Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

DarkLight Dungeon Interview

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 20, 2010

Last week, Jesse Zoeller of ZoellerSoft took some time to answer some questions for me about his new game, DarkLight Dungeon. DarkLight Dungeon is an old-school style single-player dungeon crawler. The full version releases TODAY, so coolness should ensue for fans of this style of RPG.

So here’s what he had to say about becoming an indie, and the making of this classical-style RPG.

Rampant Coyote: So who are you? Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jesse Zoeller: My day job is a full time software engineer developing speech recognition software for hospitals. I got started with programming at the age of 12 when I got my first computer, a 286. This is also the same time I got into computer role playing games with the TSR/SSI Gold Box series.

Rampant Coyote: What inspired you to take the indie route and make your own RPG? Is this your first indie game project?

Jesse Zoeller: I love programming, I love computer role playing games and I love the dungeon-exploring type the best. In America there has been a very large lack of these types of games in recent years. Several have appeared for the Nintendo DS, but as far as the PC, this niche seems dead. I have played around with maybe ten different game projects over the years, but DarkLight Dungeon is the first one I decided to complete and publish to the public, mainly for my love of the genre and the lack of this type of game.

RC: How long have you been working on DD?

JZ: About two years ago I came across the TruVision 3D Engine, basically a wrapper for DirectX, and not a game engine. I played around with it for about a month, made a couple dungeon rooms and set it to the side. I picked it back up in April of 2010. What I had at that time was just a few hard coded rooms, some lights and a working camera. I set out full force in April working on the design, editor and game engine. About four solid months of part time programming, 30,000 lines of code for the engine and 8,000 lines of code for the editor and I had the majority finished from the programming standpoint. The design of the levels, monsters, items, quest, story and play testing took about the same amount of time. So a total of about 8 months of part time work.

RC: Do you have any plans to make the game available for non-Windows platforms?

JZ: Currently not at this time. I have received very little interest in this from the community, also the statistics I have right now put my audience in the 95% for windows users.

RC: You mentioned on your blog being inspired by games like Wizardry and the online RPG Shadow of Yserbius, as well as by modern games. What influences did these games have on Darklight Dungeon? Were you trying to recapture anything specific from these and other games?

JZ: The feeling of what’s in the dungeon, what’s next. Wizardry and Shadow of Yserbius were not just hack n slash dungeon exploring, there were puzzles, keys, and mystery that gave you a reason to keep pushing deeper into the dungeon.

RC: The game starts pretty cryptically. You don’t know why you are there or how you got there. Can you tell us anything more about the story without giving away spoilers?

JZ: It’s hard to say any more then the initial story without giving away the cliffhanger. Basically, you find yourself in this dungeon, with others who appeared in the same manner. You are trying to help them and yourself find the answer as to why you are there, along with a way out of the dungeon.

RC: How big is the dungeon?

JZ: Each floor is based on a 32×32 grid. There are 17 floors in the dungeon spanning 22 unique areas. Some areas are multiple levels deep and some areas intersect other areas. I tried to make each area of the dungeon as unique as possible, different background music, different monsters, and a different theme. The demo allows you to only go as deep as level 4.

RC: You mention a number of languages that your character can learn. How did you make languages in the dungeon useful? How much time will you spend talking or reading versus fighting?

JZ: There are messages scattered around the dungeon, some warnings of very powerful monsters ahead, some descriptions of where a teleportal may take you, some hints to the main puzzle of the game. Also they play a large part in solving the contest puzzle in the game.

RC: You mention that only a fraction of the spells can be bought – most must be found. Is it the same case for items? To what uses can you put all your ill-gotten gold  in the game?

JZ: There are over 200 items in the dungeon, only a small handful are offered in the store at the beginning of the game. Early on in the game you will be spending gold on some of the initial store items, potions, the seer and the initial spells taught in the village. Later on in the game you will continue to invest money into health and mana potions, but permanent stat potions become available, and they are not cheap.

RC: Aging: This is a feature I was never too fond of in older games, I’ll confess. It seems that it’s either a major pain, or it’s so easy to bypass at higher levels that it’s really not an impediment. What role does aging play in Darklight Dungeon? Now, let’s say I’m almost at the end of the game, but then I suddenly hit an age threshold where I’m no longer capable of winning the game (becoming too weak or dying of old age). Am I screwed at this point? Do I have no choice but to start over again from scratch?

JZ: The main reason aging was implemented into DarkLight Dungeon was to give the players another thing to be cautious about in the dungeon. If you brute force your way through the dungeon you are going to die a lot and that is going to age you. Also there are monsters in the dungeon that can age your player, giving the player a reason to want to kill off that monster in the group before another, some traps on treasure chest may also age the player. Now I did make sure there is a balance to this. First there are potions that can be found in the dungeon that remove one year of age and another that removes five years of age. Secondly, it would be pretty difficult to die of old age in DarkLight Dungeon and if you do, you will lose your current experience and 10 years of age will be removed from your character.

RC: What do you mean by losing current experience?

JZ: You lose your current experience but no levels. So if you level 10 with one hundred experience and you die of old age then you will remain at level 10 but lose the hundred experience.

RC: Okay, I think you finally have me convinced that the age thing isn’t so bad. 🙂 You briefly mentioned something on the blog about sashes – trophies for accomplishing certain tasks. They sound a little like “achievements” that have become popular on the XBox and Steam, but with actual gameplay benefits. Can you describe a couple of samples trophies and how they’d work in the game?

JZ: This idea was something that actually came from Sierra’s game The Realm Online. I liked the idea of having a player gain something special for their work. There are trophies for many things in the game, killing many monsters, gaining levels, opening chests, saving gold in the bank, even dying to many times. When you earn a trophy you are given a sash (and the store will stock 99 of them at that time). The sash, when equipped not only gives your character increases to certain stats, but also a title to your character.

RC: So if you were to emphasize only one or two features of DD that makes it stand out and be cool, what would it / they be?

JZ: One would be the story, there is some mystery as to why you are even in this dungeon and a bit of a twist towards the end. Second would be that DarkLight Dungeon is an Indie attempt to fill a niche genre and with the support of the community, will continue to grow down the road in future developments.

RC: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

JZ: I would just like to thank everyone who supports DarkLight Dungeon.

You can check out DarkLight Dungeon at the official website.

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