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Friday, May 3, 2013

Interview: The indie making a PC and tablet RPG out of paper (literally)

A little while ago I came across a trailer for an old-school, retro RPG that redefined what a Wizardry game could look like. That game was Paper Sorcerer.

If you missed it, go and take another look at the trailer - looks spectacular, no? What's even more impressive is that the game is the work of one man, and it was his first commercial game project. Even more impressive is that the project was a resounding success even despite the developer, Jesse Gallagher, lacking a track record and an established fan base.

Paper Sorcerer is one of those rare stories in the games industry of a project completely beating the odds by being so incredibly innovative that people had to take notice anyway. And as such we felt the need to track down the Gallagher and ask him a couple of questions about where he believes his success stems from.

Digitally Downloaded (DD): What inspired you to create Paper Sorcerer?
Jesse Gallagher (JG): I've always been a huge fan of RPGs. I thought doing an RPG from the viewpoint of the villain would be a fun and interesting twist.

DD: Your game uses a distinctive, and unique art style. What challenges did you encounter in building that aesthetic into a video game?
JG: Since it's such a high contrast art style, the biggest artistic difficulty was in finding numerous small ways to reduce the visual intensity. In testing, I've found that some have difficulty playing for extended periods because the contrast causes eye strain, so I adjust for things like that in subtle ways that don't break the art style.

DD: You ran a successful Kickstarter for the game as well. What do you think was the reason for the campaign's success, and what advice would you have for other indies looking to run a Kickstarter?
JG: I'd say a combination of art, doing an RPG when there weren't that many other first-person RPGs on the market, and that I was lucky enough to get coverage on a few major websites. Coming up with a cohesive visual style that was feasible in scope while being distinctive and visually striking, then presenting enough examples that show how it would work in the game made a big difference. When I started pulling together the resources to post the Kickstarter, there weren't many other first-person indie RPGs, so I was able to find a spot in that niche.

For advice, make the Kickstarter goal reasonable, there's a lot of big teams doing Kickstarters now, but I still think there's room for the little guy as long as you have polished presentation. Having a cohesive visual style really helps, and show images that represent the dream you’re selling. Kickstarter is basically selling dreams, things that are not made yet that creators are passionate about. If you don’t have any previous track record, the dream and currently completed work is all you have to sell people on it, so it impacts the number of people that are willing to pitch in, and the amount they’re willing to risk.

Also, for rewards, make sure that the pledge level that includes the final game isn't too expensive or too cheap. If its too cheap, you’ll have trouble reaching your goal because the majority will pledge at that level, but if its too expensive, people will choose to wait it out until the game’s released and they can learn more about whether the game would suit them. Either way, you have difficulty reaching your goal.

Don’t give too much away about the gameplay too early - tell the reader enough that they can get an idea for how it plays, but don’t go into minute details because that could change. Most people aren't interested in super granular detail at this early a stage, and those that do will feel betrayed if you change it. I also find that telling people the exact details of game mechanics chains me down to that idea and stops me from iterating on the gameplay to make something that’s more fun.

DD: Your game is being built for PC and Mac, as well as phones and tablets. Do you have any plans to port to consoles. Why/ why not?
JG: I'd love to port to consoles, but I want to focus on getting the best experience I can to the platforms I've already committed to.

DD: You say that you have had no prior game development experience. How did you go about training yourself for this game?
JG: I've worked on some small hobbyist teams with friends, on games that didn't go anywhere before. It was when I discovered Unity that I realized that I could really do this on my own. Then I started making some simpler games that I wasn't as passionate about. At the same time, I’d been working on my art, trying to find a style that worked for me. From working in 3D, I became really interested in creating hand-drawn textures, the experience of being able to move around inside a drawing was an exciting feeling for me. The first time I had finished a prototype, a character that you could move around and interact with the environment, that was the moment of inspiration, when I thought, ‘I can actually do this.’

DD: What would you say have been the greatest game development challenges that you've encountered so far?
JG: All the bug fixes and generally getting things to look right and work the way they’re supposed to. Since I have more art experience than technical, the technical issues are the ones that give me the most trouble. Also just working out the pipeline and keeping everything organised for such a massive game is also a never-ending challenge.

DD: Where would you like to take your career in games development from here?
JG: I’d like to just continue making indie games until I fall over dead at the keyboard. As long as there are fans that would like to play games I make, I’d like to keep making them as long as possible.

DD: What advice would you have for someone looking to break into the games industry?
JG: I would say choose either programming or art, and spend a couple years getting really proficient at the basics. Then from there just make a simple, fun game that you’re passionate about. You’ll have plenty of time to think of game ideas while you’re getting good at your chosen specialty. Its been my experience that your first idea will probably winding up getting to be too ambitious and huge to actually be able to follow through, but it’ll be a good game design exercise. Also take time to look at games you like, and figure out what makes them successful at what they set out to do, and what detracts from that goal. Just the idea of doing something simple effectively is usually a lot better than doing something grandiose and falling short. Polish is 90 per cent of the work. With technology the way it is you don't have to join a company to make a game, you can just start making your game as long as you can pay the rent.

DD: Finally, what games are you playing at the moment?
JG: My main time for playing video games is as I’m falling asleep at night, so I’ve been slowly been playing through the Final Fantasy series. I’ve given myself a little challenge to beat all the Final Fantasy games. I just finished 5, and now I’m at the very end of 4. I also want to squeeze in replaying the Baldur’s Gate series again. Also in some of my weekend free time, I’ve been playing Wind Waker with my girlfriend. I make her do all the sailing parts.
Interview: The indie making a PC and tablet RPG out of paper (literally)
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