Raúl Rubio, CEO of Tequila Works, offers up thoughts, ideas and the development process behind his side scrolling action zombie title, Deadlight.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Deadlight.
Sure! I’m Raúl Rubio and I’m the Creative Director (and CEO) of Tequila Works
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I defended my thesis the 4th of July 2001 and 3 days later I was working as level designer at (the now defunct) Rebel Act Studios, developers of Severance: Blade of Darkness.
Where did the idea for Deadlight come from?
From a series of speed paintings that showed a single man in the middle of an eerie countryside. There were menacing shadows everywhere. The whole scene was represented with silhouettes. And we wondered what the hell was going on!
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Deadlight?
We learned to create a stunning atmosphere and realized the power of immersion. We tried our best to integrate narrative and gameplay. And we failed, oh boy how we failed! The way we work in Tequila Works makes mandatory contributing to the project. We had problems with that philosophy (seriously!), but after a huge effort, we made it work.
In its current form, how close is Deadlight to your initial vision?
Unfortunately too far; you never finish a project as you envisioned it. Unsurprisingly, if we had to do it again, we’d make lots of changes. We’d remove many mechanics that doesn’t work and keep others that had to be killed to complete the project on time. And the narrative, ah, the narrative…
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 Deadlight and if you faced a similar challenge.
Totally agree. You always think “people is gonna complain because it’s too easy!” even if the publisher keeps saying “nobody ever complained because the game was too easy!”. Microsoft Studios were our eyes when we lost objectivity, and they decided to lower the difficulty to avoid frustration. We regret about the helicopter chase though…
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Deadlight would run on the various PC system configurations?
Unreal makes it really straightforward and Microsoft took care of the QA. Their lab must be huge and they didn’t detect any catastrophic issue (except the Bink Video one which was related with DirectX…)
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Deadlight.
Our main influences for gameplay (and level design) were the original Prince of Persia, Another World (Out of this World in the US) and Flashback. The art style was going to be black&white as a homage to Night of the living dead but we changed it to “80s palette” when Limbo appeared. We kept the silhouette look however and we got inspiration from First Blood and The Goonies.
The music needed to be really atmospheric and it had to transmit melancholy, loneliness, solitude… it’s a really personal work and our composer had absolute freedom. If you pay attention you can hear country songs, pop and deep piano improvisations.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Not being able to sleep because you don’t know how the hell are you gonna pay your team’s salaries. Seriously, I spent all the money I had earned during my life (and then 3 times that), mortgaged my home (twice), sold it, worked for free for 3 years while paying the salaries of the team. It was exhausting but it was worth it. Burning your ships is something I would probably wouldn’t do again so happily (this was the second time!). I almost lost my wife and my friends in the process… I was lucky enough to survive, learn from our mistakes and get support from Microsoft Studios.
How did you go about funding Deadlight and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
You bet. With our personal savings almost evaporated, we were blessed with the help of friends, family and fools. After that, loans and creative ways of financing. Tequila Works was my second company after MercurySteam (Castlevania: Lords of Shadow) but it was far harder to take off because we didn’t want fight with investors over creative issues!
Tell us about the process of submitting Deadlight to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
Quite the opposite! Both Sony and Microsoft were interested in Deadlight. Microsoft was faster and we were on 2012 Summer of Arcade. Valve approached us and asked if we were interested in releasing Deadlight on Steam. We were like “I must be dreaming. Of course we want!”. Microsoft said yes and they allowed us to release the game on PC. It was a really good decision for everyone.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
Microsoft Studios, as the Publisher, were the ones who decided how much should it cost. Valve suggested prices and discounts based on similar titles and promotions. They were really supportive!
Can you tell us why there is no demo for Deadlight?
Good question. There’s a demo for XBLA and we could do a demo for Steam. But you should ask the Publisher, not us!
How important is it to get instant feedback about Deadlight from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
It’s essential to play your game from beginning to end and constantly bring others to play it so they can give you valuable feedback. For example, we learnt more at PAX from real people playing the alpha than the previous year of playtesting. The community was key to improve the game. They always notice things you didn’t!
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Deadlight professionally?
We think that critics are there to help you. Constructive criticism is always appreciated and respectful opinions are always listened because that way next time we’ll do it better. We agree with many of the points that have been said about Deadlight. But sometimes critics don’t realize the power their words can have and how destructive their comments can be. When a group of people sacrifice years of their lives creating something, you should be polite and diplomatic. They can be a little bit touchy with “this is the crappiest game ever!” reviews.
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?
Games are expensive. Allowing people to pay what they think it’s fair can be therapeutic. As a developer, you don’t do it for the money but for a good cause, which is great. Everybody wins in some way. We have already been part of a bundle, and we want to further participate in others!
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
There’s no way of preventing piracy with restrictive ways. It’s like an arms race; every time you deploy a new security measure, someone will crack it in no time. As developers, we assume piracy as part of our business. We’d prefer people buying the creation that took us so much pain, sweat and tears, instead of stealing it; but we deal with it. Punishing the people who actually purchased your product is not the answer. Nobody likes DRM. Piracy is a cultural issue, not a technical one.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Deadlight?
Really thankful! They spread the disease! XD It’s not only Jason Forge creating that amazing fan video. Everyone who posts a video (even if it’s not as good as we’d hope) is helping us to promote Deadlight.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
It has been a long way since the horse armor pack! DLC is not only about giving extra content, but giving users the tools to create their own. PC gamers have enjoyed that privilege for so long that they take for granted but console gamers are discovering now the joys of “enhancing” your game with something that YOU created. The modding communities is a sign of what makes the PC unique.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Deadlight?
We are big fans of modding ourselves so it’s a shame we couldn’t do anything for Deadlight. Deadlight uses Unreal so it should be easy for any smart user to create new content
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Be patient; never lose the curiosity and joy of discovering new things; keep improving your team and yourself; try to keep it simple (projects are alive and tend to get huge in no time); don’t think small. Ideas are free and wonderful by definition. Turning them into something is another thing, so never surrender but be ready to kill your idea when it turns into a zombie… and last but not least, you must learn self-discipline. Chaos is cool for creativity but finishing projects requires order and sacrifice.
Oh, and you are not alone: travel, visit other devs, attend events and keynotes, share your works and ask for knowledge online, sharp your skills on jams and demos. Thanks for this opportunity!
We would like to thank Raúl for his insightful answers. You can pick up Deadlight via Steam.