Conducted By Adam Ames
Josh and Jakub from Space Bullet Dynamics Corporation talk to TPG about their title, Signal Ops. You will learn how Signal Ops got started, their take on the PC gaming industry and how you can help fund the continuation of their development by donating via IndieGoGo.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Signal Ops.
Josh: I am a bit of a jack of all trades. I was trained in 3D animation and modelling, got my first job doing 3D lighting, and moved on to more technical things like coding tools from there. On Signal Ops I am the sole programmer so I do all of the gameplay code, art pipeline, exporters, and so forth. We share the design duties so I do that too.
Jakub: Hi I’m Jakub, I am human, I like robots and art. I am also an indie developer, which is kinda like constantly playing a game of musical chairs where there are always too many chairs and not enough contestants. Chiefly though, I am taking care of most of the visuals on Signal Ops these days, as well as design and some aspects of sound.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
Jakub: I fully realize it’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s always been my passion to play games, and really, It was only a matter of time before i was developing them. I came from the era of PC game pioneering in the 90s where games were unique an fun to play. Now after toiling away inside the big-boy console studios for over 6 years, it was time to realise my deeply suppressed ideas and go indie. Fortunately for me I was not the only one with those same thoughts in my head, so Space Bullet was formed.
Josh: Well if I want to be literal, I could say when I was about 10 or 11 years old. I used to make little games in QBasic to entertain myself. I’d learn from library books, typing in the code examples and figuring out how they worked. I got into modding when Doom was released and had quite a lot of fun making maps and replacing artwork, one of my finer achievements being an evil fireball-spewing muffin. After a five-years stretch in the 3D animation industry I moved on to working on games at Radical Entertainment. Eventually all the stars aligned and I am independent now.
Where did the idea for Signal Ops come from?
Space Bullet: While we would love to tell you a cool story like we found it written on a urine-soaked napkin in a dingy bar, the inspiration came from the much under-used spy genre and the idea of that guy you always see in movies like Sneakers or Mission Impossible sitting in the back of some oft-humorously disguised surveillance van whispering sweet nothings to his team in the field.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Signal Ops?
Space Bullet: It feels too early to answer this properly, though our advice at the end is based on experience.
In its current form, how close is Signal Ops to your initial vision?
Space Bullet: Signal Ops is actually blindingly close to our original vision. Sure some aspects have changed: trimmed a little fat here and there, chewed it in some cases; but it really is the game we set out to make from the beginning. For example, one feature we added after the original design was the ability to reinforce your fallen agents. As long as you have one agent still alive you are able to call in a replacement and a new agent will pop out of some dark crevice nearby.
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 Signal Ops and if you faced a similar challenge.
Space Bullet: We aren’t too concerned about ourselves becoming experts at the game since we will have people of different skill levels testing it. We also happily take any opportunity to play the game with varying degrees of inebriation in order to simulate slow reaction times and poor judgement. We plan to adjust difficulty with things like the aggressiveness of enemies instead of the lazy method of multiplying hit points or enemy accuracy. We grew up with difficult games and Signal Ops will not be a walk in the park, but the difficulty will be very scalable. Players will be able to challenge themselves by trying to complete a mission with stricter parameters such as no reinforcements or without saving.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Signal Ops would run on the various PC system configurations?
Josh: Getting the game to run well was a challenge. Initially we thought it would be a good idea to have up to nine screens but that had not only gameplay problems but technically it was not feasible without drastically simplifying the levels. One of the reasons you don’t see many split screen games anymore is modern graphics cards can render very detailed geometry but are limited by the number of objects on screen. With 4 views, that limit becomes even more restrictive. You really need to design a game for split screen right from the beginning. On Windows we support both OpenGL and DirectX, so users can pick whichever their bug-riddled drivers support best.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Signal Ops
Jakub: The Signal Ops look is inspired by old Eastern European sentiments peppered with the Orwellian feel of 1984 and the film Brazil. The level design reinforces the visual style and complements our gameplay. We try to keep the levels as non-linear as possible and there are plenty of places to hide. As for the music we are still developing that aspect. We plan on having a dynamic soundtrack that is much more than just switching between “sneaky music” and “action music”.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Space Bullet: Making sure your indie beard looks great. Also, money.
Tell us about the process involved with posting your listing on IndieGoGo and how you came up with the pledge incentive levels.
Space Bullet: Basically we looked at other game listings to see what types of incentives were successful. We really wanted to post on Kickstarter since being a creative-only platform it suited our project very well, however Kickstarter projects can only be started by US residents. It’s OK, Canadians are used to that kind of thing.
How did you create funding for the development of Signal Ops and did you receive emotional support from your family and friends during this time?
Space Bullet: We worked and raised funds to support our own cost of living, which we keep as low as possible. We don’t have extra funds to hire help to fill in the gaps like music and vocals, hence the fundraising effort. We love our game though, and love will find a way. We’ve got a ton of support from those dear to us which has been great.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Signal Ops professionally?
Space Bullet: In terms of “How did we do?” we value a reviewer’s opinion the same as any customer’s opinion. Of course many people hear about (and decide to buy) a game based on reviews, so from a business perspective they are immensely important to us.
How do you plan on implementing the multiplayer aspect of Signal Ops?
Space Bullet: The game lends itself to co-op very well and you will be able to play the game cooperatively online or on the same computer with a gamepad. We envision much hilarity as players squabble over who gets to control which agent. We would like to add competitive modes, though the main focus is on delivering a great single-player and co-op experience. If there is a lot of interest we would likely add competitive modes as a free post-release patch. We want to support the community in creating maps and gameplay modes post-release, so they can create the types of content they want to play. With our mission scripting system it will be possible to craft all sorts of crazy things.
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?
Josh: It seems like a great way to give new life to a game which has already has its initial run of sales, though I wouldn’t take a gamble on “pay what you want” as a sole pricing method. It would be great to have Signal Ops in an indie bundle some time after release.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Josh: Originally, copy protection prevented making copies of a game for your friends. Today, most people pirate games through torrents and the like. These have the DRM already circumvented, so really the only ones left to deal with the DRM are the legitimate owners. As I see it, it only makes sense to require an Internet connection for the online part of a game, or if there is a significant reason to integrate the whole game with online features. I am a big fan of Steam which throws in extra features such as cloud saves and automatic updates in exchange for tying your game to an account, while still allowing you to play in “offline mode”.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
Jakub: There is a big difference between what AAA games do when they push out paid day-one DLC and what other games provide as extended services. There is nothing worse than buying a full-price game only to discover that content was withheld from the game in order to make a quick buck immediately following its launch. Such practices hurt the relationship between developer and customer and I think they should stop. That being said, I can appreciate extending the life of a product down the line by turning it into a service where you provide value for those loyal fans who still play the game.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Space Bullet’s tips for new indies:
- Don’t quit your day-job until you have the skills (and money) to pay the bills.
- Focus on making a game. You don’t need office space and business cards to make a game.
- Keep your ambition in check. Your game will be twice as difficult to make as you think. – End
We would like to thank Josh and Jakub for their detailed responses. You can help fund Signal Ops by visiting their IndieGoGo page.
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