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An interview with Vince D. Weller

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An interview with Vince D. Weller

Interview - posted by JarlFrank on Wed 23 April 2008, 18:18:43

Tags: Iron Tower Studio; The Age of Decadence; Vince D. Weller

1. How long has the idea of AoD been germinating? Has it been a long time dream project you one day decided to actively pursue, or did the idea to develop an indie RPG come first with specifics coming later?

The idea to make an indie RPG came first. One day Interplay decided to kill BG3, FO3, and Black Isle without consulting with me first and that created a big void in my schedule. So, I started tinkering with a game...

2. With the idea formed in your mind, how did you actually go about developing it? How did you recruit your team, and what difficulties did you face in doing so? How did you approach technical concerns, such as choice of engine and tools?

I've started with the setting, main story overview, and major design elements (character system, combat, multiple ways to handle quests, non-linearity, etc). I didn't do all the quests or ways to solve them, of course. I'm talking about the concept phase here. For example, one way to keep the main quest non-linear is to have multiple factions interested in it. These factions shouldn't want the same thing as that would make your choice of a faction less important. So, they should want different things which would give you different reasons to pursue the main quest and would require you to make very different decisions once you are at the end of your journey. At the same time you can't be sent to several different directions at once, so your final destination should be able to offer and support different outcomes, etc. In other words, you develop the frame of a game first and then fill it in with the actual content.

Then I showed what I had to a few hand-picked Codex members and asked to tear it apart. Find flaws, stupidity, weak spots, underdeveloped spots, missed opportunities, and criticize the fuck out of it until what's left was rock solid.

THEN I started looking for an engine. I tried at least 6 different engine demos and talked to several indie developers. At some point Zero-Sum's Matt Williams offered me Prelude to Darkness' engine. I've played with the engine a bit, modded the starting town, trying different things with quests and dialogues, but in the end it didn't work out and I had to look for another engine.

That's when Nick saw discussions about the game's design at the Codex and eventually offered to join me on my holy quest. Nick's a talented programmer (I hate strong words, but he's very, very good at it. His skills turned a lot of my dream features into reality.) He was working on another indie RPG project at that time, but as it often happens, his teammates started losing interest and dedication once the project moved beyond the concept phase. Nick brought with him a 2D engine he wrote and the rest you know. Eventually we had to switch to Torque Game Engine, which greatly improved the reaction to our screenshots.

Vince was nice enough to send along a few screenshots - both of the old and the new engine

Once we started working with the engine, similarly minded people noticed our efforts and joined the team. So, either the "if you build it, they will come" principle actually works or I was lucky enough to attract very dedicated and skilled guys.

3. You have a team that spans the globe and no physical office space to work in. How do you handle the challenge of communication? Do you have a regular routine of online chats? What role do email and forums play? How you you conduct and resolve ongoing design discussions?

Actually, it's a great way to make games and I hope it would become a trend. I've noticed that Ossian Studio is using the same model:

"Is it difficult to bring together developers from different parts of the world and/or the US?

Alan Miranda: I think working remotely over the Internet, as is our setup at Ossian, has an excellent advantage over moving people to an office at a central location. For example, not everyone is able to move, or is even interested in moving to a new and particular location. Working from home also has a tremendous advantage, in that you get to work in your most comfortable environment. And being able to hire people from anywhere in the world allows Ossian to hire the best the world has to offer.

It's not a simple thing to do, and definitely more difficult than a bunch of people getting together in one office every day. But after two projects, we've definitely made it work and are continuing to improve our tools and methods for remote development. As a cohesive team though, we come together very well, which is a sharp contrast to the first few months of Daggerford's development in the Spring of 2005 where finding the right people for the team, and then having them keep in touch and working well together, was a challenge."

As for the IT way, I hate chats with passion and prefer "turn-based", detailed email communications. There are plenty of free and easy to use tools like gmail shared documents (and Excel is a great program to make maps), but Nick wants to make something uber and extreme for the next project (assuming AoD sells something).

How do we conduct discussions? Simple:


4. More importantly, when it comes to the production/project management side of things, how do you manage and share your resources? Do you have a CMS repository, version control and the whole nine, or does your small team make it simpler to leave content management in the hands of Nick for code, Oscar for art, and so forth? Do you have a bug tracking database, or again, is the team small enough to do without?

A bit of both. Nick has made an SVN repository thingy out of an old kitchen sink, flashlight, and some fridge parts. We use Excel to manage bugs and content, so if we can't find a way to kill a bug, we add it to the content page. Since we practice narrow specialization, each developer is responsible for his own key area and we don't need to co-ordinate different aspects of the same area with different developers.

5. On a related note, even though the "when it's done" mantra has always been applied to release date speculation, how do you approach task management? Do you set milestones? Do you simply prioritise certain features and watch them all fall together? Given that you all have busy lives outside of your fly by night operation, how do you collectively push yourselves and each other to get the work done?

I don't think we have to push ourselves. Making this game is an important project for all of us. It's our chance to establish ourselves as game developers and make games for a living. What goal is more important for avid gamers?

As for the task management and milestones, we go step by step, like playing with legos. So the first major chunk is a fully working combat system. It requires:

- character system

- combat mechanics, including the armor and weapon systems
- models
- animations (attacks, hits, idle, blocks, walking, running, death animations, etc)
- AI (for example, what happens when an NPC scores a critical hit and sends you flying: does he advance or does he switch to ranged; what's the criteria (distance, to hit chance, etc), and so on;
- programming to put it all together

It's a huge task, but at the same time it's very specific. Tasks are clearly defined and manageable. Then you move to "the first playable area", etc.

6. With your initial concept in mind, how much has changed along the way? Obviously the change to a 3D engine would be the most significant overhaul, but have most or all aspects of the game "evolved" from how you had first pictured the game? Is there anything you consider to be absolutely set in stone, never-to-be-changed feature wise?

I don't consider anything to be absolutely set in stone (other than the major design decisions like choices & consequences, isometric, turn-based, non-linearity, etc). As for the game concepts' evolution, that's a natural process. The character system has gone through 5 revisions, the weapon system was tweaked twice, text adventure elements were added later, combat was originally non-lethal a-la Gothic, faction quests' design was changed completely, etc. It's not a different game, but it's a much, much better game now.

7. Now, a question interesting for potential future indie game producers: How did and do you finance the game?

So far I've spent 10-12k on the game. I make enough money to afford it, so it's not an issue. A game can be produced with much less, so don't let the lack of money stop you.

8. 10,000 dollars seems like quite a large sum. What did you spend all that money for?

Promotional events (booze & hookers).

No, 10k isn't a big amount. Well, it is if you're going shopping, but from a business point of view, especially game development, it's nothing. What did we spend it on? Engine and two kits, concept art, music, website design, registering a business, hosting (when we released the combat video, the bandwidth went through the roof and we were paying 50 bucks a month for a few months just to keep up with the demands), PC upgrades, and just helping out my team mates when they needed it.

9. The whole indie game developing sounds really interesting to me, and seems to offer a good chance for someone with great ideas. So, what would you suggest a young indie developer who has an idea and wants to start his own project? Any good advices, or any things that one should *not* do?

Just do it. Don't think about it, just do it. Don't delay it untill tomorrow or next week or next month. Don't tell yourself that you can't do it, that you are just one guy, that you can't possibly actually make an game. Go and try some engines today, find what you can work with and start hammering. Step by step. Day after day. If an engine is way above your head, get a toolkit. Etc.

Look at how much Gareth the one man band has accomplished. We chat often and I really respect the guy, his vision, and his dedication. I'm willing to bet anything that he will finish the game and will turn his passion for games into a great career.

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