Conducted By Adam Ames
Tim Remmers, chats with TPG about his side-scrolling fighting hybrid title, Megabyte Punch. You will learn about setting difficulty levels, success and failures of development, life as an indie dev, thoughts on the PC gaming in industry and much more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Megabyte Punch.
My name is Tim Remmers, together with Dion Koster I am developing Megabyte Punch. My role within the development is creating all the visuals for the game. Because of the small team I am also responsible for the business/producing part. While being an artistic genius Dion is responsible for coding Megabyte Punch. To escape from endless coding he is also doing all the animations for the characters. Designing the game mechanics is something we do together at the brainstorm table.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
That question sounds like we are developing PC games for decades! This is actually our first “official” PC game. So how did we start, well we just did. Developing for PC is still a relatively “simple” if you compare it with all the license hassle to develop your game on a console. Obviously we could try our luck in the IOS/Android business like a lot new game companies are trying. However, for this game this is not something we are aiming for. We decided to work with Unity3D since we both had experience with that tool from previous projects. We still have the ambition to bring Megabyte Punch to the consoles, because the controls are really working well with a (xbox) controller. However we currently don’t have the resources to create a xbla or psn version of the game so our goal is to finish the PC version first.
Where did the idea for Megabyte Punch come from?
During our graduation Dion told me about this prototype he was working on. A very ambitious game where you were able to pick up everything in the world to attach to yourself and create a fighting character with. At the time he had a very basic prototype running of Megabyte Punch. It was fun to play around with this prototype and I was really enthusiastic about the idea of turning this into a full game. I offered Dion to help him with defining the art style and creating the 3D assets. At the time we were both working on our graduation project but I often asked him about any progress on the game. After graduating we officially teamed up under the flag of Reptile to work on our first game Megabyte Punch.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Megabyte Punch?
Up to now we didn’t really achieve any big successes or failures I think. I think the biggest success up to now is that we are still able to work on the game and give updates on a regular basis. By this we learned and believe that we are able to push this game to the final version of the game. What we learned from our minor failures is that you must kill your darlings to keep improving. Prototype your ideas, see them fail and build a better prototype. See that one a fail a little bit less and throw that one away. You must be careful not to enter an endless loop of prototyping, but in general I believe that throwing stuff away makes you a better game developer.
In its current form, how close is Megabyte Punch to your initial vision?
Currently the basics are complete. You can build your character with the parts you get from enemies and you can fight with it. So basically the game is already beyond our initial vision. During the development we added quite a lot of features to turn something -funny to play with- into a real game. And there are still some awesome other things in the planning to be added later!
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 Megabyte Punch and if you faced a similar challenge.
Oh yes, we are definitely experts at our own game. We can beat anyone who challenge us! It is really difficult to define the right difficulty for players if you don’t let them play. The keyword here is play testing. Ask people you don’t know and fit your target audience to play your game and observe. How do they respond to a tutorial, do they read the dialogs to gain information or do they start trying out all the available buttons? The most difficult part is to balance the difficulty between new players and more skilled players, they are playing the same game and there is no difficulty setting for the game. We tried to solve that by adding multiple routes within the levels.
New players can relatively simple complete the adventure levels without running into too much enemies, however they are less rewarded by the game. Because they encounter less enemies they will gain fewer parts to use on their character. When a new player plays that level again he is willing to find out more about the other routes he skipped last time, with this new routes he will encounter more enemies and will grow stronger as a character.
The ideal situation would be that a new player is turning into a skilled player. These skills are needed for the bossfights since there are no alternatives for this fight. So what happens if the new player didn’t turn into a skilled player before the boss? He will obviously lose, while a skilled player can relatively simple defeat the boss. I think these bossfights are the most difficult part in the game to balance between new and skilled players. This is something we are still tweaking very often to be fun for everyone.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Megabyte Punch would run on the various PC system configurations?
No not really. Unity is handling that very well when building a game. We didn’t hear anything yet about the game not running with certain system configurations.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Megabyte Punch.
It is really fun to create an art style for this game. For creating the 3D tileset I was really inspired by games such as the Megaman game series, Kirby, Sonic 2 etc. It was actually the first time for me creating an art style for a tile based game. It was a real challenge but so far I’m really satisfied with the result. The initial idea was to apply pixelart texture maps to 3D cubes like minecraft, with a bit more resolution. I played around with that style for a while when I felt that we were wasting the 3D space we were given. I tried adding some height variation on the Z axis and in an instant the scene came alive. Adding a height variation really gave the scene nice details and felt more solid. With this in mind I started adding more geometry to the blocks to create more complex shapes. What might be interesting to notice is that most of the textures for the environments are 4×2 pixels. I define certain color patterns with 8 colored pixels that go well together, while unwrapping the 3D blocks I can define which piece of geometry gets which color.
