Today, Dead Cells may look like a Metroidvania drizzled in Dark Souls, but when it started out it was more like a tower defence game, melee weapons barely featured.
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“When we started out, Dead Cells had a tower defence aspect to it," producer Steve Filby tells Gamasutra. "You can see the legacy of that in a lot of the skills that are available, like all of the turrets and the things you can throw down and leave. They were the primary weapons when we first started development.”
That first plan didn't work out, though. “We realised that wasn’t very fun," Filby continues. "So, we moved away from that, and we said ‘Ok, we’ll take ownership of the action platformer side of things and moved to a full action platformer."
Rather than throw out what they'd made entirely, Sebastien Bernard, Dead Cells lead developer took his love for Team Fortress 2's engineer and worked it into the game. Filby tells Gamastura how he remembers Bernard explaining what made the engineer tick: "By yourself, you’re not all that strong, but you can use your extra skills to just dominate."
As the game became more action-oriented it needed more melee weapons. Rather than lift the system from Dark Souls, where you can spend currency earned in-game to buff and bolster your weapon's strength, Motion Twin didn't want players to hold onto the weapons but be encouraged and willing to change them for more powerful, differently-behaving ones.
"We’re making a game that’s faster-paced – that’s more focused on frenetic action – and is a rogue-lite, so based on runs," Filby explains. "So, the idea is to let players try new weapons and see if they have a synergy with a secondary you’ve got. Play around with it. Have fun. Don’t get too attached to one weapon, and don’t work too much towards always having the same play style.”
Players who try to stick with what they're comfortable with will find the weapons are less effective as the difficulty and health of the enemies around them scale up. The power of weapons you find, even if they aren't initially what you'd like to use, is a temptation to get you to change things up.
There's loads more information in the feature on Gamasutra, I recommend giving it a read – like how they made the weapons feel hefty and got the characters to move with a believable flexibility.