You should read this interview with the developer of Dungeon Hearts
Dungeon Hearts from Chris Pavia and Cube Roots is a really cool looking take on a match-3 style RPG that is currently under development. Developer Chris Pavia was gracious enough with his time to talk to us about how development of Dungeon Hearts is coming along, what the game is all about, and what makes Dungeon Hearts stand out. I’d encourage you to read the interview and check out Dungeon Hearts, which is definitely a game to keep an eye on as it continues development.
Take a moment to introduce yourself.
My name is Christopher Pavia, and I’m the artist, designer, and coder behind Dungeon Hearts, although I have helpers here and there so I’m not a complete lone wolf. I’ve worked in the commercial game industry for several years, but grew tired of seeing the same mistakes repeated constantly, and always being afraid of the next big layoff, so I struck out on my own. I got a job outside of the game industry, partly to keep a roof over my head and so I didn’t have to worry about non-compete clauses and endless crunch eating into my own development time. Dungeon Hearts is my primary project, although I have a few other games in various stages of production.
Tell us a little about Dungeon Hearts. What do you think makes it special?
Dungeon Hearts is a JRPG-inspired puzzle game that can best be described as a match-3 style game. I’ve never been a big fan of puzzle games myself (I’m notoriously impatient) but as a designer, tackling a genre outside my comfort zone presents an interesting challenge to overcome.
There are certainly no shortage of Match-3 RPG’s out there, but a lot of them share the same basic mechanics. There is some standard match-3 play in Dungeon Hearts, but for the core gameplay I wanted to experiment with a different system for player interaction, which led to the cross-alignment mechanics. Instead of trying to consolidate tokens of the same color in the same area, the player aligns Strike tokens (think Crash Gems in Super Puzzle Fighter) to try and cover as much of the board as possible. Tapping a Strike token activates other Strike tokens on the same row and column (cross-alignment), creating a cascade effect that can cover much or all of the board. The number and type of tokens caught in this cascade determine who attacks and how much damage they do, as well as charging up their special abilities.
How has the development process been on the game so far?
I’m a big proponent of prototyping and iterating, so the beginning of the process was very slow as I tried out different mechanics and play styles. Lots of work was thrown out, but it always helped in focusing the game. Because the gameplay is quite different from what you’d expect, I’ve also had to do plenty of user testing to make sure things are easy to pick up and don’t seem too random or abstract. Now that the gameplay is nailed down and I’ve completed most of the artwork, progress is accelerating and I’m hoping to hit beta in a month or two.
Is there anything that you thought would work out but didn’t fit quite like you expected?
The first and largest was the scope of the game. It was more of a roguelike at first, with randomized dungeons and a more traditional narrative. The first thing I prototyped was a random level generator, the player would explore and find keys to unlock the exit, and the puzzle system was confined to the random battles that would occur. But all that required a ton of content and I’m not the type who can work on the same project for years and maintain a high level of enthusiasm, so I had to figure out what the core of the gameplay was and get rid of everything else. The puzzle was much more engaging than exploring the dungeon levels, and since the iPad was the primary platform, the touch interface suited it perfectly.
The other big issue was allowing the player to interact with the puzzle and enjoy the art at the same time. Because the puzzle is always moving the main criticism I got from players was that they couldn’t look up from it to see the characters and enemies interacting. I prototyped numerous solutions to fix this, some simply just rearranging the positions of objects, while others were huge changes in gameplay. I was working on this up until quite recently, and the next development video will show where things ended up.
What were your influences in designing Dungeon Hearts?
JRPG’s of the 8 and 16-bit era were a huge influence on the theme, of course. Particularly my favorite game of all time, Final Fantasy 4 (of which there are numerous references in-game). FF 6 may be the better game, but I really love the story in 4. I’ve always wanted to make an RPG, but they can be extremely time and resource intensive. To keep the scope in check I eventually decided to strip out everything except my favorite parts: combat, exploration, and character progression. The menu-based nature of many RPG’s can get pretty boring though, so the puzzle system was meant as a solution to that. It’s much more interesting than selecting ATTACK or FIRE2 from some menu tree.
How hard has it been to balance the speed of the pieces and the number of enemy attacks in the game, while still allowing for strategic play?
It’s an ongoing process, and will have to be balanced separately for each platform, since a mouse reacts slower than touch for example. I try to avoid using the speed as a way of increasing difficulty however, since that tends to be more frustrating than fun. The auto-scrolling nature of the puzzle is intended specifically to create a sense of tension and to keep the player’s attention constantly shifting around the board (which I think helps promote a sense of flow). I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a separate, turn based version of the game later, but I haven’t decided for sure yet.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
If you’re a fan of game music, then Dungeon Hearts has a special treat for you! In addition to the game’s original soundtrack, I contacted several other musicians to create alternate soundtracks in a variety of musical styles. You unlock one each time you beat the game. These are all completely original tracks, not remixes of the original. As a taste, here’s the metal soundtrack, created by Erik Peabody of Viking Guitar: http://vikingguitar.bandcamp.com/album/dungeon-hearts-metal-soundtrack
Where can people find you and Dungeon Hearts on the web?
So, that’s it for the interview with Chris Pavia, the designer of Dungeon Hearts, which I really appreciate him taking the time to do. I would really encourage you to check out his web pages and take a look at Dungeon Hearts. I don’t cover a lot of iOS games on here (unless they are board game derivative), but Dungeon Hearts really caught my idea as a great idea. If you’re done checking out Dungeon Hearts, I would encourage you to leave a comment, especially if you have any questions regarding Dungeon Hearts. If you’re done here, check out the Related Posts below, the Recent Posts in the sidebar, or go to a random page on Futile Position.