Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Adventurer Manager.
My name is Thomas Spradling and I am the Game Designer and Producer at Vigilant Addiction Studios (VAStudios); but I wear many other hats due to the fact that our studio is so small. My duties include, but are by no means limited to: designing the majority of gameplay systems, creating some of the art, communicating with outside entities, promotion and marketing, managing social media pages, and ensuring my team is organized and delivering a great game!
How did you get started in developing PC games?
Working in games, particularly PC games, has always been a dream of mine since I was a kid, but other priorities seemed to delay pursuing it. Roughly two years ago, I joined VAStudios to assist them in their first release, which was a casual mobile game called Gobbo. After Gobbo’s release I pitched the idea for Adventurer Manager for PC and mobile. As production progressed it became more and more apparent that Adventurer Manager was going to be primarily a PC game so we decided to try our luck with Steam Greenlight. We got the Greenlight in just about three weeks, if I recall, and even placed in the top 10 during our time there. Now we’re releasing Early Access this week and things are only going to get better from here!
Where did the idea for Adventurer Manager come from?
The idea for Adventurer Manager came from a large variety of previous games that I found original and inspiring. The list includes: XCOM, EverQuest, Classic NES & SNES RPGs, Ultima Series, Rogue-like games, and many more.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Adventurer Manager?
My team and I have learned so much from working on this project. It’s just incredible. I would say our biggest success was getting Greenlit on Steam. That was such an exciting time for us. I remember I was out of the country for half of it and I was constantly scrambling for internet access so that I could stare at the numbers of votes and page visits. We had only been in development about 6-7 months and looking back on that version of the game now makes me cringe! Going forward though, the game is in great shape to start adding in a ton of really awesome systems that we’ve been dying to put in but of course you have to get all that boring framework in first ;).
Some of our biggest failures thus far were due to lack of experience but we’ve been working our hardest to correct those mistakes. I would have to say the biggest failure thus far was not enough time spent in pre-production. We came off our first release incredibly proud and excited and wanted to dive right into working on something new and on PC! Unfortunately, we were in such a hurry that we basically began immediately coding and creating art when we should have spent a solid month or two just planning our systems, our art and sound needs, and fleshing out some of the design. Due to this we’ve had to redo some things along the way and scratch our heads at a few roadblocks, but overall it’s been one heck of a learning experience. I have absolutely no doubt that future games from us will be armed with the insane amount of knowledge we’ve gained from working on Adventurer Manager.
In its current form, how close is Adventurer Manager to your initial vision?
Adventurer Manager is pretty darn close to what I had envisioned. It’s been retooled a bit because we were going to try and release on mobile and PC at the same time, but instead decided to focus our efforts solely on PC for now and attempt to port to mobile sometime after the PC release. A lot of the elements in the game were designed to be mobile friendly so a lot of those were gutted and reworked to be something that PC players would enjoy.
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 Adventurer Manager and if you faced a similar challenge.
I suck at Adventurer Manager. There I said it! We’ve made it a goal to make sure our game is pretty challenging but with great rewards and opportunities to make up for your mistakes in-game. We really want the players to become attached to their Adventurers, especially when we get some of our other management systems in to make them even more special. We are also planning on implementing an optional Ironman mode, which will include permadeath. All that being said, we pride ourselves on listening to the player input and if lots of people think it’s too difficult then we’ll definitely look into it!
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Adventurer Manager would run on the various PC system configurations?
In our case, Adventurer Manager is so graphically unintensive it was not something we really ever worried about. We did have a decent number of Alpha Testers with a variety of system setups testing the game and we never heard of any problems.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Adventurer Manager.
Art style was one of the most important elements for Adventurer Manager. The characters and some monsters from our initial concept drawing are still in the game. It’s a surprisingly polarizing issue as well. People that have seen the game generally love or hate the art style and we’re okay with that. Music was interesting because we wanted to capture that retro feel with chiptunes but that kind of music is kind of hard to listen to for a few hours at a time. We have two great musicians who took chiptunes and added real orchestration to them to create some wonderful music. Level design is an interesting topic. The game originally started with every dungeon being just a long straight hallway with monster encounters and other events along the path. It was too grindy. Just in the last month we decided to rework all of our dungeons to make them more engaging. Now, all of our dungeons have a set layout that must be explored room by room. Various encounter types, treasure chests, minibosses, and other cool things are now waiting to be discovered!
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
I’d say the toughest aspect of being an indie developer is trying to make a name for yourselves and your game with barely any funding. Promotion and marketing the game is very difficult when you don’t have the funds for that kind of thing. Instead you rely on your fans and the internet to really get your game noticed.
How did you go about funding Adventurer Manager and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
Adventurer Manager has been mostly a volunteer effort from a dedicated team who have spent most of the last year working on it with the understanding that none of us may make any money. All of our paychecks for work on the game are dependent on its success :). That being said, our Studio Director did self-fund things like software, some marketing visibility, etc. I can’t really speak for the other team members but I have a fantastic wife and crazy cat who have supported me through this journey. Based on how hard my other team members have worked on this project, I’m betting their families are just as supportive. It’s tough following your dream without knowing whether this project or the next one or the next one will be the one that pays off.
