Jesse Crafts-Finch chats with TPG about his upcoming side-scrolling fortress defense game, King Randall’s Party. You will learn how Jesse got started, his many gaming inspirations, how he had to re-learn programming and much more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of King Randall’s Party.
My name is Jesse, aka GorillaOne. I’ve been a developer in the games industry for several years, working on titles like Rise of Legends, Sid Meiers: Railroads! And the Civilization IV expansions, Beyond the Sword and Warlords (also known as “Just one more turn!” and “I could quit if I wanted to.”). I also produced quite a few educational titles. But now I work on my own as the sole, full-time developer for King Randall’s Party.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I grew up playing the NES and Sega, and not a PC, like most gamers of my generation. It was in my teens that I got hooked on PC gaming through old school MUDs like Dragonstone and shareware like Escape Velocity (which is still available, and still awesome). I started out in the industry and a producer – the medic of the development team if you will, supporting the front lines. When I started King Randall’s Party, I picked up programming so I could develop it on my own.
Where did the idea for King Randall’s Party come from?
King Randall’s Party was born out of my love for block-building games like Minecraft and Terraria, and my frustration that while I could create these enormous, fantastical structures, they never served any purpose beyond being expressions of my creativity. It’s like building a castle in a time of peace –you’ll keep asking yourself “Well, how would it have actually fared against an attack by an army?” So I started making King Randall’s Party in answer to that.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing King Randall’s Party?
As an experienced producer I should have known better – but wow, when I was re-learning programming everything always ended up taking way longer than I expected. I’ve got a pretty good handle on it now, but when I started I’d say “Oh yeah, being able to build stuff? That will take two weeks, max.” Five weeks later “OMFGINEEDFOOD.”
In its current form, how close is King Randall’s Party to your initial vision?
I was really lucky in that; my original design seems to have really vibed well with everyone that has played it. I’ve ended up making changes here and there according to the feedback I’ve gotten, but I think in the end it’s still pretty close to the original vision. That being said – my first design was pretty rough, and details tended to get added as people played it and I realized what was missing from the experience. “Wait… you can’t move? Ok, I should probably add movement.”
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 King Randall’s Party and if you faced a similar challenge.
Perhaps that problem is offset by the fact that I’m terrible at difficult games. A lot of what I’ve focused on so far is reducing artificial difficulty: places where the game is difficult due to poor design choices. It’s ok if people lose a level because their strategy didn’t work, but it’s not fun if people are slamming their faces against the refrigerator screaming “WHY DIDN’T THE MONKIES FIRE THE CATAPULT LIKE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO!?” Nobody wants to be in a position like that. Monkeys should do as they are told.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring King Randall’s Party would run on the various PC system configurations?
Well, I haven’t tried yet! Hah. But coding on the .Net framework with XNA has reduced a lot of the potential problems that I could run into. So let’s keep our fingers and toes crossed in the hope that there won’t be too many problems down the road.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for King Randall’s Party.
Casey Dockendorf did the early concepts for the characters. My basic instruction to him was “I want characters that are cute enough to appeal to a broad audience, but not so cute that when they die horrible and tragic deaths, that it throws people off.” From then on in my job was mostly ensuring the artwork met my quality standards and matched the rest of the games artwork.
Level design is still something I’m learning about. Every once in a while it ambushes me, and I wrestle with it until something playable comes out. For King Randall’s Party it will come down to creating a compelling set of environmental challenges (defend a hill, defend a ditch, defend across a gap) and combine them with a set of enemy challenges (enemies that can build ladders, enemies that can build bridges, enemies that can fire catapults or destroy walls).
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
There is a life outside of game development?
Aside from the current Kickstarter, wow did you go about funding King Randall’s Party and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
My immediate family have been huge investors in King Randall’s Party so far. Props out to mom and dad! But I’ve had a huge amount of support from colleagues in the field, as well as personal friends and my girlfriend. It’s really quite overwhelming and humbling (in a great way). I’ll need to pay them back in gold-pressed latinum someday.
Tell us about the process of submitting King Randall’s Party to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
Digital distribution!? I intend on selling it on the street corner in Boston. Jokes aside, King Randall’s Party is still just an alpha and on Kickstarter to get funding. It’s like a chick in the nest. It hasn’t been shoved off the terrifying ledge into the great wild unknown yet. So no info yet on how hard/easy it will be to get on the various distribution platforms. I assume it will be crazy difficult.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
I did! But I mostly figured out the price by asking myself hard questions, with a lot of excel spreadsheets, about how low I could set the price and still earn enough to make another game and pay rent.
