Category Archives: Interview

Prison Architect Interview

Rising from the ashes of the long-delayed Subversion, Introversion Software’s Prison Architect has caused quite a stir for not only resisting the indie scene’s current love affair with Kickstarter, but also doing it in style. With overall revenues of the alpha fund campaign sitting at well over £200,000, it’s safe to say that plenty of people are pretty buzzed to incarcerate, rehabilitate and maybe even execute some digital felons. So then, what better time to sit down with Introversion’s very own Mark Morris (Managing Director) to discuss the finer points of the alpha funding craze, the touchy subject of prisons abroad, and spending over a decade being a Indie?

Indie Statik: You guys have been in business for way longer than a lot of other indie outfits out there, so how have you seen the indie landscape change in the 11 years since Uplink?

Mark Morris: It’s changed hugely. When we started there was no digital distribution – we had to physically print the labels and burn the CDs. Steam (and the rest) have radically improved routes to market. There’s also a whole indie genre now that didn’t exist back in 2000.

Indie Statik: Is it all for the better, or do you think some things have gotten worse?

Mark Morris: It’s 90% for the better I think. Marketing is a little harder than it used to be, but I think we are living in a golden age for indies.

Indie Statik: It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a new, non-multiplayer game from Introversion. Has it been easy to jump back into the saddle with a single-player focused title?

Mark Morris: Yeah, it’s easier. Chris Delay, [the dude what makes the games] had the vision for Prison Architect and didn’t really see any multiplayer options. It’s quite a relief to get away from all the networking headaches!

Indie Statik: Is multiplayer something you’d be open to in the future?

Mark Morris: For version 1 of Prison Architect it’ll definitely be singleplayer only. We have some cool plans for map share and video stuff, but nothing more than that. If the game does well enough we may consider some multiplayer, but it’s not on the table at the moment.

Indie Statik: In previous Introversion games the player has always been detached from reality in some way, has it felt different making something more “real” this time?

Mark Morris: I don’t think this is more “real” than Uplink or DEFCON. You played a real-world Hacker, then a real-world General and now a real-world Prison Architect!

Indie Statik: So putting a face and a name to those you influence or kill hasn’t changed anything?

Mark Morris: There is a very different tone to Prison Architect and we are very aware of that. We spend a lot of time making sure that we think hard about the issues and try to represent a balanced and well thought-out game. We don’t want to glorify or trivialise prisons. In that regard it’s very challenging.

Indie Statik: Is the setting of Prison Architect drawing more from “real life” prisons than fictional depictions of prisons?

Mark Morris: Not really. It’s heavily influenced by prison media, but we do have an ex-prisoner and a UK prison officer advising us.

Indie Statik: Will it be mainly from a British angle then? Or will we see cultural and social elements from other countries?

Mark Morris: That’s a very interesting question. We are British, and we draw heavily on our own understanding of prisons. But most of the media is American; Shawshank, Green Mile, Prison Break etc etc. So it’s kind of a middle ground. We’re actually trying hard not to situate it. There should be a question in the players mind about where this prison is geographically and what year it is. We’re deliberately obscuring those issues.

Indie Statik: Will the player be able to take their own stance on divisive subjects like executions in the story campaign, or is the law “the law” in Prison Architect?

Mark Morris: There’s less choice in the story, but 100% freedom of action in the sandbox. As the story rolls forward it’ll become less directive than it currently is, but it’s hard to tell a story if you don’t maintain some control over the direction the player takes

Indie Statik: Going back to geography a sec, what’s the donation divide been like from the US compared to UK?

Mark Morris: Hmm – I’m not sure if I actually know the answer myself. Hang on a sec……….

Indie Statik: Haha! Well I got a lot more from that question than I was expecting!

Mark Morris: Yeah me too! I didn’t even know we had that view in google analytics!

Indie Statik: Oh wow, I notice there’s not much difference between the two donation amounts!

Mark Morris: Yeah, it’s pretty much neck and neck at the moment!

Indie Statik: Anyway, will it ever be possible for someone to make a “perfect prison” in Prison Architect, one that basically runs itself?

Mark Morris: We’re trying to balance things so that it should ultimately be possible to make a “perfect prison”. That’s not really a design aim, just a kind of principle behind what we are doing. We develop Prison Architect by making a system – like the canteen system. We then layer system on top of system until we start to see emergent behaviours that we (as designers) couldn’t predict. The game has to be deterministic, but ultimately we want the game to surprise us!

Indie Statik: Would you say that’d be a “win” condition for sandbox mode, or is that meant to be more of a “see how long you survive” kind of thing?

Mark Morris: We’ve not figured out the “end game” yet. We’re thinking about having different metrics, like number of prisoners, number of days without incident, number of Rehabilitations, those sorts of things. But it’s still early days.

