The fine gents from Two Tribes, developer of the indie sensation, EDGE, took a break from crunching code to take part in this e-mail interview. Also, David Papazian and Matthieu Malot from Mobigame also join in on the festivities. You will read about the development of EDGE, DRM, piracy, Valve, digital distribution and much more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of EDGE.
I am Collin van Ginkel, one of the founders of Two Tribes, and for EDGE I’ve had the most boring job of all, that of the producer 🙂
How did you get started in developing PC games?
Actually, we used to dislike the PC a lot from a development standpoint. When we started out in 2001, we decided to focus on dedicated games machines, since they did not represent a moving target.
Fast forward to 2010 and we release Toki Tori for Steam. Since then, the PC has been on our radar as a major platform. Not in the least because of the amazing community we’ve found at Steam.
Where did the idea for EDGE come from?
Mobigame (Matthieu Malot): Actually the first idea for EDGE came in 2004 when I was working in Montreal Canada for mobile java games. I invited a friend from France and one evening we had kind of a bet that if two boxes are touching each other, is it possible that one can rotate on its edge without being blocked by the other? After a few sketches (that I have sadly lost) and some experiments with packs of cigarettes, we found out that the first box could move if it’s not blocked by a third box… After that I imagined a game based on that concept. And the day after, I started to draw some animations of a rotating cube on Pro Motion, a pixel graphics software , the game EDGE was born but I waited until 2007 when I met David Papazian to really start production.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing EDGE?
EDGE was the first game I could make with total freedom of production time, art direction and design. It was a big breath for me. The big success I ve learn from EDGE is that there is still place for non figurative games, and maybe more than a place there is a request from customers. It had a really nice welcome from almost everyone, probably because we spend lot of time to polish the details. But we didn’t expect that much nice reviews from journalist and customers.
The failures or regrets are maybe from the level design, I m proud that I ‘ve made all the levels in EDGE without any studies in level design, and they have something special, but with the latest EDGE Extended, we hired a young and talented intern level designer and I can see the difference, new levels are amazing and he succeed to find totally new ideas which did not require too much changes in the gameplay code base. I m really proud of EDGE Extended and I think it’s far better than the first opus.
In its current form, how close is EDGE to your initial vision?
Something people may not realize is that EDGE on iOS is actually drawn as a 2D game. When we started out we quickly decided it had to become full 3D, with all the benefits of being able to use proper shaders and anti-aliasing. I think we succeeded in leveraging those techniques to really bring the game to the PC as it should be.
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 EDGE and if you faced a similar challenge.
We got handed a working game, so our challenge was more to refine the experience and make it more user friendly. We have a group of about 50 testers on Steam that have been uploading heat-maps based on their actions to our servers. This has allowed us to narrow down where people have died often or where they were confused/stuck.
The bonus levels in the Steam version are Two Tribes’ own designs, and we’ve heard from several people that they feature our traditional toughness, so I guess we did fall into the trap in some way 😉
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring EDGE would run on the various PC system configurations?
We spent the last few weeks making sure it works on really low-end hardware. Especially the Mac version was a challenge to get right, since Apple traditionally skimps on graphics hardware in favor of smaller and lighter machines. In the end we will ship with a version that should run from really low specced machines and scale all the way up to the highest of resolutions.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
I’d say personally that my main gripe is that it’s hard to get noticed. Some of the bigger media focus mostly on the larger titles that come out, and it’s tough to squeeze our games in there. Exposure equals sales, so it is a really important thing to crack for us.
Tell us about your relationship with Valve. How did making EDGE available via Steam come about? Also talk about how you created Steam Achievements.
We love Valve! 🙂
We visited Valve several times during the Potato ARG we did for Portal 2. Each time I was amazed at how they run things, it was really inspiring. They are easy to work with, and as long as you have a good product I’m pretty sure there will be a place for it on Steam.
EDGE is an easy game to add achievements too, since there are so many hidden areas and tricks we can reward players for. We went all out with the Steam achievements, so upon launch we’ll have about 35 achievements. There may be some more since we’re adding stuff till the last minute!
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?
