The head honcho from Firedance Games, Sean Lindskog, leads TPG through a journey of indie development, fears, struggles, patience and triumph. Read about all of that and more as you learn how Salvation Prophecy saw the light of day.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Salvation Prophecy.
My name is Sean. I built most of the game, except the artwork and music. Salvation Prophecy is pretty big for an indie game, so it took me a long time – about 5 years. Many of the artists for Salvation Prophecy I’ve never even met face to face. We just kinda talked over email and Skype, sent ideas back and forth, and I took their artwork and molded it into a strange beast of a game called Salvation Prophecy.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I’ve always thought all the coolest games were on PC. There’s just a broader range of stuff you can do. Having a keyboard and mouse allows for more sophisticated games. The PC was the first platform with networking. The PC is friendlier to indies, and as a result friendlier to experimentation and breaking new boundaries. There were these online text-only games popular in the 90s called MUDs (“Multi-User Dungeons”), which were the predecessors to today’s MMOs. I played, and later coded MUDs, and that’s when I first decided I wanted to make games for a living.
Where did the idea for Salvation Prophecy come from?
A lot of places. There’s pop sci-fi movie culture like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica. There’s sci-fi books – in particular a guy named David Weber. Space sim games were a big influence, from the early “Elite” games, to later games like Freelancer. I also had a lot of space lego when I was a kid, and used to write sci-fi stories and have big space ship and land battles. It took me about 3 days to set up a battle though, because the lego space ships would always get smashed to pieces, so I’d have to build everything from scratch.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Salvation Prophecy?
Salvation Prophecy blends a lot of genres together – space sim, shooter, strategy, and adventure RPG. This is the greatest success, and greatest failure of the game, all in one. It’s a great success because it really creates a true sense of a galactic war, with space battles, land battles, strategy, and exploration of alien worlds. This wouldn’t have been possible if the game were just a space sim, or just an action RPG, or just a strategy game. But it’s also a weakness because I had to split the development effort between so many different things. If I’d just stuck to say creating a space sim, it’d be a way better space sim, because I could have focused on it for the entire dev process.
So the idea of creating such a big, mixed game is sort of a flawed approach to begin with. There’s some perfect great games out there. I think Salvation Prophecy is a flawed great game. I’m glad I made it.
In its current form, how close is Salvation Prophecy to your initial vision?
The vision is close. A galactic war. Space battles. Land battles. An apocalyptic prophecy, ancient aliens, and mystical powers. Those were all part of the original vision. The details have changed a lot though. It was really an organic process of trying things out, figuring out what was cool, and reworking what wasn’t. You can’t forsee everything up-front. It was like sculpting a piece of wood, and coming across a bunch of knots and weird grains along the way, and having to incorporate them into the overall shape.
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 Salvation Prophecy and if you faced a similar challenge.
Yeah, that can be a big problem. I took every chance I could get to watch people play while making the game. That’s a huge help. I also sent the game out to a bunch of friends and took their feedback very seriously. I also did things like switching between keyboard, gamepad, and joystick to keep myself from getting too comfortable. I’d switch up the control mappings too. That kept me a little closer to being a new player, having to learn the controls as I went along.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Salvation Prophecy would run on the various PC system configurations?
That’s always a huge challenge with PCs. But I didn’t write the entire engine from scratch. The biggest issue is usually graphics, and I used a really great graphics engine called Ogre3D. It’s been around for about 10 years, and is pretty stable across a lot of different gaming rigs. I also built in a lot of tools so that if the game doesn’t work on somebody’s computer, I can usually figure out why and fix it.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Salvation Prophecy.
Salvation Prophecy is a pretty colourful game. Many modern 3D games go for a dusty, desaturated look, because it feels more gritty and realistic. It’s really hard for an indie game to compete with that look, because modern 3D artwork is so expensive to make. Using more colours allowed Salvation Prophecy to do something interesting with less, or simpler artwork. Space can look pretty boring, and coloured nebulas really gives you a lot more eye candy. On alien planets, playing around with different colour palates, skies, and sunlight really frees you up to create different moods and alien styles.
