Droqen is a talented developer, responsible for the frustratingly excellent Probability 0 and Fishbane but as you will hear, the Darth Vader of videogame development, lack of motivation, continues to torment its victims.
Bonus link at the end of the interview.
My real name is Alexander Martin, and my consistent internet moniker is Droqen.
I’m 19 years old. Just so you can stay up-to-date, I was born in 1991.
Development tool(s) of choice?
In terms of language: Python is my absolute favourite, but unfortunately it’s not really the best for distribution. Actionscript 3 is pretty decent, although I’ve never used it without FlashPunk (except for my very brief bout with Flixel). With Python, if I’m making games, I use Pyglet.
What do you do?
I love this question! (because in its simplicity I ask it all the time). I make games and I go to school (computer science). I bike to places, climb trees, and balance on things for the hell of it. I make games and would love to continue making games all of the time but sometimes I can’t motivate myself (even when I really want to!).
Give me some background, regarding your journey into becoming a game developer?
When I was maybe four or five years old, I made levels with the editor for Doom II. That was definitely my first foray into the world of ‘making game things’. Later, I learned how to use Visual Basic (this was when I was about 10) with the help of my dad. I later discovered Game Maker which allowed me to make a large number of incomplete games, and sometime I also discovered N (by Metanet Software) whose editor probably helped me out a lot in terms of practicing level design.
From there, my grade 11 and 12 computer science classes helped usher me into a golden age of ‘making real games in real programming languages’. First was Visual Basic (again), and next came Java. I learned C# with XNA thanks to its similarity to Java, then I learned Python all on my own.
I’ve for a while now considered myself terribly good at programming, but somehow I picked up pixeling and music-creating skills along the way.
Your first released game was Probability 0. How did this come about?
1. I wanted to make a shmup + platformer hybrid game. The idea was that you’d have to jump around on platforms while shooting at enemies above you, to create a shmup with more environmental interaction — that’s where the original star throw ability came from, and where the infinite scrolling came from.
2. I realized that when a game has platforms for you to climb, especially infinite platforms, it becomes the focus. The screen is always applying pressure to climb, climb, climb! Most games scroll to the sides, and so I thought a falling game could be an interesting change. I introduced falling damage, as I didn’t want players to be able to drop mindlessly through levels.
3. Finally, after making a prototype and realizing that I could create interesting landscapes through very simple means, I worked on adding a variety of interesting enemies (I tried to make them interesting, anyway). I added bosses. I added abilities, doing my best to avoid ability prerequisites that didn’t make any sense. Abilities over leveling up and gaining statistics was a very important decision. (I could elaborate on the design of the abilities, but I won’t here!)
Probability 0 was downloadable, while for your second release, Fishbane was online and sponsored. Why the change in approach between the first and second game - was it purely to earn some money from doing something that you like or were there other factors?
After running into so many problems with the distribution of Probability 0 (where do I upload it? how do I get people to download a 10MB game? what do I do if they’re having problems with Python or necessary packages? the list goes on.) I decided to take a look at Flash — I believe someone had also just told me about Chevy Ray’s project, FlashPunk, which piqued my interest. I tried it over Flixel (which at the time had no tutorial for setting up FlashDevelop, the good and free Flash IDE! That’s probably the main reason I didn’t try it back then) and fell in love.
Money didn’t really come into the equation before I was already making Fishbane, and once it was done I realized I could either release it for free, or wait just a little while and make some money from a sponsor.
Online, sponsored games generally seem to get a whole lot more exposure then downloadable games with Fishbane probably getting many more plays (currently at 118,171 views on Newgrounds) then Probability 0. Do you find the extra exposure to be more rewarding? Do you also receive more feedback from players when it comes to browser games?
The extra exposure is definitely more rewarding. The feedback I get from browser game players has not really been too different — just more voluminous. They do seem somewhat easier to please, though (which makes sense since they only opened a web page, and didn’t have to download a file, unzip it, open it up…). The best thing about games in browsers is I feel I’m excluding nobody (the “download crowd” will probably still play a good browser-based game). Make a downloadable game and it simply is not as easily cross-platform as browser games usually are.
Was sponsorship a pleasant process for your first time around?
