Conducted By Adam Ames
Sigma Team, developer of the indie title, Alien Hallway was nice enough to participate in an interview with TPG. You will learn how Sigma Team developed Alien Hallway, the success and failures in doing so and various topics on the PC gaming industry.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Alien Hallway
I have finished Novosibirsk State University specializing in linguistics and cross-cultural communication, English philology and Chinese language.
Sigma Team isn’t a big company, so we don’t have strict responsibilities for our specialists. Of course, every member of the team has certain sphere he’s specializing in and his own tasks, nevertheless just everybody is free to take part in creative process. All fresh ideas are welcome. In connection with my profession, I was in charge of the game world features, writing texts for the missions, descriptions of the planets and other in-game texts.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
Well, I’ve found myself in gaming industry occasionally, but as soon as I got here I started enjoying what’s going on around me. It’s probably because I like to be inside the process of creation for something new that will be later presented to a wide audience. Here my favorite element of unpredictability takes place. The stream of thought is unrestricted and many things are changing just on the spot, and we are the ones to direct these flows! It’s a kind of magic. So to say, I love to take part in creation from origination of idea till receiving requests for the interview 🙂
Moreover, the world of computer games is inhabited by amazing people, making my everyday cognitive and so much interesting. Thanks everybody!
Where did the idea for Alien Hallway come from?
First of all there was an idea to create the game basing on “classic” green aliens, to carry out our own vision of this race. As a result, we have invented the following classification: the workers, the soldiers and the scientists. Each class had three stages of evolution: the larva, the teenager so to say, and adult species. From the very beginning the gaming process was being planned as a logical continuation of our Alien Shooter games series, but during the process of development we decided to simplify the game, adapting it for beginners to maximum extent, saving the hordes of Aliens and Action typical for all our games at the same time. That’s how we’ve come to the idea of creating “Tower vs tower defence” game.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Alien Hallway?
Timing is one of the main issues for any kind of commercial creation. So the main thing for us, I guess, is the ability to make strict planning and follow the terms of development. We always want to lead the game to maximum possible development extent, carrying out all the ideas, especially those coming to us during the very process of development and intermediate testings.
As for Alien Hallway, we have succeeded in stopping ourselves in time and finishing the project in accordance with the terms. Of course, we think it was made to the prejudice of fine-tuning of the game, hope our fans will excuse us, but, they say there are no limits for perfection 🙂
In its current form, how close is Alien Hallway to your initial vision?
In general, the game is up to our expectations, as I said above, we would really like to work on this project more, make the new part, where we can carry out everything we’ve been thinking about. However, here it all depends on our gamers, in case of financial success we’ll definitely start working on development of the continuation.
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 Alien Hallway and if you faced a similar challenge.
I think this problem is relevant not only for Indie developers, but for the industry in general. Today we can see that even AAA games tend to be “casualized” – in order to widen the gamers community, to make the game easy approachable for both core players and beginners, for those who sometimes play computer games and don’t have “professional” gaming skills. This problem is actually easy to solve, during the process of development every member of the team offers the game to try for his friends, relatives and kids, listening to the comments attentively and watching the person playing. As a result, we are working on usability, polishing gaming balance.
According to users’ reviews we are doing good.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Alien Hallway would run on the various PC system configurations?
I think we should say big thanks to Microsoft here 🙂 All our games use DirectX technology, and for Alien Hallway we were also using XNA Framework. Thankfully to that the whole problem of various PC system configurations is about adaptation of the project for weak PC’s, including last generation PC’s and net books.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
This is actually rather wide and philosophical question, I think we could even devote a separate interview for that.
In short, I don’t see any unsolvable tasks and global problems for us, as Indie developers, because all major problems like lack of development experience,lack of partners, publishers and distributors, absence of exact vision of the future project – these major problems of Indie beginners – are already in the past for us, fortunately.
