Conducted By Adam Ames
Jean-Francois Major (pictured middle with Jonathan Lavigne – left and Justin Cyr – right), from Tribute Games talked to TPG about their action-adventure block breaker, Wizorb. You will read about the development jump from consoles to PCs, the pitfalls from developing in an unfamiliar genre, thoughts on the PC gaming industry and more. Here is a teaser:
Where did the idea for Wizorb come from?
Jonathan Lavigne came up to me about two years ago saying we should try to make our own games. Since I was working on my own small engine, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to put it to the test and flesh it out with an actual product. He had been working on the idea for Wizorb and it sounded like a reasonable project to tackle for a first game. You can read his blog post on his blog detailing his inspirations for Wizorb.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Wizorb.
I have been working professionally in video games for the past 10 years in big studios like Ubisoft and Eidos. I was the programmer on Wizorb.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
We mostly come from a console background. When we started Tribute Games, we evaluated where the market was going and the PC seems to have picked up the pace with services like Steam, Gamers Gate, Desura and such. The barrier to entry is also pretty low. Wizorb was first made to be played with a controller. But when we got around to supporting the mouse, it made so much more sense.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Wizorb?
We learned a lot about the PC world and having to support multiple configurations. Linux was particularly painful and for the return, we unfortunately still doubt it was worth our effort. Getting our game to market was also pretty eye-opening. The need for a publisher is still there when you want to release on certain platforms.
In its current form, how close is Wizorb to your initial vision?
Wizorb nearly doubled in size from its initial design. When we first started to talk about the game, we noticed some great interest in the game so we decided to flesh it out. The first design didn’t have the adventure part of the game in it. It was a simple brick breaking game. We had to stop at some point but I think I speak for all of us at Tribute when I say that we would like to go back and make a sequel at some point. There’s just so much more potential and things we would have done differently.
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 Wizorb and if you faced a similar challenge.
The good thing is I was always pretty bad at Wizorb. At first, the game was actually much harder than it is now. Regardless, Justin and Jonathan breezed through the game. I was just getting so frustrated that I couldn’t even get past the first world without wasting all my money on lives. My constant whining helped us tone down the difficulty.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Wizorb would run on the various PC system configurations?
Our biggest problem was getting the hardware to test it on. Since we’re a small self funded studio, we had to call up friends and family to find people still running Windows XP. Or people who had a certain type of graphic card. When we launched, we learned that some people running a Spanish operating system made our leaderboards crash because we didn’t support some characters. All in all, I think we did a pretty decent job.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Wizorb.
Other than the arrow you can see in the dialog box, I had nothing to do with those so I’ll let Justin answer that.
[Justin] The art style is something of a hybrid between 8 and 16 bit graphics. We use a bit more colors than say what the NES would allow but we tried to always describe shapes and forms with the fewest colors possible. Having restraints like that and a smaller resolution actually helps you work confidently because you can’t get lost as easily with too many superfluous details and also because you can fill up a space rather quickly with just a few well done tiles.
The level design we learned along the way because none of us had ever made a brick breaking game before. There was a lot of trial and error but after a while we could see that there were patterns that emerged in what types of levels we could make. We played a lot of other similar games that came out before to inspire us. These types of games really have their own style and I would like to come back and do another because it would be fun to apply all that stuff we learned from the get go and hit the ground running this time.
The music was composed by Jean Chan who we’ve all known for a long time. This was her first published music in a video game and I feel she really nailed it. The music really captures the spirit of older videogames. The overworld map is particularly great. Sometimes I’ll stay on the map for longer just to hear the whole thing.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
One thing we realize is how much work there is to do around developing the games. Setting up the business, negotiating distribution deals, marketing the game, doing multiple ports,… It adds up quickly. So while we’d love to just focus on our strength, making games, we still have to do all those things we aren’t as familiar with.
How did you go about funding Wizorb and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
Wizorb was fully funded from our own pockets. While some might think I’m crazy for dropping a well-paying job at a renowned studio most were pretty positive and supportive about the venture. We’re still hoping Wizorb will finance our next project but we’re not fully there yet.
Tell us about the process of submitting Wizorb to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
I think we we’re a bit fortunate on the PC side. A lot of distributors approached us to release on their platform before we had something really playable. The timing was a bit off for a Steam release back in October/November and I don’t blame them. It’s the busiest time of the year for games.
We are still waiting for a Microsoft representative to write back. I guess they have a don’t call us, we’ll call you policy. We plan on skipping Xbox Live Indie Games for our next big release. So unless we can somehow contact them, we might have to skip the Xbox.
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 wanted our first game to be pretty cheap to reach the broadest audience possible. With that said, XBLIG is pretty limiting price point wise. People complain when games are over 80 points(1$) on there. We thought our game was worth more than the 80 points. And I don’t think it would have sold well on the platform at 400. We wanted all platforms to share the same price point. So we stuck to this price on the other platforms.
Why was there no PC demo released for Wizorb?
That’s a great question. We might make one at some point. I’m not too sure why we didn’t take the time to make one. However, at $3, we thought people would be willing to take the risk.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Wizorb from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
We try to answer all our e-mails, visit message boards and our social networks. After launching on Steam, we had a wave of concerns and I feel like we quickly addressed them and kept the users up to date. Listening to their feedback and showing them we care goes a long way. We take every feedback very seriously and have written down some ideas for future projects.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Wizorb professionally?
In regards to professional reviews, it’s hit and miss. Sometimes a sports game reviewer will have to review an RPG because that’s the hot thing right now and there’s no one else to review it. Most of our reviews seemed fair and actually shared our opinion on the game. There are things we would have liked to do differently.
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’m all for it. Indies rarely have the marketing budget to get their game out there. By teaming up, it’s easier to leave a mark.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
This is one topic I feel pretty strongly about. There are two things driving piracy, price and ease. You can’t always play with the price, but making your game accessible to everyone without having to jump through hoops is definitely in your hands. There’s always going to be some form of piracy. So if your software limits a paying user, you are just pushing him towards that line where he might decide piracy is an easier option. Customers should be able to play their game whenever they want, wherever they want. I’m pretty sure adding DRM doesn’t convert pirates to paying customers in a significant way. I think DRM comes from shareholders not understanding the math. If you have a million pirates copying your game, you won’t have a million paying customers when you add DRM.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Wizorb?
I love watching videos from users. I actually watch most of them.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I’m all for DLC as long as it brings value to the gamer. There are some games where they voluntarily cripple the game to make DLC content with it later on. Also, 3$ for a pack of pink gun skins… You can get Wizorb for that price!
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 Wizorb?
Some people have asked us to add some modding capabilities to Wizorb. We never really though anyone would be interested in taking the time to mod the game, so didn’t build the game with that in mind. Right now it’s nearly impossible to mod. I’m sure it helps the shelf life of a game. Coming from a console background, that’s something we will have to adapt to.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Start with one simple project and make sure you complete it. There are far too many people juggling 2-3 projects and losing interest midway. I don’t understand how you can stay motivated by a project if you don’t see decent progress.
Show off your work as soon as possible. Get people interested in your project. You might get some great help in the process. And don’t be afraid someone might steal your idea. The importance is in the execution. Not the idea. There were clones of Fez before its release. I don’t see anyone talking about them. – End