Interview: Paul Turbett on bouncing back after a disaster

9 mins read

Last year we saw a bit of a unfortunate circumstance in the Australian games industry. Paul Turbett, the man behind Black Lab Games and the very enjoyable Star Hammer Tactics, was essentially driven out of the industry after his game flopped on the Apple iOS app store.

It would seem that the game development itch has not been fully scratched for Turbett. He’s back, redeveloping a classic DOS RPG that not many people would have played for modern systems (PC, Mac and Linux initially).

Turbutt has taken the time out to answer a couple of questions regarding lessons learned from Star Hammer Tactics, what we’re in for with his new project, Trial By Magic, and the opportunities for indies in the current marketplace.

Digitally Downloaded (DD): What encouraged you to develop another game?

Paul Turbett (PT): I guess I just can’t help myself. I seem to need to make games!

After Star Hammer Tactics flopped, I took a break from games for a while. After about six months, I had a few ideas for projects that I thought would be really cool, and started experimenting with a some of them. I think the most fun projects I’ve worked in on the past are RPG projects, and over time the idea of remaking my first one, Trial By Magic, dawned on me and I started to investigate how I could make it work.

It seems there is a bit of a revival of “old school” RPGs in the works, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon!

The original Trials By Magic

DD: You had an unfortunate experience with your previous game, Star Hammer Tactics. What have you learned from that, and how will this game be different?
PT: Lots! First, the premise for Star Hammer Tactics was a bit flawed. The concept is a simplified turn-based strategy game, but I feel in hindsight that “simplified” and “TBS” are not really something that anybody is interested in. Strategy games need more depth than Star Hammer Tactics supported.

DD: Trial By Magic is an RPG; a notoriously expensive genre to develop within. How are you going to ensure this game is competitive in the market despite working on an independent budget?
PT: The fact it’s a remake helps a lot. Much of the design is already done. Of course it will be tweaked and improved, but things like level layouts, weapons lists, spell types, etc are already in the bag.

Also, the scope of the project is practical for a smaller developer. It’s set in a dungeon, not an open sandbox world like Skyrim. The dungeon will still be huge and there will be a lot to explore, plenty of monsters to slay and tons of loot to collect but the aim is to make an underground adventure with a start and a finished, not a sprawling epic that never ends.

DD: Trial By Magic is a remake of an old DOS game. Firstly, we love DOS RPGs! Secondly, how are you updating the game for the modern audience?
PT: There are three main areas.

First, the controls. I’ve played the old Trial By Magic in a DOS emulator recently, and the control scheme and UI are hard work for the player. The whole area of Human Machine Interface has advanced a lot in the last 15 years, so how the player interacts with the game needs to be modernised.

Next is the production values. Obviously there have been advances in graphics technology since 1993 (like for example 3D graphics cards!). So instead of sprites, the game will be all 3D models, with modern lighting, particle effects, etc.

Then there are the game systems, like combat and magic. There is still a lot to do here, but the core RPG systems will get an overhaul. The intention is to update the systems to be modern whilst providing a “classic” RPG experience. One thing we are doing that I’m really excited about is switching to a classless system. You character will start off as a “blank slate”, and the character you become will be based on your actions in the game, not an arbitrary choice made before you even start playing.

There are probably other changes, such as an improved and better integrated story, maybe some online features, but those are the main things.

The original Trials By Magic

DD: The game is in development for PC are you considering other platforms? Why/ why not?
PT: Yeah, in the early days of Black Lab Games, I worked on PSP and later iPad, but PC is where I think I belong. I started game development on PC, and the games I’m most interested in are generally on PC.

I think a Mac version is almost a certainty, and a Linux version should be easy to produce as well, since the game is built on Unity which supports all three platforms out of the box.

Other than that, maybe tablet, but it’s a long way down the track to think too much about that yet. It would need a rework of the control scheme and UI, and right now I’m focused on getting the PC version ready even that’s a long way off.

DD: You’re building this game using Unity. What do you like about that platform?
PT: Pretty much everything. First, it’s a great engine with an excellent tool set. I really like the ability to customise the editor to create new tools easily.

Second, the Asset Store. There are hundreds of ready made libraries and art assets that can be included cheaply in a project. Whilst most of the art for Trial By Magic will be custom made, there are some common things, like bloodstains for example, that its more efficient to just buy for a few bucks.

Finally, because it’s a popular tool, the community is huge and helpful. I rarely come across a problem I can’t fix quickly with just a quick search of the forums.

DD: How will you be marketing and selling Trial By Magic?
PT: Digitally! Ideally, I’d like to get the game on Steam, and other digital stores, like Gamersgate, GOG and Desura.

DD: What would make this project a success in your book?
PT: For it to reach a wider audience than the original.

The original game was made with retail distribution in mind, and was a full scale retail game. We had some issues with the publisher we signed up with, however, so the distribution was limited and marketing was nonexistent.

I’ve always felt the game could have had a larger audience if it was marketed properly, so I think a key determinant of success with the remake will be whether more people have a chance to play it. With digital distribution, of course there is no reason why that can’t happen.

DD: Finally, what games are you playing at the moment?
PT: I got into Legend of Grimrock when it came out, and it really scratched my Eye of the Beholder itch. Since then mostly other RPGs for “research” purposes, you know, because research is important.

This is the bio under which all legacy articles are published (as in the 12,000-odd, before we moved to the new Website and platform). This is not a member of the DDNet Team. Please see the article's text for byline attribution.

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