Indie Statik: Ah, so stuff like that’s going to evolve as the alpha goes on then?

Mark Morris: Yeah, we’ll ask the alpharites what they think and implement the most popular options.

Indie Statik: Wow, that’s brave to give the players that much influence!

Mark Morris: Well, yes and no. We’ll decide what list of things to include and then put them out there, then the community can vote and suggest things that we may have missed. If there’s something we really want to do, but it doesn’t get the community massively animated, we’ll probably do it anyway – silent majority sort of thing. We really do want to have a strong relationship with the community, but the game won’t be “designed by committee” if that makes sense.

Indie Statik: What was it like sitting on the “go” button for the alpha campaign? What were your expectations?

Mark Morris: Tiny. We were hoping to get 100 people in the first 24 hours. But it exploded!

Indie Statik: Haha, it sure did. I’m glad you were wrong!

Mark Morris: Me too!

Indie Statik: On that note, do you think the current alpha funding mania is a bubble that could potentially burst, or has it changed the indie scene forever at this point?

Mark Morris: I think it’s changed forever. It makes a massive difference being able to get funding when you are 2/3 of the way through development and I think there is a certain type of gamer that really wants to be involved early and help out. I think the actual way in which alphas are implemented may change, but I think (hope) that they are here for good now.

If you fancy giving Prison Architect a try (you should, it’s pretty rad!) then head over to the official site and contribute ~ £19 or more to get yourself an spot in the ongoing alpha test, plus a copy of the final game when it hits! Or if you’d rather wait it out, keep an eye on us here at Indie Statik for future coverage!

Xenonauts Interview

All you old school X-Com survivors and curious whippersnappers alike owe it to yourselves to check out our interview with Xenonauts head honcho Chris England. After all, who better to tell you about your impending doom than the mastermind behind it all? **NOW WITH FREE BONUS CONTENT: Random jerks walking in front of our camera!**]

Carmageddon: Reincarnation Interivew

[The other day we caught up with Stainless Games Production Director Ben Gunstone to learn more about the highs and lows of Kickstarter fame, the essence of the Carmageddon faith, the beauty of weaponized dildos and about how you can soon poke a man’s face on your iPhone while running people over! Truly, this interview has every topic worth talking about and more.]

Rezzed 2012: Tengami Interview

[Tengami for the iPad was without a doubt one of Rezzed 2012’s hidden gems, so discover this little treasure for yourself through our interview with developer Phil Tossel!]

IGM: So Phil, give us the lowdown on Tengami! How you you describe it to someone who hadn’t seen it before?

Phil: So, we spent a lot of time trying to decide how we would describe Tengami in one sentence, because it’s got a quite a kinda ‘different’ concept. I’d define it as kind of a ‘relaxed adventure game’ that’s based completely around ‘pop-up’ mechanics. Basically everything in the gameworld folds and unfolds according to the player’s interaction with the touch screen.

IGM: Yeah, that japanese paper aesthetic is really beautiful! What made you guys go with that? Was it just divine inspiration or something more specific?

Phil: Well we all love Japan -and I specifically like traditional Japanese arts and crafts- so I’ve always been fascinated by ‘Washi’ paper and how they make it, and I always tough it would make a really kinda nice backdrop for the game. We’re really lucky actually, we have a fantastic Japanese artist called Rio who helps us a lot with the authenticity of the artwork. So yeah, I guess it’s a love of Japan that sparked the initial idea.

IGM: What kind of story are you trying to tell in Tengami?

Phil: There’s not much of a direct story, it’s all very kind of ‘experiential’; so there’s not really an explicit story we’re trying to tell. I guess we’re trying to make the player think about certain things, which doesn’t necessarily come across in the current build. But it’s mainly about the renewal of life and dreams after they’ve been sapped away.

IGM: So it’s a rather passive experience then, rather than something the player is directly involved with?

Phil: Absolutely. You don’t really know anything about your character, and that’s intentional. It’s so that the player puts their own spin on what they want Tengami to be about.

IGM: How far along are you guys with development at the moment?

Phil: We’ve spent about a year and a half so far working on Tengami. We started straight away after we quit our previous jobs [at Rare]. In the first year I think we were overly ambitious; we thought we’d have something ‘out’ in a year. But then a year went by and all we had was tech and ideas all in pieces! It’s only been in the last few months when things have finaly come together into a cohesive experience.

IGM: Ah, so you’re quite a while off being ‘finished’ then?

Phil: Yeah, we’ve been trying to get just one level that’s representative of the game -which is what we have here at Rezzed today- in terms of visual style, quality level and mechanics. The puzzles and that still need refinement based on watching people play though. Then it’s a case of “Ok we’ve got something that defines the game, now we have to expand on that”. So we’re still probably about another six to nine months off being ‘finished’ yet.

