Conducted By Adam Ames
Andrew Stroud, creator of the newly released indie title, Colorful, took some time away from his game to interview with TPG. Andrew talks about life as an indie dev, the struggles and successes he has encountered, as well as opinions on the PC gaming industry.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Colorful.
I’m nothing special, really, just an indie developer like the rest of the community. I like making games, and that’s why I do it. As far as Colorful goes, I programmed the game from scratch, and drew all of the sprites. A friend of mine did the music.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
When I was a sophomore in high school I took a Visual Basic class. It was my first real exposure to programming. I started making little space games and pong and stuff, and just never stopped.
Where did the idea for Colorful come from?
I had to come up with a menu system for a class once, as well as a unique game mechanic. My idea was taking platforming at its base nature, and twisting one of the core mechanics.
I decided that collecting ‘coins’ was one of the more fun things, and also one that almost every platformer had, so I wanted to spice it up, and make the game entirely around that mechanic. To do so, I wanted to come up with a way to change the player between two virtual states: picking up coins, and avoiding coins.
The rest of the idea just hit me after that.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Colorful?
The mapping/tile system is definitely a huge success. As far as failures and lessons learned, I’m beginning to wish I had started promoting the game earlier, and I need to learn to take breaks more often, as for weeks in the development of the game, I was burnt out, and just didn’t want to touch it at all. On the technical side, I probably should have planned my code out a bit more as well, as it became a bit of a mess toward the end.
In its current form, how close is Colorful to your initial vision?
It’s very close, I actually wrote down a series of principles design standards I wanted to hold the game to. Every time I thought of adding a new feature, or presenting something a different way, or the level curve, I compared them to those core principles to see if they’d fit. It worked out really well in the end, and the game feels a lot more cohesive because of it.
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 Colorful and if you faced a similar challenge.
I have a lot of difficulty accurately balancing games that don’t rely on numbers, and I know I’m not a good meter of difficulty, so I listened to the playtesters I had, and when I hear “it’s difficult, but not ‘cheap’ difficult, it’s just hard because I need to get better” I feel like I’ve done something right.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Colorful would run on the various PC system configurations?
I mostly had to make sure that the installer worked properly, but when working with Desura, they told me that they take care of installing the requisite libraries and such, so I suppose that’s not so much of a problem. It’s a 2d game, it doesn’t take very much as far as resources are concerned, so I didn’t worry too much about hardware this time around.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Colorful.
This was the hardest part, art anyway. I actually originally tried to make each level set a new area, or give them a theme, but it felt forced. Eventually, I decided to go with a more abstract design, which felt more fitting to the game’s character, and I am glad I stuck to it. As far as music was concerned, I wanted the game to feel really positive, and I felt that some bright chiptunes would convey that feeling perfectly.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Recognition. I have no idea how to publicize my game, so it’s been an uphill battle for me. I’m glad there’s so many sites out there to contact, or I’d be even more lost.
How did you go about funding Colorful and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
I had a little money put aside, but since I was developing the game while in college, I didn’t have very much to worry about as far as funding was concerned.
Tell us about the process of submitting Colorful to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
Desura was really helpful and open from the beginning, and it was so easy to work with them to get my game up. I was assisted from the beginning, and the process was very clear. I did submit the game to Steam as well, but it was rejected there.
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?
I get to set my own prices on Desura, it’s pretty cool, actually. As far as the pricing itself, I talked to a lot of people, and asked them what they thought it was worth. Generally, people told me $10 or so, so I went with that.
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 Colorful and the difficulties in doing so.
I don’t like it when I see a game I might like, and I have to spend money just to see if I do like it. I remember growing up and playing Playstation Demo Disks, and finding new games that way, and it was just awesome. Basically, I wish more developers would put out demos, so I felt I should follow my own standard.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Colorful from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Extremely. Hearing what people think during the development, or even now, is my most useful resource. Having a direct line of contact to my players is invaluable, and an aspect I love about being indie.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Colorful professionally?
They are gamers just like me, and I think their opinions are as valid as everyone else’s. Honestly, I’m looking forward to critique from players and reviewers alike, as I can use it to make my games better in the future.
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 love them, and I would participate in the future, if my game(s) could live up to their standard.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Don’t get me wrong, I dislike DRM, I feel it’s draconic and intrusive, and I value my privacy more than a copy of a game. However, it’s serving its purpose.
DRM isn’t really intended to combat piracy, it’s just intended to be harder to crack than a serial key generator. This leads to strange crack patches, and/or pre-patched versions that look risky, as they’re a hacked version of the game. Your average person sees this as either too much effort to bother, or sees the classic “piracy gets you viruses”, and just buys the game, and installs the DRM.
Some forms of DRM are absolutely fine, and I actually like them. Take Steam for example: it’s account based, always-online DRM. But there are several key points that make it good. One, the community and convenience of it, and two, you can play offline if you have it store your credentials. It’s unobtrusive and convenient. If others would be more like this, it’d be better overall.
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 posting videos of Colorful?
Go right ahead. I’d love to see Colorful fan videos.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I think that DLC is a good concept, but it needs to be executed right. Launch day DLC is a pretty scumbag move, but I do like cosmetics sometimes (if they’re priced fairly), and I love when games get mission packs and other worthwhile additional content. I think proper DLC should be like small expansion packs, an I’m glad some developers are treating it like that.
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 Colorful?
I love mods, in fact I started out as a modder after I learned programming. It’s fun, it teaches valuable lessons, and it can lead to some great games. I actually developed my mapping system with modders in mind. You can make level packs in any image editor, then access them from the mode select screen. I’d love to see community level packs, and even intend to package the best with the game at some point (with the authors’ permission).
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Just make something. Not some tech demo script, or something. Make a game. Get it out there. Even if it’s not a huge success, it’s a portfolio piece, and it makes you look valuable to industry human resource departments. And you never know, you could be the next Notch. – End
We would like to thank Andrew for taking the time to interview with us and wish him future success. You can check out Colorful via Desura.
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