Conducted By Adam Ames
The fine gents at Digital Arrow, developers of the indie hit, InMomentum, took time out of their day to participate in this e-mail interview with TPG. You will get their take on the current PC gaming landscape, development of InMomentum and life as an independent PC developer.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of InMomentum.
My name is Norbert Varga, and I’ve participated in multiple aspects within InMomentum’s development. My main roles include, but are not limited to game design, production and level design. I’m a strong team player and passionate gamer, and also one of the two co-founders of Digital Arrow, the team behind inMomentum.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
It took a while, and it all has built upon itself over time. I was involved with a couple of mod projects, other, smaller indie games, card game developments and tabletop game system developments. I also had the chance to experience engine development on two projects, and have been involved with almost every position in a game’s development one way or the other in the past. From PR to 3D, through programming to level design. I guess this all helped me grasp the production role better.
The first PC game I’ve worked on, I did programming, all the graphics (2D art) and game design, with a friend doing advanced gameplay programming. The two of us first made a memory game where you would swap cards to match pairs. Then next, we made a game where players would be cannons and shoot each other, much alike the game “Pocket Tanks”, except in our game you could not move. We even had terrain destruction, which for us, was the best feature ever! Both of them, along with a 3rd game which we added later (a pigeon shooter much like Moorhunn) were made into a “game bundle” application, and with them we won a first place in a regional contest. That was when I was about 12.
Where did the idea for InMomentum come from?
InMomentum was originally just a psychology study I’d done as a hobby project. It revolved around exploring human reaction to simplistic shapes and color combinations. It all got lost on a dusty shelf in the flow of time, when one day I’ve thought about making an interactive presentation out of it. By exploring the environments, the sensation of jumping and flying caught me. Exploring further, I’ve found that many games take too much into account, and loose shine on the simple detail. This is what inMomentum became. A simple game with a strong focus.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing InMomentum?
As with any developer, we had to start from somewhere as well. While most of us have experience from before, this was the first time we’ve worked together. In addition, a lot of our team members worked remotely, making communication tricky. We managed to sort this out really well and I think we’ve worked out a great way to cooperate from distant points of the Earth very well.
In its current form, how close is InMomentum to your initial vision?
It’s there. While we originally planned to have a couple of additional game modes, we will still release them as free DLC in the very near future, just like with the level editor. In addition, we wanted to launch with a couple of dedicated servers, but due to the fact that they are not cheap, we had to delay them until after the launch. It would have been great if we could have gotten all these into the game earlier, but anyone who has the game or will buy the game will get these updates for free probably in the next 1-2 months.
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 InMomentum and if you faced a similar challenge.
We had a lengthy beta with a lot of participants, therefore fine-tuning the difficulty was not a problem at all. However, most developers fear that having a more open beta might cause a negative impact to the product or get the game a bad word because of this. I disagree with such views. On the contrary, I think it’s essential to have an in-depth beta to make the game as good as possible, especially when considering levels of difficulty.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring InMomentum would run on the various PC system configurations?
Like any game, inMomentum had its problems as well. Most problems came from missing pre-requirement software, but we have now overcome these issues.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for InMomentum.
The art style for inMomentum comes from the psychological project I worked on previously. I really wanted to pick a handful of simple elements and make the most out of them.
The Level Design for the game, just as the art style, focuses on simple things and their combinations to bring forth a simplified, yet engaging experience. The main aim with the levels is that they can be played by beginners, but in order to be good at the game, people will need to “read between the lines”, or as I say, “jump between the shapes”. Learning the basics of game (as by user feedback) is not hard, but mastering it takes time, patience and a fair bit of practice. That’s exactly what we aimed for.
The soundtrack of the game was composed by Gareth Coker – and just as the rest of the game, the music also aims to bring forth a unique blend of elements. Elements of both electronic and symphonic music have been used to create the vibe of the game. Hybrid and Ulrich Schnauss were both strong inspiration for the soundtrack.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Being an indie developer has its ups and downs. Personally, I think the hardest part of it is to gather together the right skillset for your team and to keep the team together. Especially if you’re low on finances. Everyone has to live from something, eat and sleep somewhere. It’s important to find the best way to cooperate even when the conditions are very harsh and demanding. Most people don’t realize, that by working on a game (especially a first game as a new team like us) can be really hard, because it demands time and finances. If you have a side job to get the finances, you take off time to be with your friends and family, or from time to rest. In the long run, it will build upon you and many people give up on it. All I can say, that if you have a dream and you wish to succeed, you need to face a series of challenges and consequences that will come at you, no matter what you do. But hey! Where’s all the fun at if it’s easy?
How did you go about funding InMomentum and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
InMomentum was entirely self funded by ourselves. We did not have a huge budget, but we tried to make as much out of it as humanly possible. We received no financial support from anyone outside of the actual core team, but we did receive emotional support from friends and family. It’s a great feeling to be supported by people you love.
