Conducted By Adam Ames
TPG had the chance to interview Nathan Fouts from Mommy’s Best Games about their newly released hit, Serious Sam Double D. You will get their take on the PC gaming industry, the trials and tribulations of an indie developer, and how Serious Sam Double D came to be.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Serious Sam Double D.
Hi, my name is Nathan, I did most of the design, art, some code, and some sound effects for Serious Sam Double D. I was also in charge of coming up with reasons to put pancakes in the game.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I did the gameplay code for POSTAL 2, Share the Pain, and Apocalypse Weekend. After that I went on to PS2, PS3, Xbox 360 for a few years but always working on the PC version first. Working on a Serious Sam game and having played the original Encounters when they were first released, I knew for Serious Sam Double D the PC would be primary release platform. After that, we’d work on the console version.
Where did the idea for Serious Sam Double D come from?
Devolver Digital and Croteam said they loved our first game Weapon of Choice which was a 2D “Contra on acid” style game for Xbox Live Indie Games. They asked, as part of the promotion for Serious Sam BFE, if we could make a wacky, 2D version of Serious Sam.
From there, I worked out some designs and came up with the GunStacker concept. Croteam took one look at the GunStacker and said “Yes, make that!”.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Serious Sam Double D?
We wanted to make sure the GunStacker concept was not squandered and I think it’s been very successful as most reviews call it out as their favorite part of the game. While I think there’s a lot of variety to the game, I think we could add even more change-ups to the levels to break up the gameplay flow.
In its current form, how close is Serious Sam Double D to your initial vision?
It’s at least three times as big as we originally planned to make it. It was never planned to have challenge rooms either. It was going to be pretty simple, a quick one-off. Once we got the GunStacker rolling though, I wanted to frame it within a game of enough substance to make it worth people’s time to play.
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 Serious Sam Double D and if you faced a similar challenge.
Initially Serious Sam Double D was brutally hard. We took the game to PAX East and saw how much trouble people were having beating the level. And the middle world in the dinosaur times was causing lots of deaths for playtesters—to the point that they had trouble ever finishing it. I’d credit lots of playtesting with a variety of people to help leveling the game out.
Ever since releasing Shoot 1UP, I like to add a very easy version of the game in addition to harder modes. I also really like adding the ability to change the gameplay speed. If you want to play the game on hard, but in slow-motion (50% speed) you can, or get really tough by playing the game super-fast (200% speed) it’s possible. This also allows gamers with special needs to be able to enjoy the game more as well.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Serious Sam Double D would run on the various PC system configurations?
For the most part XNA took care of this issue wonderfully. I did run into what we called the “Russian crash”. I had missed testing with gamers setting their PC language to Cyrillic which was causing our font system to crash when writing to a folder path. We got that patched up pretty quickly though.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Always, always: keeping up with business side, watching your books.
How did you create funding for the development of Serious Sam Double D and did you receive emotional support from your family and friends during this time?
We used our own cash reserves in addition to an advance from the publisher, which was paid back based on sales of the game. The support from our family has been very strong otherwise we definitely could not have made it through. Showing the game at PAX East and doing early previews also helped us know we were on the right track.
Tell us about the process of submitting Serious Sam Double D to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
Fortunately with Devolver Digital and the Serious Sam legacy we didn’t have any real problems getting the game on various portals. Working with Valve was a good experience as they wanted the game but they pushed us to make it better and a bigger game overall.
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 definitely were careful with the price and did plenty of research. With no coop nor leaderboards we went with $7.99 instead of the regular $9.99 to appease concerns of value. We didn’t do coop and leaderboards because of time, in order to beat Serious Sam BFE (the game Serious Sam Double D helps promote) to the market. We also had to work with the other two Serious Sam Indie games: Kamikaze Attack and The Random Encounter, and make sure their promotion and release worked with ours.
Were you any more nervous about developing Serious Sam Double D because of the history behind the series than your other titles?
We were extremely careful to make sure the game felt like a “Sam” game. This meant replaying the original games and detailing what we could bring over to 2D. Things like hordes of enemies, long draw distances (zooming out in 2D), crazy enemy designs made sense. We also worked to allow the player some room for motion that was similar to the circle-strafing in 3D. For Double D, that meant high jumps via the jump pad and platforms you can drop down through.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Serious Sam Double D.
In the texture work for Serious Sam Double D is pretty much my personal drawing style. It’s a little more gritty and detailed than a lot of 2D games, but I think it still worked for Serious Sam as most of those games are pretty gory.
Level design has an ebb and flow to it. There’s a basically exploration sections with lots of secrets that leads to big confrontations. Because you can’t see off into the distance as in a 3D game, the further you venture into Serious Sam Double D the further the camera pulls back to show you more and more action, with bigger and bigger fights.
Music was an easy choice for giant, chaotic fights—I love heavy metal and have worked in the past on games with Lillirun Records.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Serious Sam Double D from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
It’s been extremely helpful hearing from gamers on the forums when it comes to fixing edge-case bugs. We’ve been able to respond very quickly and work with Valve to get fixes out for some issues. Also, it’s been good to hear about what other feature requests as that helps when considering things to add to future updates.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Serious Sam Double D professionally?
I always read through reviews to see what they liked and didn’t like to help refine the current game through updates, or new game designs. It would be a shame to not incorporate everything you learned from a given project.
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?
Yes, I’d love to help out, especially in any bundle which also contributes to a charitable cause.
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 think DRM that restricts installs is really helping anyone. It’s probably annoying gamers more than it is preventing piracy. I think pirated games can be useful as demos as long as the gamers downloading the full copy remember to purchase the game if they enjoyed it.
Bill S.978 was introduced to the United 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 Mommy’s Best Games posting gameplay videos of Serious Sam Double D?
I love it to pieces when gamers post videos, playthroughs, secrets, anything about games. I think it’s great to see their enthusiasm and desire to share their enjoyment of a game with others.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I think between DLC and free-to-play models there is still some shake-up going on with pricing in the industry. As long as the original game was full-featured and relatively bug-free, I think DLC is fine for gamers who want more of the original game.
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 Serious Sam Double D?
I think mods are really amazing for any game, to have it morph and grow into something new that the designers often never anticipated. For Serious Sam Double D, I intentionally left the save formats easier to experiment with, for those willing to go a little further with the game. We’re also considering putting the level editor out for free download (only holding back because it’s a little quirky and I’m trying to clean up the interface some). It would be great to have mods of Double D.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
If you’ve not finished a game before, then finish whatever the smallest design is you’ve got. It is okay if it’s something cribbed closely from other games. Get it done from start to end, and polish it up nice and release it for sale. You’ll learn a ton by finishing a game all the way through (getting menus, sound, full design done, release issues, and marketing).
If you’ve already released a game or two, then make sure the next game you do is interesting and original, and not just a clone. Good luck! -End
We would like to thank Nathan for providing us with a little glimpse of the action at Mommy’s Best Games. A demo for Serious Sam Double D has made its way to Steam. The demo features 2 campaign levels, 2 challenges to find, and plenty of guns and secrets!
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