Designing the levels is really fun and easy to do for Megabyte Punch. Dion created a system where the engine checks the RBG value of each pixel. We connect those RGB numbers to a certain blocktype, we open up paint and start painting our level. Some versions ago we didn’t use a level editor at all, with some nifty magic formulas we let the computer generate each new level. This way the player never gets the same level twice. These procedural levels were pretty cool but we decided to replace them with our hand drawn levels because it was too difficult to control the flow of the levels with these procedural algorithms.
The sound fx and music in Megabyte Punch is created by Runesound. Runesound is recently founded by Oscar van der Burgh a good friend of us with whom we did a few projects with before this one. He is a composer who loves to be on top of the development of the game. If we make some minor changes he adapts the audio and music to it. He does everything to hit the right notes for the game. Currently the music is quite static but this will change in future updates. The music will be adapted to the situation you are in to avoid being repetitive and to support the actions you are doing.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Funding the projects you want to do. We have to be very creative with the limited amount of money we have to spend. Also without a big marketing team it is somewhat difficult to stand out from the crowd and being picked up by a bigger audience.
How did you go about funding Megabyte Punch and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
We decided trying to fund Megabyte Punch with alpha funding. While we are developing the game you can already pre-order the game for a reduced price and receive the latest alpha version of the game. We didn’t really raise any serious money yet to fund the development of the game but we are very happy that there are at least a few people putting faith in this game. Eventually we have to reach more people to make this funding successful but every penny helps. We also receive a lot of emotional support from our friends and family, they are often waving at us and feeding us bananas. No really, we get a lot of support from friends and family that really respect what we are trying to achieve. They know it’s difficult to build up a business in these times. However, there are always people at family reunions and birthday’s reminding us that we just have to create some game like Angry Birds and we will be filthy rich!
Tell us about the process of submitting Megabyte Punch to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
The game is currently available on Desura and Gamersgate. Two digital distributions platforms with quite a big player base. Desura is more focused on independent games, Gamersgate is more mainstream. These two platforms enable us to sell our game through an Alpha Funding system. I think more platforms must consider this option for developers, it really helps both the developer as the players. Developers can fund their game while developing it and players will constantly receive the latest version of the game and see the game evolve. Megabyte Punch is also available on Indievania and in our own little online shop. Obviously our goal is to get our game on the holy grail of digital distribution Steam. Since they are only accepting finished games we still have a lot to do, but we hope to grab their attention when we are finishing up the game later this year!
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 based our pricing on two things. What would we pay for such game? This might be a stupid question to ask yourself but in our lives we bought a lot of games so you can make a rough estimation of the price this game would cost. On top of that we checked how many hours you can play the game, this one is also a bit difficult because the game isn’t done yet! So we currently set our final price at 15 dollars, the game is way bigger and got more depth than an average casual game. On the other hand it is smaller than the average AAA title (Although…). We might be wrong about the price, it is our first time defining one. Luckily digital distributions enables us to alter the price any second.
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 Megabyte Punch and the difficulties in doing so.
I believe a demo isn’t necessary anymore for big studios to get attention for their games. The big studios got such a huge fanbase/community that will hype the hell out of it even when they release a single screenshot of an upcoming game. What is also difficult with demo’s is that it must show the full potential of the game without giving away everything. I believe that is quite a risk a lot of studios don’t want to take anymore. So why did we choose to release a demo of the game? Well the answer is simple. We have to prove ourselves.
People don’t know us yet, so they don’t really have any expectations so far. If you only check our screenshots or watch the trailer it might look somewhat vague and abstract to a lot of players. However by playing the demo you can feel the potential of the full game. It is clear what your goal is and you can guess what the full game can offer you. There is one difficulty when creating a demo for an alpha version of a game. The demo has to evolve at the same pace as the alpha version. Otherwise the player might play the demo of a much older version and might not like the game because of some features or bugs. He decides not to buy the game while the alpha version already have those stuff he didn’t like fixed. So it is difficult to have a demo out for an alpha version of the game and keep that one updated.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Megabyte Punch from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Really important. I keep checking every board we have something posted on at least twice a day and it’s really time-consuming! However you develop a game for players. Listening to these players really increases the quality of the game. Obviously we can’t put in everything players want but there is already quite some stuff in there we didn’t come up with ourselves. To give you an example, quite a lot of players are requesting to add some information about the parts in the game. Because we are so familiar with our own game we thought adding some icons would be enough to show what each part does. We were completely wrong, players really wanted more information about those parts. This is something we are actually working on in the current update (4).
