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I’ve been covering a lot of games lately. One of my favorite parts of being involved in this industry is getting to talk to like-minded people, and I have a ton of respect for anyone who makes a game. This industry is tough, ya’ll!
… I’m not going to say ya’ll again. Oops. While I’ve been working on these articles covering indie games and the Steam Deck, I’m always on the lookout to conduct interviews.
On the topic of game development, I’ve been enjoying Dave Frampton’s Sapiens release a lot since it came out. You can probably tell that by the past couple of articles covering the game! I always enjoy colony sims, and Sapiens is a pretty cool one at that. I was able to pull Dave away just long enough to get a quick interview with him on his game and his job, and here are the results! You can pick up Sapiens by clicking on the link down below: it is available on Steam.
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you do?
I’m Dave Frampton, the solo developer Behind Sapiens. I’ve been making games for about 20 years, and have released a number of successful games on iOS. Sapiens is my first PC release.
What does being a game designer actually mean?
Fixing problems. There’s a lot of thinking, trying to find creative ways to solve issues. For me anyway, game design is not a matter of sitting down and creating a plan, and then following that plan to make a game. It’s a long slow process of iterative refinement and experimentation, with a lot of playtesting.
There has been a great deal of controversy recently about microtransactions 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?
If you sell a game at a certain price without any in app purchases or DLCs, then there is a problem where there is not very much financial incentive or reward for the developer to provide updates. Updates provide free content for existing players which is great, but they may not help attract new players. So in some ways DLCs help better align the goals of developers with their player base. However it can also change development priorities in ways that make the game worse. So it’s a judgement call that every developer makes, and I have decided not to have any DLCs or IAPs in Sapiens for now.
Tell us about your current project.
Sapiens is a unique take on the colony sim genre, which aims to get you down to ground level, walking around the towns that you build with your citizens. It starts way back in the early stages of human history, and lets you progress at your own pace into more advanced technologies. I’ve been working on Sapiens for 7 years. It’s massively ambitious, especially for a solo developer, but the reception for the early access launch has been extremely positive, and I’m in a good position to keep on adding to it for a long time yet.
As anyone who creates anything, we must all deal with consumer criticism. How do you go about it, particularly in the prolific and viral standard of gaming today?
This is something I struggled with when releasing previous games, but over time I’ve learned how to deal with feedback much better, and not take it personally. Everyone has different expectations when they play your game, and it will never please everyone. These days I just let it wash over me, and try to get a feel for the big picture, without focusing too much on individual criticisms.
What advice would you give budding developers to take the plunge into game design?
Start small. Might sound hypocritical given the massive scope of Sapiens, but I did actually start very small, my early games were simple demos and clones. It’s so important to finish and release things, and be realistic about your capabilities and time. Other than that, focus on things that will help you push yourself and learn.
If you still have time to play video games, what are some of your favorite ones to play?
I play all sorts of things, from Rocket League with the kids, to GTA V, to Minecraft, Transport Fever, Rim World, and old classics like Pharaoh. I’ve been too busy to play much in the past few months, but I do still enjoy gaming, both for research purposes, and just for fun.
What inspires you to do what you do?
I think mostly I just like to create worlds. I enjoy setting up systems and watching how they play out, and to try to make things look and feel good. Game development just scratches the creative itch for me in a way that nothing else does. It’s also extremely rewarding to see others play and enjoy your game, and I think that helps drive me too.
What is the hardest part of your job?
It varies, but usually it’s just managing the pressure. Before release, after about year 4, there was pressure to hurry up and get it done. And now, even though the community is very understanding and willing to wait, I know the demand and anticipation for new content is huge. So I have to manage my stress levels and try not to feel too anxious about what needs to be done, especially when I’m away from my desk. It’s important not to think about it 24/7, but hard to avoid it.
What was your favorite thing about game development? Is there anything you find difficult or challenging in dealing with the struggles?
The best thing is definitely when you finally cross that finish line, and you get to watch streamers play your game, and see all the reviews. That’s just such a wonderful feeling after so much hard work. The biggest challenge is probably managing my time, I’ve had to step up my organization skills, keep good todo lists and documents, all that admin stuff that’s a pain, but needs to be done.
What lessons have you learned from your first game?
I learned a lot releasing all of my previous games, and that set me up well for the release of Sapiens. There are really too many things to mention here, so if I could pick one thing, I’d say it would be to focus on what you enjoy doing. I decided to never make another game that requires a level editor, because I really hated making levels while working on Chopper 2. I also decided to keep making custom engines mostly because I enjoy it. It’s really important to keep enjoying the process, and especially if you’re a solo dev, it’s quite possible to keep that enjoyment going if you take care to keep that in mind when making decisions.
What are your future project(s)?
I’ll be working on Sapiens for the foreseeable future, haven’t thought at all about anything beyond that, and don’t think I will for a very long time yet.
If you couldn’t be a game developer, what ideal job would you like to do?
That’s just an awful prospect, I love game development so much. I think I would like to just surf all day. Hard to get a job doing that, but I wouldn’t mind spending a lot of time pretending to try.
What is your ideal video game if money and time was no object?
It sounds really corny, but Sapiens could actually be that game. When I first started making games 20 years ago, I imagined a god game a bit like The Sims, but where you are outside surviving and advancing. The Blockheads made steps towards that, but Sapiens is much closer to that game I dreamed of years ago. I have lots of work to do still, but with enough time and effort this feels like it could be the game I always wanted to make.