Old Broken Technology: Underrail Interview

Conducted By Adam Ames

Underrail is an indie RPG set in the depths of metro-states during the downfall of humanity as we know it.  Dejan, the sole developer on Underrail, gives us a sneak peak behind this upcoming tale of horror and survival.

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

Hi. My name is Dejan. I made Underrail by myself on top of my own engine. I do everything – design, programming, graphics, with the exception of character models which I outsource.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

Well, I’ve always been interested in making games, especially RPGs as it’s my favorite genre. Growing up I played a lot of big classic western cRPGs such as  Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Fallout, Arcanum, Neverwinter Nights, later installations of Might and Magic and so forth. And then at one point companies just stopped producing these kind of games.

Five years ago I got a job in business software industry that enabled me to get a lot of experience in developing “real world” software so to speak and also to get much more disciplined and focused in my work. So once I got to be a better programmer, naturally I turned back to the kind of software which I really wanted to make. I started developing Underrail some 3 years ago. At first I worked on it part-time, but I quit my job a few months back and now I’m working on it double-time.

Where did the idea for Underrail come from?

I wanted to make a game that focuses on a single character, its development and interaction with the environment. I love playing RPGs where you can just set out and explore a big world, discover different types of areas, find cool stuff, learn new abilities/spells, etc. Some of my fondest memories of playing computer games were just getting lost in an open world RPG and trying to survive.

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

I planned on too many content channels for the game, so to speak. For example, in the case of narration I wanted to have the game keep a detailed journal of what the player did, I wanted to have personal logs and general documents scattered around the world that the player could find, etc.

At some point I realized I just can’t generate all that content on top of what is the core of the game, so I had to cut a lot of that stuff out. There’s still plenty of narration, it’s just mostly dialog now.

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

Pretty close, I would say. The focus was always on combat and exploration and that didn’t change. One big change that I did in the gameplay is moving from real-time to turn-based combat system.

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 Underrail and if you faced a similar challenge.

Not just yet, but I probably will. As of now, I’m the only person that played the game and I do in fact know all the encounters, how the NPCs think, etc. So we’ll see just how hard people find the game once I release the demo.

The final game will probably have a difficulty settings slider.

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

Not yet. I don’t expect many problems there since it’s built on .NET and XNA and they are pretty stable.

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

I wanted the world to feel ruined, old and bleak. I wanted to instill a claustrophobic feeling of being in this maze-like underground world made on old broken technology with strange wildlife creeping in from even bigger underground world.

So on one hand the player will spend a lot of time moving through these narrow corridors and caves, never knowing what’s behind the corner. But on the other hand, the game will also feature some bigger open areas such as big natural caverns and large populated areas.

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

Hiring freelancers over the internet. It’s hard to find reliable people whose services you can actually afford as a small indie developer.

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

Well I did work for five years in business software industry so I had a fair amount saved up.  My family doesn’t understand what I do all that well but they have trust in me. My friends understand that better as some of them are also gamers and enjoy good old school RPGs.  But I get most emotional support from my girlfriend who understands my passion for computer games and my business ambitions better than anyone.

Have you given any thought to a launch price?

I have a price range in mind for what I would like to sell the game once it’s done and it’s mostly in agreement of what the distributors think.

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

Feedback – not so much at this stage. I tend to do things my way anyway and just trust my instincts on what is fun in RPGs and what is not.

People’s reactions are what I value more as they can point out things that I did well and I didn’t even realize it or, on the other hand, things that are just out-of-place. Because I’ve been working on this game for a long time and I’ve grown accustomed to some things that have been around since the early days and no longer look critically on those. This is where getting raw reactions from people comes in handy.

I’ll be looking for a lot more actual feedback once I get a working demo out and people can actually play the game first.

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 haven’t really thought about it. Maybe, though I feel that hardcore RPGs are not the kind of game suited for that sort of stuff.

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

Personally, I don’t mind having to log on for some games that I play in multiplayer most of the times anyway. But when a game comes with limited numbers of activation or some such nonsense, I just skip it.  Fortunately, I don’t play a lot of new mainstream games, so I rarely have a problem with this.

How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Underrail?

Free advertising.

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

I don’t mind buying bigger (thematic) DLCs that resemble expansion packs of the days past. But I don’t like when they chop it up into five little ones. I don’t want to buy or play my games in little pieces. But it’s usually no big deal, I just wait for a bundle and buy it that way and pretend it’s an expansion pack. How I miss expansion packs…

Now on the other hand, day 1 DLCs on an already overpriced piece of software with some lame excuse on how “it’s not really a part of the original game and was developed later independently” etc… I’m sure not paying for that.

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

I wish that one day I will be able to provide a (user friendly) construction set for creating your own areas for Underrail. This is one of the reasons I really enjoyed Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2. I was never big into modding, but I loved playing the amazing stuff people would create in those toolsets.

Now if someone would actually take the time to mod my game without the proper tools that would be really flattering.

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

I don’t consider myself in a position to give advice as I haven’t broken into it yet myself. But as a single person working on a big project alone I can say this: don’t do it if it’s not something you really really want or if you’re not prepared to make sacrifices for its sake.

We would like to thank Dejan for taking time to answer our questions and wish him nothing but success.  You can read up on Underrail on the official site.

7 thoughts on “Old Broken Technology: Underrail Interview

  1. I am really hoping to for a chance to play it some day soon. Very nice interview, good questions as always, and nice, well thought, answers.

  2. Mein gott this game looks cool. I wish I hadn’t read this because now the wait for this to come out is all the more excruciating. Again Adam, I have only you to blame for my misery.

  3. I’ve been watching the development of this game for a little while and am also anxiously awaiting a demo. I wish I had some sort of talent to offer Dejan in exchange for getting a copy now, you know like spell checking the dialog or painstakingly editing AI scripts to allow for better difficulty options.

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