30th Aug2019

Interview: ‘Streets of Rogue’ developer Matt Dabrowski

by Britt Roberts

streets-rogue-header

So our readers can get to know you, can you describe how you got into game development and perhaps some titles and consoles / computers that were seminal for you, personally?

I got into game development when I was about 8 years old. I saw an ad for a program called “Game-Maker” (not that Game Maker) in the back of a magazine, and my mind immediately raced with ideas. Of course, the reality was somewhat more limited than my 8-year-old expectations, but I still had fun messing around with the software. I was a ravenous gamer as a kid, and there are far too many games that I would consider “seminal” in my young life for me to list here. I played just about every type of game on every platform I could get my hands on. When I wasn’t playing games or attempting to make them, I was reading magazines about games. Gaming was pretty much my whole world outside of school for a long time.

For those poor folks who haven’t yet played Streets of Rogue, can you briefly summarise the game.

Streets of Rogue is kind of like a mini Deus Ex meets Enter the Gungeon. You get dropped into a top-down procedurally generated city where you have to complete missions of typical RPG varieties, like “Steal an Item” or “Neutralize a Person”. But you can approach the missions however you want. You can kill everybody, or you can be stealthy and kill no one, or you can hack a computer and release poisoned gas, or you can hire some people to do the job for you. These varying gameplay styles are facilitated by 24 character classes, ranging from Soldier to Vampire to Gorilla. The game also supports multiple players locally and online.

As it is your newest release, I’d like to focus on Streets of Rogue. This is a game that has clearly been crafted with love and has had a lengthy developmental phase, when you started developing the game, was it massively different to the final version or did you always have such a grand vision for it, as the sheer depth and yet approachability of it is astonishing.

The game as it exists today is fairly close to the original vision. It was always meant to be a top-down, open-ended, city-based adventure with emergent player choice-driven gameplay. One thing that I wasn’t sure of initially was how action-oriented the game would be. For a time, I considered making Streets of Rogue a fully mouse-driven point-and-click game, closer to a graphic adventure than a twin-stick shooter. The game evolved away from that pretty quickly as I began adding things like combat and gamepad support. Also, I initially considered not having mandatory missions in the game, but rather having “blockers” that prevented the player from getting to the next level. For example, a police blockade. The player could explore the level, do some optional missions, and maybe come upon a rocket launcher at some point to destroy the blockade. Or alternatively, an identification card that would allow them to pass without entering into combat. Compared with the current mandatory mission-based structure, this probably would have ended up being a lot more complicated from a level generation and balance standpoint. A half-year into development, I had a pretty good idea of what the structure and flow of the game was going to be.

Looking at the Steam community pages (I personally play the game on Nintendo Switch) there is a lot of fan involvement with suggestions for additions and tweaks etc. which I assume would have been ongoing indefinitely had you not finally decided that there had to be an endpoint. That said, what were the final touches added and was there anything you would have been included had you been able?

After the final level and ending were added late last year, I shifted my focus to balance and bug fixes. And that’s pretty much where my focus stayed until launch. Streets of Rogue is the sort of game that can only benefit from more content, and I have a near-endless list of ideas that didn’t make it in. But at some point, I had to say “that’s enough content for a full release”, and I’m pretty happy with how the game shipped. If I had spent any more time adding content, the game might have shipped in a much less stable state.

This is a game that feels very complete, that said, this style of game really lends itself to expansions due to the possibility of characters, stages, items etc. Are there plans for new content to be delivered via DLC or will your focus now shift to a sequel or maybe another project entirely?

I plan on continuing to add free content to the game for the immediate future. As of this writing, a new update will be added in the coming week that includes a bunch of new items and some new features. No current plans for paid DLC, but I don’t want to rule anything out. I have a lot of ideas for a sequel, which would most likely be a more “open world” take on the Streets of Rogue formula. It’ll probably happen at some point.

