Dead Cells - (Alec Meer)

I’ve been away for a few weeks – NOT THAT YOU NOTICED – and my poison of choice during that time was the release version of Dead Cells. This Metroidvania/roguelike hybrid ticks pretty much every box I’ve got going, leaving my former flames The Binding of Isaac, Hollow Knight and Slay The Spire suddenly abandoned.

Like all the best ‘vanias, Dead Cells doesn’t tell you much, content instead to let you dash yourself against its rocks time and again until realisation – or reflex – takes hold. I’ve learned a lot by now (and I’ve got even more left to learn), and my runs are very different to my early, faltering ones. Because of the way unlocks work in Dead Cells, there’s a few particular things I wish I knew from the off – to the point that I’m even toying with a total restart.


Grand Theft Auto V - (John Walker)

OK! OK! Look, thank you, yes, yes, I know, thank you. Yes, it’s very exciting that I’m here with this week’s Steam Charts, but come on, please, sit down now, that’s really enough. Oh, come on, all of you, you’re lovely, but it’s only little me. Goodness gracious! (more…)

Dead Cells

Not to brag, but I have one hell of a Biro on the go at the moment. You know the kind of thing, right? Cheap disposable pens tend to have their own characters - the grindy one, the gritty one, the one that you're forever trying to coax back to life with mad eddies and whorls. This one, though, this one is the one you dream about. Oh man, it is glorious. A thick black line that just flows out onto the page. So smooth! Strangely rich. I feel like I could take that line anywhere, even if I'm just writing a shopping list or a phone number. The line makes me feel like writing. I am already starting to mourn this Biro a little, because I know it cannot last forever.

And - grinding sound - this sort of puts me in mind of Dead Cells, which I have been playing, it seems, for a good half of my magical Biro's lifespan. Honestly, this is not the miserable reach that I have made it sound like. Dead Cells is a hard game. How hard? The main menu says "Continue", even when you have actually died in a run, because life and death is all the same in a game like this. You die, but hopefully you unlocked a few more permanent perks for your next life. You will die again, of course, the predictable enemies swarming and overwhelming, the procedural tunnels and ramparts forcing you to lose your bearings. No matter, the game says: the line, as it were, makes you feel like you can take it anywhere.

I felt it instantly, too. My first steps into this game's deeply inhospitable world. People - including the people who made it - would like you to believe that Dead Cells is a bit like Dark Souls, and it is, it is, in a hundred different ways. But there's one way it's very different. When I started Dark Souls, I found myself cringing, retreating into a more compact version of myself, weighed down by the sense of all the awful things that lay ahead and deeply aware - this is the thing of it - of my complete and obvious inadequacy when it came to dealing with them.

Read more…

Dead Cells

The hero of Dead Cells is a living head on a reanimated body, or rather a series of reanimated bodies, each slightly more likely to succeed than the last. It's an apt metaphor for the game itself, which changed again and again even before going into Early Access. In its early days it was in a completely different genre, and somewhere in an alternate leg of the trousers of time there's a version of Dead Cells that remained a free-to-play zombie-themed tower defense game for browsers and phones.

Developers Motion Twin had previously made a browser game called Die2Nite, where 40 players work together to defend a town from the undead. Their plan for a follow-up was a game that let players not just build traps and defenses, but then position their characters as well so they had something to do during the attack phase. The concept was sound, but it didn't go much further than the prototype stage. Producer Steve Filby explains. 

"The idea sounded pretty cool on paper and everything but once we started building it we realized that it wasn't particularly fun. It was OK for us when we were all playing online together in the office because we were here yelling at each other, 'Go over here!' But we very quickly realized with some playtests with the community that they just weren't enjoying it. It was no fun when you're by yourself."

In 2014 they took a single-player version of that game to an event called the Big Indie Pitch, a competition where indie developers have three minutes to sell their idea to a team of judges, and came second. That was all the motivation their lead designer needed to begin hacking away at Dead Cells, removing all the multiplayer elements and the free-to-play cruft, while their graphic artist suggested going even further and getting rid of the tower defense as well.

"We had two parts of the game," says Filby. "The preparation part, which was slow and contemplative, and the actual action part. So we got rid of all the contemplative part and kept the action part. That's the moment, the rest is history, but that period that probably took from the end of 2014 to about the end of 2015. A good year of fartarsing around before we actually said, all right, let's build an action-platformer."

The road to Early Access and through Early Access is littered with the bodies of failed games

Steve Filby

It took another year to get from there to the point where they felt ready to release in Early Access. Although Filby estimates the version of Dead Cells they put on Steam back in May 2017 was only about 30 to 40 percent finished, they wanted to make sure it felt tight even then—that moving and fighting was enjoyable even if the rest of the game was incomplete.

"The road to Early Access and through Early Access is littered with the bodies of failed games and failed developers who have then been smashed and blacklisted for their poor practices during development and so I was like, if we're going to do this we have to have something super solid, super polished, and super satisfying to play. We have to have that core gameplay, that core vertical slice."

