In 2018, it's safe to say Nintendo Switch has its fair share of roguelike titles and pixel art platformers, but there's always room for games willing to marry the two in new and exciting ways. Dead Cells, the latest creation from French indie studio MotionTwin has all the hallmarks of a modern 'roguevania' and it's shaping up to be one of the console's most intriguing offerings. We caught up with producer Steve Filby to discuss embracing pixel art, developing for Switch, and more. Enjoy!
Nintendo Life: Could you introduce yourself to the readers of Nintendo Life?
Steve Filby: My name's Steve, I'm the producer at MotionTwin, and I basically do everything the devs don't want to do, including that we stay on time.
So, tell us a little bit about Dead Cells...
Dead Cells is a roguelike Metroidvania action platformer, so it's fast-paced combat and exploration where you've got to kill as many monsters and grab as much loot as you can to spend on powers and skills and things before you get killed (and you will inevitably get killed as it's pretty hard).
As you go through these runs you're going to unlock various upgrades that are going to give you access to new rooms and areas, so each run is going to give you more choice in the weapons you have and the paths they can take you. But every single time you're going to start with the standard scabby little sword or scabby little bow or whatever it is you want to play with, and you've got to try and get through, beat all the levels and defeat all the bosses.
Is there an ultimate goal, or is it essentially endless?
There is an ultimate goal, although at the moment we haven't actually finished the game so you won't be able to find it because it doesn't exist, but we're getting there. Basically, what you're aiming to do is beat The Hand of the King, which is the final boss, and once we've finished you'll discover what happens after that.
At the moment on the main path there are three bosses, as well as another hidden boss, so really you're just trying to go as far as you can. For the average player, beating The Hand of the King will probably take about 20-25 hours to get to that point. If you're a psychopath you can finish the game in two hours once you know it inside and out, as the actual run to the final boss is about 45 minutes in a straight line.
The art style you've chosen is a low-resolution pixel style - are all the animations done frame by frame?
Actually, it's a mix. All the background are hand-drawn, and then the animations and characters are done in 3D and exported into a pixel art style. That means Tom, who does our animation, can do all of the animation in the game by himself, and he can change things and make sure everything marries together well. It's a style we really wanted to do because we all really enjoy pixel art, a lot of people think it's a cop-out, but it's actually quit a difficult style to pull off, and we wanted to do that because we love the SNES-era look, but then it's also a question of how we can make that feel good and feel more modern than just your standard affair.
The game isn't exclusive to Switch, so obviously you had to port it over to Nintendo's system. How easy was that transition?
It's actually great, we've read a lot about other developers and their experiences with the Switch and they're all saying 'it's really positive' and 'it's really great' blah blah blah, but we come from the PC world where we're able to push out anything that we want straight away without having to go through any stringent quality standards, but then we came to Nintendo and the process was actually really straightforward. For us, there's no real difference, we're just developing for a different set of hardware.
Have there been any elements of the Switch's unique hardware that you've been able to take advantage of?
HD Rumble, obviously, that's probably the big one. Right at this particular point in time, we're sticking with the same features for everything, but what we want to do is when we get through the first certification process is look at what else we can add to make the most of the Switch. HD Rumble is really great for this game because if you're taking damage from the left or the right you can feel which side you're being attacked from. There's a lot of feedback you can get into the hands to make the game feel a lot more natural.
If you're playing on a bus or something, visual feedback is a little less obvious, so having that physical feedback is a really great way to give the player more information. The thing I really love about the Switch though, is sometimes I'll take the dev kit home with me, and just being able to play it on the way home, get in and plonk it onto the TV, sit back and relax, it's nice.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to this Nintendo bunch?
We're really excited to see what Nintendo players have to say about the game, so if any of you guys have any ideas for anything you'd like to see in the game hit us up on Discord or Reddit or whatever. We've built this game with the PC community, but we're excited to bring this to Switch and its audience. We'd love to hear form you guys, so please, get involved!
We'd like to thank Steve for his time. Dead Cells will arrive on Nintendo Switch in 2018. Be sure to let us know what you make of the game in the comments below...