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Dungeons of Dredmor, Sonic Porn, Gaslamp Games’ Origin Story and MORE! [Interview]

Earlier this week I sat down with the guys from Gaslamp Games to discuss Dungeons of Dredmor. Well, preliminarily that’s what I had planned. Little did I know at that point that Nicholas, David and Daniel had so much more planned.

I won’t bother to get into the dirty details here, but I will tell you that everything mentioned in the title is factual accurate and not meant to be merely a humorous gesture. I mean, it’s funny and all, but it’s real life funny.

Anyway, you’ve got a lot of reading to do so I’ll just kindly step out of the way…

DIYGamer: Before we begin the actual interview, what with the spiel and all that, can each of you tell us who you are and what you do at the Gaslamp Offices?

Nicholas Vining: I’m Nicholas Vining; I’m Gaslamp’s lead programmer and technology director. I do… probably about 80% (?) of the programming work that gets done.

Dan: [I’m] Daniel Jacobsen, I wrote a lot of the gameplay code, and did some of the skill design.  At this point I’m code, design, and most of the company business.  I think most of the Norwegian influences of the game are my fault.

D Baumgart: I’m David Baumgart, I act as the principal artist and/or art director. And more random things: design, writing, content creation & scripting. Handling a bit of marketing and related stuff.

Nicholas Vining: It’s all basically anarchy.

Dan: David did most of the design and writing.

D Baumgart: I’ll say, Nicholas does most of our marketing copy. That’s why it’s like it is.

Nicholas Vining: Yes, that’s right. Blame me for everything.

DIYGamer: And how did you guys come together to form Gaslamp Games?

Nicholas Vining: Oh geez. Who wants to tell the story?

Dan: Nicholas, go for it

Nicholas Vining: Daniel has put on classic Norwegian battle music, I think it’s important that folks know that.

Anyhow.So we started Gaslamp Games back in 200… 8? Yes. Basically, I had some cash in the bank from a contracting job, and decided in a fit of… inspiration or creativity, or something… that it would be a good idea to start a game company. I somehow managed to talk Daniel into it, because we needed somebody who could Do The Things That Need To Be Done.

We also had two other artists, and we started work on a game, and… well, it wasn’t good.

Dan: I had no idea what was going on.

Nicholas Vining: One artist flamed out in what is probably best described as a “blaze of glory” and the other had to go back to Japan. So we cast around for a new artist, found David – again, we sweet-talked him with promises of sugar plums and Money Hats – and decided to see what we could salvage from our game.

As it turns out, nothing was salvageable. So then we tried to figure out what we should do instead.

Dan: We didn’t even have aluminum swans.

Nicholas Vining: We still don’t have aluminum swans. But who’s telling this story here?

Dan: :(

D Baumgart: As I recall, I was found through an online friend of a friend, and met these guys in some coffee shop. They promised me money. The previous artist left root vegetables in the company washroom. But yes.

Nicholas Vining: Not just root vegetables. Well, mainly root vegetables. I think there were also a couple of cans of soup and an avocado.

Dan: (Oh god.)

D Baumgart: (Here it comes.)

Nicholas Vining: Do I tell them about the … okay, fine, I will.

So we cleaned out the artist’s computer after she… exploded in a blaze of glory. There were a lot of pictures of Sonic the Hedgehog’s penis. I don’t really know what else to say about that.

Dan: …maybe we should strike that from the record

Nicholas Vining: Possibly. I think we mentioned it in another interview. I’m not sure.

D Baumgart: Possibly in a more roundabout manner. Moving on!

Nicholas Vining: Can we just say “a lot of pornography”?

DIYGamer: It’s too funny to remove at this point!

D Baumgart: The man has a point.

Nicholas Vining: Seriously. You guys didn’t have to deal with it.

Somebody had to go through and make sure we had all the art. And that meant an image search.

D Baumgart: … So the first game wasn’t working out …

Nicholas Vining: Umm. Yes. Moving on. First game wasn’t working out. It was an…  idea? But it had its issues, mainly limited by our ability to achieve what we wanted to achieve on the budget we had, which was none, as we’d blown all our money to date.

So we went back to the drawing board. Years before getting involved with Gaslamp, I had started work on a game called Dungeons of Dredmor with another startup, started by entirely different people, and it was in an… impoverished, half-finished state. However, it was a framework we could hack on to push it out the door – a process that we originally thought would only take a few months. Hah. Hah hah, hah. Hah.

Dan: It worked out in the end

DIYGamer: So when did development on this version of Dredmor begin?

Nicholas Vining: September, 2008?

D Baumgart: So ship the game in a couple months was the plan. A few long years later … well, when did we get onto Dredmor — September, October of 2008?

Nicholas Vining: Yeah. And we finally shipped in 2011. It turns out that game development is hard work!

DIYGamer: So just about a 3 year development cycle that was originally planned to be a few months?

Dan: Yeah, that’s about right

Nicholas Vining: And that’s not including the work that was done on Dredmor before 2008.

