Conducted By Adam Ames
Shawn Pierre, developer of the unique indie puzzle platformer, Mr. Condyle’s Escape, agreed to interview with TPG. You will learn the successes and failures Shawn has gone through, how life as an indie developer has been, and his thoughts on the PC gaming industry.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Mr. Condyle’s Escape.
I’m Shawn Pierre, and I’m currently developing games under the moniker OriGamInc. I take care of everything involving Mr. Condyle’s Escape. I graduated from college with a degree in Computer Science and a degree in Philosophy, and have been trying my best to incorporate everything I have learned into my game development experiences.
OriGamInc actually started with plans to discuss video game philosophy and more, but my love of games pushed me to start developing my own.
2. How did you get started in developing PC games?
I’ve always wanted to develop games, so I frequently tried my hand at many different PC game related tools. However, I also really wanted to peruse philosophy in regards to video games, so I tried to do that first, while keeping game development ongoing in the background.
After a while, the drive to develop games overcame everything else, so I completely redid my website, with game development being the priority.
3. Where did the idea for Mr. Condyle’s Escape come from?
There was a local game jam that was approaching in my area that I was prepping to go to. However, I couldn’t make it because I had to go to a graduation instead. So, instead of completely missing out on any game jamming, I decided to work on my own game. I’m a big fan of puzzle games, so I knew that I wanted to create something in that genre. Also, the game had to be difficult.
After messing around with a few funky mechanics, the original concept for Mr. Condyle’s Escape was created.
4. What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Mr. Condyle’s Escape?
A lot of my successes were actually born from failure. One failure I had was the loss of a computer which I used to host project management software. It kept me extremely organized, and definitely assisted with my work. However, backups were not enabled properly, which made the loss pretty devastating. I managed to recover, and it took me a week to get back to where I was before the hardware failure. That week really slowed down the development of MCE. So, I guess I would say that staying organized was a success, as it kept me going with clear goals in mind. Not being prepared for troubles was a failure itself, which led to more failure, and that unproductive week.
5. In its current form, how close is Mr. Condyle’s Escape to your initial vision?
There are some elements that I did leave out, mostly because they would become too complicated, both for me, as well as the player. I wanted a very simple concept for the game – choose your moves, press play, reach the goal or survive – and a few features that I included threatened to take away from the experience.
That being said, the gameplay is surprisingly close to the designs that I originally scribbled up. A lot of the user interface elements look like as they did when I drew them up, albeit, they’re much cleaner than before. The second level of the game is actually one of the first levels that I designed in my notebook.
6. 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 Mr. Condyle’s Escape and if you faced a similar challenge.
While the game is intended to be difficult, I did have a hard time with the beginning levels. I needed the first few levels to be simple, yet intriguing, but also not something that would turn people away. It’s surprising, and very interesting, to watch people of different age groups play, and go about solving each level. I let a friend’s daughter, who is 7 years old, play through the first couple of levels, and she did quite well! However, I had an older person play the game, and they struggled a bit more than the 7 year old. I was expecting the inverse, so that had me questioning my level design and the order which the levels are organized. Instead of starting over, I presented the same levels of MCE to a few more people, and the results were a bit more consistent, something I was happy about.
7. Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Mr. Condyle’s Escape would run on the various PC system configurations?
The game is actually very lightweight, and I haven’t had too much of a problem running it on various Windows PCs. Running the game on Macs presented me with a view odd quirks, but it was nothing that detracted from the gameplay.
8. Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Mr. Condyle’s Escape.
The level design process takes quite some time. First, I start designing a level in my sketchbook. At this point, I have the initial idea of how I want the level to play out, when I want what trap to fire, etc. However, I don’t really flesh out the solution. After I draw up a mock level design, I mark each step for the solution of the level, normally with numbers or in bullet point fashion. On a different sheet of paper, I explain what happens during each step, until I reach the goal. On longer or more difficult levels, I actually draw out the significant frames of the level until I reach the goal. It’s a more drawn out process, but I have a clearer idea, which is better for the more difficult levels. One problem that I run into is that some ideas look better on paper. While I have gotten much better at understanding my limitations, there are times where I underestimate the positioning of a trap, or I realized that I missed out on placing a tool in a certain spot, which allows the level to be beaten much faster than I originally anticipated or with a broken solution. This is when I need to modify my existing design.
I thoroughly enjoy creating the music for MCE, and it takes me a while to get something I’m happy with. I usually spend a few hours finding the right sounds for the song that I’m creating, while other times, I create a bit of the actual music before I find a better sound that suits the melody. However, the one step that I always make sure of is that I walk away from the music for a few hours, preferably overnight. It’s easy for me to get caught up in the moment, and walking away helps clear my mind. If the music sounds good the following day, I continue to work on it. If not, then I put that piece on the side, and start working on something new.
Artwork is probably the most difficult thing for me to work on. It’s the thing that I’m most unsure about. I take my time, and then some, mostly because I want to try to make everything look as clean as possible. The art style for MCE has also changed a few times. A few concepts that I had in the beginning were a bit too overwhelming, so I decided to make things simpler.
9. Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
For me, it’s balance. Unfortunately, there are other things that life ask me to do, and balancing each of these, and still having time to develop MCE can get a bit time consuming. I needed to find something to actually make me money at this point in time, and up until a few months ago, I spent about an hour traveling to and from a job that I currently have. So, that meant spending 10 hours of the day where I had to work on things other than my game (I tried working on my laptop during the bus ride, and I almost destroyed a lot of important work). Right now, I’m closer to the office, which makes splitting time much easier.
