Endless Dungeon, the spiritual successor to 2014’s Dungeon of the Endless, launches in May.
A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to visit the developers, Amplitude Studios, in Paris to see the game and talk to the development team.
After playing Endless Dungeon for a couple of hours, I spoke to Jeff Spock, the game’s Narrative Director, and Arthur Prudent, the game’s Lead Designer about the game’s development, the choice to add multiplayer, and hidden secrets. Check out our conversation below:
Endless Dungeon interview
Tom (Gfinity) - How's the development process been going over the last few years?
Arthur - The first ideas session was almost five years ago.
Jeff - I mean, that’s not really when dev started. But Arthur, he was the lead on Dungeon of the Endless and is lead on this game as well. It’s his first game at Amplitude. So yeah, I mean, that wasn't when dev started. That's when you first need to go ahead and ask, would we do it again? If you do a second one, how are we doing it? Kicking ideas around.
Arthur - But let's just say, like, three years, something like that, since the very start of development. So we have a lot of iterations, we are really looking for the sweet spot, you know, between balancing the tactical and action parts of the games. So we really try to find the right pacing, the right difficulties etc. We were still trying to find the formula of the game about a year ago, to find the right pacing for this game, because as we go for the dual control, it changed a lot of things. We had to change so many things, compared to Dungeon of the Endless. There aren’t any games very similar to Endless, so we can’t just, you know, try a game and say that that's worked for them. So we had to experiment and test a lot of things. For example, the crystal movements we had to change like four or five times to find the right way of doing it. We tried raising it, or carrying it through the level.
Jeff - There have been an awful lot of prototypes. It’s really the first game we’ve done that’s a twin-stick.
Tom - Is including twin-stick shooting a decision you made quite early?
Jeff - Yeah, Arthur, and the official creative team said from the beginning: “We want this to be a great console game.” So I mean, I've never played it on a keyboard and I'm much more of a PC player than a console player. Yeah, it went through a lot of iterations, a lot of prototyping, a lot of different ideas. Again, we kind of had a very broad blueprint, which was the roguelike tactical squad-based tower defence. Okay, we did that before, but that plus the real-time twin-stick shooting, the 3d.
Tom - How do you kind of see players getting used to it because there's a lot to take in? Do you expect to see people picking up different parts of the game and getting used to each one as they play?
Arthur - Yeah. I mean, that’s a big part of this game being a roguelike you know. We think it's okay that you're just tired trying to get used to all this information and all these elements. We're trying right now to balance the game in order to unfold these kinds of features not only during the first zone or the first district but across many sections. So right now we have a lot of things to discover. We're trying to reduce the pressure and give you more time to get used to things.
Jeff - I think we have something you can pick up and run around in. Thing is, you know, that's great for a couple hours, but we want it to be great for learning. And sometimes the whole meta progression, there's dealing with a high level of difficulty slowly over time with the rogue-lite, and gearing up your hero. And there are a lot of improvements we can add to the ceilings, you can customise this a little bit by adding decorations. So there's a lot of this kind of thing that we're working on trying to sort of extend the life and ensure things keep getting interesting over time.
Tom - And playing multiplayer will help players pick it up quickly?
Arthur - Yes, because a big part of the complexity of the game right now is being able to control the several levels of the game at the same time, and it's demanding, so obviously, the multiplayer will help. Because what we also see is that the difficulty is a bit reduced. But it's balanced by the fact that you have to communicate with your teammates, so it's easier to understand the challenge. I think it will be a good way to introduce the game. And if the other teammates are already playing that could help a lot, really.
Tom - Does the difficulty scale with the number of players?
Arthur - Yeah.
Tom - So how have you seen single-player and multiplayer play out differently on runs?
Arthur - Yeah, I mean, it's really fun, because you have to control several heroes at the same time, or at least give some orders to your teammates if you don't want to switch because the normal way to play, as we designed it, is to be able to switch very quickly to other heroes, and in doing that, cover the rounds and be able to be very agile and efficient. So it's a lot to learn at first, but that's why we start with only two heroes at the beginning, when you are in Solomon, and we add the third, but it's optional, you can play the game with only two.
Jeff - I think a part of the big issues with roguelikes, and I should say, with Amplitude games, is difficulty levels and getting up and running with the game’s systems. Because, you know, we're used to doing 4X games, which have game systems that are pretty vast. And there are a lot of meta elements and a lot of challenges in Dungeon of the Endless and I think the solo versus multiplayer is sort of another level of that. I think if you're not a great player you can kind of have a whole lot of fun and get pretty far if you’re with two pretty good players. Whereas if you're not a very good player, and you're on your own, it’s tough. So there's a lot of balancing and a lot of challenges in a lot of the difficulty questions and a lot on your ability to pick it up and learn and understand it and get the game’s systems and move ahead. So that's something we will be working with up to the end.
Tom - Would you say squad makeup is important - having a DPS, a healer, etc?
Arthur - Yeah, I mean, we tried to avoid for players to need to have very specific heroes in their team, to try to give you the ability to test every combination of heroes. Obviously, some of them are a bit more efficient because theoretically with a healer you can invest less in food and maybe have more turrets, because there are more industries and we just change the way you play the game depending on the team composition. So yes, we mostly try to avoid forcing you to have one support, one healer, or one DPS.
Jeff - Yeah, I mean, it's very, very much a desire, actually in all our games starting with the 4X strategy games. As you know, you pick a faction and they have a certain play style, but you know you can evolve that in different directions and the heroes have enough different capabilities that this one isn't only tank, this one isn’t only support. So yeah, hopefully, people can just mix it up and play that way.
