Conducted By Adam Ames
TPG was excited to get into the head of Dirkson, developer of the space combat simulator, ScrumbleShip. You will read about his beginnings on an ancient monochrome laptop, DRM, piracy, a trip through Dirk’s underground lair and much more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of ScrumbleShip.
Hi there! I’m Dirkson, a 26 year old obsessive C coder. I am making the most accurate space combat game ever devised. When I’m not coding, I like to explore undiscovered caves, walk 20+ miles at a stretch, and pan for gold like the prospectors of yore. I have a handlebar moustache, more tweed suits than any man has a right to own, and one top hat. I live in an underground lair with my rabbit, my cat, and my Art Minion and girlfriend, Nezumi. Seriously.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
A kindly Grandfather, QBasic, and an ancient monochrome laptop. My first game was made when I was 12 or so, though it hasn’t been until just last year that I started pursuing an actual career in the field.
Where did the idea for ScrumbleShip come from?
Frustration. Every time I look at space combat games or sci-fi shows, I see space fighters banking as though they were in atmosphere, and spacecraft with wings, and all manner of silly things. I wanted to play a game where the rules of physics were followed, and where the outcome of simulated battles was at least reasonably similar to the outcome of real battles. Thus, the idea for an accurate space combat game was born.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing ScrumbleShip?
I have a hard time viewing the development process as a series of successes and failures. I mostly see each day passing as one day closer to my dream. That said, I do remember spending several weeks trying to make each face of ScrumbleShip voxels render separately – Only to find that, once I had done that, the code actually ran slower, not faster!
In its current form, how close is ScrumbleShip to your initial vision?
Not at all. Originally, I had envisioned this as a Text-only program called “Richard”. I think we’ve improved a little since my original imaginings.
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 ScrumbleShip and if you faced a similar challenge.
That is an even larger challenge for ScrumbleShip than for most games. Moving around in frictionless 3D space is tricky, at the best of times. By selectively limiting how the user moves, how they can turn, etc. I’m able to trim down an impossible task into something almost as familiar as walking around in a normal FPS.
Being so accurate, many, many aspects of ScrumbleShip are like this, and I have to take special care to ensure that all levels of users can have a good time.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring ScrumbleShip would run on the various PC system configurations?
Yes, and there still are! We’re having some difficulties getting MacOSX to hand us a modern OpenGL window. There’s a couple of ways to work around that, though.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for ScrumbleShip.
Early on I worked out that I could do the game in voxels, which has strongly influenced the art design. Nezumi also conjured up a playful, rough style for the website and general user interface, which I feel really sets us apart from a lot of games.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Promotion and/or cashflow. Creating the game is actually easy compared to trying to get people to notice, then buy the thing.
How did you go about funding ScrumbleShip and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
We’ve been taking care of an older couple for the past year, allowing us to live quite cheaply. Other than that, ScrumbleShip has mostly been funded by change found in the couch, odd jobs, and fervent wishes.
Tell us about the process of submitting ScrumbleShip to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
We’ve tried to submit to IndieVania, but can’t seem to get them to respond to our emails. Desura was a bit more responsive, but we couldn’t agree on figures. Steam has some pretty horrific policies, and we don’t do business with them.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
Yes! Then we discarded the research and made up a number!
How important is it to get instant feedback about ScrumbleShip from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Absolutely vital. Feedback from users is the most encouraging thing I see on a day-to-day basis. It’s one thing to think you’re making something cool – It’s another to get a dozen people chatting excitedly about your most recent change.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review ScrumbleShip professionally?
It all depends! Professionals can have good and bad opinions, just like the everyday person can have good and bad opinions. I try to listen to every opinion that I can, no matter who it comes from, and learn everything useful contained in it.
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 don’t particularly like or dislike them. I think the ones that include a “beat the average and gain a prize!” system are probably preferable, from the Developer’s viewpoint. I’ve purchased my fair share of Humble Indie Bundles!
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
DRM punishes your customers for something your customers aren’t doing.
That bit of information is all you need to know about DRM before making a decision on it. Pirates aren’t impacted by DRM at all; Your customers are negatively impacted by it; Therefore DRM is bad for your bottom line.
How to compete with pirated copies IS a challenge, though. Some sane ways to do it are to offer services tied to an account, or to try to use pirates as free advertising. We intend to do both!
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of ScrumbleShip?
Love it! I get to see what other people are using my game for, and I get free publicity. How could I possibly have any other reaction than adoration?
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I am utterly unaffected by this problem. I basically only purchase Indie games these days, and Indie Games haven’t used DLC in the same way AAA games have.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for ScrumbleShip?
ScrumbleShip’s license was designed with modding in mind – Everyone who purchases the game gets full source access. We purposefully kept the terms of the license very open, allowing people to do anything they like with the changes they make to the game, including selling them.
We also have a listing of Mods on the website, available to everyone who purchases ScrumbleShip. So far, people have made dozens of blocks and code patches for the game. Some have even donated their changes back, making the game better for everyone!
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Dedication and Commitment. I could win the lottery or have my legs run over by a train tomorrow, and I’d be back to work on ScrumbleShip before the next release is due. Commit to your game, and know that it will be finished, no matter what, and you will finish it.
We would like to thank Dirk for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with us. You can check out ScrumbleShip via the official site. If you are feeling generous, you can also help assist Dirk in development by donating to his Kickstarter project.