How did you create funding for the development of Alien Hallway and did you receive emotional support from your family and friends during this time?
Development of Alien Hallway was financed by us, from the funds received after sales of our previous games. As for support from the family and friends – to tell the truth, there is no special attitude for game development in Russia. People far away from gaming industry consider this a regular job with its own “computer features”. Moreover, we bump into this problem when accepting new specialists, because the people come to apply for a regular job, accepting it like “creative part” and that’s it, they don’t think it’s actually a hard job, insomnia etc.
Tell us about the process of submitting Alien Hallway to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
As I said before, for the moment we don’t have troubles with it, because Sigma Team in on the market since 2003, and for today we have good relations with almost all major DD portals.
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 are listening to our partners recommendations and of course analyzing the prices for similar products for the moment of release.
How do you feel about the digital distribution platform as a whole?
It’s a logical continuation of retail distribution, caused by technological development.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Alien Hallway.
As I mentioned above, after we decided to make “green aliens” we have looked through tones of materials (movies, documentaries, games etc.) concerning this issue and tried to carry out our own vision, find our own unique style. You can judge whether we succeeded or not.
Level design in Alien Hallway is minimal, the main purpose was not to overload the picture with unnecessary details, distracting the gamer from the process, same time it was necessary to keep the “intrigue”, placing the gamer into alien space…
So we made the levels “hanging” in the outer space against various planets, around which the hallways connecting different worlds are built. As for the musical arrangement, we would like to say great thanks to the guys from England, David Fenn and Joe De-Vine from
“Hyperfield Audio Productions”. They wrote a letter to us offering to create the music and sounds for our future project, and after several iterations we have come to our common opinion. We think the result sounds quite good.
For the most part, big budget studios no longer release PC demos while almost ever indie developer does. Why do you think this trend is occurring? Tell us why released a demo for Alien Hallway and the difficulties in doing so.
According to my experience as a gamer, really good games,we can get from whether AAA developers or Indie developers only. First of all, it’s because the most difficult and effortful development stage is the gameplay. Average studios try to develop their business by means of tests and mistakes, often forgetting about what they are doing. Well, the results are quite vivid.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Alien Hallway from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
No doubts, it’s the most important part in our job, without understanding of what our users want, Sigma Team Company wouldn’t exist.
15. How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Alien Hallway professionally?
Professional reviews are important, of course, but not as important as our potential buyers’ and gamers’ reviews.
First of all it’s connected with the fact that every professional reviewer is a hardcore gamer and evaluates our game from this point of view, so such opinion is often quite different from the opinion of the major mass playing our games.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
My opinion is that this is the major problem for PC game development, for instance, our games from Alien Shooter series are known for almost every Core gamer in Russia, and for the moment here our games have almost cult status, you can find them in almost every local p2p net 🙂 Despite of that, our main profit comes from the North America and Europe…
Bill S.978 was introduced to the Untied States Senate earlier this year which could make it illegal to post unauthorized copyrighted content on YouTube and other video sharing sites. How do you feel about individuals outside of Sigma Team posting videos of Alien Hallway?
Honestly, I don’t understand the reasons for such prohibitions, because this way we are getting additional marketing for our products. Moreover,video gives the opportunity of sharing opinions, indirect communication between the gamers, which is especially important for offline single-player projects.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
We are using the similar method for a long time already, add-ons for the first part of Alien Shooter were being sold from our site only and in case of having the full version only. As a gamer, I think it’s a perfect way to prolong the pleasure from the game I like.
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 Alien Hallway?
Oh, it’s the necessary part of community for any project, as for us, unfortunately we don’t always have time and means for mods support, answering the questions concerning editor and writing recommendations, hope we’ll fulfill this hole in the nearest future.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Never go to game development if you see it as one of the ways to earn money only, trust me, there are so many other easier ways for that.
The only right motivation is the will to make Games with a capital “G”, despite of all difficulties, and if it’s so, you’ll succeed – End