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Catacomb Kids Interview: Spelunky Comparisons And The Early Access Gamble

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After being successfully Kickstarted back in December 2013, Fourbit Friday’s platformer roguelike Catacomb Kids, which is often compared to Spelunky at first sight, will be hitting Steam Early Access on February 20th.

 

In spreading this news, the studio’s founder Tyriq Plummer has made an effort to outline the faults of how others have used Early Access, and says that he’s trying to ensure that he’s using it differently.

 

Intrigued, Siliconera reached out to Plummer to find out how he plans on assuring those who purchase Catacomb Kids through Early Access, how he’ll hold himself accountable if anything does go wrong, and also find out more about the game itself. We also find out if that Spelunky comparison really holds up or not.

 

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What’s the story with the development of Catacomb Kids – when did you start working on it, how is it funded, and who else works on it?

 

I started working on the first iteration of Catacomb Kids in 2009, towards the end of my first year in Community College, as a fun diversion from schoolwork and freelance gigs. There were no plans for it, I just sat down and started coding and made something directionless and terrible that had some grain of promise. Over the next few years I tried making other games but always ended up coming back to some incarnation of Catacomb Kids, looking for that promise again, and gradually uncovering it as a vision for the game took shape.

 

Somewhere along the way I met musician and fellow game dev Stevie Hryciw at a game jam, and when I decided crowdfund the game’s development on Kickstarter, we were both pumped enough about each other’s work that a great and mighty alliance was formed easily. The team currently consists of three people, with me doing art/code/design, and Stevie and another yet-to-be-named individual doing music and audio design.

 

Could you give a brief overview of what Catacomb Kids is?

 

Catacomb Kids is a procedurally generated permadeath dungeon crawling (hereafter “roguelike”) platformer that features depth more akin to akin to traditional roguelikes. The game places great emphasis on clever use of the environment and the objects within it to overcome obstacles in creative ways, while still keeping the fast-paced action and reflex requirements that real-time games demand.

 

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I’ve seen people compare Catacomb Kids to Spelunky. Is that a fair comparison? What, specifically, does Catacomb Kids do that Spelunky doesn’t?

 

Spelunky is a big influence on Catacomb Kids in a lot of ways, as is Smash Bros., POWDER RL, Zelda, IVAN, and countless other games. I’m not afraid to say that I steal liberally from a great many sources – that’s what inspiration is. But I think this approach is exactly what makes the game feel unlike any of those games. A lot of people think of Spelunky when they first see screenshots, but the more common reaction I hear when people start playing is “oh, this is like Nethack.”

 

A major difference between Catacomb Kids and Spelunky is its pace: Spelunky feels much more fast-paced and arcadey with its score mechanics, fairly straightforward interactions, ‘the exit is below you’ level generation, and the time pressure from the ghost that appears if you linger too long on levels.

 

Catacomb Kids, on the other hand, has no time pressure, levels are generated in a way that demands exploration and punishes recklessness, and the obstacles you encounter will often encourage a more methodical approach consisting of multiple steps to overcome. Combat is also much deeper and more skillful, so much so that the game features a one-on-one versus mode that I think is pretty engaging. I might be a little biased though.

 

Overall, the comparison to Spelunky, while understandable at first glance, vanishes pretty quickly after the first few seconds of playing.

 

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How has Catacomb Kids changed since it was Kickstarted back in December 2013 — what have you added?

 

The game has progressed a great deal from the first version sent out to alpha backers of the Kickstarter, with changes including (but way not limited to) a complete overhaul of the leveling system, a near-complete rework of the UI, a new weapon class, new weapon skills, the addition of shields and footwear, several new enemies, balance changes, over 20 new abilities both passive and active, new spells, tons of new interactions between objects, a complete rewrite of the level generator, and countless graphical improvements, bug fixes. Also potatoes.

 

How does the game cater to different play styles? And what kinds of play styles might these be?

 

I want players to be free to pursue whichever style of play they enjoy the most, whether that be brutally slaying enemies in close combat, blasting them with spells from afar, sneaking non-violently past troublesome opponents, or getting naked and beating everyone to death with a potato. I mean it’d be hard to pull off that last one but it should definitely be possible. While the game does feature different classes, each with their own unique ability, the classes are more of a starting point for Catacomb Kids and don’t force players down one path or another.

 

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With Early Access, how are you trying to assure people that Catacomb Kids is a secure project?

 

Our plan with Early Access is to maintain consistent engagement with players through weekly development livestreams, new builds roughly every month, and a general policy of being open about the progress of the game. The game’s website and devlog will let players keep up-to-date on the features I’m working on and how far along they are, and following each build release I’ll hold an ‘open house’ Google hangout where people will be able to talk directly to me about the game.

 

I know that people can view Early Access games as something of a gamble, so not only are we holding ourselves to a high standard, we’re giving players the means to hold us accountable should we falter in delivering the promises that being an Early Access title implies.

 

What is your opinion of Early Access as a developer? If it didn’t exist do you think you would miss it?

 

Early Access is a great tool for developers and I think it would definitely be missed were it gone. There are many great games under development that would be worse off or simply non-existent were it not for Early Access, and public alphas/betas more generally. I think the primary issues don’t lie with the tool itself but with the way it’s too commonly used: to fund ideas and prototypes that aren’t yet ready or playable, to determine if a project is worth continuing work on, to build hype for a final product that’s still far off, or simply as a way of monetizing a project that may never make it off the ground — all at the expense of players.

 

We’ll be avoiding all of these issues with Catacomb Kids, which is already fun and very playable, which I am determined to see through to completion, and which will be in part shaped by the players through their feedback and ideas — as has already been the case for a year with the alpha-tier Kickstarter backers.

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Presuming everything goes well with Catacomb Kids, do you know when it might be released, roughly? What platforms do you hope to bring it to?

 

I have an idea of when I’d like the game to reach a 1.0 release, but I hate to name uncertainties so let’s go with the classic “when it’s done.” Spoiler: it’ll be a minute. Also, with as roguelikey platformers such as this is – and with a game that’s this fun to work on – it’s not entirely out of the question that work on the game will continue even after the game comes out of Early Access, with post-launch updates. But that’s still quite a ways off and there’s a good chance I won’t be as enthused about the idea by the time that happens, haha.

 

Early Access will be on PC, Mac, and Linux. The full release might come out on a few more platforms as well, but again that’s a ways off so who knows?

Chris Priestman