With that in place, they began the process of iterating and expanding on their design. They expected it to be a roughly year-long process at the most, and it ended up being closer to 15 months—not too far off, given how these things usually go. Of the changes that happened to Dead Cells during that time, and there were many, a significant number were inspired by player feedback.

"If you go back and look through the Reddit for the first three to six months after the Early Access, there's some threads in there where guys are writing full essays, three-to-five thousand word essays on what they think, and debating amongst themselves—cordial discussion—and coming up with useful ideas. While we don't go, 'oh, this is amazing, we're just going to do what this guy says' it definitely helps."

The main value of player feedback was in identifying problems. A common thing to hear from developers is that it's worth listening to players when they say there's an issue, but not so much when they're suggesting solutions. So when Dead Cells players said the game balance felt off, lead designer Sébastien Bénard listened, then reworked it entirely. The effects of that were felt everywhere.

"It touches every aspect of the game," says Filby. "The balancing of the stats and the way that you think about powering up items through those stats is fundamental to the core of the game. That was one of the things that—we definitely didn't plan it—came along and it was a big job that took a long time. The Brutal Update was the major update where we pushed that out and then it took I think another major update before we finished the system by adding the Forge, and then another update of balancing and dealing with the fallout of the changes."

I think Early Access is an incredible tool for building better games because it does allow you to collaborate with the community

Steve Filby

The Forge is an interesting one. Its initial version let you buy upgrades for specific gear, which had the unintended consequence of encouraging people to stick with weapons they'd paid to upgrade. "Some of the feedback we got was from a dude on Twitter called Celestalon, who just so happens to be one of the lead designers on Hearthstone," Filby says. Celestalon pointed out that the Forge made players feel locked into builds, taking away the fun of experimentation. "[It] took away the fun of learning to play with items and playstyles that you probably wouldn't use. I sent that to Seb via Twitter and he sent something back via Slack saying, 'Aw, the bugger! I know he's right too so now I'm going to have do something about it.'"

One bit of feedback suggesting a feature rather than pointing out a problem did make its way into the finished game: elemental damage. People said they thought it would be cool to be able to electrocute enemies or set them on fire, and now you can. It's a relatively small addition but a fun one, a grace note on their symphony, or maybe a layer of sprinkles on their cake.

As for whether Motion Twin repeat this process for their next game, Filby says it's a matter of what kind of game they end up making. "There's a lot of guys in the team who wouldn't mind trying something a little bit more static, a bit more narrative and stuff like that, in which case it makes no sense to use Early Access. Personally I think Early Access is an incredible tool for building better games because it does allow you to collaborate with the community in the way that we have, and it does force you to really critically think about the game design decisions that you have made."

Dead Cells
Dead Cells - (Alice O'Connor)

After fourteen months in early access, Dead Cells officially launched today. We declared the roguelikelike platformer our favourite game of 2017 even in its early access state, and our Brendan’s Dead Cells review yesterday will tell you it’s now even sharper. A good video game. But if you’ve not been persuaded by our baby-and-a-half of squawking, instead waiting for the full launch, today’s your lucky day. Developers Motion Twin aren’t done-done with it, mind, already working on new free content.


Dead Cells

After 30-odd years of pillaging fantasy realms I'm pretty sick of video game loot, but I do love poring over the vicious trinkets I've harvested from the tissues of Dead Cells, Motion Twin's superb, handsome blend of Spelunky and Metroidvania. There they dangle in the jail where you begin each run: a galaxy of smoky coloured icons, sealed in jars that are chained to the ceiling. Bounce into them - one of my personal rituals, before I venture into the dungeon beyond - and the jars chime together ever so gently in a way that makes my skin crawl. I'm not sure the resemblance to a mad scientist's anatomy collection is deliberate, but it's compelling all the same. How better to capture the morbidity of escaping to a world of make-believe only to shake it down for swords and tat? You can almost smell the formalin.

As the name suggests, Dead Cells is rather on the macabre side. An action-platformer with permadeath, randomised rewards and procedurally generated stages, it takes place on an island overrun by undead creatures and casts you as the worst critter of the lot - a parasitic snotball that survives by reanimating the bodies of beheaded criminals. Die in your efforts to escape, and the parasite squidges back through the island's plumbing to the prison, where another corpse is always, somehow, waiting. Fortunately, once plugged into a torso the character is a formidable martial artist and a delight to control - able to perform brisk three-hit combos, double-jump, block or parry, slither around ledges, kick down doors to stun nearby foes and slam earthwards mid-jump to pulverise anything beneath.

The game's swish animations and skin-bursting effects are its immediate draw - Klei's Mark of the Ninja with a big dollop of Diablo 3 and Mortal Kombat. Besides looking tremendous, it succeeds in being thoroughly readable for all the quantity of bodies, gibs and damage numerals on show, helped no end by sound design that excels at conveying nuances like the difference between a normal and a critical hit. Also captivating: the level art, which combines the sunset palette of a Mike Mignola comic with the filigreed touches of vintage Castlevania. One stage is a hellish clocktower, cogs spinning inside walls and fragments of masonry drifting against a burning cloudscape. Another is a mildewed Siren-esque village on stilts above a river of gore, lanterns gleaming from windows in the backdrop.

