I was fortunate enough to sit down with Stefan Sadchikov for a short interview about his project. The demo of the upcoming game is currently on Steam, and the roadmap for the project will be out shortly, so if you like what Stefan has to say, feel free to wishlist it or even play the game!
Stefan, thank you for coming to the interview! I had a chance to try it out at DevGAMM and had a blast with it! What can you tell me about its development? What is it that you are creating?
The main idea behind the game was to mix RTS gameplay, specifically combat gameplay, with a game loop of a roguelike and dungeon crawling aspect of roguelikes. The idea initially came to me when I was playing WoW and was a raidleader on the number of bosses for my guild and I like this idea when you are a person responsible for everyone’s success, that you are telling everyone their role for the encounter to complete successfully. And I wanted to turn it into a real-time strategy. I did a few prototypes and ended up making a game that mixes raiding with roguelikes, so I was able to create a feeling that I wanted to deliver. There is a number of units you can control, and there is a tricky combat encounter with a lot of things to keep in mind. You need to really pay attention to them, to turn them to your advantage, or at least mitigate the negative consequences of decisions.
And I noticed that the entire gimmick of the game is all units are crabs. Crab Raid tactics.
Yeah, so the crab was a running joke in my guild for non-skilled players. I don’t think anyone remembers this joke by now, but I still wanted to pay homage to that. I wanted to include it all because ‘raid tactics’ is what you google before you fight the boss. And there is also a ‘crab raid,’ which in this prism could be interpreted as a ‘raid of unskilled players.’ That’s why in the game, crabs do nothing; they just swing around all of those abilities, and you need to tell them where to move and what to do in order to be successful.
Interesting! You mentioned a lot about the connection to MMORPGs when we met at DevGAMM, but tell me a little bit about the RTS connection. What is so special about RTS that you think would mesh well with the MMORPG theme?
I would say the particular aspect we take here is being in command of a group of units like you would in a strategy. I found this connection visceral because it is what I felt like when I was telling everyone during the raid: ‘You, go stand on that pool!’, ‘You don’t stand on that pool,’ ‘Heal that guy,’ ‘Tank, go move up somewhere else,’ and I wanted to make a game about that. This is how game design works, in my opinion. We take an experience and are trying to deliver that with the tools we have and core gameplay. And I think real-time strategy was the best way to convey that experience. Obviously, the game evolved a lot from that. It added a lot of roguelike elements on top to make it more interesting and full of different decisions you can make and ways to be successful. That is the connection I saw.
I am curious: are you, by any chance, planning to introduce a mechanic where crabs aren’t listening to your exact command?
I was thinking about that. One of the themes of the game is greed, and you might notice that it is one of the elemental magic schools. You have ocean, sun, sand, and greed – natural things in the life of any crab in this setting. I was thinking, and I am looking at my options right now for making this happen. There is going to be something like a ‘boon/curse’ system probably, where there are some effects that you have as a player that you can introduce to the battle, and there is also a detrimental effect that the battlefield has on you, and those things could lead to you losing control of the crabs. I was thinking like, maybe if the stat [of greed] on the crab is too high, he just starts sneaking up loot without you knowing, or without you issuing commands, he starts moving around, or some other things that would cause more things for you to worry about with their behavior, and this is something I am definitely considering. I do not have an exact answer to what it will look like, but I have several options I brainstormed.
From my experience playing MMORPGs, I noticed that one of the more badass feelings is when your numbers go higher as you level. Are there any mechanics you want to put in your game that would accommodate that feeling?
Yes, there are definitely some of those. This is a roguelike game with pretty heavy number progression. During the run, you get stronger and stronger; you get new abilities, grab level-ups, and get new powers and stats. So this is definitely happening, and I like the feeling of a lot of games like ARPGs or even Vampire Survivors, that is the feeling of you breaking the game – doing something that is completely unexpected, that completely obliterates every threat you see, and I want this game to have stuff like that. I want the game to be challenging, but I also want to have builds that allow for this experience. That allows you to combine different things on different layers together to build something that completely destroys all opposition and makes you feel powerful.
You mentioned Vampire Survivors. Was that, by any chance, the inspiration? When playtesting your game, I felt as if combat encounters with swarms of enemies are similar to that game.
As I mentioned previously, I did several prototypes for the game, and the main inspiration from Vampire Survivors was that I considered the idea that you don’t tell every unit what to attack, and you have less micro-control. All the abilities are autocasting, and you control movement. That was the thing I borrowed from Vampire Survivors, and it was the main inspiration.
As for the monsters, I made many iterations, and I started from basic survivor mode, where monsters come from different sides, and I strayed a little bit away from that. I saw many players comparing the game to Vampire Survivors, and this was not the exact experience I wanted to build. This shouldn’t be a horde survival game. There definitely could be elements from Vampire Survivors that could be accommodated and could make the strategic and tactical gameplay of fighting bosses and swarms of enemies better, but the key component is still tactics. And I wanted to emphasize that.
With a recent update that was playable at DevGAMM, I introduced objectives; I introduced some things that, on every level, in every room, you need to dig out treasure or just protect some objective, and I have some other game modes brainstormed. Survival is one of them, but it’s not the main thing. Definitely, Vampire Survivors influenced my game. There were a lot of things in progression that I looked at. For every crab’s progression, I mixed Vampire Survivors and Hades. Because there are systems and main abilities from Vampire Survivors, and there is also a system of turning one ability into another more powerful, one with extra effects, which kind of takes this from Hades, and to some extent from Vampire Survivors, because there was something like that, but a little bit different.
That’s actually another thing I’ve noticed. After completing every node on the grid map, you get a level up and choose from three abilities. And once you max the cap of abilities, you can up the abilities you accumulate, right?
