Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel.
I am Andrew Trese, the younger of two brothers on the Trese Brothers Games team. We are a small indie game development shop of two – two brothers on a mission to make the best RPGs out there. We are both software engineers, gaming enthusiasts, and long-time game developers. Most of our early work was in developing pen and paper systems that we played over the course of our lives. A few years ago, we started a little pet project in Android game development – Star Traders. It was based on a pen and paper RPG, and the entire studio snowballed out of our success with Star Traders.
Cory and I are are both originally programmers. Once Star Traders got started, we needed an artist, and I volunteered. I’d never done any art before, so it’s been an amazing journey, and its still going!
How did you get started in developing PC games?
We started in the mobile gaming space – specifically in Android. We always had big visions for our games, so they all ended up being much bigger and deeper games than you find with most mobile games -so they translate great to PC. When we really got started with Heroes of Steel, being cross-platform in the mobile space was one of our critical goals, and we discovered that if we took the right approach, we could also reach PCs, Macs, and Linux boxes! So – really, we evolved here out building a successful gaming studio for mobile first.
Where did the idea for Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel come from?
Heroes of Steel was a world I dreamed up while thinking about a pen and paper RPG. I loved the idea of post -apocalyptic worlds in which things have fallen apart – the Gods, civilization, everything. So, when we first started making games, it was the first game I wanted to make. It took three years to write the story, prepare the game, and then get ready for our KickStarter – in which time we made and released three other games!
I’ve been a lifelong fan of classic turn-based tactics RPGs like Shining Force and Final Fantasy Tactics – and the first board game Cory and I ever played was Heroes Quest.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel?
Heroes of Steel has been a big success in my book. Its one of my favorite games to play, and has opened up the world for us in terms of cross-platform development, new technologies, and just awesome things in general (see the next question). Why was it a success? Well – we allowed it to push us. We used it as a vehicle to go far.
Of course, that comes with cost. Heroes of Steel took way longer to build that we had scheduled … four times longer! That’s because we went from Android only to iOS, Android, OUYA, and PC, so it was probably a worthy trade. But, that time shift threw a lot of our other business’ plans off by a large number of months!
In many ways, Heroes of Steel has amped up our excitement to do it again – another KickSarter, another game, another go!
In its current form, how close is Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel to your initial vision?
The KickStarter that we ran for Heroes of Steel transformed the game completely. We went into the KickStarter imagining a specific outcome, a game that we’d fund and create using our existing Android-only game engine. We came out of the KickStarter having hit a stretch goal we hadn’t been dreaming of – the Epic Cross Platform Pack which insured we’d make it to iOS, OUYA, and now PC. That change meant an all new engine, and it issued in a whole new era of how we build and dream about games. Heroes of Steel ended up being 10 times the game I had imagined when we launched the KickStarter. And all thanks to our amazing fans who helped us reach 170% funding and some amazing stretch goals!
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 Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel and if you faced a similar challenge.
We ran a very extensive alpha process with 35 of our KickStarter backers. It ran for about a month, and it was critical in improving the game and finalizing the balance. But, one of Cory and my key requirements for game development is: “play your game.” Certainly, at this time, I think we’re probably the best Heroes of Steel players out there. I am sure that won’t last, with the voracious community we have.
However, we play and we play a lot. We play to have fun, play to win, and play stupidly. There are hundreds of valid ways to play Heroes of Steel – so many choices about how to build your group and form a team strategy. To insure you aren’t tipping the scales unfairly, you have to play badly too. Ignore everything you know and try to go in with new eyes. Build a group that you know isn’t going to work and see how it feels, if it can survive. Playing is critical to game development, but it does mean you’ll end up being an expert, so you’ve got to cut against that somehow.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel would run on the various PC system configurations?
Surprisingly, not many. We released Heroes of Steel first on mobile, but the actual first build we ever got running was on PC. For nine months of development, our team spent more time on PC than on iOS or Android devices, so we had a huge amount of exposure on the platform before we even started packing up a release build for Desura.com and IndieGameStand.com.
We are a retro game, so we don’t need big graphics cards or heavy systems. We do need OpenGL 2.0, so we have had one (just one!) customer who had a graphics card from 2003 that couldn’t run Heroes.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel.
As an artist, I have only been doing this three and a half years. So, I do the best art I can. Heroes is definitely my best work, but I am still trying to improve every day. Heroes of Steel would a “western RPG” and I think that shows in the art. It’s also a grim story, which I tried to translate that into the game art as well. For the characters and NPCs, I chose many simple costumes because in a post-apocalyptic world there would be a scarcity of everything, so no one is decked out in really fancy costumes.
