Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of What Lies Beneath.
I’m Beldarak, the creator of What Lies Beneath. My real name is Maxence Incoul, I’m 23 years old and I live in Belgium. I mostly made the game by myself with help of friends (thanks a lot guys) here and there.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I started 2 years ago. I was planning to make a game with RPG Maker but the software was too limited for my ambitions. So I started using Unity3D.
Where did the idea for What Lies Beneath come from?
In fact I first worked (and still do) on a similar but bigger game, “Song of the Myrne”. I was previously working on some 3D games and it was hard to learn everything from coding to 3D modeling since I started with zero knowledge on anything. I constantly had to redo everything because I was getting better, so old assets looks terrible compared to new ones.
One day, I was playing a game called “Realm of the Mad God” and I discovered that I could make a game that people would want to play without using some 3D and/or amazingly high-detailed graphics. I started to use the same graphical style (Created by Oryx Design Lab: http://oryxdesignlab.com) than “Realm of the Mad God” because I was unable to draw anything myself 😀 (I’m still using the style but I draw most of the things now).
So the basic idea behind Song of the Myrne was to make “Realm of the Mad God” but in solo, with quests, dialogs and stuff like that. I made What Lies Beneath so people would have something to play while I finish Song of the Myrne. In the end, Song of the Myrne and What Lies Beneath are very different than Realm of the Mad God.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing What Lies Beneath?
I think the biggest difficulty was marketing. You create your game, alone in your bedroom and once it’s finished you throw it at the internet’s face and wait for every people in the world to play it… Spoiler: it doesn’t happen. It’s incredibly hard to get a game noticed and I should totally have marketed it before finishing it… like every post about game dev ever written was telling me to do… I can be very stubborn sometimes :/
The launch was also a big failure. I started to submit it to Desura the day before the day I wanted it to be available… I always do that, if I need to be somewhere at 10 AM, I put my shoes and start to prepare my bag at 10 AM… I also got some big issues with the upload so the game finally launched with ten days of delay. But even if I sold very few copies, the players who played it really liked it. So I’m very happy with how this chaotic launch as turned (it is the first game I sell).
In its current form, how close is What Lies Beneath to your initial vision?
Once again, I’ll speak about Song of the Myrne, because What Lies Beneath relies entirely on it. The two games are very far from what I initially planned. I was first planning to do a randomly generated game with highly punitive death. Some kind of dungeon-crawler but with quests and maybe villages.
While developing it I realized I hate to create random generation… It’s hard to make quests interesting that way, and if done incorrectly all the game looks the same (looking at you, dungeons of Skyrim !). It also implies a lot of math which I’m not a big fan of. I replaced randomness with choices in dialogs (there isn’t so much choices in What Lies Beneath but there’s way more in Song of the Myrne) and some random events that sometimes change the quest endings.
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 What Lies Beneath and if you faced a similar challenge.
Ah ! I can totally relate to that. I’m always like “wtf are you doing ?!” when I saw someone playing my games.
What I usually do to make the difficulty right is to test the game without using any armor, or weapons (or very basic ones at higher levels). I also force myself to skip some content like hidden chests to see if the game is playable without knowing everything. I’m very careful with bosses though; they recover all their health once you die so it’s very important they are balanced properly and doesn’t need xp grinding to beat.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring What Lies Beneath would run on the various PC system configurations?
Not really, Unity makes a really great job with that. The hardest part is to make the game run properly on all the screen resolutions. It implies a lot of math and testing. I know Youtubers usually play on very low resolutions so it’s super important to get it right.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for What Lies Beneath.
I usually try to create the art style myself, it’s easy to work on low detailed sprites like this but I still suck for everything else, so I usually use some textures found on internet or ask an artist I know (http://lantreduphacochere.blogspot.be/) to make some assets (for example the skill tree pictures, he really did an awesome work here).
For the level-design I usually work first on paper. I have a diary with a lot of maps, quests, ideas, etc… For some reason I can’t really make a level directly in the editor, it always suck, I don’t know why. Paper gives me super powers apparently. So I map everything on paper, then I start to build the level in Unity, I make some changes along the way because some things look great on paper but not in the game (usually a question of proportions), I’m quite a perfectionist so the level will change again, and again and again while I create quests and stuff like that.
Fun fact: I don’t really think about the quests, they come to me naturally while I design the levels. Sometimes I place, let’s say a corpse on the ground, just to add some variation in the level… But then I ask myself, “why is this corpse here, what’s its story ?“. And I end up creating a big quest about releasing its spirit because he’s angry since flying unicorns or whatever devoured him…
The music of the game is another thing I learned while developing games. For Song of the Myrne, a friend of mine creates the music. But with What Lies Beneath, I wanted to make it myself. I used Magix Music Maker which is a really great program for beginners like me. It’s cheap and really easy to use.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
For me, I would say it’s being jobless. The absolute dream would be to live from my games but it just isn’t even conceivable yet. I have to look for boring jobs I don’t even want to do and follow formations because apparently you have to be barded with diplomas to answer the phone and to give basic information to people.
All these things, like sending millions of CV nobody will ever answer to, takes a lot of time. And this is time I can’t use to work on my games. It’s really frustrating.
