The fellas from Picsoft Studio, creators of the great indie title, Mini Robot Wars, agreed to answers a few interview questions for us via e-mail. You will get their opinions on DRM, piracy, indie bundle promotions and where Mini Robot Wars came from.
1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Mini Robot Wars.
Soun: I’m the Producer and Lead Designer of Mini Robot Wars. I’m responsible for almost everything related to MRW including technical programming, art directing, sound directing, level design, and a whole lot of testing.
Wam: I’m the Co-Producer and Writer. I help with the design idea, graphics, play testing and did all the story and text within MRW. I also do all of the promotion-related stuff.
2. How did you get started in developing PC games?
Soun : Our team started back in the day when we were university students. We found the same passion in developing games. Each of the core team already has experience in developing pc games before. I have made games with VC++ & DirectX so it’s easier for us to start our first project for Windows platform.
Wam: At that time, we didn’t plan to make it a business. Luckily, our games were received very well; we even got some awards from them. So it’s look like we can continue our life as game developers which are very rare career in our country, but we’re always dream to be.
3. Where did the idea for Mini Robot Wars come from?
Soun: Frankly, it’s Plants vs Zombies. We are fans of PvZ and wanted to play more game like this. But more than a year has passed and not a single new game like that was released. So I thought, why couldn’t we do it ourselves? Though, we had to add something new, something unique to it. – I then thought about the games that I used to play as a kid on NES console. There were a lot of platform actions and shooting games those days. Then it started from there, we try to put the elements from the retro games into the modern tower defense.
4. What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Mini Robot Wars?
Soun : Both successes and failures we have learned are coming from the situation that this is our first time to self-publishing the game for an international audience. We’ve been developing games on many platforms for years, but our roles were just about the developing. We did sell some of our original IPs in our country but it’s much more challenging to make game that sell worldwide.
So we tested it as much as we could and making changes according to the test results over time. Many features crept in too, and we decided to try almost every idea we had and play test it. The result could count as a failure for it taking so much longer to finish than we planed for in the first place. On the other hand, it is a success when we received the very good response from the target customers. They love the extra levels and features that we put into the game. It’s really worth the time spending on making it.
5. In its current form, how close is Mini Robot Wars to your initial vision?
Soun : It got much larger. The game was planned to have only 60 stages but end up having 180! But as the new ideas and test results came in, we knew that we had to shorten the play time for each stage; so the stage will end when it’s still fun and the player will want to continue playing. This made the whole game time too short. We got to make it worth the price and worth replaying too, so came episode 2 and 3 that are more challenging and have different gameplay concept to it.
Wam : When we planned for episode 2 and 3, we know that it had to be more challenging while always having something new to feed the player’s attention. Then the idea of upgrades for every robots and hazardous levels came to my mind. Instead of just making the enemies tougher, we add challenges in a more interesting way.
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 Mini Robot Wars and if you faced a similar challenge.
Wam: For us, it’s quite the opposite. Since we made this game for casual players, we always tried to reduce the level of challenge to suit the audience. Though, our team members are not the regular casual players, so if we made it challenging and complex to suit our tastes then the game would be too hard for our audience. The final game came out too easy for most hardcore gamers as we know already, but the good reaction from casual gamers proves that we are going the “right” way.
7. Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Mini Robot Wars would run on the various PC system configurations?
Soun: Lots of them, we were faced with hardware and OS problems. There’s too many different PC now a days, and we can’t test the game on every configuration possible. This may also be a reason to drive developers from this platform to the stricter platform like iOS.
8. Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Soun: Funding, period.
Wam: What he said.
9. Are there plans to take Mini Robot Wars to major digital distributors such as Steam or Desura?
Wam: We’re planning to release it on Desura soon.
10. Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price for Mini Robot Wars?
Wam: Yes, but we didn’t have to decide hard since there is already the standard price for casual game, which is $9.99.
11. How do you feel about the digital distribution platform as a whole?
Wam: It makes the process of getting the game to players much more convenience, for both developer and consumers. Though, it multiplies the effect of piracy and DRM much, much more; it’s still the best distribution platform so far.
12. Talk about how the art style and level design for Mini Robot Wars came about?
Soun: I just want the art to be cute and bright so it is likable for our more female audiences. For level design, I plan to have many environments in the game to show the variety of units and make player feel that they will face a different challenge on each level.
The level design in this game also involves a lot with robot selections. There are some levels that were tailored to show off a specific kind of robot that will work very well in that environment. But in most cases, I try to make game levels that can be won by many combination of robots to give players the freedom in their choices.
Wam: I came up with the idea to make some areas unique from the others, like removing all the ground from Glacier Lands, put spikes on Iron Fortress and all the hazard levels in the last episode.
13. You released a PC demo for Mini Robot Wars in an age where demos are becoming scare. What made you release a demo and was it difficult to develop one?
Wam: Because it’s the important thing to do, especially for indie developers. Nobody knew us before, nobody knew about our games before. We had no budget to generate hype. The best bet we could do is let people try our game first. For me, if it’s not a well-known AAA franchise I would try it before I buy. I see no excuse on not making one.
Soun: It’s also not that hard to make a demo. For MRW it’s the limited version that is not by the time to play, but by the stages. You can play the first 20 stages plus 4 mini-games in our demo for free.
14. How important is it to get instant feedback about Mini Robot Wars from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Wam: I love feedback, it can let us know what player like or didn’t like about our game. Sadly we don’t get much for Mini Robot Wars. So if you’ve play our game and reading this, please give us feedback whether you love it or hate it, we’d love to hear from you.
15. How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Mini Robot Wars professionally?
Wam: The same as from a good customer. We value the constructive and quality of the review more than who reviews it.
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?
Wam: I think it’s great in itself, when the developers are joined together to do something they really want to do, to let the world know. The income from bundle may vary largely base on how famous the games are in that bundle. But the value of being the selected game to be in the bundle is still great. I’d love to join in such thing if we have a chance to.
17. What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Wam: Until we can find a new way to track each person’s activity 24/7, or make everybody honest or rich; it will never end. So live with it. Making something that people love and proud to pay for and own it.
19. What are some of the games or genres you like to play? Are you a fan of other indie developers?
Soun: I’m an RPG fan, but lately more and more I stick to iOS games. There are still a wide opportunity for both game development and business on this platform.
Wam: I’m a strategy and adventure fan. I’ve play many indie games and bought some too. There are many games I really like such as the Chzo Mythos (Trilby’s series) by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw and Delve Deeper by Lunar Giant.
20. What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Soun: Think twice. This could be a dream job or nightmare for you. It’s a very demanding job which requires very high skill in software development, business, communication, and marketing. You also need to have a lot of experiences, dedication, passion, and time. There are many things you think you know, but you don’t until you ran into a problem with it.
Wam: Don’t aim to have a great success right from the start. Do a good and small game first and be realistic about everything except the game idea. Let it run wild first, then put the boundary of what you can do around it. – End.
Thanks goes out to all of the boys and girls from Pic-Soft and we wish them nothing but the best in their future endeavors. You can pick up Mini Robot Wars via Impulse.