‘Balatro’ Interview: LocalThunk on the Mobile Version, Balatro’s Concept, Design, the Demo’s Importance, Future Plans, and More

This year has been amazing for games and we are still just in the first quarter. I already have multiple Game of the Year contenders in my lists for all platforms, and one specific game near the top is Balatro from LocalThunk and Playstack. I tried Balatro because a friend of mine praised the demo and I ended up adoring it. It has basically consumed most of my free time since getting it for review. Following the game’s launch, I recently had a chance to discuss the upcoming mobile port, the game’s design, the music, potential DLC, and a lot more with developer LocalThunk.

TouchArcade (TA): I scored Balatro 5/5 on Switch and have played it regularly since getting it for review. How did you come up with the concept for it?

LocalThunk (LT): The concept started as inspiration from the real playing card game Big 2 and videos I had watched about Luck Be a Landlord, but mostly it evolved naturally as I explored the design of Balatro early on.

TA: One thing that makes Balatro stand out is how it doesn’t have tons of health bars or attack numbers and such, keeping Poker at the forefront while still maintaining the complexity of a deep roguelike deckbuilder. Was this always how you wanted it to be for the players?

LT: Yes! Those same themes always put me off of games. I dislike the ‘gamery’ language of fantasy and combat that seem to be way overrepresented in video games. Since Balatro is ultimately a game for me, I wanted to lean on different verbiage and visuals.

TA: How important were the Steam demos you did pre-release for player feedback?

LT: They were instrumental. This game really became the strategy game it is now because of the iteration I was able to do with the community over time. Many mistakes were made and many systems were modified, but that all benefited Balatro as a game in the end.

TA: Balatro feels perfect on Steam Deck and Switch with touch controls. I need a mobile version to play on iPad and iPhone. I know you said it was on the cards, but can you give us a bit more information on what we should expect for Balatro on mobile?

LT: I think you could expect pretty much the same experience you have now! I will need to evaluate and possibly tweak UI things to ensure it does play properly on a phone but I am sure that it will work out great.

TA: How was it working on Balatro for all consoles and PC at the same time? Were there any issues with updates or platform-specific issues?

LT: This was a ton of work. Luckily I had great help porting the game over to Xbox and Playstation, but Switch was the biggest bottleneck in terms of performance. I spent a very long time optimizing the game for all platforms to get Balatro to a quality standard for each. Luckily that optimization was shared between all versions.

TA: Are there plans to bring in more Jokers or deck types in updates or DLC?

LT: Most likely! I don’t have any specific things to mention for those future plans yet but I’ll let everyone know when there are details to share.

TA: Balatro’s audio design is excellent with its satisfying sound effects, but the real star is the music. The main theme is legendary now, and I even listen to it through the Steam soundtrack outside the game. How many different versions were considered before settling on this final theme?

LT: I spent a long time sifting through freelance musician portfolios before finding LouisFSoundtracks. He did a really wonderful job, and it took a few back-and-forth iterations to get just right but not that long. He took my wacky requirements and really knocked it out of the park!

TA: While Balatro has a good progression system for unlocking new content, you also have an unlock all option that disables achievements or trophies on a profile. What led you to adding this option when not many games do something like it?

LT: I personally would never click that option myself, nor would I in other games, but when it was suggested I thought – why wouldn’t I add that as an option? It’s simply a net positive mechanic.

TA: Congrats on Balatro selling over 500k units already (Editor’s Note: This interview was done before the 1 million sales milestone was announced). Did you expect to see this many sales so soon?

LT: When I first put the Steam store page live in May I was expecting to sell possibly 2 copies. So no, not at all! Even a week before launch we had no idea the reach this game would end up having.

TA: Back in 2012 or 2013, I used to watch Northernlion stream Spelunky a ton. Fast forward to today, I’m doing the same for Balatro and he’s gotten a lot of my friends into the game. How important has it been for you to see so many creators stream the demo pre-release?

LT: I was also watching him play back then! It’s obviously very important for the game – and I’m incredibly grateful that people choose to share this game on their stream. I try not to think about it too much because ultimately they choose my game for a reason too, and game devs struggle with imposter syndrome enough that it’s easy to think the only reason my game succeeded is because the right people played it at the right time. There is truth to that but I need to focus on the things I do have control over and hope that the quality of the game will eventually draw attention from streamers and media.

TA: Balatro is one of the highest rated games of the year with a 90+ Metacritic score across most platforms. Did you expect to see this reception pre-release?

LT: No! I think it’s pretty cool but also not something I think about very much. I made this game for me, after all, and while I love that others are able to connect with this experience I think that is secondary to my own opinion on this game. For me, I don’t know if I would have rated the game that highly.

TA: What are your plans for Balatro barring taking care of issues you find in the current game on console and PC?

LT: I’d love to keep working on it; making fixes, balance changes, and new content for the game! I think Balatro can be much improved.

TA: What should we expect from LocalThunk next?

LT: Well I’ll keep working on Balatro – but after that I’ll certainly be working on games for a long time! Likely as a solo dev still, probably in private until I have something pretty much finished to share.

TA: What was your favorite game of 2023, and what are you currently playing?

LT: I think the only new game I played in 2023 was Roadwarden, so probably that! Really loved the vibe and ambiance in that game, it felt like a fantasy novel. It was a very atypical game for me to enjoy. Currently – not playing all that much, but I was able to get a few games of Rocket League over the past week or so!

I’d like to thank LocalThunk and Wout from Playstack for their help and time here.

You can keep up with all our interviews here including our recent ones with Digital Extremes for Warframe mobile, Team NINJA, Sonic Dream Team, Hi-Fi Rush, Pentiment, and more.

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