PC Multiplatform Dungeon Crawling Goodness: Cardinal Quest Interview

The newly released indie title, Cardinal Quest, is an impressive take on the 1980s arcade style dungeon games.  In this e-mail interview, TPG talks to the creator of Cardinal Quest, Ido Yehieli.  Ido also speaks on DRM, digital distribution, PC gaming journalism and much more.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Cardinal Quest.

My name is Ido Yehieli and I am a 28 years old game developer living
in Vienna, Austria. I’ve been working as a professional programmer
since I was 18.  At the beginning of March, I quit my job as game
developer at Mipumi Games to pursue making indie-games as a full-time job.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

I’ve started making games in QBasic, which was a free programming
language and development environment from Microsoft – it used to be
bundled with DOS (I think Windows 95 was the last time it came bundled
with a Microsoft OS).

My first computer was a PC XT clone that my parents got in ’86 or ’87.
It had a monochrome monitor, bleepy speaker and couldn’t really do
much, but it could run GW-Basic and QBasic!

I made a bunch of games in my school years, including:

  • * some bouncing balls multiplayer (same-computer using different sides
    of the keyboard) action game – bounce off the “walls” of a top-down
    view “arena” (read: rectangle) and into you rival.
  • * some text-based (like IF, not roguelikes) turn-based strategy game
    where you have to defend your planet by giving birth to alien drones
    of various types & using them to breed more drones, mine resources or
    fight other drones.
  • * a couple of roguelikes I started making a bit later, most of which I
    never finished

Where did the idea for Cardinal Quest come from?

By that time I’ve made several small roguelikes for the Severn Days Roguelike Challenge and wanted to start working on a more ambitious project – the 7DRLs were fun but I wanted to make a “real” game!

I wrote down a design document for a relatively small roguelike (but still much bigger and more complete than anything I’ve made myself before) and a few days later Jagosh [Kalezich] started making the graphics and I started programming. I’m not sure which started first, but they both started within days from one another and very shortly after I finished the first version of the design document.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Cardinal Quest?

I think it’s a bit early to talk about financial successes or failures
since the game just launched, but the two lessons I’ve learned (again)
about development are:

1. Everything takes longer than expected: Cardinal Quest’s prototype
took about 2 man-month of work and I’ve worked on the release version
for 5 months (mostly full-time). I originally thought I can make the
prototype in 2 weeks and the final version in another 2 months, and
there is still a ton I want to add to the game, which will probably
start coming out as updates in the coming weeks.

2. Make games not engines! I am pretty the vast majority of the
“generic engine” code I wrote for Cardinal Quest will never be reused
by another game, and even if I wanted to reuse it I could have also
done so without it being separated to “engine code” and “game code”
off the bat.

In its current form, how close is Cardinal Quest to your initial vision?

It is actually not that far from the original design document Jagosh & I started to work from all those months ago. Going from the prototype to the release version added a lot of content and changed some major systems, most importantly the new magic system – inspired by desktop dungeons and suggested by Caspian Prince from Puppy Games.

A lot of the interface changes between the prototype and release version also stem from ideas by Caspian and Kevin Glass.  I also got a ton of gameplay and interface feedback from the heaps of testers that helped us test the game.

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 Cardinal Quest and if you faced a similar challenge.

The prototype was almost unplayably hard, and so were many of the
alpha and beta releases.

However along the entire length of the project I have had 100s or 1000s of testers and made sure to test each release with fresh testers who haven’t played the game before.

The current version is therefore a lot easier than previous ones, but it is still not perfectly balanced. The main issues is the huge variance of player skills & I am contemplating adding difficulty levels you can select at the beginning of the game, so that every player can choose for themselves.

If I was balancing the game for myself it would have been much more punishing that it currently is!

Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Cardinal Quest would run on the various Windows, Mac and Linux platforms?

Yes!  I developed on Windows and ported to Mac OSX pretty early – that was
pretty painless.

However, supporting Linux proved to be quite a challenge and I suspect  I will spend the majority of the post-release week(s?) trying to get the Linux version to a more stable state.

Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?

