Conducted By Adam Ames
Jana and Friedrich from Rat King Entertainment talk to TPG about their rougelike title, Pitman. You will read about the successes and failures encountered during development, their take on cross-platform releases, thoughts and the PC gaming industry and much more. Here is a preview:
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Everything (haha). In fact making games is the thing we love and we can do best. But – surprise! – there needs more to be done: like marketing, or making a living out of it. Also, motivating yourself over a long time (especially in a development phase where you can’t show new stuff around) is not very easy. But blogging and chatting with other developers really helps.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Pitman.
We are Jana (graphics, game design) and Friedrich (game design, coding) from the Germany-based indie developer Rat King. We love game jams, and PITMAN was originally developed for the 7-Day-Roguelike Challenge 2011 as a 3D browser game just by the two of us.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
We both studied multimedia design at university and created lots of game prototypes there. After we got our diplomas we saw just one path before us: founding Rat King and becoming indie. Although both of us are true PC gamers above everything else, we wanted to ride the iOS wave at first and do some small games for iPhone/iPad, especially because we use Unity, which allows porting our games to iOS very easily – which we did with PITMAN.
This year we want to go straight back to the games we really love and play: games for desktop PCs with keyboard and mouse. This is why we ported our yellow-clothed dwarf back to PC in January 2012.
Where did the idea for Pitman come from?
Board games! We love them, we play them and most of their abstract gameplay elements fit smaller projects very well. And as PITMAN was made for a roguelike contest, we combined this with typical roguelike elements like dying all the time (haha), looting and slashing enemies in different styles and also balancing your inventory and level-up decisions.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Pitman?
The core PITMAN was done in a very short time (one week), but the following port from our start platform (Unity on PC) to iOS needed at least one more month, mainly for adapting the interface. Which of course is unnecessary if you plan your target platforms from the beginning.
Furthermore, the core gameplay – the use of a “card” system for extending the level while playing – is exactly like we planned, but in hindsight not present enough in the game. PITMAN just doesn’t make use of the vast potential this feature has.
In its current form, how close is Pitman to your initial vision?
Pretty close. We planned the game before the 7DRLC very well, so we nearly reached the aim we wanted to. But for a possible sequel we would like to spend more time for nicer textures, more effects and better balancing of the gameplay.
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 Pitman and if you faced a similar challenge.
That was and still is a problem for us, too. Like in every roguelike “perma death” (which basically means no reloading of past states of the game) is a typical element you will face when playing. And PITMAN is far more tactical than it might look.
As the developers, we know how to let new rooms appear in a meaningful way, avoid enemies, level the right style, etc., so we had to make the foes much harder in order not to be bored. Some players had problems with the protagonist always being hungry (we fixed that with a table of Magical Mashed Potatoes in every dungeon since version 1.4), or that you haven’t enough space in your inventory (which you can expand when you train your strength).
The game clearly lacks a little bit of handholding for the player. For example, the game is pretty dark when you don’t use your torch – some video reviews we saw on YouTube had a low contrast because of this. Which is why the PITMAN says “I could light my torch!” now and then since version 1.4 … Of course, a bigger problem might be that the help section of the menu is a bit too much to read for most people.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Pitman would run on the various PC system configurations?
Not really, as this is where Unity comes in quite handy. The PC game uses deferred shading mainly for the point light shadows, so this might be a bottleneck here, but overall complaints about performance are sparse.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Pitman.
We wanted something novel for the look of our roguelike. Thus we combined 3D with painted textures and the board game style of cards, little figures jumping from point to point and quadratic chips as collectible items. These elements, combined with the short amount of time, were perfect for us to create a “coffee-break” roguelike, appealing for a (hopefully) big number of people out there. Also, pixel or even ASCII art (which is common for roguelikes) would have been harder for us, as we never did a game with such graphics!
We wanted something funny and do a parody of questing for artifacts, so we put in all those books and characters which have something negative to say about your situation in the dungeon. (“Your artifact is in another castle!”) And we created some enemies not so common for fantasy RPGs, like (monster) moles and hyenas … just to make fun of the typical monster rats and other pointless creatures in many dungeon games.
For most of our projects the music was done by Friedrich’s brothers, but this time we bought music from Kevin McLeod, who has a great range of different music styles on his website, it probably would have been too much of a hassle for individually written music in the short time frame. And the one song added in a later version was in fact written by a fan: Chad Bagaason, who offered to create a song in the TouchArcade forum thread about PITMAN, as he didn’t like the original music.
