Celestial Mechanica is a brand new fantastic indie game has the internet buzzing with excitement. Roger Hicks, developer and composer for Celestial Mechanica had a chance to answer a few interview questions via e-mail. You will read about his life as an indie dev, thoughts on DRM and piracy, and more.
1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Celestial Mechanica.
Well my name is Roger Hicks but, to some, I am better known as ‘Rekcahdam’. A good chunk of my high school years were spent figuring out how to reverse engineer software and hack (for lack of a better word) into computers. Besides my interest in computer software I spent the other chunk of my time writing music. In fact, I’ve always been a musician even from my earliest memories. My role with the development of Celestial Mechanica required me to combine both of these talents. In other words am the sole programmer and music composer for the game.
2. How did you get started in developing PC games?
Interestingly enough, a little less than four years ago, I had no interest in being a game developer! I was always a gamer at heart but I never thought I’d become a game developer myself. My true passion was reverse engineering and ethical hacking. But, all of that changed upon meeting Naomi Baker; a incredibly talented artist and video game enthusiast. We’d often meet for Starbucks, after our class at VCU, to talk about video games. One day, out of the blue, she mentioned the fact that we could combine our skills to make our own video game. At first I wasn’t interested but, later I became almost obsessed with the idea. Naomi and I immediately started a group at the university where we’d meet and plan out the development of our first game. I’ve been addicted to game development ever since.
3. Where did the idea for Celestial Mechanica come from?
Before Celestial Mechanica I had only made quick ‘proof of concept’ style games, so I wanted to try my hand in a more fully realized game. Celestial Mechanica was conceived about 2 months ago while I was currently seeking funding to work on the full version of one of my most popular ‘proof of concept’ games, rComplex. Paul Veer and I decided that we’d work on an action-puzzle-platforming game and target it at various flash portals for sponsorship. The general story of Celestial Mechanica was something that I’ve always had engraved in my brain somewhere even as a kid growing up watching Saturday morning cartoons. Of course it was modified to fit in the form of a video game.
4. What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Celestial Mechanica?
Well apparently I learned how to make a good trailer hah! People seemed to instantly gravitate towards the trailer which surprised me more than anything. We received way more attention than I thought we would! Unfortunately it didn’t excite the flash sponsors as much as it did gamers. I learned that it is insanely hard to pitch a flash game like Celestial Mechanica because of its style, gameplay length and digital size. Some flash sponsors claimed that the game was too long and it was too hard for most casual players. They also felt that it was too big for a flash game and didn’t believe that it could be brought down in size despite our efforts.
So we then made the decision to sell it on our own. But, this was also some what problematic as well. Although some flash sponsors believed that it may have been a bit too long for the short attention span of most flash gamers, it can be seen as too short to most hardcore PC gamers.
5. In its current form, how close is Celestial Mechanica your initial vision?
As a flash game I think that Celestial Mechanica is about 90% of what I wanted it to be. As a PC game I believe that it’s about 65% of what I wanted it to be. Does that make sense? The expectation level changes depending on the platform.
6. Some indie devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game. Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Celestial Mechanica and if you faced a similar challenge.
Yes, I definitely think that Celestial Mechanica falls victim to what I call the “developer difficulty trap”. While developing Celestial Mechanica many of the testers became experts as the game came closer to its completion as well. Of course , as a game developers, we try to come as close as possible to making the game flow perfect while scaling the difficulty accordingly. But, ultimately, I believe that this is actually an impossible problem to fix. Even in my most favorite games there have been parts that I felt should have been easier or could have been polished more. I think the only solution is to make sure that there is something in the game that makes the player actually want to complete it despite the difficulties that may await them.
I knew that I wanted to make Celestial Mechanica a challenging platformer from the start! But, I made sure to make the game more forgiving then most platformers. For example; you never have to start the whole game over. Instead you are instantly warped back to your previous location when you first entered the room. This encourages the player to try over and over until they eventually beat it.
7. Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Celestial Mechanica would run on the various PC system configurations?
Not really. Again, Celestial Mechanica was originally a flash game. Flash is one of the most well known multiplatform applications so there weren’t too many problems porting it to the PC.
8. Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
I’d say the toughest aspect of being a indie developer is drawing attention to your works. Nothing is worse than working tirelessly on your game and never gain any attention to it. Its also tough to make a living being an indie developer. You have to be truly passionate about it and , no matter what happens, never give up.
9. As of this interview (6-30-11), Celestial Mechanica is only available for sale through the Fast Spring Ordering System. Do you have any plans to sell Celestial Mechanica through other digital distribution platforms?
I am current in talks with a few digital distribution sites but nothing is solid yet. Of course I’d love to spread Celestial Mechanica to as many digital distribution platforms as I possibly can, as any developer would.
10. Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price for Celestial Mechanica?
I did research a few titles but, I was mostly influenced by a titles from Nifflas, one of my favorite developers, and Terry Cavanagh (VVVVVV).
11. How do you feel about the digital distribution platform as a whole?
The indie community thrives on it. Without digital distribution I don’t think the the indie game scene would be growing as fast as it is right now.
12. Are there any plans to take Celestial Mechanica to retail stores?
Not at the moment.
13. Please tell us your thoughts on not releasing a demo for Celestial Mechanica.
I was actually going to release a flash demo on Kongregate but after listening to some advice from a few friends I decided not to.
14. How important is it to get instant feedback about Celestial Mechanica from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
It’s definitely important to receive instant feedback from users of any type. It doesn’t really matter how you get it. Whether it be through message boards or social networking sites doesn’t matter to me much either. I’ve even seen great feedback through people recording gameplay videos via youtube.
15. How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Celestial Mechanica professionally?
I supposed I place their opinions pretty high on the value meter haha. Professional reviewers have a lot of power when it comes to convincing gamers that they should play or not play a game for whatever reason. But, ultimately, I value the opinions of the average gamer and professional reviewers equally. I say this because even though reviewers have more power it doesn’t mean that their opinions should be valued over anyone else’s .
16. How do you feel about the Humble Indie Bundle and “Pay What You Want Pricing”? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?
I love the Humble Indie Bundle and I’d love to be a part of it if I had the opportunity!
17. What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
I think that both the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy will probably never go away. It sucks when someone can’t even play a game that they bought with their hard earned cash because of DRM but you can’t really blame the developers for adding DRM with piracy as rampant as it is these days.
In the end, there needs to be a new system for selling games all together. Something that allows gamers to download and own games for free while the developers still rake in cash. Maybe a digital distributor that lets you download games for free but advertises through the games some how. Similar to how local television works in America. I know that sounds pretty crazy coming from a game developer but unless some drastic changes are made , like the one I just suggested, the war between DRM and piracy will go on forever.
But then again cloud computing is right around the corner. Who knows, maybe it will eliminate piracy all together.
18. How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I love the current implementation of DLC. It keeps old games feeling fresh!
19. What are some of the games or genres you like to play? Are you a fan of other indie developers?
Of course I love the ‘metroidvania’ games. I also love shoot em’ ups!
I’m a fan of a ton of developers. I already mentioned Nifflas and Terry but I can go ahead and add a few more ; Alec Holowka, Phil Fish, Vlambeer, Kyle Pulver, Chevy Ray, Adam Atomic, Petri Purho, Cactus, Pixel….. I could name more……
20. What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
As long as you’re passionate about it you’ll make it as a indie game developer. Passionate developers don’t care if they have to develop 9 or 10 games before they finally get ‘that break’ they’ve been looking for. They’ll do whatever it takes.