TPG recently had the chance to interview, Ari Rae-Silver, developer responsible for the open world party-based RPG, Antharion. Take a peak inside the inner workings of Orphic Software as Ari talks about Kickstarter, how HyperCard lead to his love of game creation, why poor dev tools hindered development along with thoughts on the PC gaming industry.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Antharion.
My name’s Ari and I’m the creator, programmer and lead designer of Antharion.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
As a kid I loved making little games using simple programs like Hypercard. Pretty quickly I realized that I’d have to learn how to program if I was ever going to make the more elaborate types of games that I had in mind. So, I figured out how to program in C.
Where did the idea for Antharion come from?
It was the game I’d always wanted to make: a gigantic sprawling interactive open-ended fantasy world combined with a really strategic turn-based combat system.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Antharion?
Definitely the one failure I learned the most from was not creating better development tools early on. Skimping on the quality of your tools just to save a week or two will almost always cost more time (via lower productivity) in the long run. One thing we did right was to allow the project to evolve organically. It’s important to create an environment in which serendipity can happen.
In its current form, how close is Antharion to your initial vision?
Antharion has evolved way past the initial vision, but it’s still very close in spirit.
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 Antharion and if you faced a similar challenge.
Yeah, that’s definitely a potential pitfall, but there are a number of ways to guard against it. For one, good beta testing helps. Also, testing on poorly skilled friends and family early on. But probably the most important thing is to add a robust difficulty setting capable of accommodating the full spectrum of player skill levels. We’re doing all three with Antharion. Our difficulty setting scales all the usual stats: health, experience, damage, etc.; but it also scales monster AI, which really helps make the game feel completely different on each setting.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Antharion would run on the various PC system configurations?
This really hasn’t been an issue. Antharion’s code is extremely portable (written in C using OpenGL) and doesn’t utilize any of the more exotic features of OpenGL.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Antharion.
The art style was originally conceived of by myself back when Antharion was still a one man project. Antharion’s style was inextricably linked to the overall design of the game since its inception. The game was always intended to be a massive open-ended world with tons and tons of dungeons. In order to do this, I had to strip away all but the absolutely necessary assets, figure out how many unique version of each I’d need (on the high-end estimate) and determine how long each type of asset would take to produce. Level design is unique to every project and is something that you learn as you go along. For Antharion, it’s figuring out the optimal size/shapes of dungeons along with the optimal ratios of monsters to dungeons size and those sorts of things. We have yet to hire a composer to score Antharion’s music, but we know what we want and use placeholders while testing in-house.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Game development itself is really one huge challenge. Probably the biggest is maintaining the project’s core vision while engaging in a multiplicity of seemingly unending tasks. You’re constantly designing, coding, managing the asset pipeline, planning what assets you’ll need and at what times, worrying about funding, paying people, distribution, deadlines, promotion, etc.
Talk about the decision to use Kickstarter as a funding method and how you came up with the available backer perks? Tell us about the process of submitting Antharion to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
I’d been aware of Kickstarter for some time but never really considered it until recently when the project started to become more and more costly. The perks were created by Jennifer, Antharion’s creative director and world designer. Aside from Steam Greenlight, we haven’t submitted Antharion to any digital distribution platforms yet.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
Absolutely. We did a ton of research. And one thing we’ve learned is that whatever you believe your product to be worth is irrelevant. On platforms like Kickstarter the challenge of pricing is to try and figure out how your product’s value will be perceived by potential backers. And to do this effectively you need to look at existing projects to try and gauge where exactly among them yours fits price-wise.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Antharion from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Player feedback is crucial, regardless of the medium. As a developer you kind of get lost in your game at some point, so it can be helpful to have a pair of fresh eyes to remind you which direction up is.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Antharion professionally?
I think PC game reviewers, on the whole, are pretty good and do a great job of reflecting gamers tastes and interests – even for niche games.
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?
To be honest, I know very little about those pricing methodologies. However, if “Pay What You Want” turns out to be a viable model for indies like us, then I’d be more than happy to get involved.
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 intrusive DRM is a huge mistake on the part of the game industry. It’s penny wise, dollar foolish strategy that only serves to anger consumers which creates more would-be pirates, thus perpetuating the whole vicious cycle. The only real solution is, as Steve Jobs once said, to make buying easier than stealing.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Antharion?
I’m all for it.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I hate it. It’s like being sold a car with no AC for full price and then having the car salesmen call you a month later offering to sell you an AC. DLC, as it’s been widely practiced so far, is more about removing parts of the game rather than adding parts to it.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Antharion?
I love the modding community and think they’ve done an awful lot to advance the state of gaming. And personally I be honored if people went out and modded Antharion.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Creating the 1000th soulless Minecraft clone may be the financially prudent thing to do, but will you be able to look yourself in the mirror? Will you be creatively challenged and satisfied by it? Don’t ever compromise yourself; create something you’re passionate about. Also, learn the business side of things early on. Don’t wait until your game’s release to learn how to do a press kit.