One of the simultaneously gratifying and frightening things about the design of Desktop Dungeons is its tendency to keep surprising us after three-plus years of development, polish and community feedback.
Despite being open to a crowd of pre-order enthusiasts for a good few years (many of whom played the game relentlessly from the moment they were able), new strategies, exploits and synergies are still uncovered and shared on a regular – sometimes weekly – basis.
Parts of this come from micro-adjustments in the system, of course. Sometimes a slight nerf or enhancement can shut old doors and open new ones. At other times, new learnings come from an incredibly deep analysis of the system, based on the combinations of several unobvious factors.
Occasionally, and more spectacularly, discoveries are made based on ideas that have technically been laid bare for ages. These plans, when put into action, seem so remarkably obvious and useful that it becomes hard to think of a time when they weren’t a part of the community’s collective consciousness.
It’s flattering from a designer’s point of view, yet also intimidating. Given that a united and experienced community still manages to surprise itself, it’s not unreasonable that testing and balancing such an open system is, at times, an almost impossible task for the small handful of people whose job it is to entertain and challenge everyone else.
This has the result of making many supposedly “obvious” design changes surprisingly difficult to implement, particularly when it’s about bolstering a supposedly weak item, effect or combination. Not only are the potential ripple effects enormous, but we have to strongly consider whether all the power options of a particular game element have actually been considered. Several times in the past, we’ve added buffs that were later discovered to be unnecessary. Or we’ve made a microscopic adjustment to a previously weak item that had a massive, unforeseen effect with the one item, combo or tactic we overlooked.
The core QCF squad are all Desktop Dungeons veterans. We need to keep our skills at least as sharp as the best potential players out there. We need to play – and understand – Acid Casters, Punchomancers, Health Monsters and all the other community-driven builds out there. We have to confidently go through runs like Vicious Gaan-Telet and Portal Perilous, because failure to do so means that an entire family of problems raised by forum members is beyond our ability to address. Playing the game takes up a surprising chunk of our time, even in post-release, yet we still learn so many new things and find ourselves “catching up” every time we browse strategy threads in the community — even with insider knowledge of the game maths, stat checking and experience on our side.
It’s almost certain that, deep within the shadows of the Undiscovered Realms of Gameplay, there’s much more knowledge awaiting all of us. Some secrets are known internally by QCF, discovered by accident or placed deliberately, waiting for the player community to find and use them. Others have probably been discovered by isolated gamers, who exploit their benefits while the dev squad and greater community remain oblivious. And some may still lie in wait, discovered by no one, yet so nearly within our collective grasp.
An unassuming item today could be the key to tomorrow’s killer strat. A hitherto-unused boon may have a special synergy with certain rare finds. And through it all, we’ll continue doing our job: ensuring that we are masters of a game that has proven time and again that true mastery will always be impossible.
It’s one of the most rewarding Sisyphean tasks we can think of.