It depends a lot on the different channels. For Steam you set a fixed pricepoint and you can organize special sales, or Valve will ask you participate in things like the Summer Sale. For us this is much better than how it works on the App Store, where there is a race for the bottom where pricing is concerned.
How do you feel about the digital distribution platform as a whole?
It’s all we’ve got and we love it 🙂 There are unique challenges to each platform, but overall it’s a great place to be active in.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for EDGE.
Mobigame (Matthieu): The art style took a lot of time and I was the only one in charge of it because David let me handle it. So I have a lot of version with different colors and palettes, I knew from the beginning I wanted a black and white background and a colored cube. The first cube was blue, then orange, and after David rendered it in code I could change the color dynamically during the game, so I decided to make it like a rainbow. 🙂 So I removed almost any color in the game to use that rainbow palette instead. We both thought it was a strong visual statement for the game.
The level design was also very experimental. We changed the level editing method during development many times, and when the moving platform gameplay came about, we knew it would be so important in the gameplay that we chose to use a 3D software to edit those platform movements.
I wanted the levels to be weird so that the player would feel lost in a strange random world of cubes. I didn’t want a very classic level design that you would feel is made by someone human.
If you can, please talk about the legal issue between your company and the game EDGEBobby2 developed by Edge Games. In addition, how do you feel about the general idea of cloning in video game industry as opposed to the modding community?
Mobiegame (David Papazian): Bobby Bearing is a game created by Robert & Trevor Figgins in the 1980’s. It was a good game at this time. The copyright now belongs to the Figgins Brothers, EDGEBobby2 is infringing this copyright. It also infringes our trademark for EDGE, and from the review we read it misleads the consumers about a connection with the magazine EDGE of Future Publishing. We know that Tim Langdell did this for the appeal against Future Publishing in the lawsuit he lost in the high court of London. He is still fighting many other people (for example the website), and even if he lost 2 lawsuits already, he is trying to keep the trademark EDGE. He probably knows that he will lose the appeal, but he will try to pretend that he is an actual game developer. He also believe it will cost a lot to Future Publishing and it could weaken them. It’s our duty to do everything we can to stop this man, and we asked to Apple to take down this game for those reasons.
I am not sure this has anything to do with cloning. But in general we are against cloning, it’s like stealing someone property, and unfortunately some companies are specialized in this activity. But most video games are made of small evolution from another game. It’s shocking when someone steal a very specific idea from a small team, but it seems normal when the original game created a genre on its own. On the iPhone market you can compare Doodle Jump and Papi Jump, Angry Birds and Crush the castle, Tiny Wings and Wavespark, or more recently Ninja Fishing and Ridiculous Fishing, and so on. The first ones could not exist without the second, but they get a lot more success. Do you think it is fair? Since the Langdell-gate, it’s clear that the Intellectual Property system is totally broken, and people who are supposed to fix it, like the IGDA did not do anything about it. I don’t know the modding community enough to make a comparison. I guess the videogame market is just a jungle and we have to live with it. Just don’t forget to keep a place for a good lawyer in your survival kit.
How important is it to get instant feedback about EDGE from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
We live off of feedback! Especially on Steam it’s easy for us to communicate directly with our customers. Anything they say will be read by someone at Two Tribes, guaranteed!
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review EDGE professionally?
We see it as a method to improve ourselves and our games. Sometimes it’s very frustrating, but in the end it turns out reviews don’t make or break your game’s success in any way.
How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?
It is awesome and we’d definitely be interested in joining. As for the ‘pay what you want’, I am not so sure if it would work on a larger scale without all the attention it’s getting now.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
We’ve decided a while ago that we don’t care. Our games always get cracked and what you see is that after a while most new players are actually paying customers, so that’s fine with us.
What do you do in your spare time away from the gaming scene?
I like house music, so I spend quite a lot of time searching for new tracks and artists. But most time gets spent on gaming I must confess.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Be open about what you’re doing and make something awesome, not just a variation on what’s already out there. Also, never give up. It’s normal for your first game to not be all that great, but learn from what your customers tell you and keep improving!
We would like to thank everyone from Mobigame and Two Tribes for participating in this fascinating interview. We look forward to their future offerings. You pick up EDGE via Steam.