How Loop Hero's impossible mishmash of ideas came to exist
It all started with a little dude stuck in a rut
Loop Hero feels like a mishmash of six different genres, cobbled together into a game that shouldn’t work, but does. Elements of its DNA are pulled from other sources, such as the loot, the base-management and even deck-building, but these are assembled in such a way that makes the final game feel unique. To find out how this was achieved I sat down with the game's co-designer and composer blinch to discuss Loop Hero’s origins and development. Like many great ideas, no one really gave it much thought at first.
"We were just talking about the idea of zero-player games as a genre; games where you don’t control your hero, or anything else, directly," blinch told me. "One of the team then went and created the idea of a little dude stuck in a loop while the player builds something around the loop. That was it, that was the whole idea."
It didn’t sound like much. It didn’t really sound like anything. Blinch even confessed that while the team, Four Quarters, thought the idea was weird and interesting, they quickly forgot about it. The "little dude" would only return to them six months later when they entered a game jam and desperately needed an idea.
"We joined Ludum Dare in October 2019," blinch continued. "The theme was 'Start with nothing'. We didn’t really have an idea, and then I remembered that little dude in a circle. He really started with nothing.”
But while the idea was solid, the actual game they made for the jam wasn't so good. “We failed Ludum Dare because the version we made was unplayable. In that version, the hero only walked in a loop. There wasn’t even any fighting!” chuckled blinch.
Still, they saw potential in this little dude stuck in his loop. Enough potential that after some additional builds, a demo and some feedback, they pitched Loop Hero to publisher Devolver Digital.
"We thought it would be difficult. We expected lots of discussion, even arguments. But the Devolver guys played the game and the next day they said, 'Okay, let’s do it together'".
The studio's working daily on balance patches with substantial updates planned.
Loop Hero is a dense game. You only need to look at a single screenshot to see there's a lot going on here. There are multiple systems feeding into one another, mostly affecting the hero’s stats and abilities. Terrain cards, home base, equipment stats and perks, traits, tiles for the loop all play a part in determining the outcome of a single run around the wasteland loop.
"The most challenging part of making Loop Hero was balance," blinch said. "Balance of everything. Especially when all the game’s systems overlap themselves. We tested the game every day to try to figure out what was overpowered or what could break the game. We’re still doing that, we’re still working on balancing it. It’s endless, I guess."
Nothing was removed to help balance the game. Rather than take out or replace problematic elements of the game, Four Quarters tried to solve each imbalance by adding more.
"During the Steam Festival we had a demo. It was Chapter One of the game, remarkably similar to the final release. We saw people really loved the village and just dropped them everywhere."
The Village tile can be added to the loop and acts as a minor heal for the player. Unlike tiles such as the Swamp or Cemetery, which both spawn enemies to counteract their buffs, the Village had no downside.
"So we thought, 'Okay, if you place a second village, you’ll have some bandits to worry about. So your safe zone where you get a small heal isn’t all that safe anymore'. That was our strategy. Just add stuff to counter the broken bits rather than remove anything from the game," blinch explained.
Despite all this, Four Quarters aren't slowing down, either. The studio's still working daily on smaller balance patches with some more substantial updates planned in future.
"We’re working on quality-of-life updates," said blinch. "Stuff like saving during an expedition, faster speeds for battles and map exploration and a deck for traits earned from bosses. After that, we’re going to keep updating Loop Hero with free content patches. We have a really good plan for how we can expand on the story of the game; we’re starting to work on that right now, actually."
I teased blinch in saying that Loop Hero struck me as a game that would be very easy to expand on given all the genres it’s pulling from. Building on any one of those would be enough to really bulk up what is an already stuffed game.
He just chuckled. "I bet you’ll never expect what we’re planning on doing with Loop Hero. It’s not as straight-forward as new chapters. We’ve got some really unique ideas for future content and I’m really excited about that."