Gaming

How Loop Hero went from “completely unplayable” to indie sensation

“We’re still pretty shocked.”

Being trapped in a repetitive loop might not sound like escapism right now.

But for many among its half-a-million strong player base, the indie sensation Loop Hero is an all-consuming obsession. On paper, it’s a mash-up of genres that brings to mind chucking half a decade’s worth of gaming buzzwords into a blender, but the resulting concoction is fiendishly addictive and refreshingly unique. You’re a wandering amnesiac protagonist, endlessly journeying across a decaying world. Each completed circuit brings new monsters and recollections of the old world, allowing you to rebuild your surroundings in increasingly complex ways. It may look simple at first glance, but once it clicks, Loop Hero hooks its claws into you and doesn’t go.

On the heels of Hades and Valheim, Loop Hero is another unlikely indie game that’s found a massive audience as the real world’s ground to a halt. Composer and game designer Aleksandr "Blinch" Goreslavets is as surprised as anyone by the game’s sudden popularity.

Loop Hero was never meant to be a hit,” he tells Inverse an infectious laugh and a disbelieving shake of the head.

Blinch spoke with Inverse about how a botched game jam sparked a global sensation, and how the small team of four friends from Russia known as Four Quarters has handled the game’s massive success.

Four Quarters

An inauspicious start

The first time Four Quarters showed Loop Hero to the public, it didn’t even work.

Entering the game into 2019’s Ludum Dare, a renowned Russian indie game jam competition, their five-year-old idea was finally ready to share with the world. Or so they thought.

“The game build was completely unplayable,” Blinch recalls with a wince, “It was just the hero walking around and not even having encounters with enemies. It was actually a really peaceful game.”

Despite this very public coding blunder, all the other core gameplay elements were in place for Loop Hero. So, after years of building prototypes they never actually finished, Four Quarters decided to double down on the idea, sending out a fully working demo to their friends. “We immediately got really positive feedback,” says Blinch, “and we decided to really polish this and make Loop Hero a fully finished game.”

Their friends weren’t just being polite. Despite garnering little press in the run-up to release, in its first seven days on sale, Loop Hero shifted an impressive 500,000 copies. To put that into perspective, that’s more sales than publisher Devolver Digital’s best-known indie darling, 2012’s Hotline Miami, managed in seven weeks.

“We're all still pretty shocked,” Blinch says with a laugh. It’s another air-punching hurrah for the indie underdog, but what makes this success story all the more impressive are Four Quarters’ modest origins.

Four Quarters

For the love of the game

While many indie outfits are formed from the remnants of larger studios, these four mates from Russia have no such pedigree. Without a single AAA studio on their respective resumes (or indeed a AAA studio in Russia at all), these creators came together purely for the sheer love of making video games. Aside from enjoying mild success with their 2015 release Please Don’t Touch Anything, making games wasn’t a career — it was just something they did for the hell of it.

Now, Four Quarters has found a large and devoted fanbase almost overnight. Yet for all the images this may conjure up of boozy celebrations and bloated bank balances, there’s a far more stressful reality to a tiny team finding huge success.

“We were just not prepared for this many players,” Blinch explains over Zoom, looking visibly tired. “After we launched, we started seeing a lot of bug reports popping up on Steam. We did a lot of testing before release, of course — we tested ourselves every day, and there were no big issues. But when 50,000 people are playing your game at once, a minor bug that affects one percent of players now affects hundreds of people. Suddenly there are thousands of bug reports and you’re getting lots of negative feedback. It’s tough.”

With the team working around the clock and even drafting in friends to help put out virtual fires, the work on Loop Hero feels far from done – and that’s before they even add anything new to the game.

“The worst part is that we finally made a patch that fixes all these little bugs… but then something went very wrong and this patch created a bunch of new, much worse bugs,” he laughs.

Yet for Blinch and the team, this is far from the most stressful part of Loop Hero’s development. Back in December 2020, grueling work hours had finally started to take their toll. “It was a really full-on part of development and we were all beginning to feel really burnt out,” recalls Blinch,” We were just working all day around the clock.”

For a while, Blinch and coder Aleksandr Vartazarian — who goes by the nickname Finlal — were worried they couldn’t go on, until they discovered a game that brought back their mojo: Slay the Spire.

“We fell in love. I start playing every evening, turn by turn with Finlal over Discord, trying to beat this game until we'd finished it with every class,” Blinch explains. “It's just a really genius game, and it really helped to inspire us and help us de-stress during a tough period of development.”

Blinch and Finlal doing the Dragon Ball Fusion Dance.Aleksandr "Blinch" Goreslavets

Future loop

With more players completing the game every day, and fan art flooding their socials, what’s next for Loop Hero? Well, it’s far more than just a slew of bug fixes. Initially, players can expect a wealth of quality of life improvements, including the much-requested ability to save during expeditions, new speed settings, and a deck of traits gained from bosses. After that, Blinch reveals that entirely new content will be coming to Loop Hero, including new cards, transformations, classes, and even new itching to get their Loop on?

“We want to port Loop Hero to mobile and Switch — we can't say right now when it will happen, but we have already started planning it.”

So how does the creator of an indie gaming sensation pitch his best-selling game to any curious onlookers?

“My pitch for Loop Hero is don't expect too much,” he explains with a laugh. “Don't get angry because of the hype, it's not AAA – it's just a little experiment — a tiny, interesting game. So, don't expect too much… please.”

It’s comforting to see the creator of a hugely successful game just as crippled by impostor syndrome as the rest of us. Yet despite Blinch’s downplaying of its brilliance, make no mistake – Loop Hero is one of the most inventive and satisfying roguelikes of recent years.

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