The pride of Estonia, Edvin, Mihkel and Johann speak to TPG about their top-down rougelike, Teleglitch. You will about how the team came together, successes and failures in development, life as an indie, plus much more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Teleglitch.
Johann: I did all the coding.
Mihkel: I created all the graphics, designed levels and worked on sounds.
Edvin: When Mihkel & Johann had the graphics and gameplay taking shape, they still had no story, structure or larger context around it. To me, the direction graphics were taking suggested a universe in the dark sci-fi genre – a genre that is not afraid to show the darker versions of future.
I also realized that the game could have strong nostalgia potential, and tried to give my best to capitalize this with the setting. This turned out to be a very good choice, as reviewers started positively comparing Teleglitch to Doom, Quake, System Shock and a few other old gems. I am grateful for having had a chance to be a part of many important game design decisions and also all the nifty stuff like weapons, monsters, etc. I’m also behind most of the PR, marketing and business related stuff – and there’s a lot more of it than is visible.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
Johann: There’s a gamemaker community in Estonia. Maybe a game from there got me inspired. Can’t really remember. The community is still active after 10+ years and every once in a while someone there releases something that’s really good, but it will rarely get any attention at all (best hipster goldmine ever).
Edvin: I started by joining a number of indie game projects with truly beginner-level programmers, which forced me to make sure all the game mechanics had really simple code behind them. None of those early game projects were commercialized or completed, but the experience was invaluable. Since I was active and persistent, one thing lead to another until I become a part of the Teleglitch team, which is great!
Where did the idea for Teleglitch come from?
Johann: It started as an overnight coding spree. I originally wanted to do a shooter with magic, taking place somewhere in Haiti where you have to destroy an evil voodoo queen or something. After my brother got involved, it started to transform towards something more industrial. Destructable terrain and open world got lost somewhere there. With these changes we also increased resolution. Sometime in the middle I got inspired by roguelikes, especially procedural generation and well it somehow transformed into Teleglitch.
Mihkel: Through time, Johann and I have created several top-down shooter prototypes, but we never managed to complete any of those. And about 4 years ago, me and Johann independently of each other had the same idea- to create an extra ambitious top-down game with ultra-low resolution characters.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Teleglitch?
Johann: Mostly code related stuff, wouldn’t be interesting for most people.
Mihkel: I’ve had to learn file management optimization. And my pixel skills have increased, obviously. Too much to list, actually. One of the worst hard lessons was the intro video, which I spent about a month on, and then decided to abandon it. I also spent a month on a huge open level that we later decided not to use in this game. Fortunately, there hasn’t been anything to really regret.
In its current form, how close is Teleglitch to your initial vision?
Johann: It’s a totally different game.
Mihkel: Teleglitch has long grown out of its 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 Teleglitch and if you faced a similar challenge.
Edvin: Since Mihkel & Johann had played around with the game for longer, I took the initial playtester role to make sure the game would be balanced for beginners instead of experts. It was clear we all wanted to make a game that would be a bit unforgiving and brutal, yet still very rewarding.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Teleglitch would run on the various PC system configurations?
Johann: Most of the system specific problems people had got solved after updating their drivers. Other than that, I had to maintain 2 different systems for distortion effects: one high quality and one for people who didn’t have pixel shaders. Can’t say it was a challenge though.
Please talk about the art sytle, level design and music for Teleglitch.
Mihkel: The graphics use as low resolution as possible. This has enabled me to invest more time into creating more weapons, levels and opponents. We want the dynamic details to supersede the level of graphics. I optimized the menus for minimalism as well. A huge amount of time went to fine-tune colors for conveying maximum level of depth with them.
The basic and placeholder materials where mostly from site freesound.org – I highly recommend this to all smaller developer teams. They have a huge database of different folley sounds, sometimes at par on quality with commercial sample packs. I’ve edited, layered and modified them intensively with Fruity Loops to make them fit into the world of Teleglitch.
I’ve also created a few music tracks, however because I am very critical of game music, I decided to leave my tracks out of the game for time being. The game soundscape is sure to receive more additions in the future. We could possibly implement a dynamic music system, but there won’t be a homogenous loopy background track commonly heard in casual games.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
The toughest aspect? To focus on the game content and not let moods or temptations to distract me.
How did you go about funding Teleglitch and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
Johann: I was still in high school when I started it and lived with my parents, I already had a computer and all the software used was open-source, so I didn’t really need any funding. The last stretch of development was funded by working on a construction site. It’s pretty much the same for Mihkel (Teleglitch is a completely self financed game).
