Vampire Survivors arrived on Steam in the figurative dead of night. It’s been quietly biding its time on Valve‘s storefront since December of last year, but only last month did the reverse bullet hell explode in popularity.
Now, Vampire Survivors‘ time has well and truly arrived. According to SteamDB, it’s one of the most played games on Steam, pulling ahead of titles like Dead By Daylight, Destiny 2 and plenty of other big names.
At the time of writing this – 2PM on a Thursday afternoon – there are just over 50,000 players busily fending off all manner of ghosts, bats and zombies. That’s a far cry from the humble 72 players it had on a similar Thursday back in December.
Needless to say, nobody was expecting Vampire Survivors – an arcadey survival game that looks suspiciously like Castlevania – to become as popular as it has, least of all the game’s creator – Luca ‘Poncle’ Galante.
Fancy a gothic horror bullet-hell?
— Luca (@poncle_soft) November 6, 2021
Sitting down to chat with NME, Galante’s got the energy of a man who’s just won the lottery: as he admits, the success of Vampire Survivors has exceeded his expectations “1,000 times over”, and it’s “changed everything” for him.
Galante’s excitement is palpable, and it also makes a lot of sense: not only has his game achieved astronomical success, he’s also chatting to us from the back of a huge decision.
“[Vampire Survivors has] changed everything. I had just started a new job just last week, and I had to leave yesterday because the game is doing so well and it requires so much attention for now. But I simply couldn’t keep the job and do this at the same time,” Galante reveals.
“I just felt like I didn’t have a choice, really. I just thought that I would regret not trying to spend as much time as I could on this. This is clearly a success, I spent almost nothing on the original game, I really wasn’t expecting this kind of attention – I just wanted a little something I could play and relax [with] over the weekend.”
Vampire Survivors. Credit: Poncle
Galante points to the Early Access warning on Vampire Survivors‘ Steam page and describes it as a “promise” to his community, adding that fulfilling the promises on that page “just wouldn’t have been possible if I’d kept my day job.”
While Galante’s as keen as he ever was to deliver on that promises, he says that he’s quickly realised that the scope of Vampire Survivors has perhaps grown beyond his capabilities as a one-man developer.
“As soon as I started to see the numbers go up, I immediately asked for help [from] anyone. I now have a few friends that are working on the game in the evenings mostly, when they have some spare time. A couple of them are working on parallel projects to port the game to a different engine, an engine that is a bit more standard. That will allow me to address issues with games not running on certain hardware and so on, and eventually port to other platforms – that will be great.”
On the topic of other platforms, Galante says he’d like to re-launch the game on mobile, after an attempted launch in May 2021 “ran so poorly that [I] just stopped developing it for mobile and put it on PC”. Although Galante clarifies that it’s “a bit too soon to talk about” any platforms beyond those two, he thinks Vampire Survivors “would be great for a Switch” and “just as good for the Steam Deck”.
Steam Deck. Credit: Valve
“At some point, yes – I would love to see the game on more platforms. Maybe it will need to be out of Early Access first, but I don’t know – I literally just set foot into the industry today and it’s huge – I’m still trying to find my way around it!”
On the game itself, many fans have been quick to point out Vampire Survivors‘ more than passing resemblance to Konami‘s Castlevania series. Breakout indie games of the past have often wore their heart on their sleeve – Stardew Valley‘s wholesome Harvest Moon vibe comes to mind – but for Vampire Survivors, that Castlevania resemblance was mostly unintentional.
“There is something that always blocked me when trying to make my own games. I usually start getting blocked by thinking about the lore behind things, trying to give meaning to everything in the title of the story, and compelling characters, and all of that. That definitely blocks me because I’m not that good at doing it. There are a lot of projects just thrown aside, just because I couldn’t do that. For Vampire Survivors, I actually wanted to finish something.”
Citing a game called Magic Survival as one of his inspirations, Galante originally just wanted to “try make my own version of the game just for fun”. The prototype was “ugly to look at but really fun to play, and that’s how we started.”
— Luca (@poncle_soft) January 30, 2022
“I just grabbed an asset pack that was clearly Castlevania inspired. I used the asset pack on every other project I have because I really like it a lot – so I just put on this one. I kept working on it and every time I would get that feeling of having to give meaning to something, I stopped myself, grabbed a random sprite from an asset pack, gave it a random name – that’s why the game is full of silly stuff that doesn’t make any sense – and just kept focusing on development, on the gameplay.
“And it works!” He continues. “But unfortunately, this also means that the theme of the game and the title and the items – literally everything about it – was born out of chance, it’s pure random. Then of course when you just try to think of the first silly things that comes to mind to put in, of course that’s going to get a bit personal. That’s why the characters are not from Transylvania, but they are from some country town from rural Italy, you know? Just stupid, silly things I’ve thrown in when I’ve had a chance. In the future, hopefully, we’ll be able to actually put out something that is a bit more serious – not necessarily – but just a bit more cohesive, maybe a little bit less random.”
Although Galante really likes the way Vampire Survivors looks, he’s currently looking for an “expert pixel artist” to give it a bit more cohesion.
Beyond that, Galante is happy to share certain plans for Vampire Survivors‘ direction, but in terms of specific content, he stays deliberately tight-lipped. Galante explains that he has a “secret roadmap” outlining future updates, but he’s not comfortable sharing it with the community because “expectations create pressure”.
Vampire Survivors. Credit: poncle
“I don’t want to have to put up a roadmap that will just lock me into making decisions that might end up being a disaster. In my experience, having plans that aren’t flexible doesn’t lead to anything good.”
That being said, Galante says there are “more characters, weapons, evolutions and stages” on the way. He adds that he’d like to set up tools for modders in the future, however notes he “cannot support them right now as much as I’d like” due to the game’s ever-shifting nature in development. Mysteriously, Galante does tease two big features. One of which is “a surprise” that he aims to launch next month and the other is a story mode, though he wants to remain flexible on that feature.
“Right now, nobody cares about story. What’s even the point, right? It’s like a fever dream – what’s the point? So instead of story mode we’ll try to do something else that the community actually wants. Something else that might take the spot is probably endless mode – again, it’s still a bit in the air, but that is probably the direction it is going to go. We’re still on track to actually get out of Early Access by the end of the year, at least.”
That idea of Vampire Survivors being a fever dream is one that’s ingrained in Galante’s plans for development. With confidence, he says that he does “Not plan on nerfing anything,” though he does add that he had to step in when a bug caused players with high monitor refresh rates to have far stronger weapons than those with lower rates. Other than that, he just plans to keep throwing things in and see what works: “that’s how we started and that is very often how it keeps going.”
“Thank you – I don’t know how to say thank you any more, because I really wasn’t expecting this. I’m really grateful that people are enjoying the game and being so understanding about the technical difficulties here and there…I think the best thing I can do for now is to try and keep delivering the game and promises made in Early Access.”
For Galante, giving the community what they’ve paid for is his first priority. But beyond that, the developer has a big dream – one that he thinks was worth quitting his day job for.
“My goal right now is of course to take this wave of luck and try to turn it into something concrete – I would love to have my own studio at some point!”
If you’d like to sink your teeth into Vampire Survivors, it’s available to buy in Early Access via Steam.