Head man from Hybris Studios, Raffaele Mele, talks to TPG about his upcoming story driven first-person experience, Hustler’s Tale. Raffaele takes us on a tour of indie development all while keeping a regular 9-5 job plus much more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Hustler’s Tale.
My name is Raffaele Mele, I am the founder of Hybris Studios. We are currently a small team, so I take on several roles during the development of Hustler’s Tale. I am the game designer, and also create and animate characters, create the environment and also write the story.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
Like most other developers, I have been a gamer since I was a kid. I didn’t start learning how to develop games until my second year while attending a community college. I hated the classes I was taking, and just happened to discover Blender while in the library. (free 3d software) I had that exciting moment of “Oh, I can make games for a living!?”. I loved it, so I focused on learning tools for game design and art creation ever since.
Where did the idea for Hustler’s Tale come from?
I really wanted to make a game that offered an exciting experience while also showing the player an important problem in society. Specifically, I wanted to create the experience of a person living in poverty who was placed in a desperate situation. I felt that an urban, sandbox type of environment would be the best way to create that experience.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Hustler’s Tale?
I think it’s really great that some people love the game and some people are confused by it. This is a success to me because it shows that making games that I think are important or interesting can get people thinking in a new way. As far as failures go, well, making this game has had its share of hurdles. It is a large game for an indie, especially an indie that has no funding. We are a small team of volunteers that work 9-5 jobs outside of development, which is a very difficult task.
In its current form, how close is Hustler’s Tale to your initial vision?
The game is still very early in development. The story is developing nicely and I am really happy with the overall progress of the game. I think the game mechanics work well with the storytelling aspects of the game, and the new features we are developing are going to solidify my initial vision.
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 Hustler’s Tale and if you faced a similar challenge.
We have been discussing difficulty level even before we started development. Because the game is very story driven, we want the action parts of the game to be difficult in a realistic way. Getting shot or hurt in the game is a little different than other games. If somebody pulls a gun on you in Hustler’s Tale, its kill or be killed. The player can die with only 1 or 2 shots in some situations, so you have to think quickly. While the game will be difficult, the shooting mechanics are familiar so the player will be able to adapt.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Hustler’s Tale would run on the various PC system configurations?
Having great visuals and great performance is a challenge for us because of our realistic art style. We are very focused on optimizing performance with every step of the design. We want the game to run on mid-range computers, and it is a challenge because of the sandbox design of the world. Our visuals have actually improved since our release of the teaser, without sacrificing performance.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Hustler’s Tale.
I chose a realistic art style for Hustler’s Tale because I want the player to feel immersed in a city that felt real. The level design of the game was a real challenge for several reasons. The first challenge, being the attempt to show the mysterious line of social class change in a city where a ghetto turns into a richer area. You see this in cities such as New York City. The second challenge is creating the right sized city full of interesting characters. An important point of the game is to be able to engage every character, and if you had a huge city, this would take 100 years to develop. The goal of the music was to create an aggressive, urban theme song that was exciting. We want the player to get really pumped up when they hear it.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
The toughest aspect is having to work a full-time job while developing a game. We have no funding yet for this project, and finding time to work on the game while balancing your life is really crazy.
Have you received emotional support from friends and family?
Friends and family have supported us emotionally and have been really positive.
Have you come up a number for the launch price?
I wish I could give a price, but we have not decided for sure at this time.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Hustler’s Tale from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
It is very vital for us to get immediate feedback, which is why we released an early development trailer. I take every comment people leave very personal, and consider what everybody says.
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 have direct experience with these types of bundles, however I do feel they may be lowering the value of indie games. Developers spend years of their life, usually struggling, to make their game. So, I think the developer should set the price of their artwork. However, the developer should set a price that they think is fair for their fans, plain and simple.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
This is a tricky area of discussion. I am not sure there is a whole lot developers can do to prevent piracy completely. Some of the intrusive methods, while effective, really make some of their legitimate customers angry. So I don’t know if it is the answer. Some people steal games, most people buy them. That is something I accepted and am really not going to get worked up over.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Hustler’s Tale?
The first time I saw somebody re-post the Hustler’s Tale trailer, I felt a little uncomfortable about it. But now, I encourage people to spread the word and don’t care if anybody puts up videos. I am flattered and happy that they also think the game is interesting and exciting.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I think downloadable content is a really great thing. It allows developers to create more of a game after it is made. I know when I buy a game and really like it, I get a little bummed when it’s over. But then a new expansion or map comes out, and you can keep playing!
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Hustler’s Tale?
I think modding has always been important for gaming culture. A lot of great content has been made for so many games. If I remember correctly, Counter Strike was originally a mod, and look how popular that became.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
I would say persistence is the number one thing for this business. (Besides making a great game) Making games can be difficult and there are a lot of challenges as an indie. Keep making games that you believe in, and if your first or second or third doesn’t sell, make another. You have to keep trying with anything you do.
We would like to thank Raffaele for his wonderful insights. We wish him and his crew nothing but the best of success in the future.