Brent Anderson, the developer of the great indie title, The Great White Destroyer, took time out of his day to answer a few questions in this e-mail interview. You will get a good look into the life of an indie dev, his views on DRM, DLC, piracy and how TGWD came to be.
1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of The Great White Destroyer.
My name is Brent Anderson, I’m a 32 year old manguy who loves making games, always have and always will, hopefully. I’ve been at this indie developing thing for roughly 6 years and am mostly self taught. Currently I’ve got 2 games under my belt and a ton of unfinished prototypes. My role with The Great White Destroyer, I made the whole damn thing. I had a lone tester, Jay, who was aces, the game wouldn’t be near as good without his input.
2. How did you get started in developing PC games?
I knew I wanted to be involved with the process of game creation when I was a wee lad, so I took whatever available paths there were. I dabbled in programming, got a 3D animation degree(no Game schools at the time), did some work on game mods after college while trying to find a job. Some industry contacts wove a pretty dire tale of the job market at that time, so I though “why not make one yourself dummy!”
3. Where did the idea for The Great White Destroyer come from?
It actually started with the mouse control scheme. I was taking what I had done with Snowball’s Chance and improving on it. Previously I had been prototyping something else that was less action oriented, and I was in the mood for destruction. I figured it would be fun to be a shark tearing ass on everything, so I put the two together.
4. What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing The Great White Destroyer?
Successes, I now have a much better skillset than before! I have better understanding of how programming works, better marketing skills, and who knew I could make decent music, haha. I’ve sold more copies of this game than my previous one.
Failures, I developed it in the dark, so most people to this day don’t even know it exists. I’ve never been a social person in real life or the internet, so I’ve been trying to work on that, as it IS required for exposure.
5. In its current form, how close is The Great White Destroyer to your initial vision?
Gameplay wise it ended up better than planned, on the content front, there were a few stage ideas and enemies I cut from it for time reasons mostly. I’m super satisfied with it.
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 The Great White Destroyer and if you faced a similar challenge.
Difficulty turned out to be not that difficult to deal with. My tester had a good bead on things and let me know when something might be an issue. It was usually a number tweak here or there. I worked out normal difficulty first, and modified the rest according to that. I think most players of any skill level could enjoy it. Easy mode is a walk in the park, and deadly is damn near survival horror minus the zombies.
7. Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring The Great White Destroyer would run on the various PC system configurations?
I made the game using Gamemaker 6 and 7, so the system specs were pretty much already in stone, making it very easy. Across my family and friends, I had a nice assortment of rigs to test it on. There are a few problems which required finding work arounds to some issues, usually revolving around compatability mode tweaks on the newer Windows OS.
8. Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Getting noticed by far. The market is saturated from top to bottom now, you could blink and miss a game! So you shout and wave your arms in a sea of people doing the same until your time comes, whenever the hell that is.
9. How did you develop the art style and level design for The Great White Destroyer?
The art is mostly simple shading with hard black outlines, the style or how things took shape didn’t really have any thought put behind it besides being quick to do, it was just how I drew at the time. I did become conscious of it partways through and tried to stick close to how everything started out. If you look close you can probably tell what art was done early in the game’s life cycle, and what came later. The level design was, for the most part, simple small areas. These were’nt traditional stages with a beginning and end, more of an arena environment, as the end level conditions are based on score aquisition. There were a few later stages that were huge, as they were meant to match to scale some of the set pieces. For instance, the oil rig, that stage used to be like 6 screens tall! That just wasn’t fun! It left the enemies way spread out, plus it was a drain on the system and frame rate. So some stages became more compact than originally planned, and for the better. I had a level-up moment then.
10. Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price for The Great White Destroyer?
Nope. I started the price at $6, just to see how it would do. I upped it to $9.99 a few months back as an experiment. *shrug* It may go higher or lower again, we’ll see.
11. As of the interview (7-10-11), The Great White Destroyer is not available on the major digital distribution platforms (Steam, Impulse, Desura). Are there any plans to change that?