Tell us about the process of submitting InMomentum to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
Using digital distribution platforms in today’s game market is essential for almost any developer – not to mention an indie developer that needs all and any possible support to get his game out to the public. We had support from White Rabbit Interactive when approaching Steam, and I’ve been in touch with Dave Traeger from DesuraNET who kindly assisted us regarding Desura, where our game will appear soon. There are a couple of other platforms that we plan to appear on as well which we cannot mention at this point. Quite a few of these actually approached us with an offer to bring the game to their platform, so I think a good way to go about making your game appear at more places, is to make a decent game, do good marketing and raise internet awareness about your product. If you do it right, the right people will come to you.
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?
Setting a price is never easy. Personally, I think the price should be determined from what the game gives or can give in it’s full shine. Many developers approach this from a different perspective, considering mainly how much resources were needed to make the game, and pick a price according to these stats. That should never be done. We indeed research other prices and determined the price according to what generally a game of this type costs, and also considered that we will have 100% free DLC which will include additional game modes, levels and a level editor.
How important is it to get instant feedback about InMomentum from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
For me, it’s very important. During the beta, we’ve received amazing feedback which helped us improve on the game in a great deal. We still have a couple of team members actively track forums to see what people feel and think about the game.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review InMomentum professionally?
A review is a review. A professional reviewer has a job, and his/her job is to review a game. It deserves attention, because it’s part of their job to objectively review a game and assist a developer in not making the same mistake twice.
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 find the bundle promotions to be a great support towards developers and also a great possibility for some people to grab games they would otherwise not be able to afford. A “Pay What You Want” pricing is something that can really spread the game amongst users. What’s important, is that this kind of approach is definitively something that will be present for a long time, it will evolve and become one of the leading approaches of developing the profile of smaller indie games. We would be definitively interested in contribution to a project like this in the future.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Personally, I’m not a fan of intrusive DRM. My philosophy is straight, and it’s based on two simple things: first, don’t interrupt a respectful customer with a DRM and second, reward a customer for buying the game properly to encourage people to actually buy the game instead of pirating it. I think that’s the best “DRM” of them all. My main problem with some of the DRM out there, is that it’s very aggressive and they hurt a respectful buyer way more than prevent piracy. Everything can be pirated. The more you invest in DRM, the more you burn your resources on useless things that will be overcome in 2-3 days. I think DRM should be changed from “restricting” into “giving more if you buy it”. There will always be people who will pirate games, we can’t change that. Piracy has been around for a long time, and it’s not planning to go away. Don’t go against the waves. Instead, craft a good surfboard and rock on.
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 InMomentum?
Showing off gameplay about inMomentum is entirely fine with us, as long as a user doesn’t claim that the game is his/her creation (which I’ve not seen happen to any game, really). It helps spread the word about the game, raises awareness and it also helps people to examine the game and help them decide whether to purchase or not. In addition, InMomentum is a game of showcasing your skills. If you do a cool run, you want to show it off. It just comes with the game’s nature. I would never restrict posting videos of InMomentum to the Internet. Not just inMomentum, but any game I’ve worked on. Not to mention the great feeling to see other people play your game.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
DLC is usually misinterpreted by a lot of gamers and also by some developers. At least I see it that way. DLC means content that can be downloaded to add to the contents of the game. It’s purpose is one and simple: prolong the life of the game, give more options to the player and expand the audience. It’s usually mixed up with Expansions, which usually add large scale elements, entirely new, revolutionary features to the game. I think small DLCs are often overshot with prices, and it really does not help a game when a DLC that is small to have any kind of price tag to it. If I would make a game that has thousands of elements in its gameplay and then a develop a DLC that adds 2 swords and an armor, I would not ask people to buy it. If I would make an expansion that adds another ten or twenty hours of play by adding new regions, items, etc, then that’s a different case. Even then, I would keep the price of such expansions reasonable.
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 InMomentum?
I used to work on mods a lot in the past. I still do, if my time allows me. We will soon be releasing a level editor for InMomentum which will allow people to make their own maps, and if they are creative enough, then make their own gamemodes as well. I would love to see some maps/mods for the game and play them. Many people find modding to be damaging towards their game. In a way, I understand why they feel this but I disagree. I think modding helps prolong a games life, adds to the community aspect of the product, adds more elements to be explored and so on. I wish more developers would approach modding positively, instead of locking it away.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Many indie teams neglect the importance of organization and proper communication. It’s the most vital aspect of any startup business, and it’s invaluable within the indie industry. Next to that, it’s very important to talk to your audience. It might sound odd that you need to shift your designs a bit according to what people say, but trust me – if you plan the right way, you won’t even notice the changes because you preplanned everything already and just adjust. Things like this will usually pay off in the long run. Don’t expect to get rich on your first game. Being a game developer is not about being the richest guy on Earth. Game development is entertainment, it’s about creativity and engaging your audience. Be open, friendly and make sure you always make games for your customer – not for your self. -End
We would like to thank Digital Arrow for their well thought out and detailed answers. TPG wishes them continued success. InMomentum via Steam.
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