Conducted By Adam Ames

Epic Inventor Interview

Mike “Weem” Wiemholt, developer on the side-scrolling RPG/RTS hybrid, Epic Inventor, talks with TPG about various topics surrounding his development and the PC gaming industry.  Included are the experience of being a first-time developer, where the idea for Epic Inventor came from and much more.  Here is a sample:

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

As for family support, speaking for myself it has been amazing, especially from my wife. She understands how important this work is to me, and is extremely supportive and understanding. We’ve had long periods of time where we didn’t see each other much. I work 10 hours a day and then would come home and work on Epic Inventor for 8 hours or so before going to bed and starting the process over. We had a weekend where we (all three of us developing the game) worked about 16 hours on the game, slept for four hours, then woke up and worked 24 hours straight on it. Not every weekend was that crazy, but we had a number of them like that. You can’t pull of working 40 hours between Saturday and Sunday without the support of your family, so we’re all very fortunate in that regard.

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

My name is Mike Wiemholt, known online as Mike “Weem” (a nickname given to me long ago based on the mispronouncing of my last name as Weem-holt). I am a professional web designer/developer during the day and wannabe game developer at night and on the weekends… wait, can I call myself an actual game developer yet? I’m not sure when we cross that line, hehe.

As for Epic Inventor, I am the game designer and artist. Essentially everything we do with the game is run through me to see how it matches with my “vision” for the game (which can change based on feedback from the community or discussions we have internally). As the artist, I do all of the graphic/art work for the game.

Beyond those two primary roles, I also manage the community work, PR and marketing, etc. I voiced the one boss we have in the game right now (Melvin) and also make YouTube videos featuring the game (and other games as it is my personal channel).

In addition to myself, Epic Inventor is also developed by Forrest Hatfield and Brandon Williams, both of them programmers and fellow contributors to the game.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

We just jumped in really. The story of how we got involved really goes along with the story of how Epic Inventor came to be.

Where did the idea for Epic Inventor come from?

Epic Inventor was inspired by Terraria and that’s something I’ve always been very up front about. Essentially, while playing Terraria I found myself saying (sometimes out loud) “I wish you could do X” where “X” was something that I thought would be cool. It never meant that I thought Terraria NEEDED do these things (Terraria is great as is, and they were regularly adding more to it!), but rather that I saw these as elements I would enjoy a lot in that environment (even if others may not). It’s fun to imagine new things that could be added to (any) game!

During one particular night (in June 2011), myself and Forrest (as well as a few others) were at my house playing Terraria and I was talking about some of these ideas. For example, the idea of putting down placeable items that had a specific purpose (besides storing things) like an automatic crossbow turret. It was during one of these “It would be cool if” moments, that Forrest said to me, “You know, we can make a game like this”. He did not mean a clone of Terraria, but rather that we had (between the few of us) the technical skills required to put together a side-scroller that had the kinds of elements I was talking about. We just needed to make the time to do it. We started a day or two later!

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

One of the first things we decided in the beginning was that regardless of whether it was played by many people, or none, the primary goal was simply to complete a game. We wanted to be able to say we made a game and that any success beyond just the few of us playing it would simply be a bonus. With that in mind, one of the big successes for us was just seeing how far we’ve come and more importantly to recognize just how much we have learned. In that regard, this game has been a huge success already. Even if no one had heard of it, and we put it away right now, all three of us are extremely happy with what was learned and how much more prepared we are for the next game!

Many of the failures experienced to date are directly connected to the fact that this is our first game. Much of what we learned during this process relates to things we will do differently next time. That list is really long though, so I won’t go into it here, haha.

Epic Inventor Interview

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

Hmmm. It’s closer in some aspects than others, that’s for sure. The initial concept I had was more of a side-scroller tower defense. The Epic Inventor we see today has a lot of those initial elements but it’s much bigger now.

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 Epic Inventor and if you faced a similar challenge.

Epic Inventor was always meant to be challenging, which is something not many know. The idea was that it might be a while before you start exploring very far. Instead, you may gather resources and build up your town before you went out exploring.

Neither of these have anything to do with us becoming experts, and honestly, I don’t think I’m better at playing it than most others who give it a good day or two.

I guess what I am getting at is that while I understand how some developers could make their game harder based on an ever evolving perception of things being “too easy”, I’ve never felt that way with Epic Inventor.

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

Nothing too crazy when it came to PC configurations really. We did have a memory issue that came up when played on some older systems (with low RAM). For example, it would not load on my wife’s laptop that had 512mb RAM initially (we just bought her a new laptop finally!). However, Forrest was able to discover the issue and resolve it. This only affected a few of our testers at the time (during limited Alpha testing) and was resolved then as well, so things have gone pretty well on the PC side.

Please talk about developing the art style for Epic Inventor.

I’ve never done sprite work before Epic Inventor. My primary work in web development is related to graphic design, so I have been living in Photoshop for years (since 1999) but this was the first of such kind of work for me.

With that said, I understood how sprites worked, frames, timing, etc. So, when it came to it, I just dove in. I started with the main character (we refer to him as the “dude” as the first file I saved of him was dude.png). I used to be more actively involved in traditional art long ago (drawing, painting etc) and in those times, one of the styles I really liked when sketching was to surround my characters in thick black borders. I started that way with Epic Inventor and also noticed I was using bold colors that contrasted nicely with the black and popped out. Another thing you will notice is that I don’t do many gradients choosing instead to use, for example, one color for a shirt, and one color for pants, etc. I will add a one or two pixel thick shadow and highlight color and then use those same colors for smaller details, but I keep it pretty simple.

