Being based in the Bay Area, we've been lucky enough to get to know and become friends with a lot of great independent game developers like Gaijin Games and Team Meat. But what is even nicer is to meet up-and-coming game designers as they aspire to success. We recently met a group of local University of Santa Cruz game designers, who are currently working on a fun, co-op based game known as Siegebreakers. We had a chance to talk with Tyler Soberanis (Creative Director), Conrad Nelson (Cinematography Director) and Ajay McCaleb (Technical Director) about the game and their recently launched Kickstarter campaign. Before we get to the interview, since it is kinda long, please check-out their KickStarterpage; download the demo, and if you like what you see, why not throw a few bucks their way?
- What's your game called and what's it about?
[Tyler]: Our game is called Siegebreakers. The Siegebreakers are a team of dwarven mercenaries who hire themselves out to defend castles from furious waves of goblins. It's up to you to make sure the king survives (or you don't get paid).
- How many people are involved in creating Siegebreakers?
[Ajay]: The Siegebreakers are composed of: 11 programmers, 7 artists, 2 composers, and one sound designer. Beyond our core team, we've also had the honor and privilege of production and consulting from: Industry legends John and Brenda Romero and UCSC's Computer Science Chair and founder of the Game Design program Jim Whitehead.
- What inspired you to make Siegebreakers?
[Tyler]: Siegebreakers draws from a lot of inspiration. From the start, we wanted to make a co-op game you could play with your friends on the living room couch, helping each other, shouting at each other, and having a blast. The goal of creating that experience drives every aspect of Siegebreakers' design.
We have also drawn inspiration from many of our favorite games. We built a destructible tile-based map like those in Minecraft and Terraria so the players could be creative and create really cool castles and defense strategies. It's also great fun to watch the castle get blasted to rubble as the goblin waves get stronger and stronger. For the combat system and artistic style of the game, we looked to Castle Crashers, a favorite in light-hearted button-mashing couch co-op. A sense of humor is really important in games like these, and we've really embraced that. One of the traps you can build is a jack-in-the-box that shoots out a boxing glove on a spring when an enemy gets in range. There's something satisfying about watching a goblin climb up a wall, get punched in the face by a boxing glove, and fall into a pit full of explosive barrels.
Of course, for a game about dwarfs defending fortresses it's impossible not to mention Dwarf Fortress in its list of inspirations. Strike the earth!
- What's the coolest aspect of Siegebreakers?
[Ajay]: To me, the coolest aspect is actually a blend of multiple aspects. In particular, Siegebreakers as a game design blends together the best aspects of tower defense, hack 'n' slash, and exploration games in a seamless fashion. On the technical side, Siegebreakers is a showcase of 4-player dynamic split screen as well as a fresh take on problem-solving AI. Most games that have some innovative element usually do just that one thing well. The fact that Siegebreakers shows technical innovation with a solid game design behind it is ultimately the best aspect of the game.
- How did you ensure the multiple-screen mechanic wouldn't be confusing for players?
[Conrad]: The camera actually went through several complete re-do cycles as we tested a few different fundamental approaches. We started with something much more like a traditional split screen system that combined and split viewports, but quickly found that it was disorienting to change views without preserving on screen position of the players. After a few attempts at making it work despite that flaw, wet ended up scrapping the entire concept and redesigning the system around the idea that no camera change should ever change the on screen position of a player. After several more refinements, we ended up with what you see in the game today.
[Tyler]: The dynamic split screen camera went through a ton of prototypes and failed experiments, so we learned a lot about what doesn't work. We found that the most important thing to making the camera smooth and easy to follow was to ensure that the players' locations on the screen never jumped. That is, you should be able to put your finger on the screen at your character's location and you should be able to smoothly follow your character's movement without suddenly teleporting to a different location on the screen. Ensuring that this is always true for all players when cameras are merging, splitting, panning and zooming was the tricky part. We're really happy with the solution we've found, and we think it really improves split screen play, though it may take some getting use to for new players.
In the very worst case, the dynamic split screen camera can simply be disabled in favor of traditional split screen, so you'll never be stuck with a camera that you feel makes things worse.
- What made you decide to release on Xbox Live, and are you worried the impending next-gen console launch will hurt your sales?
[Ajay]: And this is the part where you get a long marketing story. After some consulting with Brenda Romero and Chris Jurney (one of the programmers on Bastion), we we're highly considering scrapping the Xbox port of the game. part of this is due to the fact that because we are a student team, Microsoft will not provide us with an actual XDK. This limits us to using the XNA Framework and publishing on the Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace, which most of us know is primarily filled with shovelware. Looking more at this fact, sticking exclusively to PC/Mac/Linux ports would prohibit players from getting the full experience of Siegebreakers, that being on the couch with your friends and observing the 4-player dynamic split screen. To preserve this experience, we basically have no choice but to release to XBLIG.
In regards to the next-gen console launch, we aren't extremely worried about it hurting sales. In particular, with the Xbox One, Microsoft wants the Xbox One and Xbox 360 to exist in the market in parallel for awhile, while the Xbox One is still defining its library. Furthermore, since we're anticipating more sales on the PC end, it wouldn't be likely that the next-gen console launch could hurt an unrelated market.
- Siegebreakers will also be coming to PC/Linux/Mac. Will it launch the same-time as XBLA and how will it be distributed (e.g. Steam)?
[Ajay]: All our launch dates are intended to be the same, but will ultimately depend on the Steam Greenlight process as well as the approval process for XBLIG. Distribution will be through Steam and the XBLIG marketplace. However, considerations of distributing physically and providing the Xbox 360 Wireless Adapter for PCs is also being considered.
- Your Kickstarter page for the game just recently launched. What are your thoughts with regards to how services like Kickstarter have changed and will continue to change the way games are made?
[Ajay]: In my opinion, services like Kickstarter do have an impact on the production process, but in terms of the actual procedures of game-creation, Kickstarter doesn't actually affect it that much. In particular, when making a game, you first would come up with an idea, refine that idea into a pitch you could give to a publisher. Assuming they like the pitch, you would then begin prototyping the game, refining the core of it in each prototype. Finally, after it gets greenlit and actual production begins, one would then begin building the fundamental systems of the game and integrating them together to something that can be playtested. With a playtestable version of the game, next would come refinements on art to give something more presentable.
At this point is where services like Kickstarter would change the production schedule because the next push would be a media push to get the game out to the world, asking for funding for the last bits of polish (as we are doing). Assuming services like Kickstarter didn't exist, at this point in production, one would either continue their production cycle in hopes of not losing funding, or just stop the project because they ran out of funding.
- Sell Siegebreakers in one sentence.
[Ajay]: At the risk of this being a run-on sentence, Siegebreakers is what happens when you take tower defense strategies, mold it with the exploration of Terraria, glue this to the gameplay of a hack-n-slasher, coat this with a gameplay and aesthetic layer of Castle Crashers, and present it all in a package of awesome, known as 4-player dynamic split screen.
- Anything else you want to say?
[Ajay]: As of this writing, our kickstarter campaign has reached its 10k goal and were now researching into some awesome stretch goals with the additional funds. The challenge to find our secret level is still on! Get to exploring!
We would like to thank the guys for the taking the time to chat with us and wish them the best of luck with their game. I've gotten a chance to play the demo myself and I had a lot of fun with it. Last but certainly not least, there is a very good chance that Siegebreakers may be participating in Level Up's Video Game Art Exhibit on July 5th. Stay tuned for an official announcement.