Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Interplanetary.
My name is Niklas the CEO (Chief Executive Overlord, for those unfamiliar with the acronym) of Team Jolly Roger. In practice I try to be less of a boss and more the guy who keeps things running around the office. I’m also the creative director for Interplanetary, which basically means that I try to keep the game consistent and heading to the direction we have chosen for it.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
Nearly all of us are avid PC gamers, and we’ve worked on different smaller PC projects in the past. Developing a larger scale PC game has always been kind of a goal for us. We have made a couple of small mobile releases in the past and also worked on browser games as part of outsourcing deals, but it always feels natural to start working on a PC game again.
Where did the idea for Interplanetary come from?
Originally the idea popped up during a coffee table conversation at the university café. We were talking about our assignment for networking class, which was a regular artillery game, and we started discussing how it would affect the game if the cannons were so far from each other that you could see the curvature of the earth. It didn’t take long until we were talking about interplanetary artillery.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Interplanetary?
Let’s start with the worst failure: Scheduling. This seems to be the problem with many game projects, and after Interplanetary, we better understand why. It’s very difficult to estimate how much time something will take when there are still unknowns in the equation. Sometimes the unknowns are something we still need to research, maybe a bug, something that needs to be redesigned etc. One major time sink is outsourcing, which we need to work on alongside Interplanetary in order to keep the company standing. Scheduling is something you can’t learn to do right by just studying, but you can gain experience that helps you do it better. Every team works differently.
We have learned tons of things while making Interplanetary, and that alone makes it pretty successful. We now know a lot of things, like how we should build networking for a multiplayer game, how to make our game visible to the world, and we know we as a team are able to pull off a project of this scale.
In its current form, how close is Interplanetary to your initial vision?
Interplanetary was originally meant to be a 2D game, so pretty far in that sense. Most of the features are there however, and the core of the gameplay, space artillery battle, remains the same.
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 Interplanetary and if you faced a similar challenge.
We released Interplanetary for public testing pretty early and are now able to do it in much larger scale thanks to Early Access, this way we have been able to avoid making the game too difficult for most players. Of course balancing the AI once it becomes a part of the game is a whole different story.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Interplanetary would run on the various PC system configurations?
We are using Unity 3D which does most of the work for us in that regard, but we still have to keep in mind things like different screen resolutions, not all keyboards have function keys and not all mice have wheels and so on. There have been a couple of times when using Unity has been less of a blessing, like some compatibility issues with Windows 8.1 and a few Linux systems that we can do nothing about but wait for a new version, but all in all we are still very happy with our engine choice.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Interplanetary.
Developing art style was pretty straightforward. In the beginning of the project, me and both our graphic artists made moodboards that reflected our vision of Interplanetary. We discussed our views and formed a common moodboard as well as a color scheme.
Music and sound effects are quite different as they are done by people outside the office. We met our musician online almost by chance, and after a brief introduction he decided to join the project. Our sound guy, however, we met by going through game developer forums and specifically looking for sound designers. We had many candidates, but he was the easiest to work with and also produced high quality work. Both have pretty high degree of creative freedom, and we have been very happy with the results.
Level design is almost non-applicable in Interplanetary. Closest thing currently would be the planet maps/textures, where the main goal is to make the planet look good and interesting; we just make sure the maps are balanced so that each has the same percentage of landmass. Planetary systems are currently randomly generated.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Money is always an issue. In our case this means balancing between doing work for hire and own projects, even though Finland is a pretty friendly environment with all its public services and funding options.
How did you go about funding Interplanetary and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
We were lucky enough to have a government funded program called “Bootcamp” going on in our home town when we were getting started with Interplanetary. This allowed us to work on a project while studying entrepreneurship related things for five months. Without the program, we wouldn’t have been able to start such a large scale project. After Bootcamp, Interplanetary development has been funded by work for hire and government support for beginning entrepreneurs. We are very lucky to have such system in place.
Emotional support from friends and family has, of course, been a huge thing also. Working on a project of this scale often demands sacrifices, especially time wise, so this wouldn’t be possible without lots of understanding from our families.
Tell us about the process of submitting Interplanetary to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
There has been no resistance. The biggest challenge is always getting the people to notice your game among all the other titles. We found that the community we had already built was a huge help in getting through Greenlight so fast. After Greenlight, getting the game ready for Steam Early Access took some time, but again there was no resistance. Working with taxation related bureaucracy took its sweet time too.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
We did study some articles and post mortems by other indie developers and also tried to match the price for the playable content we currently have. We actually dropped the price to from $ 14.99 to $ 9.99 very close to release, feeling that the game was still not as complete as we would have liked. We consider raising the price to match the content again as we add more things.
Can you tell us why you chose to release a demo for Interplanetary?
Most of all we wanted valuable feedback from the people, and we’re very happy with what we got. The alpha code campaign was also an excellent way to get more people interested in the game.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Interplanetary from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Very important, we find bugs a lot easier and hear experiences from players who test the game with very different setups than what we have at hand. For an example, we had no idea someone would be playing the game with a trackball! Hearing player thoughts about gameplay, UI and possible strategies also helps us improve and balance the game. Though we don’t like the idea of releasing anything too unfinished even in Early Access, it would be impossible for a small indie developer to do closed testing in this scale.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Interplanetary professionally?
We value professional reviews a lot, not to diminish the value of the opinions of everyday players. Professionals usually have a lot of experience from the industry and can point out the ups and downs more accurately. They are usually able to explain their reasoning very well, too.
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?
We feel that “pay what you want” model is good for the industry, it broadens the audience and removes much of the threshold you would usually have in buying a lesser known title from a lesser known developer. In Interplanetary’s case we would also get more active players, which in turn encourages new people to join the community. I would say we are pretty likely to appear in some bundle sooner or later, but maybe not this close to the original release.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
I personally feel that heavy DRM is a counterproductive method in selling more copies, in a long run at least. I have left games in store for their DRM, and I have a friend who was boycotting Ubisoft for years for their DRM practices. The more steps you add between purchasing a game and getting to enjoy it, the easier it makes to choose a DRM free alternative, be it a pirated version or another product. However I feel we’re slowly moving in the right direction now that digital distribution has been a thing for a while and purchasing games has become easier. Steam sales and indie bundles also help.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos and receiving monetization of Interplanetary?
We encourage people to do this, and have no problem with the monetization. I couldn’t think of a better example of a win-win situation.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
There are examples of DLC done right and done wrong. Personally I have no problem with DLC, but I know it’s very controversial matter, even in our office. DLC is at its best when it’s priced right and brings more value to the product.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Interplanetary?
I have very positive feelings about modding community. Generally, modding brings extra value to the product and extends its life span, often considerably. Unfortunately, we can’t divert any resources in making Interplanetary extensively moddable, but we will open up things for players to tweak and play with. There has also been some talk about making it possible to build your own planets for the game, but we’ll have to see about that one.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Start small, don’t try to have your dream game as your first project even if it’s seemingly possible with modern development tools. Once you create something, share it. Don’t worry about people stealing ideas, ideas are abundant. Instead share yours and receive the feedback, be ready to kill the project or at least keep it cooking for a while longer if the reception is bad. If you feel you need a team (usually a good idea), build a good one, and make sure you share the vision for the game. If you’re selling a game, make sure you have everything on paper beforehand, money can make things ugly. Once you have a product or even a concept out, market it. Be creative. When you gain more experience, share it with the community.