Surprise! A new video game has come out today! Miasma Caves is a pacifist roguelike where you play as a dragon girl who goes spelunking for treasures. It also just released into Early Access today. Last month I decided it was a game I needed to know more about, so I reached out to Windy Games hoping to get them to talk to me. Thankfully, I got a chance to talk to Adam Michaan, the game's designer. I got to hear about how the idea for the game came about, some of the planned mechanics, and the dangers of putting water in your game.
TechRaptor: For anyone who hasn't heard of Miasma Caves before, can you just sell me on this game real quick? Just give me the elevator pitch.
Adam Michaan: Sure! Miasma Caves is a pacifist roguelike where you go through a randomly generated cave system looking for treasures. All the treasures hold the lore and jokes of the world, and you use the proceeds to get more supplies or upgrade the village. Since it's a pacifist roguelike, all the dangers are environmental. So you have cave-ins and pitfalls. The creatures aren't aggressive, but they'll still find a way to be a nuisance as you explore.
TechRaptor: So how did the whole idea come about?
Adam: Part of it came about from how I originally played Minecraft. Finding a hole and just exploring the hole until I found diamonds, and then getting that back to my house like nothing else mattered. Exploring just seemed to be a lot more of what I wanted to focus on. Let's see... it's hard to answer these broad questions.
TechRaptor: It's okay.
Adam: Part of it was that a lot of games are-- I don't feel like there's a lot of games that the focus for exploring and discovery type thing, and I thought it'd be just the way I played Minecraft and that we could expand that into something standalone.
TechRaptor: Now it's pretty notable that this is a pacifist roguelike. How did that idea come about?
Adam: I really wanted to focus on exploration and discovery, and once, I feel like, combat is in there that always takes the center of attention in the games. I found that if we focused on environmental dangers it would still be very exciting without having to be about combat.
TechRaptor: Was it always planned to be pacifist from the start, or was that something you guys decided on later?
Adam: From the start.
TechRaptor: So when designing the general caves that you're exploring in, what's the basic design principals for that? How do you start?
Adam: As you get deeper in the cave, like once you get different elevations, it sort of determines how it gets more dangerous. For each area we have the cave sections, where it'll go and wind around and explore, and then we'll have places where we'll put rooms or chasms or other specialized areas mixed in there, and we're sort of setting up how much we want them to split, since it is pretty easy to get lost if you don't pay attention.
TechRaptor: I'm definitely one of those people who get lost in caves all the time, so I get that. Well, like, not real caves. In video games. I don't have a problem.
TechRaptor: Since this is a pacifist game, you mentioned natural threats like cave-ins and there are creatures that don't attack you but bother you. When you guys decided you needed to have those threats, how did you decide what would fit in the game?
Adam: Well first we needed some kind of natural threat to keep you moving. First, you slowly lose life over time just being in the cave, and that sort of gives you a time limit of how long you have and making sure you turn back. Then we sort of... cave-ins seemed like the obvious sort of thing you could do if you're in a tunnel. Then we expanded that and made it so the floor could fall out so you also got fall damage, and poison gas clouds seemed like a very natural thing that you could deal with and a thing that you could see and go "oh, right, I need to find a way to get around this or deal with it." But that's sort of more of a choice if you're going to fight the intense poison clouds.
TechRaptor: Those are pretty natural threats. Then I guess you started to think "what else can I do?"
Adam: Yeah, then we thought... Well, we wanted to have animals in the cave because otherwise the cave seems very quiet and lifeless. That's... I don't think that'd be nearly as fun to explore. So as we started to put in animals, we figured they should do something. So our first animal is these little slimes, and what we decided they'll do is they'll eat some of the treasures if given the time to. So if you're taking too long in an area they might start wandering around and eating things, but it's very easy to scare them off to protect anything you got. Some of the other animals we have are going to have other kinds of effects that sort of make it harder to get the treasures you want, or might inadvertently cause cave-ins as well.
TechRaptor: Now have you got any interesting animals that ended up on the cutting room floor?
Adam: Right now the one that may or may not go in is... we want to have some kind of fish, but right now we're working on if we want to actually have water at all or if that might be something later. Effect-wise, our will-o'-the-wisps have changed what they do a few times, so we're still figuring out exactly what kind of danger they should pose.
TechRaptor: I guess putting water in is one of the more complicated things to do?
Adam: Yeah, because if we want it to flow we don't want it to all flow down a cave tunnel and everything just be a giant lake at the bottom. We're going to have to figure out how it plays well, but also doesn't just run away.
TechRaptor: Yeah, I get it. Now say you go exploring in the cave and you find treasures. What kind of treasures can I expect to find?
Adam: We have a couple different categories. Up top the most common ones are going to be gems or artifacts from an old civilization. Occasionally you might find some books, which our character really likes reading so we later plan on having some kind of function we can do in addition with these books. Then there's always equipment you can find, so you may find a permanent light source or something that may warn you of certain kinds of dangers down there.