I have been told by people that they love the style (and by many that they don’t). Those who like it say things like “it’s unique” and I like to to joke that this is because I am not doing it the right/normal way. You could say I define my style as “lazy”. It has definitely defined the style of the game though and I have found myself on more than one occasion making things that “don’t fit”. I eventually need to dumb them down, or simplify them so that they do.

Epic Inventor Interview

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

Do I count as an indie developer now, I’m not sure, haha. I do joke about that (when can I call myself a game designer, for example), but honestly we are so new to this that the intricacies of the indie game industry are not something I know a ton about. I have played many indie games, but I never really followed the industry or its inner workings until recently.

I suppose the hardest thing outside of creating the game, is the time away from family (more on that below).

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

We fund everything out of pocket.

As for family support, speaking for myself it has been amazing, especially from my wife. She understands how important this work is to me, and is extremely supportive and understanding. We’ve had long periods of time where we didn’t see each other much. I work 10 hours a day and then would come home and work on Epic Inventor for 8 hours or so before going to bed and starting the process over. We had a weekend where we (all three of us developing the game) worked about 16 hours on the game, slept for four hours, then woke up and worked 24 hours straight on it. Not every weekend was that crazy, but we had a number of them like that. You can’t pull of working 40 hours between Saturday and Sunday without the support of your family, so we’re all very fortunate in that regard.

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

It’s pretty straight forward really. “Fill out this form” essentially, haha.

There’s never really been resistance, but then again we only submitted to Steam and Desura. Steam denied us for reasons they don’t discuss (it’s their policy not to apparently). In fact, here is the exact message I received (since there was no mention or NDA restricting the sharing of it – though I removed the name/email address of the sender)…

[message]

Hello Mike,

Thank you for submitting “Epic Inventor” for potential Steam distribution.  We have taken a look at the information provided and determined that Steam is not a good fit for distribution.  It is our company policy not to provide specific feedback on a submission but we would like you to consider Steam distribution for your future products.

[/message]

As long time gamers, we’re big fans of Steam, so this was a bit of a bummer. We had let ourselves day-dream a little and imagine Epic Inventor being distributed there.

With that said, we have been very happy with Desura so far, and we were very excited the day it went up officially (a few days ago at the time of this interview).

Epic Inventor Interview

 

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 Epic Inventor and the difficulties in doing so.

Again, we’re so new to this that I could not possibly say for sure why others do it – there are likely a number of possible reasons, and they will vary from one developer to the next.

In our case, we really love the idea of opening up the process and basically exposing everything about it to the community, both the good AND the bad.

With regard to the “demo” specifically (in this case referring to the now openly available Beta), this just falls in line with our method of operation for the game. Get people playing it – the more people playing it early, the more issues we will discover which we can iron out as quickly as possible.

What it really comes down to is that when you consider our original goal of simply “completing a game”, these kinds of decisions (who gets access, when, and why) aren’t that big of a deal. Let’s let people have access to the game to help us make it better and not worry about what anyone says about the game.

Will we think like this when it comes to the next game, I’m not sure. I would like to think we bring some of that to the next game, but part of this whole process included learning things that we do not want to repeat (and for good reasons, at least for us).

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

This is huge for us. We respond rapidly to the feedback we’re seeing in the community. One of the things you will see when you look at our community (wherever they are) is they like the way we involve and interact with them. We’re very much the newcomers to this industry. We’re not buried in tweets, or wading through tons of emails, and as such we are taking advantage our social mobility as it were.

We had decided early on that we would be very open to take in ideas, and there were often times where feedback gained from the community would make it into the game the same day, or even the same hour, and would be turned around immediately into a update or hotfix. When you (can) involve a community in this way, it sets the whole thing on fire (in a good way).

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

I was listening to a podcast from John Bain (“Totalbiscuit”) about honesty in gaming journalism just two days ago. In it, he talked about the importance of honesty, even when it is brutal in nature, which I absolutely agree with.

I highly value honest opinions, whether they come from a professional game reviewer or a new gamer, and whether it is positive or negative. We LOVE positive feedback, but we NEED negative feedback (when it’s honest).

How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Epic Inventor?

We love seeing videos of Epic Inventor on YouTube. There have been days when we listened to them while working on the game – that is surreal!

In fact, many people were shocked (and even said as much in their videos) when we told them they could put up videos during Alpha testing. If you want to put up a video of Epic Inventor, we are all for it and in fact, we would love to see them so let us know about them!

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

Make the game for you. Make the game you want to play because that is what will fuel your drive to work at all hours on it every day. Our number one goal was to be able to honestly say that we made a video game. It didn’t matter what the game was, as long as it was something we all wanted to do. With that goal in mind, many of the problems along the way that might have otherwise discouraged us (and potentially derailed the project), were more easily brushed off. What mattered was the finish line, which has worked out very well for us. -End

TPG would like to thank Mike and everyone involved with the development of Epic Inventor.  You can pick up Epic Inventor via Desura and Indievania.

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