IGM: How has the transition been for you guys, going from Rare employees to being Indies I mean? Is it everything you wanted it to be?

Phil: And more! I loved working at Rare -it was a great place to work- but I got to the point In my career where I felt like I needed to expand what It is I do. I’m a programmer by trade, but I wanted to be more involved in other aspects of game development process than just that. However there’s just not that kind of scope at large studios anymore. So we had some ideas and though “lets just go for it!”. I’m lovin’ it so far; every day is just doing what you love doing really. Because we self-funded the game we don’t have any publisher or anything; all the creative decisions are ours and we can take our time over stuff. It’s been really good!

IGM: Can you tell us a bit more about the kind of puzzles and experiences you have in the current build of Tengami?

Phil: Yeah so the game starts with a little bit of visual storytelling, which kinda introduces the interaction with ‘pop-ups’ as we’ve found it’s quite new for people how you interact with the game initially. When you get past that, we then introduce the character and movement controls. The puzzles that follow aren’t really brain teasers, they kinda make you think a little bit but they aren’t meant to be really difficult. Tengami is meant to be something you can just enjoy at your own pace. Most of the ones we have implemented so far just revolve around opening and closing pop-ups and showing you things in a way that you may not expect at first.

IGM: What made you guys chose the iPad as the platform for Tengami? There’s not really anything like it on that system.

Phil: When we first started we were like “well, what shall we do?” and really the iPad was the catalyst for finally jumping in. For a while we’d be thinking we wanted to do our own games, but what platform will we do it on? Consoles cost too much and phones were too casual. So when the iPad came out we were like “Yes! This is it! This is the platform!”. We were kinda disappointed initially just to see so many iPhone games being ported to iPad and then thinking “but you can do so much more with it than that!”.

So we thought it would be perfect for what we wanted to do with player interaction in Tengami due to its tactical nature; we just hope there’s an audience for it there. It’s our belief that there IS one anyway; we basically made the kind of game we wanted to play, and I don’t think I’m THAT unusual! So there must be a certain percentage of people who want to play it too.

For more info on Tengami and NyamYam games, check out their official site.

Rezzed 2012: Strike Suit Zero Interviews

Want to know more about upcoming mecha-tacular space combat sim Strike Suit Zero? Of course you do! So check out our pair of interviews with members of the Born Ready Games crew and get yourself up to speed.

First up, community manager Jamin Smith gives us a broad overview on what makes Strike Suit Zero tick, and then we follow up by getting some juicy nitty-gritty gameplay details from Lead Designer himself Christopher Redden! Also included: footage of mechanical things exploding in space.

Cardinal Quest 2 Interview

[Interview conducted with Ido Yehieli and Ruari O’Sullivan on the topic of their new game, Cardinal Quest 2. This article was published in the July issue of Indie Game Magazine.]

IGM: Thanks for joining me today guys! Could you just give our readers a quick lowdown on who you are and the cool things that you do for a living?

Ido: I am the main developer behind Cardinal Quest 1 (CQ1), and Ruari is the main developer behind Cardinal Quest 2 (CQ2). We are both full time indie developers making a living from Cardinal Quest. Ruari joined me shortly after CQ1 was released, at about version 1.1 I believe.

Ruari: Ayup! I’m Ruari. I used to work for a major studio here in the UK and now I’m a full time indie developer. I put out a few small projects of my own last year – “Beacon” and “Fear is Vigilance” along with doing some contract work. I came onto CQ1 back in October and I’ve ended up doing a full blown sequel.

IGM: What did you guys initially set out to improve over the original Cardinal Quest? Was there any one particular thing that made you think “we can do better this time!”?

Ruari: There were a few huge things I wanted to fix. CQ1 really streamlined the whole roguelike template, down to the extent that you weren’t making choices about your character. I wanted to try and keep that accessibility but bring choice back into the game, so you get this real feeling of owning your character and making long term decisions.

Ido: Right, having more influence on long term character progression is probably the biggest thing.

Ruari: The other big thing I wanted to add was to really build up the world, so you have these functionally different spaces you’re travelling through; forests, towns, caves and so on. All to reinforce that you’re on a journey, you’re making progress, and you’re travelling to dangerous places which might surprise you rather than retreading stuff you’ve seen before.

Ido: Another big improvement is the role items play in the game. In CQ2 choosing your gear is a big part of the game, and you can further customize your character by having more possible “gear builds”, there are fewer obviously better sets as with CQ1.

IGM: Has it been difficult trying to preserve that streamlined aspect of CQ1 while still adding new content and mechanics?

Ruari: Yeah, massively! It’s not too hard to add content, but new rules that allow that content to be more varied or more meaningful can really cause trouble. It’s a matter of keeping a balance; of switching rules out for ones that are a bit more powerful wherever we can. One huge example of that balance is that we got rid of the inventory screen and management from CQ1. There was a ton of UI work done for it but it didn’t really add to the game much. By handling inventory management entirely when you find stuff, we could drop that aspect entirely, which meant it was much easier to bring the talent system in without overcomplicating the UI.

