Conducted By Adam Ames
Marius George, developer of the adorable platformer, Camy Adventures, took time of his busy day to participate in this interview. You will read about the origins of Camy Adventures, life as an indie developer and his opinions of topics around the PC gaming world.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Camy Adventures.
I’m the lead (and only) programmer at a small casual games development company that goes by the grand title of Intergalactic Creations.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
It’s a long-running hobby of mine. A two-man squad, consisting of myself and my artist friend Richard Ramsbottom, created a few reasonably popular games about 10 years ago. Dear Camy (and its sequels) was one. Another was Mutant Mushroom. These were fairly basic platformers that nevertheless attracted a fair number of downloads.
Where did the idea for Camy Adventures come from?
After some failed attempts to create bigger and better games, and some quiet periods over the years where we didn’t produce much, we decided to just go back to basics and do a quick 1-month project in the form of a new Camy game. 1.5 years later, we had Camy Adventures Episode 1, along with a complete built-in tool set and a kind of platformer engine with which we can quickly produce further episodes for Camy Adventures or entirely new platform games unrelated to Camy.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Camy Adventures ?
Actually we did a lot of things right with Camy Adventures that we got wrong with previous attempts. Top of the list is clean code and a good tool set. You don’t want to hack together one game and than go through a whole lot of effort again for another. We have general- purpose behaviour and event systems that take all the hacky-ness of platform games into account. So we can come up with things like fall-away or jump-through platforms, teleports, objects that morph into other objects, on-off behaviours, breakable objects, bonus spawns, etc. and combine these in any way, without writing any code.
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 Camy Adventures and if you faced a similar challenge.
After we released the initial version on our own site, we realized that the game may be too difficult in later levels. We actually have an updated version with difficulty settings from Easy to Hard. In the easy setting, the player gets more extra lives and enemies do less damage. In the hardest setting, there are no checkpoints and enemies do a lot more damage. This also improves replay value, because it’s quite challenging to play right through on Hard without the ability to continue later from your last checkpoint.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Camy Adventures would run on the various PC system configurations?
Yes, but that was quickly remedied by making sure the game is not dependent on any C++ run-time DLLs, and by building against an old version of DirectX 9 (a 2006 SDK, to be exact.) This gives the game a large base to run on without distributing any end-user redistributables. If you’re going to try to get on board with large casual games distributors, you definitely don’t want extra baggage like that.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Fitting in-game development alongside a day job.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price for Camy Adventures?
Not really. Our expertise in putting together a platform game like Camy comes from years of playing classics like Mario, the old Duke Nukem, Adventure Islander, games like that. The core inspiration for Camy comes from 20-year-old games.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Camy Adventures.
The artistic style of the game is quite unique in that it doesn’t go for the typical cartoony look. It wasn’t really planned that way – it’s more just a case of what the artist is good at – in this case pumping out a very large number of 3D models pre-rendered to high-resolution PNGs. The level-design drew heavily from the capabilities of the underlying system. We use interesting object behaviour combinations to make the levels fun – for example, in the Hi-tech Lab level, there are several keycard + console + force wall combinations, teleports, fall-away platforms, on-off lasers and such. Basically throwing as much as possible in there to make the levels quite dynamic. But most of it is just bread-and-butter platformer stuff, the kind of things you expect to find in a retro-inspired platform game.
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 Camy Adventures and the difficulties in doing so.
I don’t really have an opinion on the trends of large PC game demos. For Camy (or any other digital / DRM based game) the obvious thing is to throw an instantly unlockable download out there, rather than a demo. You don’t want people to go and download a demo and then a full version later on if they decide to purchase. The biggest challenge still is getting the game exposed in any way possible – digital or physical. This is why the focus has to be on building relationships with large distributors / publishers. Just putting the game out there on typical affiliate networks and your own site is not nearly enough.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Camy Adventures from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Most of the feedback we use to improve the game comes from in-depth reviews and people close us. Until the game is launched on a large distribution network, you just don’t get tonnes of end-user feedback directly. The exposure is too low.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Camy Adventures professionally?
We look at each item of feedback that we can find very carefully. Sometimes you get too used to the game and you miss things that an outside pair of eyes will spot. A good example is not having any difficulty setting in first release, which we then fixed based on review feedback.
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?
We’re happy to try whatever works. I’m impartial to DRM vs. non-DRM. I do however have strong feelings about opinionated non-DRM people who are also happy to pirate everything they can get their hands on. Camy Adventures from day one is suffering greatly from piracy. If there are non-DRM solutions out there that really work, then great.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
I don’t have any strong anti-DRM feelings. For example, I have no problem at all with a system like Steam requiring an internet connection to unlock or authenticate something. The problem comes in when DRM fails to unlock a purchased application for some technical reason. DRM that works 100% the first time and doesn’t get in the way is just fine. There are so many bad anti-DRM arguments out there, mostly from pirates. Piracy is unacceptable in any form. If you weren’t planning on buying the game anyways (because you are not THAT much of a fan of this particular game, for example), then don’t pirate it. In an ideal world we would have a perfect DRM system that is not crackable, leaving millions of pirates up in arms. Sadly that’s not going to happen.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
DLC is great if it is truly value for money. In some cases it should be free to show appreciation to the fan base that made the game successful in the first place. I great example is the first Unreal Tournament. It was hugely successful, and some great free DLC was made available to say “thank you” to the fans. Depending on the future success of our Camy titles, we will almost certainly throw some free DLC out there when the time is right.
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 Camy Adventures?
Modding is great. The only reason why modding is not included in the first Camy Adventures release, is because the built-in toolset needs some user-friendly upgrades in some areas. About 25% of putting together levels and gameplay and setting up object behaviours is still done directly in the underlying data (XML). While the majority of it happens in the built-in toolset, the tools themselves are also not quite there yet in terms of making it really easy for a casual gamer to go in and make a few custom levels. Once we sort these issues out, we will release the tools with each new game so that players can have fun tweaking the game to their liking.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Don’t underestimate the level of polish required to have your game accepted by large publishers or distributors. Camy Adventures is our most polished game so far, and we still have to go quite a long way to get to that 101% level of polish. Another important factor, one that we are focussing on for some upcoming titles, is to have a truly unique gameplay mechanic in there that will instantly draw attention to the game… a kind of “hey, this is pretty cool” response where people want to show the game to their friends.-End
TPG would like to thank Marius for his detailed responses. You can pick up Camy Adventures or try the demo via the official site.
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