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Megabyte Punch professionally?
We really respect anyone who takes the time to play our game and write something about it. However, a review is “just” one persons’ opinion which are all equal. So both professional and amateur reviews are very valuable for us. A positive review from a professional reviewer however might have a bigger impact because it can shape the opinion of more reader since their audience is often a little bit bigger then an amateur reviewer. There are some exceptions though if you reckon the popularity of the “let’s play” videos on YouTube for example, mostly created by amateurs.
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 really like those bundles as a player and I very much like the “Pay what you want” pricing. Especially the average price bonus game is really working great. As a developer I love to have our game in such a bundle but I also think it is something to be careful with. More and more bundles are joining the scene and I don’t believe it is always to support the indie developers, some might do it for the pretty good revenue they are receiving. And of course, why not, it’s good to find new resources for revenue but what happens when you flood the market with bundles. People might think, “I just wait with buying this game because it will probably pop up somewhere in a bundle”. These are just my personal ideas about the bundles, I didn’t do any extensive research into this so I might be completely wrong. It was remarkable to see however that even EA started an “indie” bundle. So I hope the bundles will remain to support the indie scene and not change into “bargain packages” if you know what I mean.
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 DRM is only doing harm to the players and not keeping pirates away, piracy might even get more aggressive because of DRM. On the other hand games without DRM are starting to use DRM FREE in their marketing strategy, it might even turn into a game feature eventually which is very silly in my opinion. A gamer should always be able to play a game without too much hassle. Of course I can’t ignore piracy, it’s a problem also affecting the indie scene.
I do believe that if your game gets pirated your game wasn’t worth the price or you were not able to trigger a player enough to buy your game. Or the game just sucks and people want to check out why the game sucks without paying the price! I think the real “solution” to piracy is to create quality games for a fair price, if you show respect to your players they will respect you as a developer as well. Dion’s solution for piracy is pushing (free) content like patches, most people always want the latest version of the game. It is really annoying when your pirated version can’t be patched and you have to wait for a new pirated patch. It’s not really a solution but it might drag players back to the legal version of the game where you will always be updated immediately.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Megabyte Punch?
It is great to see people playing your game and willing to say some cool things about it! It can also be a bit frustrating to see though. The biggest “issue” are the aerial attacks, we tried to make that as clear as possible but a lot of players miss that. The idea is that you build up damage on a character with your default attacks and some abilities like the machine gun for example, to finish off an enemy you can kick him in the air to perform a flying kick which is much more powerful. We have different moves in the air as finishers( up down left right ) but only a few players are actually using them. So what happens is that people in the video keep performing default punches and kicks to eventually destroy the enemy. So on top of it being cool that individuals are posting videos of our game it also contains very valuable information, it is basically a playtest without us looking over their shoulder.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
Remember the expansion sets in the old days? I was thrilled when a new expansion set of Rollercoaster Tycoon for example was released. I actually liked those more than sequels. You can compare current DLC to those expansions. But i’d rather not. DLC is leaning more and more towards getting as much money out of the player as possible and is actually blending with micro transactions in my opinion. When I think of it…I believe micro transactions are actually based on DLC. It’s a new way of getting revenue for your game which is great but more developers are starting to abuse it I think. To wrap it up I think modern expansions doesn’t really fit DLC as it is now. Maybe we should call it DDE (Digital Distributed Expansion)and save the name DLC for buying hats!
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 Megabyte Punch?
We are currently not very active in the “modding scene” and we don’t have a lot of contact with modders. Nonetheless I think the online modding community is very valuable to both the developers and the gamers. In theory our game might be quite good to be modded. I think modders can come up with very interesting new stuff based on the original game. However I don’t think it is realistic to think of people modding our game at this moment. But it might be something for the future.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
It’s difficult to give advice for something we didn’t achieve yet! Yes, we are in the gaming business but we are still quite low profile. I do have some ideas about it though. Stay realistic and focus on creating brilliant games. Forget about being famous and earning loads of money. There is no magical recipe to become successful, just create brilliant games and you will get noticed eventually. Also don’t forget to have fun when creating your games. On top of that respect the people supporting you. It doesn’t matter if you only have 10 fans that really like your game, respect those 10 and they will fight for you. -End