18 October, 2011
Here's another interview with a fellow indie game developer. I asked Dave "Over00" Toulouse some questions about his games, including the newest one he just launched. Read on for an interesting conversation between us.
Dave is an amazing indie game developer and a friend of mine. He's a very persistent and dedicated guy, very humble and practical, the type of person you enjoy spending time chatting with.
He approached me a while ago when he was working on his game Golemizer to get some advice, and we spent a lot of time talking about MMOs. I joke about how he did the impossible, writing an MMO on his own without any previous experience. We later collaborated on The Fae's Wyrd where Dave did much of the programming. Dave's latest game is called Star Corsairs, and I asked him a few questions about the game and his experience as an indie dev.
1. Who are you and what is your background?
My name is Dave Toulouse, I'm 32 years old, I live in from Quebec, Canada and I'm happily married to the girl I started dating when I was 16. I worked in web development for a single employer for about 10 years and started to develop games as a hobby in 2005. I write about games and game development on my blog. This summer the economy knocked on the door and I lost my job. I have decided to use this as an opportunity to work full time on games.
2. What games have you worked on in the past?
My very first game was a turn-based game named Ereptoria which I released in 2005 (I like the name so I'm still keeping the web domain for later just in case). Soon after I released Chasing Tortoise which is surprisingly still online today. The ideas behind these games were not that bad but back then I wasn't quite sure about what I was doing.
In 2007 I decided to be a bit more serious about game development and started to work on my first MMO Golemizer which I released a year later. This was the best learning experience I had. Following Golemizer I worked on two games, Blimp Wars (browser-based multiplayer game) and Dungeon of Loot (pseudo MMO/roguelike), which I took offline; I was trying to do too much and not doing very good at it.
And finally here comes Star Corsairs my latest project!
3. You seem to like developing MMOs. For the love of all that is good, why? Why not something easier like curing cancer?
Simply because that's what I enjoy to do at the moment! Well at first I was like everyone else and said "oh! I have this cool idea for a MMO". The problem is that I actually created that MMO and became addicted to development in a way.
I like how MMOs have a life of their own. They just don't sit there as players always push them further. I enjoy witnessing players interact with these games on a daily basis. It becomes a small part of their lives and they color the game with their personalities. At one point you look at the MMO you created and think "Wow! I can't believe the game I created became this!". That's a great feeling to have.
Starting with MMOs with no experience surely isn't easy and I surely can't recommend to go that way... But I also won't be the one to tell others they should start with something easier if they don't enjoy doing so. Do I feel sometimes that it's a lot of trouble for mixed results? Yes of course! Do I think I would regret not giving it a try? Yes of course! As long as I enjoy what I do I'll keep doing it difficult or not. Who knows. Maybe one day I'll feel like trying to cure cancer!
4. What is Star Corsairs? Why is it better than every other game ever made?
Star Corsairs is a browser-based space MMO in which players must protect humanity from aliens (or from themselves if they chose). It features PvE public mission, complete customization of spaceships with player crafted components, opt-in PvP, mining, alliances and fully open space exploration.
Just like Golemizer I want Star Corsairs to be a sandbox game. I want players to feel like they can chose their destiny and have a real impact on the game. The upcoming features (like alliance controlled space stations) will push this way further. I'm careful about making comparisons with EVE Online (as I'm quite aware that EVE is at a completely different level) but since EVE is known as the space sandbox MMO there's no escaping it. EVE is definitely an inspiration but I want Star Corsairs to be enjoyable to people who can't invest as much time as others playing EVE Online. I loved the concept of EVE but never really played it mostly because of its hardcore feel, so Star Corsairs is basically my answer to that. I often hear the same thing from other people so this might just be the best game ever made for people who like the idea of a space sandbox game but can't spend their whole life on it! ;)
5. What is the worst thing to have happened during development? The best thing?
The biggest challenge I had was to make sure that player movement was synchronized. Creating a prototype was actually quite simple but things got complicated when I tested with 2 players in the game. I saw that making sure that what player 1 see is the same as player 2 wouldn't be easy. Movement in Golemizer is quite simple as all players can only go in 4 directions at the same speed. In Star Corsairs each spaceship has a different speed, different maneuverability (that makes them turn slower or faster) so I wasn't quite sure how to handle that. Having aliens showing up at the same spot for all players was easy as they only do "go from a to b in a straight line" but I wanted players to feel like they are "flying" and not just moving from a spot to another.
This is the hard part of being self-taught and working alone. What might be trivial for someone else becomes a bad headache for you. I ended up by forcing players to move by a minimum distance equals to the speed of their spaceships instead of giving precise control by the pixel. It might be unusual but in the end it do feels good and made things much simpler.
The best thing was to be able to create a convincing prototype (with client/server) in a day. I decided to go with SmartFoxServer for the server-side, and I can't describe how happy I am that I chose it. It just worked from the moment I installed it. For Golemizer I built the whole server myself and went through many problems because I just didn't have the knowledge to build that properly. I wasn't going to do the same mistake for Star Corsairs and my choice was proven to be right.
6. What is your opinion of free-to-play business models?
As an indie I think it just makes sense. I can't reach as much people as a big studio due to marketing budget and time available toward community awareness. But I still need a core of active players that will bring other players by inviting them or just by playing which make the game feel alive. If I charge them a fixed fee past a trial period then I'd be losing some of this core and that would hurt my capacity to attract new players that might possibly pay.
I have nothing against the subscription model, but I don't quite like not having the choice. Players always have the choice to not play a game requiring a subscription, but it just sounds silly for a developer to exclude people that way. I'd rather spend money to enjoy a game even more I already enjoy than to cancel a subscription to a game I don't enjoy anymore. I also think that F2P offers a more personalized options than subscription games. You can't expect all players enjoying your game to be the same so why not offer them the possibility to reflect that in the way they spend money as well!
7. What lessons would you share with other aspiring indie game developers who want to do game development full-time?
First be careful of any lessons anyone has to share. :) What I really mean is that you need to learn to judge what can and cannot work for you. If it was as simple as taking all the lessons everyone shares and put them together to make something happen, then nobody would ever fail.
So the only lesson I feel I can really share is to make sure you really enjoy what you do. It will be difficult, it will be unfair, you'll be criticized in every possible way, you will fail, you will doubt but if you enjoy what you do then you won't regret any of it. Whether you experience success or failure, at the end of the day the only sure thing is that you have spent time doing something. You will never get back the time you spend, so I guess it's important to enjoy the trip and not to be constantly waiting to reach the destination. It's surely easier to say than do as I have to repeat that to myself all the time but it feels right.
8. Anything else you'd like to share?
Yes! Take good care of people close to you because when it goes wrong (and if it never goes wrong then good for you!) you'll need them. When I look back I am sometimes surprised about all I went through in my very early indie game dev experience even though I can't say I've been very successful... yet. But that's exactly my point. It didn't go quite as hoped even though I worked very hard but I'm still doing it and today I just released another MMO!
I do enjoy what I do, but I'm not sure I would have kept going without the support of some people dear to me. Being indie often means being lonely and there's only so much one can hold on his or her shoulder, so from time to time it's invaluable to be able to share the load. Maybe it's easier for some but in my case I needed it. Besides when you do succeed it's way better to have people to celebrate with!
Thanks for your time!
Anyway, go put Dave's blog in your reader or follow him on Twitter. And, definitely make sure to go check out Star Corsairs! As Dave is a regular reader of my blog, hopefully he'll be around to answer your questions.