Handling the uncertainty – there was no guarantee the game would make
enough money to support me & that was quite stressful.

Also, there were a ton of other stuff I had to handle which I didn’t need to when I worked as an “industry” game developer – marketing, getting the website up & good-looking, finding & managing contractors, and handling all the business-side of the operation in general.

None of these is a huge task by itself but it’s very much a death by a
thousand cuts kind of deal.

Tell us about the process of submitting Cardinal Quest to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.

I only submitted it to a couple of portals so far (and it’s only up on one of them) but until now I have encountered no resistance.  In fact everybody were really nice and helpful and were a huge boon!

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?

I could set the price to as little or as much as I wanted it to be.

Since I used crowed sourcing to finance the release version of Cardinal Quest, I originally set the price to the most common price-point people chose on 8-Bit Funding ($10).

Shortly after release I received input from some players saying that the price was too high, so I reduced it to $5.95 to make sure as many people as possible can afford playing the game.

How do you feel about the digital distribution platform as a whole?

I think it’s a real boon for both developers and players.

When you had to have boxes on store shelves in order to sell your game there were far fewer possibilities for indie developers to get their games out there – now everyone can sell their games online.

Also, as a player I don’t remember the last time I bought a game in a non-digital way. I have no idea how game shops are still in business.

Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Cardinal Quest.

The levels are all randomly generated, but the generator used to create much denser levels – the floors were basically all rooms separated by walls from each other, with some doors to get from one room to the other. We changed that to create more corridors and loops between rooms, so that you’d now get from the action-filled rooms full of monsters to some reprise in the corridor before getting to the next

The art style is entirely Jagosh’s, I only suggested going with an 8-bit aesthetic. Whitaker [Blackall] also pretty much had free range when it came to music, although I did nag him quite a bit with all kinds tweaks which probably nobody but me cares about.

How important is it to get instant feedback about Cardinal Quest from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?

Very much so!  There is always more to do that I have time and resourced to, and without player feedback I can’t tell which is important and which isn’t. Quite often my to-do list changed dramatically after a release due to tester (or now player) input.

How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Cardinal Quest professionally?

A bit more than the opinions of players, I guess. Specific reviewers’ opinion might get more value if I know beforehand that they’re really good at what they do, but many aren’t that different from the players who give me feedback via email or twitter (other than the extra attention they bring to the game, of course).

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?

I think they’re great! I bought all of the humble bundles myself, even
tho I probably only seriously played maybe half the games.

I was worried that the humble bundle might lose a bit of its charm in
the 3rd or 4th iteration, but it seems they are just going from
strength to strength – I would love to get into something like that

What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?

I actually hardly ever play AAA PC games – I play almost exclusively indie games (and the very occasional non-indie casual game) and those don’t tend to have much DRM.

I personally put no DRM on Cardinal Quest. I know it will get pirated, but there is little I can do to stop that but hope that people are willing to buy the game to support a small indie developer.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about modding of PC games and the relationship developers have with modders.  How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Cardinal Quest?

I think it’s really cool that people take such effort to bring their own personal touch to a game (I most recently experienced that as a player via some Minecraft mods).

In a way you might say it hurts the artistic integrity on a work by having someone else dabble with it, but the beauty of games is in their interactivity, and modding is in a way the ultimate form of interaction with a game.

I would be glad if CQ attracted a modding community, although I don’t know how viable that is at the moment, since I haven’t really exposed much to modders in the way the game was coded.

What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?

Make games! Don’t wait until you have the money or the time, just make games.  Before Cardinal Quest I’ve made a bunch of free games, most of which I
didn’t even finish but even those taught me a lot of value lessons.

I particularly enjoy competitions such as Ludum Dare or the Seven Days Roguelike Challenge, since the extreme constrains make you focus on getting the game out of the door as soon as you can and not get distracted by fluff. – End

We would like to thank Ido for his detailed answers on the creation of Cardinal Quest.  You can try the demo and purchase the game via the official site.

Reach out to our Austrian friend by leaving a comment for Ido!

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8 thoughts on “PC Multiplatform Dungeon Crawling Goodness: Cardinal Quest Interview

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