Popping with color, Dicey Dungeons caught the attention of players at the IndieCade showcase during E3 2019.
Developed by designer Terry Cavanagh (Super Hexagon), musician Chipzel (Interstellaria, Spectra), and artist Marlowe Dobbe (Lost Wage Rampage, The World Next Door), Dicey Dungeons is an amalgamation of various aspects. It combines deckbuilding and roguelike gameplay underneath a layer of disarmingly cute, bright graphics and a chiptune sound.
Turning a Vampire Bat into a Vacuum Cleaner
Dobbe, an artist and animator for indie game development studio Rose City Games, also handles the visual look for Dicey Dungeons.
“All of [the] art direction was essentially my job,” Dobbe said.
According to Dobbe, Dicey Dungeons originated from a game jam. When she joined the project, Cavanagh had originally made all of the art himself.
“There were a good handful of enemies that already existed, but they were all Dungeons & Dragons-themed,” Dobbe said.
However, she shared that Cavanagh wanted Dicey Dungeons to move away from a Dungeons & Dragons look. To address this, Dobbe started by reskinning the characters that Cavanagh already had.
This involved creating new characters based on their attacks and what they would be doing. It was ultimately about reimagining them based on mechanics already designed for the game.
For example, Dobbe turned a health-sucking vampire bat into a vacuum cleaner that also sucks health away. She kept the underlying gameplay mechanic while changing its visual look.
Dobbe described her approach to design in Dicey Dungeons as very Alice in Wonderland, interacting with seemingly random characters.
Playing Lady Luck’s Game
There is a little order in the chaos though. The game ultimately revolves around Lady Luck transforming a band of human adventurers into living dice, something both imaginative and appropriate for the medium in use.
“It was always anthropomorphic dice characters,” Dobbe responded when asked if they had always been part of Dicey Dungeons. She added that the team came up with the premise as they worked on it, later incorporating the element of people turning into dice.
Lady Luck is an old concept. The Obscure Goddess Online Directory even traces her back to Fortuna, the Roman goddess of luck and fate. Dobbe shared that when designing the Dicey Dungeons version of Lady Luck, the character became a very aloof, very confident-looking woman.
“Mostly thought of her as a character you would definitely see as in charge of a casino,” Dobbe said. She also described Lady Luck as someone “ready to crack a joke at your expense.”
With the game bursting with art, does Dobbe have a favorite thing to draw for Dicey Dungeons?
“That’s tough, there’s a lot in it,” Dobbe said. “Probably just the dice, in general, were quite fun.”
Dobbe added that there are six dice characters in the game, and “they all play with different mechanics.” The roster is a nice mix of traditional and unique classes, consisting of Thief, Warrior, Witch, Robot, Jester, and Inventor.
“I think I’m most partial to the witch,” Dobbe said. “I like playing as her the best, and I think I like her character design the best.”
Weighing the Odds
While playing the demo, I notice that along with looking adorable, the characters in Dicey Dungeons also show some animated life. It’s a wonderful touch, and combined with the character designs, the whole thing feels reminiscent of some slightly animated children’s books on tablet devices.
Had it always been the plan for limited animation on the characters, or had there ever been a consideration for full animation in some scenes?
“I’d say limited animation was always the scope for that, because [the team] had upwards of 50 enemies in the game,” Dobbe said. “If you had [an] ‘attack’ animation and ‘defend’ animation for every one of the enemies, it starts getting exponentially large.”
Dobbe said the decision was made for Dicey Dungeons to feature more enemies with more mechanics. This won over the option to have fewer enemies with more animation.
She added that the team hoped variety in this direction would help with more replayability.
The team’s efforts seem to be paying off as Dicey Dungeons was recognized as a finalist for “Excellence in Design” at the Independent Games Festival during GDC 2019.