I’ve been working on it for about seven years now. My fingers are bloody, bandaged stumps. My eyes have seen things that man was not meant to see. But we discussed that. Every day, we pray to our dark gods for the sweet release of death.

… so, yeah, typical indie development experience.

Dan: He’s talking about making coffee

Nicholas Vining: Oh, that too.

DIYGamer: So speaking of the lengthy development process, as we all know some features get cut. Was there anything that was supposed to get in Dredmor but ultimately had to be left out?

Dan: Oh god, so much

Nicholas Vining: Oh, yes. All sorts of things.

D Baumgart: Scrolls, for starters. We’ll have to put those back in at some point.

Dan: Good thing, we may have been sued.

Nicholas Vining: Our scrolls are more elderly than your scrolls. Although, apparently, Mojang got an indictment, so now they can sue us!

Dan: The dungeon was [also] actually initially slated to be 20 levels

Nicholas Vining: And there were branches. And cannon-traps.

Dan: We realized through testing that it was… just too long.

D Baumgart: There was talk of factions. Not sure how serious that talk was.

Dan: We were stretching our content too far.

Nicholas Vining: Yeah, pretty much.

D Baumgart: A few skills got the cut — Veganism, Demonologist, Animal Hunter.

Nicholas Vining: Potions were done, and re-done again, and then re-done one more time. We’ve had a few different systems for some things.

D Baumgart: We actually cut all 6 original magic schools and replaced them with the current 8 in the month or two before beta.

Nicholas Vining: Because, you know, we’re crazy.

Dan: There was also a whole mess of iteration on the UI.

D Baumgart: Oh god, the UI.

Dan: The original interface was actually a Sierra style with an eyeball cursor.

Nicholas Vining: Well, it was an evolution.

D Baumgart: The player portrait in the bottom was in, then out, then back in.

Nicholas Vining: So when Gaslamp got ahold of Dredmor, it looked like this:

Nicholas Vining: Note the programmer-drawn Mushroom. And whatever the heck is going on there on the bottom. Actually, I drew the potion too.

D Baumgart: When I came on, I basically redid all the art aside from the hero and monster sprites.

Nicholas Vining: And here is a shot of the Sierra-Style Interfce that David is talking about:

DIYGamer: Prior to release you guys were struck with a large amount of media coverage. Was this planned or was it simply a matter of right time, right place?

Nicholas Vining: We were? We wanted more. We felt that we weren’t getting the game coverage out enough, in fact.

Dan: A lot of it was the fruition of a lot of blogging, for a long time.

D Baumgart: We just blogged away until people started paying attention, really.

Nicholas Vining: We finally broke through at TIGSource after we started our semi-open beta. I think things got better at this point; we got a preview from Indiegames.com and then that was about the point when we could start working the press.

The next game will be easier, but when all you have is something that is basically … coming out of left-field, like Dredmor is, it’s hard to get press traction.

D Baumgart: [We] got picked up by some roguelike sites, some linux sites (who didn’t get love for far too long), some indie rpg sites. Getting in on Something Awful was a huge boost.

Nicholas Vining: We were actually talking about this over lunch. There seems to be some sort of an art to this, that isn’t clear, perhaps. Some developers seem to be very good at this – Phil Fish, for instance, has gotten Fez written about everywhere. It’s received more preview coverage than Dredmor has received in review coverage, despite not being out yet. Maybe it’s some sort of genetic thing.

DIYGamer: So how have things gone post-release? Can you share any sales data?

Nicholas Vining: Ten million moneys.

Dan: Unfortunately we can’t.  we hope to be in a position to soon.

D Baumgart: We’ve done well though.

Dan: We can say that we are working full-time on Gaslamp now.

Nicholas Vining: We were before, we just weren’t getting paid for it.

D Baumgart: Hah, yeah.

DIYGamer: Has the critical, and/or commercial success been better than you expected?

Nicholas Vining: Ohhhh, yes.

Dan: My hope with Dredmor was to make enough in revenue to buy a good bottle of scotch. So yes, much better.

D Baumgart: I tried not to think too much about it for a long time, honestly. I did expect a decent success, but maybe that was hope.

Nicholas Vining: We honestly sort of expected to release, and fade into the mists, only to slowly pick up some sort of mild following. The fact that we were #1 on Steam when we launched… was mind-blowing. I think I spent most of our launch window alternating between giggling madly, and then grinding my teeth.

Dan: One of the issues was that we were creating a rogue-like commercially, and roguelikes aren’t really sold, and they don’t have that big of an audience. So the fact that we could gain traction with our idea was really great and also quite surprising.

Nicholas Vining: There were also about two weeks of hell afterwards trying to support our ridiculously large user base. That was exciting. I don’t actually think I slept.

D Baumgart: I bought some new pants just the other day! Success is amazing.

Dan: September was odd, or was that August.

Nicholas Vining: It was August.

DIYGamer: Obviously Steam is the big fish in the sea, but you guys just very recently launched on Desura as well. How has that gone so far and what advantages do they bring to Gaslamp?

