Crawl is a top down chunky pixel hack-n-slash co-op rogue-like. You take your turn playing as the bad guys and when you turn comes, you can play as the lone hero. After contacting Powerhoof games I was able to land a press copy and brought it to a PIGSquad meet up and played it with a few people. I had a great time and after emailing Dave and Barney at Powerhoof they were kind enough to agree to do an interview. I wish them well to a speedy launch and hope you you create a special place in your heart for playing as evil incarnate in Crawl when it launches.

jdodson: Couch co-op seems to be making a comeback in the Indie scene. Some of my best memories in gaming are of a bunch of my friends huddling around my TV playing Mario Kart and Goldeneye. I am curious what couch co-op games you love and if any of those experiences influenced the design of Crawl?

Dave: I only had a PC when I was growing up, so my childhood memories are mostly of being huddled around a keyboard playing stuff like the Simpsons Arcade game or Liero. A lot of games weren’t even multiplayer, but we’d come to some sort of “I’ll drive, you shoot” arrangement, or just debate strategy and what to name cities in a shared game of Civilization.

Barney: Haha I did that “I’ll drive, you shoot” thing a lot too- I remember shooting in Captain Comic just involved pressing the spacebar as fast as possible the whole time! We still had a ball so that’s a pretty good indicator local multiplayer was bringing a lot to the table.

I grew up with a lot of kids around my age, so we played a lot of NES, SNES, N64 and arcade machine multiplayer. Gauntlet, Goldeneye, Street Fighter and the original Super Mario Kart (still so much better than the sequels) were always happening, with sporadic obsessions with Bomberman and those D&D “Goldenaxe-like” games. Crawl is really just an outlet for my nostalgia over those experiences, with some modern stuff thrown in just to make development difficult :)

Dave: More recently we’ve really liked playing Castle Crashers together, which is definitely an influence along with the asymmetrical nature of games like Left 4 Dead which Barney and I played every lunchtime for ages. There was definitely a dry patch for local multiplayer where there really wasn’t a huge amount out there and we’d fallback on old Mega-Drive and N64 games. That was when we decided to try making a bunch of local multi games in a little game-jam then get together to play them all, which is where Barney came up with the format for Crawl.

jdodson: Crawl on Steam Machines seems like a totally awesome fit. Are you considering releasing the game on any other platforms that are “native living room” devices like the Ouya, Fire TV, Playstation or XBox?

Dave: Crawl makes so much sense on consoles, so we’re definitely keen to release on anything we can in the living room. At the moment we’ve got plenty on our plates with early access for PC, Mac and Linux, it’ll be a while before we look at other platforms.

jdodson: If you had to release Crawl on a planet dominated by Apes, I am curious what changes you would make the game to easier for them to play?

Dave: We wanted Crawl to be a game where you could pass a controller to someone at a party and they’d be able to get into it without being an avid gamer. So the controls are really simple, just two buttons, and the depth comes from learning the characters and their special abilities and knowing when to use them.

Barney: I’m pretty sure if they can dominate the planet they can play Crawl- it’s pretty accessible :) I might slide a few banana puns in there but you can’t go crazy with that stuff- apes don’t want to be talked down to. I’m assuming this scenario involves us developing from a cage while the apes throw in scraps of food and we poop in a bucket… I think I’d be more focused on making sure Dave got the side of the cage with the bucket.

jdodson: What other games have you been playing when you’re not working on Crawl?

Dave: Neither of us have been playing any big blockbuster games recently, although we’re both eager to find the time to play Dark Souls 2. I’ve been playing tonnes of indie games recently, especially rogue-like-likes (or procedural death labyrinths, or whatever we’re calling them now). Nuclear throne, FTL, Desktop dungeons, Teleglitch, Binding of Isaac... I find I can come back to any of them after not playing for a while and they still feel fresh. I keep blowing my self-inflicted games budget backing things on kickstarter, so I feel like I’ve got a lot of great stuff coming.

jdodson: I’ve really enjoyed the press copy of the game. One thing I noticed is that it seems like the game is very punishing the single player character at times, which is fairly on par for a rogue-like. Are there any balancing changes coming that might give the main character some love?

Barney: Yep, we have a lot of tweaking to do! Balance really is the hardest part of development on Crawl- to make sure it isn’t frustrating for the hero or the monsters. There are a lot of possible ways to even the playing field a little- I’m eager to try the hero collecting autonomous helper items which float around him and attack/defend, to make the monsters have to be more cautious about approaching and stop him being swamped. I’d love to try out fodder pet-type creatures as hero followers too, not to mention all the delicate health/stat tweaks that can make all the difference. There are so many possibilities, Steam Early Access should be super fun- putting in new items and ideas and seeing how people take to them and how they alter the balance will be awesome.

jdodson: What are you guys working with the game right now? Any aspect of development proving to be a bit trickier than you anticipated?

Dave: I’m working on getting some bot AI to play against when you don’t have a full compliment of friends. That’s been quite interesting. Doing AI that’s supposed to seem human is very different than normal AI you do for monsters in games. Instead of trying to make them look intelligent themselves, you need them to look like they’re controlled by someone intelligent. Instead of balancing their difficulty by making them run slower or do less damage, you need to give them the same flaws a human player would have. So I have to program in human traits like poor reaction times, not having perfect judgment, and being inaccurate with their controls.

Barney: I’m doing some boring stuff at the moment- putting in clear explanations for our mechanics- clear HUD feedback, tutorial text, etc, but I’ve also got some awesome stuff in the works… I’ve revamped some less-fun monsters and now they’re totally awesome :) I’ve been working on magic weapons, tweaking the spells so the non-dodge ones are equally fun and viable to use.

I’ve been working the on design for a fatality system which would allow you to use an enemy as a short term powerup if you kill it in the right way- ride the blobfish or rat as a steed, cut off an enemy head and throw it at another guy etc. Also we’ve been planning to finish off a “grapple” mechanic, allowing me to put in moves where characters grab and throw each other- then I can finalize some of the really huge monsters I haven’t been able to finish yet :)

jdodson: After the trailer for Crawl launched and the Interwebs seemed to explode with excitement(I know I did). The voice acting, art, music and pacing worked really well together. How did that all come together and how long were you all working on it before you dropped it on the world? Also wondering if the voice actor in the trailer will be doing any work on the final release of Crawl?

Barney: The trailer took me about 4 weeks. It was a real balancing act- we wanted to explain the gameplay concept clearly, but we also wanted to set the atmosphere and kind of Lovecraft tone. Those things fight against each other- writing for the tone wants more complex wording, but writing for clear explanation wants extremely straightforward wording, so there was a lot of back-and-forth on how to describe things- in the end having the simple on-screen text explanations allowed us to keep more tone in the narrator but still explain things quite clearly.

I spent a lot of time playing against our early bot AI to try and record the footage, and those guys do not cooperate! I’d be just about to capture the shot I wanted, then a bot would kill me or run off and buy a powerup and I’d have to restart!

Through most of the time working on the trailer we had our own voices in there as placeholders so I could re-record on the fly when I had a wording or timing change. It wasn’t until right at the end that we did the final recording session with our narrator that we started to get a sense that it all might work out!

We definitely intend to use voiceover in the game, and we have some fun ideas for where and how to insert it, but we haven’t prototyped that stuff yet- it all has to wait until the core gameplay is a little more developed.

jdodson: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions! Any final words before we wrap things up?

Dave: Just that we’ve been thrilled with the reaction, and that people are excited about the game! We’re really looking forward to getting it in people’s hands and continuing to add cool stuff to it!