Conducted By Adam Ames
The boys from Toxic Games spoke to TPG about their first-person puzzle title, Q.U.B.E. You will read about how Q.U.B.E. came to be, lessons learned from their development, thoughts from around the PC gaming world and much more. Here is an appetizer:
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Keeping on top of everything is the biggest challenge. Replying to emails, company finance, making sure the team members are keeping busy, scheduling and running errands. Oh, and giving the ISP (Internet Service Provider) a piece of your mind when they deliver a terrible connection! As an indie you have to wear many hats.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Q.U.B.E..
I’m the Managing Director at Toxic Games and one of the core three members who worked on Q.U.B.E. I coordinated development and helped bring our ideas to fruition.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
Q.U.B.E. began in late 2009 as a final student project at University. Early on I assumed Q.U.B.E. would remain a student project and I would go and get a job in the industry. This assumption changed when lecturers and industry reps said we could go somewhere with this game. With this positive feedback, the team was then determined to see where the game could go. The same month we graduated, we managed to secure funding with Indie Fund and things went from strength to strength.
Where did the idea for Q.U.B.E. come from?
We were inspired by an animation on YouTube that involved an environment filled with cubes. Our initial thought was, “Wouldn’t this be really cool as a game?” So we took this core element, nursed the idea and formed a first person puzzle game.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from developing Q.U.B.E.?
The successes would be creating the entire game without using a programmer and finding the right people for each task. Failures would be time management and underestimating how long the game would actually take to make. This is primarily because this was our first game.
In its current form, how close is Q.U.B.E. to your initial vision?
Our initial vision for Q.U.B.E. was just the University demo which consisted of around 3 – 4 puzzles. The final version of the game is much more advanced and has a lot more depth to it in terms of puzzle variety and environment styles. Just look on YouTube for an old video and you’ll see the difference.
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 Q.U.B.E. and if you faced a similar challenge.
I agree about becoming an expert at your own game during game development. We’ve played Q.U.B.E. countless times and can now blitz through each level in no time. Having said that, we did a lot of testing with new players at the University and spent a lot of time tweaking the difficulty curve. Sectors 1 – 3 are at a beginner difficulty – the puzzles found here ease the player into the game. We spent some time fine tuning the introduction to the first three cubes as there is no text or voice explaining what the player has to do – they simply have to figure it out for themselves. The real challenge in the game comes from Sectors 5, 6 and 7.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Q.U.B.E. would run on the various PC system configurations?
Thankfully we used the UDK and so most of the legwork had been done for us. Epic’s technology has been proven to run on most PCs. We did do a fair amount of optimisation though. Initially each cube in the game was a single mesh racking up thousands of cubes for each level. Half way through development we realised this was pretty insane and so cut down the amount of cubes by grouping them together. So then we had big blocks of individual cubes that we could slot together like Lego – that was pretty fun!
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Q.U.B.E..
The art style came naturally. We simply imported a bunch of cubes into UDK, added in a light, edited a few settings and voila. The level design mainly revolved around box rooms, although we wanted the environment to get more intricate as the game progressed. Sector 5 has a Tron-esque feel to it whereas Sector 6 is broken down and mysterious. The music was produced by a few friends. We wanted music that wasn’t obtrusive to game play and music that would set a mysterious mood in the darker levels.
How did you go about funding Q.U.B.E. and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
We managed to secure funding from indie veteran outfit, Indie Fund. We went through an initial submission process that lasted up to a month. Over 200 applicants submitted their games and we were lucky enough to be selected along with 2 other games. Family and friends definitely gave their emotional support.
Tell us about the process of submitting Q.U.B.E. to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
Initially this process seemed quite daunting to me and advice from other people told me it was a difficult thing to do. However, once we were under Indie Fund’s umbrella this perception changed. Instead of going to distribution services, they started coming to us. The best one was when Valve turned up at our booth at PAX Prime 2011 and asked if we had everything ready for Steam, before inviting us to come and check out their studio!
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?
We had 100% decision making on the price point, although we received advice from Indie Fund and the distribution platforms. We did some research on other titles too.
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 you released a demo for Q.U.B.E. and the difficulties in doing so.
I think that if there’s a demo then there’s a fifty-fifty chance that the player will buy the full game when it’s released. This is because the demo might fulfill the player’s needs enough so that they don’t feel they need to buy the full game or they just didn’t like the game at all. For a big triple A title, players will be itching to get the hands on the full game, look at Call Of Duty for example. As of this writing we have not released a Q.U.B.E. demo yet. We will be releasing one along with the Steam release for the game. This gives people an opportunity to try our game and if they like it they can buy it. For an indie game I think a demo is great because people may not have heard of the game before but if they see there’s a demo they can take it for a spin before committing to buying it.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Q.U.B.E. from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Receiving online feedback is very important to us. It’s also one of the reasons why we felt we should take Q.U.B.E. further in the first place. It’s great to get an instant response for new game content to see if we’re heading in the right direction.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Q.U.B.E. professionally?
We value professional reviews but do not feel they are the be-end all to suggest how good our game is. We value player comments and reviews much more because they are the end user.
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 a great idea and we would love to contribute to a project like that in the future. In fact, we’ve already been asked to be included by several bundle companies.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
I think some of the measures the PC gaming industry is taking to crack down on piracy is a bit extreme. Only allowed to install a game on a machine a few times? That’s pretty ridiculous. That would make me not want to buy the game in the first place. At the end of the day, if the game is decent enough it will get pirated. Just look at Q.U.B.E. *wink wink*. As long as people are playing our game, we’re happy with that.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Q.U.B.E.?
We’re more than happy for people to post videos of Q.U.B.E. because it spreads the word of the game and builds up a fan base and community, which is great.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
DLC is great for people who want to play more of the game or want more variety within the game. Valve seems to have done a good job with DLC implementation on Steam.
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 Q.U.B.E.?
I think the modding community is fantastic and we would love to see what people do with Q.U.B.E. We’re actually looking at creating a level editor so people can have some fun with that.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
If you have a game idea that you feel is worth pursing then definitely take it to the next level because there’s nothing to lose by trying. Indie development is tough but the rewards are worth it. You get to make games for a living, travel the world and meet lots of cool people! -End
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