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TCB Postmortem

This is a series of unedited interviews about the DROD: The City Beneath development process. Due to its very nature it will contain some spoilers. There could possibly be grammatical mistakes as well. Consider yourself warned.

Jump to an Interview
An Interview with Gerry.
An Interview with Eytan.
An Interview with Clayton.
An Interview with Neil.
An Interview with Mike.
An Interview with a God. Okay fine, I mean Erik.

Your name and what you did for TCB.

I'm Gerry. I did a few tiles, and also the Linux port (Adam helped some with that too.)

Looking back, what is the best thing that changed during the development process for TCB?

Er.. I don't know? I'm sure there were many things, but actually I wasn't that involved with the TCB development. I'm really happy we got rid of the original wall tiles of the City style though.

Also looking back, what would you have done differently?


I would've spent more time on the things I were supposed to be doing. Like those 5x5 huts that never got done.

What is your favorite part of making games?

That's a tough one, so I'm going to be boring here and just answer 'everything'. Though, I guess I specially like the creative aspects. Watching worlds unfold and that :)

What is the most important lesson you learned in creating TCB?

I don't know? Nothing in particular springs to mind, but I don't think everything has to teach you important lessons to be worthwhile either. I did discover a new way for making art in the DROD style though, if that counts :). I mean, it can't be called important and probably isn't new at all, but I haven't made tiles that way before, so there's that.

How many hours did you personally put into creating TCB?

A bit. I didn't count. Not enough.

Can you think of something, an anecdote from development that was poignant, interesting, indicative or funny?

Well, as I mentioned before, I wasn't that involved this time round, so I can't think of much. I can think of some things, but some things are perhaps better left private, or at least not for me to tell.

Now that TCB is released, what are you looking forward to doing the most?

Well, I'd like to do more games of my own, more art and such, and try some new things too (music!). Also there's more games by Caravel, of course.. also, now that 3.1 is out, there's a hold I should finish..

Thanks a bunch!

You're welcome :)




Your name and what you did for TCB.

Eytan Zweig. I mostly helped out with the story, writing in-game speech and cut scenes, and I wrote the level descriptions. I also contributed a small amount of puzzle rooms.

Looking back, what is the best thing that changed during the
development process for TCB?


I'm not sure I can think of any one thing. There were no huge changes, just a lot of small changes.

Also looking back, what would you have done differently?

I would have done things faster. I don't think I actually delayed development at any point, but I came close once or twice. And if I had finished what I had done faster, maybe I would have had time to do a bit more.

What is your favorite part of making games?

Well, that depends. Back in my EyAngband days, I loved the mental exercise of coding the game. With DROD, I love contributing to the story and the world.

What is the most important lesson you learned in creating TCB?

I don't really think I learned anything significant from TCB that I didn't already know from the JtRH development.

How many hours did you personally put into creating TCB?

No idea. Including testing and experimentation with the new features, probably around 150.

Can you think of something, an anecdote from development that was poignant, interesting, indicative or funny?

I'm sure there were a few, but I can't remember any right now.

Now that TCB is released, what are you looking forward to doing the most?

Help develop a story for the next game.




Your name and what you did for TCB.

Clayton Weiss. A.K.A. Claythro Budkin. I built approximately 30-40 rooms in TCB, including a large portion of the Aumtlich and Rock Giant rooms, as well as a chunk of Upper Lowest and Lowest Proper. I introduced a few minor features, as well as created and wrote most of the dialog for the two Gossip characters. I also played the voice role for 1st Librarian. In addition, I did the usual amount of bug testing through various stages of the game.

Looking back, what is the best thing that changed during the
development process for TCB?


I'm gonna leave this one blank, I just don't have a good memory for things like that.

Also looking back, what would you have done differently?

As always, I regret not getting more involved. I get these terrible lazy tendencies, plus I was having terrible issues with my internet connection during important phases of development.

What is your favorite part of making games?

Bug Testing! I love being among the first people to play these games, but still have responsibility to report errors. I think if nothing else I've got an eye for detail, and bug testing really puts that talent to use.

What is the most important lesson you learned in creating TCB?

I've learned not to attempt more than I think I can handle. There's numerous tasks I said I'd take on, then later abandoned because I either wouldn't make time for myself to complete them, or because I was lacking confidence in my abilities. I think its better to admit early on that I won't be attempting a task, instead of having people wait on me and end up with no result.

How many hours did you personally put into creating TCB?

Next to nothing compared to the rest of the team, but when I did work on the game, I'd devote entire days to it and do nothing else. Total? I dunno, maybe 50-75? Just a stab in the dark.

Can you think of something, an anecdote from development that was
poignant, interesting, indicative or funny?


Leaving this blank too.

Now that TCB is released, what are you looking forward to doing the most?

TSS, of course! (or any other Caravel games, if applicable)




Your name and what you did for TCB.

My name is Neil Frederick, Oneiromancer on the forums.