I don't know if I mentioned, but you have to appraise all the treasures you find. So as you find treasures-- you might find a gem and you won't know what it is. So you'll appraise it and it'll be a ruby, which is pretty straight forward. But as you appraise more gems you'll be able to get bigger descriptions on what the rarer ones are that you might not know what they are, and that sort of ties into artifacts as well. You may find an ancient sword, but you might be like "oh it's this ancient sword from this dynasty" or whatever. It'll sort of get you more information on what the items are and let you sell them for more.
TechRaptor: Okay, that's a smart idea. Is it like Pawn Stars "I know a guy who knows a guy who's an expert in this"?
Adam: So you're actually the one who's the expert, so you have to appraise it and as you appraise items you sort of learn more and more. You can level up your appraisal skill for each of the treasure groups.
TechRaptor: And then when you know more history of an item then you can sell it for more because you can identify... Yeah.
Adam: Yeah, because you can be like "oh, it's not just any sword, it's this special one. So you should give me more money."
TechRaptor: And you just have to hope nobody knows more about swords than you?
Adam: They trust you!
TechRaptor: Now speaking of the character, what's the general setting and story. How'd that all start?
Adam: So you're playing as our main character Lesath, who's sort of picking up the family business of treasure hunting. The town has sort of fallen on hard times, and she's sort of more resilient to the damage over time in the cave, so she's the one who's taken up the hardship of going down there and getting money for the town.
TechRaptor: Is that like there only income source?
Adam: So when the town was originally founded on this cave because there's rare treasures. We're sort of going for a gold rush styled down, but then everyone realized it's far too dangerous for anyone so pretty much everyone left. Some people are still there, they have the item shop, the inn, and a few other places. But their money supply is pretty low so they get it from the caves.
TechRaptor: It almost sounds like the wild west.
Adam: Yeah we thought it was like a sort of good way to get the town going, because it's also a pretty out of the way town from any other civilization in the area. We needed a good reason for them to come up here.
TechRaptor: Now next month this game enters Early Access, right?
TechRaptor: How's that feel?
Adam: Scary! I mean, there's always so much I want to get done, but you just have to say "okay, this is what we're going to start Early Access with, the rest will come."
TechRaptor: About how much are you starting Early Access with?
Adam: So the cave is sort of divided into four depths. We're going to start with the first two depths of the cave, and whatever treasure is... some of the treasure is limited to the lower depths, so those won't be available yet. We also have special rooms, like you know in the picture we show the crystal cave room, which is one of the special ones. Only a couple of those will be in at first, and we'll be adding more of those in. Only the core townsfolk will be there, so like anyone running a shop will be there, but the other townsfolk are... on vacation. So they'll be showing back up soon.
TechRaptor: Is it at least a pleasant vacation?
Adam: Yeah, they're on a very long nature hike just, you know, seeing the big city and walking back.
TechRaptor: Is it really nature if it's the big city...?
Adam: Maybe not. They'll come back! Just not at the beginning of Early Access.
TechRaptor: Alright, so it's Early Access on January 23rd. What's your plans, I know you're going to make the other two depths, but what other plans do you have to keep going with this?
Adam: So I sort of divided the Early Access into three sections we can add more things. In the first section we're going to try and get more of the townsfolk, more of the special areas, and that's where we want to start trying to get the extra book mechanics in. We want it to be a really big feature for her, and it'll also help make the cave a little different every time. Because when you read a book the idea is that it will give some kind of modification for the cave for that run, and maybe it'd be some weird situations that'd occur when you have a certain book going.
After that the next phase we'll try to get a lot more of the animals into the game. We'll also be looking at Steam features, like cloud saving and all that stuff. The third phase we're going to finalize the fourth part of the dungeon and we want to have sort of an ability to capture one of every animal in the cave and we're going to have some kind of effects for having the animals.
TechRaptor: So you can bring your pet dog into the cave with you?
Adam: So the default pet in a lot of the promo art is that little dragon squirrel. It won't come into the cave at first, but we want it to be able to start following you around the cave later, and then you'll have some kind of ability to use a power-up every once in a while that the animal can provide.
TechRaptor: The books. How did the general mechanics for the books come about?
Adam: I guess part of it was the thought of... Well for one we wanted to have our character really like history. We made her a big reader, and one of the treasure is these books. We realized we could sort of use them for something, and we had the idea that some might be related to other characters, so you can read them then talk to that character that would care about that thing and maybe that would unlock something. We also wanted to have stuff like small things that just change up the exploration a little bit, in case someone is going through the same areas a lot then it sort of gives it a very different feel even though you're going through the same area. Just to sort of keep things fresh as you explore.
TechRaptor: Can you give me an example or two of one of the ways it can change an area?
