Few gamers who stray beyond the realm of PlayStation consoles may have heard of Cellar Door Games’ Rogue Legacy – a game that masterfully blends trendy roguelike and Metroid-style gameplay with controller throwing difficulty. You couldn’t find a podcast that wasn’t chatting up Rogue Legacy upon its release in June 2013 and by December it had deservedly graced many different media outlets’ game of the year lists.
Roughly a week before PAX Prime 2013, Sony announced Rogue Legacy would be coming to PS3, PS4, and PS Vita. Indie games have a strong presence at PAX, despite the AAA games vying for your attention, but it wasn’t until the third day of the show that I realized there was an entire floor I missed out on. I went to an appointment and quite literally stumbled into the PAX 10, an area used to showcase the top 10 independent games as selected by industry experts, where I found Rogue Legacy and got to meet the people responsible for one of my two favorite games of 2013.
I once described Rogue Legacy as an itch that I just can’t scratch enough. I kept going back for more because no matter how badly I seemed to be doing, gaining levels and making enough money to buy one upgrade on the next run is progression. That’s where Rogue Legacy excels and differentiates itself from the traditional roguelike game. It doesn’t just kick you back to the beginning with nothing to show for your effort. Money earned goes towards upgrading attributes, buying gear and runes found, or unlocking classes. That’s the reward for failure. Spend it all though, because re-entry to the castle will cost you the leftover gold. It is the true definition of insanity. You do the same thing over and over expecting a different result.
Rogue Legacy was originally intended to be another Castlevania inspired adventure game. The development process hit a snag with budget problems so it was scrapped and CDG started a new game that was an evolution of the original idea. Needless to say, it was well worth a make-over. CDG ended up with an evil Castlevania and Dark Souls rogue-lite lovechild.
Cellar Door Games, founded by brothers Teddy and Kenny Lee, has been cranking out flash and mobile games since Don’t Shit Your Pants - a text-based browser game literally about not shitting your pants - in February 2009. Success is subjective, but when it comes to retail releases, the Lee’s weren’t even sure there would be another game after Rogue Legacy because they funded it completely out of their own savings. To preserve their legacy, they created rooms in their procedurally generated castle that featured paintings detailing their previous games.
“It was a conscious decision to add the painting rooms. This was our first retail game and it could have been our last, so we just wanted to leave a small piece of ourselves in the game as an Easter egg,” says game and story designer, Teddy Lee. He attributes rhythm and speed to the experiences gained from taking anywhere from two days to four months developing games from start to finish. “We found out how we like to make games and we’ve gotten pretty fast at it which is a really nice skill to have.”