Vampire Survivors, the interview with the author behind the game and the sudden success

Vampire Survivors, the interview with the author behind the game and the sudden success

Vampire Survivors

Luca Galante, a programmer originally from the Roman province, moved to London about 12 years ago, a sacrifice he decided to make in order to pursue his perennial dream of working in the video game industry. A possibility that, unfortunately, was not offered to him at all in the beautiful country. Just recently, his life was turned upside down by the practically sudden success of his Vampire Survivors, a roguelite RPG with semi-automated mechanics that, in the last month, has been depopulating and registering an impressive number of players. We caught up with him for a chat about his success, Vampire Survivors design, past and future plans.

Here's what he told us in the Vampire Survivors interview.

The main artwork of Vampire Survivors Luca, you told me you moved to London around 2010, what were you doing at the time?

Actually I didn't start working in the gaming industry right away, but the first job I found was in the slot machines field. I stayed there for several years, getting to grips with Javascript, HTML5 and in general working on various web applications of the same gameplay concept. But clearly it wasn't the kind of job I wanted to do forever, not that this is meant to be a judgment on this type of game, at least, unlike others, slots are strictly regulated!

Have you tried to looking for a role as a game designer?

Yes, especially in the run-up to the pandemic, I actively searched for a role in the industry, but it didn't go well at all. Even once one of the various recruiters, hearing that I wanted to be a game designer, laughed in my face! In short, things hadn't gotten any easier, even though I already had several years of experience in programming.

While your passion for video games actually comes from a PC game: Ultima Online, which you worked on as a private server admin, as well as a creator of additional content.

That's right, I've always been passionate about the idea of ​​adding content to Ultima Online, a game that has greatly influenced me as a designer and I would say also on a graphic level. In particular, I have always loved the idea that there was the permanence of objects, instead of disappearing as happens in most modern RPGs. It was enough to go back and the player would have found all the loot. On the other hand I have also done the dungeon master for Dungeon & Dragons several times, I really have the passion to create contents, characters, objects, weapons ...

When you started taking the first steps on the development of Vampire Survivors, what was your original idea?

Since I had no way of making my dreams as a game designer come true, I thought I just wanted to make a game that could come as close as possible to what I enjoyed playing. So, something that didn't take up too much time and that maybe you could play even during a morning session on the stationary bike. For inspiration I went back to review many of the games I loved in the past, such as Bayonetta or Dynasty Warriors, and I noticed how the idea of ​​player feedback was essential. So I wanted a title that communicated with the player, but at the same time automates some of the gameplay aspects thus making it lighter and more immediate.

I think your experience with slot machines has also had its weight.

It may not be obvious to a player, but behind a seemingly simple mechanism like that of a slot machine, there is a lot of study. In the end it is a machine to press a single button on and behind that button there must be a way to keep the player attached to the machine as much as possible, so also a delicate balance between reward and difficulty.

On my first game of Vampire Survivors, I immediately thought "this looks just like the product of a Castlevania enthusiast", guess what?

Yes, I've played them all! But to be honest, the original idea wasn't to pay homage or tribute to Igarashi's series at all, because I actually bought those assets 5-6 years ago! During this time I have continued to use them in various prototypes which have not resulted in any full games. In the end, it was practically a coincidence that the whole game has this very vampire aspect, even if it is certainly close to my passions.

As for the names of the characters (like Gennaro and Pasqualina Belpaese) instead. ..

[laughs] There it is all my fault, I had put these temporary names with this high school humor with the idea of ​​changing them later. By now, however, the thing has gotten out of hand and I think it is too late to change them without causing disasters! Basically the family of vampire hunters in Survivors, it seems, are distant relatives of the Belmont and come from the province of Avellino ...

A screenshot of Vampire Survivors As for the gameplay inspirations, I noticed how Survivors strikes a delicate balance between what is automated and what remains in the player's choice. What was your idea about it?

Well, I've seen many comparisons in recent months among articles and comments from the community, yet there is one rather obvious that for now no one seems to have grasped: Pac-man. If you think about it it works in a very similar way, you command a sprite that can only move in four directions. At first you have to keep away from enemies, then take a power-up and then it's your turn to attack as much as possible, then start over. Survivors works in a very similar way: by automating the attack, the player is able to concentrate on something else. In fact, I have seen many people playing it as a pastime while doing other things, for example streamers on Twitch using it while having a chat with the chat. I really like that as an idea: I wanted Survivors to use the "reptilian" part of the brain a little, the more instinctive one.

The game exploded in no time, how was the story of its release?

I originally released it on Android, let's talk about April or May 2021. The engine was very slow and the too many enemies on screen made the gameplay rather tiring. Actually, what I was interested in was not so much selling a title, but rather having constructive feedback on what I could improve on the gameplay. In fact, it is basically for that reason that, after putting it on Itch, I also decided to make a version of it on Steam in December. At that moment some more comments began to arrive, but in short it was still a rather small community. Soon after, SplatterCat's attention on Twitch came and things quickly took off.

As for the transition from Android to Itch to Steam, how have audience interactions changed between the free and paid versions?

I was amazed to discover that, despite the presence of a free version, many still prefer to access the paid version. Even when the gameplay characteristics, between the two free and paid versions, were substantially identical, the amount of people who decided to buy the game on Steam was still higher than those on Itch. Obviously, players still want to have it in their collection or at least make sure they can access it at any time.

Did the success of Vampire Survivors change your plans?

I would say it would be more correct to say that it has upset me! [laughs] Consider I quit my previous job in December and started a new one in January, from which I quit just yesterday! From now on my plan is to devote myself full time to fixing Vampire Survivors as well as working on the content that is missing, on the other hand we are still just over half of what I would like to put into the game, before considering it really complete.

Vampire Survivors has a minimal design How many players have you reached at the moment?

I can't reveal the total numbers, but at the moment the peak is over fifty thousand players simultaneously and a daily average of two hundred thousand. In all, about half a million people have played the online version.

In fact, you didn't plan to do any marketing, so success pretty much came by itself ...

That's right Indeed I remember that on the Android version I had put some stupid screenshots to try to grab some attention. A total failure. On that I can be honest: it was really all luck. I never had a plan for Vampire Survivors that went beyond simply publishing a game that could be fun and please me first and foremost.

Trivial but obligatory question: what are the plans for the future of the game ?

As mentioned, we are at about 60% of the total content that I would like to include in the game, so surely we are talking about inserting other weapons, other characters and, of course, other levels as well. The total will be five, from the current three, which is actually one bonus. With the arrival of the other features there will certainly also be a price increase, but in short, we are talking about about $ 4 so it will still remain accessible to the majority of the public. I am also working to bring the game to a new engine that will certainly make it easier to use, so maybe even to be converted for other platforms in the future, certainly including Switch. Soon the Steam Deck comes out and I think Vampire Survivors is pretty much perfect for that new platform. At the moment, I'm also looking for some pixel artists who can work on art design, because in the end between those old sprites and the free tileset from the RPG Maker forums, I'd like to have a much more coherent and compact artistic style. Of course, without losing the original look, I certainly don't want to upgrade. I would also like to add more sounds and a more complete soundtrack. Finally, my plans now are to launch my studio and work with other programmers, but at the moment it is still very much in the pipeline. Besides, I'm certainly not a businessman, so I have to be very careful!

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