How Dead Cells Cheated to Make the Game More Fun | War Stories | Ars Technica


– [Sébastien Bénard] Spartan boots is, it’s a weapon in this game. It’s not exactly a main weapon, it’s more like a side weapon. And very useful if you
want to kick an enemy off a platform, for example,
or something like that. But most people actually don’t like it. I think I have changed
this weapon like maybe, hmm, 10 times or something. I thought it was funny, I
thought it was a good weapon, but actually most players,
they don’t like it. It used to be a bad weapon. But the newcomers, they
don’t know this legacy of this weapon, and they actually think, okay, it’s a fine weapon. I am Sébastien Bénard,
I am game developer, I am lead game designer, or
lead whatever, at Motion Twin. Because we are all leads,
so that doesn’t matter. And this is why we decided to cheat, to make the player believe
he is actually in control. [dramatic orchestral music] [lively string music] “Dead Cells,” so it used to be something really different before. Because it used to be a
sequel, some sort of sequel of games that we made on the web. “Dead Cells” used to be a
web game and a mobile game. It used to be a free-to-play game, it used to be a tower defense, and co-operative multiplayer game like every buzz world and [mumbles] game. The most important was the multiplayer. Actually, it was really not working right. And we made a single-player version with a basic tutorial and a small story just to explain the game. And actually someone,
a fan of us, told us, maybe the single-player
version that you did is actually nice, and it works. And maybe you should make
a single-player game. And at first it used to be a joke. We were like, okay, no, you’re kidding. And we thought about this,
and we decided to remove completely the multiplayer
aspect of the game. At first we said okay, let’s
make a traditional 2D game, 2D platformer, and let’s
make everything by hand. But the thing is, we
have just a few people. We have developer, one graphic artist. How could we still make a huge world, and a huge place to explore
but with so few people. Going to early access was
like a difficult thing for us. Because we knew it, you
know it was the time of the indie apocalypse and everything, and so everyone told us yes, that’s not a good idea
to go on early access. But we were running out
of cash at this time. Many people told us okay, you will see, Steam early access is not that easy, and the community could be harsh. After one week or something, we had so, so many feedback from player. Because when they posted negative feedback it was like three page long, always. It was a huge post explaining
why this thing sucks in the new game. And most of the time was,
at first it was, oh, shit. But still, we have a problem
here that we should address because yeah, this guy just
want the game to be good. He don’t want to bash
the game or whatever, he just want to play the
game that he will like. Those people, they want
you to make a good game. They have all the interest into making this game as good
as possible, just like us. The speed running community was really a very important part of the
game right from the beginning. We knew that they would find
bugs and glitches to exploit. For example, in Castlevania you could use this back dash move which allows you to move a little bit faster
than just walking. So you, that’s the kind of small
glitch that you could have. When we had our very
first glitch that allowed the player to jump over
above a single boss and to get to the exit directly, we asked ourselves is it
something that we want to have. Is it something which is game-breaking, is it something that we could live with? So that’s something that we don’t want. We don’t want the experience
to be changed for most players. We want the experience
to be changed for just the speed running community. And sometimes you just have to say, okay, this thing is not
really such an issue. It’s funny, they are,
like, moving super fast. But yeah, why not? And it’s not breaking the game in any way. So we went to alpha, and the first version was really, like, uh, boring as fuck. [soft piano music] Level generation is some
very tricky part of the game. Because, you know, it was
a time of “No Man’s Sky” and everyone was, like,
traumatized by huge levels with no actual meaning. The real problem with random generation is all about getting good results. That’s really complicated
to explain, in some way, to a computer, what is a good result. Because that’s something
that actually takes lots of intuition, lots of feeling. That’s not something that the computer can actually understand. So making sure that you
translate these rules into some kind of algorithm,
that’s the difficult part. Making the generator, it actually took one week or something. And we, after maybe one month, we didn’t have always
on point good results. And on, during the same
amount of time actually, someone on the team tried
to make rooms by hand. And in about two weeks, he had
made like one thousand rooms. He had already one thousand good results. Because all these rooms were made by hand. And that was really a very
important moment for us. Because it was like,
okay, instead of working on this level generator
algorithm for one month, let’s just make rooms for one month. And it will add much
more quality to the game and when we build a level, we
know there is one entrance, one exit, and in between you have like, maybe three combat rooms and a
shop, or something like that. And for each part, we
just pick an entrance inside the dictionary of entrance rooms. And we just pick one,
