One half of a two-man brother team, Damon Branch, talks about the five year process of developing his new game, Organic Panic. You will read about life as an indie, how some viewed the game incorrectly as a political statement and much more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Organic Panic.
My name is Damon Branch, I am a programmer and together with my brother Anatole, who is a graphic artist, we developed Organic Panic. We both have a lot of experience in the console and mobile video game space. Our resumes include work with EA, HBO, Ford, Take 2 and the MLB. We also developed several independent titles including GBA Thunderbirds and Xbox 360 Wing Commander Arena. (More popular in our native England as they are both spinoffs of British TV shows)
How did you get started in developing PC games?
When I was about 12 years old I saw an ad in the paper for a used Zedex 81. I called and said I want to buy your computer, the seller said great I live at 17 Cleveland Street. I said wonderful I live at 18 Cleveland Street; you’re my neighbor. I then played Ant Attack, 3D Defender, Catacombs all the classics. About a year later I bought a Zedez Spectrum and when Tron came out I loved it. So much so that I made a spin off in Basic that had shields, the ability to jump, and up to three players at a time. Since then I have always wanted to develop games.
Where did the idea for Organic Panic come from?
We were working on a Vegetable Olympics game for a client, but it was never released. We thought the idea of using produce was great because it allows players to enjoy the game and not take it too seriously. Years later when we decided to make our games rather than work for other people, we came back to the Vegetable Olympics idea. People often misconstrue the story line to imply a social message. We never intended any political undertones, just a cute story line to put on top of the physics engine.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Organic Panic?
As machinery continues to become more and more powerful, fewer and fewer developers will experience this problem, but when we first began developing Organic Panic we were stuck between realistic physics interactions and the graphical representation of these interactions. Basically our processors could keep pace. We then moved from having the CPU handle the physics to the GPU doing most of the grunt work. The final result worked great but we wasted six months CPU coding to get there.
Watching children play Organic Panic is always fascinating. A child’s natural inclination is to test boundaries and that works really well in Organic Panic. Children quickly discover ability combinations that adults assume are impossible because many of us are stuck in the frame of mind created by past video games. Organic Panic breaks a lot of boundaries in that way and since there are 4 different protagonist, each with their own abilities, there are a bunch of different ways to approach the same situation. Seeing a level being completed in a way we had never thought of before is very satisfying. We hope that the trend will continue with the game level editor. Gamers will be able to build, play, and share their own levels as well as rate other’s levels; we are excited to see some of the creative scenarios that are developed.
In its current form, how close is Organic Panic to your initial vision?
Our vision was always a game where all in-game elements (from the character to the enemy to the platform) were destructible and interacted with every other game element. We took it beyond the traditional physical interactions of bumping or exploding and have added thermal transference, electrical conductivity and much more. In a sequel we hope to add other interactions such as wind or time lapsing.
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 Organic Panic and if you faced a similar challenge.
That is defiantly something we experienced. You become so experienced with your own game it is hard to view levels the same way a new comer would. In fact this was the main take away from our first play testing session, just over a year ago. Part of the reason we have so many levels is because after this first game play session we had to create new levels that would help to further explain the abilities of each of the 4 characters and create a gentle learning curve.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Organic Panic would run on the various PC system configurations?
Organic Panic’s physics engine is custom built and was optimized for Xbox 360. That being said as technology has advanced, a majority of gaming computers, and even a good portion of mobile devices have a processor graphics card combination that is more advanced than the 360. We are currently porting from Direct X to Unity which will increase our exposure as well as create unique bugs we will have to solve.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Being an indie developer is a family affair. My wife has supported our dream both emotionally and financially. I work from home during the naps and play dates of our four year old son. In fact he has turned out to be a great play tester and even serves as the voice of some of the characters.
I think combination of personal and professional is typical of most Indie developers. But especially in NYC, where do to the cost of office space, living space often times serves multiple roles. Dining room/office/living room extra closet space, etc.
Tell us about the process of submitting Organic Panic to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
We are just beginning the submission process with Steam Greenlight. Unfortunately, we have encountered people who vehemently oppose the game because the inappropriately believe it to be a political message. We like to compare it to how PETA inappropriately interpreted Super Meat Boy as actual meat. Organic Panic does not have a secret agenda, it is simply a story board to display the physics engine through.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
Pricing is an essential part of success. Look at how many additional units were sold during the Steam Summer sale. We hope that the community appreciates the value of the embedded level editor that will come with every retail copy of the game. For that reason we think Organic Panic will be a bargain.
Can you tell us why you chose to release a demo for Organic Panic?
At some point you have to step back and be proud of what you have accomplished, we could have continued editing and perfecting, but after five years of development you have to say enough is enough. Everyone dreams of publishing a popular game, not coding a game that no one has ever heard of because it was never released.
Because we have spent so much time in development we are going straight from production to release without an expansive demo.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Organic Panic from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Through the 5 years of beta testing and play sessions we have already gotten a lot of feedback. However we are excited to hear what a larger audience thinks. We plan on incorporating all of this feedback into a sequel, that will include new characters with new abilities.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Organic Panic professionally?
Being a professional reviewer is harder than most people imagine. You are constantly exposed to new and exciting content, but have to look at things from a non-emotion view point. I also think it can be easy to get caught up in the hype. I hope that reviewers look at Organic Panic with a clean slate, and I hope that do the same for AAA games.
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 these sort of pricing models are great for the gamer community and for many indie developers who work on games in school or on the side after work. However Organic Panic has been our full time job. And we have had artists help us along the way. We need something that is a little more reliable in order to pay these people.
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 it is a cultural issue and extends beyond the gaming industry. The difference between the haves and the have nots inspires people to lie, cheat and steal. Stricter punishments will have minimal impact on the number of piracy events, a cultural shift is what is needed. Hope that wasn’t on the soap box too long.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Organic Panic?
We welcome all educated reviews, fan art and spin offs. We have spent over half a decade working on this project so what we can’t stand is when people don’t take five minutes to do a little research before they trash us as being political or a game exclusively for children.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Start slow and small, release a few games and develop a following. We went from a medium size studio to diving in the deep end without assistance or a lifeguard on duty. If we would had developed a following first, things like Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight would have run much more smoothly. All that being said we are really excited about our progress so far and look forward how much our fans will enjoy the game. -End
We would like to thank Damon for taking time to answer our questions. You can read more information via the official site.