With its recent announcement at the Playstation Experience, we caught up and had a lengthy chat with Brent Sodman, programmer and one of the team at Dodge Roll Games, about their gunfight dungeon crawler, Enter the Gungeon.
Sam Foxall – For those who don’t know, what is the basic outline for Enter the Gungeon?
Brent Sodman – So Enter the Gungeon, the phrase we’ve been using to describe the game in a nutshell is a gunfight dungeon crawler. Obviously, it takes inspiration from games like Zelda but the closest games it would be like for the modern era are Binding of Isaac, Wasteland Kings (the predecessor to Nuclear Throne) and in terms of a secret and unlocking structure, Spelunky. The main idea for Enter the Gungeon came from when we were playing these games, that whole cluster of them, and thinking what can we do with that.
So the basic structure of the game is, like any roguelike, you start out by picking your character and so forth before you challenge the Gungeon itself. You either win, if you are extremely good or you lose, as is more common but like in the Binding of Isaac, we wanted to play around with the idea of a sort of meta-progression system. Not in the sense that your character gets stronger but where progression in the Gungeon unlocks events, items, rooms, weapons or enemies for future runs. We thought that was a really clever idea that Edmund McMillen had for Isaac and we’re sure that games had done it before, but that’s where we saw it first.
SF – So, the progression is like when you beat a certain boss in Isaac, you unlock and guarantee access to Sheol in future runs?
BS – Precisely. Or if you beat the Chest, you get Dad’s Key as a potential drop in later runs. We really wanted to play around with that idea and take it even further with Gungeon. As an example, like in Binding of Isaac, our dungeons are built from pre-designed rooms. This is nice as it lets us get that procedural feel of assembling the rooms without having to randomly generate the rooms themselves, as it is much harder to get really good feeling rooms. So, our dungeons are hand designed but the dungeon keeps track of how many times you’ve encountered a specific room.
So, let’s say you enter a specific hallway and it’s got two Bulletguys at the end of it and you beat them and go onto the next room. You do that a couple of times, you’ve seen the room, beat it a few times and have been playing the game for a while, the dungeon generator will know that you’ve seen that room and cleared it easily. As a result, maybe the next time you see it, you’ll see the two Bulletguys and think ‘Oh, it’s this room again’, but when you kill them, another guy will burst through the wall. We’re trying to play around with the player’s expectations a little bit.
SF – Almost like the Director in Left 4 Dead who will change the level to make it more difficult for you?
BS – Yeah, I was actually just about to bring that up! I was super inspired by what they did in Left 4 Dead and thought it was a great idea. We’ve tried to teach the dungeon generator, well it’s not that smart, but we’ve been able to make it remember some basic rules about what makes good dungeons. It’ll try to make little Zelda loops where you have a locked door at the end and a chest, where you go all the way round the loop, get the chest, unlock the door and you go back to the starting area. We’ve done this just to have these nicely designed little experiences, inside of the procedural hull which is hard but is working pretty well at this point so I’m proud of that.
SF – Just from the name of the studio, Dodge Roll, you seem to be influenced by Dark Souls during development. Are there any other Dark Souls-esque elements in the game?
BS – It’s funny you should bring that up. Dave, our designer on the game who I met a couple of years ago, when I met him said, when we were talking about games, that have you played Dark Souls? I said no I hadn’t. I had played almost every major release of the past few years but I hadn’t got round to Dark Souls yet. He said basically, you can’t be my friend until you’ve played Dark Souls so I played it and of course, it was phenomenal. Obviously, he is a Dark Souls superfan.
SF – I’d probably get on well with him then.
BS- *laughs* He’s really good at it too. He then said if we ever make a game, there has to be a dodge roll in it. It was sort of a half joke at the time but when we came around to creating Enter the Gungeon, the dodge roll seemed to fit really well with the bullet hell nature of the game. Have you played Ikaruga?
SF – The Gamecube shmup? Yeah, I have.
BS – Well, that game also has the same element of lots of bullets you can dodge by doing specific things. It’s not exactly the same but it’s a similar kind of feel where our moving through these bullets, you have to actively switch up and change strategies to fit the situation. So, we have a couple of things in the game which are like that. I’m drifting away from the question but I’ll get back to it.
We have these tables you can flip over for cover, which enemies can do as well. The tables will protect you from bullets for a bit but they will eventually break. They’re less like cover you’d use in a shooter like Gears of War to hide and pop out from, they are more ephemeral than that. You flip it to intercept a shotgun blast but by then, you’d already be gone. It’s a really mobile game, not as in phones but that you have to keep moving around in order to survive.
Anyway, to get back to the question, there are a couple of other elements that we really liked from Dark Souls, more in the structure rather than the mechanics of it. As a dumb example, in the loading screens, it’ll pick a random item from the game and give you the item description of it because we thought it was a nice touch in Dark Souls. Most of the story of the game, we plan to deliver in the same kind of way as Dark Souls does.
