INTERVIEW: Brushfire Games

Another day, another interview. This is becoming a habit almost, but for good reason. Today’s Q&A is with the developer of the site’s latest leaderboard entry, Shipwrecka Legend of Zelda-esque adventure that feels more than a little bit like that classic series.

Developer Brushfire Games, and more specifically, founder Nick Gravelyn, graciously took the time to give some background on the game, and some details on the team’s future, having recently been added to Xbox One’s growing list of indie teams with games in development.

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Clearly, Shipwreck has a lot of love for the Legend of Zelda series. Really, it’s bordering on stalker status. Was that intentional, are you required to stay at least fifty feet away from Princess Zelda, and was Shipwreck always planned as a sort of valentine to that series? How did the idea come to fruition?

 Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is one of my favorite games of all time, so when I wanted to make a “big” game in 2013, I started prototyping features for a game like that. Because I come from a programming background, design and writing are skills I’m still building, so the game was originally called “Ember Prophecy”, and was very Zelda-like in nature. You’d have three dungeons, then a major event and plot twist, and then three more dungeons.

When I brought our first artist on board, we decided to switch up the theme to try and move away from Zelda a bit more. We moved the game to an island to establish a natural world border and came up with the Shipwreck idea. In the original version, there was no major boss or problem on the island; it was just a story of you and your crew repairing your ship and leaving for home.

Over time and playtests, though, we eventually scaled back to remove the crew and add a larger evil to the world because without it there wasn’t as much drive or purpose to the game. So we ended up going a bit full circle and the game ended up feeling a bit more like Zelda again, but we felt we still were doing what we could to make it our own.

Shipwreck - InterviewScreen

Giant crabs will ruin anyone’s party.

It’s hard to argue with the results. One of the more excellent things about the game is its dungeon design. A lot of the layout and puzzles could pass as the work of Nintendo itself. What were some of the challenges in creating the dungeons and making them unique, and in getting everything to work together just right? In hindsight, is there anything you wish you could’ve added or changed?

Dungeons for us were really hard, and took a number of tries to get them where they are in the released game. As I mentioned, I’m from a programming background primarily, so it took some experimentation to find what works and what doesn’t in the dungeon design. We wanted to strike a balance between challenging and fun so people wouldn’t get too frustrated. In the end I think we may have leaned too far to the easy side, but I don’t really mind.

There are tons of things we’d change if we went back, but that’s how game development goes. You spend 13 months working on a game and by the time it’s done, you have 13 months more experience in programming and design, and you realize all the things you wish you could add. One of the hardest things in game development is calling it done and getting it out to players.

Agreed. I wish I was a perfectionist. Maybe I’d be a better interviewer. How did Brushfire Games get started? If you had a ton of cash and resources, what kind of game would you dream of making? What would be your ultimate goal for the company?

I started Brushfire Games to help focus my dream of having a small indie studio. When it’s just you toiling away at night, it’s fun, but once you register the LLC and hire some contractors, it hits home that you have to work hard to reach your goal. That really helped motivate me last year while working on this game.

If someone tossed us a ton of money, I’m not really sure what we’d tackle first. I know I’d like to do a 3D adventure game someday, and that’d require a lot of time and resources to do well, but we have a lot of game ideas in lots of genres that we’d like to make eventually.

My ultimate goal would be to have Brushfire Games grow into an 8-15 person company where we can make some larger titles without getting so big as to incur a huge cost in management overhead. Right now, though, it’s just the two of us and we work with contractors when needed to fill in the skill gaps.

Shipwreck - InterviewScreen2

With Shipwreck released now, and I see you’re looking to get it onto Steam as well, do you have any big, additional plans for the game? New content? Or maybe an idea for an entirely new IP?

We don’t have any current plans for additions or features to Shipwreck. We think the game stands as-is, and that to add more to it would make it feel unbalanced.

We are working on our next game, which is an entirely new IP and genre. Since we’re part of of the ID@Xbox program we are hoping to bring it to Xbox One, but because we’re using Unity for our new title, we’ll also be considering other platforms later on.

Very nice. You’ll have to give my (theoretical) Xbox One indie site the exclusive first look when you’re ready. Speaking of ID@Xbox, how do you think indie games and their development will fare on this new generation of consoles? XBLIG had its ups and downs, to say it one way.

I’ll always have a biased view of XBLIG because I worked on it for a couple years at Microsoft. Overall, it has its good parts and bad parts, but it’s really nice to be able to ship a game on a console with very minimal overhead.

We’re pretty excited about the ID@Xbox program for Xbox One. We’re still in the early stages, but our experience so far has been great. It’s too early in the console lifetime to really know what’s going to happen long term, but we’re really looking forward to making games for the current generation of consoles.

My fingers are crossed for all involved, but in the end, it’ll come down to the games. It’ll be exciting to see. Thanks again for taking the time, Nick, and best of luck.

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Shipwreck is available now. You can find more info at the developer’s site.

