James Petruzzi, founder of Discord Games, discuss his 2D fantasy ARPG, Chasm. Read on as you will learn how Chasm came to be, the many iterations of the game, thoughts on indie bundles and much more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Chasm.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I started out back in 2005 or so when Torque2d first launched. I thought it looked awesome, so I started messing around and taught myself TorqueScript to program simple stuff. I eventually moved to C# to work in XNA and the rest is history!
Where did the idea for Chasm come from?
Chasm was originally meant to be a mining game similar to Terraria, but with a bigger focus on exploration instead of building. Unfortunately, the mining just became tedious then, and I could never really get the game design to balance right. I eventually remembered an idea I had about a year before about procedurally generating Metroid-style maps from prefab rooms. I quickly prototyped it over a period of a week, and when that was successful pretty much started over from scratch on the game in October 2012. At first I leaned towards a heavy roguelike approach, but as the game came together I started seeing it more like Diablo and Symphony of the Night hybrid.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Chasm?
It was really hard making the decision to scrap the mining version of the game and start over. I had a long history of scrapping projects and not finishing them, so it took a major change in mindset to get 48 Chambers and Take Arms made. It’s especially scary making decisions like that after you take the leap to full-time, but I know now I had the wisdom to make the right call.
In its current form, how close is Chasm to your initial vision?
Overall, it’s pretty close. Graphically it’s way beyond what I expected. We were very lucky to get some amazing pixel artists on board. It’s always very strange and exciting when your game goes from this collection of pieces to something with its own personality. I think it’s almost impossible to see that before it exists in reality, so I’m always very careful to make sure once that spirit is found, we foster it 100%.
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 Chasm and if you faced a similar challenge.
We sent the GDC demo off to about 100 testers, and they ranked it mostly 4 or 5s on a difficulty scale of 1-5. It was pretty easy then to tweak stats and such to get it a bit closer to middle of the scale. We still want this to be a challenging old-school experience, but not annoying either so we’re careful to listen to feedback and make needed adjustments.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Chasm.
Tony Redmer our pixel artist developed the distinctive art style over a period of a couple months. I knew from the beginning I wanted it to be low resolution (320×180) to get that authentic, chunky SNES look. Tony worked on designing the character from there based off technical requirements of sizes. We originally had outlines on the characters but found it way too much at this low of a resolution. It can be tough to keep some things from blending together when they overlap, but we think the effort is definitely worth the trouble.
We hand design and map each room of the dungeons. These rooms are loaded into memory when the game starts, and then when a new game is loaded, dungeons are generated based off the available rooms like puzzle pieces. A number of heuristics do quality checks after the map is generated to make sure it’s of good form, shape, size, etc.
On the music front, we’ve done a number of variations to find what we think fits right. We want the game to be very moody and atmospheric so we’ve taken inspiration from games like Ico, Silent Hill, etc in order to hit that right tone. Of course, it is an action game as well – so a lot of care is taken to make sure dungeon exploration music is upbeat as well.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
When you’re working a full-time job it’s time, and when you’re working full-time on the game it’s money! I’ve done it both ways now, and can say without a doubt it’s way easier to work on it full-time without all the added stresses of full-time employment.
How did you go about funding Chasm and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
I’ve funded development so far soley off revenue of our previous releases. We’re just about out of money though, so we’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign within the next week to ensure we can continue working on it for the next year full-time. (Editor’s Note: These questions were sent prior to the Kickstarter launch.)
Tell us about your experience with Steam Greenlight and with submitting Chasm to other digital distributors.
Greenlight for Chasm has been a great experience. Everyone really seems to love it, and we’ve gotten great feedback on there. I’ve been on the other side of the fence with our previous games 48 Chambers and Take Arms however. They were mostly trashed and derogatorily called mobile or flash games. We haven’t submitted to anywhere else yet.
Have you researched costs of similar games when coming to a solid price point for Chasm?
Yes, we looked at other RPGs and similar genre games and decided it should certainly be in the $10-15 range. It is definitely a niche title, so we’ll be relying on the fans of this genre to help us keep going.
Can you tell us why you chose to release a demo for Chasm?
We’re not in this to rip anybody off or make a quick buck. We want to make amazing games that you feel you have to play.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Chasm from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback through our forums as well as sites like TIGSource and such. It’s always very hard gauging whether a change is overall positive or negative, but any random idea can get your imagination going and possibly lead to something even greater. As such, you always have to keep an open mind.
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 think they’re both good and bad for indies. On the plus side, they help get your game out there to the public and help raise awareness and money, but at the same time they also devalue games. I don’t think most people understand the insane hours, blood, sweat, and tears that go into making a game. Yea, it’s a cool job, but it’s also thousands of hours of work by someone highly skilled. If you’re only willing to pay $1 for the product of their effort, you aren’t really helping them much.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
I think everyone knows by now that piracy will never be stopped. The only thing worse than that though is being treated like a criminal and having to deal with annoying DRM. When the situation is that the pirates are getting the better product, you have to start wondering why people would pay in the first place. I know we’ll never use DRM, but hopefully the rest of the industry will eventually wise up.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Chasm?
We love watching people play, but unfortunately only a few have gotten their hands on it yet. Hopefully after we make the GDC demo public we’ll start seeing some cool playthroughs!
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I’ve never bought any DLC myself, so I’m probably not the best person to ask. I grew up with NES, so my idea of a game is that you buy the whole thing and put it in and play.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Chasm?
I think it’s very cool that people are that passionate about something. We may end up making some of our development tools public for people to make their own content after release. It’s more of a technical question than a business one for me.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
If it’s your dream, never give up! Making games is incredibly hard work, and takes years of practice to get your skills to a decent level. Games are one of the few disciplines that take a multitude of skills like game design, programming, management, writing, sound design, etc. Each one you will have to spend years of practice on to get any good at, and you need all of them if you’re going to make a successful game. Always remember to keep your scope small, and do what know well. When you feel like giving up or not working on your game (everyone does now and then), just remind yourself that the person with the released game pushed through those moments of doubt or weakness, and made themselves stronger in the process.