Adam: Yeah. We still haven't... We haven't really worked too much on that section yet, but that hasn't been done yet, but one of them we want to do is that one of the books is a scary story. So just to be silly we want to make sort of make Lesath run a little faster but make the danger sound effects amp up so you feel like you're always much closer to a danger when you're exploring. So just to sort of give you a feel of "oh, things are scary". Another might be like a book about a heroic miner, so it might affect your digging if you want to do any digging on that run. We're still figuring out exactly what those will do, but... yeah.
TechRaptor: That's pretty cool. Now the other books, the ones that don't affect how the cave changes. What's the general plan for those? Just like history books and lore stuff?
Adam: A lot of them will probably be lore stuff. Some might be, well there's a cook in town, maybe we'll have a cook book and it might give him an idea for a new recipe. Or we might have one that is a lore thing but it'll give Lesath a very small stat up because it teaches her some kind of adventuring thing.
TechRaptor: And these would be permanent buffs or temporary buffs?
Adam: Some of those might be temporary buffs and just be for one run depending what it's about. If it's something that's teaching her then it'll probably be a permanent one but it'd be a very small bonus.
TechRaptor: How many of the books have pictures?
Adam: Well right now we just icons for the book, and sort of a blurb. You can't read them yet. If there's time it'd be cool to let you read them, but each one has it's own icon so... When you appraise the book you'll at least know if you've seen that book before.
TechRaptor: No I more meant how many are pictures books for easy reading.
Adam: Oh! [Laughter.] Probably like one. One or two. I don't know, there might be a few, we're still figuring out the books, those won't come for a few more months so they're not the focus.
TechRaptor: Will there be a superhero comic?
Adam: Not planned yet, but we're still writing the books so we'll see.
TechRaptor: So is there any plans for a console release after Early Access?
Adam: I'd like to, but I think we are going to wait until we get out of Early Access before we go for consoles.
TechRaptor: What's the plans for Windy Games after Miasma Caves? Once you're game is fully released, what's next?
Adam: Well I would like to keep working on Miasma Caves a while after, because there's a huge list of things I would like to eventually put in there, but that depends on how it does. Otherwise, we'll look for another project if Miasma Caves doesn't get enough to keep going after Early Access, but I think it should be able to do pretty well.
TechRaptor: Now Windy Games, the developer, how did Windy Games start? How did they come about?
Adam: So I already had the plans for this game, and went to sort of get a team together. I actually found everyone through the Unity forms a while back. Luckily pretty much everyone was around New York except for one, who did make the move up here, and then we got a small office, like a shared office place, and we all just meet here. We found each other through Unity.
TechRaptor: So Miasma Caves is running on Unity?
TechRaptor: How's working with Unity?
Adam: Its been good. Yeah, I think its been working out pretty well. It's always sort of a balance of "do we want to use assets" or "do we want to do things ourselves."
TechRaptor: Now you guys also attend a lot of the Playcrafting events and worked with them pretty closely. How's Playcrafting working out for you guys?
Adam: Playcrafting is great. It's really the only way I've been able to connect with a lot of the other devs in the area. So it's just a good way to see who else is working around and if you need help you know who everyone is. Then it's also small events, which is a good way to get seen and get some testing from normal players instead of people who really play a lot of games. Because the variety of who shows up for those events is very big.
TechRaptor: I was at the Playcrafting Halloween event actually, and I unfortunately did not get a chance to play the game. I literally was at your guys things right when it closed, so I had to leave. Sorry. But, to use Playcrafting Halloween as an example, have you gotten any interesting feedback from people who have played the game?
Adam: Yes we have, yeah. So it's interesting, like if some parts work well or don't work well. Others, some people have had really good ideas that we mark so we can work those in when we're on those phases. A lot of people have ideas and we can't think of anything. It also helps to see if things are working. It's always hard to test because I know how everything works, so if something's not working I know how to get past it, but if I have to explain it to them then obviously it's not being explained well enough in the game yet.
TechRaptor: That makes sense. Alright, so Miasma Caves, we've mostly covered everything about it. When do you think the full release is going to be?
Adam: I'm thinking in the fall, I think should be enough time to get us through Early Access.
TechRaptor: Is there anything else you want to add? Any final statements about the game?
Adam: Just trying to think about what I can say about the game... I wanted to also sort of get a good sort of old school aesthetic of early 3D environment, but sort of what people would remember 3D being without actually looking at it. Because I know any time I can go back and look at an N64 game or a Ps1 game it's like... I thought it looked better than that. So we sort of wanted to get the feel of what I think it looked like and sort of get that being the aesthetic we went for.
TechRaptor: Alright. Well I'd like to thank you for taking the time to talk to me. It's really interesting hearing about the game and about the studio. I wish you guys all the luck with your Early Access release soon.
Adam: Thank you.
We'd like to once again thank Adam for taking the time to talk with us.