Niv Fisher and Sagi Koren speak about their physics-based arcade indie game, Super Splatters.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Super Splatters.
I, with others, did the concept design and all of the early prototypes. I come from a coding background so that was my ‘main’ role. Daniel (the other programmer) and me did all of the coding, but as you know being indie means wearing many hats so …
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I learned to program as a kid, I had a PC but didn’t have so many games to play on it. My father had also started working with computers and some point in his career and brought home a version of Borland C++ with it’s manual. So I basically taught myself to program, simple stuff – but the first thing I did was try to make games. Later on I studied math and C.S. and for a long time worked outside games on physics based medical simulation before founding SpikySnail with Sagi about 4 years ago.
Where did the idea for Super Splatters come from?
We wanted to create a ‘skill & mastery’ game with physics around simple controls. It’s relatively easy to create skill games with timing challengers or very well established genres like platformers but with physics things tend to get a bit ‘trial and error’ or based on luck. I believed that if the physics and rules are tuned well enough you could demonstrate real skill manipulating the system using the controls you have. From that point there was lots of experimentation on prototypes and lots of iterations. The theme and structure of the game came later on – we were obsessed with finding cool fun mechanics.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Super Splatters?
Well, I learned that I can come up with interesting mechanics and execute on them pretty well. I think where we failed most was on the marketing side of things. Not just by ‘not doing enough’ of it – also by not thinking enough about it when doing the design. It’s a tough game to ‘sell’ because you really need to invest some time with it before it shows you its interesting bits.
In its current form, how close is Super Splatters to your initial vision?
It’s pretty close actually, but the ‘initial vision’ was not a fully formed game just a bunch of ideas and concepts we wanted to try and put together into one game.
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 Super Splatters and if you faced a similar challenge.
Totally agree here. We’re all so good at it by now that it looks really weird to us when someone is having trouble. To be fair, the mechanics are quite complicated, yes the controls are simple but to really understand how to use them you need to keep an eye out on a lot of things. Like using the ‘Flip’ which is basically a one- button momentum reversal move. You need to simultaneously see where your Splatter is flying – where the explosive pods are going, and if there are any splashes of liquid that could potentially ignite the bombs. Then you need to sort of build a mental image of what would happen if you use the flip. It takes time for that skill to really sink in and initially players might not get how immensely useful that simple interaction actually is.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Super Splatters would run on the various PC system configurations?
A little. Super Splatters is a relatively simple game – it’s mostly 2D (well, what people call 2.5D). But the physics simulation and rendering pipeline are both pretty complex. The vast amount of work for PC was spend on making sure we support that widest range of video cards and making sure everything works well for any resolution. Doing everything in our homebrew engine was fun but takes time.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Super Splatters.
Hah, those are actually 3 things I did the least of. The art style is the works of Sagi Koren which founded SpikySnail with me. The level design was mostly done by Alon Shama I and the music was done beautifully composed by Egozot. I gave my feedback on all of those things but I really can’t take any credit for them.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
I think it’s mainly having to do everything. When you work at a ‘proper’ company there people there with specific roles – even seemingly trivial stuff like accounting and legal services are a significant time and energy drain.
How did you go about funding Super Splatters and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
We self funded the entire thing from the concept to the XBLA release of the original. We sort of ran out of cash going to PC and we didn’t want to rush the release of it – so we were lucky enough to get some help from Indie-Fund.
Tell us about the process of submitting Super Splatters to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
We didn’t really go that many places, but both stores we are selling at (XBLA & Steam) are not easy get to. You would think that you just need to show them a great game – but that’s not really the case. Because, like who in this industry is foolish enough to claim he knows what a ‘good game’ is? I found the best way to get in the door is show other people are interested in what you are doing. So either by submitting to festivals, growing a community and generally show there is external interest in it.
Can you tell us why there is no demo for Super Splatters?
We do have one for the original XBLA version – and that’s was mandatory so we didn’t have to think over it. We are planning on having a demo out for Super Splatters later on though.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Super Splatters from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
It’s not really ‘important’ for this type of game. But it’s always fun to be interacting with players.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Super Splatters professionally?
It’s always hard reading critique of something you spend so much time on. I think with this second release I’m more receptive to criticism and less ‘defensive’ about it. I guess the value depends on the specific opinion and how it makes sense to me. Some reviewers made some great points on the game that changed my thinking and showed me something i was blind to, and some reviewers were just lazy so their ‘opinion’ didn’t have any value to me.
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 it’s an absolutely awesome thing and we’ll definitely do this sort of stuff down the line.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Piracy exists and it’s not always 100% a bad thing. I think as long as people know that it’s morally wrong to enjoy someone else’s creation without his consent and that nobody is making a for-profit business out of it, I can live with it quite well. There’s a ton of piracy but lots of it is just people that into ‘hoarding’ content for some reason – I doubt they even play most of the things they download. And if they do end up really enjoying a game and playing most of it – I do hope they will find a way to send some love back to the developers…
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Start working on something as soon as possible. Preferably something small/focused enough that can be accomplished relatively quickly – you’ll learn a LOT from it. More so if you have little development experience. Developers are often their own toughest critics, so keep challenging yourself to make something you truly think is worthwhile but stay focused on the important stuff or it gets to be a lot of work really really fast.