we put it in the world, and then we have combat. You have this huge
dictionary of combat rooms with every possible shape: long ones, large ones, or small ones. And each room it’s just a basic
map of collisions of walls. You have exit and
entrances, and platforms. This part is actually what we
call brute force generation. We just pick something, it doesn’t work, we cannot place it, we discard
one, we take another one. It’s really all about thinking, is it faster to make
all the content by hand, or to make, like, 1000 element, different element, by hand, or is it faster to
actually write a generator and to make sure that it always works. So it’s really some things
that we learn along the way to, how to decide what should be generated and what should be actually hand-crafted. [dramatic orchestral music] If you’ve played a very
old game, like the first “Prince of Persia,” maybe most player that did play this game
would remember that when you want to jump from a
platform to another platform, you have to anticipate, like, a lot. You have to press your jump
button maybe two or three meters before the end of the platform, because the character
animation is really slow, and you will have to anticipate
and to start the jump. And in modern days, games,
you don’t do that any more. You want to be able to press
the jump button just in time. Just when you are about
to fall from the platform. But if you try to do
that, actually, you fail. Most of the time, you just fail. Because you press the jump
button a little bit too late. – [Man] I hate that part here, okay… Yes. No! – You have this sense of fairness
which is really important in permadeath-based game. Because when you die,
you should always feel, okay, this is my fault. I did something wrong, it was obvious, I should have avoided this enemy, or maybe I should have
checked before jumping down. Because we wanted to make
sure that at no point you could blame the
control for your own death. Because you, actually
when you die you lose maybe 10 minutes of play time. And that’s really a difficult moment. And we don’t want you to
feel, like, bad for that. [dramatic orchestral music] Let’s talk about the jump, for example. You, that’s a very basic
thing that happen in the game. You have two platforms, you want to jump from point A to point B, so
it’s a very basic situation. And there are some things that, those happen like a lot in this game. When you start the jump,
one time out of two you are probably out of the platform when you press your jump button. Like one frame too late, and
you are starting to fall. And in such a case we actually allow you, when you are off the platform to consider you are still on the platform for maybe two, three frames after. So we allow you to jump afterward. For example, when you
arrive on the next platform, um, most of the time, also,
you are maybe five pixels too far from this platform. And in such a case, we
have tons of scenarios that we just put you
on the target platform. You should have missed it. But we don’t do that,
we don’t allow player to miss this platform because it’s not fun just to, you know, just
to arrive on the platform to fall just in front of it. Nothing, no one wants
that to happen in a game. It’s really just not fun. That’s something that
did happen in old games. So now when you make a platformer, yeah, you should take care of the player. We don’t want this to be
in the way of the player. We just want this to be
part of the gameplay. But not a challenge. Not a specific difficulty
or something like that. But when you get an enemy in the way, you have to figure out,
okay, this guy is strong from the front and can I get back behind, and can go behind him,
maybe he is about to shoot, so we have to crouch, or
to jump, or do whatever. So in such a step, we want
you to think about that. We don’t want to think about the fact that your jump will probably fail or you won’t be able to get
past this guy or anything. So yeah, it’s really all about figuring what the game is all about and putting energy where
you actually matters. [slow synthesizer music] Some things that we noticed that didn’t, we didn’t really expect at all, we saw that in the reviews
on Steam afterward, most reviews, I mean,
like really, maybe 80% of the reviews, something like that, they do talk about the fact
that the game is easy to play and very fast and easy to
control and everything. They don’t explain exactly
why, but they feel like okay, it’s really dynamic and everything and then they talk about the
roguevania thing of the game. You know, they talk about
the actual gameplay. And that’s some things
that we actually noticed, the player really, very interesting and very invested into the game just because the controls
are right for us. And we know that now the
moment you give the controller to the player and let him play the game, this single, maybe five or 10 seconds is, like, really important. Just to make sure that there is nothing that will get on the way. It should not feel wrong right away. That’s something, and this part
really takes a lot of time, to make sure that nothing
bad happens in this moment. So taking care of the controls, that something that we definitely do, yes. For any future project, we’ll do. [peaceful electronic music]

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Comments

  1. Hi there. Welcome to the latest episode of War Stories. We really appreciate all the feedback we see in the comments, here as well as on arstechnica.com. Please let us know if you have any questions or requests for upcoming episodes.