Dan: So Desura allows us to do something really great: we have been promising the Linux community a native build of Dredmor since before it was released and we are glad to be supporting a community with some great people in it.

Desura is smaller than Steam, as any analytics will tell you, but it gives us a place to connect to that audience very easily, which is something that we’re really interested in doing.

Nicholas Vining: The actual Linux sales situation itself… well, it’s interesting. Because we include our Linux binaries in our Steam install, so that people can extract them with WINE and run a native version of the game, it’s hard to get exact numbers. The distribution situation is so fragmented on Linux, though, that no one sales portal holds all of the cards.

DIYGamer: So looking ahead to the future, what’s next for Dungeons of Dredmor in terms of updates?

D Baumgart: Well, we’re doing some big content updates — a female hero character was shown just the other day. And yes, we’re doing an expansion.

Nicholas Vining: The female character will be coming out some time in November, with the same patch as our long-delayed mod support, and the expansion will be adding all sorts of new stuff for both the main game and the additional update. Not sure when it’ll land yet, though.

D Baumgart: We haven’t actually officially announced the expansion anywhere, really, just alluded to it a bit. So there ya go.

Nicholas Vining: There is an expansion.

Dan: Huzzah!

Nicholas Vining: My three title choices are “The Realms of Masochism”, “The Hole of Festering”, and… what was the other one? Needless to say, these have all been boycotted.

Dan: Something not horrible i hope.

Nicholas Vining: “Somebody Stabbing You with Broken Glass”

DIYGamer: Will the expansion be a free content pack or traditional DLC?

Dan: The expansion will be along the traditional “game expansion” lines.

Nicholas Vining: It will be less than the cost of Dredmor. It will redefine “value.” Positively, or negatively, we don’t know yet.

I guess… about half of it is free, actually. So half of it is free, half of it will be DLC?

D Baumgart: I don’t like what DLC implies, like you pay $5 for horse armour — there’s no value there, just a money grab. We’re going to be giving a lot away, all the code upgrades will go into the core game and a good pile of content.

Nicholas Vining: Basically, the mod support will give you the tools to make everything that is in the expansion yourself, if you wanted to. So you could easily have created the same thing yourself. We’re just doing it for you. Maybe not “easily.”

Dan: Well hopefully the tools will be easy to use. But… we’re adding some good stuff

Nicholas Vining: … have you seen our tools, Daniel? They’re basically shards of glass covered in rusty nails and tetanus.

D Baumgart: You can finally wear pants, for instance.

Dan: Hey I’m writing [the] documentation!

Nicholas Vining: … also, what is up with David and pants today? I mean, it’s a good thing.

Dan: It’s Pants Day!

Nicholas Vining: He just used to wear that … loin-cloth thing.

Dan: Toga.

Nicholas Vining: It was getting pretty grotty.

D Baumgart: I’m just really enthusiastic about the possibilities!

Dan: Zippers! Buttons!

DIYGamer: Finally, are you guys pre-planning, scoping out, or just generally tinkering with any other games or game ideas?

Nicholas Vining: We’re working on a new game, but it’s in the very early stages of pre-production.

Dan: We are definitely working on something.

Nicholas Vining: We have some technology, and some design notes, and some stuff. We work on it every Wednesday.

Dan: The project is codenamed Odin so we’re calling it Wodensday.

DIYGamer: Any specific details? Genre, platform, mobile, console?

Nicholas Vining: It’ll be PC-centric, again. We’re a PC developer. I think it is fair to say that it will also provide an experience that you couldn’t get on a console.

Actually, it’s a fully articulated horse-breeding simulator.

D Baumgart: Why would that even need to be articulated?

Nicholas Vining: Fully. Articulated.

David, if you have to ask…

Dan: Probably nothing useful at this point to say specifically.  Really we are going to develop some technology, use that to prototype the game, and see if it all “works” before we start talking about it.

D Baumgart: So that’s why you asked for all those … drawings.

Nicholas Vining: … Yes.

Dan: Articulated…what?

Nicholas Vining: Man, this is why they are never going to make us IGF judges.

Dan: Joints where joints shouldn’t be?

D Baumgart: (We couldn’t find any PR people willing to act as filter, so you get this.)

Nicholas Vining: They’ll get seven games, and they’ll all be about stirrup pants and farm life.

DIYGamer: Well that’s all I have! You guys answered all my questions and then some. I’d like to thank you guys for sitting down with me today and sharing your thoughts… even some of the more colorful ones.

Dan: We answered some questions you never wanted to ask.

Nicholas Vining: That’s just how we roll.

D Baumgart: What we mean to say is, “It’s been a pleasure.”

Nicholas Vining: Sure it has.

Dan: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us!

So I hope this gives you not only a better idea of Gaslamp Games, but also some insight into what indie developers often go through as they develop their games. While I’m not saying you’ll find instances of Sonic porn everywhere you go in game development, I have no doubt that small indie studios experience hilarious and devastating stories on a consistent basis.

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