When 3.0 was first being developed, I had many discussions with Mike about the elements in the game, giving a lot of input about whether I thought they were fun or not. Since I'm not a programmer I couldn't put my ideas into practice like Mike or Adam could, but I wasn't shy about giving input. Let's see...I believe the way that adders eat other monsters and grow was my idea...originally they were just going to be rattlesnakes but with the opposite end being vulnerable. Platforms were in the early builds of 2.0 but in a vastly different form--they used to move continuously either left-right or up-down. I remember having a lot to do with getting them in the form they are in now, and lots of discussions around how to deal with objects already on the platform.

Mirrors and Aumtlich were also in early builds of 2.0, but originally mirrors were just going to be stationary. I was one of the big proponents of making them movable (and breakable), because I really felt that Beethro having a sword made it a paradigm shift from Sokoban. Also with pressure plates it just makes sense to be able to hold them down...we just needed something that wasn't a monster or tarstuff.

I almost forgot that the 3 types of pressure plates were based off of my original ideas. I had tried to make a 2.0 hold with pressure plates using scripting before I was invited to the 3.0 team and the same 3 types were in that hold. I had only finished scripting them up and didn't have too many rooms just yet, but one did end up as Pirate Hideout 2N 1W.

Bridges were, I believe all my idea...I had been pushing for at least a different floor style but that didn't look very good when building over a pit. So then it was made into a separate element, and I suggested that it least have some puzzle value, and thus the interaction with trapdoors. I don't recall any other elements that I really influenced very much...although we had tons of discussion about what to do in the squares next to Oremites--should the sword disappear when over the Oremites, or only when standing on them? Ultimately we went with only when standing on them because it was just too exploitable and/or limiting the other way.

Story-wise I mostly only implemented the story Erik gave us, but I suggested the use of Halph in the final levels. And that actually led to Erik's idea for the Builder scripting, now that I look at the forum threads again. We wanted to have a 'Neather-like experience in the final levels, since the guards in JtRH were kind of a letdown. Well, that didn't turn out so well, but that was our intent.

As far as actual room creation goes, there's a thread on the forum about this already http://forum.caravelgames.com/viewtopic.php?TopicID=15084&page=0), but I made half or more of the Quest for Knowledge, Homeward Ascent, Midway Outpost, Echo Chasms, River Dugan, Holding Vats, Archival Catacombs, Torture Chambers, Pirate Hideout, Frozen Depths (Stalwart puzzles only), and Abyssian Fortress levels.

Looking back, what is the best thing that changed during the
development process for TCB?


If you consider early ideas the development process, then I already talked about that a bit before. If this question is more about late in design...I can't recall any major changes that I was really happy were made.

Also looking back, what would you have done differently?

I think I would have pushed back more on the implementation of the builders. While, like the 'Neather, you can't really predict very well what they are doing without retrying, this is compounded when you have lots in a room. The complaints about them are valid but by then I had my new job and wasn't as involved as I had been...not that I want to make an excuse.

What is your favorite part of making games?

Since I only have made games with Erik, Mike, and company, I'd have to say it is working with them. :) I've always loved "construction sets" in older games like Lode Runner so it's just fun to be an architect. My inspiration comes and goes but having lots of new elements, and needing to show how they interact with each other, helps a lot.

What is the most important lesson you learned in creating TCB?

I don't have an answer for this right now.

How many hours did you personally put into creating TCB?

Well, I did a lot of early development in my grad school lab when I should have been working, so I was probably doing 15-20 hours a week back then. Eventually I slowed down as it was more programming and beta testing than room creation. Probably 200-300 hours is as good an estimate as I can make.

Can you think of something, an anecdote from development that was
poignant, interesting, indicative or funny?


When Mike and I were IMing about the various elements, and I was thinking of ways to use the new elements, I would sometimes come up with some room ideas that Mike would really like. I think one of them was using scripted citizens to make moving platforms (which became Torture Chambers 1S 3W) and another was ferrying tarstuff across a pit using platforms (Abyssian Fortress 2S 1W and 2S 1E). There were others but I remember the platform ones best since I like that element so much. Anyway, whenever I'd come up with one of these Mike would say, sometimes in all caps, "are you writing this down?!?" Fortunately Trillian automatically logs all IM conversations so I wasn't worried about losing the ideas. But I was always pretty amused by his reaction.

Now that TCB is released, what are you looking forward to doing the most?

The next Caravel project, of course! :)




Your name and what you did for TCB.

Mike Rimer

I managed the project and did most of the programming. I also did a lot of feature planning, level design, and sound editing. I also drew some graphics, did some voice work and created the end game video render from scratch.

Looking back, what is the best thing that changed during the
development process for TCB?


Hmm...can't think of anything here. Steady progress was made in all areas of design from beginning to end. We did make several iterative refinements to many of the game elements to make them play better. The puzzle elements can make or break this type of game, so I'm glad they ended up both meshing together and playing independently as well as they did.

Also looking back, what would you have done differently?

Over the course of a few years, we came up with all kinds of ideas that could go into this game. We ended up with something like double the number of total game features that DROD:JtRH had. I think it would have been better to leave some of these new features out of this game, maybe saving them for the next one. That would have given us more opportunity to flesh out the puzzles for each new game element featured here rather than briefly introducing something new every level or so. This might have been easier on the player and possibly also cut down on development time.