Can you tell us why you chose to release a demo for King Randall’s Party?
For an indie developer, it is super important to get your game out there in the hands of gamers. Without all the trolling feedback I get from people playing the alpha, I would be unable to figure out what it is that people like or dislike about the game, and change it accordingly.
How important is it to get instant feedback about King Randall’s Party from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
King Randall’s Party doesn’t have a huge community behind it yet, so most of the feedback I’ve gotten is from local students whom I’ve watched playtest the game. Family members have played it too, but we all know that family will lie through their teeth to your face just to make you feel good. I’ve also got a bunch of friends in the development community who have the chops to be brutally honest to me about the game, and that has been a huge help. But I would love more people to join the Gorilla Tactics community and start communicating with me.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review King Randall’s Party professionally?
Professionals have the benefit, hopefully, of being able to view a game from a more critical standpoint. If they offer crucial analysis, then that can be really beneficial. But I think it’s most important to listen to gamers as a whole and search for the patterns in what they are trying to tell you about your game. If gamers as a whole really like the game, chances are that the reviewers will too. After all, reviewers are gamers too, just like you and 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?
Indies face a challenge very different from AAA titles. For the typical indie game there are always more people who haven’t heard about your game and had the opportunity to purchase it. I would love to put King Randall’s Party in a pay-what-you-want bundle, because it would expose thousands of new people to the game and give them the opportunity to purchase it. Even if they pay less than what the official purchase price is, that is a sale that I probably wouldn’t have made outside of the bundle. And the reality is, there will still be so many folks who have never heard of King Randall’s Party, that there will still be plenty of gamers willing to purchase the game at its full market price. It is not like selling it at a pay-what-you-want price is cannibalizing market-price sales.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
There is a whole lot of outrage over how game development companies are implementing DRM. With a few exceptions, it doesn’t bother me much. Companies can put whatever they want in their products, and if I think the DRM is too annoying or invades my privacy, I simply won’t buy the game. There are so many amazing games out there, skipping some games here or there doesn’t impact my life at all. I’ve been a huge fan of the Sim City games for years, but I didn’t buy the latest one because of its DRM restrictions.
That being said, I’m not entirely sure DRM is a great investment for AAA titles, since it is usually broken in a few days after release. It CERTAINLY isn’t worth it for indies, and I have no intent of including DRM in King Randall’s Party.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos and receiving monetization of King Randall’s Party?
I think that it is fantastic! My business is making and selling video games. If someone else wants to make a business out of displaying or playing my games, or using them in creative ways, power to them.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
You know, I rarely purchase DLC unless it adds a significant amount of play-value for me. I really enjoyed the Mass Effect extra levels DLC because it allowed me to play more of the game. But buying some extra horse armor or a super special gun? I think I’ll save my $5 and spend it on an indie game instead. Again, this kind of falls into the category of “If I don’t like it, I won’t buy it”. So most of the DLC floating around the industry, and the way it is marketed and sold, doesn’t bother me.
I DO have a problem with companies only allowing the original purchaser to play online multiplayer, and requiring people who buy the game used to purchase an additional code to get online. I think that’s pretty terrible. You hear me, you companies that do this? TERRIBLE. I will eventually send my gorilla assassins after you.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for King Randall’s Party?
Whew, making a game moddable takes a lot of effort and requires that you plan that functionality in from the start. Since King Randall’s Party is my first big endeavor into solo-game development, I decided to skip that kind of functionality in favor of getting the game finished quickly and cheaply. There are a lot of games that are designed around the idea of moddability and I think that is fantastic; it adds a lot of life and value to a game.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Keep your day job and start by making a super, super small game. Once you’ve designed your super small game, cut it in half. Even if you are fantastic at programming, artwork, etc., you will learn so much about developing for various platforms, integrating with the stores, and marketing your product, and you are way better off learning these hard lessons while you have a financially stable position. Keeping the games small will also mean that your limited development time sees results way faster, which will keep your motivation high.
Also, eat healthy, but don’t forget to treat yourself to deep fried ice cream dipped in maple syrup every once in a while (or your own devilry of choice). Life short – eat gross but tasty things and make games. That’s how I see it.