Good news, everyone! This week’s Sunday Sidebar is alive and amazing as ever. I spoke to Andy Moore of Radial Games, a great company all the way out in the wind-swept climes of Vancouver Island. They’re currently working on a really interesting game called Monster Loves You. Read on to find out more!
Hey, so how many are on the Radial Games team?
Hey! My name is Andy Moore, and I’m an independent videogame developer. I make games for fun without much regard for money. I am the sole full-time employee. I hire contractors, and do contract work at times myself, and I do a lot of partnerships. Flying under the Radial banner have been probably around 30 or 40 people, but it’s just me as a primary.
How did you get into videogames development?
My best friend in high school was Colin Northway. He and his wife travel the world making games – correction: hit games. So he created the game Fantastic Contraption, which did quite well. I was helping him on the project, doing community management and a tiny bit of level design, things like that. He went to GDC and took me with him, and that kind of changed my life. I thought to myself ‘Oh hey, I could do this too!’
It also helps that he made a game pretty quickly without too much headache, and then it was pretty successful, so hearing that inspiring story first-hand, and being a part of it, kinda inspired me to want to do the same thing.
I’d never done any graphical programming before. The beauty of PHP and SQL is that they are entirely text-based – no images, no sounds, nothing like that. I had no idea how to start making a game, unless it was maybe a text-based adventure game [laughs]. I decided to give myself a challenge because I work best under deadlines. I gave myself thirty days.
I still had my day job, but said ‘I am going to make a game in thirty days, from start to finish.’ I told my girlfriend that if I wasn’t finished within thirty days, she could throw my laptop into the ocean, because for these thirty days, I was not only making a game, but learning how to make a game. I had no-one to reach out to, no-one to help me with this. I had my back to her for the entire month. But I pulled it off! I made a game called Space Squid, this little squid jumping around in a fish tank, trying to collect star fish. I made it in Flash, because it has a whole bunching of rendering built into it, so I didn’t have to think about the graphics too much. That enabled me to skip a whole portion of development, and to create the game pretty quickly. I gave a presentation on Space Squid at the Flash Gaming Summit a little while ago. It was made back in 2009. It probably generated about $20 in profit, and cost me $60 in hosting fees – I think that qualifies as a failure. But I kept going. I decided to keep making games, and so I do!
How was the Indie Megabooth for you?
Indie Megabooth is amazing… It makes it so possible. It allowed me to have a booth without thinking about it. It allowed me to cut corners – to cheat, essentially. I signed my name on a piece of paper, made a few small decisions, and bam – I was at PAX. I’ve had a lot of success with games in the past, but I’ve never actually show-cased something in public before. I’d done a lot of speaking at all sorts of developer-centric events, but I’d never put something on display for a crowd. That was overwhelming. I went in with all sorts of pessimism, particularly because PAX is so action-oriented – you look around and you see all these booths, and one of them had an airplane hanging from the ceiling, and there’s all these crazy big props and stadium seating, and then there’s me, with my table.
The game I was showcasing was Monster Loves You which is kind of a text-adventure, so it felt so out of place, and I was so, so nervous about it, but I was also super-duper excited and impressed with the people that came to my booth. That level of appreciation was a huge shot in the arm. It was exactly what I needed for the project. I felt that my game was ‘niche’, and to have the experience be special to people was great.
I didn’t approach it with live-playtesting in mind, but the biggest thing I learned was how appreciative people could be of my game. I have already signed up for PAX East, and I’m considering going to PAX Australia if I can scrape together the funds.
“I did a bit of introspection: What kind of games did I really enjoy?”
You’ve described Monster Loves You as ‘A tamagotchi immersed in a choose-your-own-adventure’. What inspired you and Ichiro (Lambe, Dejobaan) to combine these two?
We were hanging out at this indie development retreat in Vermont, and I went to PAX East after that. Ichiro’s based out of Boston, so I was there, and we were talking about making a game together. I’m getting sick of all the headshot simulators. It seems like more and more games are becoming headshot simulators. Even in top-down RPGS, you can headshot people. Does it always have to be about conflict and violence, in that setting? Does it have to be humans being mean to other humans? Can’t we change it up a little bit?
So I did a bit of introspection: What kind of games did I really enjoy? I used to enjoy The Sims, and I briefly toyed around with a tamagotchi, and just about everyone in my age-group can look back to Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) novels and obsessing over them when we were young. All of those are valid experiences, why is nobody making anything like these anymore? So we said, ‘Okay, let’s make a choose your own adventure!’ I really wanted to make a CYOA where you world create and explore a world through text, rather than visuals, because I believe text allows more for imagination. Then, to make it a bit more of a game, instead of an interactive fiction, I added some tamagotchi-esque elements: trackable stats, but more than just ‘sleepiness’, ‘hunger’, or whatever. There about forty of those, so it’s almost more of a simulator. It adds a bit of depth. So now we can lead up to you, for instance, building up flying stats so you can fly across a chasm.
The demo build at PAX was, like the titular monster, in its infancy. How is it coming along?
At PAX, we only had the introductory ten-minute character creator ready. People had a great time with it, so now we’re working on fleshing out the rest of the game that comes after. There’s more movement in the game, so now it looks more like a point-and-click than the fixed images in the demo. You have a house that you can place objects in, and you can interact with items in your inventory.
What engine are you using for it?
