Conducted By Adam Ames
TPG caught up with Mårten Stormdal from Fatshark to talk about his new title, Hamilton’s Great Adventure. You will get his opinion on the topics surrounding the PC gaming industry, life as an independent PC developer, and how Hamilton’s Great Adventure came to be.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Hamilton’s Great Adventure.
My name is Mårten Stormdal currently working with Game Design here at Fatshark.
I started out in the game dev industry back in ’99 as an artist-intern at a pretty unknown Swedish company called Amuze while they were developing the Dreamcast action adventure Headhunter. Since then I’ve mostly worked on third person action games of various scopes and styles. Hamilton’s Great Adventure is actually the first non-violent game I have been involved in.
The roles I took in Hamilton’s Great Adventure were a split between Producer, game designer, managing external QA-testing and Swedish translation (oh… and Level Design of the level “Toader”).
How did you get started in developing PC games?
This was actually quite recently, the first PC release I was had a part in was Lead and Gold which was released 2010, it felt natural to release a multiplayer action shooter on PC. Other games I’ve worked on have been released on PC (just cause and just cause 2) but I wasn’t really involved in that part of the project. So Hamilton is essentially my second released PC game.
Where did the idea for Hamilton’s Great Adventure come from?
We had a “brain storming day” at the office and Patrik Wennerström submitted the basic idea. Then the we took the idea, developed it a bit let it stew for a while we worked on other projects, then we picked it up again and made a prototype, and another one. There is a strong connection to the Hamiltonian path as well, which helped us refining the game vision, and we obviously got the name from him as well.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Hamilton’s Great Adventure?
The main lesson I learned personally is that having the game designer and producer in the same person has its pros and cons. The major drawback is that maybe the game design doesn’t get the attention and time resources as it might deserve when the producer tasks grows (like planning, managing work load, solving problems, submitting builds and such) but on the other hand the agility of the project is greatly improved, where you can make quite drastic changes without having to check the schedule and making sure it will fit, you have it all in your own head. And being flexible is a great way of making games, someone comes up with an idea for new tile and you can have a mockup of it in-game in no-time to test it.
In its current form, how close is Hamilton’s Great Adventure to your initial vision?
In original Ernest Hamilton was an old grumpy professor with a soap bubble pipe, and the game was a sole single player experience. But besides that the core gameplay is essentially the same. The first complete game design document I wrote is actually quite close to the finished product.
Some 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 Hamilton’s Great Adventure and if you faced a similar challenge.
This is always a problem that has to be taken into account. We had a number of studio test sessions with friends and family where they were allowed to play and give feedback. The trick is usually to make the initial levels ridiculously easy (in your own opinion, regardless of what people around you say) but quick to run through if you know what you are doing. Then ease up the difficulty a bit at the time teaching the player mechanics as you go along. There is a very narrow path to walk here, keeping player entertained as well as not making the learning curve too steep, as well as glimpsing the incredible things to come.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Hamilton’s Great Adventure would run on the various PC system configurations?
This is always a great challenge, as a small company there is no way we can test all myriads of possible hardware and software combinations, even though we tried to do our best. We have a pile of graphics cards which we usually go through to make sure we support as many as we can.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Reaching out to the players and to find the right target audience. You sit there with your (in your own opinion) fantastic game, how do you get people to know about it?
Tell us about the process of submitting Hamilton’s Great Adventure to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
The submission process for PC-distribution are pretty straight forward compared to consoles, no unusual problems at all.
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?
Yeah it is always hard to price the games. I feel we gave the players a lot of value for those 9.99 USD.
How do you feel about the digital distribution platform as a whole?
It’s a great way of getting your game accessible to players without having to go the long way around discs and retailers. For quick updates it is awesome as well. We want to deliver games as a service.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Hamilton’s Great Adventure.
We wanted the game to breathe classic adventure splendor, so the art style and music had to go along these paths. A comic-like touch to the environments and characters made the production quicker and the visuals more clear and easy to distinguish from each other. When producing levels, sometimes it started off as a rough sketch on a piece of paper or sometimes with a general feeling of an idea. Sometimes they just started building and the level sort of evolved after meticulous testing.
13. For the most part, big budget studios no longer release PC demos while almost every indie developer does. Why do you think this trend is occurring? Tell us why released a demo for Hamilton’s Great Adventure and the difficulties in doing so.
If you don’t plan for a demo from the start, it can be a really time-consuming task to complete. There are a lot of technical, pedagogical and marketing issues to take into consideration. It’s sort of compressed version of the difficulty problem, you’ll have to hook, teach and tease the player in just a few short levels without showing too much, leaving something that makes the purchase worth while. In some larger productions the demo is actually a completely separate game in itself. I think a well made demo is always preferable to not making one, even though it takes time and effort from the real game if you don’t reach out to players it really doesn’t matter how good your game was. Hamilton’s Great Adventure was built with a demo in mind so reducing the number of levels and packaging was relatively painless.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Hamilton’s
Great Adventure from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
I try to read as much as possible of the feedback and like to have an open discussion with the players, the goal of the game is after all their entertainment.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Hamilton’s Great Adventure professionally?
This really depends on how insightful the opinion is, as will all feedback. If someone seem to know what they are talking about and seems to have played through the game, or at least given the game more than 15 minutes…
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?
Sure we are looking into many different models. I guess it depends on the project! We are definitely looking into getting user feedback earlier.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Piracy is a hard nut to crack, the only way as I see it is to make the purchase as accessible, reasonable priced and worthwhile (with the design of the game) so that people feel that piracy isn’t worth the hassle. Intrusive DRM is just silly.
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 Fatshark posting videos of Hamilton’s Great Adventure?
Go ahead, knock yourselves out. I mean it, please… Post your videos. 🙂
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
DLCs is a great way of expanding on a game after it’s release. It isn’t usually until the actual release of the game that you can start building content for real, with the usual parallel development of tools gameplay systems. And with that you can add the feedback from the players, reinforcing the parts people seem to like, polishing on the lesser liked parts making them better. And off course adding loads of content.
There are some DLCs that seem to be disliked by people, like first day DLCs and such, but then you have to remember that the game usually is submitted to extensive QA testing, publishers, disc-pressers and such maybe months before the actual release. Then the team might continue work on a DLC that can be released on the first day for the players that play through the actual game a bit to quickly. One might argue that this and that should have been included in the game from start, but then the whole release might have had to be delayed. Which in itself maybe is even more unpopular. I’m not saying this is always the case, but it’s good to keep in mind.
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 mods created for Hamilton’s
I love the modding community, I’ve taken part in a few failed ones myself, and played loads of them. I also have worked with and hired a few modders as well. Unfortunately we aren’t in a position to support modding for Hamilton’s Great Adventure at this time.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Be patient! Limit your scope. Try to get in touch with a more experienced developer. We are trying to help indie developers as much as we can for example. -End
We would like to thank Mårten and everyone involved with Fatshark for taking time out of their busy day to participate in the interview process. You can grab Hamilton’s Great Adventure via Steam.
Follow TPG on Twitter.
Follow Fatshark on Twitter.