What is your favorite part of making games?

Thinking up a neat idea and seeing it come to life, then sharing it with others.

What is the most important lesson you learned in creating TCB?

More isn't always better. TCB does a fairly respectable job at providing depth and breadth, but it might have turned out even better to concentrate our attention on a smaller, more focused set of game features. I've realized I usually enjoy games most that focus on a simple, brilliant play style (like a truffle is made for that sharply-defined moment of sweet confectionary delight). This tends to be ultimately more memorable to me than a game filled with all kinds of various goodies (think of a pinata, which is still way fun to hack at, but not exquisite). Simple brilliance is the foundation that made DROD great and I want to stick with that style of game design.

How many hours did you personally put into creating TCB?

Lots...could be anywhere from 2000-4000 or more. It was like a full-time job for a couple of years.

Can you think of something, an anecdote from development that was
poignant, interesting, indicative or funny?


Heh, I like to say that our four main level designers are PhDs. They say DROD is designed for puzzle-solving connoisseurs, and if this isn't enough evidence to support that claim, I don't know what is.

On the serious side, TCB's development didn't have as much drama as DROD:JtRH did. Back then, we had unpleasant things going on like hard drive crashes causing data loss and people pulling critical game assets from the project at the last minute. The Caravel team was still finding its sea legs, and that project felt like it was going all over the place. Fortunately, everything turned out fine in the end. This time around, Caravel's experience made it easier to complete this rather ambitious indie project. The expertise of the development team and many other generous open source contributors made that possible.

Now that TCB is released, what are you looking forward to doing the most?

Working on our next game, DROD RPG (working title). This is a project that is close to my heart. It has a simple but unique puzzle essence that is not DROD, but inhabits the DROD world and has a lot of overlap in many ways.




Your name and what you did for TCB.

Erik Hermansen. I came up with the overall plot of The City Beneath, wrote some of the dialogue, and functioned as an editor for the writing. After that, I put in a little bit here and there for artwork, level design, voice coordination, voice acting, and... well, the details are in the official TCB credits.

Looking back, what is the best thing that changed during the development process for TCB?

It was a team full of old hands, and people were a lot more optimistic and clear about how to go about things. The conversations we had on design issues were mature and focused on finding good resolutions. In contrast, we had some long and bitter arguments over game elements in Journey to Rooted Hold, with people threatening to leave the team. Also, I think the JtRH crew remembered how ugly that game looked at the beginning and weren't as put off when TCB also started out looking ugly. We knew it would get much better because we'd gone through the process once before.

Also looking back, what would you have done differently?

I needed better time management. It just isn't good enough to flail your arms around and apologize repeatedly for being busy. The realization I've made recently is that it is possible to make good use of all those tiny little half hour windows of free time I get. It
just takes better organization to do it. Now I've got all my DROD projects and tasks collected into tidy little piles, and things have been getting better.

What is your favorite part of making games?

There is a wonderful time when I can just play with ideas and not worry about how they'll get finished. It is so rare for me to find
that time. The sad thing is that this play will generate game ideas which need 6 months minimum to do anything with, so they often get
shelved while I go about meeting all the obligations I've accrued from DROD. In fact, I've got 4 designs I'm sitting on, and I'm pretty sure all of them would make good games.

What is the most important lesson you learned in creating TCB?

A little bit of participation goes a long way, and I should always make time to at least understand what other people on the team are working on.

How many hours did you personally put into creating TCB?

I didn't put nearly as many hours as other people did. A lot of my time went into "infrastructure" type jobs like handling support
requests--not TCB work, really. So let's say average of 4 hours/week for 2 years: 416 hours. That's at least the right order of magnitude.

Can you think of something, an anecdote from development that was poignant, interesting, indicative or funny?

I am responsible for the worst game element in TCB: builders. People on the team were wondering what to use for the "finale" game element. I always have a lot of confidence about my ideas, and there is this notion I have that I can come up with a worthwhile solution to any problem requiring creativity, just by thinking about it for a half hour.

Neil Frederick (Oneiromancer) gave us the basic idea of Halph playing the part of an enemy against Beethro at the end of the game, and Eytan, Mike, and Adam added to that a bit. Then I chimed in like so:

"I am with you guys on the idea of having Halph pitted against Beethro on the last level. I don't think there is anything wrong with 'Neather style puzzles, but I have this other idea which you guys might like better. In fact, it still allows for a 'Neather style of puzzle design but with a big twist. Halph directs workers to build walls that will trap Beethro. You can walk into an empty room and watch an entire room built before your eyes."

Now for all the people that didn't like builders, read that last paragraph and tell me that without hindsight you wouldn't feel a tiny bit enthusiastic!

People agreed it was an okay idea and Mike diligently coded up a nice implementation of my idea. But builders ended up not all that fun to play against--too unpredictable, the argument goes. So the lesson here is to be willing throw out or modify an idea after early playtesting. And we already kinda knew that, but I think by the time builders were in the game, we felt too invested to mess with them.

Now that TCB is released, what are you looking forward to doing the most?

Frogs and Mice. More about that later.

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