Overall, though, it’s just been a slow process of gradually refining what’s there; switching rules out for stuff that works a little better, redesigning the UI to make things clearer, bit by bit. It’s probably where most of the work’s gone so far.

Ido: Yeah, it’s not just bigger, longer, more stuff; a lot of the changes included removing or replacing things.

IGM: I noticed that auto-equipping is gone too! What was behind that decision? It’s something I found quite striking about the original Cardinal Quest.

Ruari: That’s totally about putting the player back in charge. Now that we have substantially different ways any given character can develop where they might want to focus on different strengths, it’s a lot more important to have the player involved in those decisions so they can shape things as they want. That, and the old system put items in your inventory when it wasn’t sure if you’d like them or not. Since we got rid of the inventory to make space for cooler features, we can’t rely on that anymore.

Ido: It’s also part of the fact that there are fewer obviously better and worse kits than before. They are more different than just different spots on a spectrum of quality.

IGM: Even in its very early alpha state, it already seems like there’s much more of a narrative going on than in the original Cardinal Quest. Is that an aspect you’re going to be expanding upon in a big way, or is it still low down on the priority list?

Ruari: The explicit storytelling in the alpha is a bit of an experiment. It’ll probably get cut back a bit as we add story and emergent narrative elements that can pull you in without relying so much on static text to help set the tone. So… yeah, narrative is at the heart of a lot of what we’re doing, but more in the sense of a really tangible world and potential for players to experience their own cool little stories rather than cutscenes and walls of text.

IGM: I’ve been really enjoying the more distinct playstyles that the 3 new classes bring to the table, especially the dynamic between the Ranger and his Dog! Are we going to see similar kinds of advanced mechanics extended to the original 3 classes and/or enemies as well?

Ruari: I definitely want to give the older classes some new toys. The talent trees give us some real room for expansion and there’ll definitely be some new class-specific skills you can unlock through them that’ll help expand the original classes’ playstyles and abilities. I’ve only got vague plans at the moment and I can’t promise anything before trying it out… but the Thief, for example, might get access to a skill which lets him dance around enemies and nip between them, whereas the Wizard might get the ability to use magic-casting enemies’ powers against them.

IGM: Are the new environments going to bring new possibilities too? The outdoor area from the alpha has a completely different feel from the original’s claustrophobic dungeons.

Ido: Not just feel, also different effects (e.g. the bushes increase your stealth and decrease your defence) – so tactics that might be good in one area might not be suitable to another and vice versa.

Ido: It serves as both thematic and mechanical variety.

Ruari: Yep. I mean, we have the claustrophobic dungeons too. The plan’s to explore different environments and environmental features, like rivers, and see what gameplay comes out the other end. Level design, monsters and items are places where we can add content and ideas without making the game feel any more complicated, so we get to really mix things up.

IGM: So far I’ve been really surprised how upfront the game is about its own mechanics, such as it telling me EXACTLY what effects any stat increases have on my character. What was the thought process behind opening up the game’s juicy innards like that?

Ruari: At one point there was a popup when you moused over an enemy that told you your odds to hit! That didn’t stay in.

Ido: I would say that being pretty transparent was always a goal for CQ, even in the CQ1 days. It’s a strategic game, so it lets the players make informed decision. That goal is simply better executed in CQ2.

Ruari: Yeah. I’m a big believer in a game being a series of interesting decisions, and to really have an interesting decision you have to have some idea what’s at stake and what the effects are. We can’t just let the stats feel like arbitrary numbers or when you’re presented with a choice, you might be like… what’s the point?

Ido: In my opinion, when it comes to games that are about mechanical challenge (rather than narrative for example, or cooperation) you got 2 main paths you can follow. I’ll refer to them as chess, and the other as judo:

In chess you have perfect information, and the challenge is to be overcome by analysing your situation and coming to an informed conclusion. You become better at the game by learning about the different possibilities and getting better at analysing the different situations it gives you

In judo you don’t have exact information about your opponent, so it’s more about gaining experience and developing an intuition. You try different things, and learn what’s better and what’s worse. The ultimate mastery there is being able to develop your intuition to the point where there is no conscious thought at all.

Since CQ falls into the 1st category moving closer towards perfect information (and being turn based) makes more sense.

Ruari: Well, we don’t give away everything. You’ve still got to learn which enemies are dangerous the hard way; there’s your judo. We just give you enough of the manual to get you involved in the strategic decisions you’re making, like talents and gear, without having to check a wiki or something.

