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Interview with Rudolf Kremers and Alex May (Dyson Game): Income and Indie gaming does not exclude each other

Eufloria – Screenshot

Rudolf Kremers and Alex May developed the Indie-game named Dyson Games (later renamed to Eufloria due to copyright issues). That is a realtime strategy game with abstract graphics. A lot of people are interested in indie games nowadays and the fanbase is growing steadily. I got the opportunity to interview Rudolf and Alex and ask them what they think of their game, whether there will be a macintosh port soon and if developing indie games is as much fun as people think of it is. Of course I asked them if they think that producing indie games is a more uncommitted way as it is to develop mainstream video games.

Alexander: Do you think that Dyson could bring some new aspects into realtime strategy gaming as a whole?

Rudolf: I think it can to a degree, but when we work on it we don’t have a specific genre in mind. It can easily be argued that Dyson is a 4x game as much as a strategy game for example. To go back to your question though I think one thing that Dyson can do in this regard is show that strategy games don’t have to include certain features that developers always include. The resource management as used in a game like Dune II was in context of the sourcematerial it was based on. Spice resource management WAS a major factor in the book and it made a sense to include it into the game like that. But it doesn’t HAVE to be done in that exact way. I am not saying that Dyson is as awesome as such a classic game though, just that we try thing in our own way, relevant to our own goals and aspirations.

Alex: If we can get people to think about why they put things into their RTS games, instead of just putting them in there because X-Previous-Successful-RTS did, that would be more than we set out to do. We didn’t set out to change anything.

Alexander: Why did you chose such minimalistic visuals for such a complex thing like rts?

Alex: The game was originally made for a procedural generation competition. I decided not to use an artist and do the art in code instead, which fit the theme and reduced the team size which in turn made it easier to work. The graphics are minimal because that’s the easiest way to make something look nice with as few elements as possible, which is a necessity brought about by time pressure. Also, I don’t believe that complex game designs require complex visuals; if you talk to players of Supreme Commander, for instance, you’ll find most of them use a tactical view for most of their commanding. This abstract view uses icons to represent units, so the graphics for the mode in SupCom that most people use is abstract and minimal. I think this kind of visual representation is great for exposing dead game designs that rely on visuals over interaction to involve players. It is also good for rapid prototyping as less time is spent on adding detail to the visuals.
Now that we’re in a phase of development of Dyson where we are sure of more of the game mechanics and where the game is going, we are adding more visual detail that should make the game even nicer to look at, while still keeping that abstract, ambient, minimal style.

Alexander: Dyson gets more and more attention, not only in the spheres of independet gaming (i.e. IGF) but even outside. Do you think that a point could be reached where you would no longer be able to speak of Dyson as an independent product?

Rudolf: Dyson will be a completely independently developed and financed game. 🙂

Alex: We’re both committed indies; we’ve both worked in mainstream games for years and being independent allows us the freedom to make the games we want to make, our way. It’s the very point of it, for us. Personally I am perfectly ready to commit to a future of never being told how to make my game so that it fits whatever market some publisher is gunning for. Marketing is the devil, and unfortunately publisher funding tends to come with those strings attached. Once the product is completed, all we need is distribution, so we won’t need all the services a publisher provides, so we won’t need to use one. Introversion Software have talked about alternatives ((http://www.edge-online.com/blogs/break-tyranny-game-publishers)) to using publishers before, weighing up the cost of each provided service against stand-alone alternatives, and concluding that for self-funded titles it just doesn’t make sense to use them.

Alexander: Would you agree that indies always have to be somehow particular, that is to say different from something we call mainstream? Or can indies as well be inspired and inspiring mainstream?

Rudolf: I think being indie or not has nothing to do with being mainstream or not. To me being independent is that you are able to develop something would being subject to the demands of other parties and without being financially dependent on investors or publishers. I think the particularness of independent games comes from the fact that because of this developers can pursue a vision that is much more personal than games that need to fit the wishes of a marketing department, publisher requirements, or the influence of other developers in a company. Indie teams are often very small and their work is almost by definition more personal, although this doesn’t have to be the case. I just think it is a natural consequence. Mainstream acceptance is not related to this, that is just a matter of the developer choices appealing to a mainstream audience or not.

