Hellish and Fun: Tavern Of Heroes Interview

Conducted By Adam Ames

Francois Brodeur from Optim GameStudio speaks to TPG about their new adventure RPG, Tavern of Heroes.  You will read about how TOH came together, the successes and failures of development, thoughts on the PC gaming industry and much more.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Tavern Of Heroes.

I’m Francois Brodeur (FrankBro), the Lead Developer, Marketing Director and Manager for Tavern Of Heroes. After graduating with a degree in engineering in January, I decided to invest all of my time in this indie game project, a dream that me and 2 of my friends have shared since childhood. That is how Optim GameStudio started.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

There were no programming classes in my high school, so I learned programming rather late, in college. I fell in love instantly. I started making small games for myself along with engines using SDL or SFML. It was also around that time I fell in love with linux.

Where did the idea for Tavern Of Heroes come from?

It’s no surprise to anyone who played it on the iPhone or Android that Battleheart was the inspiration for Tavern of Heroes. That game has something unique, something I’ve never seen exploited before. However, as an ex-World Of Warcraft player, I felt the RPG part was a bit bland. I wanted to add more depth to it; deeper character customization with bigger skill trees, dynamic levels and items, more stats and better customization of them with items. Paired with the more fluid control you have on PC, I was able to yank up the difficulty a lot, which makes it hellish and fun. Overall, the transition is great.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Tavern Of Heroes?

I guess my biggest success is confirming that we can pull off a project this big. This is surely my most ambitious project and I hope we’ll have the means to develop bigger, more complex projects in the future. The hardest thing I have learned is that our estimates of the time required to do something ALWAYS seem to be wrong. Coordinating team availability is an ongoing difficulty since we work different part-time jobs, and in the past I was always off by a couple days, if not weeks, on our time frames. At least my estimations seem to be closer to reality now.

In its current form, how close is Tavern Of Heroes to your initial vision?

Getting there. The development is going really well and we finished working on the demo to get some feedback on the battle aspect of the game. The others parts are implemented code-wise (tavern to select quests, shop / equipment screen, skill trees), and we just need to polish them. We expect the initial full alpha release in a few months as long as we can invest as much time as possible into the project. These were the parts we aimed to include in the game from the beginning so we are getting closer to our initial vision.

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 Tavern Of Heroes and if you faced a similar challenge.

For the demo, the bar was clearly set way too high in the beginning. Only a minority of people managed to win games and none were able to survive the first few waves on their first play-through. This is partly due to the fact the demo doesn’t demonstrate the natural flow of the game, where you start with fewer characters, fewer skills and easier levels. It kind of throws you in the deep end without giving you the time to learn everything. We did include a basic tutorial which explains the skills of all characters and a splash screen that gives the controls of the game but we also learned that nobody checks those. 😛

This will be changed in the final game though. Since the levels are dynamically generated, we implemented several difficulty levels. These difficulties yield different rewards and a player can start by trying the easiest one and gradually pick harder missions with practice. The hardest difficulty is extremely tough however, even for us. That’s the point of the game though. These harder difficulties force the player to choose the right heroes for their team and plan the usage of their skills.

Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Tavern Of Heroes would run on the various PC system configurations?

Being a linux user, I was always conscious of the choices I had to make to ensure cross-compatibility. These choices include the language (C++),  engine/framework (modified angel-engine/glfw/opengl) and a cross-platform build environment (QtCreator IDE with gcc). We had some issues on Windows, which seems to hate developers who care about other platforms, and another on Mac which forced us to remove the fullscreen option. These are bugs introduced by the libraries so it’s hard to fix them. Despite these difficulties, however, everything is working as expected.

Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Tavern Of Heroes.

The art we are using right now was not our first choice. In the beginning, we aimed for a more complex style. The issue we ran into was time: that art style was harder to animate and was more time-consuming. We then chose our current art style, which is more simple and cute.  An example of our first art, on paper

The level design is based mainly on the progression of the story. We develop the levels to fit with the heroes being introduced. We’re aiming to have some free DLC released every once and a while that continues the story in some sort of episodic manner.

For the music, it’s original music made by a great guy I met on the internet. You can find his soundcloud here . He is awesome.

Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?

The stress. I had no idea being an indie developer would be this stressful, even though I was a freelance developer before. The gaming community knows what it wants and is not afraid to say exactly what it thinks. Also, dealing with a team and making sure everything is done on time. Since we don’t have much publicity and are pretty much unknown, we released a demo to help us get some people interested in our game. We wanted to release the demo sooner but we couldn’t  risk botching it by rushing. We try to invest as much time as possible and it can be quite crazy. Besides development time, I invest a lot of my free time in marketing and publicity. Being an indie developer, I think it’s important to stay in contact with the fans, so I answer every post or question I see. That means I spend complete days working on the project or stuff related to it quite often.