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30 thoughts on “INTERVIEW: Brushfire Games”

  1. Wow! Nick Gravelyn! Most people probably don’t know who he is, but many in the XBLIG community owe him a debt of gratitude (myself included) for EasyStorage, Sprite Sheet Packer, and more! I bet at least half the games on the marketplace use EasyStorage… I wonder how many games include him in their credits. I know mine does!

    Thanks again Nick! Good luck with your new game dev studio! I just purchased Shipwreck via your website and up voted your Greenlight page. I can’t wait to play it tonight.

    Thanks Tim for the interview! Great job as always!

    1. Happy to spread the word, and you’re right; not many people on the outside would recognize the name. Given how many times I’ve seen him credited, it’s safe to say half of XBLIG owes him. 🙂

      I wasn’t as familiar with the game he was building with Brushfire, though when I did look in on it, I kinda figured it would be a polished project. You’ll certainly enjoy the game, methinks.

  2. I am anxious to see the new indie games using Unity, I did some tutorials and found it more easy than XNA.

    1. So I’ve heard. If it (or any programming language, for that matter) paves the way for easier indie development, then XNA’s (eventual) death will not be in vain.

    2. You can’t really compare Unity and XNA. Well you can, but it’s definitely an apples to oranges situation.

      Unity is an extremely flexible and robust game engine with a built in extremely flexible and modifiable editor which can export to basically any platform you want with the touch of a button. It’s like crazy good, it kinda blows my mind that they give it away for free.

      XNA is a toolset that makes coding games easier but it has no editor AT ALL, everything is created within MS Visual Studio via C# code. Want an editor? Write it yourself! Want a game engine? Write it yourself! Almost nothing comes for free with XNA. Oh, you want to port to Mac? Where is that export button? It doesn’t exist! And it’s not as simple as installing Monogame on a Mac and compiling. It’s a non-trivial process.

      Basically, XNA is like DirectX-lite, and Unity is something that you could make with XNA. OK, OK, OK, it wouldn’t be a good choice, but you get my point.

    3. Thanks for educating the non-programming types like me, Michael. That’s definitely the kind of unabashed enthusiasm for Unity I’ve heard and seen pop up on Twitter. 🙂

      On a lesser scale, I’ve seen some appreciation for XNA for being easier, though I’ve read just as many saying they’ve had to create their own engine to do what they set out to do. I guess it’s like anything else; the means for creating something improves / evolves as time goes on, and that flexibility allows more people into the mix. Can only be good news for everyone involved.

    4. The hard part of Unity is that you need to learn to do things “The Unity Way”. It’s their system and you need to work within it or you are going to get very frustrated very quickly.

      With XNA you get to decide the rules and make the system… so in that way it’s easier.

      Also, as an XNA programmer, The Unity Way seems very VERY wrong and I just don’t like it waaaaaaaaaaaah I don’t wannna don’t wanna! XNA is what I know and I love it. You can’t make me SWIIIIIIIIIIITCH!!!

      That said, XNA is dead and Unity is where I’m headed off to. The benefits FAR outweigh the negatives, and I’ll get used to it some day. Probably…

      A side benefit of working within the Unity ecosystem is the Asset Store. I know at least one former XNA developer who’s made MORE money selling little coding tools via the Unity Asset Store than he ever made on XBLIG. With XNA that just wasn’t a viable career path.

    5. Switching would be a pain, especially if that’s all someone knows. But if Unity has everything you need in a mostly convenient package, and is the supported format going forward, easy to port, etc., it’s worthwhile to learn. And make a little extra on the side doing tool work for others? That’s a bonus!

      I suppose this means we’ll be seeing STRACO pt. 2 on the Xbox One at some point. 🙂

    6. Actually, Unity makes it pretty easy to switch! I took about two months off from my game and played around with Unity and Blender. It was a fun diversion, but I had to get back to XNA to finish my game since it’s the only way to get a game on XBLIG.

      STRACO Ep 2 and 3 are going to BOTH be coming to the 360! Well, I hope they will… I’m still working on it and who knows when XBLIG will be canceled. 😦

      Ep 2 is done and Ep 3 is about 80% done, so… a month? Hopefully? I’m really bad with deadlines as evidenced by Ep 1’s end dialog stating that Ep 2 would be out Spring 2013 😉

      BTW, they are both being released as a single game, so super awkward title of “STRACO Episode 2 and 3”. Oh well!

    7. @ NVO Games…..Name recommendation if you don’t mind? Why not Stratco: The Final Episodes?

      BTW I love Stratco Ep 1 after the update 🙂

    8. Ah, nice! Always welcome to hear new games are coming. The way things are looking, a lot of the titles I have listed in the ‘Upcoming’ section are probably being crossed out for XBLIG, either moved to Xbox One / PS4, or just on PC. Fingers crossed, of course.

      Either way, if you’re looking to avoid an awkward title, I like David’s selection of ‘The Final Episodes’. You could always list in the description and / or the box art that it comprises two episodes.

