Conducted By Adam Ames
TPG interviews Thomas Konkol, head of Imminent Games, and developer of the upcoming title, Drip Drip. You will read about how Thomas got started in PC gaming development with Dragon’s Lair 3D, his thoughts on piracy, DRM and other industry topics, why a cross-country trip through the United States is responsible for his game vision, difficulties with low-end PCs and much more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Drip Drip.
My name is Thomas Konkol and I am the Founder/Owner of Imminent Games. All of my life I have been interested in art, animation, and video games. And it was after receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design and studying 2D animation that I decided to pursue a career in making video games. I started off as an animator creating 2D arcade games and then switched over to 3D animation for PC and console games. Over the last seventeen years I have worked on 12 games and have held positions as an Animator, Game Designer, Lead Artist, and Art Director. I decided to take all of the knowledge I had learned over the years and apply it to creating my own games, so in 2009 I formed Imminent Games with Drip Drip being the first.
My role in the development of Drip Drip is a big one since there are only two people working on the game. I am responsible for all of the art, animation, game design, level design, user interface, sounds, play testing, quality assurance, advertising, and taking care of all the business aspects (it’s a huge list when you are a small indie developer and have to wear just about every hat in the industry). I would like to point out that, Blake Drolson, the other half of Imminent Games, is responsible for all of the programming and is very helpful in the design aspect of the game production.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
The first PC game I worked on was Dragon’s Lair 3D: Return to the Lair developed by Dragonstone Software, which I was Lead Animator and Art Director for the project. Since then I have always had an interest in developing games for the PC. Over the last several years I had become more interested in developing PC games because of the affordable engines available and the ability to distribute digitally, which makes it easier to become an indie developer. Then about three years ago I made up my mind to start making my own games.
Where did the idea for Drip Drip come from?
I got the idea when I was driving across country from Chicago to Southern California to relocate for a new job. While going through Texas it started to rain and I was watching the drops hit the windshield. I then started to wonder if there was a way to make a game out of water dropping. The idea stuck with me for the rest of the trip as I went over many game possibilities in my mind while driving down the expressways. The falling of the rain turned into the idea of dripping water, which then lead to water leaking from ceilings in buildings and the damage that could be done to such buildings. From there it evolved to ways the water could be collected and deposited outside of the buildings so the basements wouldn’t get flooded and the floors wouldn’t collapse. And since I was on a cross-country trip when I got the idea it inspired me to make the game so it takes place across many cities in the USA.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Drip Drip?
I guess the biggest success has been finding out how satisfying it is to be able to create a game from start to finish. There is something very special about being able to see the constant progress and changes made from day-to-day and to see the game grow from an idea to the finished product. It is also very rewarding to see people enjoy the game experience and have fun when they play the game for the first time.
The failures would be when we thought we had a great idea and then when it got implemented into the game we found out that it didn’t work like we expected and had to be removed. It is all a learning process and game development involves trial and error. So with those failures we have learned a lot about game development and will use that knowledge to make better games in the future.
In its current form, how close is Drip Drip to your initial vision?
The current form is very close to my initial vision in that the player is moving containers around to collect water and having to use tools to make repairs all in their effort to save the buildings across the USA. The art style is also very close to what I had envisioned. One of the main ideas that changed is where I thought about having people carry the containers around the buildings and placing them under the drips and then having to empty them. The player would have to hire employees with different strengths (to be able to carry different size containers) and speeds (moving through the building). I wanted to simplify the game so I decided to get rid of the people and give the containers life and have them move about the buildings on their own. I also had envisioned the camera more zoomed in so the player saw less of the building and would have to move around from room to room. After play testing I noticed that myself and others would immediately zoom the camera all of the way out so we could see as much of the building as possible. So we took the zoom out of the game and made it so the sides of the building fit within the screen and the player now just has to scroll up and down for the taller buildings.
I think it was a very good design decision because it makes the game a lot easier to control and less confusing. In the later levels there is a lot going on and to have limited what the player could see would have made it too hard. I also like the fact that the game can now be played entirely with just the mouse (two buttons and the scroll wheel). Another feature I had to drop was the power outages when the storm would cause the power to go out and the buildings would go dark. This would cause the player to then buy stuff like candles, lanterns, and power generators to light the buildings so they could see. Again, there is too much going on in the buildings for the player to keep track of so I didn’t want to limit or obstruct what they could see by making the buildings go black until they could light up certain areas.
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 Drip Drip and if you faced a similar challenge.