As it’s implemented right now, every ability has a set number of levels, and they are active abilities like what crabs use in combat, and there are just passive buffs; there’s also one slot that is not filled yet; this is for manually activated, or conditional, abilities. One of the progressions is crabs picking up the crystal and also loot, which is another greed-themed way [of progression]. They don’t have experience; they just pick up loot and sometimes find something valuable in it.
This is a Vampire Survivor-like progression. They basically choose new abilities, new tricks, and every level up, and they also get some stat buffs on the side. After a certain level, there are things that give you elemental attunement, which allow you, like in Hades, to turn one ability into one of the elements. As I mentioned, there is the Sun, Ocean, Wind, and Greed. They can interact with each other. For that, Genshin will be the best example because it has elemental reaction systems between different elements.
So, if you hit someone with water spells, they become more susceptible to lightning?
Kinda like that. Yeah. They don’t only just become susceptible, but there are also new effects being produced. So mixing fire with wind, or sun with wind, produces an AOE fire explosion. Mixing water and sand produces a natural effect that interacts in a unique way with every other element. So, there are a bunch of complexities introduced into this, and every effect is unique. The elements listed are elements I will have at launch, but I might add some more elements in the future with some more interactions.
It makes sense, and what you said makes me curious about randomization in your game. As I mentioned earlier, the stats and abilities you get are somewhat randomized. How do you combine randomization with the tactical playthrough?
So, there are different options you can go for. As in many roguelikes, you are not in control of the randomness, but you pick the best choice in every situation and try to make a decent build-out of it. I am also planning to introduce a way to influence that, the way to reroll some of the rolls, change one element into another, or swap one thing for another if during the round, for example, you chose attunement for the crab and later on you completed a challenge room.
You can switch that to a different attunement, which will change all of the attuned abilities to a new element. All the randomness is seeded in the game. I want the players to speedrun the game if that’s someone’s thing. I have seen a lot of speedruns for Hades, for example, which was totally great! It’s very interesting to look at sometimes. I tried to make it in a predictable manner. It’s not available now in the game, but internally, it works like that.
Are there any plans to accommodate the speedrunning of your game?
Definitely, since I am a solo developer, it all depends on what the players and community would want. I would assume that for a roguelike game like this if there is a possibility to speedrun the game and to find different ways of completing it faster, the game will only win. Hopefully, there will be a community around that. If it would be, I would be happy to accommodate it. I am already thinking about some things that could help there.
I see you are very active on Discord.
Yes, I am active on Discord, and I have a server. I would gladly answer any questions about the game there.
And how are you planning to engage your community as development progresses? If someone is interested in the game, how can they reach you?
First of all, I do have a demo on Steam that is playable, and I would be happy to get all the feedback through Twitter, Discord, or the in-game link that leads to the Google form with a bunch of questions. I would be happy to read those and get any feedback at this point. The game is only part of my vision of it. It is also part of what players want it to be, and for a solo developer like me, the only way to be successful is to build a game for people who want to play it. I want to make it in a way that people want to interact with.
There was a lot of feedback; I participated in a feedback quest on itch.io, for example. I started small, but last time, I think I took second place. And there was a lot of valuable feedback, like the ‘move all button,’ which people wanted, and I was considering my options back then, but since then, I have caved in. I wanted it to be more tactical and have more micro-control, but if the players want it, they should get it. That’s how I want to work. In recent updates on Steam, I am just marking all the feedback that I implemented with a little thumbs up, and I am always happy to receive more. The situation in DevGAMM was really inspiring, having many people show their perspectives.
Of course! It shows that people are interested in your project; for my last question, when is your game ready, and what are the things you want to add that are not in the current build?
Right now, the game is 30% content complete and 80% systems complete. For the systems, apart from the things that are already in the game, which, by the way, allowed me to mix that minimal amount of content I have into quite a number of combinations, I would like to introduce more encounters. There is a shop encounter I need to complete that is not yet in the game with the ability to influence randomness. There is also a system I mentioned previously as a ‘boon/curse’ system, where there are different environmental effects that would lead to more power or more harm when it comes to the way of your crabs, depending on what you do. All those things from the battles in MMORPGs, like ‘stand together to receive a buff’ or ‘scatter’ or ‘you need to maintain a certain distance’ or ‘you need to maintain formation’ and stand at your points, pull levers, and stuff like that.
All of those things are definitely coming; I am building a system for that right now. Apart from that, I would also need to give some love to permanent progression between the runs. I know some players are against very heavy permanent progression that changes a lot of things, so I want to make it contained. A few stat buffs, a lot of variety buffs, and maybe a choice that you could make, like ‘if you encounter this event, that event will open.’ Things like that. I have plans for those things, and they separate me from release. In terms of content, I will need more for those systems and more content for existing systems, like more abilities, environments, or levels. What I have in the game right now is basically Tier 1, which is the first chapter of the run. I want there to be three or even more, depending on how things go.
Each chapter would include different locations, different areas with unique mechanics, unique bosses, and unique enemies. There are three environments in the game right now. All share the same enemy set just because I have so many of them. I have plans to introduce more, and each environment should be very different from the others in terms of gameplay. When that’s done, I will be ready to release the game into Early Access and to work on the game even further, which I hope will happen this year, 2024. It will probably be Q3 or Q4, but it would depend on many things, including how much attention the game draws from the potential player base and how much I can iterate on those things.
Makes sense! I’m looking forward to seeing what the game is like on release and seeing the loop expanded!
If you liked the interview, feel free to check out Crab Raid Tactics on Steam through this link, and make sure to ask Stefan any questions you may have about the game. In light of recent events, the indie scene will grow rapidly as more developers will choose to pursue their passions.
Make sure to check out more indie interviews here, for there is much more to come!