Brothers Teddy and Kenny Lee of Cellar Door Games — the team behind indie hit Rogue Legacy — are dedicated to designing successful games on the cheap. In a talk at GDC today titled "Rogue Legacy Design Postmortem: Budget Development," the Lees took turns explaining their design process and lessons learned for keeping things tight.
"We'll never make the perfect game, but we're OK with that," said Lee, launching into Cellar Door's history. They made eight smaller games before Rogue Legacy, each for less than $1,000. They applied the lessons learned on smaller projects to inform their process on the more ambitious roguelike.
Throughout the course of Rogue Legacy's development, the team constantly cut features that were too ambitious and salvaged the parts that they felt they could make good on. They made sure to work with other people that are autonomous, to create a custom editor for each game (including Rogue Legacy), and always go for "cheap, fast, reusable solutions" such as a system for procedurally generating levels, instead of crafting them by hand.
Lee mentions making use of "zero-dollar solutions" wherever possible. For example, the "lineage" system — the means of progression in the game, where players are able to choose an "heir" for their deceased character — was originally conceived of as a complex tree of characters. This was far too expensive, so Cellar Door instead implemented the existing system — a simple lineage line where players pick the next heir.
"The game is full of these cheap workarounds!" said Lee. He reiterated that the team's design mantra is "good, not perfect."
Using these strategies, Rogue Legacy ended up costing only $14,878. It sold 100,000 copies in its first week. Lee notes that the team was able to recoup their modest development costs within the first hour of sales.
"Finding simple solutions to big problems is the most entertaining part of development," said Lee, wrapping up.