Exit the Gungeon: A post Farewell to Arms interview with Dodge Roll

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After more than three years, lots of free DLC and a community who have turned this bullet hell roguelike into a hobby, active development on Enter the Gungeon has ceased following its final update: A Farewell to Arms.

We’ve been playing the title since its launch and recently re-reviewed the game after sinking nearly 800 hours into it, 100%’ing the title on both PC and Switch.

We here at Hypertext, like many others, are sad that no new Gungeon content is in the works but are happy to see what developer Dodge Roll has in store for us in the future.

Before signing off on the game completely we wanted to speak to Dodge Roll about the history of the game and how it became one of our favourites of all time.

Thankfully the designer over at Dodge Roll, Dave Crooks, was kind enough to answer our probing questions into how the came was originally created, and how it has changed over the years.

Hypertext: Can you give us the short story of how Enter the Gungeon came to be?

Dave Crooks: The majority of the team had recently been let go from EA, following their closure of Mythic, and we knew that we wanted to make an indie game so we started brainstorming ideas for what that would be. One day I woke up and thought of the name “Enter the Gungeon,” and when I mentioned it to the rest of the team, they laughed but asked “well, what is it?” to which I said “I dunno.” That day we went to lunch and one of the team members asked, “but why would anyone want to Enter the Gungeon?” and on a whim I responded with “to get the gun that can kill the past.” It still astonishes me that the title and the premise I spitballed that day remained throughout development.

We had the idea for a platformer rolling around in our heads for some time before that, but once Gungeon started being prototyped, the design really took on a life of its own. We threw together a prototype in a few weeks and pitched it to [publisher Devolver Digital], and once we had their backing there was no choice but to make it a real game.

Hypertext: Was working on A Farewell to Arms a bittersweet event? It certainly feels that way for us in the community.

Dave Crooks: That is tough. To some degree yes, but we have been working on the game for so long, with so many other ideas and opportunities passed on to continue building Gungeon… by the time we were in full development of A Farewell to Arms, I would say we were solidly looking forward to being done. We are very proud of the game, and honored that it resonated with so many people, but mostly we are excited to work on something new.

Hypertext: How important were content creators like streamers and YouTube channels in the success of Gungeon? This is a given question in these kind of stories but it’s a bit more personal for us as we must have watched a hundred hours of Northernlion’s videos on the game and it really helped us become better players early on.

Dave Crooks: Extremely. We can’t pinpoint exactly what effect these influencers had on our game’s success but I assure you we consider it perhaps the most important factor. It became very clear about halfway through Gungeon’s development that we needed to do something try and capitalize on the potential benefits that streamers could have on the game’s success. This ended up taking on a few forms which affected how we positioned the game, how we marketed it, and the features we prioritized. In particular, leaning into item combinations.

Before speaking with Northernlion, Cobalt Streak, Richard Hammer and a handful of other people about what their audiences liked, we had much less focus on item combinations. Really listening to them and taking action, we believe, helped to both attract viewers to their (and their colleagues) channels and also to make Gungeon a better game. I really can’t thank them enough.

Hypertext: All of Gungeon‘s content updates have been free and the game even mocks standard industry monetisation with the Microtransaction Gun. Why did Dodge Roll decide to take this route and “leave money on the table” as it were?

Dave Crooks: Dodge Roll believes that, while we could have potentially made more money had we charged for the updates, that we would have had less players overall. More people have played and been happy with their purchase of Gungeon than would have been otherwise. Hopefully one day we can leverage that fanbase to give us more money for another game we make! Gungeon has been very successful for our small team, and we have approached the updates as a way to make the game better, to help it reach its final form. So through that lens, it seemed weird to charge for features that integrate so smoothly with the base game, and in many ways make it better.

If we had designed the updates differently, perhaps our philosophy on their cost would also have been different. Many fans have been outspoken about how appreciative they are for the free updates, and many others have begged us to charge them for new content. Free updates became a tradition for Gungeon, so we wanted to see that through to the end, but going forward with new games we very well may charge for content updates. We will always do our best to make sure that we fully believe in providing a great value for whatever they may cost.

Hypertext: Special Reserve Games turned the ammonomicon into a real book. Did the team ever suspect that their gun-based spoof of the Necronomicon would make its way to paper?

