Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of War, the Game.
Hi my name is Obbe Vermeij. I am a coder with a passion for game design. On ‘War, the Game’ I wanted to work by myself. The gaps in my skills (3d graphics, music) I filled by purchasing the models and music I needed from the internet. In some ways it is great to be the sole developer on a project. When something doesn’t work out I can ditch it without upsetting other people. This makes it much easier to be creative and try new stuff.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
This question makes me feel really old. I started coding in the days of the Commodore 64. After the Amiga it was the game ‘doom’ that convinced me to make the step to PC. In 1995 I got a job with Scottish developed dma-design. I worked on a project for Nintendo 64 (Space Station Silicon Valley). After that project, I joined the Grand Theft Auto team. The company was sold and became Rockstar North. I worked as technical director on GTA3, Vice City, San Andreas and GTA4. Although the lead platform was always a console (ps2, ps3 and xbox 360) we still had to do PC conversions and all the tools would run on PCs.
Where did the idea for War, the Game come from?
I used to play the earlier RTSes to death (Dune 2, Command & Conquer, Warcraft). Through the years the designers of these series focused on adding more unit types, more cut scenes and story. As a consequence I found later RTSes convoluted and harder to get into. I wanted to make a game that goes back to basics in that the game is easy to understand, easy to control but at the same time offers a deep strategic experience where every decisions counts. I also came up with some cool stuff that had never been done before. Globular battle field and AI that can give you a great game even with identical starting positions.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing War, the Game?
I have worked on ‘War, the Game’ for 4 years. I probably could have sped that up by being less fussy on some of the features. For instance, when the units move over the globe they pick the guaranteed shortest path. A fleet travelling from the UK to Canada will sail by Iceland just like in real life. This is a hard problem and it took me 6 months to solve it. I probably could have fudged it and saved me 4 months.
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 War, the Game and if you faced a similar challenge.
Since I was involved with the design and difficulty level tweaking of several Grand Theft Auto game I was aware of that problem. I basically finished all levels as fast as I could and then gave the player 50% more time, funds and units. I think I got it right because already people are completing the game.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring War, the Game would run on the various PC system configurations?
I bought a middle of the road laptop when I started developing and picked that as the minimum configuration. The game is fairly light on memory and rendering so it will run fine on older models also. There were some problems with certain graphics cards not starting up properly but these have all been ironed out before the release. I had a free demo version and this helped identifying these issues before release.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for War, the Game.
I started out with a realistic style for the map and the armies. It was hard to recognize the different units. A year ago I switched to a more shiny neon look for the units. This made it much clearer to see but it didn’t work with the map. I tried rendering the map in Black and White and this made the game totally look like a high tech control centre. I’m really happy with the look now. Players can still use the colored map if they prefer.
As the game is a slower strategic experience I picked mellow music. High adrenaline rock music would jar with the more abstract view of the battle field.
Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?
You have to believe in your game. That can be very tough as you get very little feedback. Even with the demo version I found it hard getting feedback from people. This means you are working for years not knowing whether people will like it. Fortunately the early indications are that people do like it and many play the game for over twenty hours.
How did you go about funding War, the Game and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
I was able to self fund. This is where it is an advantage to work by yourself. Fixed costs are very low. It is very tough to release an Indie game and get some coverage. I would not recommend people just entering the industry to go Indie. It is an easier life getting a job with a big developer. At least you get paid and you still get to work with people who love games. After a few years when you know the ropes you can still go Indie.
Tell us about the process of submitting War, the Game to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.
I submitted to steam but the game is still stuck in the Greenlight process. Your game needs to attract a certain number of Yes votes to be invited to be released on Steam. The problem is (I think) that a lot of people won’t even consider a strategy game so that that it is hard to get the required number of votes. War, the Game has about 80% of the votes required at the moment. I went with Desura and those guys are great. They test the game and publish it within days. They have this new thing where players don’t need the desura client to purchase a game. They can purchase through a simple link from the games site (warthegame.net in my case). Desura also does this thing where they cut their commission (which is considerably lower than Steams already) by half if the buyer comes in from a website run by the developer. Super fair.
Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?
I did. Mid range strategy games usually sell for around $19.99. War, the Game is focusing more on the game play mechanics and less on graphics. This is why the price should be a bit lower than $19.99. I went for the ridiculously low price of $4.99 as I like to give people a good deal and I want to build up a community quickly. When this happens I am planning to stick in a multiplayer game (free for existing gamers)
Can you tell us why you chose to release a demo for War, the Game?
I wanted feedback on the game play and I wanted to find the bugs before the release of the game.
How important is it to get instant feedback about War, the Game from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
It is important but very hard to get feedback. In my opinion a better way to get feedback is to invite people to play the game so that you can look over their shoulder and take notes. I did a lot of that.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review War, the Game professionally?
A lot. Reviewers sit down and give a game a good test. Not just first impressions but also the substance of a game. How is the AI, difficulty curve, controls. All the things that make a game fun but are not obvious in the first few minutes. Reviewers play a lot of games and are in a good position to compare a game with the direct competition. (Although in the case of ‘War, the Game’ I don’t think there is an obvious competitor)
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 consider the current price of War, the Game a bargain and I am not planning to drop it any time soon. If a game cannot get any sales under its own steam I guess the bundles can be useful I suppose.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
‘War, the Game’ does not use DRM. That is ok for a relatively cheap game as most players are decent enough to pay a few dollars rather than pirating. Unfortunately for full priced titles publishers need some form of DRM. It really is a shame when it makes things hard for the legitimate gamer. Blame the pirates, not the publisher.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos and receiving monetization of War, the Game?
I had never even considered that. People extending the ‘War, the Game’ community and making a buck doing it are welcome to do so.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
DLC is a great way to extend the life time of a game. It also allows the publisher to get additional revenue from gamers that are really into their game. I only wished publishers would wait a bit longer with DLC. It is annoying when you buy a relatively new game and you are already 2 DLCs behind.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for War, the Game?
This is a particularly charged question for me. I used to be in favor of leaving everything open to allow modders to have fun with the game. Then ‘Hot Coffee’ happened. Now big games will close up everything as best they can.
In the case of War, the Game I would not have a problem with people producing new levels, units, planets or whatever.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
To make it, you have to have an idea that really stands out. Join Steam and spend a day going through the projects on Greenlight. Ask yourself whether your project would stand out in the crowd. Magazines/Web sites see so many games that they will only look at games that are very close to release. In other words; be prepared to finish your game before getting any attention. Kickstarter is a great reality check. If your project can stand out there it can stand out upon release. If you think you have the next Minecraft and you don’t mind living off of baked beans for a couple of years then go for it. Shaping your own project is very exciting.