Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of CastleAbra.
Hello, I am Ricardo Nieto from Elizabeth, NJ. I am the lead designer and artist for CastleAbra. I love cats and dogs and I’m super excited that Morrissey is making a comeback this year.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
CastleAbra is my first game. I pretty much dove right into it when I started this game. Prior to that I had spent my life learning how to draw, making comics and learning Flash and Photoshop to make cartoons. My partner Alfredo Machin was already working on his own game when we teamed up. He has been programming since he was a kid.
Where did the idea for CastleAbra come from?
I was heavily inspired by an old game called “Shadowgate”. We both played it when we were kids and I just love it. Basically, you get to explore this spooky castle while an evil Wizard worked in the background. I wanted to do this kind of game but with more comedic elements. It really took a life of it’s own when I introduced the Princess character and the bizarre 3-way love story into the mix.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing CastleAbra?
My biggest failure is marketing. I go into detail in something I call a “PreMortem” which is on my website, but basically I got a little crazy a couple years ago after failing to attract much attention to the game. This caused me to suspend all marketing including social media until now. I know I should have kept up with it, but my fragile ego just couldn’t take the lack of press coverage and Twitter followers so I quit. I now realize that marketing is something that you do for the life of the game. Maybe I’ll get it right for my next game.
I’m really proud of the comedy in my game. I think very few games are funny but I feel mine is. Little things like the Wizard drinking himself into a stupor after being rejected by the Princess and the Garden Gnome popping into view when you try to take his hammer still make me laugh when I play it.
In its current form, how close is CastleAbra to your initial vision?
I gotta say it’s pretty close. It ended up being a lot bigger than I anticipated, but it plays how I envisioned it. There are certain drawings or puzzles that I wish I could rework, but I’m very happy with the 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 CastleAbra and if you faced a similar challenge.
Personally, I cannot play games that are too difficult. When I was a kid I would happily spend a month trying to figure out a puzzle, but as an old man I cannot spend more than a few minutes on a puzzle before I reach for a walkthrough. That’s why I tried to make my game fairly easy. There are a couple puzzles that will drive people mad, and I’m sure people will get stuck on easy parts of the game, but I don’t think there’s anything too crazy in the game. However, I didn’t want people to breeze through the game in an hour so I made it long and filled it with tons of items and puzzles. That’s the kind of game I’d like to play and I hope others feel the same way.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring CastleAbra would run on the various PC system configurations?
I had to ask Alfredo to answer this question because I don’t know anything about the programming side of this game. Here is his answer:
Microsoft’s .NET and XNA frameworks pretty much ensured that the game would run on any Windows machine with Windows XP or higher. Although XNA makes it easy to manipulate the most commonly used functionality of DirectX in terms of making games, it is in no way shape or form a game engine like Unity for example, therefore a lot had to be done from scratch. One of the biggest challenges I recall is manually making sure the game would run correctly on any monitor resolution and also handle multiple monitors. There was a lot of trial and error programming there.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for CastleAbra.
The game started out as pixel art, but I changed it to a more painted look early on. I wanted to have a lot of monsters and characters in the game and I wanted them to have a very expressive cartoony look to them.
I guess I have an unconventional way of working. For the level design, I didn’t plan out too much. For instance, I knew I wanted to start the game at the door of the castle, so I drew that scene. Naturally, beyond that door you’d have a grand hall filled with multiple exits. It then became a process of finishing a room and thinking “Oh well, what’s behind that door?” and drawing that. I like working like this because it allowed the story to develop naturally over the 4 years that it took to make the game. Kinda like writing a novel I guess.
Our buddy Rodney Marfil made the awesome soundtrack for our game. Early on I gave him a CD filled with some Goth bands I enjoy like “Sisters of Mercy” “Cocteau Twins” etc. I asked him to give me that sort of vibe in the tracks. He basically made fun of my musical tastes and did his own thing, but I couldn’t’ be happier with the results.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
I think it’s staying motivated. It’s great to work for someone else because you show up to work, you do your assignment, go home at 5 and get a paycheck at the end of the week. It’s hard spending years in isolation working on your own ideas not knowing if you’ll ever make a cent or if people will even notice you. The temptation to goof off and go on Netflix or surf the web is especially difficult when there’s no boss looking over your shoulder.
How did you go about funding CastleAbra and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
We tried a Kickstarter campaign in 2011 that failed. We were hoping that we could get enough money to quit our day jobs for a few months and finish the game, but looking back it’s better that we didn’t get those funds. The game became so big that it was destined to take years to finish. We managed to do it by not having lives and working on it on weeknights and weekends.