How did you go about funding Tavern Of Heroes and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?

We tried crowd funding to begin with. Since we are from Canada, Kickstarter was not an option. We tried Indiegogo but it’s hard to get people interested in a project and ask for money at the same time. We tried to put as much as possible in our Indiegogo campaign, like gameplay videos to show we’re already working hard on the project. Unfortunately it hasn’t sparked much interest yet. We hope the demo will fix that since a lot of people are interested in the project itself and the concept of the game.

We didn’t receive financial support from our families but we didn’t really push it on them either. We mostly want to get people we don’t know interested in the project as family and friends can sometimes feel forced to support you. We do receive a lot of emotional support from friends, families and people online, which is awesome and keep us going. 🙂

11.  Do you have any plans to release on the various digital distribution platforms?

Right now it’s too early to contact distribution platforms but it’s something we hope will be possible in the future. We want to be able to offer the game without locking it on distribution platforms at first but we will probably try to take advantage of Desura’s alpha funding service. We have started the process of adding our game on Desura and we hope we can get it on Steam once the project is more advanced.

Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?

Since we are still in direct control of the game price, we’re aimimg for a similar model to Minecraft. Right now, the alpha will be $5, the beta $7.50 and the final version $10. As said before, we hope to release a lot of content via free DLC as long as it’s possible and still worth the time invested.

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 Tavern Of Heroes and the difficulties in doing so.

The big studios have enough fans who trust that their products will be of good quality, and they also receive a lot of attention from big review sites, so they don’t need to get the word out that their games are coming. However, indie studios need to prove that they can pull off projects if they want people to trust them. A demo is a good way to give a preview to potential customers and get them to talk about your game before it’s released.

How important is it to get instant feedback about Tavern Of Heroes from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?

It’s really important to us. Since we are so involved in the project, it’s the best way to get in contact with our fans and get an unbiased opinion about what we’re doing. It’s also hard to judge our own work so the feedback is a nice way to know what we need to do next and what we need to change. Since it’s so important, I take the time to read every comment and reply to it, whether it’s positive or negative.

How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Tavern Of Heroes professionally?

While we value our fans’ opinions highly, we know how much impact a professional review can have on our game. It can either bring a lot of new fans to the game or badly affect our credibility. In a way, these reviews are still a free form of publicity and might help us get our project known, whether they’re good or bad reviews.

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?

It’s a really cool concept and we hope we can be part of someday. I know there was abuse in the past where people purchased them for the minimum amount and sold or traded their keys for profit, but I think those issues have been resolved so now it’s even more worth it. These bundles can bring revenue for small studios and allow them to develop more games. Plus, customers get games cheaper, so it’s a win/win situation.

What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?

Wrong … so wrong. It just feels like the companies are daring crackers .. and they ALWAYS lose. Then you get collateral damage and users pay the price. I can understand their fears though, when you hear, for example, that World of Goo was pirated at a 90% rate. I guess you have to offer more than pirates: more convenience, a close relationship with your fans, additional content depending on success. I think you just have to be creative about your marketing.

How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Tavern Of Heroes?

I love it. Just like comments, I love hearing fans feedback, whether it’s good or bad. Recently, we’ve had our first video posted by a fan, showing the game-play. It’s nice to see how a fan plays your game.

How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?

I’m not sure I like how it’s implemented right now. Zero-day DLC is obviously wrong. Some only focus on visual enhancements, which is nice for hardcore fans but don’t really add anything. Some focus on items which are overpowered and are somehow forcing their customers to buy them to be competitive, which sucks. Finally, there’s developers who add content depending on feedback and that is aimed to hardcore fans who want more content. I have no issue buying additional content if I love the game. Too many times have I hoped games would add DLC, even if it was double the game’s original price, just to have more content.

How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Tavern Of Heroes?

It’s really awesome to see players get involved in the game and add contents and mods. As our game is implemented right now, it’s possible to change the stats of everything or add content, but at the moment it’s not easy to do. We want to make it simpler for people by releasing tools so they can add their characters, classes, items, etc. We do want to add a system which makes sure our content is untouched and make sure our updates are official so there is a standard base for everyone.

What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?

I think I’m still a newcomer and have a lot to learn but one thing I’d say is, approach results with a pessimistic attitude. Expect development time to be longer, have more bugs, and attract less people.  That way, if everything goes well, it’s awesome. If it doesn’t, then you are better prepared. 🙂  – End

Thanks goes out to Francois and the entire team at Optim GameStudio.  You can read more about Tavern of Heroes and try out the demo on their IndieGoGo page.

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