We did something really neat with the music on the alien planets. The music will change based on the intensity of the action. When you’re exploring, you get a more haunting, ambient track. A “suspense” track gets mixed in when you’re near danger. And when a fight breaks out, an intense track gets mixed for the duration of the fight.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Being extremely poor sucks. Being unsure if you’re even going to finish the game before your head explodes is tough. There are disasterous days of self doubt when you ask, “what have I done with my life?” Before I went indie, I worked in more main-stream game studios. I saved up a bunch of money, and also went into debt to make the game. My family was great. Two of the best play-testers for the game were my cousins.
Tell us about the process of submitting Salvation Prophecy to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so. Also, talk about your experiences with Steam Greenlight.
The game launched on Desura and Gamersgate. They’ve been a pleasure to work with. Desura really supports the indie scene. Steam is a tougher nut to crack. Steam is the golden promise land for PC distribution. Just around the time the game was finished, Steam launched their new Greenlight submission process for indie games.
Working through the Greenlight process has been a long and bumpy ride. I like the idea of allowing gamers to vote for which games appear on Steam. But it sucks to have an already finished game, and having to wait while your game slowly makes its way through Greenlight. It takes a lot of time and energy. Being good at making games is very different than being good at publicizing your game, so I’m not sure we’re always going to end up with the best games getting greenlit. I’d really appreciate any greenlight votes you can give the game. Here’s the link.
Can you tell us why you chose to release a demo for Salvation Prophecy?
The demo lets you make sure the game runs on your machine. Also, the demo lets you get a feel for the game before you spend your money on it. I want people who buy the game to be happy, and I’d rather lose a few sales to people who decide the game isn’t their thing.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Salvation Prophecy from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
It’s huge. I learn a lot about game design by talking with people who played Salvation Prophecy. And what I can’t change in Salvation Prophecy, I will consider in future games I make.
You get a much closer connection between players and devs with indie titles. Large studios need to be careful about what their employees say, because one off-statement can cause huge damage to the company. So you often end up with fairly sterile marketing lingo, instead of an intimate conversation with the people who created the game. I love being indie and getting to talk directly with people who play the game.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Salvation Prophecy professionally?
I read whatever I come across. Just like anything else, there’s good reviewers and bad reviewers. Positive reviews are always fun to read, as you’d expect. Critical reviews are ok if they intelligently discuss what they don’t like. I only get annoyed if it’s obvious the reviewer barely played the game at all.
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?
Mostly, I think they’re great. They’ve helped indie games have reached a far wider audience, which is a good thing. Many bundles contribute to charity, which is awesome. Indie gamers should try to buy games from different bundles and distributors. You never want too much power focused in one business or one bundle. Then it becomes like the bad old days where a few publishers were the gate keepers for all the games in the world. That’s the opposite of indie, which is a “power to the people” kind of thing.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Salvation Prophecy is DRM free. I don’t like intrusive DRM. I also don’t like piracy. I can understand if someone steals a loaf of bread if they’re hungry. I don’t agree with pirating a video game, especially if it has a free demo. It’s not something you need to survive. There are so many extremely cheap ways to play games, like bundles, sales, and free games. It’s years of hard work to make a game, and I think it’s only fair to toss someone a bit of cash if you play it. I dislike intrusive DRM even more than piracy, so that’s why I released Salvation Prophecy DRM free.
The worst thing about piracy is that it is changing game design. Lots of games are being built with an online component specifically to battle piracy. I love online multiplayer games. But I also love pure single player games, and I think we’ll start seeing less of those, especially from the big studios.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Salvation Prophecy?
It’s great. I especially like it when I see later parts of the game – the first mission in the game has been YouTubed to death.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
If DLC enhances an already complete game, it’s great. If you try to “fix” an incomplete or broken game with DLC, that’s a bogus deal.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Salvation Prophecy?
Modding is awesome. A lot of great game devs come from the modding community. Mods can keep a game fresh and interesting. Mods can make the game better than the initial release. Salvation Prophecy isn’t as easily moddable as I’d like, partially because it’s such a complex game with so many moving, interacting parts. If I get to keep making space games, I’ll definitely improve on modability in the future.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Look very closely at what I did with Salvation Prophecy. Then do everything the exact opposite.