Category Archives: Interview

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.

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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.

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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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INTERVIEW: ‘Survivalist’ Developer

It’s been awhile since I promised to get my shit together and build up my rusty interviewing skills, so I figured a good place to return would be with one of the best survival-based (I mean, it has ‘survival’ in the title; it’d better focus on surviving) games— also featuring zombies— available on the indie channel. Don’t believe me, then read the review. Also by me, which won’t help matters if you already don’t believe me, I guess.

Anyway, with a game of this size and scope, I’m always curious to get the inside scoop on the work and events that lead up to the finished product. What follows is my best attempt at questioning (and humor), talking dead with the creator of Survivalist, lolznoob, AKA Bob the PR Bot.

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So, ah… Zombies, huh?

I always liked the zombie genre ever since watching the Romero movies.  When I started this project, it seemed like there weren’t a lot of games that properly expressed what I liked about the zombie movies. State of Decay, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, The Last of Us and DayZ either hadn’t been announced or at least I hadn’t heard of them yet.  Now, of course, we’re living in a sort of zombie golden age…

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Gotta love that backpack.

That’s true. As much as some wish zombies would go down— and stay down— they keep getting back up for more. Survivalist is a massive game. Hours could be spent just foraging and building up your home base, besides venturing out into the world and taking on missions. How did the game come about? Was it always this big in scope, and how did you manage it? I’m tired just thinking about the amount of hours you must have put into this.

Somewhat arbitrarily I decided to make it use 1 square kilometre of land (actually 1024×1024 metres).  I thought it would need to be quite big in order to give you time to build a base and give you a variety of other communities to recruit from and so on.  I think now I might have been able to get away with a quarter of the size…  The feature-set was as small as I could make it while still (hopefully) being cohesive.  There’s lots of things I would have liked to have but didn’t, such as melee weapons and stealth.

Melee weapons would have helped me with my crap aim, that’s for sure. Good thing my version of the apocalypse had plenty of bullets to go around.

The game is certainly harder than most, managing yourself and others, keeping the home tidy, contending with the undead and those always pissed-off wasteland looters. Are there any tips you can give players just starting out, or perhaps hints on tackling the tougher parts later on in the game? Any secrets or easter eggs we should know about?

Once you’ve got a well, and planted crops and assigned people to farm them, and they’ve ripened, the food / water situation pretty much takes care of itself— you don’t have to spend the whole game worrying about that.  To deal with looters, bullet-resistant vests help (and saving the game before you attack).  Secrets: well it’s not really a secret, as some of the quests will lead you to it, but there’s a brain scanner somewhere out there that’s pretty useful for understanding people’s opinions of you.

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Really? Then again, I doubt I’d need science to tell me when someone’s ticked off at me. Dragging them a mile out into the desert, then telling them their services are no longer required back at camp… probably not the way you should fire someone. Poor guy didn’t have any water either… Let’s not dwell on it.

Obviously the game is out now on XBLIG / Xbox 360, and I’m sure PC is in the cards, but do you have additional plans for the game beyond that? Any new content or added features, or a sequel perhaps? All after a well-deserved vacation, of course.

I think I should try to bring it to different platforms, but I don’t know which ones yet.  Right now it turns out there’s still a few bugs to fix, so that’s the focus.

Fair enough. I’d rather keep the ‘Only for XBLIG’ tagline on the box anyway. Looks better that way.

Though it’s not news that Xbox Live Indie Games as we know it are coming to a close. Still plenty of games yet to come, but what do you think your nostalgic look back at XBLIG will be like? Also, any thoughts on Xbox One as it relates to indies? Hopes? Dreams?

I didn’t really get involved with XBLIG for most of the time while I was making Survivalist.  I was just concentrating on making it.  It’s just in the last few months that I’ve been putting it through playtesting that I’ve been playing other peoples games as well, and it turns out there’s a lot of good games on there.  You should do a review of Steam and Metal, btw (very polished shoot-em-up).

For XBox One and PS4, it would be nice if we could self-publish, ideally using c++.  But I kind of doubt that will happen, feels like they’re going for a more curated approach this time round where you have to be a proper company with a track record.  I hope I’m wrong. ….Actually, after writing that I had a look at the ID@XBox program and it looks a bit more positive for self-publishing.  It sort of implies they might be going to do it in the future.  So that’s nice.

Anything that gets good games in the hands of consumers should be their motto, so I don’t see why not. In the meantime, we’ve got a pretty solid lineup already, people… hint, hint (points at indie marketplace). Oh well. Thanks again for taking the time, Bob.

You’re welcome.

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Survivalist is available now. Keep up with the game at the official site here.

INTERVIEW: Foxhaut Games

I’ve been debating adding interviews to the site for a long while, and I finally got off the procrastinating fence to post the first of many (hopefully) insights into the development of your (also hopefully) favorite titles on the Xbox Live Indie Games channel. Foxhaut Games, the UK developers behind the awesome ‘Astralis‘ (Review here) and all-around great human beings, agreed to answer a few questions. I clapped my hands excitedly, knowing I could copy and paste someone else’s words and get a ‘free’ post out of it! On with the questions!

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Hey guys. Thanks for taking the time to do this so soon after release. Astralis is a fantastic game, and also your first game, so it makes sense to start at the beginning of everything. How did the team at Foxhaut come together? What / When was the genesis of Astralis? Any inspirations?

We came together as a result of a shared appreciation for video games, and discussions regarding what might be achievable for an indie developer.  Being able to create an indie game – this was something none of us had done before, despite Alec Parkin and Daniel Dobson’s experience in the games industry. 

