Conducted By Adam Ames
TPG was delighted to interview Nathan Home, founder of Pingbit Games, and developer of the fascinating nonogram puzzle game, Fillogic. You will read on his thoughts about the PC gaming industry, development of Fillogic and much more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Fillogic.
My name is Nathan Horne and I am the founder of Pingbit Games, which at the moment is just myself and the occasional contract worker. I worked full-time as a programmer in another industry before quitting to do freelance work and spend more time making games. I was responsible for all design and programming for Fillogic.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I started programming around age 12 with QBasic for MS-DOS with the goal of making video games. At the time, there was a thriving community of amateur game developers working with QBasic and it created a great environment to learn and be inspired from. Game development has been a hobby of mine ever since. I’ve made a number of games that I consider “finished”, but Fillogic is my first commercial release.
Where did the idea for Fillogic come from?
Fillogic is based on a type of logic puzzle called nonogram, which was created by Non Ishida in the late 1980s. Like most gamers, I was introduced to these puzzles by Jupiter’s Picross series on Nintendo handheld systems. I loved these games, but was disappointed by the options available to play nonograms on the PC. My goal in creating Fillogic was to make a nonogram title on the PC with an intuitive control scheme and to took advantage of the PC’s power to generate puzzles on demand for the player.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Fillogic?
The biggest success during development for me was using a more organized system for keeping track of what needs to be done. I started with the big features I wanted and broke them down into a list of the smallest possible action items. This list kept me focused on making progress towards the final product instead of getting sidetracked trying to figure out what should be done next. Whenever I wanted to change gears, it was easy to pick a new item from the list and get started. It was also very motivating to be able to remove items from the list every time I checked in the code.
One of the failures was switching development frameworks several times during production. I originally started developing on the Popcap Framework and translated the code base twice before finally settling on the QT framework. If I had taken the time during the planning stages to properly evaluate my options it would have saved me a lot of time during development.
In its current form, how close is Fillogic to your initial vision?
The gameplay and player controls are very close to what I initially envisioned when I started writing Fillogic. The biggest change along the way was the user interface. I initially created a lot of custom UI components with a main menu screen and buttons along the side of the playing field. This confused people during play testing and slowed things down. Eventually I switched to a design that utilized the more familiar UI components built into the operating system and got rid of the main menu so that the player can begin solving puzzles immediately upon starting 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 Fillogic and if you faced a similar challenge.
The puzzles in Fillogic are procedurally generated and players are given a lot of control over how challenging they want their experience to be, so there was not a lot of concern there. Where difficulty levels gave me trouble were in setting the demo limitations. A player who has never seen a nonogram puzzle before might be content with the settings available in the demo version for quite a while, while an experienced player who has had years playing Picross or other nonogram games might find them too restrictive. I’m still listening to player feedback to see if I got it right.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Fillogic would run on the various PC system configurations?
Some minor graphical issues and bugs came up occasionally when Fillogic was tested on a new machine, but hopefully most of those issues have been found by now. The core of Fillogic is based on Nokia’s QT framework, which is a very mature and proven technology. This not only helps in making sure the game runs well on a variety of Windows machines, but also gives me a head start in making Mac and Linux versions, which should be available in the near future.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
The business side of game development has had a steep learning curve. Independent developers can be very technically and creatively talented people, but the business aspect is an entirely different skill set which is still very important.
How did you create funding for the development of Fillogic and did you receive emotional support from your family and friends during this time?
The budget for Fillogic was extremely small, so I was able to fund it myself through money I have made from programming jobs. My wife has been extremely supportive of Fillogic and my game development in general. Without her I think I would still be working in a cubicle writing business software.
Are there any plans to release Fillogic to the various digital distribution platforms?
I would love to have Fillogic on more distribution platforms and I am actively looking for partners along those lines. At the moment it is available at Pingbit.com and Indievania.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
I did look at other titles when considering Fillogic’s price point. I think that the pricing of smartphone games in particular has lowered price expectations for this sort of game compared to where it was a few years ago.
How do you feel about the digital distribution platform as a whole?
Digital distribution has been a great thing for the industry, especially for the PC. Independent developers are able to reach a much larger audience and niche or experimental games that wouldn’t make sense for a disc release are now viable as download titles.
Please talk about developing the art style, puzzle design and music for Fillogic.
The art style was deliberately simple to ensure that the information in the puzzle could be quickly scanned by the player.
The music was composed by the very talented Kevin MacLeod. You can check out his music at Incompetech. The feel of the music is relaxed to encourage the player to take their time and consider the puzzle.
Puzzles in Fillogic are procedurally generated, but the development of the algorithm that generates them took some tweaking. Pure random nonogram puzzles are not very fun to play and are often unsolvable or have multiple solutions. Two systems were required to solve these problems. The first goes through the puzzle and tries to solve it to make sure that the puzzle has only one solution and that it can be found through pure logical deduction. The second system is a genetic algorithm that takes randomly generated puzzles and scores them for how “fun” they are. The best puzzles are selected for mutation to make the next generation and the process is repeated. After a few iterations, the puzzles converge towards the one that is ultimately presented to the player.
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 Fillogic and the difficulties in doing so.
Big budget studios are less interested in demos for two reasons. The first is that they take time and resources away from the project itself, which is usually already struggling to make a deadline. This is also a problem for indie games, but smaller budgets usually mean that demos cost less to produce as well. Secondly, big budget games typically have much larger advertising and marketing budgets and are less reliant on the demo as a selling tool, while for many indie games a good demo is one of the only ways to stand out from the crowd.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Fillogic from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Player feedback is great no matter where it comes from. Everybody experiences games differently and it is extremely valuable as a developer to hear from as many viewpoints as possible.
16. How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Fillogic professionally?
I appreciate a well considered review, whether it is positive or negative. Professional reviewers are unique from most players in their ability to identify what exactly is causing them to react the way they are to a game, and that feedback is very useful to developers.
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 it’s great that people are experimenting with new forms of pricing and marketing for indie games and having success. The Humble Indie Bundle in particular has exposed me to some games and developers that I may have overlooked otherwise while giving developers a new source of revenue.
As to my participation to something like that, it would obviously depend on the specifics, but it’s definitely something I would be interested in.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
The full version of Fillogic is DRM-free. At the end of the day, any game that people want to play will be available to pirate regardless of DRM. Knowing that, it doesn’t make much sense to put time and effort towards DRM instead of features that benefit your paying customers. If you want copy protection in your games, I think the model that makes the most sense is something like Steam where the copy protected version has additional value through features like cloud saves, anti-cheat, community features, etc.
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 Pingbit posting gameplay videos of Fillogic?
I don’t think you’ll find any developer that has a problem with players making videos of their games and posting them to YouTube. A player caring enough to record and share what they’re doing with your game can only be a good thing.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
On one hand, I think it’s a great way to get what used to be “expansion pack” content to players without the expense of producing and marketing a new boxed product. On the other, it has created a temptation for developers and publishers to include microtransactions and DLC in games where they don’t really fit. I think this is something that will correct itself as the industry figures out this new model and players decide what kind of content they want to pay for.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Try to get other people involved with your game as early as possible. Whether that means letting people test the game or showing off your work in progress, having a community of people who are interested in the game’s success will motivate you during development and help propel the game once it is released. -End
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