How did you go about funding Pitman and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
Although we are game developers we need to do paid assignments like illustrations, programming, video editing etc. to get along. Plus we visited a course for founders (backed by the EU) for over a year, where we got some money once in a while to buy stuff for our company, like hardware and software (Unity Pro, Photoshop CS, etc.) and everything else you need when starting a serious business.
Of course, emotional support came from everybody around us; some of our friends are even listed in the credits of PITMAN because of their eagerness to test the game a few hours.
Tell us about the process of submitting Pitman to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
At the moment we are present at four platforms for PC/Mac games, as they sell PITMAN now: Desura, IndieCity, Indievania and LittleIndie. All of them have different concepts in every technical domain (clients / types of games accepted / back end / uploading the game / etc.), which we first had to research and learn about; but overall, there was no resistance against PITMAN whatsoever.
How much pull do you have when setting sale and regular pricing through digital distribution channels? Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
Our pricing is a compromise between what the game is worth for the time we invested in, and what similar games cost and most people are willing to pay. Every now and then we love doing sales when there is a chance to do them (for events like the birthday of our company), as they bring additional attention.
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 released a demo for Pitman and the difficulties in doing so.
Demos are important – this is always true whether the game costs $60, $10 or just $0.99. People want to see and play for real what they would get for their money. A demo can also be very important to find out if your system is ready for the game. Of course this is the perspective of the players – but for us indie developers a demo can be a nice marketing tool, something to talk about and spread around. People love videos and things free to share so they can show they are currently interested in.
The reason why big studios are stopping to release demos is probably along the line of “too much work” and “PC gamers pirate the game anyway”. And they know that a demo can even prevent people from buying their game (because they now might know that they won’t like it). After all, AAA developers mostly already have the attention of all the media, why should they risk bad word of mouth?
How important is it to get instant feedback about Pitman from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Feedback in any form is rewarding. If the players liked it, it’s pure joy of course; but criticism is also welcome, too. Because there are always elements in a game which could have been badly communicated, or the difficulty level (mentioned before) was too high – and when the players let us know about it we can make better games in the future or even create an update which tackles the problems.
So, dear players – just hating the game and giving bad reviews won’t help us and you, our costumers, in the long run. Tell us directly what you didn’t like!
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Pitman professionally?
Their opinion is equal to us whether they are “just” hobby bloggers or professional reviewers. We like to hear every opinion and love to read their reviews. Although we prefer the 10/10 ones – who doesn’t, hehe – we also read the not-so-good ones and share them with our friends and fans, as every (longer) article debates the game deeply enough and shows that the reviewer really looked into it, which deserves credit instantly.
It’s also very interesting to see those YouTube videos where users play PITMAN, knowing what you would do if you were at this or that situation. Amusing and informative, and flattering either way!
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?
The bundles are just a new selling method – and we like to think that they are very useful and a problem at the same time.
As gamers we totally love them! There are so many sites now offering them and surely more to come in the future, so you can get your hard drive full of great games. But on the other hand you get the feeling that you don’t have to buy indie games on release, so instead you wait when they are cheap (as cheap as you want them). Of course, this goes hand-in-hand with the growing belief that (indie) games should have a very low price and be in bundles (supporting charity) in the first place. All games in bundles clearly profit from bundling, but the others, less known ones – which need real pricing because of the lack of attention (brought by the bundles) – unfortunately have to compete with those prices.
Thus we may love bundles, but we still hope they won’t give the impression to gamers that indie games should always be available for pay-what-you-want!
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
This problem was discussed by many developers before, and we support those with the following opinion:
Piracy won’t go away. You don’t have to embrace it, but you will have to deal with it – not with punishments and hassles (which every DRM just is) for your paying costumers and not with pure anger (because those pirates may still become your costumers after all), but with a smile. Give people reasons not to pirate your game by making it super-easy to buy it, perhaps even easier than downloading it illegally. Give them good vibrations for being an honest person.
It’s not the perfect concept, but for everyone involved it feels better than adding DRM after DRM until there is more DRM than there is game.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Find something that really interests you / is personally important to you and try to make something original out of it that others find interesting, too!
Other than that: don’t hide. Talk about your project, show it around, let others play, post screenshots, participate in forums and gamedev contests, contact gaming news sites and bloggers. It’s just too easy to be unnoticed nowadays, and that really doesn’t help you creating a fan base. -End
We would like to thank Jana and Friedrich for their awesome insight into PC gaming development. You can play the demo for Pitman via Kongregate. Afterwards, buy Pitman on Desura, Indievania or Little Indie.