Conducted By Adam Ames
Aldorlea Games, developers of the great RPG title, Dreamscape, offered TPG a peak at their inner workings. You will read about their thoughts on DRM, piracy, how Dreamscape came to be and topics throughout the PC gaming industry.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Dreamscape.
I go by the name of Indinera and I own a small but successful indie company called Aldorlea Games. We are specialized in 2D old-school RPGs much in the vein of Final Fantasy 3/6, Phantasy Star IV or Breath of Fire 2 – hope those ring a bell! On our website you will find not only our company’s games as well as affiliated games of the same genre. We further have an active community where avid players of this type of game come to discuss them.
As for Dreamscape, well, I did mostly everything in the game (story, puzzles, maps, etc.), with the notable help of a scripter (Zeriab) and two artists (Saehral and Maxarkes). Both contributed to make of the game what it is now.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I started making freeware games back in 2001. Some of them were really popular and that convinced me I could take one step forward and go commercial. My first release “Laxius Force” met success on my community and the portals it was released in, and Aldorlea was launched!
Where did the idea for Dreamscape come from?
I wanted something a bit new gameplay-wise. I usually adapt my stories into RPG (sometimes they were paper and pen RPGs from the start as well). But for Dreamscape, I wanted something that would be driven by gameplay instead of plot.
I don’t really remember where I got the idea from but I always found appealing the concept of traveling through dreams.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Dreamscape?
I would say the biggest success was to come up with a different type of game than my usual. This one was much more puzzle-driven than the others, with plenty of mysteries to solve, items to use to progress, and inter-world connections. Carrying it off was a good thing I guess.
There hasn’t been any particular failure attached to this game I guess. But yeah, marketing-wise, there is definitely room for improvement as the game is not yet on so many portals.
In its current form, how close is Dreamscape to your initial vision?
Dreamscape was designed from the start as a 2D RPG, unlike other stories of mine, such as Laxius Force or Millennium. For this reason, the result is extremely close to the initial vision I had of it. It was a game made for gamers, and I believe it delivers what it is supposed to deliver: gameplay, puzzles, and worlds to explore.
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 Dreamscape and if you faced a similar challenge.
I do face a similar challenge every time I release a game, not only because I know all the strategies and secrets (so I progress in the game “like a boss” lol), but because I tend to enjoy to put really tricky stuff in my games. Some players in my community even went as far as nicknaming me the “Trickster”.
This said, my newest games all come with different levels of difficulty, allowing players to enjoy the game according to their own preferences: more laid back, stressful, or something in between. I usually create 3-4 different modes.
I also have a couple of people who act as beta-testers and can let me know if a game is really too hard… although, I do not always listen to them, aha. Can’t change what you are.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Dreamscape would run on the various PC system configurations?
Not really. It’s always very hard to check all possible configurations. This can be quite nightmarish. But Dreamscape was, at the time, the last of a series of RPGs with a similar structure, so most of the problems had already been solved.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Dreamscape.
The level design in Dreamscape is very intricate. I first came up with all the worlds, how to access them, and how to progress in them – which objects were required, and what actions to perform. Then I tied it up altogether during the game making. That part ended up not being too complicated because my notes (the design doc) were already pretty detailed.
The art and music came mostly from freelancers and what was left for me to do was use or assemble them right. It is very hard to be talented in everything, so as indies, we tend to rely often on people who can master a certain skill. I did compose some of the music in the game though, like the one in Cheese Cave for instance.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
I would say getting the word out. And creating a good trailer video. Definitely not my best skill, but I need to improve. So maybe if I could fix the latter, that would fix the former. I’ve got the impression some websites are more into appearance than actual content. It’s a bit sad but it is as it is, you have to play a game by its rules, I guess.
How much pressure did you feel when developing Dreamscape given the track record of your previous titles?
Pressure is always there when you make a game – will it work with your audience, will it fail, these are the main questions you have in your mind. And another aspect creates pressure too: meeting the deadline. This particular one is tricky!
