Diving into Dungeonland with Mark VenturelliA game interview article by: Sean Gonzalez
Mark Venturelli is a member of the new game development house, Critical Studio. Their first game, Dungeonland, was recently released on Steam for both Windows and Mac. He recently took some time out of his vacation to chat with us about what it's like to be a game dev in Brazil and the challenges one encounters when attempting to make a game from the ground up with no experience.
Sean Gonzalez for Comics Bulletin: First off, If you could tell us about yourself, your team, and where you guys are based out of.
Mark Venturelli for Critical Studio: We're a bunch of guys and girls from Rio, Brazil. We started out as a team about three years ago. Dungeonland is our first game ever, and we built the studio for it.
CB: So what inspired the creation of Dungeonland?
CS: When we started, we just wanted to see what we could do. We didn't have a plan, but we wanted to make something that was fun to develop, and we threw anything that we thought was cool in the game. It started out as a 1-month prototype to see what we could do with Unity. It then became a 5-month project, and what we saw was really cool. We just kept working on it and getting feedback. It was very organic, and eventually our work became Dungeonland.
CB: Brazil is becoming a unique place in regards to gaming. How did the Brazilian market influence your studio?
CS: Being in Brazil is part of who we are. Game development isn't really a common thing in Brazil, or a viable career path. So, the moment we decided to pool our resources and actually make this game a part of our living, it defined our life. Also, one of the defining qualities of Brazil is that it's mixed. Being Brazilian means you're a citizen of the world. Dungeonland is the same way. It's a mish mash of stuff: Disney, gore, Dungeons & Dragons, Hannah-Barbara. Everything we grew up with as kids was mixed in and a lot of the game development process was played by ear.
CB: Since, at first, you were just testing the waters and experimenting, I wonder if any of you had previous experience working on games?
CS: Not much at all. We all came from different careers. Some of us had worked on freelance illustration, movies, and animation; things we perceived as real jobs. All we had was a group of friends that would meet at my house on weekends and make games. Eventually we decided that we were ready to make an actual game, which surprised even us, because until then we hadn't even made anything that was halfway decent.
CB: Despite not having a plan, Dungeonland has strong ideas, including the intense reliance on cooperative gameplay. Where did these dynamics come from if you didn't have a set goal in mind?
CS: One thing we were good at, was sticking to the roots of what we wanted to do. We wanted to prove we could make a game, but also make a game that we wanted to play. Especially a game that was fun to play together, with like a couch co-op experience. Even while playing the original prototype, which had colored spheres in place of player characters, it was dependent on having these guys by your side, shouting and cursing at the game. We were convinced that we had something special, and everything that came afterwards was based on that core experience.
CB: In addition to co-op, the game boasts an extreme difficulty setting. Was that inspired by the fact that you and the rest of the team were experienced gamers?
CS: There were a couple of things… At first, we got bored of the game. Play testing the same thing nonstop for three years can inspire some hate. But even when we weren't trying to win, and when we were working on bugs, the game was something that needed to be focused on. It's a part of the social dynamic that we learned first hand.
We placed some very specific moves that could only be pulled off after strategizing, and while testing, unless players were on a later difficulty level, they wouldn't get it. Especially when playing alone, they didn't care for the lack of loot drops and random mobs. It was when they were playing in groups that they looked at the difficulty and bonded over their excitement to beat it.
CB: That's an inspired tactic. Did any of this stuff seem risky at the time?
CS: Well, we made a lot of decisions that we knew were going to be controversial. But we had seen the magic happen in front of our eyes. We decided to stick to our guns because we didn't want to sacrifice what we had found to please a larger group of people. We knew some people were going to love the game, and others would hate it, but we were okay with that.
CB: I know one of the things that surprised me was the game's aesthetic. To be running around a cartoony whimsical land, and then get your face kicked in by these monsters…
CS: *Laughs* The thing about the look goes back to the organic way the game was developed. Two of our founders, Daniel and Gabriel, were artists. Daniel drew very cool cartoon designs, and Gabriel loved to animate them. We didn't plan to make a cartoon game that happened to be brutal, it was just what ended up happening when you throw a bunch of guys in a room and see what they come up with.
CB: In playing the game myself, I went against suggestions and attempted the single player adventure mode. As I'm sure you've seen before, I was destroyed. I wonder if you have any suggestions for people who might not be interested in multiplayer games, or don't have a reliable group of friends to connect online with? Might you say that the game is just not designed for that kind of gamer?
CS: Certainly. If you're not going to try to play co-op, it's not for you. We just didn't build it for that. On the other hand, the game has a great community. When I play online, people are normally super helpful. They give tips and even add you on Steam for voice chat. So, for those that might be interested in finding a gaming group, I think our community is pretty friendly and open to new players.
CB: Critical now has one game under its belt. Any plans for the future of the studio?
CS: Well, we never planned ahead so right now we're just focusing on Dungeonland. We're listening to the criticism as well as suggestions. We've patched the game 4 times and will be coming out with more soon (right now we're on vacation because of Carnivale, but we're already working on the next one). We're glad that a lot of people are voicing their opinions. Such as, when we asked if we should bother fixing the single player bots. Lots of people asked not to touch the bots and focus on new maps and dungeon master modes. So, right now, we're listening.
CB: Things seem to be looking pretty positive.
CS: Definitely. We saw a pretty strong launch, and though things have plateaued, we're planning on implementing new content that will really ramp up excitement. Ideally, if the support for Dungeonland continues and the community seems healthy, we could keep making things for Dungeonland forever.
CB: Definitely sounds intriguing! Thanks for taking the time to chat Mark, enjoy the rest of Carnivale!