It took way too long! I wasted a lot of time with some flash game sponsorship bidding website, and eventually I simply started sending e-mails out to sponsors all over the place. It’s definitely an area I’m still somewhat uncomfortable with, and it’s a place to tread carefully — how do you know what your game is worth, especially when a sponsor prefers it not yet be released?
When developing a game that you plan to have sponsored, are there any design decisions that you have to think about or features that you might not be able to include?
I almost never consider how a game will be marketed or who might sponsor it, which might not be the best business attitude — but I’m not a businessman. I’m a game maker, a game lover, and I always will be. Being free to hunt sponsorship is another thing entirely, though, and I do enjoy the fact that I can make decent money off of releasing a game for free. Even if I had no distribution woes with Python, I might stick to Flash for that fact. (I can make money but still allow everyone to play the game for free. It is truly a miracle of science!)
Fishbane generally seemed to garner pretty positive responses overall, although there was a little bit of negative feedback, regarding the difficulty. Do you take negative feedback to heart and do you make compromises because of it?
I do take negative feedback to heart, although I’m careful not to take it without a grain of salt. I wouldn’t make Fishbane easier for the world (still only 127 people in the entire world have completed the last and most terrible quest) — what I would do, though, is perhaps make it a little less initially impenetrable. I feel like I may have tried too hard to retain a sense of wonder and discovery; I explicitly avoided telling the player about the main mechanic of the game, in the hopes that he or she would discover it and feel the same magic I did when I first ‘discovered’ the concept.
In the time you have spent in game development, what do you think are the most important lessons you have learned so far?
This is a hard question!
I’ve never finished making a game by planning it out. I don’t know if this means I should try planning a bigger game out, to break out of this, but prototyping is definitely important. Don’t design a game and stick firmly to your plan if the basic concept doesn’t turn out to be fun!
Learn from your mistakes (but that’s just a general life lesson I’ve learned).
Here goes; this is the most important lesson: If you want to make games, make games. Just make them. If you’re trying to make a game and it’s not working, make a different game because trying to make a game is not the same as making a game.
Name some of your influences?
Metanet Software (who I have now met because we live in the same city!) is a big one.
System Shock 2, which defeated me as a child but which I eventually bested. This game rocks, and Bioshock was somewhat of a disappointment (but to be fair, my standards were set a bit high).
Uh… you’d think a game developer would have more inspirations, wouldn’t you? I’m trying to figure out what exactly is an ‘inspiration’ and what are just ‘games I enjoyed a lot’.
Things I’ve enjoyed: 3d maneuvering in Mirror’s Edge (fps platforming is the best thing ever), Drypoint (more fps platforming), and Counterclockwise (3d lightcycles). 2d platforming cool stuff in Cave Story, Spelunky, and Iji. (also, of course, N.) Things of a Party nature in the Etrian Odyssey series, Dwarf Fortress, and X-Com (even though I am terrible at it, and always very impatient when I play it).
What gives your motivation a kick?
A small number of people who really like the game (as revealed one by one in person or over the internet) or even better who understand it (I’m not entirely convinced I’m making sense), are worth more to me than thousands or millions of plays. Traffic to my website is kind of cool also, because at least some of the time it means someone was interested enough by my game that they wanted to see other things of mine (I need to add more interesting content to my website, though).
This comment very near the bottom, by ‘Tom 7’, made that entire project for me. Seeing all the care he put into that map, knowing what he got out of the experience and all of the things he tried…
Do you currently consider game development a hobby? If so, is it something you would like to take more seriously in the future (in terms of making a living)? Is the sponsorship route a viable one?
I don’t know what I consider it! I definitely consider sponsorship a viable route. My productivity just isn’t quite at the level I’d like it to be at just yet. Creating games until the end of time would make me very happy (as far as I can tell so far anyway).
Many I know who make games have expressed a lack of desire to live off of game money, their reasoning being the money will end up driving their development greedily; they’ll start changing their ideas out of desperation, creating bad games that are easy to make and which will appeal to ‘the masses’ (not a direct quote or anything). I don’t have that fear, but on the other hand I may just be naive. If I’m going to create my own games for a living, I won’t let the promise of money force my hand into doing anything. To me, a game will never be a product.
(Like I said earlier, I am definitely not a businessman and I will probably one day lose out thanks to that unless I change my mind somewhere in the future. Oh well).
Bonus page: Abandoned project snaps.