‘Balatro is the first deckbuilder I ever played,’ says developer who singlehandedly made Balatro

We’re just over three weeks removed from the launch of smash hit roguelike Balatro, and I’ve already clocked over 45 hours in the game. I’m in deep—just last night I hit a 350 million point hand, and it’s still not enough. Others, too, are clearly smitten with the deckbuilder. Scores and strategies are still regularly discussed in PCG’s Slack channel, and the game itself sold over 500,000 copies in just its first 10 days on sale.

Despite making the best poker deckbuilding roguelike around, solo developer Localthunk told PC Gamer last month that he doesn’t play poker at all. Which is a surprise! But given how meticulously designed the game feels—and how neatly it sidesteps a lot of my frustrations with other games in its genre—surely he’s at least a deckbuilder fan? It turns out that, no, he hadn’t played those either.

“Balatro is the first deckbuilder I ever played!” says LocalThunk in a Reddit AMA he hosted yesterday on the r/games subreddit. Instead, he says that a huge inspiration for Balatro was watching YouTube’s Northernlion playing slot machine roguelike Luck Be a Landlord, and loving the core mechanics. “…After that I went cold turkey and avoided playing any others so I could really dig into the design space myself. I first played Slay the Spire after about 18 months of dev to learn how they handled controller support, and I’m glad I designed my game before doing that because I certainly would have taken some of the design ideas from that brilliant game.”

Despite assuming some of the choices made in Balatro were a direct response to classic deckbuilding mechanics, it turns out that a fresh pair of eyes working without the knowledge of the workings of the genre’s big names achieved a similar result. Which is neat.

Elsewhere in the AMA, LocalThunk confirms his plan to continue working on the game through updates and new features, saying he already has a lot of ideas for directions to take Balatro in the future—including new challenges, and even a daily run mode. Next on the list, though, appears to be a balance pass designed to mitigate how RNG dependent higher stakes runs can be—a common complaint among the community right now.

LocalThunk also dropped one particular stat that puts my 45 hours to shame: “The game has been played for well over 1500 years on steam at this point!” Not bad for someone’s first deckbuilder.

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