It’s completely home-made. I don’t think there’s any existing engine that will solve all of our needs. It’s called BOA. It’s a narrative-based adventure engine that I’m hoping to release open source after the launch of the game. So hopefully we’ll be seeing more games from a variety of other developers that use the same engine.
It’s written in a relatively new programming language, Haxe, which is totally cross-platform and open source.
“I want this game to be more akin to sitting down and reading a book, exploring a narrative.”
Have you considered any multiplayer components? I see great Pokémon potential here.
I’m not excluding it, but it’s unlikely for this game. I want this game to be more akin to sitting down and reading a book, exploring a narrative. What we did toy with at PAX was hooking up two controllers and thinking about how one person could play a ‘quest helper’ role, enabling a multiplayer on the couch. I think it’s out of scope if we want to launch on time, but I’d love to do something like that in the future, maybe for a sequel or a content pack or something.
I’m interesting in working on more multiplayer games, but they are so much harder to make.
In the demo build, the monster didn’t change. Will the final product have a visual evolution to the player’s creature in response to their choices?
It’s might change, but when you grow up you go through a transformation into an adult. At that point, players can choose from several different monster body types: the spiky monster or the gelatinous blob, for instance. After that, there are a variety of eyes, arms, legs and other appendages which will change over time, and so if you juggle a lot, you might grow extra arms, for example.
How long do you expect a typical playthrough to last? Is it something to be consumed in one sitting, or over a few days/weeks?
Considering that the character creator is ten minutes, I think the gameplay experience should be at least ten hours. I want it to be long enough that most people will not play through it again. Not because I don’t want them to, but because I want the depth of the content to be such that they’ll be satisfied and content with a single playthrough. I want there to be enough content that you can put it down and pick it up at another time. You could wake up one morning and maybe play through the entire game, like reading a whole novel in a day, but I think people will want to extend it over a week or longer.
What’s your ETA for it right now?
I’m aiming to finish work on the game by the end of November. However, we might want to delay launch a little bit, to do some extra polish and play-testing. We want to launch on the right platforms, and to make sure we’re ready to implement it on those platforms.
Right now we’re looking at releasing on Steam, but I also think the game works and fits very nicely on iPad, but I don’t think we’ll have it ready to launch on iPad. If we release it on other mobile platforms, such as cellphones, that will come after the iPad release.
We have all sorts of potential to work with any platform, thanks to the code flexibility, though. I’d hate to be waiting on the approval of Platform X, otherwise I’m dead. It’s nice to have options.
What’s the developer community like on Vancouver Island?
I live in Victoria. It’s an hour from Seattle and Vancouver. The development industry is most focused within those two cities. That’s where the students are, and so that’s where the studios get founded. I started my own developer group in Victoria, LevelUp, and now we have 250 members, which is pretty big. Microsoft just opened a studio here, and it’s pretty much our only big company. There are a bunch of local studios, indies like myself. There are a few bigger studios, like Kano Games who make Facebook games, who has about 20-30 people. There’s another who make casino games, so they’re a big social game company. I think Zynga might have a secret studio here too, but it’s very small.
“I’m not here to make a million bucks, all I want to do is make the next game.”
What work did you perform on Go Home Dinosaurs?
Remember the retreat I mentioned in Vermont? Well, at that meeting there was this fellow who was saying ‘Oh man, we don’t have anyone that knows PHP or SQL!’ He was kind of tearing his hair out, and I said ‘Well…if you need a hand?’ And through those connections, I found out that they needed someone that knew the backend stuff for the game. Everything on the server, basically. The game has microtransactions, and all of your saved game information, including unlocks, and cards, etc, all of that saves onto the server.
What is most difficult about being an independent developer?
For me, being an independent developer, the problems are two-fold: One is dealing with the stress that comes with not having a steady paycheck. That gets exacerbated if you have kids, a family, or maybe a load of student debt. So I’ve slimmed down my life: I don’t have a car, my girlfriend and I share a single phone. We live cheaply so that we can stretch our money from six months of running costs up to maybe twelve months. [Laughs] I know there are developers who live in bigger cities, and they drive their Hummers to work, and have sushi for lunch, and then they wonder why it’s so hard to be indie, and I have to kinda chuckle at that.
It can go the other way too, though. If we look at Steambirds, that took me a month to fully launch it, and that made me around $45,000 and it’s been played for a collective 4 years of playtime. That feels great, right? I worked on something for a month, and 4 years of play is clocked up on it. It’s a good measure of how many people you’re reaching out to.
If all of my basic needs were taken care of, I would happily distribute all of my games forever for free. I don’t need to sell a game to count myself as a success. I’m not here to make a million bucks, all I want to do is make the next game. My enjoyment comes from making games, and it’s all I want to be able to do. Of course, if I can make a million dollars on a game, then I won’t have to worry about all of this for quite some time!
Finally, what’s your most prized gaming possession?
I hold a lot of things in my head, but I don’t hold on so much to the physical. It’s probably playing the old game Descent, it’s the first 3D shooter, and you’re a little spaceship. Playing that in a LAN party, with Colin Northway alongside me back in high school, and just sitting there and getting that camaraderie and community and the co-op of team play. Those are some of the best gaming moments of my life. Having fun with your friends – that multiplayer, awesome experience – that always sticks me, and it’s something I really badly want to make some day. I want to re-create that.
Monster Loves You is still in development. It is scheduled for launch Winter 2012.