Astralis certainly has its inspirations – films like Enemy at the Gates, the acclaimed Gaunt’s Ghosts series, Army of Darkness (Evil Dead).  And then there is Resident Evil, Gears of War, Quake, Doom, Duke Nukem.  There is so much to celebrate within these games, such atmosphere to draw upon. We loved the action elements within them. We wanted to create something bombastic, yet we also felt from the start that the protagonist should be free to make moral choices, and this grew into the ability to actually perform ‘judgments’.

An ‘early’ Astralis trailer.

Enemy at the Gates, huh? That helps explain the Russian connection. Hopefully that means a Macropai-ed version of Jude Law or Ed Harris at some point… Ah, forget that. Back on topic. Just being on the outside looking in, Astralis, to me, changed pretty significantly over the past year. How did the idea change throughout the course of development?

Originally the project had a different name, and we had a different set of goals for how the game would play, and the visual style.  Things grow. They evolve, because as you’re building, it, you understand more and more about what it should be.  We think this is healthy, because the process is more like steering a car than getting on a train.  You adjust, you look at the road ahead, the map, you know where you want to go, but you need to steer and make choices along the way.

We started out with a top-down view, because we love top-down games, and we wanted to be able to see the Commissar himself on screen.  This grew into an ‘over the shoulder’ view, as we found that the aiming and shooting was more intuitive like this, and you were closer to the action.  The Macropai get really close to you – they want to devour you, but in so doing present a bigger target, so it’s intuitive to deal with the closest ones first. It wasn’t something we anticipated, but instead driven by player feedback – our goal was to make the controls accessible immediately.  They needed to feel familiar to players who hadn’t played Astralis, but already know what they like.

Things like swimming, the ‘roadie run’ unlimited sprint, and being able to kick while you’re reloading – these were all things that emerged as new ideas as the game grew. And then there is the ‘save beacon’ system, being able to save anywhere once the immediate area around you is secure, by planting your save beacon in the ground, once you’ve earned enough points to place it again.  That felt a bit like the way a rock climber places spikes in the cliff at regular intervals, so that if they do fall, they don’t actually die!  Again, it wasn’t something we planned, but rather discovered as being fun.

The save beacon was definitely a cool feature, and I like that analogy; makes me want to go mountain climbing again! Sorry, off topic, I know. It’s not really covered extensively in the game, but it seemed like there’s a larger backstory / mythos to the Astralis world. Is there any story bits that you feel players should be more aware of? How did you settle on the concept, and why are there so many Russians in the future of space exploration?

The Interstellar Military Commission is hinted at during the opening scene, near the crash site.  It is broadly responsible for mankind’s expansion into the galaxy and colonization of planets, and highly communist!  Astralis explores a dystopian post-solar expansion with parallels drawn from the Soviet Union in the eras of Stalin and Khrushchev.  A Commissar wields political as well as military power, and this is something we haven’t seen explored within a video game.

Russia has historically demonstrated their interest in space flight, exploration beyond Earth, and at times even led the way.  So in Astralis, the IMC, the Empire, it’s an extension of this goal, an exploration of an Orwellian society that has grown beyond our own solar system.  An extension of the ‘soviet manifest destiny’.

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Justice on Tellaryn IV is swift.

Were there any ideas / gameplay elements that had to be cut from the game? Anything you would like to add, or expand upon, either in potential DLC or in an all-new game?

We want to talk about DLC – it is controversial.  We’ve all seen ‘downloadable content’ that actually exists on the disc!  And it just gets unlocked.  We think that’s criminal.  You bought the disc, it’s already yours. Why should you be made to pay again for something that is yours?  Real DLC, where you’re actually being given new data, should you pay for that?  The answer will depend on the developer, and what players choose to do.  No one has to buy horse armour if they choose not to. 

In Astralis, we are planning to provide all updates for free – this is how XBLIGs work – It doesn’t cost the developer any money to update their game, instead it is an investment of time and effort.  We have an update planned, yes.  It will be free – our way of saying thank you to the community.  But it is a surprise – we can’t talk about the details until it is complete, and in your hands!  Updates are a vital part of the indie movement.

Gah! I’m impatient when it comes to DLC! Not even a hint? Fine. How did you settle on XBLIG as a release platform? What are your opinions on XBLIG and indie gaming, now, and in the future, both on Xbox 360 and Xbox One?

XBLIG led the way for indie games on console.  No other console platform has as many releases, or is as open.  We believe in openness – when Astralis was released, it happened because other developers, not Microsoft, judged it as being worthy.  That is democratic.  It is really important, because… well, let us take YouTube.  Imagine you make a video, but before you can put it up, someone at Google has to view it, and decide if it is ‘ok’ for it to be available.  Sound crazy?  But this is how it is on other console platforms at the moment. It isn’t necessarily because they want it to be this way, more a legacy of how business was done when games couldn’t be available as downloads.

XBLIGs are historic, because it is the first time that indie developers got their hands on the ball, so to speak.  I think gaming needs this and more of it.  Let indie developers make games, release them, and then players can decide.  There will be more content like this, and gaming will grow, just like YouTube. 

With the Xbox One – we are very curious about what it will mean for indies – the promise of ‘every console can become a devkit’ is fundamentally democratic.  If you’re going to buy something, you should be able to run code on it if you want to.  Be part of an ecosystem where indie games are welcomed, plentiful, and all games are listed together.  We’d like to point to Digital DNA’s games as examples of XBLIGs that have been bigger than many XBLA titles, sometimes by millions of copies, at an arguably more compelling price point.  An open market is a good thing for gamers!

Here, here! I couldn’t have said it better myself! Thanks again for taking the time, guys, and best of luck!

Our pleasure. We hope everyone enjoys Astralis!