Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 6, 2012
Cthulhu Saves the World was the first of the XBox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) RPGs to really catch my attention. As something of a follow-up to Zeboyd Games‘ simpler, unrelated but equally non-serious Breath of Death VII, CStW was an amazing deal at basically two bucks. Both games sold well on XBLIG, and their success enabled them to be accepted on Steam when ported to the PC.
I chatted with half the team – Robert – and learned that we’d both gone to the same university (albeit at different times). I don’t know if he knew this, but the school is located only a few miles from where the original dice-and-paper role-playing game of Lovecraftian horror – Call of Cthulhu – was originally created. Maybe there’s something about Provo / Orem Utah that causes furtive, unnamable thoughts of eldritch, unimaginable horrors between the stars, beneath the depths of the ocean, or behind the corners of strange non-Euclidian geometry? Nonsense, and such thoughts would surely sap me of my sanity should I continue to dwell on them!
Where was I? Oh, yeah! There’s another part of this story. Several years ago, the Penny Arcade guys worked with Hothead Games to create a humorous indie RPG series entitled, “On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.” I only played the first one to completion, and found it amusing. You can read my thoughts on it here. However, the games apparently did not sell as well as anticipated, and the series was abandoned after the second release. This left the overall story arc unfinished (Penny Arcade’s Jerry Holkins even penned the story in prose form for fans to read online, as follow-up episodes were never expected).
Then came the announcement that Zeboyd Games was continuing the series in 16-bit style. The result, On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3, was just released, with a follow-up episode now in development.
Could such a convergence of two events actually signify greater events of eldritch horror and the gloaming of humanity’s brief, piteous stay in the universe? To get to the bottom of this, I caught up with Robert earlier this week and bombarded him with a few questions masquerading as an interview. His responses didn’t resemble the gibberings of a madman, but I leave it to you to decide if these are but innocent responses of one untouched by cyclopean plots of elder beings:
Jay: So let’s start out with an introduction: Who are you, and how did you get your start making indie games?
Robert: My name is Robert Boyd. I started messing around with game creation over 10 years ago but I didn’t seriously get into the indie game scene until 2009 when I started releasing games on the Xbox Live Indie Games service.
Robert: Turn-based console-style RPGs have always been my favorite genre of games to play so of course, it was my first choice when it came to making a full-fledged game. And XBLIG was the first opportunity for individual developers to easily release games on an actual video game system which meant a lot to me – although in recent years, I’ve gravitated more towards the PC, for most of my life I did the vast majority of my game playing on video game consoles.
Jay: And then, what made you decide to mix such a straight-laced genre with humor and parody? ( a concept I personally find ghastly, of course!)
Robert: Because few developers are doing humor and parody! Plus, I find it much easier to write humor than drama.
Jay: You went from XBLIG (any other platforms prior to that) to the PC – principally via Steam. Besides the obvious difference in number of units sold (Steam is kind of a juggernaut that way), can you compare the difference in your experiences making and selling the games for the two different platforms / audiences?
Robert: Steam is much better in pretty much every way. Valve offers help & marketing to indie game developers but otherwise leaves them alone to do their own thing. It’s much easier and quicker to push updates on Steam. And as far as the audience goes, it was nice going from a platform where everything that’s over $1 was considered expensive to a platform where anything $5 and under is considered dirt cheap.
Jay: If you ruled the world, obviously your top priority would be to improve gaming. What would you change on the consoles to improve things for indie developers and for the gamers who might enjoy indie games if only they knew they existed?
Robert: Right now, I think there’s a big gap between XBLIG and XBLA. XBLA caters more to larger companies (who can deal with the sometimes odious licensing requirements & certification process) whereas XBLIG is more for hobbyist and pandering (like all the wannabee-softcore-porn games and clones of popular games). It would be nice if there was a middle ground where small, dedicated developers could get the exposure that they need without being constrained by big company bureaucracy.
Jay: Onto the newest game! It sounded like the “Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness” series was dead and buried. But now Zeboyd has released the first of two (?) sequels to complete the story arc, of a different style (naturally) from the first games. How did that deal come about?
Robert: The Precipice of Darkness series was cancelled by the previous developer after the second game did poorly however Penny Arcade still wanted to finish the series. Unfortunately, they didn’t know how. Then, Robert Khoo at Penny Arcade discovered our first RPG – Breath of Death VII. He asked Jerry Holkins (aka Tycho) what he thought of continuing the series as an 8-bit or 16-bit style RPG. Jerry loved the idea so they contacted us and since we were already big Penny Arcade fans, we happily agreed.
Robert: Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 is a 16-bit style comedy RPG that takes place in a 1920-esque Lovecraftian setting and features strategic turn-based combat with a fun multi-class job system.
Jay: If I’d never played the series before, would RSPoD 3 be a reasonable starting point?
Robert: Definitely. We knew a lot of people would be coming into the series with no previous experience so we did our best to make it so that no prior knowledge was required.
Jay: How much collaboration did you have with Jerry & Mike during this project?
Robert: We didn’t interact much with Mike – after Rain-Slick 1 & 2, he was done working directly on games. He let us know that he liked the way the game was turning out, but that’s about it. However, we worked extensively with Jerry on the dialogue, story, and settings.
Jay: Was it much of a shift working on licensed IP (and a sequel!) as opposed to your own original stuff?
Robert: Actually, there wasn’t much of a shift at all. Our previous game, Cthulhu Saves the World, was also based on someone else’s work (Lovecraft) so really the big difference was that with Penny Arcade, the creators are still alive so they’re around to answer our questions.
Jay: What, in your mind, makes a good RPG?
Robert: The 3 most important things I look for in an RPG (in order of importance) are:
#1 – Interesting gameplay (with a focus on combat & leveling systems).
#2 – Tight pacing.
#3 – Fun story and characters.
Jay: Has making games for a living changed how you view or play them now?
Robert: Yes. Sometimes while I’m playing a game, I’ll see a visual effect or gameplay idea and think of how I would implement that effect or idea in my own code. I’ve also become much less forgiving of filler in games since I’ve started making my own.
Jay: Any words of wisdom for aspiring indie game developers?
Robert: Start making games. You can write all the design documents you want, but until you actually start making and finishing games, you’re not a game developer. And the sooner you start making and finishing games, the sooner you’ll be to making and finishing successful games.
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