From the beginning I wanted Drip Drip to be accessible to as many people as possible so I had always planned on having Easy, Medium and Hard settings for the game. The easy setting is for the more casual player not looking for a lot of challenge, but wanting to experience the game as a whole. We made the easy setting by making less drips come from the floors, less threats like the UFO and lightning strikes happen during the levels and the length of the levels are shorter. These settings basically give the player less stuff to worry about. Some may say the Easy setting is too easy but I wanted to make it so that just about anyone could go through the game from start to finish on that setting. I think that the medium setting offers a fair challenge to anyone who is an avid gamer.
Since there are the three settings, we have made the hard setting very hard. Some of the levels can be very brutal (very challenging) when playing them for the first time on the hard difficulty. To give it a higher challenge there are a lot more drips to catch, the threats come out more often, the levels are longer and the beginning water levels in the basements are higher. I think the hard setting makes players think differently on how to play compared to the other settings. The player will have to level up the containers and tools more in the earlier levels and use different combinations of them. The achievements and five-star rating system adds yet another level of play to each of the play difficulties if the player wants to unlock all 44 achievements and get 5 stars on all of the levels. So overall I think the way we set it up allows Drip Drip to cater to a wide range of player types and give them the challenge they are looking for.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Drip Drip would run on the various PC system configurations?
We are lucky we are using a stable 2D game engine (Torque Game Builder), which has proven itself across a wide range of PC configurations and versions of the windows operating systems. We did find that on lower end PC’s, sometimes there are intense periods of game play that would slow the game to a crawl. So we did have to optimize carefully, and also added code to adjust the granularity of game play to help a lower end machine handle the spike in activity and return to a normal frame rate.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Drip Drip.
From the beginning I wanted a cartoon style for Drip Drip since it is sort of wacky idea of having containers and tools moving about the buildings on their own. To play off the cartoon style I animated the containers and tools with lots of squash and stretch to give them even more life as they bounce across the floor, empty out at windows or do repairs. I also wanted a clean interface for the menus so I have kept the buttons and dialogue boxes straight forward with easy to read type.
For the levels I looked for ways to make them get more challenging over the course of the game. In the beginning the buildings are smaller and have more windows compared to the later levels where the buildings are taller and wider and will have floors with no available windows. So with each new level the building will get a floor taller and sometimes wider until the final building in Honolulu, although I have added a few short buildings in some of the later levels to change-up the tempo a little. I also looked at variations in the buildings like the castles where there are two towers that have to be watched and the lighthouses with their tall towers that do not have any closets so the containers have a longer way to travel up to the top floors.
They are a nice change from most of the other buildings and add a whole new challenge. The buildings are themed according to the city they are in, for example there is a mansion in Hollywood, casino in Las Vegas, tall skyscrapers in Chicago and New York, and a lighthouse in Augusta. I feel with the constant change in building styles and sizes that they should keep the player interested throughout the 24 levels of the game.
There really isn’t much music in Drip Drip since I wanted to create the mood for the game by using the sounds of rain, thunder, and lightning strikes to their fullest effect. There is never a dull moment in the amount of sounds being played with containers and tools moving about the building, rain pouring in the background, threats approaching, and alerts going off. Especially during the harder storms like the Torrential Rain and Lightning Storm, the pouring rain along with constant thunder and lightning makes the game feel very intense.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
The toughest part of being an indie developer is making people aware of the game we are producing. We only have so many family and friends to tell and most of the time the news about the game will stop with them and not get spread like wild fire, which is what we desire and need. Luckily, though, there are some press sites out there to post press releases on that many of the game sites follow, which then will repost the release with screenshots and videos that are provided.
How did you go about funding Drip Drip and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
Drip Drip was all self funded from years of savings while working for other game companies. We have received great emotional support from friends and family, who were very happy to see what we had created. And of course friends and family were the first people we approached to play test Drip Drip. Their play test sessions proved to be very valuable in seeing how people of all age groups, and if they were gamers or not, perceived the game. Many design changes were made from their comments.
Tell us about the process of submitting Drip Drip to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
I can not really comment on this one fully yet since we are just getting into the process of contacting digital distributors. It will be interesting to see what they think when they consider our Drip Drip submission, though.
Do you have an idea about how much Drip Drip will cost?
I am not able to comment on the pricing through digital distribution yet since we have not reached that stage yet. Although, I would like to point out that we will be selling it for $9.99 on the Imminent Games website. I chose that price because I want as many people as possible to experience Drip Drip. I did do a lot of research, and it seems like many indie games are similarly priced especially on sites that focus on indie games.
