The husband and wife team from Instant Kingdom, Ville and Anne Mönkkönen, discuss their recently released action/adventure RPG seven years in the making, Driftmoon.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Driftmoon.
V: Hi! I’m Ville Mönkkönen, and I make games. To the casual observer, it may appear that I only make one every seven years, so it must be very easy being a game developer. In point of truth, nothing could be further from the truth. As a game developer, I get to spend seven years making the game, and then I get to play the completed game just once. What a sad existence. But fortunately, the wait was well worth it, and now I’ve gotten to play the most spectacular RPG to ever have come to existence, or at least it certainly felt like that after all the waiting. The game I’m talking about is of course Driftmoon – I’m the developer, and my wife Anne is my loyal sidekick. Actually these days I’m not sure which of us is the sidekick.
A: Anne-the sidekick here, hi! Ville’s known the project that became Driftmoon longer than he’s known me – and we’ve met each other almost seven years ago. When Ville and I met in 2006, Ville had just started on his eighth game project, and pretty much the only thing I knew about games then was as a player. So I definitely didn’t dive right into game development, but being a curious person who likes a challenge, I’ve learned along the way. During these last two years of development, the only thing I haven’t taken part in has been the actual coding. Ville’s such a pro in the coding department, that I’ll let him keep it to himself.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
V: The usual way, I started making the best game in the world! That was over 15 years ago now, and just as soon as I had finished the game, I had a new idea which was to be the greatest game ever! These days I’m not quite as confident anymore, so I think Driftmoon may only be the second-best game ever.
Where did the idea for Driftmoon come from?
V: I had a dream about it. It was more like a feeling of excitement, of finding new things, a feeling of waiting for Christmas presents. And I wanted to capture that feeling into a game. That’s the best way I can describe it, and it turned out to be bloody difficult.
A: When he woke up, Ville was really excited about the dream he’d had! We discussed it all day, and decided that we’d make a game full of adventure, fun, discoveries, excitement, and personality – a good-hearted game that would leave its players smiling.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Driftmoon?
A: I think the most important lesson we’ve learned is to make a very good plan, and take your time in writing the plot before jumping right in. We ended up starting over a couple of times after we’d already put together the beginning of the adventure, because we noticed we weren’t happy enough with those earlier plots ourselves.
V: But luckily the new revised plot is pure genius! Also the feedback form we added in the game early on has been a very good addition. We have awesome players, and they’ve given us tons of useful feedback about different aspect of the game during its development.
In its current form, how close is Driftmoon to your initial vision?
V: The feeling from my dream is there, but it’s more lighthearted and more fun. The best thing is that I think it’s now better than the game idea I had in my original dream! And it’s definitely very far from Cormoon, the MMO game project I initially started out making the Driftmoon engine for.
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 Driftmoon and if you faced a similar challenge.
V: That’s definitely often a problem. But I think our strategy worked pretty well. First we balanced the game by ourselves by playing on the second hardest setting. The reasoning was that the normal setting would then be a bit easier than the setting we play the game with, and that there would still be a more difficult setting available for players with skills higher than ours. After that we let our brilliant beta testers play the game thoroughly, and tuned the balance from their feedback. And finally, Driftmoon has a very convenient feedback mechanism where players can simply press one button to send us their comments, and we’ve still fine-tuned the game a bit after the initial release.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Driftmoon would run on the various PC system configurations?
A: Certainly, especially since we only have two PCs ourselves. But our players have again been a great help in this – they’ve sent us feedback if they’ve had problems, and thanks to them, we now very rarely get error reports from the newest builds of Driftmoon.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Driftmoon.
A: I’ll start with the music and the portraits, because we have some important people we want to give credit to. All the amazing music in Driftmoon has been composed by a talented composer called Gareth Meek, who’s been just wonderful to work with! He also sells the Driftmoon soundtrack, which is available through bandcamp. Most of the character portraits, visible in dialogue screens, are drawn by our friend Johanna Sundström, who we feel did a very good job with them!
V: With the graphics style we’ve wanted to make the game look cheery, but not cartoonish. The most noticeable aspect of the graphics is that all the characters are actually sprites, not 3D models. That was quite difficult to accomplish, but it still saved us some time compared to full 3D models, and it gives the game a very distinctive look.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
V: Getting the word out there. No matter how much time you spend on marketing, it’s still extremely difficult to get journalists to notice your game. My game developer side always feels like I’m not spending enough time making the game, and the business side of my brains constantly tells me to spend more time marketing the game. If only we lived in a world of dreams, and all a game developer needed to do would be to make good games – we’d actually get better games because of all the time not spent in marketing.
A: That said, it has really been quite hard for us to find time for marketing, because we’ve wanted to focus our energy on making Driftmoon as good a game as we possibly can – and with our two little kids in the picture we definitely haven’t had problems with excess free time.
How did you go about funding Driftmoon and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
V: We’ve funded the development of Driftmoon mostly through our pay jobs, but also a very nice award I received from the Finnish Ministry of Education in recognition of my game development career. We’re also constantly on the receiving side of support from Anne’s parents, who have generously tended to their grandchildren, especially on those occasions (like Driftmoon’s release date) when both of us have been needed on the computer at the same time.
