David Hagemann from TocoGames saddles up to give TPG the rundown on his upcoming Jousting Jump’n'Ride title, Last Knight.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Last Knight.
I’m 27 years old and from Germany, I’m making games at daytime and create monsters at night. Or more precisely: I work as a freelance artist which currently involves creating lots of monsters and I work on my game whenever I can. Last Knight is basically made by just me, I’m doing the programming side as well as all the artwork. The Music is made by Eduoard Brenneisen and the sounds by Jarno Sarkula.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I started with making games way back when I was 14 or something around that. Through my uncle I came across a, at that time new, program called “Flash”. He showed me the basics and then I quickly tried to make something, that could be called a game, with it. What emerged of it where lots of unfinished playable things. After being a gamer all my childhood it was a great experience for me to make my own games and make things work even if nothing of that was ever polished.
It got really serious with developing games when I started my Internship in a small games studio. It was just 2 guys, 1 programmer and 1 Artist, they were making mostly 3D web games which was at that time a pretty innovative thing. I quickly had to learn the ropes of 3D modeling and how to texture. After taking the hurdle of learning the basics of the overly complex modeling program 3Ds Max it became a lot fun and I could contribute to several released 3D web games. After that and some detours I became a Freelance artist while still working on my own projects whenever I had the time.
Where did the idea for Last Knight come from?
The idea came when I finally took the time to look into the Unreal Development Kit after the first version was already released for some time. I just wanted to make something with randomized world generation and I liked to idea of non-stop action a lot. So I whipped up a simple prototype in which a track gets generated on the fly and the camera moves through it. It worked all nicely but I was not sure yet where I was going with it. I always loved the game Crash Bandicoot, I mean the first 2 in the series which were released on the Playstation 1, those were really outstanding 3D Platformers.
The levels are arranged as a track too and it has that 3rd person camera moving with the player through it. Crash Bandicoot was a great inspiration but I really wanted something fresh, so I looked what has not been done so much in games and riding on a horse came to mind. Sure there are games which include horses but nothing interesting where you are all the time riding on a horse. It was also a natural fit for the non-stop action. To make it really interesting I quickly added knights on top of the horses and from there jousting and over the top cartoony action with ragdoll physics was not far.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Last Knight?
A failure might be that I did all the programming and learning of a lot of stuff at the same time. It resulted in doing some things again, in a better way. I also often did things in a not so straight forward way because my brain is kind of more creative thinking then logical, which then collides a lot of the time. A success is that I get it all working fine and where it is now even though it took me a lot of time. A big success moment was when I jousted a knight out of his saddle, with the physics hooked up, for the first time!
In its current form, how close is Last Knight to your initial vision?
Apart from some small things there is everything in the game and its fully playable but there are still some bugs and glitches. I might also add some more stuff again, how I do it so often.
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 Last Knight and if you faced a similar challenge.
That is really a big problem! In earlier versions the story levels were much harder and the endless mode generation had much less ramping of difficulty, it was always really hard from the beginning. Well, not really hard for me but for the testers. After getting some feedback I changed the levels a lot and made a much better progression of difficulty in the endless mode. I also implemented a Squire Endless mode which generates the world overall easier and with the 2 hardest environment themes missing. Its still no easy game though, it always remained that unforgiving arcadeish gameplay with no healthbar.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Last Knight would run on the various PC system configurations?
Luckily that is not a problem since I’m working with the Unreal Development Kit which is well established. The engine is developed for so many years now that it would be also a surprise if there are still such issues with PC configurations.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Last Knight.
Developing the art style actually started some time before. I was making a stylized environment for fun, all sculpted with Zbrush. I went a bit overboard with it and made lots of things which were for no actual purpose at that time other then building a small environment map for fun. The scene then ended up having lots of different stylized rocks, cliffs, ground textures, trees, bushes and grass.
After I had something prototyped I started with modeling the heroes: the knight and horse. I knew I wanted it to be cartoony but also with its own look and not too simplified. It was kind of a natural fit for the over top action with the ragdoll physics. A lot of the Environment stuff that I made before fitted, with some adjustments, greatly into what I wanted the world to look like. So it all came together and over time I added more obstacles and more details as well as more environment themes.
The Level Design is rather tricky since the heart of the game is the endless mode in which the world gets generated. The generation is made mostly from pieces which have obstacles attached to them. Those obstacles are then always placed in good distance to previous obstacles. So they are never too close together for moving around or jumping over them, in earlier generation its also more likely that extra space gets placed so that it gets harder over time through les space between obstacles as well. Still, it required lots of fine tuning of the pieces and testing with different combinations. There are many factors that make the game harder the more far you get and there is of course also quite a bit of luck involved through the random generation. For the story levels all the pieces are used in a arranged fixed way and so that all levels are different and introduce new things. There is still some small randomization in the story levels as well though. Like a bit different placements and variations of bridges, destructibles, coins, etc..