I assume that this is the highest profile game release thus far for you what with it being released across multiple platforms and with Tiny Build acting as a publisher. Did having such a successful publisher make a huge difference for you (they really seem to have an eye for nifty indie games!) and are there any games in your back catalogue that you’d like to shine a light on?

tinyBuild has been a major asset in getting eyes on the game. They have a lot of connections and knowhow that I simply do not, and this has allowed me to focus most of my energies on Streets of Rogue’s development, rather than its marketing. As an example of their work, Streets of Rogue launched into Early Access with a free weekend (the first-ever Steam title to do so), and was promoted on the front page for the entire time. They also brought the game to 6 or 7 PAXes, amongst many other things.

I developed a couple of indie titles in the 2000′s, before the concept of “indie games” was really a thing. The first was a Lucasarts-style adventure game called “AfterShocked!”, which shares a bit of the sense of humor seen in Streets of Rogue. So your mileage may vary, but I find it pretty amusing. I also developed a game called “Between Heaven and Hell”, an ode to cinematic platformers and FMV games of the mid-’90s. I even acted in the game, and recorded myself running around to create animation frames. Professionally, I worked on the game SimCity Societies, which is a really interesting take on the SimCity formula that’s a lot better than history gives it credit for. It received significant improvements after the initial reviews hit, including a total gameplay rebalance, but sadly the damage was done.

When developers mention huge franchises like GTA / Deus EX in the game description, quite often it doesn’t end well and yet Streets of Rogue really does live up to that description. Aside from those games, which other titles / developers were a particular influence on Streets of Rogue?

The original top-down Fallout games were a big inspiration. The idea of running around in a top-down town, doing quests, forming alliances, making other people angry… Fallout was a big part of that. The other major inspiration was a game called Messiah, which is somewhat less well known these days. It’s a game where you take control of a tiny angel, and jump into various people’s bodies. So you end up becoming everything from a cop to a scientist to a doctor to a construction worker. And you use the bodies to wreak havoc in a weird, screwed-up city that doesn’t particularly value human life. Sound familiar?

I’m curious, was the title always intended to be Streets of Rogue or was it a kind of working title that stuck? Whenever I’ve recommended it to friends etc. the instant assumption is that it’s a Streets of Rage clone with procedural generation and I’ve had to correct them as to the actual game play, has this happened to you?

The game originally drew a bit of inspiration from Final Fight and Streets of Rage. I chose the title Streets of Rogue early on for a couple of reasons. One, it’s an attention grabber, because of the obvious Streets of Rage reference. Two, it tells people that the game is a rogue-like. While the game may not actually be a rogue-like that plays like Streets of Rage, here’s the thing: as an indie title in a world of many, many, many indie titles vying for attention, you need to take any opportunity to stand out. And if a title alone gets your attention on two levels, then that’s a net positive. I’ll often see snarky posts in the comments section of news articles about this subject, but hey, the game just left an imprint in that person’s mind.

Moving away from Streets of Rogue, Have any recent games grabbed your attention, what have you been playing recently?

I haven’t had a ton of time to play games lately. Leading up to the release of Streets of Rogue, I didn’t want to play anything else for fear I would somehow jinx myself. After the game came out, I made a bit of time to check out The Tetris Effect in VR. On the spectrum of interactive software, it’s pretty much the polar opposite to sitting at my desk and working. The perfect sort of detox. I also checked out The Eternal Castle Remastered, which one of the few takes on the Prince of Persia / Out of This World formula I’ve seen in recent years. It’s a true visual stunner, do yourself a favor and at the very least check out the trailer.

Finally, if you had to choose one…what would you say is your favourite game of all time?

I’d have to say the original Doom. It’s still what I would consider to be the most perfect first-person shooter there is. I suppose the fact that people have been using it as a base for mods for 25 years is a testament to this. One of the few pieces of art I have on my wall right now is a framed Doom poster. Final Fantasy VII is also up there. At the time of its release, that game was just so enormous in every sense, it was mind-blowing. It was like seeing Avengers after seeing indie films your entire life. One of my bigger career aspirations is to one day spearhead something or other with the scope of that game. Given that Streets of Rogue is mostly a one-man show, I’ve got a ways to go before I reach that point!
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Streets of Rogue is available now on Steam and the Nintendo eShop.

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