Canadian Game Awards spotlight – interview with Cadence of Hyrule’s Ryan Clark

Brace Yourself Games, an indie developer in Vancouver, saw quite the response during the first annual Canadian Game Awards. The studio walked away with four awards for its 2019 title Cadence of Hyrule.

The studio was formed in 2013 and put itself on the map with the roguelike rhythm game Crypt of the NecroDancer. In 2015, Crypt of the NecroDancer saw overwhelming positivity surrounding the game’s mechanics and soundtrack upon its release. Brace Yourself lead Ryan Clark approached Nintendo for permission to use The Legend of Zelda IP as DLC content for their game. Fast-forward a few years, and that initial project has turned into a fully realized standalone crossover title. 

Cadence of Hyrule maintains the base gameplay structure Brace Yourself Games created for Crypt of the NecroDancer, but places it in The Legend of Zelda universe. It featured locations, characters, and tracks from the franchise. Cadence of Hyrule became a standout title, especially in the Canadian games industry.

Brace Yourself Games has been working hard throughout these seven years. The studio has developed three pieces of DLC for Cadence of Hyrule. On top of that, Phantom Bridges and Industry of Titans have both launched in Early Access on PC.

We spoke to Ryan Clark to hear him reflect on the studio’s successes and how he felt winning four awards during the Canadian Game Awards.

Steve: BYG has been developing games for seven years at this point. Sitting in the tail end of 2020, how do you feel about the studio’s successes so far?

Ryan: Thanks for asking that question! It is nice to stop every now and then and think about what you’ve accomplished, but with the hustle of shipping games and prototyping new ones, we generally don’t take as much time to reflect as we should.

Since starting in 2013 we have shipped Crypt of the NecroDancer (and its “AMPLIFIED” DLC), Cadence of Hyrule (plus three DLCs), Industries of Titan (Early Access), and Phantom Brigade (Early Access). We are very fortunate that all of our games have been financially and critically successful thus far, and that financial success means that we have the luxury to take our time and develop our games in a low-stress environment. Making well-received games with a fun group of talented game developers – it really doesn’t get much better than this! We are extremely lucky, and we know it.

What was the overall reception the studio had to not only be nominated but win four awards, including Game of the Year, during the Canadian Game Awards?

We were completely shocked. We have won the occasional award in the past, but we’ve never had success on this scale! Given the outstanding games we were up against, we were hoping for a single win, maybe two if we were lucky. To win four awards, including Game of the Year, we were dumbfounded and elated!

Brace Yourself Games has a fairly diverse team. Do you find that developing a team with different backgrounds and experiences helps bring a distinctive voice to the games the studio develops?

We certainly do believe that diversity is strength. We have staff that are brand new to the industry, as well as some with 15+ years of experience. We have people from all walks of life, and from all over the world. This great variety of life experience results in a great variety of ideas. I think that people outside of the game industry tend to assume that most game design ideas come from game designers, but some of our most valuable ideas have come from outside of the design team!

Is there a certain quality or way BYG approaches game development that helps the studio set itself apart from other studios?

Yes, we do things a bit differently at BYG. First of all, we’ve developed a method that we believe helps to increase the likelihood that our games will be successful. I discuss that method frequently on my Clark Tank livestreams and videos.

Second, we try to keep our team sizes very small. Our core teams (the people who work full time on a single game) are always 7 people or fewer. This achieves a number of things: it forces us to be clever and innovative (since we cannot do some of the things that larger teams could do), it reduces risk since our budgets are correspondingly lower, and it forces us to focus on just the aspects of our games that are innovative and unique. We cannot add a ton of hand-authored content to our games — we just don’t have the resources. Instead, we try to produce replayability via game design depth and procedural generation.

You have been in the game industry for quite some time. How has it evolved in your eyes, and is there anything the industry can be doing better?

I think the biggest change in the game industry since I started in 2004 has been the rise of independent game development. Over time indies have enjoyed ever increasing access to distribution (on Steam, consoles, mobile, etc), and ever improving deal terms. Additionally, tools like Unity and Gamemaker have lowered the barrier to entry (not to mention contributions from companies like Valve, making the technical side of distribution more and more streamlined).

These tailwinds have helped propel a massive growth in the number of independent developers that can make a living in games, and as a result, we have seen an explosion in the types of games being made. You can’t look at the top sellers charts on any gaming storefront these days without seeing a massive number of independently developed games in the mix! That’s great news for players, as there are far more games for them to choose from as a result, and it’s great news for indies like us at BYG too!

Where do you hope to see Brace Yourself Games go from here? Are there any milestones you’re hoping to hit in the near future?

Now that Industries of Titan and Phantom Brigade are both in Early Access, we are working on monthly updates for each of them as we work towards their 1.0 launches! In the meantime we are experimenting with prototypes for entirely new games as we try to determine what’s next for BYG. Stay tuned!

Thank you to Ryan Clark for taking the time to speak with us.