The music is made by Edouard Brenneisen, who is a really talented all-around composer who quickly came up with just the right sound for the music. He also made several cool musical sound effects for the game. Other then that the sounds are made mostly by Jarno Sarkula who came up with great sounds for even the exotic things.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
That would be surviving basically. Working on the game all that time without also working as a freelancer would have been not possible. When you do almost everything yourself you will also have to do all the tasks which might be not up your ally or just not fun at all. Then you can get easily frustrated and there is no one to blame it on other then yourself. The marketing part is also tough aspect since as a unknown indie developer you always have a hard time to get any attention for your game.
How did you go about funding Last Knight and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
The funding for making Last Knight is basically all out of my pocket, the money I earn from being a freelance artist. Friends and family can be a great support especially for beta testing, impressions from people which are not hardcore gamers can be a lot of help.
Tell us about the process of submitting Last Knight to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
I’m not there yet but the big problem I already have is that its very tough to get on Steam. It is now kinda that huge indie popularity contest where only a few, from now more then thousand games, get the chance to release on Steam. At the same time Steam is by far the biggest distribution platform for downloadable games.
Will there be a demo for Last Knight?
I thinking about making a demo but then for some time after the release. Maybe after I made a first update to the game. Hopefully I could then reach a wider audience with it and convince people who were not sure if the game is something for them.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Last Knight from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Any feedback can be helpful, even if its not constructive feedback it can be motivating to just see people care about your game. Even if Last Knight does not make it through Greenlight is was all worth it for the encouraging comments. I’m also posting a lot on polycount.com which is a forum about making 3D artwork for games. It is almost around since the first 3D game model was made. There you can get a lot of constructive honest feedback.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Last Knight professionally?
I as a gamer read a lot of reviews myself when deciding to what to play next so I also put a lot of value into what they say about my games. Its great to to be able to read a kind of analysis of your game from experts, also the negative points since there is always the chance to improve those things later on through patches. Still, reviewers are also just humans and have different opinions, so as a reader you don’t have to agree with everything they say.
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 those bundles are great, they easily reach a wide audience. Gems who had no spotlight before can get a second chance through them and people suddenly play games of genres they usually never play. It could be really nice to get Last Knight in a bundle at one point and reach a wider audience through it.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Well, its certain that some publishers are over reacting in their fight against piracy. There are many examples of extreme DRM which also hurts all the customers. Then again, from a business stand point its understandable that they try all kinds of DRM in their strive to have something that gets not cracked. I would say their is no solution to it. There will be always people who find a way to get it for free sooner or later, then there are people who buy everything anyway and there is of course also a small chunk who downloads cracked games and then buy the games they like.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Last Knight?
I really like the whole concept of “lets play” videos. Would be great to see such popping up with Last Knight. Live streaming and video reviews are also nice.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I’m not a fan of DLC and virtual items with a price tag attached to them. But there are lots of people who happily buy them even when those virtual items have a price of a full indie game. To each there own.
Btw, I made one of the first custom TF hats (when there was no ingame store yet) which Valve implemented in the game, I think the prices they have chosen for virtual hats is pretty crazy. But people buy it a lot, I still get quite a lot of money from Valve for just that one hat!.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Last Knight?
I think modding communities are great! I was heavily involved in the Unreal Tournament 3 modding community myself. (You can get my UT3 characters on my website here: www.vitamin3d.com) For a lot of people modding a game got them started in their career in the games industry. Sadly modding of games got les in the recent years. Its really a great way to get into making games where engines and tools get more complex. Its hard to get your own current gen graphics game made but you can get something of your own in certain games which is then quickly rewarding.
Mods for Last Knight would be cool but I have not considered it yet, it would be really hard to do because of how I implemented things.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
If you are just starting with making games you will really have to learn a lot, making games is hard! But if you learn as you go it can be a lot of fun, seeing what you make coming to live is very rewarding. Don’t expect your first creations to look beautiful though! Then you will also bump into issues or just plain bugs and because of all the frustration you will probably not finish what you started. But thats ok, its kind of a evolutionary process where every creation gets a little better, just keep at it.
Its a good idea to make game which you like to make, since that is motivating the most, and not some game which could profitable. At the same time its good to have a unique game which could fill a gap, if your game is not that unique consider adding a special mechanic or twist to it. Most people like it when they can say that your game is like popular game X (which makes also for a good Kotaku headline) but your game will get then also measured with that game and even things that are just different can easily look bad in the eyes of someone expecting something else.
Marketing, as annoying as it may sound is also a big part of selling a game and if you have something unique or groundbreaking in your game the press will also more likely give it article instead of all those other indie games craving for some spotlight. Try to make it as easy as possible for the press but don’t try to advertise the game to them too much. They know all the marketing talk! A Presskit is a must have, you can get a easy to setup one from the Vlambeer guys here. One more advice that is more important then all the gibberish before: Always fun first and all the other elements behind! – End