Tell us about the process of submitting CastleAbra to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
That’s something we’re in the process of doing now. We started a Greenlight campaign and I’m waiting to hear back from a few portals. We’re gonna try to distribute the game anywhere we can.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
I’m a little obsessed with researching other developer’s stories and strategies. In the end we priced ourselves lower then most competitors because CastleAbra is a pretty unique title and we are unknown developers. We wanted to make it easy for people to take a chance on us.
Can you tell us why you chose not to release a demo for CastleAbra?
This is a dicey subject, but I think demos sort of ruin the magic of playing a game for the first time. My partner came up with a good argument. Lets say you have two games that you’re interested in. One has a demo and the other does not. You play that demo and you love it, but now you’ve already experienced that game and the game with no demo is still enticing you. Which one do you buy? Everybody will have a different answer to this, but I’d probably break down and buy the 2nd one. This could be a bad deal if both games cost 60 bucks but we’re only charging 6.99. But who knows? We’re still learning this business and we may offer a demo someday.
How important is it to get instant feedback about CastleAbra from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Well, since we barely used social media during the production I can’t really say how we would have benefited. I realize that feedback can be beneficial during development, but I also like the idea of the creator locking himself away to work on his vision. However, it’s always a good idea to have people you trust give your work a look before you release it. New eyes will always catch some mistake you’ve missed.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review CastleAbra professionally?
A lot! I love my game and I’m incredibly proud of it, but at the same time I’m insecure and I desperately need other people to love it! Professional reviewers are people who love games and have seen everything, so I’ll definitely take their opinions to heart. Right now the game is brand new so I’m waiting for reviews and I’m bracing myself for any negative opinions that may come.
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 haven’t looked too deeply into this, but it sounds like a really good idea. When you’re an indie you have to do what you can to attract customers and this sounds like a great way to do it. However, I wont’ be doing this anytime soon because it wouldn’t be fair to our early adopters.
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 a huge PC gamer since I’m on a Mac, but as far as I can tell most if not all indie games are DRM free and that’s a good thing. I think we realize that our game is going to get pirated no matter what, but that there will always be people that will buy a copy and support the developer and thank God for them! I think the big guys mostly rely on Steam for distribution and Steam has DRM. Steam handles DRM well and they provide such a good service that I don’t think the DRM bothers people. But I don’t know if intrusive DRM is much of an issue nowadays. I’m actually waiting for the day I find a CastleAbra torrent with 2000 seeds. I’ll feel like I’ve finally made it.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos and receiving monetization of CastleAbra?
I would absolutely love for somebody to do a “let’s play” video of CastleAbra. It would be a thrill for me to watch somebody play through the game for the first time. If they can manage to make a few bucks then more power to them! They’re basically promoting the game (even if they trash it), so please, go ahead guys!
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I mostly hate it. DLC is cool if you absolutely love a game. Getting a new character or levels for one of your favorite games feels like a present even if you have to pay for it. The problem is with games you really like but don’t necessarily love. I know I would resent DLC coming out for a game I didn’t love because now I feel like I paid for an incomplete game and I’m missing out if I don’t pay another 20 bucks or whatever. I know everybody wants to make money, but I would prefer it if everybody just released full games. DLC should be special and rare.
There is a closed door in CastleAbra that I am hoping I can open up in a future release. The plan is to create several new rooms and a new storyline. It will take months of work and there’s no way we can justify it if the game doesn’t sell, but if it comes out it will be a free update. I have no problems with that type of DLC.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for CastleAbra?
I love it. How can you object to people using their creativity and making your game their own? I haven’t seen this done for adventure games, but I would be thrilled to see people modding our game.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Please start small! I’m happy CastleAbra turned out the way it did, but I know it would have made more sense to make the game a quarter of it’s size and finish it up in a year. The game could have come out 3 years ago and now I’d be working on my second or third project. Chances are there would not be much difference is sales and I would have been proud of both games.
I really don’t have high expectations in terms of sales for the game. I realize that as a small time indie with one game under his belt, I’m going to spend a lot of time getting people just to notice me. So the best course of action is to get something out there, start building an audience and move on. From what I read most indie success stories do not happen overnight and you have to put years into this business so just get out there already!
Also, block the Internet! My partner and I are fanatical about this. I use a program called “Self Control” for the Mac that blocks all the time wasting sites I choose on the internet. I actually have it set up to only allow email and chat to come through and I set this for hours or days at a time when I need to get work done. Alfredo wrote his own program called “The Everything Blocker” because he couldn’t find a suitable solution for PC’s. The point is you have to block all distractions and get to work. You’re gonna have to put thousands of hours into your work, so get off Reddit already!