Tower Defense Meets Online Action RPG: Dungeon Defenders Interview

Conducted By Adam Ames

TPG got the chance to interview Trendy Entertainment, the developers responsible for the newly released hybrid title, Dungeon Defenders.  You will learn how Dungeon Defenders was created, the successes and failures in doing so, and their take on the PC gaming industry.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Dungeon Defenders.

Hey! I’m Philip Asher, and I’m the marketing director for Trendy Entertainment. Since we’re a small indie studio we are all responsible for a variety of things. I do everything from making media/trailers to producing the upcoming Dungeon Defenders: Second Wave.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

Trendy itself is a relatively new studio, but much of the team has experience using Unreal Engine 3 dating back years at various other developers big and small. Everyone on the team decided at some point that they wanted to return to the creative freedom of independent development, utilizing our Unreal tech experience to develop our games across multiple platforms, including emerging world of high-end mobile devices.

Where did the idea for Dungeon Defenders come from?

It started with a guy in his bedroom. No seriously, Trendy’s Development Director, Jeremy Stieglitz, began the project as a four-man Unreal Development Kit prototype, which was so well-received by the gaming community that we decided to expand the team and build it out into the epic game that is now Dungeon Defenders. As for the inspiration, we decided to make Dungeon Defenders a hybrid between Role Playing Games and Tower Defense because we wanted to combine the strategic planning and tactics of tower defense, with the long-term replayability and depth of an expansive online RPG.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Dungeon Defenders?

Success: Be fearless and bold, take the risks associated with mixing genres and new ideas, since that is your primary advantage as an indie: you can afford to, and indeed must, go where no one has gone before.

Failure: Line up all your release windows before you announce your game, otherwise you and your fans might have a long wait ahead of you if you’re planning to release on console.

In its current form, how close is Dungeon Defenders to your initial vision? 

Very close! We didn’t have a single feature left on the drawing board that didn’t make into the PC game in particular (which actually contains some features that we weren’t able to squeeze into the console in time). The long console-mandated wait to release actually gave us the breathing room to make sure every single thing we wanted to do, we went ahead and did, such as alternate costumes, player-to-player item trading, and TrendyNet, our proprietary closed and moderated online gaming system for secure play.

Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game.  Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Dungeon Defenders and if you faced a similar challenge. 

Our game is very challenging, but I don’t think that’s because we became experts while playing the game. We wanted to challenge people to think strategically as well as react quickly. It was important for us to find a balance in Dungeon Defenders between player skill and player stats. We wanted players to need both to be able to complete levels. The exact combination of this can vary, and it’s up to you if you want to get creative with your defenses or grind out a few more levels and upgrade your items and pets.

In Dungeon Defenders difficulty levels work similarly to Diablo. You can take your character through multiple difficulty levels to earn better loot and more experience. So we had to balance the difficulty levels so they were both more challenging on a skill level and on a statistics level. We think we found a good balance. Some of the insane maps are going to be really hard for players to beat, but that’s the point. If you want the best gear you’re going to have to be good at the game.

Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Dungeon Defenders would run on the various PC system configurations?

Not particularly. Dungeon Defenders runs on the Unreal Engine 3, which is obviously very strong on the PC platform.

Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?

Money.Haha. But seriously, you need a lot of really passionate people to make an indie game like this. A lot of people at our studio could easily be making more money somewhere else, but they choose to work here because they love it. They love the opportunity to express themselves in their work and have a say in the games we make.

How did you create funding for the development of Dungeon Defenders and did you receive emotional support from your family and friends during this time?

We were really lucky to have a great CEO, Augi Lye, who was able to raise funding for us to survive while we were making our game. It was difficult, but worth it in the end.

Tell us about the process of submitting Dungeon Defenders to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.

As always, it’s very difficult for an independent developer to get through the submission processes for the various platforms. Luckily we have a relatively experienced team, so the certification process was not nearly as painful as it could have been.

How much pull do you have when setting sale and regular pricing through digital distribution channels?  Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?

We definitely have some say in it. Luckily there are industry standards and after a long time we settled on the $14.99 price point. Suffice to say, it was a difficult decision, but we’re really glad about it now. A lot of feedback we’re getting are people telling us we’re crazy to provide people with so much content for only $14.99 and we’re really glad people see it that way!

