Conducted By Adam Ames
Xavi Canal (pictured above with his two boys), developer of city building/management indie, Towns, spoke with TPG about the many aspects of game development. You will read about how Towns began, the ups and downs of being an independent developer, his thoughts on the PC gaming industry and much more. Here is a taste:
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Piracy has always existed, and it will never be avoided. Investing time, money and resources trying to stop it is absurd and only benefits a few. Of course nobody wants their game to be pirated, but it inevitable. I think that a good way of “stopping” piracy is to have reasonable prices. NO super-duper-laser-impossible to pirate DRM works as good as a good price, and a good product.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Towns.
Hi, my name is Xavi Canal. CEO and Lead Developer of Towns. As with the majority of game developers, I believe that my devotion to computer games comes from when I was little. I made games on my first 8 bit computer (MSX), in BASIC (Yes, I am 35 years old). I never dedicated myself to game developing professionally and Towns is not an exception. I started programming it without thinking of its commercial implications, but out of fun. At the start of October I posted an announcement looking for a content designer on my outdated blog and I met Alex Poysky. More than a designer, Alex is dedicated to the PR aspects of the game, and without him Towns wouldn’t be where it is now. Ben Palgi, our artist, joined shortly after. Towns progressed in leaps and bounds at this time, from a fun little project to a more professional looking game. All you have to do is take a look at some of our old videos to see the difference.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
Well this was more or less answered already. You could say that I have always worked on little side projects many of which ended up forgotten due to a lack of a team. The majority were simply projects made to pass the time with friends either programming them or playing them. Something you can still find around the web is a remake of the game Nemesis, a Konami game, that I had when I owned my first computer (MSX).
Where did the idea for Towns come from?
I have always been fascinated by the game Dwarf Fortress, even though I have never played it in a devout manner. It’s due mainly to its steep learning curve. One day I found a series of Spanish tutorials on Youtube (a 40 or 50 videos series), where I could get a hold of the basics. From there on Towns began growing in my mind little by little (continues on question 5)
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Towns?
Well, I have some experience in coding (I code in my day job as well), so we don’t run into surprises there. Towns has taught me a whole lot about OpenGL and there are always complications, but none that a quick Google search can’t handle! What I have been able to gather is that everything related to distribution and commercializing the game is a “pain in the ass”.
In its current form, how close is Towns to your initial vision?
The initial vision of Towns was to make a city/town (therein lies the beauty of the game’s name), and interact with other cities and users. No RPG aspects or monsters involved in the mix. All of that changed soon, and with Alex and Ben on board the game took a shift in focus, one that placed heavy emphasis on role-playing. I liked the old name of the game and am quite sentimental about it so it is sticking around even though it has lost some of its meaning. Who know, maybe in the near future we will give Towns a whole new sense of identity.
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 Towns and if you faced a similar challenge.
We never wanted an easy game. The 3 of us believe that a hard game is better in any case. With each release, however, we fine-tune the game based on the feedback we receive.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Towns would run on the various PC system configurations?
Towns is made in Java, which is already multiplatform. The worst problem we have had is that regarding its launchers and the permissions needed for them to work. On the other hand, the graphical aspects use basic functions of OpenGL so almost any graphics card supports our game.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Towns.
We are still in the early phases of our games dev cycle, and level design is more or less random. There are no pre-designed maps or dungeons. The music is similar, I am currently the musician and record my music with a guitar and a microphone on my lap. The graphics department is a whole different story, save a few small things, Ben is in charge with each and every piece of graphical design in the game. He does so stunningly well, and is very professional with his work.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
One of the most hated aspects of game making is the commercial and distribution aspect. Allow me to explain, I like to think and program the game, but everything that goes on outside isn’t something I enjoy very much. Ben and Alex also hate scripting, when they have to script new content they complain a bunch, but these are all things that have to be done! We still hate them though!
How did you go about funding Towns and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
Luckily or regretfully, Towns has not needed financial support up until now, since it has been taken as a sort of hobby in our spare time (up until this point). Friends and family support is a little odd as well. I have always spoken to friends about making a “the next quake” or “the chess game of the world” and have never received much support, Towns was NOT an exception. I realized that I would either do it on my own (with my team) or alone. It’s not that they don’t support me, it’s just that since I am so annoying I bet people chalked it up to another happy little project that would go nowhere. My friends and family have been supportive of course, however.
Tell us about the process of submitting Towns to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
We are currently selling Towns on our main site, on GamersGate and on Desura. Desura was quite a pain to get it working (what with its installers/launchers). Besides that nobody sat down with us and told us where we were making mistakes. GamersGate was much more professional in that aspect, up the point of making their own installer work with the games they have. Neither venue gave us trouble “getting in” so to speak, quite the contrary, that part was easy!
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?
More than look at other games we look at what Towns has to offer, hours upon hours of randomized fun. I once read a post from a guy who said he spent ten hours playing without even stopping and asked himself whether it was worth taking the time to eat or keep playing. We are virtual drug dealers!
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 Towns and the difficulties in doing so.
Creating a demo for Towns wasn’t difficulty, actually the Demo has no restriction besides the time limitation. We offer it on Desura and Gamersgate, as well as our main page.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Towns from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Feedback is of utmost importance to us. We have to take each and every comment into consideration and we discuss it amongst ourselves in order to see which ideas are the best to implement in our game. We also use it as a self-check to see what people think of our game, and more importantly, how they play it. We have seen many things that we could have never imagined just by watching the let’s play videos our fans make, or even screenshots. On the other hand, bug reports are an awesome way of squashing unforeseen problems that might rear their ugly head. There isn’t a single bug on our list that isn’t resolved or on our to-do list. We are a BIT paranoid in that aspect.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Towns professionally?
This goes hand in hand with the previous post, while stating that we love all reviews, both positive and negative. It helps us make our game better
16. 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?
We do not discount the bundle or “pay what you want” deals in the future, but they are currently not on our top priority list.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Towns?
I think this law is absurd, maybe it has some form of sense in a different sector, but for indie devs it doesn’t. It’s free publicity!!!
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
Free DLC is a great thing, no discussion there. Regarding paid DLC, well, every game is its own world but I think there isn’t very much to discuss either. When you pay for a game, that’s what you get, the game. Later on, if the dev’s go out and make a paid expansion well, it’s not obligatory and it just adds flavor to the mix. If someone wants to purchase it they can, and if not they don’t have to.
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 Towns?
We absolutely love fan-made mods, they take our game to a whole different level, one where you can discover new possibilities for the game you may not have even thought of! Towns is a VERY modifiably game, almost every aspect of it can be fine-tuned, from menus to map generation, passing through monsters, items, actions, zones, and terrain, even the language! We are planning on including a file editor in later versions so that anyone can play around with it and make their own games out of it. Currently you just have to open simple .xml files to mod the game. We don’t want to invest in an editor in alpha stages because there are upcoming changes that would require loads of engine work that wouldn’t be applicable to it, it would be double the work for nothing.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
If you like what you are doing, and have the patience (don’t be TOO patient or the game may never get out of planning stages), go for it! And buy towns! -End
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