Still, it’s not fun not being able to work on your game when you desperately want to. When I wasn’t able to physically be at my computer, I always somehow kept my game in mind. Fully walking away from work was hard, but there are times when it needed to be done. This wasn’t always a bad thing! On some occasions, when I returned to work on MCE, I came back with a new perspective on how to approach problems that I encountered, or had a fun new idea that I wanted to implement.
10 How did you create funding for the development of Mr. Condyle’s Escape and did you receive emotional support from your family and friends during this time?
All the money for this game is coming right out of my own pocket. Needless to say, I’m trying to find ways not to break my bank account without sacrificing the quality of the game. Support has been there from many different people. I’m constantly ‘tweeting’ about the game, pointing people to blog post, and notifying everyone via other social networking tools like Facebook. People ‘like’ what I’m doing, and anytime anyone looks at my game, it makes me feel more inspired to make something better. I do fear that I’m annoying everyone, because this is all I talk about!
12. Have you thought about creating a pricing structure for Mr. Condyle’s Escape?
I’ve thought of this, and pricing is somewhat tricky, but also pretty far from my mind right now. I’m going to need to ask others who were in a similar position as me as to how they went about finalizing a pricing structure on their game. One thing that I know about now, though, is that if I ever plan to create additional content for MCE, and offer it as DLC, I really do not want to charge for that.
14.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 indie bundles are excellent for a number of reasons. Gaming is an incredibly expensive hobby, and there are too many great experiences that people miss, mostly because they have to decide on which game they would rather play. An indie bundle does help alleviate some of this. Also, the money is going directly to the developers and charities, which is very cool.
If the opportunity ever came up for me to participate in an indie bundle, I would definitely get involved.
15. How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Mr. Condyle’s Escape professionally?
I value everything everyone has to say about the game, whether they’re reviewing the game or not. Regardless of the fact that they’re a professional reviewer, their opinion matters. Things do get a bit trickier because of their position, and they can easily influence a large demographic. Of course, for this reason, you want them to like your game, or any game that you may have been looking forward to. There have been multiple occasions where I have actually gone out and purchased a game due to a good review.
16. How important is it to get instant feedback about Mr. Condyle’s Escape from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Feedback is extremely important, especially if you want others to play your game and enjoy it. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in your own game world, and everything may seem perfect. Then, someone who may not play games avidly can come along and say “Why isn’t ‘X’ like this?”. Your whole world shatters.
Well, it may not be that dramatic, but it’s eye-opening. Feedback from numerous types of people is important. I have had others who never/rarely play games provide better feedback that people who pride themselves of being gamers. It’s nice to get feedback from people who make games, people who only play games, and others who aren’t involved with either. Each type of group can offer unique insight, and potentially provide something that can be extremely beneficial. I’m always asking for feedback through various means, and I’m happy when someone has something to say. It is difficult to address the feedback sometimes. You have to figure out which comments are helpful, and which ones would take away from the game. I have a demo that I’ve been asking others to play!
17. 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 seems to cause more problems than it solves, and I’m not really a fan of it. Piracy is a bit odd. You do here stories of people who say “I pirated the game, but loved it so much, I told 10 of my friends, and they all bought the game!”, and that is great. It’s wonderful that more people get to experience a good game, and I would love for as many people as possible to play MCE. However, some of the steps that are taken to stop piracy simply causes more problems for people who have legitimately bought a game.
I want to make games for a living. Any money that I may potentially make on a game will go right into my next project. Again, though, I want as many people as possible to play my games.
19. How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
DLC is great when done right. If I have a great time playing a game, I wouldn’t mind a second helping or something which genuinely adds to the experience.
There are times when DLC is very silly. One thing I’m not a fan of is paying for a code to unlock content that is already on a CD. It makes me think, “I thought I already paid for everything on this CD.” There’s also that DLC which seem half-baked, and doesn’t really add anything. They’re clearly cash grabs.
20. 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 Mr. Condyle’s Escape?
I think modders are great. Many different mods that other people make always leave me thinking, “Wow, I wish I could do something like that”. I could easily spend hours on YouTube looking at mods of existing games. If anyone ever modded MCE, I would feel extremely flattered. I actually look forward to anything that anyone can create/modify! Credit does need to go to the companies that offer tools to modify their games, as they open the doors for a lot of great material. Actually, I would really like to include a level editor in MCE!
21. What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business
Everyone says it, but it’s true. Make games. There are too many tools out there in the world for most people to have an excuse as to why they cannot make a game. And make all types of games, not just the ones you adore. If you make something outside of your comfort zone, you’ll not only learn something new, but you can potentially gain some sort of respect or understanding for the people who do make those types of games. With each game, you learn more that can help you create the next game.
Don’t give up. Making a game is really fun. There are going to be moments when you feel really good, like when you create something great, or when everything starts coming together and it feels like a game. But, there are going to be those moments that really suck. There may be a bug that only shows up 10% of the time, but it’s a horrible bug, or there just may be things that just don’t work. Not giving up is key. And have fun. You’re making a game. How cool is that?! (Answer: It’s very cool!) -End
We would like to thank Shawn for his detailed answers. You can read more information about Mr. Condyle’s Escape via the official site.
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