Tell us about the process of submitting Adventurer Manager to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
As most know, we made it to Steam through the Greenlight program, which was an interesting experience. Steam isn’t very transparent about how they select Greenlight games and they throw a lot of numbers at you to help you track your progress among all the other games. With all those numbers though, you still don’t have a clear picture of whether you will make the cut or not. When we reached the top 100 it was huge, but when we reached the top 10 we knew we were doing well and there was no way they wouldn’t select us in the next batch at the time. We were also approached for distribution by the folks at Fireflower Games and ShinyLoot and should be selling the game there shortly after the Steam EA release. I submitted the game to GoG.com and they were interested but they are currently playtesting the game to determine if it is a good fit for their platform. All in all, working with all of these digital distribution companies has been a pleasure. I really have no complaints and only good things to say about all of them.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
I ended up going through almost every single game on Steam that was 15 dollars and under as well as checking out some other digital distribution platform pricing. We had already decided early that our target was going to be 4.99USD but combing through hundreds of games helped me determine that our target was pretty spot on. If we can manage to get in some pretty huge systems between Early Access and actual Release, we may raise the price to reflect just how huge the game has become, but that’s something we will re-evaluate in the future.
Can you tell us why you chose to release a demo for Adventurer Manager?
We chose to do an Early Access release because we wanted the players to be directly involved with the production of the game. Since technically this is our first game on the PC, we felt like the more feedback and suggestions we could get from our players, the better game we could make. We really enjoy interacting with our fans and we want the Early Access to be meaningful to the player beyond simply playing the game. They get to help shape it! That being said, we still have our original vision for the project that has gotten us this far and will continue to guide us!
How important is it to get instant feedback about Adventurer Manager from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Getting instant feedback is incredibly important to us. As I answered in the previous question, player feedback is one of the most important things for us moving forward with AM on Early Access. Hearing what people think from the Steam boards, our own boards, as well as Facebook and Twitter are vital to making sure we are making a game that people want to play.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Adventurer Manager professionally?
Being an avid follower of a number of what I would call professional gaming blogs, I value professional opinion highly. I believe that a lot of the professional people writing on games have the knowledge and experience to write about games and provide insightful and unbiased feedback. That does not mean however that I do not value other reviewers! Youtubers, small time gaming blogs, and others are just as important to me. They represent the more general gaming public to me, so hearing their feedback is just as helpful.
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 these types of bundles are very interesting and from what I’ve heard also very successful. I think if you are delivering great games with no nonsense, people are willing to pay well for solid games. I would be more than happy to include Adventurer Manager in these types of promotions.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
We at VAStudios are 100% against DRM and my personal opinions are the same. As I mentioned in the previous question, I strongly believe that if you make a great game and make it easy to get into and play, people will want to pay you for it. Now, I’m not naïve though. I know that regardless of how great your game is you will still be pirated. In my views though, even games with intrusive DRM get pirated so all DRM does is hurt the purchaser. It really treats them like a criminal (kind of like those shell packages that electronics are frequently encased in). Piracy is a reality though, and being proud of our game, the simple fact that someone will go to great lengths to play it, even though it was acquired in an illegal manner, is flattering!
How do you feel about individuals posting videos and receiving monetization of Adventurer Manager?
We have already partnered with a few YouTubers to do Let’s Plays featuring Adventurer Manager. Being a start-up ourselves, we love to try and assist others involved in gaming. Monetization is something we are also 100% okay with.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
I think some games do DLC right and others do it wrong. I love DLC for games like Skyrim, where each DLC is kind of like a miniature expansion (Hearthfire excluded). It’s a new storyline with some new content and while it only takes a little bit of time to complete, I feel like the money I spent on it was worth the experience it gave me. If/when Adventurer Manager receives some DLC it will be in the form of some new story, some new content, new classes or races, new equipment, a new gameplay system etc. We want to avoid the pitfall of that grey area between DLC and microtransactions. DLC to me means solid and substantial content, whereas microtransactions can occasionally be just fluff.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Adventurer Manager?
I’m a huge fan of modding. Most of the games I play on PC have some mods that I use with them. I mentioned Skyrim before; I only can play Skyrim with no fewer than about twenty mods! Another game I’m obsessed with is Kerbal Space Program and there are a ton of really amazing mods for it that I enjoy using. I would have no problems with people modding Adventurer Manager. It is currently not something that we are working on supporting at this time, but it’s definitely on our radar to assess later on during Early Access.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
I’m not really sure I’m in a position yet to give out advice to up-and-comers, I’ll reassess that sometime after EA launches! If I had to say something though, I think I would just say, if you really, really want to make games, just do it. Even if you aren’t going to get paid, you stay up late working on it, you ignore your friends and family, you work on the game instead of playing games, just start doing it. If you’re interested in design, just start writing design documents and storyboarding something out. If you’re a programmer, just start coding something. If you’re an artist, just start creating video game art. If you’re looking to join other people like yourselves check out sites like IndieDB where indies are looking to bring on new talent. Just stop making excuses and make games!