Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Betrayer.
I’m Craig Hubbard. I handled overall game design, gameplay implementation, writing, and audio.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I was hired as a level designer on the original Blood way back in 1996. I had learned the Build editor from making Duke 3D levels and just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Where did the idea for Betrayer come from?
It was a fairly organic process. We started off with the basic premise of a haunted, abandoned settlement and an arsenal centered around a bow and throwing axes, then gradually fleshed out the details. At some point, the idea arose of setting the game in a New World colony, so that’s where it ended up.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Betrayer?
One of the many challenges we faced on this project is that our entire experience is in competing with genre leaders. With this game, we didn’t have either the resources or the time to do that, but we still have those instincts, so in retrospect we were too ambitious. It would have been more practical to make a smaller, shorter, leaner game and not spread ourselves so thin. I wish it had occurred to us to make a pure exploration game with no combat, for example. That would have been much less stressful and wouldn’t have shown off our limitations as clearly.
In its current form, how close is Betrayer to your initial vision?
It’s very, very different, but that’s always the case. Partly it’s that imagination is limitless and uncompromised. Everything’s photorealistic and highly detailed and perfectly tuned. Making a game is largely a process of distilling what you wish you could do into something that’s actually achievable. Also, when you’re picturing an end product in preproduction, it’s all filtered through your own tastes and aesthetics, but game development is a team effort (excluding one-developer projects, of course), so the more points of view there are contributing, the less it’s going to resemble what you originally imagined. If you’re surrounded by talented and creative people, that’s all part of the fun.
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 Betrayer and if you faced a similar challenge.
That’s something we’ve experienced firsthand in the past and part of why we loved having a playtest lab at Monolith. Watching players play your game is the best way to gauge what’s working and what isn’t. Since that wasn’t an option (we don’t even have an office), we hoped that being on Early Access would be a reasonable substitute. It definitely helped, but I take full responsibility for skewing a little too hardcore on the base difficulty. We changed the default to be a little less punishing and left the original setting as a harder option. There’s also an additional setting for players who are more interested in exploring than fighting.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Betrayer would run on the various PC system configurations?
We’re used to having a compatibility testing lab to help us, so it was definitely a challenge. Again, Early Access was a huge help, but you can never test enough.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Betrayer.
The main thing about the art style is that it was chosen primarily for its gameplay consequences. We found the high contrast black and white very engaging because your brain has to work harder to make sense of what you’re seeing. It adds to the tension. It also felt very distinctive, which is appealing when you don’t have a marketing budget to get yourself noticed.
Regarding level design, it started with the landscapes. Then we figured out where to place settlements, entry and exit points, other miscellaneous landmarks, and so on. Then came things like treasure chests, investigation sites, and so on. Enemy placement came after that. Finally, a lot of time went into trying to get the navmesh cleaned up so that enemies wouldn’t get stuck on rocks or logs or whatever else the navmesh generator ignored. It was a headache I won’t soon forget.
As for music, there was originally more of it, but it was stomping on the mood instead of reinforcing it, so I ripped it out and focused on ambient sound. The only surviving bits of music are the themes for the menu, opening credits theme, and end credits, which was the first piece I composed for the game and was used in a couple of the trailers. I guess you could also classify some of the eerie ambient sound in the otherworld as music.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
Money, without a doubt. We self-funded the game, so we all watched our savings steadily decline month after month. It’s been nerve-wracking. Another big challenge for us has been communication. Because we aren’t in an office and are only meeting face-to-face once a week, we have to work extra hard to make sure time doesn’t get wasted due to crossed wires. It helps that we’ve worked together so long.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
Absolutely. When we were deciding on a price, there was a spate of games coming out in the $20-25 range. I played one that I beat in about an hour and a half and others that felt very unpolished and incomplete, so we figured $20 was a reasonable value. But we really struggled with it and are still second-guessing whether it was the right choice.
Can you tell us why you chose not to release a demo for Betrayer?
We didn’t have time to think about it when we were wrapping up the game, but we’re considering the possibility of releasing one in the not-too-distant future.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Betrayer from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
We love hearing from players and have tried to be really responsive to their feedback. Early Access was incredibly valuable in that regard.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Betrayer professionally?
We value any feedback we can get. Hearing what worked or didn’t work helps us make better games.
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 don’t have any specific plans at the moment, but I’m a big fan of the pay what you want approach.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
Neither keeps me awake at night, frankly. I don’t think intrusive DRM is effective, but it doesn’t impact my shopping habits. As for piracy, I’m not convinced that it equates to money lost. I think it’s usually money you wouldn’t have made anyway. This certainly isn’t meant to represent the views of the rest of the team, but I’d rather people play our games without paying than not playing them at all. Maybe they’ll become future customers if they like what we’re doing.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos and receiving monetization of Betrayer?
Any word of mouth is helpful!
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
As a consumer, it’s really case by case. There’s some great DLC and some shoddy DLC. As a developer, I’m a fan because DLC pays for staff that would otherwise be laid off between projects. Teams need to shrink down when they’re shipping and when they’re ramping up on new titles, so having a way to pay the salaries of “excess” people keeps them employed.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Betrayer?
I got my start making levels for Duke 3D and Quake, so I owe my career to modding. Tons of amazing ideas have come from modders. Regarding Betrayer, we have some bigger issues on our plates, but we’d love to do it. I think mods could bring a lot to the game.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Well, my advice to myself is either to find concepts that are achievable with available resources or go get more resources. Sadly, I have a long history of overreaching, so I’m not convinced I’m going to heed that wisdom, but maybe somebody else will.