Conducted By Adam Ames
Erik Wesslen is in the process of developing a space sim MMO entitled, Intrepid Void. In this pre-release interview, you will read about the creation process and his vision for Intrepid Void, his thoughts on the PC gaming industry and how you can help fund this project through Kickstarter.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Intrepid Void.
I spent a lot of time as an independent developer working on a lot of mods before I started my professional career at id Software as a designer. I worked on a few mobile iterations of games as well as a few other things before I decided to leave and pursue my master’s degree in computer graphics technology (my fiance at the time said Texas was too hot and would never move down there).
At the moment I’m the lead designer on Intrepid Void. I can easily say the majority of my time is spent in Word and Excel hacking away at population growth formulas and planning research progression. I do occasionally get my hands dirty and dive into the code but my time is mostly spent designing.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I would say my earliest foray into developing PC games was over a decade ago when I started modding with the StarCraft world editor. After that it was jumping from mod tool to mod tool, with a good portion of time spent in UDK. Eventually I got a gig at id Software as a designer which was spectacularly cool, and that was the beginning of my professional career.
Where did the idea for Intrepid Void come from?
The idea for Intrepid Void came from our love of games such as Civilization (and its numerous iterations) and Sins of a Solar empire; strategy games that thrive on planning and forethought. We wanted to take that experience and translate it into a massive open world setting that occurred in real time. We started mentioning the idea to friends and coworkers and they were all very enthused and excited by the prospect so that’s when we decided to do a little more thinking about the game.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Intrepid Void?
Something we learned from both would be to not get too attached to any particular aspect of the game. We had a portion of the game working in a recent build and we thought it worked, and then our concept artist did some thumbnails and we took a step back and just said “<insert random expletive >.” The new concepts he had generated blew away what we had working in game, so we decided to scrap what we had and start over completely. It was a costly change but in the end I think the game will be much better as a result (we also had to remove a good portion of gameplay footage from the video as a result).
In its current form, how close is Intrepid Void to your initial vision?
Surprisingly close. We spent more time working on the initial design and doing system specific prototyping than I think many other games do. As a result our core vision has not changed at all. That’s not to say many individual systems haven’t been entirely gutted and redesigned, but the core game and how it plays is very true to the original vision.
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 Intrepid Void and if you faced a similar challenge.
Because Intrepid Void is a massively multiplayer game, there are no “difficulty levels” per say, but there are distinct challenges players can decided to engage which are significantly more difficult than others. Ultimately it is up to the player how competitive and difficult they want to make the game. If they are pursuing the most advanced ships and trying to colonize planets in treacherous zones, then things will be more difficult. We want all players to experience the content we have been working tirelessly to develop, so we have designed the game so that all players can reach the later stages (not just hardcore players). The best way to summarize the difficulty would be to say, difficulty scales with how quickly the player tries to reach the end game content.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Intrepid Void would run on the various PC system configurations?
We haven’t quite reached that phase in development where we are testing for compatibility, but everyone on the team is using different hardware (this was by choice to help with system testing) and so far we have not encountered any problems.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Intrepid Void
As for the art style, we looked at a variety of different approaches, but ultimately decided to pursue a sort of stylized realism. We wanted our game to be pseudo serious and we knew the art style had to match, so we took a lot of inspiration from contemporary fiction. It also helps to have a kick-ass concept artist who you can easily communicate your ideas to. As for the level design (moreover world design), everything comes down to balancing and progression. We’re not even close to having this nailed down and it’ll probably be several months after release before we’re happy with it. While we’d like to think we are capable of doing everything ourselves, we are only human. While the initial world design and layout is hand crafted, most of it will be generated procedurally. In a galaxy with thousands of stars and potentially millions of planets, it is just not possible for us to craft that ourselves so we have to make sure that we can generate enough mutations of template planets and stars to make each solar system appear to be unique. Its a challenge to say the least. As for music, let’s just say we have a long way to go, lol.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
The lifestyle change has to be the most difficult. Having developed games professionally making a very respectable salary and then making the jump to indie games earning less than half of what I made before and being forced to work on the game in my spare time is a tough switch. That being said, there is nothing more satisfying than working on a project you had a hand in conceiving, it is incredibly rewarding and I don’t think I would trade that.
Tell us about the process involved with posting your listing on Kickstarter and how you came up with the pledge incentive levels.
We saw Kickstarter as a way to engage with the gaming community and raise a little awareness while at the same time picking up a little extra cash to help support development. To this point everything has been done through bootstrapping and self funding, so it has not been easy. As for the pledge incentive levels, we wanted to have a wide range but we also wanted to give some special rewards. Obviously we are asking people for money so we want to give supporters something unique in return that they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise, and I think we succeeded in doing that.
How are you currently creating the funding for Intrepid Void and are you receiving emotional support from your family and friends?
Everything so far has been funded by ourselves, and it has been incredibly difficult but also immensely rewarding. The amount of emotional support we have received from friends and family has been awesome. They have all been very encouraging even though most of them don’t understand what we’re trying to build, lol.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Intrepid Void professionally?
Obviously we want our game to be well received by the press, but at the same time it isn’t the end of the world if it doesn’t get reviewed well. We’re going out on a limb by making a radically original game, and I’m hoping reviewers will keep that in mind. Fortunately we don’t have any pressure from publishers or anything which is an incredible luxury, so we can say the game will be done when its done, allowing us to deliver the best game possible (which will hopefully be well received).
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 the “Pay What You Want” pricing and promotions are a great way for indie developers to generate some buzz and get more downloads. Even with people paying .01, I think the devs still come away with a decent amount of change which is really great. We would definitely be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future, especially one that benefits charity.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Intrusive DRM and piracy are two of the biggest problems facing the PC renaissance we’re experiencing. While a lot of people complain about the required connectivity of Steam (I know there is offline mode, but I wont get into the problems I’ve had with that) and the upcoming required connection for Diablo III, I really think it is the best way to go. Broadband connections are so widespread its hard to find someone without it, and the value added coming from services such as Steam and Battle.net far outweigh the drawback of having to be connected to the internet. I bought From Dust a month or two back and holy crap was that a blunder of a PC port. Ubisoft has been notorious for how horribly they handle PC gaming, and I really hope they do something to rectify that before Heroes VI comes out…
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I have mixed feelings about DLC. I think it is very important to give players a solid experience with their initial purchase, and if they deliver on that, DLC can be a great addition for players. When Deus Ex came out I blew through that game the first weekend it was out. The gameplay was incredible and the story was surprisingly long (20+ hours for me). After I finished the game I couldn’t wait to buy the DLC (which I’m still waiting for). I think the key to great DLC implementation is delivering an awesome initial game and if they do that, the player won’t feel cheated, which is how I think a lot of players feel today when it comes to DLC.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Prototype early and often. I can say without a doubt that iteration is king these days and one of our biggest successes is iterating very early in the development cycle. One of my greatest pitfalls was diving into a world editor without much of a plan and then start placing doodads and things. We actually spend a lot of time doing what we call “paper prototyping.” Essentially we design a system but before we write a single line of code we pull out a few sheets of paper and try and figure out how it will play out. It is a super cheap and effective way to quickly iterate a design. It can be used for almost anything and I encourage everyone to give it a try. -End
We would like to thank Erik for taking the time to interview with us. You can help out by donating to the development of Intrepid Void via his Kickstarter page.
Please note: TPG is in no way affiliated with Erik, Intrepid Void or those who run Kickstarter. We simply want to assist up-and-coming PC developers in any way possible.
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