But for Dreamscape, it was okay. I’d just released two of my most successful games, Millennium – A New Hope, and Asguaard, a couple of months before, so I was in a pretty good shape both physically and mentally.
Tell us about the process of submitting Dreamscape to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
Some portals are harder to get in than others. Sometimes they tell you upfront this type of game will not work well with their audience, sometimes they give you a chance. There is no common ground, you have to deal with it case by case. Dreamscape has done well on most portals it’s been released on, though.
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?
Again, it is different case by case. In short, most *casual* gaming portals won’t let you set your own price at all. They go by the uniform set of price $9.99 to $6.99 depending on the player’s subscription type. Portals that feature AAA games are usually more inclined to let you decide your own price. I’ve had a lot of success with games at $20 or more – these are games that deliver a lot of content, a lot of playing hours – so I only feel well adding them to the catalog of the latter type of portals, unfortunately. I wouldn’t want to give away a game that is worth a hundred hours of playtime for the price of games that can sometimes be finished in 2 hours.
You have to give credit to portals like GamersGate and GameStop (ex-Impulse) to include your game AND let you decide the price.
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 Dreamscape and the difficulties in doing so.
We release demos so that players can try our stuff freely and decide if they like it or not. I’m not sure sales would be as good if the games did not come with a trial period. Setting up a demo for Dreamscape was easy because I’ve been using the same program from the start. If you had asked me about my first game, the answer would have been very different, but now I’m kinda used to it.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Dreamscape from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Very important, and this is why I encourage my players to leave a comprehensive feedback in a topic called “Memories”. Each of my games has a memory thread (for instance for Dreamscape.) Sure only a small fraction of the players really take the time to leave a “memory”, but their effort remains the most valuable feedback to me. Without feedback, you can’t see if you’re doing something wrong. Feedback helps you improve. It is a key element to my game making.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Dreamscape professionally?
It really depends on the website and reviewer. I read what they have to say and see whether it makes sense and, more importantly, whether my community agrees. I like cohesion in a website (even in a review). I like to feel the reviewer knows what he is talking about. If it’s not the case, I’ll just pass. Truth be told, I tend to listen to players more. I think as people who purchase your work and support you, they deserve to be listened more than anyone else.
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 that’s a genius idea. It’s a great way to get exposure and allow people to play a big number of great games for the price they want. So yes, if the opportunity comes across, I’ll be sure to give it a solid thought.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
There is nothing that can be done about piracy in my opinion. I just hope there are enough honest people out there so I can continue to produce games. In a way it will be their loss if they don’t support a developer they like. An indie game you enjoy, I think you should buy it, because unlike big companies, indie developers can’t pay for heavy advertising and the likes. If nobody buys our games, we have to quit. So yeah the bottom line is if you’re a fan, try to purchase.
As for DRMs, I don’t like over-complicated DRMs. I just hope the one I use for my games is simple enough so that it does not get too intrusive.
Bill S.978 was introduced to the United 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 outside of Aldorlea posting videos of Dreamscape?
I have no problem with that. I totally understand and support fan contributions. In a way they’re just helping me spread out the word. YouTube will be very boring if it becomes too controlled.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
At my level, I tend to give DLC away for free, not that I have a lot to offer.
DLC works best for really big games I think. I remember making goodies for 3 Stars of Destiny, my second game. It was fun and I think players enjoyed them, but it never crossed my mind to make them pay for it, probably because they are more a simple bonus than a real DLC.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
I could only say what worked for me: first, enjoy your own game, that will come a long way in helping you finish it. Once you’re done with the making, beta-test! Don’t release a game that contains critical bugs, as it gives a poor image of you as a developer. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to get rid of them bugs, but you should at least always try hard to do so.
Then, get in touch with people to get the word out: websites, portals. The contacts are usually available very easily. Finally, don’t quit your day job until you can make a game that brings you $10k minimum as income! I think reaching the 5 figures is important, it means your game is somehow viable commercially. -End
We would like to thank everyone at Aldorlea Games for taking the time to participate in this interview. We wish them the best of everything moving forward. You can check out Dreamscape by visiting the official site.
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