SF – That’s really cool, I was a massive fan of the way Dark Souls does its story and narrative in game.
BS – The thing I liked about Dark Souls’ story mainly, besides its depth, was that it was there for people who wanted to dig into it, which I was, but for those who didn’t, you didn’t have to pay attention to it. They did it in a way that felt clever without feeling tacked on or that it felt missing. Obviously, our game is of a much smaller scale than Dark Souls, both in terms of game and story but I think we can tell this same goofy, half jokey half serious story of the Gungeon, through item descriptions and specific rooms that characters find, as well as NPC interactions that someone whose speedrunning can completely ignore, yet is there for those who are really interested in the lore.
SF – So, the focus is on more organic storytelling than massive text dumps that tell you the story flat out?
BS – Exactly. Right now, the game does start out with some text but that’s just placeholder.
SF – In the trailer, which was at PSX, we saw the player shooting bullets at bullets. What kind of enemies and bosses will you fight over the course of the game?
BS – Sure. I don’t want to spoil too much but I will give some stuff away for you. It’s funny that you say bullets shooting bullets, one person said that ‘Enter the Gungeon has gun on gun violence’, which I thought was pretty funny. The normal mobs that you find in the Gungeon, people have been called them the Gundead, which is almost a pun too far but throughout development, I’ve been calling them Bulletmen or Bulletguys.
SF – In the trailer, I saw one in a pope hat.
BS – That’s the Bullet Pope who has his little cardinals with him. He’s really funny and also one of the bosses in the game. One of the levels in the Gungeon is this sort of blood cathedral and he’s one of the bosses of that area. The Bulletguys have all sorts of variants. There are ones with eyepatches who shoot faster, ones with bandanas who are super aggressive, shotgun shells who shoot shotguns and rifle guys who I don’t think we’ve shown off yet but they are cool. There are grenade guys who explode when they get near you. They are the basic infantry but the ghosts are a little more interesting. We’ve been calling them Hollowpoints who disappear and reappear randomly.
The other programmer tells me that they disappear and reappear randomly but I swear he is messing with me. They always seem to appear right behind me but he says that they appear randomly. Those are the basic units but we have some more advanced units within the demo who shoot traditional bullet hell patterns. There’s a cube guy who bounces up and down and every time he lands, he sends out a big diamond of bullets as well as a couple of other variants.
In the demo, we have two bosses but there are some others I can talk about. The two in the demo, one is called Gatling Gull who is our Vulcan Raven joke.
SF – Do you have to use grenades to kill him?
BS – *laughs* You don’t have to but you can!
SF – That should so be an achievement.
BS – Absolutely. He’s this massive, bulky birdman with a gatling gun who is more of a traditional sort of boss, in that he jumps around, shoots waves of bullets at you and stops once in a while to shoot rockets which you have to interrupt, or else he’ll keep shooting. He’s got distinct tells and patterns of attack which he alternates between and acts as a good sort of traditional fight, I think. I’d say he’s a good fight for like Floor 2 for a lot of people.
The simplest intro boss fight is probably the Bullet Bros, who drop in and high five but then the more advanced fight in the demo is the Beholster, who is an obvious reference to the D&D Beholder. He’s a big floating eyeball who has six tentacle arms which holds a different gun. Each gun is different and they are coded on unique timers so in theory, he could fire them all at once but it lines up so he never does. He usually fires two or three, or firing one but each one has a different bullet pattern. One has a spray while others have crazy effects, like shooting a massive tear because it’s an eye as well as a Binding of Isaac reference, which summons a little familiar which orbits him once the tear hits something.
He’s got a rocket launcher which shoots a volley of three rockets. You can shoot them once to make them rebound at him or off walls but if you shoot them twice, they just explode. They’ll follow you pretty precisely so you pretty much have to shoot at them. He’s got a couple of other interesting weapons but he has a big eye laser which he’ll do for massive damage. It’s funny because it chases you the further you are away from it but slows down as it gets to you so it’s the perfect timing where you can roll through it and it feels really good.
SF – It’s basically a big indicator to say ‘You should roll here!’
BS – Exactly. We had some trouble when people were playing it at PSX but as soon as they realised they could roll through it, they were doing some crazy stuff with it. That was a lot of fun to watch. I might as well mention another boss we have planned currently. He’s this big tank boss which sounds like a big go to, but he summons these Bulletguys who have these army helmets on and chuck grenades at you. He’s also got this massive cannon which he’ll fire at you and actually destroy the structure you are in which is cool, as we haven’t done that anywhere else in game. It’ll blast holes in walls and bring down columns so he’s pretty cool. However, he’s a little too strong right now. His aim is too good.