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The fellas from Puppy Games, developers of the great title, Revenge of the Titans, offers their view on the current trends of PC gaming, indie development, DRM, piracy and much more.
1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Revenge of the Titans.
Hi, my name is actually Caspian Prince, genuinely. I’m one half of Puppygames (or Puppy Games, nobody seems to be able to agree). I take care of the business side of things, do nearly all the coding, and half of the design, and most of the sound production. I’m the noisy one. The other half is Chaz Willets, who takes care of anything graphical, including our website, videos, promotional graphics, etc. and of course, he does the other half of the game design. He’s the quiet, shy, retiring one.
Revenge was evolved over a period of about 3 years or so, without any particular direction other than whatever I felt was fun. Chaz concentrates on all the pernickety implementation details such as GUI and animation and effects, whereas I tend to make the broad-brush decisions about core gameplay and mechanics.
2. How did you get started in developing PC games?
Almost by accident – I was designing some realtime television graphics software when I thought I’d have a quick go at experimenting with games (a bit of a childhood ambition). Of course my art skills are about as good as my understanding of quantum string theory. Fortunately about the same time as I got interested in it, Chaz resurfaced about 5 years incognito. We’ve known each other since we were 12 and drifted off on the seas of chance as we went to universities. When I bumped into him again he’d acquired a load of tech skills to complement his already fantastic artistic abilities.
Then we slogged away for 10 years making games nobody liked.
3. Where did the idea for Revenge of the Titans come from?
Chaz found a game written in Flash called Storm the House. We got stuck playing it for hours. See the answer to question 5 for what happened next.
4. What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Revenge of the Titans?
I’m sorry to say we didn’t learn a whole lot whilst developing Revenge. We were literally just building on top of the foundation of the previous 10 years hard graft. If there are any lessons to take away from it all, it’s that we really ought to think very hard about the design of a game before we start it. We rewrote it almost completely four times over.
5. In its current form, how close is Revenge of the Titans to your initial vision?
It is about as different as you could possibly imagine. It wasn’t even called Revenge of the Titans originally (we called it Monster Mash).
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 Revenge of the Titans and if you faced a similar challenge.
We had exactly this problem, although we approach it from a different angle to most games designers. Fortunately I have a few test subjects that I occasionally inflicted the game on who were very helpful when it came to difficulty levels. And not being gamers they didn’t whine about it being different to games they’ve already played.
Revenge of the Titans is largely self-tuning, difficulty-wise, like all our recent games – that is, it detects players who are doing well and gives them more of a challenge. Likewise it detects rubbish players and gives them an easier time. The trick is in gauging just how trivial the game should get – the baseline difficulty for one-legged half-blind grandpas playing on a trackpad who don’t know which end of the bat to hit with the racquet – and just how hard the game should get for those irritating 15yr old uber-gamer kids who reckon they can complete the entire campaign in 4 hours. By the way, I challenge anyone to complete the game in just four hours, especially starting from scratch never having played it before. I spent four hours *every day* playtesting it for a year to get the difficulty tuning right. I still actually find it quite fun!
7. Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Revenge of the Titans would run on the various PC system configurations? Also, please talk about supporting the Mac and Linux platforms
Revenge was largely developed on a rather crappy HP laptop with a feeble processor and a trackpad instead of a mouse. That is, the bulk of its difficulty tuning was done on a machine that could barely cope with the graphical requirements and that had a control mechanism effectively limited to that which could be achieved by a single finger wielded without grace. A lot of people were quite surprised to discover how easy the game was to control with a mouse – that’s because I had to make it bloody good to be playable with a trackpad!
As a consequence of getting the game to run mostly at 60fps on that laptop it was fairly guaranteed to run on anything up to 4 or 5 years old at the same speed, which included the vast majority of Macs and laptops out there.
We have barely done any support whatsoever on the Mac – it just worked. Linux on the other hand is a monster pain in the arse, accounting for just 15% of the sales but 90% of the support. To the Linux community – please fix this. It is your fault, not ours. Surprisingly, Windows users suffer from mostly the same issues.
8. Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Forcing myself to do useful work every day. Maybe even just knowing what to work on. That, and the threat of total poverty whilst looking after a whole family. Let’s face it, we spent 10 years earning about as much money as we need to survive for just 1 year. It’s a mug’s game.
9. Tell us about your relationship with Valve. How did making Revenge of the Titans available via Steam come about? Also talk about how you created Steam Achievements.
We contacted Valve a few times, they said go away. Then a friend of ours – Brian Kramer of Subsoap, developer of the awesomely addictive Faerie Solitaire games (now on iPhone, hint hint!) – poked someone at Valve who took the time to look at our game and they strangely said yes.
The game was designed with achievements in mind for quite a while – we call them “medals” in the game – but we’ve not yet integrated the Steam APIs in our games yet as it requires a reasonably fiddly translation layer between our Java code and the Steam SDK which is written in C++.
10. How much pull do you have when setting sale and regular pricing through digital distribution channels? Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
We can do what the hell we like on our site. Its like a sliding control – move the price slider up to the right and the whining noise from gamers gets louder. Move it to the left and the noise goes down, along with profits.