Ido: Right, it’s a spectrum. Street Fighter is closer to judo than CQ is for example, and so is Counter Strike. Whereas Desktop Dungeons is closer to chess. Generally I envision CQ to be closer to the chess side of the spectrum. Like if chess is 1 and judo is 10, then CQ is maybe 3.

Ruari: Ultimately it just fell out of giving people these choices about gear and so on. If the decision’s informed then it’s a lot more fun.

IGM: Last time IGM interviewed Ido, he talked about the awkwardness of the app/android marketplaces. Has going through getting the original Cardinal Quest out on those systems changed that perception for either of you?

Ido: Yeah, the Android Market categories are horrible; they make no sense. That’s why I put CQ in “arcade & action”. Can you BELIEVE that was actually the least wrong category? The App Store is a bit better, but still not perfect. Strangely enough, Google’s Chrome web store has much better categories! It’s got an “rpg & strategy” category for example. I don’t know why these two genres are bunched up together, but it’s certainly better than the android market’s!

Amazon’s app store for android is also pretty good too, but unfortunately it is only available in the US. I put CQ1 there, but it’s not nearly as widespread as Google’s, so it doesn’t sell quite as well. That said, we did get pretty good placements in the app store (#16 in RPGs I think was our best ranking), so people were able to find the game. It’s not the next Angry Birds but we’re getting some decent sales.

IGM: Just a quick personal question: I’ve noticed you both seem to be very keen on Game Jam projects like IRDC and Ludum Dare. What is it about these kinds of events that appeals to you guys, and have they had much of an impact on Cardinal Quest’s development?

Ido: Yes, CQ1 started from the same code base I used for my 7DRL (Seven Day Roguelike Challenge) entry Detribus in 2011. Also, just making a ton of games makes you a better game designer and developer, you get experience that helps you when making bigger games too. I think it can really grind you down to work on a single big projects for months and sometimes year on end, it gives you a breath of fresh air to take a break and do something quick and small for a change. I’ve made 6 new games this year alone and it’s only June!

Ruari: Yeah, I really dig jams as a way to try out new stuff and recharge creatively. It’s easy to fall into a slump during a longer project but doing something new over a few days, finishing it up when you’re still totally in love with the concept, can be pure awesome.

IGM: I guess I’ll finish by asking by the one question no developer ever wants to hear: when can we expect finished version of Cardinal Quest 2?

Ido: later this year?

Ruari: Yeah, this year.

Ido: Ruari has a crazy AI system thing that can predict the exact date actually, but we don’t want to ruin the surprise!

Ruari: I admit to nothing.

“Don’t get me started on the Penguins” Tiy talks Starbound.

[Set your eyeballs to “read” as we sit down with veteran Terraria developer Tiy, here to talk about his latest project: Starbound! The procedural generated space RPG boldly going where, reportedly, killer space penguins have very much been before.]

IGM: For the uninitiated’s benefit, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and give us the basic lowdown on Starbound?

Tiy: Hi everyone, I’m Tiy the lead developer of Starbound. I’ve worked on and managed a bunch of games. Starbound is both my dream game and my attempt to take the wonderful gameplay and aesthetics of some of the classic games I grew up with and combine them with the depth of modern titles.

IGM: You’ve described Starbound as a mix of Diablo, Metroid, Borderlands, Castlevania and Pokemon. While I expected most of those, that last one really caught me off guard! What kind of Pokemon influences are we going to see reflected in the gameplay?

Tiy: I really like the fact that in Pokémon each of the enemies you encounter in your journey can become an ally or a tool for the player to use. Also, the idea that the player is out there to explore and catalogue their findings. We’ve drawn inspiration from both of these ideas in Starbound. I also like the concept of fostering some kind of attachment between a player and the creatures in the game.

IGM: Borderlands seems to really stand out on that list too, considering it’s a relatively recent IP compared to the other “classics” you mentioned. What was it about that title that struck a chord with you?

Tiy: The procedural generation of Weapons! It’s an idea that’s appeared in a bunch of games but largely only in regards to a weapons stats or requirements. Borderlands was really the first game to make the weapons feel and function differently. It meant that, rather than forever just choosing the weapon with the highest stats, players could chose weapons based on how they felt. It also goes a long way towards keeping the game fresh, which is why the idea of producing content on the fly in order to create a never ending experience is the foundation of Starbound.

IGM: The screenshots we’ve seen of Starbound (so far) have had what looks to be a fairly low-key and streamlined UI. Will the game be like that when it’s in motion too, or are we going to see more overt RPG business like hit points and stats flying across the screen?

Tiy: There will be (optional) hit points, as well as a few other RPG tropes, but we will be keeping the minimal UI intact as we want as much of the screen real estate as possible focused on the action. We’ve put major work into ensuring the whole UI is super intuitive and making sure it’s only there when it needs to be.

