Gone Spelunking - The Story of TinkerHouse Games and Dwarven Delve

Posted by Rob Rich on August 7th, 2013

Two things are a constant with dwarves, regardless of the fictions they appear in: they're incredibly sturdy, and they have a thing for digging. TinkerHouse Games has taken these two concepts and run with them to create Dwarven Delve. Billed as an "action puzzle crawl," it's a combination of elements that tasks players with rotating entire sections of dungeon as they attempt to guide a small band of dwarves to the treasures within. It's a unique and interesting concept we wanted to learn more about. Fortunately, Mark Jessup (Creative Director and Lead Designer for TinkerHouse Games) was on-hand to answer our questions.

148Apps: So what led to the creation of the world's first action puzzle crawl?
Mark Jessup (MJ): I really like pipe puzzle games like Pipe Dream and old-school top-down dungeon crawls. One morning when I was half-awake, the two merged and did a merry jig. When I was finally ambulatory I wrote it down immediately. Lane built the physical prototype in two days and had the first digital prototype a week later. He was a ninja. We were both really fired up about it and hit the ground running.

148Apps: I noticed some of the abilities seem like they'd work really well together (i.e. the Tinkersmith's Hovermine and the Wayfinder's Echo Lure). Was it tough to balance?
MJ: Thanks for noticing that combo so quickly! It’s one of our favorites and the ideal we’re shooting for with regards to other ability combos down the line. So far, the biggest trick hasn’t been with individual or combo effects, as much as cooldown durations and the frequency of enemy spawning. None of the abilities or their power progressions threaten game balance in themselves, but they should be meaningful moments in the level, not just something you spam. And of course, we have to have a steady but not overwhelming number of enemies to keep you on your toes and make those abilities count.

148Apps: Are there any later skills you think are particularly cool that you wouldn't mind sharing?
MJ: Well, it’s still early in development, so I really shouldn—okay, you talked me into it. Our dwarves’ abilities are augmented over time by rediscovering their history; ancestral relics and lineage. So our Tinkersmith will eventually find a relic from the Age of Automata called the Gloam Mag. It upgrades her hovermines so that they shoot towards enemies in any adjacent hex, threatening a much larger area.

One of the Spellforger’s more powerful relics is called The Oculus of Maddening. It changes his ranged attack into a domination effect, so he can turn a group of enemies into monster-eaters. It’s quite fun.

148Apps: Was it always the plan to have a team of six, or were there originally more/fewer dwarves? And if there were initially more, were there any classes that you regret having to cut out?
MJ: Actually, the biggest decision we had to make early on was whether the game would be centered around a small cast of characters or a large group of units that you essentially built into warbands. It was a fundamental design decision, obviously. We decided to go with the small group because the story is a very important part of the game for us, and we thought we could tell a better one with a small cast that you got to know and helped evolve over time. And for the record, we also realized the dwarven unit model would likely be much easier to monetize and more lucrative in the long run. But we didn’t do it because we really thought it wouldn’t let us design the best game experience. There’s nothing wrong with free-to-play in itself, but it wasn’t right for this game.

Fools? Possibly. But fools who love dwarves.

148Apps: I really like the concept behind character "leveling." Was this Lineage system always the plan or was it something the game grew into over the course of its development?
MJ: The lineage leveling system definitely grew out of conversations over time around the office. When we were thinking about the warband approach, finding your ancestors actually unlocked new units, which was cool, and gave the player something more satisfying than just getting a better score. And the idea of a lineage tree showing progress was a visual concept we really wanted to keep. So when we went towards the character approach we realized we could still keep that concept. Each dwarf is a member of a clan that extends back into the dark of history. Discovering the forebears and accomplishments of their clan makes their own abilities increase.

Our thanks to Mark Jessup for his time, and to the entire team at TinkerHouse Games for working on the first ever action puzzle crawler. Assuming everything goes according to plan with Dwarven Delve's Kickstarter funding it should be breaking ground on your iPad (sorry, iPhone owners) in December for $4.99. It's apparently going to be a big month for dwarves.