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“Peggle mixed with a dungeon crawler” sounds like a natural fit for an intriguing game. Yet since Peggle’s peg-smashing debut in 2007, no one has fulfilled the promise of this chocolate-and-peanut butter formula.
This puzzler, a blending of Peggle and roguelites like Slay the Spire, is the debut for Wonderbelly Games, which launched it earlier this year on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and iOS (part of Apple Arcade). It’s one of my favorite games of the year (so much so I play it on three platforms). It’s charming, with cute characters and fun music, but it also provides that “just one more run” challenge you get from the best roguelites. And it’s a fantastic game to play with your kids, helping them figure out how to stack powers and gear to build strong characters.
Considering how much I enjoyed the game, I wanted to learn the story behind Roundguard’s creation. I talked with Andrea and Bob Roberts, a married couple and two-thirds of Wonderbelly. They’ve both worked in triple-A game development. Andrea worked at Microsoft for nine years, including as a senior game designer, focusing on narrative and UX. The Fable series is among her game-dev credits. Bob worked 12 years at Monolith and was the design director on Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and the lead designer for Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (among other credits).
Both have impressive careers in triple-A game dev, but they both wanted to do something different, so they went indie. Along with Kurt Loidl, they started Wonderbelly and got to work. Roundguard is a product of their love of games like Peggle, RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons, and whimsy art.
They also found a fantastic way to frame the game — as you make your runs, the presentation is like that of a stage show. At times it feels a bit like a play, and at others it comes across as an episode of The Price Is Right.
This is an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: How did Roundguard come about? This is a very charming game. It’s a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. How did Wonderbelly decide this was what you were doing?
Andrea Roberts: There are three of us at Wonderbelly. Kurt Loidl is our third partner in crime. We were all sitting around thinking about our next project. Bob and Kurt and I have known each other a long time and have worked on a bunch of mostly smaller hobby projects while we were all working in triple-A on other big things.
Right before we started with Roundguard, Bob and I had our first kid. I was working at Microsoft. Bob was working at Monolith Games as a design director over there. At the time, I was ready to move on from Microsoft and do something new. I’d been there for a decade. We’d just had a kid. I wasn’t looking forward to trying to balance a kid and triple-A game development at the same time between the two of us. So I had left and was being a stay-at-home mom with her, but I also didn’t want to go insane. I wanted to keep up working on something. We got together to say, “OK, let’s pick a fun small project.” Like I said, we worked on a handful of little projects in the past. One of our favorites was physics-based. We knew that there was a lot of fun to be had with physics, with something that’s really intuitive but has a lot of complexity in it. We were just really attracted to that. We’d been brainstorming a bunch of little ideas. After, I don’t know, idea 15 or something, I remember I said the words “Peggle RPG” and we just immediately jumped on it and had written up a one-pager in a few minutes, basically outlining the idea. It clicked really fast. We had a great picture of what it could be. Then we got to working on it. It became a lot bigger than we thought it was going to be.
GamesBeat: What brought you to thinking about Peggle and RPG? That’s a mix that I’m not sure a lot of people would have come to.
Bob Roberts: There was, a while back — there was Bejeweled and the match-3 puzzle game types of stuff, Puzzle Quest, and other people doing RPG plus match-3, that kind of casual-plus-RPG mashup. The RPG mashup gives it a lot of fun, sticky, long-term reward loop stuff. We love RPGs, and we’re into collecting loot and building combos and whatever. But we were always such big fans of Peggle. Popcap made Bejeweled and Peggle, and they had all these great, satisfying casual game core mechanics.
Andrea Roberts: Bob and I, in our design jobs, we’d always used the phrase “Peggle it up.” We need to punch this up, get some more fun feedback. It had always been something in our personal vocabulary, something we loved and had a good connection to. It’s something that felt so good.
Bob Roberts: When I was at Monolith, the UI designer there that I worked with for a long time was — he started a little frustrated but came to embrace it. I would always ask him to “Peggle it up some more” when I wanted him to put more celebration and punch into a UI moment, a level-up moment, or an unlock or something. That crazy over-the-top rainbows shooting out at everyone and “Ode to Joy” and all that stuff. It became a good reference point for going over the top with the feedback.
Andrea Roberts: We were noodling on physics. Combining two things that we had a lot of love for just made a lot of sense.
Bob Roberts: We immediately Googled — “OK, has this been done before? Someone has probably done this by now.” But we didn’t find anything. “OK, we’d better do it quick.”
GamesBeat: As I was prepping for the interview, I noticed that nobody had done this before and I thought that this seems like a natural idea for a game.
Andrea Roberts: That’s the thing. It’s been fun to hear how much — we get the feedback of, “This is the game that I always wanted, but I didn’t realize it until now. Why didn’t somebody do this before?” We felt the same way as soon as we thought about it.