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 are releasing a demo for Drip Drip and the difficulties in doing so.
With the cost of big games skyrocketing, maybe the big budget studios don’t want to allocate money and employee resources towards creating a game demo.
We are releasing a demo for Drip Drip because I feel people should be able to try out a game before they buy it so they can get a feeling of what the game will play like and then make their judgment on if they want to play more of it. And since most digital forms of entertainment can not be refunded I don’t want the person who bought it to feel they wasted money on something they do not like. A description of the game and some screenshots can only show what the game looks like and not tell a person how the game play will feel. With games, they really have to be played for the consumer to get an exact idea of how it is going to be. When buying a car, most people will test drive it before handing their money over to the dealer.
I guess the only difficulty we had in creating a demo is that it was another thing to create and have to test to make sure everything about it worked properly. Overall, though, it fit nicely into our production pipeline so it wasn’t too big of a deal.
How important has play testing been in determining certain gameplay designs?
I feel it has been very important when sitting down with people as they play the game and seeing instantly their reactions (likes and dislikes). In the beginning I had a tutorial that was a bunch of pages with pictures that people had to read, and after having some people play the game I found out that no one wants to read, they just want to play. So that made us change to the current system where there is a playable tutorial (with some light reading), and now people think it is much better that way.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Drip Drip professionally?
I place a lot of value on what people have to say about Drip Drip. We have made many changes to the game from professional opinions on the game. They gave us a different prospective, and from that the changes that took place have made the game much better. Everyone has their own opinion on what things should be like so I have to take that into account and factor in what changes can be made from the criticism while still sticking true to our design.
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 feel the indie bundles are a great way for people to discover new games that they may not have known about or bought individually. It’s nice to see the indie community come together and help promote each other’s products. I think the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology has created a lot of good press and word of mouth for the developers of each game.
These days, with so many games coming out and so many forms of entertainment, it is hard to be heard over all of the other noise being made, especially by the big publishers and their constant bombardment of ads; so the bundles and “Pay What You Want” are great noise makers for the small indie developers. And, yes, when the time comes, Imminent Games will definitely be interested in contributing Drip Drip to an indie bundle.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
I think game developers have the right to try to protect their games from being pirated. That being said, the rights of PC users and the integrity of their machines are also important. Some DRM schemes can be too intrusive in our opinion, so we are using a very light DRM scheme limited to a one time serial number registration.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Drip Drip?
I have no problem with it as long as they are staying true to the design and not making Drip Drip seem like it is something it is not. I would very much like to see people post videos of their game play sessions or repost trailers I have made. I think it could help others, who may be stuck in a certain area, get ideas on how to complete the game. I also feel that when a person takes the time to create and post a video it shows that they have an interest in Drip Drip and want to share their excitement for the game with others.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I like the idea of games having DLC to keep the experience of a game continuing on. It also is a great way for games to stay on people’s minds after the release of the game and after they have played and moved on to other games.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about modding of PC games and the relationship developers have with modders. How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Drip Drip?
I have no problem with mods being made for Drip Drip as long as it keeps with the family friendly style we have created. I would find it very flattering if people took the time to make mods for enhancing and or extending the game play for Drip Dip. Modding is also sort of like DLC in that it extends the experience of a game. I also play mods for other games that fans have made, and some of them are just as good as the main game. There are a lot of talented modders out there.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Here is a list of what I would suggest for up-and-coming developers:
- Plan ahead and prototype your game early on so you can find out what works and what doesn’t before spending too much valuable time (and possibly funding) on it.
- Do lots of research to ensure you will be moving down the right track in your development.
- Play as many games as possible and know what works and what doesn’t for game play.
- Stick with it and try to keep yourself motivated throughout the development.
- Enjoy what you are doing and have as much fun with your project as possible. Even though there hasn’t been any monetary reward during the development of Drip Drip and there may never be that much in the future, Drip Drip has been the most fun we have had working on a video game.
- Remember there is the first 90% of a game’s development, and then the second 90% of a game’s development. Leave lots of time for polish!
- Make sure you play test your game as much as possible and try to get unbiased player feedback.
- If you are an indie, try not to take on too large of a project at first. Be realistic in your abilities and start with a smaller game that can be finished and provide a foundation to launch your next, larger game project.
We would like to thank Thomas for taking time to participate in this interview. We also wish him future success with Drip Drip. You can read additional information on the official site.