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, Shipwreck, a 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.
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.
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.
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.