What if Duple Dragon Was a Roguelike?
Something New is in the Works
It’s been a while since we’ve talked about our future plans, and today we wanted to unveil what we’ve been doing and what’s next for us in the short term. A while ago, shortly before the release of Duple Dragon, our team member Souren had an interesting thought: “Would Duple Dragon be even more fun if it were a roguelike?”
The idea was interesting, but deep in the final stages of releasing the game we were swamped with work and temporarily tabled the idea. Over the months since, though, we can’t get it out of our heads!
What’s a Roguelike?
“Rogue-like (or roguelike) is a subgenre of role-playing computer games traditionally characterized by a dungeon crawl through procedurally generated levels, turn-based gameplay, grid-based movement, and permanent death of the player character. …the 1980 game Rogue… is considered the forerunner and the namesake of the genre” – Wikipedia
Roguelikes have become very popular these days, with a huge amount of experimentation from roguelike developers beyond the traditional definition above. In our opinion, the current keystones of the genre are:
- As opposed to a continuous play experience over many play sessions, the game focuses around shorter “runs” where the player attempts to win against uncertain odds and many random factors.
- Victory is not guaranteed, and losing means starting a new run. Progress is reset when this happens, and the player will experience a new set of randomly supplied choices on their next run, creating huge variety between playthroughs.
This genre, while harsh sounding at first glance, is one of our team’s favorites these days. The uncertainty and choices are nearly endless in well-made roguelikes, and the fun is in trying to make the best of a bad situation, or sometimes in getting all the right rolls of the dice and breezing through what is normally difficult. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
Screenshot of the 1980 videogame, Rogue, the namesake of the roguelike genre. Source: Wikipedia
We’re at a point where we feel so good about this roguelike idea that we’re seriously considering it may be the way Duple Dragon should have been all along. We decided some practical tests and prototyping was needed to reality check ourselves.
So far we’ve done what we’re internally calling a “pen and paper test”—despite the fact it didn’t involve any physical pens or papers—and the results were very promising. So promising that we’ll soon be moving on to recreating this prototype in the game itself.
How Did the Test Work?
Our pen and paper test involved two people working in sync—one player playing Duple Dragon in its current form, and the other acting as a sort of “Dungeon Master” by giving the player sets of choices for which powers to pick and which stages to play, as a stand-in for UI and systems we haven’t built yet. Through this very janky process we were able to get a rough feel for how the game would play as a roguelike, and it was fun! We felt like there were more player choices overall, and that the choices you were making felt more meaningful and interesting compared to the current version of the game.
Our Current Vision
In some respects, runners—the genre Duple Dragon falls under—are already close to roguelikes. They have procedurally generated levels where you try to get as far as you can without dying, and if you do, you have to retry from the start. This makes the shift of genre simpler than it might sound. While there are definitely a number of brand new systems we would need to create, much of our vision could be achieved by shuffling around how existing systems are presented.
Right now in Duple Dragon, you unlock powers over time by earning Lucky Envelopes. These powers have 3 levels each, growing more powerful with each one, and you can equip up to 3 of them at once to use when playing the game’s stages.
In the roguelike variation, you would be presented with a choice of 3 powers each time you win a stage. Selecting a power equips it for use at level 1, and powers you’ve already earned can be leveled up by selecting a duplicate power. Which powers you get to choose from are random, so in typical roguelike fashion your goal will be to make the best combination of powers (referred to as a “build”) you can from the imperfect choices you’re presented with.
Right now the game gives players 18 stages a week to play through, separated by 3 difficulty tiers. These stages are procedurally generated, but can be replayed any number of times until the week resets and a new batch are generated.
In the roguelike variation, you’ll play through a series of increasingly difficult stages each run. Each time you win a stage, you’ll be given a choice of stages to play next with a limited peek into the kinds of challenges each stage would contain. This choice will be in parallel with selecting your next power, giving you the opportunity to try and tune your build to overcome the stage choices you’ve been given.
The above pieces are the core of the idea, and the part of it that shares the most similarity to existing systems in the game. We have many more things we’d like to add if we can, though, and we believe at least some of these will be necessary for the experience to be fresh and exciting on multiple playthroughs.
All of these goals are currently in the exploration phase. All of this can and likely will change in some way or may not be implemented at all! Welcome to game development. 😀
The game currently has 11 powers available. This is not enough to create an exciting amount of randomness when choosing powers between stages. We already experienced this in our pen and paper test, and creating more powers would likely be a necessity if we continue with this experiment long term.
While choosing between multiple stages provides some variety already, we’d love to add even more. Bonus stages—small challenges that are different from normal gameplay—could prove this variety if they sometimes appeared between regular stages. These bonus stages would grant additional rewards if completed.
In addition to powers, which are limited to 3 equipped at a time, we want to add another type of reward we’re tentatively calling “Upgrades”. These would be passive bonuses with less effect than powers, but that you can have any number of at once. If you’ve played the excellent roguelike Slay the Spire, these would be similar to the Relics found in that game.
Our Next Steps
While this is all very exciting, there’s still a lot to do to make this experiment a reality. With the success of the pen and paper test, our next move is to prototype the same systems we faked in our test within the game itself. This would be things like selecting powers between stages, and going through a series of different stages each run instead of the weekly stages we have now.
Our goal with this experimentation process is to make sure the fun factor is there at each stage of prototyping, and to limit the scope of each prototype to the minimum possible to test the idea. There’s still the possibility the experiment will ultimately go nowhere, so we’re hedging our bets in case we need to abandon it entirely.
If things keep moving forward there will be many challenges to solve along the way. Some we can foresee, like how our rewards and monetization will need to shift to work with the new idea, but there will likely be even more that we can’t.
There’s also the question of what will happen to the current version of Duple Dragon. Should the roguelike be a separate game, or should it replace the current version? Should it stay on phones, or should we put it on PC? If we move to PC, what would creating a wide-screen version of the game entail?
Despite all of that uncertainty, we’re very excited to see where this idea goes. We hope you’ve enjoyed this peak behind the mask. If all goes well in our prototyping, there will definitely be opportunities to test this new version of the game coming up, so stay tuned for more information.
Thanks for reading; and for those in the United States, we hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!
–Caleb, Ian, and Souren