Backpack Hero was released in demo form on Itch.io back on January 31. By May 7, the game was over 1000% funded on Kickstarter. It’s a roguelike with an interesting twist: Every item you acquire must be stored in your cramped backpack, and battles are fought by clicking on those items to use them in turn-based combat. The Escapist had the opportunity to interview Jasper Cole, one of the lead developers of the small indie team, to discuss how the idea for Backpack Hero came about and the game’s Kickstarter success.
Elise Avery, The Escapist: What was your career in games like before Backpack Hero?
Jasper Cole: I’ve been making games my whole life as a hobbyist. I started making them all the way back in middle school. I regularly participated in game jams and created many small games, free games, and mobile games. I have not worked for a major game studio or developer.
What inspired the idea for Backpack Hero? Did you think it would be a winning idea when you thought it up?
Jasper Cole: I was originally interested in deck-building roguelikes. I was experimenting with card games that were about card placement. Each turn you would draw cards, and the position where you played those cards was significant. This went through many different prototypes and iterations. At one point it was even a tower-defense card game! But eventually the idea morphed into inventory management. I was always a big fan of Deus Ex, and I loved inventory management in that game. It was definitely a big inspiration.
I never expected Backpack Hero to receive the response that it did. But I did know that the prototyping went really well. When I started putting things together I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited about it. Then one of my close friends played the game and immediately created a write-up and sent it to all of his friends. So I knew the game had a different reception from my previous games. Still, even now I’m continually surprised by how popular the game is! I feel really lucky!
What do you think contributed to your team’s Kickstarter success?
Jasper Cole: The demo on Itch.io was the biggest factor. People connected with the game and wanted to support it before the Kickstarter was even launched. My recommendation to other indie devs would be to create a demo or prototype of your game. If people enjoy it, they will want to support you. We also had support from some large streamers including Retromation, The Spiffing Brit, Sifd, NorthernLion, and SplatterCatGaming (among others). They made a huge difference.
Were you surprised by how well the Kickstarter went?
Jasper Cole: Absolutely shocked! We were really concerned that we wouldn’t hit the $20,000 goal. So when we reached it in just over a day the whole team was amazed. We still feel really lucky to get this support.
How did you go about making inventory management (something many players complain about) fun? Were there any challenges?
Jasper Cole: The game didn’t start from the perspective of, “How do I make inventory management fun?” So to some extent, the hard work was already complete by the time we shifted the game to inventory management. I’ve played a lot of games where inventory management is a huge part of the gameplay. Factorio and Valheim come to mind. In both games I spend a lot of time looking at my inventory, dragging things around, and shoving items in and out of chests. But it’s always just tedious micromanagement. I almost never make consequential decisions about what to carry. It’s always just: grab what you can and get the rest later.
Backpack Hero works because the placement of items is significant, so you spend time thinking about how you want things organized. Also, when something is left behind, it is lost, so you know that you’re making big decisions. Roguelikes are so great because you know your decisions matter, and that can transform mundane tasks into exciting games of strategy!
What’s it like to be an indie dev post-Kickstarter success? Has having your game funded affected your day-to-day routine?
Jasper Cole: Definitely! I’m spending a lot of my time working on the game! The game is in early access right now, and we hope to have the full game finished by April 2023. For now, I work on the game usually seven days a week. After the release we’ll have to slow down a bit. We also have to do a lot of management now. I spend time every day reading bug reports, sending out keys, and doing other administrative tasks that weren’t part of the job before.
What are you most proud of about your team’s game?
Jasper Cole: That’s a really hard question to answer! I’m proud of the whole thing. I’m constantly impressed with the music by Binary Counter and the art by Gangs Robin. I also love that we’re working on something new. There’s never been another game about inventory management before, and it makes me very happy to know that we’re contributing some new ideas and hopefully giving people a fun and unique experience.
Also, I’d like to shoutout our social media links:
Backpack Hero is out now in Steam Early Access, and we thank Jasper Cole for his time with this interview.
This interview has been edited for clarity.