Read more…

Dead Cells - indieCatapult

Hey there everyone!

I'm writing this with a mix of nostalgia and fatigue. Seriously it's late over here... Today Dead Cells grows up and flies the coup, heading off into the world to become it's own game, get an apartment, find a special someone, pay taxes and bitch about traffic. Good for it!

It's been 454 days since we first introduced you to what we though was a half finished, reasonably well balanced but somewhat bizarre attempt at making a rogue-lite metroidvania. Man has it been some fun since!

With the help of all you equally half baked mad men and women, we've brought that little game to what we can now happily and proudly call "finished". Well at least something that's in a finished state for the time being.

We've written 47 of these update posts for you, well mostly Joan, but I do 'em every now and then too. We've pushed 79 updates including 10 major content additions or feature expansions. Plus probably a bunch of hot-fixes no one wrote any patch notes for, because the devs like to keep the people guessing.

All the while we've tried to hold true to our early access promises and prove that the platform can be a potent tool when used right. We've taken your feedback and done our best to build something with you, while staying true to what we wanted to do from the outset and right now... Well seeing all the reviews come out today, it feel like we've done pretty well. So thank you guys, from each and every one of us, thanks for all of this:

  • Dead Cells gets into your nervous system like a wonderful toxin... Brendan Caldwell, RPS.

  • Dead Cells is a phenomenal effort to blend together some very disparate genres into a tight, cohesive whole. Daniel Starkey, GameSpot.

  • Dead Cells may be the most fun I've had in a game all year. Justin McElroy, Polygon.

  • Dead Cells is the best Castlevania game in years Andrew Webster, The Verge.

Hell they even wrote about us in the WASHINGTON FRICKEN POST!!!
  • Dead Cells’” steady introduction of new mechanics made it easy for me to pine for one more go. In my view, that’s the hallmark of a successful arcade experience. Christopher Byrd, THE Washington FRICKEN Post.

And theeeeeen?
So anyway... that's all very well and good, but we're not done. Just because we're now OK saying that we're at 1.0 quality levels, doesn't mean we're just going to down tools and go home. Nor does it mean that we've been sitting around doing nothing since the last big update.

Today we're happy to present to you are version of a story, a little touch of lore, to the game. We've hung a skeleton up in a closet, well more numerous pieces of numerous skeletons in many different mostly not closet hiding places, for you to find.

From there we'll decide whether the lore is up to scratch, or whether, as with everything else in the game, you might not want to leave your mark on it.

Anyway, for now, have find finding out what's going on with your enigmatic, smiley, caustic and somewhat cantankerous, green ball of a prisoner is doing on this island.

Aaaaaaannnnddddd theeeeeeeen?
Well it wouldn't be much fun to spoil it all, and we did cover a lot of the rest of the stuff in our previous post on modding tools, Twitch integrations, UI updates, Mac and Linux versions and whatnot.... Buuuuuut.

If you do so happen to choose to start a new run and play through the whole game, there might be some new stuff to see. Some new things to do, not a terrible lot, but you know... Go have a look.

What next?
Well right now we're actively working on our first big post release update. It'll be a free DLC, or a big-ass free update, whichever is technically feasible, but there'll be a stack of new content. Good stuff... Playable stuff...

From there we'll do what we've always done and work with the community, if demand stays strong, who are we to deny the people their Dead Cells? If y'all get over Sir Blobspierre, then we'll go off and make another game.

So if you want to see more content be sure to let us know.

Right now I'd like to finish, by not finishing, but by doing what we always do and showing off a bit of the community's handiwork:

Community Artwork

Image by: Facebook awesome dude whose name I'll have to find tomorrow

Image by: zadobag

Image by: kaerazene

And on that note... I'm going to bed.

Thanks for everything!

Steve and the entire MT team.

Edit: Deleted the IGN review.
Dead Cells - (Brendan Caldwell)

Dead Cells gets into your nervous system like a wonderful toxin. If it wasn t so fast-paced, you could almost feel the electro-chemical effects pulsing through your body, from hand to eye to screen to brain, as your panicked flurry of knife strikes eviscerates another sewer worm. The game began as a roguevania , and it was strong even in its early days. But the final version has seen every edge of this Castlevania homage sharpened to the point of needing a big cork on top. The verbs hack and slash have rarely been put to better use.


Dead Cells

Dead Cells made it into our list of the best metroidvania games alongside the likes of Cave Story + and Hollow Knight even though it was still in Early Access, and has only improved since then. To celebrate its impending release from the dungeon of lengthy public betas, it's got a cool new animated trailer that sums up its core loop of killing, dying, and trying again with some new gear.

When Shaun first played it last year, here's how he summed up the unusual hook of Dead Cells: "A very excellent and important touch is that you play as a man with no head—a ripe roleplaying opportunity. This headless fellow must collect cells, for some reason, and is doomed to repeatedly do so."

Dead Cells will be leaving Early Access on August 7.


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