Walk us through the development of the multiplayer component for Dungeon Defenders.

Well we knew from the start of development that Dungeon Defenders was going to be a co-operative game. Our team has experience doing multiplayer games, so it wasn’t incredibly difficult. First we had to get the basic networking up and running and then optimize it so people could play co-op on their phones via 3G. Then we had to iterate on gameplay. The real challenge with multiplayer was balancing it so each character class had complimentary towers so playing co-op was fun and balanced.

Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Dungeon Defenders.

For Dungeon Defenders’ visual style, we were inspired by a grab-bag of pop-culture staples. From video games, we were particularly drawn to the graphics of Torchlight and Castle Crashes. In other media, our goal was Miyazaki meets Lord of the Rings, mixed with a bit of Saturday Morning Cartoon flair. Going toony let us take some of the classic stock fantasy archetypes in a new direction. Also, we wanted to with a bit of cel-shading in order to distinguish Dungeon Defenders from the plethora of grey-and-brown gritty games out there, and use the graphics as a lead-in for casual players before they discover the game’s depth. The same kinds of things influenced our level design and music.

How important is it to get instant feedback about Dungeon Defenders from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?

It’s incredibly important to us and very valuable. Since we’re an independent developer we can take this feedback and react very quickly. This feedback has lead to a lot of changes in both Dungeon Defenders mobile and pc/console.

How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Dungeon Defenders professionally?

We’re very proud of the game we’ve made and nothing excites us more than a good review of it. That said, we take reviews at face value. We made a game for us and we understand while some people may dig that, others will not. We tried to make our game as accessible as possible while not compromising our vision.

How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?

We’re definitely interested in joining those promotions. We see them as a really valuable way to grow the community of gamers that play independent games and view any copy of our game in the consumers hand as a plus.

What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?

We think many companies are approaching it the wrong way. We’re not concerned with stopping piracy of our game. We know it’s going to happen and we’ve embraced it. Furthermore, we don’t want to cripple people who pirate our game, they are just as likely to recommend the game to others as a paying customer. We do believe in incentivizing players to purchase the game though. We’ll be trying to do this in many ways through the life of our product. This includes running community events in the Steam-only ranked mode of play, as well as releasing frequent, free content updates in this ranked-mode. We hope pirates enjoy the unranked mode of play, and choose to purchase a full copy to play on the hack-free, moderated servers with everyone else.

Bill S.978 was introduced to the Untied States Senate earlier this year which could make it illegal to post unauthorized copyrighted content on YouTube and other video sharing sites.  How do you feel about individuals outside of Trendy Entertainment posting gameplay videos of Dungeon Defenders?

We absolutely love it. We use Skype for our office-wide group chat, and some of the best links people post are to youtube videos of people playing Dungeon Defenders. We absolutely love seeing our fans play the game and give us their feedback on it.

How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?

We have mixed feelings on DLC. We love the idea of games as a service, and don’t see the release of a game as the end of its development life. We fully intend to extend the life of our game with new levels, character classes, and more. Furthermore, we are going to try to offer these at incredibly reasonable prices so as many of our fans as possible can enjoy. We also DLC as a means of listening to our community and providing with content they’ve requested.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about modding of PC games and the relationship developers have with modders.  How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Dungeon Defenders

We love the modding community. We think it’s an extension of the idea that a game’s development life shouldn’t end at its release. We also don’t view it as competition for DLC. We believe the more content our game has the better, wherever it comes from. That’s why we’ll be releasing modding tools and the full source of the game 2 weeks post-release.

What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?

Find a good team, a source of money to survive, and start making your game. Be prepared for some hardship, but know it will be worth it in the end. – End

We would like to thank Phillip and everyone at Trendy Entertainment for allowing us to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a great indie developer.  You can pick up Dungeon Defender via Steam, GamersGate and  Direct2Drive.

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2 thoughts on “Tower Defense Meets Online Action RPG: Dungeon Defenders Interview

  1. Pingback: - The Weblog Indie Game Links: Tricked or Treat

  2. Pingback: Indie Royale: The May Hurray Bundle | truepcgaming

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