Ryan Clark: Michael Jackson's "Thriller" is certainly the song best suited to the game, thematically. And I love the silliness of killing zombies while listening to ABBA's "Dancing Queen". However, I think I enjoy high energy, high tempo songs most of all. Favourites would be the finale of Rossini's "William Tell Overture" or "Hey Ya" by OutKast.
As for songs that don't work well, anything with a slow tempo just isn't fun. Save your slow waltzes for dancing with grandma.
RPS: Quite literally every single game ever is a roguelike nowadays. That is a completely true fact. To what extent did you feel pressure to differentiate yours from the herd in order to stand out? Or did the DDR twist come first?
Ryan Clark: I won't dispute this completely true fact! But I will say that I was inspired and challenged mostly by the freeware version Spelunky, not the recent crop of roguelikes. I liked the fact that whenever I died in Spelunky, it felt fair to me. Either I blamed myself for a mistake, or I died to some enemy or trap that I hadn't previously encountered -- in which case I filed that info away for use on future runs. My deaths never felt unavoidable. By contrast, the original "Rogue" was a punishing and unfair beast that I played the hell out of when I was a child. I wondered if there was a way to make something more true to Rogue, while remaining fair like Spelunky.
I didn't set out to mash up two genres, it happened organically: I was trying to make a fair roguelike dungeon crawler, and thought that maybe having short turn lengths would bring Spelunky-style skill into the equation and achieve my aims. But when I tried playing with these really short turns, it felt like moving to a beat! So I starting playing the game to the rhythm of "Thriller" and Crypt of the NecroDancer was born.
RPS: Related - where do you stand on the debate about what 'roguelike' means now? For instance, NecroDancer's "Lack of time to think renders impossible the careful study and patience of the expert NetHack player", it says in the blurb - what then would be your argument as to why it remains a roguelike?
Ryan Clark: I'm certainly not a purist, but I wouldn't consider games like Spelunky a roguelike (though it is a roguelike-like) I think the "procedural death labyrinth" movement has some merit, and Spelunky is clearly a procedural death labyrinth. But NecroDancer is quite true to most of the roguelike tenets, with the sole twist being that you have to think and move quickly, so I figure it still qualifies as "roguelike". It's 95% like-Rogue! But I admit that the rhythm "twist" does render the gameplay significantly different from the original Rogue.
In the end, I don't think it matters much! If people say that NecroDancer is not a roguelike, I will go ahead and hit 'Q' to quaff that bitter potion.
RPS: How do you feel about the IGF, and being nominated for it?
Ryan Clark: Without the IGF, I would have failed as an independent game developer back in 2006. In 2004 I co-founded a company called Grubby Games and our first game, Professor Fizzwizzle, was an IGF grand prize finalist. Without the press attention and industry contacts we gained from the IGF, we would've gone from "barely making a living" to "it's time to find real jobs". I've seen other indies comment that being nominated for the IGF wasn't the magic bullet (missile?) they had hoped it would be. It's certainly not a ticket to riches, but for many of us it can make the difference between continuing on as an independent developer and failure.
I've made a total of 10 commercial games now, and have been fortunate enough that 4 of them have been IGF nominated. It was a huge boost, each time. I'm extremely thankful that the IGF exists, and think that the people who organize it and judge it are doing an amazing service for independent games. I wouldn't be here now, creating Crypt of the NecroDancer, if it weren't for the IGF!
Crypt of the Necrodancer will be out at some point this year. It was nominated for the Excellence In Design and Excellence In Audio awards at this year's IGF but, er, didn't win either of them. Sounds like a hoot though - I'll have a hands- (and feet-) on report soon.