Halloween is right around the corner, and I have very few plans besides the usual: scary games and copious amounts of food. I’ve got a new interview to share today with you all: a new Stronghold-esque, side-scroller city building game released not long ago, Open the Gates. I was able to grab the brains behind it for a quick interview. He likes his games for certain!
Hopefully I’ll have an impressions review for Open the Gates in November, but in the meantime you get to check out Robin!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you do?
My name is Robin. I’m a student in The Netherlands studying something completely unrelated to games.
My passion for games started in elementary school when I got my hands on a video editing program called ‘Studio 9’. It is comparable to Windows Movie Maker or iMovie. I quickly realized you could put different images next to each other and adjust their durations to only a few milliseconds in order to create an animation. Naturally, for the next year I was drawing in Paint and making little video clips.
During elementary school I played a ton of Stronghold, Command & Conquer and Roller Coaster Tycoon. Or at least, those are the ‘interesting’ games I used to play. Honestly, most of my time was spent in Minecraft like many people I can imagine.
I got into making games after I played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 3DS. That gave me the idea to try to make something similar in Studio 9. How can you make a game in a video editing program? And why?! Well, it is called a ‘video game’ after all, so naturally you develop it using a ‘video’ editing program. Right? I figured out that if you pressed the ‘left’ and ‘right’ keys on the keyboard it would cycle to the previous or next image on the timeline. Combine that with menu screens where you could teleport to other images in the timeline and you have all you need to start developing!
My first game was called: ‘Terana: The Legend of Time’, absolutely perfectly original.
I continued making Studio 9 ‘video games’ until I started programming in Java. I made some boxes move and suddenly I realized that this is where video games are actually made. And so I tinkered around but I couldn’t figure out how to do anything more complex and then I came across Gamemaker Studio and that’s what I’m still using to this day. It has yet to fail me!
What does being a game designer actually mean?
It means to create something that is interactive and in some way engaging.
There has been a great deal of controversy in recent years about micro transactions in gaming. Not so much an opinion, but why do games tend to cut out content to sell later as DLC and lootboxes? Is it to do with development costs? Or is it time related?
I am unsure whether game development companies actually cut content out of their games in order to put it into a DLC or in a lootbox. I’d rather say that this content was always going to be a DLC or a lootbox from the start. Those things apparently make a ton of money so I can’t imagine they wouldn’t plan for that from the start. The way I see it, it’s just the end result of the goal which is to maximize the amount of money they make. They have to balance the time and money it takes to make a game versus the amount of money it will bring in. If DLC and lootboxes are the way to maximize money then it is only logical that they would implement them given that their sole objective is maximizing profits. I’d prefer it if they made the best games possible but people also need to get paid (not sure if they need yachts though!)
Tell us about your current project.
Oof, elevator pitch!
‘Open The Gates!’ is a strategic side scroller, castle building game where you build defenses, fight off armies whilst preparing to attack.
It is quite a unique little game that launched only a few days ago at the time of writing and I am pretty happy with it. I got some amazing people to do the art and the music and a ton of amazingly friendly folks to do these ridiculous voices for all the characters. If you have ever played Stronghold you know how hilarious some of those voice lines are, well, if you like that: Try Open The Gates!
As anyone who creates anything, we must all deal with criticism from consumers. How do you go about it particularly in the prolific and viral standard of gaming today?
I try to realize that whatever I just did could be completely wrong. So when someone tells me a particular thing sucks, I often totally agree with them that it could have been better. Politely responding that you totally agree and will do X to fix it, appears to be a really good way to deal with people who don’t like what you made. I see negative constructive criticism as insanely valuable because we can only fix that which we know is broken.
What advice would you give new developers taking the plunge into game design?
Haha, okay, well… I consider myself a new developer. Although maybe I have leveled up to level 2 since I have launched a game? Anyways, for all the level 1 game developers out there; launch a game! Just make something and FINISH IT. Finishing a game is seriously the hardest thing you can do. Before making a good game, just finish a bad one. Then try to finish a good game. I’d say the best learning experience is to just try to make a game and launch it on Steam to see how it goes. That’s what I did and I liked it! And I learned a lot from it.
If you still have time to play video games, what are some of your favorite ones to play?
I like to play Kingdoms and Castles while listening to podcasts and I often play Company of Heroes 1 together with a friend of mine. Apart from that I like Parkitect (extension of my love for RCT2). I also still play some Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth 2 whenever I can get it running! I don’t play many other indie games because they just demotivate me with their amazingness. I try not to compare my game too much to all these fantastic games but maybe I am missing out.
What inspires you to do what you do?
I like to tell stories, I LOVE movies and I would really fancy making something that people enjoy playing.
What is the hardest part of your job?
The biggest hurdle used to be procrastination but that has all but disappeared. The next big problem is getting people to actually care about what I spent time making. Marketing is confusing… That’s something I will have to work a lot on for my next game.
What was your favorite thing about game development? Is there anything you find difficult or challenging in dealing with the struggles?
The most fun thing, in my opinion, is when you have a system sketched out on a notebook and you put on your headphones and just punch it into the game engine in a matter of hours before booting it up and it all working in one go. That is truly fantastic. Unfortunately, it has been a long time since I got to do that because this doesn’t usually happen at the end of a project. Looking very much forward to being able to do this type of programming for my next game soon!
The most difficult thing for me is juggling everything; programming, art-direction, music-direction, voice actor-direction, animation, game design, audio, balancing, AI work, marketing. And the problem is; you have to nail them all or else the game will fail. That is a challenge.
What lessons have you learned from your first game?
I could write a huge paragraph here filled with obscure technical things I learned or all the things I figured out how to do along the way but instead I’ll just write the most important thing I learned which is that I am able to finish a game that takes 3+ years to make. I learned that I won’t quit when it gets hard or when I ‘don’t like it anymore’. I learned that I will keep going and I will finish it. That makes me confident for my next game.
What are your future project(s)?
Speaking of my next game! I have no idea what I am going to do yet! I have a list of pitches, let me know which one you like best;
- ‘Dwarves Dig!’ , Underground sidescroller dwarven city builder.
- ‘Northsea’, Sidescroller game where you hunt monsters in the North Sea using your boat which you can upgrade.
- ‘A Perilous Journey’, sidescroller RTS (similar to ‘Open The Gates!’ but better!)
- ‘Epic Train Delay Simulator: RAGE!’, a game where you have to cause as much delay as possible to a train to feed off the suffering of innocent travelers.
- ‘Fly Away on a Paper Airplane’, an emotional story-based musical game about someone who just wants to fly away.
- ‘Villagers’, a city-builder mixed with a visual novel. Build a city and manage the shenanigans your villagers are up to!
If you couldn’t be a game developer, what ideal job would you like to do?
I’m virtually obsessed with longevity research so I’d be a researcher trying to destroy aging.
Finally, what is your ideal video game if money and time was no object?
I would make a massive open world RPG like Skyrim. Wow, that game was amazing.