I have been in contact with Steam and Impulse. Steam is a no go, but my last submission faired better than the previous one. I’ll try again later. Impulse just recently changed hands and I’m waiting to hear back from a rep. Last I checked, Desura wants nothing to do with Gamemaker games. I can understand why, it’s still a bummer though.
12. How do you feel about the online modding community? What would be your reaction to a user changing or altering your game and making that mod available to others?
Modding is great! I used to do that back in the Dungeon Siege and Neverwinter Nights days. It’s cool to see people toss in their own creativity and buff the fun for everyone. I don’t think modding Shark is possible due to how it’s made, but if someone did I’d be perfectly fine with that.
13. You released a PC demo for The Great White Destroyer in an age where demos are becoming scare. What made you release a demo and was it difficult to develop one?
I feel that it is my duty to let someone taste this game before buying! Do you really want someone to be unsatisfied with your product, I mean having the money is nice, but not if they disliked the experience, that doesn’t seem like a fair trade to me. I’ll admit that having to cut a new demo every update can be a pain in the ass, but I do it anyway, it’s the right thing. Typically it involves removing certain game assets, changing stage flow, and limiting variables on the menu systems, and testing to make sure you didn’t eff something up.
14. How important is it to get instant feedback about The Great White Destroyer from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
I haven’t gotten much feedback at all really, thankfully the feedback I do get is mostly positive, and via email. So I guess, unimportant until I actually get more feedback, ha!
15. How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review The Great White Destroyer professionally?
About as much as any other player really. I think the value of feedback is less about who it comes from, and more about is it a good idea and would it improve the gameplay experience.
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?
Remember that sea of people waving their arms, this would be a group of people doing it in unison! It’s a cool idea, I like it. I’d certainly contribute to it if I were invited. As for “pay what you want”, I can see it being viable every so often, as it gets people to turn heads and look, but if it were common place I imagine it would lose the “whaaooo!” factor. Until I’m proven wrong, that’s how I feel about it.
17. What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
It’s a whole bunch of crap. Note this, I have downloaded cracked programs before, mostly during my college years. I’m not proud by any stretch, especially after pouring years into making a game. When I saw my game pirated the day after release, my heart sank a little. By the way it did nothing for my numbers, so that whole “pirating advertises games!” argument is bullshit. Yes, DRM. I think that DRM is more to satisfy the ignorant fear of suits and stockholders than it is to prevent piracy. Pirates still find a way to bypass DRM, so what other explaination is there? I’m sure the guys who make the DRM do a right fine job of keeping the scare on, this is a damn near unlimited job for them! What’s morbidly hilarious about it is that the only people put off by the whole thing is the consumer, whuuuuuuuT!!??!? But they just keep on buying. Insanity. Pirates won’t stop, they’re nice and comfy. You want to stop pirates, you kill their comfort, and that won’t happen without government intervention(please no more of that) or a total change in how games make money. Basically everyone is the problem in this situation.
18. How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I don’t get excited about it or anything. I can see where it’s good for making money and keeping the game in the public eye for a bit longer. I’m just used to buying a product and that’s it. I don’t know if I’d ever make DLC myself, I’d rather just update a game if it needs it, maybe some additional content for the fans if it sold enough, then get started on the next game.
19. What are some of the games or genres you like to play? Are you a fan of other indie developers?
I’m going to answer in reverse, the genres I play the least are sports and racing. I haven’t really been a fan of any developer(big or small) at all for some time. There’s a lot of us out here doing what we love, picking favorites just doesn’t feel right to me.
20. What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
If you’re a hermit like me, get your ass to socializing naoo! Hit the forums, hit the popular sites, make yourself known. Let people play your game while you develop it. Get their feedback, pick through it wisely, you must show growth! Get in contact with other indie devs. Form bonds with them, help each other. If you find it very hard and you start getting depressed, for the love of God, talk to someone about it, anybody. Rant and rave, cry and shout, get it out of your system for your own health. You WILL die inside otherwise. Oh, an have fun!
Interview conducted by Adam Ames.