Dave Crooks: As Gungeon became more popular we had more and more conversations about what kind of physical stuff we could make, and the “holy grail” of those discussions was always the Ammonomicon. It came up often, but we always were like… its just too much of an undertaking. We are a small team so figuring out how to get a book made sounded like a nightmare. Even with SRG’s help, it was still quite a lot of work- but the outcome speaks for itself. I genuinely think it is one of the most substantial pieces of video game schwag ever made.

Hypertext: For the Strafe Easter Egg you can play Gungeon as a third person shooter. Was that made possible because – as you’ve revealed in the past – the game is actually in 3D and the camera and framing make it look 2D, or was that a completely new piece of software made by Dodge Roll or Pixel Titans for Strafe? And yes, we are asking this after Risk of Rain 2 made the jump from 2D to 3D.

Dave Crooks: Gungeon isn’t really “3D”- the environments are assembled in a 3D manner out of 2D Sprites, but yes that easter egg was made much easier to do because of that rendering decision, and a few other forward thinking choices we had made along the way that made the dungeon generator art agnostic.

Hypertext: The community has turned Casey into a meme. When it was being designed and implemented was it always a bit of a joke too or was it a sleeper high risk / high reward weapon?

Dave Crooks: It was really a bit of both. When we make a Gun it almost always at least *starts out* as a joke, and then we try to make it useful, unique, or interesting. One of the criticisms we got on the release of the base game was that too many of the guns were too simple, or too alike. The synergies feature was meant to address that, among other things.

Hypertext: Following off from the last question, we have to know your thoughts on this famous video:

Dave Crooks: I somehow didn’t see that video until months after it was uploaded. I thought it was great! So did the rest of the team. When Gungeon was first released we (and my self especially) really obsessive about balance and we didn’t want to make anything too good or too easy, so there was a point where had I seen this I would have thought “oh god we need to nerf Casey!” But by the time I saw this, our philosophy had mellowed to “its awesome to see people enjoying the game and being creative.” Also, I love Aesop Rock and Toxic has always been the best Britney song. I had never heard this mashup before, which I think is awesome.

Hypertext: Was the ability to pat the dog something that the team always wanted to implement or was it purely spurred on by the @CanYouPetTheDog Twitter account?

Dave Crooks: As much as I would like to claim it was always part of our grand vision, the public shaming we received as a result of that Twitter account did indeed spur us to put the feature in. In general, designing games via Twitter feedback is probably a bad idea, but in this case it was absolutely the right call.

Hypertext: Does the dev team also restart the game if they take a hit on the first floor or the first boss? You can be honest with us, we do it too, even when we’re not playing as the Bullet.

Dave Crooks: No, we never restart, and it is painful to watch other people do it! Obviously, we are happy for people to play the way they want… but the game is very winnable even after a hit or two on the first floor, and there are actually many design decisions that were made to reduce the player’s desire or need to restart. I believe they were mostly effective, but some people will feel like it’s all over if they take that first floor hit… It’s not though! You can do it!

Hypertext: With A Farewell to Arms being the final content update our hopes of the Glocktopus being added into the game are dead. Was something similar to this ever considered or was it always a community pipe dream?

The Glocktopus , as rendered by Reddit user /u/indianaedge.

Dave Crooks: The name Glocktopus is something that came up long before Gungeon was released, but we cut the idea for a few reasons, but mostly time constraints. We already had a multi-tentacled boss in the Beholster. We think Beholsterwhich is a better name because it ties into D&D esq tabletop role playing games which was a parallel that we have long aligned with. Also, “Glock” is a trademark of Glock KG and while we are willing to namedrop real guns in Gungeon (though to an increasingly lessened degree as the updates went on), it felt weird to name something as big as a boss after the real name of someone’s firearm company. Glocktopus was one of about 40 boss ideas that got kicked around but never implemented.

Hypertext: Was there any gun or item that the team thought up but scrapped because it was too silly, even for Gungeon? A time when a gun pun was just stretched too far?

Dave Crooks: I’m not sure there is such a thing as “too silly” for Gungeon. Plenty of ideas were scrapped due to time constraints or inability to “find the fun” but silliness is not something we feel we hit the ceiling on.

Hypertext: In a game based on guns with hundreds to choose from, what is the favourite gun of each member of the dev team?

Dave Crooks – Designer – Unicorn Horn

David Rubel – Programmer – Fossilized Gun

Brent Sodman – Programmer – Wood Beam

Joe Harty – Artist – Magic Lamp

— Yet the Gungeon remains —

Clinton Matos

Clinton Matos

Clinton has been a programmer, engineering student, project manager, asset controller and even a farrier. Now he handles the maker side of htxt.africa.