Tell us about the process of submitting Driftmoon to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
V: Things have gone quite smoothly there, and most of the distributors have actually contacted us. That’s been very good, since we’ve had such little time to spare for marketing during development. Actually we’ve sold most of our games through our own site, which has surprised me.
A: Driftmoon also has a Steam Greenlight page. The number of votes required to get a possibility for a Steam contract is very high and we’re not quite there yet, but we’re happy with how we’ve been doing there. Especially the people who try the Driftmoon demo seem to be very eager to vote for us, and give us their support.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
V: Yes we did. On one hand we have casual games which are incredibly cheap, on the other hand we have hard-core RPG’s which are a bit on the expensive side. I think the current price was a good choice, though a few people have told us they would have wanted to pay more. That’s dedication I tell you.
A: We’ve also made the decision to donate a part of our income from Driftmoon to the Red Cross. Since Driftmoon’s been often called a feel-good game, it feels nice to be able to do some concrete good through it as well.
Can you tell us why you chose to release a demo for Driftmoon?
V: What? Developers have stopped releasing demos? This is an outrage! I demand demos!
A: I think it’s only fair that people have the chance to try the game before buying it. If you play through the whole demo, you have a very good idea of Driftmoon – well, aside from the combat, which gets much more complex as the adventure continues, and your character learns new skills.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Driftmoon from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
A: We really value our players, try our best to read their feedback, and respond to it. We’ve gotten so much valuable feedback from them that they’ve really helped a lot in shaping Driftmoon to become the game that it is! For us, the most useful format for instant feedback has been our in-game feedback form, which has enabled our players to send feedback directly through the game, with an automatically attached screenshot.
V: I make games for other people to play, and I’m very interested in reading people’s opinions. My current favourite is: “Playing your game is like being wrapped in a warm blanket with a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter night.”
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Driftmoon professionally?
A: It’s always quite exciting to spot a new review of Driftmoon, and we’re very happy to have gotten such amazingly positive reviews. It’s been wonderful to notice how many people seem to really enjoy Driftmoon: All our hard work hasn’t gone to waste, because so many people are really enjoying the game!
V: I am taking notes for the sequel.
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?
V: I think bundles are great! I love buying a good bundle, they’re so cheap! From a game developer’s perspective my opinions are a bit mixed. On one hand a lot of people are simply waiting to get Driftmoon in a bundle, on the other hand bundles bring a lot of new people to your game – and they may buy more of your games in the future. But we’re not concerned about maximizing profit, we care much more about getting our game out there and letting people play it, and enjoy it – and bundles are an excellent way to make that happen.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
V: From my perspective it seems that DRM has such a negative sound to it by now that big-budget marketing people are inventing new names for it, and indie developers like us are advertizing on not having any DRM. What a strange world we live in. Game prices have always been a race to the bottom, each game being cheaper than the ones before it, we’re finally starting to reach zero – and then piracy won’t matter any more.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Driftmoon?
V: Some of them are so cute! What’s there not to like?
A: Some seem more professional and thought-out than others, but whatever the case, they’re all welcome!
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
V: If someone promises you that their game may not be excellent now, but will be better in the future, I’m always a bit sceptical. The business side of my brain tells me that cheap expansion-packs are a great idea, but if it’s all about milking money out of people, it sounds a bit fishy. As a player, I’d like to know whether I’m missing something important by not getting all the expansions.
A: It depends on how the DLC is implemented. I’m not too enthusiastic if the DLC of a certain game is so vital that the player is forced to spend more money after they’ve already bought the game, just to be able to do well in the game. If it’s truly extra content – like a whole-new extra adventure that’s not in any way required in the original game – now that’s another story.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Driftmoon?
A: We’ve gone through a considerable amount of work to make sure that using the Driftmoon editor, and sharing the mods and the total conversions made with it would be as easy as possible. It’s been great to notice that there’s already quite a few mods available, and many more on the way!
V: And we’ve made sure all the mods are easily available through the game. One click away!
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
V: To really break big into the indie game business, you need a great game idea. It has to be an idea that’s simple enough to be told in a couple of sentences, but clever enough that nobody’s thought of it yet. Try telling your idea to a couple of game journalists, and if they demand to start playing it, you’re on the right track.
You shouldn’t make your own game engine. There are only two reasons why you would ever need to make a new game engine, either you A) want to practice making one, or B) you need some specific feature in your game that’s not available in any existing engine. If you just want to practice, you don’t ever get to make the game. And if you need some cutting-edge technical feature, you’re running a huge studio with the required resources. Indies don’t need that, the cutting edge we have will be in the game design department, not some technical gimmick. From hereon, we’re going to build our own tools on top of an existing engine (which might possibly be the Driftmoon engine we just made), and be happy with it.
A: Make sure what you’re developing is something you yourself are enthusiastic about, so that you’ll have enough motivation to get through harder periods, and possible setbacks. Oh, and especially for your first project(s), don’t start too big. Or even better: Start small. Take care of your own well-being and the well-being of those around you, and never let your game project become more important than real people. It may become almost like a child to you, but only almost. Hopefully many people will like your project, but it is an unfortunate reality that not everyone will. While many people are wonderful, friendly and respectful even on the internet, some aren’t. Try not to get angry or take it too personally, and always treat people with respect.
We would like to thank Ville and Anne for taking the time to offer us a fascinating look into PC gaming development. You can pick up Drfitmoon via the official site.