  2. That French accent is really strong. I got 95% of what he was saying. You might want to provide subtitles or a transcript. With that said, a developer more concerned that the player is having fun than making pixel perfect jumps is refreshing. Your biggest obstacle to enjoyment shouldn't be the controls.

  3. I love their work.
    Such a good game with such a big care for the players that is palpable.
    I'll probably buy everything they will made in future.

  4. Chapeau to the Dead Cell team for developing one of the most natural feeling gameplay experience ever.

  5. Glad to see a french team on your channel ! Dead Ceels is really an impressive game and I like it so much ! Thank you for this interview !

  6. Hmm I wonder if they mention in a features update about making the game easier to jump. I wonder if it would have a positive or negative feedback. Probably best not to say anything at all.

  7. I'm glad I picked up a physical Switch copy. I still haven't made much progress, but when I get focused, I enjoy the game a lot! (Until I screw up and die, of course.)

  8. I feel like you're stretching a bit by including him talking about the ghost jump. The ghost jump is a core game design philosophy decades old as he himself said in the video. I'm guessing you didn't have enough quality footage in this case to hit the magic 10 minute mark you stretched to meet. I love your channel but criticism is given when criticism is due. It's not really a war story, it's more basic game design 101.

  9. I really enjoyed the level generation segment at 5:02, it was satisfying to see how the different rooms lay out.

    Big ups for accurate subtitles!

    6:51 was really uncomfortable for earphone users, watch those audio levels!

  10. Man you dont even know what your talking dead cells is the best game Ever the different type of weapon ,costumes ,bosses etc. those are all the good things that a good game should have and dead cells have all of them and thats why dead cells is the best game in the World

  11. 04:50… and after they get your money they don't fix things for months. how scam business works… and if you suppress this message you support scam business.

  12. I have Dead Cells on ps4 & switch, because of this interview imma buy it again on GOG. Motion Twin clearly know how to empathize with players and listens to constructive feedback. Thanks for this badass game.

  13. Where can I find more concept arts and early drafts for this game? They look awesome!

    Also, at 9:08 you used footage from Doc Firebird’s Hunter’s Grenade glitch video. Thanks for recognizing one of the best Dead Cells youtubers.

  14. That is a great video and it couldn't have been more on time as I've just started playing Dead Cells. The game is as great as everyone in the comment says it is, so if you haven't tried it, you really should buy it. The enemies are juicy, the hitboxes are generous, and the game is fun.
    However, there is a small problem which I believe is something you don't want in your game – the fact that going past enemies slows down the character and makes its movement weird for a brief moment. This breaks the momentum and is often frustrating. Would love if you could fix this.

  15. Played the game in early access and loved it. Just came back to it now and I'm amazed by how far they have come. I was surprised to see the price increase at first but they have totally justified the new price and the game is a true gem now!!

  16. Bug-filled MESS of a game, last pinned post by the devs on the Steam bugs-and-crashes forum was in 2017, known issues rarely properly resolved. It's a nice looking game, with fluid gameplay, but the dev team took player money and then didn't deliver a finished product.

  17. so refreshing to hear this!
    really like the attitude and vision of this dev!
    way too many indie devs these days are obsessed with perma death and making games really hard, to make it feel like a big achievement if you DONT fail.

  18. 1:04 – He clearly says ‘Every buzzword in a SINGLE Game’… He does not ‘mumble’ at all (like the captions read)

    Minus 2 points for whoever did the captions, but a great, insightful vid in a great series

  19. I have only JUST realised that this is the guy from DEEPNIGHT.NET... I have been following this guys games for over 10 years!!! crazy!! Ive even spoken to him on a few occasions..

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