    9. @ImTheMetalLord : Wow! Awesome to hear that you liked it! Yeah, the original version was a little harsh… and ugly… There will be a new version to go along with EP2&3 so that the new play mechanics, graphics and a continue code are added to EP1. So, make sure you update before you play EP2&3! I’d love to send you a game code for EP2&3 when I have them, Tim always says he’ll email them, but I don’t see your email address anywhere on your gravatar…

      About the name… I don’t know, I already have the box art from my artist… I could always see if he’d be willing to change it, or I could just change the name on XBLIG and leave the box art as is as Tim suggests.

    10. @Tim could you get him my email. I now have my new email listed on here the @live email to make sure you have the updated one.

      @NVO I will be sure to update it and try EP1 again before trying “The Final Episodes” lol

    11. TY Sir and BTW I like the way the replies look even though sometimes (like in this case) you have to scroll up so far to find the reply you need to stay in line. LOL

    12. Yeah, that’s another problem I didn’t foresee! Haha. 🙂 There is another option I was toying with, and that’s doing away altogether with ‘nested’ replies to comments, meaning every comment will just be in a single column, newest on top, and we all make do with the ‘@’ replies. Would make spotting the newest comments easier, and maybe make ‘replying’ a little easier, too.

    13. Hmmmmm????? Not sure if that would be the ticket either. Like I said, I like it this way better than the way it was. But I’m here everyday so not sure others could figure it out. Too bad there isn’t a way to limit how small the reply boxes are. That is how disqus handles it. (hint hint lol)

    14. Yeah, it’d be nice to have more control over that, but I’ve got to work within the confines and plug-ins of WordPress and the individual theme I use. I’m actually quite lucky I chose this theme to begin with; it’s really worked out well for what I’ve envisioned. No huge complaints.

      I wouldn’t want to make it any more confusing for you guys, though, so I’ll leave things as is. I know it looks much better now than it did before, so that’s progress!!! 🙂

    15. I think that removing nesting might be a good idea. Like you said, you could see the newest comments first and it’s not like I’m really responding to @celsowm’s comment about using Unity anymore 😉

      Or maybe we should have made a new comment at some point? And put all replies there? Maybe there isn’t a good solution.

    16. Yep. May be doomed to failure regardless of the option. 🙂

      Both ideas have drawbacks, as even with @replies, people might be searching through five or six different comments to find something that someone is replying to. Might miss out on it completely if it’s an older reply. This way is working okay for now, even with scrolling halfway down the page to find the original comment.

      I’m just glad to have people taking the time to respond and participate at all. 🙂

  3. Nice interview; it is neat to read of the differences in intent and execution between the studios that turn out XBLIG titles. Looking forward to the Midnight Bite review, as that is one of my favorite studio’s (Milkstone) creations. I think I own more of their games than any other devs (perhaps Radiangames is close …).

    1. Thanks! I like the behind-the-scenes stuff more than the games, sometimes. Goes back to being interested in the thought-processes of others, I guess. Love the games, but the Phil Fishes and Jonathan Blows of the world make the development of it slightly more entertaining.

      Midnight Bite, so far, has been pretty fun. Milkstone typically puts out polished stuff.

  4. To mark the occasion, I’ve got one more code for Shipwreck to give away (big thanks to Brushfire Games). First to reply to this comment, and it’s yours!

  5. I see, two interviews in a row, I think someone is planning to take over the world. I have to say I really enjoyed the game, but I beat it in two days. I would have love is the game have at least double the dungeons it got now. I never did get that stuck, it was a really fun game while it lasted. Nice reading. Btw boyo, I got a mission for you, if you choose to accept it. There’s is this new game Proxy Blade Zero, I have not tried the demo yet but its looks very good. Did you plan to review that one? One of the things I will love to know is how long it is, for five dollars I want 80 plus hours, multiple endings, and the infinite power of the cloud no less.

    1. Wow that Proxy game is another $5 game. Crazy.

      Enjoyed the interview. Keep up the good work Tim.

    2. @xionix World domination through XBLIG interviews? Certainly possible. This might be the last of them for a little while, but I DO plan on doing more of them as good games release. And see, like I stated in the review, you’re going to wish it was longer. I was actually quite impressed for the game to have the amount of dungeons it did, and maintain such a high level of quality and exploration in each.

      Proxy Blade Zero is a few reviews back (I’ve got Midnight Bite and Bot Stoppers coming up), but I’ve been anticipating this one ever since I helped review trailers for the Dream.Build.Play competition on IndieGamerChick’s roundup. You will get the verdict soon enough! 🙂

      @ImTheMetalLord: We’re living in a bold new XBLIG world, it seems. High quality games, higher quality pricing. I’ll have to see how it plays out. Thanks for spreading the word, as always. Completely slacked on the requisite Facebook / Twitter promotions yesterday, so I’ve got double the linking to do today.

    3. Might as well. Near my backyard, and I never liked Milwaukee anyway. It wants to be Chicago, but it can’t be. Not even close.

      If we’re talking baseball, though, I do prefer Miller Park over Wrigley Field. Much cleaner, and so much easier to travel to and from.

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