BasketBelle Developer Interview

Conducted By Adam Ames

Michael Molinari brings a new twist to the PC gaming sports genre with his recent release of BasketBelle.  You will learn how a character from a different game lead to inspiration, his thoughts on the PC gaming industry as a whole, his beginnings with Flash and much more.

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

My name is Michael Molinari, aka Bean, an independent game developer with over 10 years experience making little Flash games. BasketBelle is my first commercial release. I am its sole creator, so that’s design, programming, art, music, etc. Of course I’ve had friends help me out along the way with feedback, too.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

Before high school, I was involved with a silly web comic for Team Fortress Classic, and decided to make some Flash games to go with them. I made a bunch of little experiments during high school, and have made what has come to be my defining work post-college.

Where did the idea for BasketBelle come from?

The idea for BasketBelle spawned from a minor character in one of my other games, …But That Was [Yesterday]. There was a nurse whose face was obscured. I asked what her story was, who her family was, and what adventures they had. I then thought of her son, who loved basketball, and who would have to journey through a city to find his sister.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing BasketBelle?

I learned a lot about syncing audio to gameplay. It’s a bit rough in places since the game was designed at 24fps, but I’m proud of it. I’d say the biggest failure is a lack of proper pacing throughout. Each Chapter is almost a different game, so it was tough to tie things together coherently.

In its current form, how close is BasketBelle to your initial vision?

I’d say it’s pretty close. I typed up an outline of the overarching story before development really kicked in. It helped to keep me on target and not add too many new things.

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 BasketBelle and if you faced a similar challenge.

I’ve made challenging games before, and after realizing how few people actually beat them, I changed my attitude to allow more people to at least complete my games. This created a shift from challenge to getting a wholesome experience while playing, hence my focus on character development and memorable visuals/moments.

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

BasketBelle was developed in Flash, so I knew it would be playable on 98% of the world’s computers without much hassle.

Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for BasketBelle.

I’m a big fan of cardboard, so I tried something new with texture, color, and light. There’s a static filter over everything, so even a still image is always moving.

The level design for a Chapter only occurred as I was developing it, so I had all the time before that to go through the possibility of what could happen and how to make it interesting.

The music was just as important as the game, as it’s the lifeline that ties everything together. The most important aspect was to find good bass drums, since dribbling is tied to percussion.

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

I’d say doing anything else is tough, since you know there’s this game that needs to be finished. I would go for long periods not playing my favorite games because of a constant guilt of ignoring my creative project. Plus, any time spent not working on my game is time spent not working for an income.

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

BasketBelle started as a pet project at night since I was an artist in the game industry by day. Once I left that company, I was full-time on BasketBelle, receiving zero dollars for months. I had plenty of friends and family cheering me on to keep working, so that was helpful.

Tell us about the process of submitting BasketBelle to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.

I’m actually still in that process right now. The game is being reviewed for Desura as we speak. As for Steam, I’d like to wait until Steam Greenlight comes out in August. I feel like I’d have a better shot at getting approved through that system than their current one.

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

Most indie games are 5-10 dollars, with the more popular ones dipping into the 15 area. I figured BasketBelle has little replay value and no community functionality, so customers would be happy with a reasonable 5 dollars. To sweeten the deal, I include the full soundtrack, concept art, and other goodies with each purchase.

Can you tell us why there is currently no demo for BasketBelle?

I’ve actually held off from releasing a BasketBelle demo. I don’t feel playing one Chapter will show someone what it’s like to play through the entirety of the game, knowing gameplay/rules change so often.

I think indies are releasing demos because it’s a great form of marketing. The big studios have their millions to invade adspace and other corners of our peripheral vision, so there’s little need to prove with a demo that their games are worth it.

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

It’s great to have instant feedback from hundreds of people in a short amount of time. It really makes the important issues stand out, so they can either be fixed right away, or noted for future development.

How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review BasketBelle professionally?

Every review is important, as the game is placed next to its peers in consideration as a worthy game. If a reviewer speaks highly of a game, its sales benefit proportionally. For example, a brief mention of BasketBelle on Rock, Paper, Shotgun instantly boosted sales by 20%.

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?

Indie bundles are popping up everywhere because of the success of the first few, but it’s clear this mass collection sale for a dollar isn’t going to pay the bills forever. Right now it’s a great model, but something new will have to happen with pricing in the future in order to keep both developers and customers happy.

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

PC gaming is just as thriving as it always was. There are a lot of distractions from consoles and such nowadays, but the community for PC gamers is a strong bond to this day.

DRM is a result of investors and publishers caring more about numbers than people. There are always people who want to support a company by paying money, and they end up being the ones punished, so the system is a bit backwards. I don’t think I’ve heard of one instance where DRM actually stopped a game from being pirated.

How do you feel about individuals posting videos of BasketBelle?

I encourage everyone to post videos of BasketBelle! No matter what the video is about, it’s a guaranteed way to allow the game to reach new viewers.

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

I’m not a fan of paid DLC. I’ve purchased no additional game content for anything, even games I love. DLC should be free. It should be additional content given to customers to show them they are appreciated for their loyalty. If you think about the companies that release free DLC, they’re usually ones that are loved more than hated. I think there’s something there.

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

The mod community is one of the reasons why PC gaming is so awesome. It gives the power to create to every player, even those without game creation skills.  I doubt BasketBelle will allow for mods, but I would love to continue adding free content if it becomes popular enough.

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

Be honest with your work. Once you start making things up, players will know, and in return they won’t enjoy what you have to say because it’s not coming from you anymore.

We would like to thank Michael for his well thought out and informative answers.  You can buy BasketBelle on the official site for $4.99 with the ability to pay more if you wish.

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