Alex: Increasingly, ‘mainstream’ game development is outpacing what a small independent team can create without significant funding. It doesn’t make financial sense for a team of less than 10 people to compete with 100-to-300-strong teams making next-gen shooters run at 15fps on current-gen technology, with the latter benefitting from extra press and marketing from the publisher 🙂 What’s the point? When you can innovate, and make your own interesting games, there’s no need to try to break in to a saturated and highly competitive market that is creatively bankrupt, unless you’re a fool. In terms of inspiration, I don’t know. I think anyone can be inspired by anything; for instance an indie team could take inspiration from a mainstream game but still make an interesting and innovative game design out of it, just as a mainstream game might be looking for that particular ‘hook’ and borrow a game mechanic from an indie game. It’s all good 🙂

Alexander: Could you think of monetizing Dyson one day or would it be against the spirit of indie-gaming?

Rudolf: Dyson is in commercial development right now. It is perfectly proper for indies to try to make a living out of their work. 🙂 Look at Braid or World of Goo or Castle Crashers.

Alex: Discussion of the ‘spirit of indie development’ has caused too many flame wars, so I won’t go into it beyond saying that personally I don’t see why freedom from control or funding should also mean freedom from income.

Alexander: Is there a chance that we’ll soon get our hands on a mac port of Dyson?

Alex: When I have time to go through it, yep. In fact some people have already got it working, but until I can get it working for myself, and compile a disk image that definitely works, I can’t officially say that it will work for everyone. I have posted up a note on our download page to this effect. Essentially there’s no reason it shouldn’t be possible given that all libraries in use are mac-ported or written in .NET which can run on Mac under Mono.

Alexander: Another kind of semi-philosophical question: What does the term freedom mean to indie-developers? Are you really free in taking decisions, or are you limited (also referring to question 4) to the duty of being different from mainstream?

Alex: To me, freedom means independence means freedom. Obviously life itself throws many leashes at one, probably the biggest of which is financial. That leash can get pretty tight, so that can affect developmental decisions. But it can also tighten up deadlines, which can be good for development! Our main duty as free independents is to be ourselves.

Rudolf: I feel very similar. To me freedom as an indie developer means that I can be selfsufficient and happy based on the independent output from our own creative process.

Alexander: How long did it take you to develop Dyson? And was it worth it?

Alex: The first version of the game took one month exactly, for the TIGSource procedural generation competition, which was in May 2008. We then worked on the game to a lesser degree until November, when we submitted the game to the IGF. Now we’re working on it whenever we can to get the game ready for the IGF itself, and ultimately to release it as a commercial indie title. It’s been the best game development I’ve ever done, so very much more than worth the effort.

Rudolf: Nothing to add other than that Dyson is such a joyous proccess that it would be worthwhile regardless of any critical acclaim or things like that.

Alexander: What are your future plans? Can you tell us something about the changes you want to make to the User Interface?

Alex: I personally want to focus on making the game more tactile to play, so that it’s less about clicking buttons and drawing arrows, and more about using the mouse pointer as a kind of hand, or finger. We want to reduce the amount of clicking the player does later in the game too. We’ve written up a whole list of things we want to get in to the game for its release, and a lot of these relate to addressing things we see as problems with the game design. Luckily, from what we hear from fans of the game and feedback from people who have played it, these plans seem to fix the problems that most other people have with the game too.

Rudolf: My main focus will be to balance the upcoming mechanics and make more out of the ones we have, Finally we are going to put that into a whole range of levels that maximise the fun to be had from the game. We have some surprises planned and I cannot wait to get on with it. Alex is doing great things coding wise so I have plenty to work on, on the design front.

Thanks to Rudolf and Alex for the interview!

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