How did you go about funding What Lies Beneath and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
The budget of the game is very, very low. There’s some licenses I had to pay (Music Maker, Oryx Lofi Fantasy Sprites,…) but the total doesn’t exceed 100 dollars so I’m fine. I usually create my own tools for Unity instead of buying some because I don’t like to work with code I didn’t write and because I’m a real fussy, I need tools that are made for my exact liking. I received a lot of support from random strangers on the internet, which is really weird and awesome at the same time. Some of my friends support me a lot too but my family think I should work on more serious things, like finding a “real job”. They are like “WTF ?!” when I tell them I sell the game for less than three dollars 😀
Tell us about the process of submitting What Lies Beneath to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
It’s easy stuff really. I only released the game on two platforms for the moment but I received some offers from other plateforms as well. I’d rather avoid getting on too much ones because my connexion is really slow and it takes me forever to upload each update.
I’m on Desura and on the IndieGameStand store for the moment. My favourite is IGS. It’s less complete in term of features (Desura offers reviews, the possibility to make a forum, a lot of stats, etc…) but Desura is way too slow to make updates or even news available. I would of course love to make the game available through Steam but I don’t really know how to do so. I know there’s Greenlight but they spoke about closing it so I don’t want to pay the 100 dollar fee to see it close two months after… I think I’ll wait until Valve tells more about their future plans.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
Yes and no. I guess I could sell “What Lies Beneath” with a higher price but it doesn’t feels right to me. I’m very uncomfortable with making money on something I do, especially when I like doing it. It’s a real problem for me 😀
Plus the game is pretty short (5-6 hours, players told me). I saw some shorter games selling for more than this and some awesome games being free so the price was a difficult choice. I first wanted to make it Pay What You Want with a 0 dollar minimum and the OST for people paying more than a certain price but it wasn’t really possible (you actually lose money if people pay less than one dollar). So I chose the minimum price on Desura (2 euros).
How important is it to get instant feedback about What Lies Beneath from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
I want to be informed as soon as possible if anything goes wrong with the game (some game breaking bug that would makes its way through the testing stage for example) to fix it as quickly as possible. Like I said, selling an unplayable game is my worst nightmare. I’m very stressed every time I release a game, even if it’s a free one.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review What Lies Beneath professionally?
I’m always happy to read some reviews of my games. In the first place, it means that someone I doesn’t know played something I created, most amazing feeling ever. It’s even better if it’s someone that do that because it’s its job because it means this random stranger consider that my game is worth its time.
And of course, for every aspect of the game the reviewer didn’t like, I see an opportunity to make the game better.
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 totally love that. It’s really a win-win situation : gamers get some good deals, developers get a larger public (and some money too^^), everyone’s happy. But I think it has to be done right. I already got two offers for bundles but I think it was too soon (one was two days after the release) so I declined them. I plan to be part of bundles in a near future but I first want to get on the IndieGameStand “Today’s Deal”, which is a Pay What You want offer. That’s what IGS advices since bundles affect the IGS deal but IGS deal doesn’t really affects bundles sells.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
I’m not really concerned about piracy for the moment. I don’t support it but, for me, piracy is an intransgressible thing. I only know two games that got around it: Diablo 3 and the newest Sim City game. And both were a complete disaster.
If I have to choose between customer’s respect and no-piracy, I definitely choose the first one. That’s why there isn’t (and probably will never be) any DRM in my games (except Steam/Desura ones but I always give the option to get a free-DRM copy of the game). Make your games interesting enough and you’ll always find someone to buy them I think. DRM doesn’t stop piracy (or not for long), they stop honest customers like me to buy (or play: looking at you Burnout Paradise !) your game.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos and receiving monetization of What Lies Beneath?
I have no problem with that. It’s another win-win situation. I get some free advertising for my game and the video maker earn some money to pay his work/material. Let’s be honest, the only people complaining with that are people who makes terrible games and don’t want the customers to see the game before they buy it, it’s sad, really.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
It’s all about the type and the price of the DLC for me. I have no problem paying a little amount of money to extend a game I like (Dungeons of Dredmor is a good example of that). Back in time we used to buy extension packs for games like Neverwinter Nights or Morrowind, it’s the same here. But paying for hats, map packs, or character skins ? It’s just silly. And I don’t even want to talk about day-one DLC for games that cost 60-70 dollars, or pay to win (even in solo games, like Dead Space 3), I hate those !
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for What Lies Beneath?
It’s a great thing, it can really extend the lifespan of a game. Mods support for What Lies Beneath would be awesome (especially with the multiplayer mode I’m currently working on) but sadly the game wasn’t made with that in mind so I don’t think it’s possible to make without redo almost all the game. Maybe in a future game, once I’ll be more experienced, who knows^^
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
I will not shine with originality here, but the best advice I’ve ever read is the advice everyone gives 😀
“Finish your games”
There’s a lot of awesome games that are waiting somewhere in a folder because their developer got sick of it or couldn’t handle how much work is needed to finish it. I know I’ve got some of them on this very computer. So I would say my advice is to distrust ambition. Ambition is great, but if you’re starting up, maybe you should begin with games that you can actually finish before you drown yourself in the game of your dream. You know, the one with evil flying unicorns, an FPS-RPG-Monopoly-STR gameplay and more than 1000 choices for every line of dialog.