Valve largely decide the price of Revenge through Steam – that is, they suggest the price to flog it at, and we basically agree with them, as we have no data or insights and they’ve been at it for years. We trust them to get it right, and so far I think it’s worked out nicely.
11. How do you feel about the digital distribution platform as a whole?
As one of the earliest indie game developers around in the New Wave of Independent Game Development started shortly after the internet revolution in, er, must have been 1997 or so, we basically never did believe in any other distribution model. We have got retail copies of the game now on shelves and such but it’s increasingly outdated to deliver software of any kind – games, music, video – on physical media.
Steam (and Desura – which is actually somewhat of a better implementation) has taken the digital distribution model to its logical conclusion, whereby your right to run something exists in the proverbial Cloud, not tied to any particular machine. The music industry – or rather Apple and Amazon – have only just woken up to this blindingly obvious fact for some reason. The music industry really deserves to die and be replaced by something sensible.
12. How did you develop the art style and overall level design for Revenge of the Titans?
Chaz just iterated over it about 20 times until he was happy with it 🙂 This is one reason we take so long over our games – Chaz redoes everything from scratch about 3 times over until he likes it. There is no actual level design; the levels are pseudo-randomly procedural generated using various algorithms.
13. You released a PC demo for Revenge of the Titans in an age where demos are becoming scarce. What made you release a demo and was it difficult to develop one?
Er, you must be from some sort of strange planet on another solar system. This is the way digital distribution has always worked! You release a demo, and attempt to convert people into buying the full version of the game, which is either a separate download, or unlocks the demo. We use the unlockable demo method. This means it’s trivially easy to release the game as a demo or full version.
14. How important is it to get instant feedback about the game from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
We see everything. Everything anyone says anywhere about Revenge of the Titans, we know about it, and we read it, and make a note. Feedback from across the entire internet has shaped this game into what it is today. You wouldn’t believe it but this game is as much a product of the thousands of players as it is our own design.
15. How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Revenge of the Titans professionally?
The same as those who review it in an amateur standing. Many so-called professional reviews are horribly inaccurate, use screenshots from 2 years ago (wonder where they get them from?), compare the game unnecessarily to entirely different games (or even entire genres! A tip to reviewers: it’s *not* a tower defense game). The things I take most issue with are a) scoring – wtf? Where did you pluck 87% from? and b) whining on about things you did or didn’t like in the demo which someone could quite easily find out for themselves and form their own opinions of by playing it.
IMHO, when I read a review, what I want to know is, does my money extend the enjoyment I can get from the demo in any way, what sort of cool things await me behind the paywall, and is it worth it in various terms such as fun, longevity, depth or breadth? And the sooner scores out of 10 or 100 die the better. Can you imagine scoring paintings out of 100? Or a book? It’s ghastly and juvenile.
If you want to see how it should be done: read RockPaperShotgun 🙂 Grown up reviewing, for grown ups.
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 don’t know a lot about the PC gaming industry to be honest. I play very few games these days – always just working on my own stuff really. Intrusive DRM is a fairly dumb idea – well the reasoning isn’t particularly dumb (pirates!), but the implementation certainly is and the underlying argument is basically naive.
Google for “the coolest DRM ever” 🙂
In the meantime, we’ve seen our stuff torrented to Hell and back, which is a bit of a shame when we even released the source code for it, and have the coolest DRM ever, of course. It is almost a dead cert that our next big game will be online-only and need no DRM anyway. There will always be a niche for single player offline gaming but that niche is shrinking fast thanks to the efforts of tight-fisted pirates, who will be left with very little to pirate one day, and probably the more miserable for it.
18. How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
It’s great! Especially as delivered through Steam and Desura. It’s the coolest way to extract a load more value from a game. Instead of the developers paying to develop a whole new game, and then having to charge you full price for it, it can be delivered in little bite sized chunks, and you can pay for it in tiny amounts for as long as the game itself interests you. This is far better than spending 5 years making a monolithically huge game, when only 10% of the players ever get to see it all.For example, I really hate end-bosses. 90% of players never get to see the end boss in a game because they get bored or stuck before they get anywhere near it. It would be so much better if games were about a third the size they are now and you got to see everything in that third and then buy a bit more if you want to carry on. You know… like Doom did, 20 years ago.
19. What are some of the games or genres you like to play? Are you a fan of other indie developers?
Right now I mostly only play L4D2 with my friends once a week and I’m still slowly trundling through Portal 2, which has taken me 13 hours so far. I’m a big fan of quite a few other indies for various reasons, though mostly the problem I have is that very few indies are writing the kinds of games I like to play. Which is why I write games, I suppose. I actually play my own games more than any others for some reason.
I’d like to make a mention of Cliffski, and Brian Kramer once again, who have been both a great help and inspiration to us, and Jeffrey of Wolfire for finally making us successful. Without all three of these guys there’d be no Revenge of the Titans, and possibly not even any Puppygames – I was going to jack it in if we failed this time.
20. What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Sod off, we got here first!
We would again like to thank Puppy Games for giving us a glimpse into a well run PC development company. You can check out Revenge of the Titans via Steam.