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From Tower Defense to Roguevania: The Creation of Dead Cells, Available August 7 on Xbox One

Dead Cells is a 2D Roguevania action-platformer set on a cursed, alchemic Island. It mixes elements from the metroidvania genre like unlocking abilities which open new levels, paths and treasures to the permadeath and randomness of roguelites, tons of weapons, all the while offering plenty of challenge.

However, that’s only the Dead Cells we know today! Over its life, it’s evolved through several different forms, gameplay styles and even economic models. Throughout this process we’ve managed to keep a little something from each era.

Dead Cells Screenshot

Dead Cells was first dreamed up as a free-to-play sequel to one of Motion Twin’s web-based games, Die2Nite released in 2008. It was supposed to be an online multiplayer coopetition (the porte-manteau for cooperation and competition, and yes, we do like to invent porte-manteaus) survival tower defense game where players had to cooperate with each other to repel hordes of zombies, but only one could be the last man standing.

If you died, you had to start again in another game… like, some kind of battle royale PvE I guess! Of course, most of the elements (map, traps, number of zombies, resources, etc.) were randomized so you would never play the same game twice.

Dead Cells Screenshot

While it might sound like a reasonably fun concept, we were planning to use asynchronous multiplayer like we did in the past with Die2Nite, but it turned out that the coopetition concept was only fun with real-time multiplayer. The technical barriers led us to radically change the game design, yet you can still see the legacy of this era in the permadeath mechanic and randomness which were kept as pillars of Dead Cells right up till today.

Since we couldn’t go with real-time multiplayer, we took the opposite direction: making a solo only experience. We cut out the survival and exploration parts of the previous design, but we added a new layer of action-platformer gameplay on top of the tactical dimension of a tower defense! Plus, we designed a static world of interconnected dungeons with several alternate paths to let the player choose the levels that correspond to their play style. How could we go wrong with such a compelling game design!?

Well, in a lot of ways apparently, as we soon found out. The slow-paced gameplay of the tower defense planning phase didn’t go well with the frenetic action of the second phase. With tears in our eyes, we resolved to put a bullet in the head of the tower defense gameplay. It… It… was the best thing to do for everyone. Although, we did keep the turrets, grenades and traps which were the main weapons used by the player then, as well as the branching paths idea.

With only the action-platform part left, we kept iterating, adding close combat and trading the post-apocalyptic theme for an alchemic one (but we kept the zombies too) until we were finally satisfied.

Dead Cells Screenshot

Today, we’re announcing our previously-free-2-play-online-multiplayer-tower-defense-mobile-game Dead Cells for Xbox One! So, even if it cost us a lot of time and energy, we’re very happy to have stuck with it and created something that hundreds of thousands of people have enjoyed playing.

I hope you will enjoy your time on the cursed, zombie-infested island of Dead Cells as much as we enjoyed creating it.