Edvin: Luckily, I was already teaching game design in University of Tartu by that time and also survived without additional funding.
Tell us about the process of submitting Teleglitch to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
Edvin: Not only did we not encounter any resistance but the distributors themselves contacted us for cooperation, and we negotiated some truly fair and respectable agreements.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
We created a list of games that we guessed to be fair for a price comparison with Teleglitch. I have lost the list itself, but there were surely Gish, Limbo, Cortex-Command, Capzised, Clonk-planet, Teraria, etc. I feel that I want to give players more for the game price than we have so far offered.
Can you tell us why you chose to release a demo for Teleglitch?
Johann: I can’t see myself buying something without playing it first, so how could I expect others would?
Edvin: I see nothing unusual about having a demo… It seems only logical you get to taste something before you eat it
How important is it to get instant feedback about Teleglitch from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Edvin: It is a valuable source of input. I am grateful for everybody who have decided to take their time and contact us.
Johann: Without feedback a lot of more obscure bugs would’ve never been fixed.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Teleglitch professionally?
Edvin: The opinions of players and professional reviewers both come with very distinct pros and cons, with game bloggers being in the middle. So far, I am very happy over the feedback we have received from all of those perspectives, and especially over the widespread comparison to old classics. One of the most hear-warming articles related how Teleglitch brought back the childhood memories of the reviewer when he first played Doom in 1993 in some early-gamer-style basement of his uncle.
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?
Edvin: I love bundles but I must mention we have handled distribution over to a professional distributing partner. So I trust they know how to make the right choices concerning distribution of Teleglitch.
Mihkel: Pay what you want method seems the best way to finance games in beta, but I would prefer to sell full products with an agreed price.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Johann:I can’t remember a game that was worth playing that had any disruptive DRM with them, so I’m not as much upset as some others. Anyway, what I think is that people who like the game and want/can support us will buy it, people who have no money wouldn’t buy it anyway. Putting a protection on it would just make people want to pirate it more. After all, only people who never have problems with intrusive DRM are pirates. And cracking a heavily protected software is much more rewarding than just uploading something to piratebay.
Edvin: I see it as systems withing systems that keep evolving and reacting to each other. Nothing dramatic or unusual, just evolution towards more optimal ways of creating, funding and sharing art. I wouldn’t want to spend my time on such nonsense. I do not believe it balances out the trouble involved. Development should be spent on placing pixels and creating code for the game.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Teleglitch?
Edvin: I appreciate it a lot and have probably watched most of Teleglitch videos on the internet. It provides an irreplacable insight into how players are experiencing the game, what they like and how. This helps us understand how to make better design and other choices. I always become sad because I see how much better Teleglitch could be if we hadn’t wasted so much time on the less-important stuff…
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
Johann: Again, I haven’t found a game worth playing that abused this DLC system. Bad business practices and bad games seem to go hand in hand. There’s nothing wrong with expansion packs and all, but I think there is a lower limit on content size that could be sold separately. A new gamemode or a couple of new weapons should belong in a update and charging for software updates should be a crime. Whole new campain that offers about as much gameplay time as the original game is perfectly fine.
Edvin: I think extra work by developers should not be made for free. Releasing games can be a very difficult process, and not everything fits into the first release. So I think it is only natural that if developers invest part of their lifetime to create additional content for the players, they get something back as well. And as Johann said, the balance between the content and the price must be fair.
The only game that used something DLC-like was Planetside2. It will be probably an important way how developer of the future can earn their fair pay, but as with new things in general, I mostly hear about the ways this system has been used unethically.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Teleglitch?
Johann: I can’t wait to see what the people would cook up. Teleglitch is already somewhat moddable, but everything is undocumented and the modding api will change radically with the next update, so it’s really hard and quite pointless to do any modding right now.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Edvin: Seek similar-minded people and take very small, but quality steps towards making games. Start by making a game in 2 or 4 weeks. If you do not have the patience, willpower and consistency to finish even such a small project (and “finishing” should ideally include public release and maybe also some form of commercialization), then don’t take for granted that you can finish a project that requires six months or more for completion. Always enjoy the process itself as much as the goal, and give your best to respect and support others in your team.
Johann: Yeah, start small. Small completed game gives a lot more experience than one overambitious project that will never have even a playable prototype. I personally never followed it and I’ve never heard of anyone who did that, but I think it’s the best possible advice. There’s also a lot of success stories about people who started their game development with modding.
Mihkel: Dream less and create more.