You probably haven’t heard about Damien Crawford before, but you’ll wish you had. The indie developer has been making games under the name of Cannibal Interactive on Itch.io with titles like My Older Sister Left The Computer So I Got On & Found Myself Trying To Coordinate A Raid In A Game & I Don’t Play MMO’s and This Dungeon Only Gets Worse As You Go Further, mixing solid mechanics with bizarre ideas and a dollop of charm.
Crawford’s latest game, the roguelite RPG Purgatory Dungeoneer, is a little different in a couple of ways. Firstly, they are teaming up with indie developers Strange Scaffold as a publisher, marking the first time the Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator developer has stepped into publish another developers games. Also, the title is significantly shorter.
“Our original working title for it was My Grandpa Died and All He Left Me Was This One Dungeon In Purgatory Filled With Nihilistic Adventurers’” says Crawford, laughing. “But Strange Scaffold decided that was too long of a name.”
“Honestly though, I do prefer to have my game titles also function as the pitch.” says Crawford, the developer of I Have Low Stats But My Class Is “Leader”, So I Recruited Everyone I Know To Fight The Dark Lord. However, while it would be easy to write these off as indie curios based on the outlandish titles, a lot of work goes into each game and they often succeed at what they’re trying to do.
Purgatory Dungeeoner then, is the American Crawford’s take on the mining towns that sprung up around the United States. “I think about how you have this mine that springs up and people kind of build around it,” says Crawford. “I thought the fantasy equivalent would be if people built around dungeons, and then thought about a more Harvest Moon take and thought: What if you actually inherited this mine – this dungeon – where nobody is around because it’s completely defunct?”
It’s also, mechanically, a 15-minute RPG with roguelike elements that starts with you strolling into a guild and recruiting a party of characters – often five – from the game’s cast of 400 characters and then spelunking your way into a hellmouth as your own personal way to deal with grief. You’ll return with gold and equipment to upgrade yourself for future runs, helping you get ever-closer to success.
You can fight your way through different biomes and mix things up with some of the game’s 100 classes, but you’re ultimately just fighting your way through five rooms, completing a battle in each and then choosing which exit you want to take to determine what items you might find as your adventure continues.
With nine years of game development experience, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this could be a big release for Crawford. They admit that they’ve gotten into a routine where they’ll make weird games as fast as possible, making a variety of games that have been put together in a week or even, in some cases, left to gestate for as long as a month. Purgatory Dungeoneer, in the meantime, is a little more involved. “There’s a lot that goes into it,” Crawford explains. “After all, the cast has over 400 characters and each of them are completely unique. This is a real undertaking.”
Narratively, Purgatory Dungeeoner is also Crawford coming to terms with their own age. “I’ve never much cared for those RPGs where the oldest character is maybe 30 years old. Everybody in these games is 20 years old and trying to save the world, but that feels like a hell of a task to ask of anybody, let alone six 20 year olds. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to wonder what happens to retired adventurers and I wanted to ask “why do people start adventuring, and why do they stop?”
These heroes, explains Crawford, have already had their stories told so you don’t need to worry so much about what’s going to happen next, but what has led them to this point.
For anyone that has watched the over-eager heroes of countless Final Fantasy games, this could come as a breath of fresh air. Take Barrett Wallace, the veteran guerrilla and father figure who sticks around for Final Fantasy 7’s plot despite being at the venerable age of 35. Or the ageing Auron, who fights to save the world in Final Fantasy X despite also being in his mid-thirties.
Still, if fans of the Final Fantasy series are feeling seen by these comments, Crawford isn’t one of them.
“I haven’t played most Final Fantasy games. I’ve played Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Advanced, Tactics Advanced 2…” Crawford laughs. “I haven’t played the vast majority of the Final Fantasy [series]. Which is surprising to a lot of people. It’s interesting how much of the games that people believe to be a part of the ‘RPG Canon’ that I’ve just never been interested in.”
Instead, Crawford says their first ever games set things in motion for their tastes: “it was my eighth Christmas. I got a Game Boy Color, I got Pokémon Blue, and I got Dragon Warrior 3. That really set the tone for me moving forwards.”
While they describe a deep love of games like Secret of Mana and Chrono Cross – which Crawford describes as an inspiration on their work due to the varied cast of diverse and interesting characters – Crawford said that they play multiple RPGs to see the trappings and understand how they work, often on handheld consoles. “I want to know what the trappings of them are and what to twist around, because I don’t wanna make the same thing everyone else is. If I see something like Undertale, when that got popular, if I tried to make Undertale I’m already two years behind, you know? It’s not interesting.”
But Crawford is still mostly interested in making something that feels, at its core, a true RPG. Crawford adds: “there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, but with my games it’s like, here’s the blueprint for a wheel, let’s make it out of some different materials this time.”
For RPG fans, especially those of a fantasy persuasion, Crawford says that there will be “definitely be some things you recognise” like character classes and races and even some fantasy tropes like minotaurs, gnomes and hulking warriors. “You’ll also soon realise you have access to, say, vampire maids or centaur acrobats and bizarre traits and classes for those who want to find them.”
Crawford spends a few moments extolling the virtues of different classes before explaining: “I wanted to make a game that anybody could play, but if you’re into RPGs this is extremely for you.”