Tom - Who’s your favourite hero to play as?
Arthur - I would say Comrade because I really like the design of him and love the skills.
Jeff (to Arthur) - You just like the ultimate with the big gun!
Arthur - Yeah, and you can place turrets everywhere, and because the tower defence is an aspect I like a lot.
Jeff - I actually tend to run around mostly playing damage because if I play support or healing I have to pay attention to other people. With damage I can just run around and shoot things, so I like that a lot. So yeah, I mean, more specifically my favourite character is probably Cartie because they’re an archivist. Because, you know, it's a very fun kind of silly character with an incredibly dark backstory that you will uncover as you go through the quest. So from a narrative point of view, that was a lot of fun to play with.
Tom - So there's a lot of narrative that comes out of exploration and looking at all the routes. Is that a big and very rewarding part of the game?
Jeff - It's, you know, as in all of our games, there's a lot of it there, but you don't have to do it to advance in the game. We like leaving lots of lore bits for those who like to go hunt them down. But the last thing we want to do is make them mandatory. There are a couple of pretty good lore bombs for people who know the universe well and that sort of thing. So it’s exciting to see those pop up.
Tom - So you’re hiding a lot of secret things?Jeff - Oh yeah! I get paid for that, it’s pretty fun.
Tom - Do you keep surprising your colleagues with things you’ve hidden?
Jeff - Yeah, there are a few easter eggs people haven’t uncovered at the studio. It’s pretty fun. With Dungeon of the Endless, there was a guy who came up to me maybe three or four years after we released the game. He said “wait a minute, does this mean that Horatio was there during..” and I was like “yep, you got it.” Eventually, somebody gets it, no matter how clever I think we are, eventually somebody's gonna run across it who can put the pieces together.
Tom - I found the sharing of resources in multiplayer quite interesting. What are the reasons behind making that choice, rather than each player having their own in multiplayer?
Arthur - Yeah, that's a big choice and we, first of all, find it fun because obviously it creates discussion and tension. Also because we knew that we didn't want to add too many tools, like a chain of resources and inventory system etc. And because it's a real co-op game and the only thing that you can invest for yourself is the role of your friends. We wanted to just keep it simple, and then you obviously create interesting different situations.
Jeff - I mean, it's part of the fun of any multiplayer game. I remember playing Left 4 Dead with people running around and doing silly things. Especially with pickup games and that sort of thing, where somebody starts annoying you’re like “save the sites see the sites” you know, it’s just an element to multiplayer of the challenge and the communication. So when you're playing with friends it's great.
Tom - Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be less great when you’re doing it with people you don’t know.
Jeff - Yeah, I mean, it's like doing a raid in an MMO or something.
Tom - How much does the enemy variety and the difficulty change as you progress?
Arthur - So we have four monster families. You will discover some of the monsters in later levels for each family. And we tried to make the full family not visible at the beginning to create a surprise. And they are very, very surprising. So yes, we have the four bosses too. And we have also this elite version of most monsters, which are the same monster archetypes but stronger. So that's one of the things that we increase during the run to the core, and the number of monsters and their spawn points, which is a very important part of the game. The number of monsters and spawn points really change the difficulty of the game. So that's evolving for the entire run. What we are focusing on right now is creating differentiation between the districts, so you need different tools in each district.
Jeff - In new difficulties, you will have more generators to protect. Or there are more spawn points. Or, even though it's procedural and randomly generated, there’s a lot of work that Arthur and his team did on the level design and controlling if you have too many long corridors, or too many giant waves and that sort of thing. So there are a lot of different ways to play with the difficulty level. But the monster families are a big part of that. There are a lot of enemies early on, but they are little weak ones. And the further down you go you start getting the more elite ones and eventually, the bosses.
Tom - How big is the game? How long are you expecting it to take someone to beat?
Jeff - How do you find the end of a roguelike, I guess that’s a big thing.
Tom - I played a lot of Hades, where most of the game is after you finish it for the first time. Is Endless Dungeon similar?
Arthur - Yeah, we have this in mind. We have a lot of challenges that are avoidable, even if you finish the game for the first time. So I think it will be a very big range for the number of hours players finish the game for the first time. I think it's possible in 10 hours for a very, very good player, but we are more targeting 30 to 40 hours before the first victory. And then the game has a lot to offer, like the birth rate that will make a run more challenging and change the way you play the game.
Jeff - Yeah, the beverages at the bar are very interesting. We actually played it today and I didn't realise how much it changed the game because it made the turrets really powerful, but your gun is really weak. And it was like, you run out of industry really quick, and then you have to shoot the monsters, but you're not doing enough damage and keep backing up and trying to draw enemies into the turrets.
Tom - I guess that changes your approach for the whole run.
Jeff - Absolutely. Yeah. So there's a lot of ways that the designers are adding sort of twists to it. So yeah, you can finish and get the narrative end of the story but there are a couple of twists in there as well. So okay, I get to the core, we turn the machines back on, we can leave, that's all good. You can go back and play an awful lot more though. There are Hero Quests to finish, all the district areas to discover, all the weapons, all the upgrade chips for the heroes, a lot of meta elements. And for people who want to go back and try again and try something different, we hope we're offering a lot of fun things for them to really make it a very different experience but with the same 3d environment basically.
For more articles like this, take a look at our Features and Endless Dungeon page.