IGM: Procedurally generating each planet’s inhabitants sounds really fascinating! What range of different behaviours can we expect from these creatures? Will some be friendly?

Tiy: Some will definitely be friendly! Many creatures in Starbound have a whole range of behaviours that only appear in certain planet generations. They also have a huge range of modifications and skins that are mixed together to create a unique visual variation of the creature. We want the inhabitants of each planet to be surprising and varied.

IGM: Do you have any favourite examples of crazy stuff Starbound has thrown together in testing so far? I’ve heard people mention killer penguins!

Tiy: Oh don’t get me started on the Penguins… They’re a particularly rowdy sentient race. I was once ambushed by a raiding band of space pirate penguins whilst exploring a crystal planet. That was fun.

IGM: On the official site you said you wanted Starbound to have the “depth of a modern title” is there anything specific you’re aiming for with that ideal?

Tiy: Whilst many classic games had extremely tight game play and beautiful visuals, often you’d experience everything the game had to offer in a single play through. As technology has progressed and budgets have increased games have become increasingly deep experiences where the player can get lost in a game world, be it a multi-faceted single player experience or social multiplayer one. Sadly I think the cost has been that classic gameplay being somewhat left behind. We’re aiming to combine the two and produce a title with modern depth and classic gameplay.

IGM: Procedural open world games tend to shy away from any narrative other than the one the players make for themselves, but by the sounds of it you’re trying to integrate an actual scripted storyline into Starbound! Is it proving challenging trying to bring those two concepts together?

Tiy: It’s really not so bad. If anything the sandbox experience makes the story missions in the game all the more poignant. The sandbox play also serves as a great way for the player to prepare for story missions, whilst the story missions serve as a great way to present the player with direction so the player is never left in the world (unless they want to be).

IGM: Are the storyline missions going to be rewards onto themselves, or will some unique loot and/or game features be tied to story progression?

Tiy: I can’t talk too much about this just yet, but story missions will certainly have big rewards attached to them that players can take into the world.

IGM: Considering Starbound has a futuristic setting, does this mean combat is going to mainly focus on projectile weapons?

Tiy: Not at all, melee combat plays a huge role in Starbound and has its own mechanics, strengths and weaknesses. We’re making sure both melee combat and ranged combat are very balanced and in complement with each other.

IGM: Almost everything we’ve heard/seen about Starbound so far has related to either planet side or space station gameplay. Is that stuff going to be the main bulk of the game, or is there a chance of some deep space exploration/combat in there too?

Tiy: There won’t be any space combat at release, but it’s something we’re interested in for an update. We want to make sure we put out an amazing experience on the Space station or whilst exploring planets for the first release.

IGM: As we’re planet hopping around Starbound’s universe, are we going to be seeing lots of relatively small environments or is every world going to feel gigantic in its own right?

Tiy: Worlds do differ in size, but even the smallest worlds are relatively huge. Each world will also consist of multiple environments. It’s entirely possible to get lost in a single world for a long time if you desire.

IGM: Will we be able to lose hours of our lives focusing our efforts on just a small handful of planets, or will exploring strange new worlds be the main path to a satisfying experience?

Tiy: It really depends on the kind of game you want to play. If fostering a single world is your thing, you’ll certainly be able to do that. However exploring new worlds will supply you with more and more powerful equipment and a much larger range of experiences. You’re also able to combine the two by taking a world as your homeworld and exploring the universe to find increasingly better ways of expanding it.

IGM: I’ll be honest, it’s been really hard to come up with questions that you haven’t already answered somewhere else. Even for an Indie, you’ve been incredibly open about this project right from the get-go! What made you decide to take such an approach with Starbound?

Tiy: I think games are becoming less a single product and more a social experience. Customers are buying not only into the game, but into the community, into spending time with their friends doing something they enjoy. And it makes sense that those players would like to help shape the experience. I try to be as open as I can be because that desire to shape the game is extremely valuable. Also, I don’t see the need for smoke and mirrors, if you’re producing a genuinely good game there’s nothing to hide!

IGM: Ok, this last one might be a bit of a simple mundane question, but I just can’t get it out of my head! Are the 2D environments going to “loop around” on themselves? i.e. If I keep walking in one direction will I eventually end up where I started?

Tiy: Yes! We’ve been doing this for a while now. The engine is also capable of producing infinite planets (!?).

IGM: Thanks very much for talking with us about Starbound! Is there anything you would like to say to our readers before we finish?

Tiy: Just thank you for all the wonderful support, remind  you that you can always reach me via email/Starbound chat/forums and that I’m going to make sure the game lives up to expectations. The Starbound community rocks!

Keep up with the development of Starbound over on the official site!