For the level design, we are always looking to push the character to face new challenges. The game is long, and you fight many types of enemies throughout. We always start a new area by listing out the types of challenges that we want the player to have to face – map challenges, navigation challenges, new monster AI, and new monster abilities like summoning or curses. Then we start digging into how to combine those in exciting ways and how to insure that this new area keeps the player on their toes! In a long tactics game, we’ve got to keep you challenged, or it will get old.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
At this point, having to do everything. We are small, and we are indie, and there are just two of us. We are trying to grow. We have to do code, draw, write story, test, play on our devices, post on social every day, work on marketing, etc. It’s amazing how much it takes to run a growing business with five games and looking toward six. The toughest part is that we wish would could hire some help, but aren’t growing that fast yet!
How did you go about funding Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
Heroes of Steel was funded by two major flows of capital – the KickStarter we ran in March 2013 and the revenue from Trese Brother’s other four games on the mobile markets. During the development of Heroes of Steel, in June of 2013, Cory and I transitioned to full time game development. We are very excited to be coming up on a year of being full time game devs! It will be an exciting year to see what we do next!
Tell us about the process of submitting Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
We’ve been doing Google Play, Amazon, and the Apple App Store for years …. they feel so familiar. Desura, IndieGameStand, and the Steam Greenlight process have been foreign and just strange. There has been nothing holding us back – its gone smoothly, but we’ve felt very “out of our element” throughout. We are really now getting our feet on the ground and getting used to everything – now it starts to feel easy again!
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
We research similar titles for everything! Including launch price too. You can’t go too far under or above your competition, but you should sell what you have for the value its worth.
Can you tell us why you chose to release a demo for Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel?
You can play Heroes of Steel free on your phone or tablet – Android or iOS. This lets you see the first couple of hours of gameplay and see if you enjoy the game. From there, you can buy as you go and purchase new characters or new story episodes with In-App Purchases. The total you can spend on mobile in IAPs is $12. With PC, the markets don’t support IAPs easily or at all, so we just bundled it all up for $12!
How important is it to get instant feedback about Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Wow – it’s the most important thing! As a game studio, we are focused on engaging our customers and listening. Our personal email addresses are listed everywhere within the games, and you can expect a personal email response within minutes or hours of emailing us. We take community engagement and customer support very seriously.
We like to make games with our community. Try our games out and make a good suggestion about a new feature, enhancement, or point out a bug. You’ll see what I’m talking about! We do updates almost weekly for every one of our games with new content, new story, new features. You’ll probably see your request popping up soon enough!
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel professionally?
We really enjoy reviews because they can be so harsh. They have a responsibility to report on what they do and don’t like. It’s great feedback for us. We recently got a 3 / 5 star review from TouchArcade (I’m not shy about this!) and we took it home and picked it apart. At the end of the review, he said he really enjoyed the game, but throughout there were 12 major points that he listed of things he didn’t like. We addressed every single one of them over the next month. The game is better for it! That’s what matters.
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’m not sure about this yet. It seems to be a new idea in PC gaming and we are seeing it for the first time. I think i like the KickStarter model better – which is a “pay what you want to have us build this game” model. If you like the game, help fund it and you’ll get a copy for free for sure. If you don’t like it, don’t fund it. If we don’t get funded, we won’t build the game. This seems like a more solid foundation for a game developer to stand on. PWYW is an after-its-build kind of thing.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
At the end of the day, I do feel like its a wash. If someone is willing to pirate a game, then they are off on Torrent sites, or other piratey type sites and are willing to pull down suspicious files and installers onto their computer and run them. In this day and age, to me, that sounds insane. You know what is in those installers, don’t you? If they were able to pirate the game, don’t you think they slipped a little extra something-something in there?
Anyway, my answer would be – if a gamer is willing to do that, then they aren’t going to buy the game. If the game has intrusive DRM and they can’t get a pirated copy for free, they are not going to buy the game. They are going to go pirate another game. So, if you have a 6% piracy rate, you aren’t going to turn those 6% into purchasing players by putting in DRM.
I’m always pleased by how many people come to our forums and report that they pirated one of our games, fell in love, joined the forums, and bought the game to support us. If you want to win over pirates – make amazing games, be a community advocate, and you’ll get some of the back on your side.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos and receiving monetization of Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel?
In most cases, it seems like marketing for our very small game studio. People doing this with Let’s Play with ads … it gets the word out!
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
We are only on Desura and IndieGameStand, and I really don’t see an impressive DLC API or machinery for it yet. From what I can tell, mobile is lightyears ahead – but I am very new to PC so I could be wrong.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Tactics RPG – Heroes of Steel?
We haven’t built a game yet that is ready for mods. We are still working on how to get the tooling in place and perfected for ourselves. There is nothing like a modding community to help spread the word, evangelize, and keep a game relevant and fresh – so in that sense, I love the idea. We just aren’t there yet, by a long shot.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
1. Play your game. If you don’t enjoy it, its unlikely others will.
2. Share your game as early as possible.
3. Really listen to and act on feedback. Listening to feedback and ignoring it is a waste of everyone’s time.
4. It’s really hard work!