Conducted By Adam Ames
Trent Gamblin from Nooskwel Team, developer of the JRPG inspired, Monster RPG 2, chatted with TPG in this e-mail interview. You will read about his thoughts on the PC gaming industry, the development process of Monster RPG 2 and life as an indie dev.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Monster RPG 2.
I’m a self taught programmer and aspiring game developer. I finished “Monster 2”, an older version of the game and released it for free, doing most of the art, and all of the programming myself. I saw that it had more potential and hired some people (now almost all good friends who I still work with) to redo the art, and “upgraded” the game until what we have now.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
We got a computer in the house so my step dad at the time could work from home sometimes. I met an old friend on a BBS and saw some of the programs he made in a class at school. I started making simple Qbasic stuff with a bit of help from this friend and continue learning new things about programming to this day.
Where did the idea for Monster RPG 2 come from?
A friend and I wrote a partial story after he suggested I start a sequel to the (somewhat embarrassing) game Monster. He never ended up sticking with it but parts of the story survived.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Monster RPG 2?
My biggest failure is in accepting harsh criticism about my work. And on the flip side maybe the most important thing I’ve learned is how to take constructive criticism.
In its current form, how close is Monster RPG 2 to your initial vision?
It has met and exceeded my own personal expectations over the course of 9 (soon to be 10) updates. My vision changes as I try to add new value to the game.
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 Monster RPG 2 and if you faced a similar challenge.
I’ve had this problem myself. I’ve played the game so much that it’s not a big challenge anymore on “normal” difficulty. We’ve had a lot of complaints about the difficulty. We introduced the three difficulty levels and added additional items for users to pick up to try to address it. In the release we’re working on now, we’ve added a sort of “travelling salesman”, not quite, but a similar idea that I think finally should make the game comfortable for most players, especially people who found it difficult before.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Monster RPG 2 would run on the various PC system configurations?
It’s always a challenge. One issue we have is the use of shaders which some hardware doesn’t support. On Windows we now ship the game with an OpenGL, shader enabled default binary, but also a Direct3D, no shader failsafe.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Monster RPG 2.
I admit to being a terrible graphics artist and a mediocre music composer. I wanted a very true-to-the-old-school 16 bit style for the art. I think we’ve achieved that in the level design and artwork. We’re still working on tuning the battle graphics to meet that style better. In fact version 1.10 will have completely reworked player battle sprites which are painstakingly drawn pixel by pixel. I don’t want to get ahead of myself but I hope to do the same for enemy sprites and battle backgrounds in upcoming releases. Every release opens my eyes to things that could be better.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Not creating the game. I love my job so much that I sometimes push too hard and get a little burnt out. Taking some personal time to unwind is sometimes hard when I just want to get onto the computer and work.
How did you go about funding Monster RPG 2 and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
When I first started making this a commercial project, I had some money saved and paid for everything myself. Since then I’ve funded everything out-of-pocket or with game sale shares. We are still small and not turning a huge profit but it’s getting better as we get on more platforms. My mother has been my biggest fan and source of encouragement from day one.
Tell us about the process of submitting Monster RPG 2 to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
We started off only targeting iOS. We didn’t meet any resistance there. The user base on forums such as Touch Arcade were great to us and it’s still our biggest platform. After that I made the code portable to PC, Mac, and Linux. Uptake was not as great. Recently Desura contacted us wishing to have the game on their system. They have been great and the game is off to a good start there. We’re also on Gameolith and Ubuntu Software Center. The only resistance we’ve had is Valve declining our game. Microsoft also didn’t let us on XBLA, but both said try again with your next game and we plan to do so.
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?
The only problem we’ve had on that front is not being able to set the price as low as we want sometimes. We’re free to set prices higher. We established our price on iOS, making it modest because it was our first commercial title. I haven’t had any desire to raise it.
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 Monster RPG 2 and the difficulties in doing so.
It doesn’t make sense to me. There is some extra work involved but by comparison with the overall workload it’s nothing. I’m actually planning to expand our demo for the next release. It’s a bit more work but we’re talking drops in a bucket.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Monster RPG 2 from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Feedback is important. Monster RPG 2 would not be what it is today if we didn’t listen to users. And most of that is in the form of criticism, but as I mentioned before, when it’s constructive it’s very helpful.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Monster RPG 2 professionally?
To be honest, I try not to take it too seriously or we would have given up long ago. When you make the type of game that Monster RPG 2 is, you have to be prepared to meet with harsh reviewers. We’ve had both good and bad reviews. We take them seriously but don’t lose sleep over them and neither do we get too proud.
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 it’s great. It benefits everyone, from developers, to the average PC gamer and the guy who only has a couple bucks and wants to play some games. Not to mention the charities involved. I would be absolutely honored to be in a bundle. Ranking my game with some of the Humble Bundle games makes me feel a bit out-of-place though to be honest! Hopefully our next game raises our bar a little.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
I really don’t know much of the real truth about how piracy is affecting the game industry, so it’s a tough question. One of those “you have to walk in their shoes” type of questions. But I firmly believe in giving our users a high level of freedom with our games. I’ve been bitten by DRM and I hate it, so feel it’s not right to limit a customers freedom of how they can use a product for their own personal use. You may argue that they may give it away to friends or family if there’s no DRM, but I also believe in treating customers with respect, not as potential criminals.
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 Monster RPG 2?
I love it! First off, it’s free publicity. But more importantly, it means people are playing your game, and that’s really what it’s all about.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
My rule is simple: if it makes a new game, it’s ok to charge for it. If not, then it should be free. I don’t like games with pieces ripped out and sold for extra profit. It makes the main game worse and the only excuse is making more money. I like to see a solid game before adding anything to it.
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 Monster RPG 2?
I have no issues with people modding games. As long as they’re not distributing parts of the game out of license, more power to them!
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Don’t expect it to be easy. I’m still struggling, and expect to be doing so for a long time to come. It’s competitive. Make connections too. Not many people can make an entire game that meets their vision on their own. And lastly, do what you love. I’ve seen people really struggle with games in general or the specific game they’re trying to make, when it’s not even what they truly want to do. What I’m saying is assess you’re situation. I’m not saying give up because it’s too hard. – End
We would like to thank Trent for taking the time to speak with us. You can check out Monster RPG 2 via the official site.
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