Ido Yehieli Interview – Nephews and Niches

[Today we sat down with indie developer Ido Yehieli, creator of the tactical dungeon crawler Cardinal Quest, where we had a little chin-wag about such topics as the gaming generation gap (or lack thereof), price perception, indie visibility in the digital age and the things that make the genre of Roguelikes his jam]

IGM: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us today; It’s always a pleasure to hear directly from a developer! Just to get us started, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you’re currently working on?

Ido: Sure. I’m an indie game developer currently living in Vienna. I am making 100% of my modest living off of my games. I have been working as a professional programmer for 10 years now, and on March 1st I quit my job at a small local game development studio to start making Cardinal Quest, which was released on august 11th for Windows, Mac & Linux, and will be released soon for iOS and Android.

I have also been working on a new strategy game called Auro: The Golden Prince with the two guys from Dinofarm Games. You can read a bit more about what Auro is all about here. It is mainly focused on Android & iOS, but will also be out for Windows, Mac & Linux. It’s currently in alpha testing and hopefully 1.0 will be released sometime in the Spring. Also, at the same time my partner Ruari O’Sullivan is working on Cardinal Quest 2.

IGM: You come from a pretty strong programing background; do you find it difficult to juggle that with being a gameplay designer too?

Ido: It’s a challenge. But I actually started programming only because I had to program in order to make my games, so the game design is actually the interesting part for me. I am hoping to focus on it more in the future, and optimize my design to not require a ton of programming work.

IGM: Would you drop the programing side of things entirely if you could?

Ido: No, I would actually drop the business & marketing part if I could, though, or at least the administrative/bookkeeping part. It’s important to me to be as involved as I can in as many ways as possible. My “dream team” would actually be only me and 1-2 other people and ideally we would all have at least a bit to do in all aspects of game making. Even though in that case it is important to have one person in charge of any single discipline, e.g. one main designer, one main programmer, one main graphics artist, basically one person with a strong vision that has the final say in his particular department (you could have one person be the “head” of more than one discipline, but the important part is that it’s not design-by-committee).

IGM: Dungeon crawlers would look to be your go-to genre. Is there anything specific about that style of game that really appeals to you?

Ido: What appeals to me is a set of characteristics that just happens to be embraced by Roguelikes. What I like to focus on are the challenging games that are not challenging because they depend on your reflexes (e.g. Super Meat Boy), and by that I mean turn based & hard. In Roguelikes, you can get away with making the game hard because it’s randomly generated, so playing the first few levels over and over again doesn’t become boring.

For example, a randomized Advanced Wars or Fire Emblem type game would also interest me, I just happened to start with Roguelikes. in fact, I really want to make a turn based tactics game and will probably go in that direction in 2012. I love Advanced Wars and X-Com, but the current cream of the crop of that genre are so flawed that I think it’s very possible for an indie like me to still make a turn based tactics game today that’s better than anything else out there.

IGM: A significant amount of the difficulty of Roguelikes traditionally comes from the complexity of their RPG elements. But Cardinal Quest, and by the looks of it your current project with Dinofarm, cut off the fat and take it down to the basics. Is there an element of genre commentary going on there?

Ido: I think that if you look at Rogue, you will find it a lot more similar to my games than it is to Angband, ADOM or ToME4. For me “RPG elements” have nothing to do with why I enjoy Roguelikes, and in fact they tend to get in the way. I would have probably even removed levelling up in Cardinal Quest today. The games I like in the genre are a lot more focused on solving hard problems with the hand you were dealt, e.g. Brogue or Crawl, which have a lot of complexity but don’t focus on the RPG elements at all for it, instead they focus on having the players make hard decisions. Desktop Dungeons, Spelunky and Borgue are much bigger inspiration for me than any RPG out there.

IGM: For me at least, part of the appeal Roguelikes is a sense of nostalgia for PC games (such as Rogue itself) that I played when I was a nipper, and I know I’m far from alone in that respect. Do you reckon future generations will still be able to embrace Roguelikes even without the nostalgia factor?

Ido: They already are! There are many teenagers playing Cardinal Quest. I think it’s mainly about making sensible game design choices, as for young people “retro”/8-bit is just a visual style. Look at the games my nephews (aged 13) play: their favourite game is Minecraft and they play a lot of 2D games too (I think Terraria is another favourite, but there’s plenty of others). Also, they play a lot of games on flash portals and iOS which tend to be more like older games in terms of visuals, so it’s not really foreign to them. They also have a PS3 and a modern PC that they play new AAA games on, but it’s hardly the only type of games they play.

I recently read a post by Jeff Vogel where he was saying how indies can go back to forgotten games and genres, ones that have been dropped by the AAA industry since they might not appeal to the lowest common denominator like the latest flashy FPS or MMORPG would. It’s because these games have plenty of fun in them, and there are plenty of unfilled niches out there with players that just don’t have much choice these days. The big guys are not interested in selling to the niche that still enjoys stuff like turn-based strategic war games and I am sure a lot of these players aren’t just old fogies clamouring for the golden ages.

But new players are seeing these games for the first time and enjoying them for what they are; it’s because the stuff that made them good back then is still there. Another example is Tim Schafer’s new Kickstarter campaign, which had $1,272,964 pledged after about 1 day for an adventure game that no AAA publisher will ever dream of funding. Publishers don’t care about a game that takes $400k to make and will bring back 2x as much in profits, they want to fund games that cost $50m and bring back $500m. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a good place to be at as a self-funded indie.

IGM: Yeah, it’s great to see that kind of enthusiasm around! It’s funny you mentioned Advanced Wars earlier too. I thought a lot about that game when I was playing Cardinal Quest, and about how long it’s been since there was a game that gave me that kind of experience. Do you think stuff like Firaxis’s take on X-Com will help revitalise those experiences too? Or will being on a publisher’s leash always compromise that?

Ido: I think they might really come up with something interesting, but at the moment I remain cautiously optimistic. The thing is, those games to a large extent do not appeal to the “core market” and by adapting them to it, I am afraid it might take out some of the edge that the genre has (e.g. difficulty, and being able to lose). But we will see.

I think it’s not a factor of publishers directly as much as it is having a budget in the 10s of millions (or sometimes even more). That means you really do have to sell millions of copies to make up for it, and you don’t generally sell millions of copies to a niche. For that, you need to appeal to the most common players who are for the most part people who would rather watch TV than play games. I think it is part of the reasons why there are pretty much no challenging single player games anymore, at least among mainstream games; everybody has to be able to win, and everyone should be able to see all the content. These games are not about gameplay the way Chess or Go are, they are about consuming content.

IGM: I remember you experimented with a lot of different ways of promoting Cardinal Quest. There was a pay-what-you-want event, a free download day and you even offered extra copies to people who called out publishers over their dodgy DRM (which I though was hilarious by the way!). Do you think those promotions had a big impact on overall popularity of Cardinal Quest?

Ido: They had some impact for sure, because I noticed sale spikes after them. But it wasn’t that huge of an impact, at least not directly. It got me more visibility though, which was the best part.

IGM: You’ve talked in the past about how hard it is for indies to get that “visibility” when the mainstream media is latching onto the top 1% “super indies” (e.g Phil Fish or Jonathan Blow) while leaving the other 99% out in the cold. Should the 99% be fighting for more attention, or is the onus on the media itself to spread its net a bit wider?

Ido: I think both, we are all fighting to get more visibility and some developers that “have it made” certainly make an effort to draw people’s attention to other less known developers. I think a big part of the problem also has to do with journalists that just fill up the “indie spot” with Minecraft or World of Goo instead of trying to really search out more obscure titles, simply because that’s the easy way out. The developers themselves should also continue to claw their way up there, but right now it’s more like trying to become a part of the few that share the spotlight rather than trying to make the greater public become more aware of anything beyond the top 5 games of the year (if even that).

IGM: Do you think digital distributors (e.g steam and desura) need to play more of a hand in raising indie visibility?

Ido: I think you actually see quite a lot of indie games on those, at least if you are interested in indie games to begin with. Of course they advertise the biggest games more, but I don’t think the situation is so terrible, at least not from what I’ve experienced.

IGM: I only ask because I was really intrigued by your article on Dinofarm’s blog about how Bundles and Steam Sales Aren’t Good for Most Indies.

Ido: I think a lot of people got a much more extreme notion from that article than what I intended. I think Steam & Humble Bundle are great. However, among all the good stuff about them there are also some downsides, and I was trying to bring up those downsides because I see most people ignoring them. Namely that they lower people’s expectation of how much an indie game is worth.

In the app store I think it is even more extreme. In fact, I think iOS & Android stores are a lot worse than Steam, with stuff like the horrible & nonsensical categories. It’s almost impossible to find good games on it even though they exist. Apple & Google really need a curator that knows something about games to fix up the issues of searching and sorting over there and separate the good from the bad. But they don’t care it seems, and in fact they seem to actively encourage the race to the bottom. Basically, the only way for me to get a good mobile game is to ask a friend for a recommendation.

IGM: Stuff like the iPad not even having searchable game categories (as of writing) certainly seems to back that theory up!

Ido: Have you seen the categories in the android market? “casual” – as if there are non-casual games on it? It’s clearly made by someone who doesn’t know or doesn’t care about games. I think the mobile (and “social”) market is going towards a crash; it will be 1983 all over again. They are just flooded with utter crap and people will learn that you can’t expect anything good over there and will stop playing/buying games on those platforms.

[Ido’s Cardinal Quest is available for PC at around £6 from BMT Micro, Gameolith and Desura. You can also play the free ad-supported version over at Kongregate!]