I went to pick up the game immediately. I also was able to grab the developer for a quick interview, which I hope you can enjoy! He’s already built up quite the following, and his game is due to release on Steam in the reasonable future. It’s early days, but I think Hero’s Hour has the potential to become part of a small elite of indie games I’ve grown to adore. It’s already packed with content and things to do, and has full mod support.
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you do?
Online, I go by ThingOnItsOwn, and I’m the main game developer of Hero’s Hour.
What does being a game designer actually mean?
Being a game designer on an indie game project puts you in quite a special situation. You’ve heard about the idea that people just want to be the “idea person”, because coming up with cool sounding ideas is easy and often the most fun. Being a game designer means you get to be the idea person, but only because you also have to be the one implementing and bug-fixing all those ideas. You get this wonderful golden crown, but only because you’ve built the palace first, brick by brick
When talking about indie games, being a game designer often also means you have to wear all the hats. Jack of all trades and hopefully master of some. Early in the process, I had to use what little I knew myself about pixel art, music composition, save file compression, and similar. These days, there are other people picking up some or all the work in those areas I was least comfortable with – but to build the palace, you need all different types of skills.
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?
These are two very different questions, but both of them come down to monetisation.
We all have this straightforward idea that you buy a product, then you own the product, happiness ensues, and that’s that. Single-purchase games are the ideal for the consumer. However, things look very different from the side of the developer. The incentive is to sell as many games as possible, but trying to accomplish this is very different from trying to make a game people enjoy playing. With single-purchase, the incentive is to quickly entice a lot of people, and week-by-week getting new people to see and buy the game. If they play for 30 minutes or 30 hours, it makes no difference, as long as they don’t refund the game.
Another idea that also makes sense is that the better something is, the more money the creator deserves. Within this frame, subscription models and frequent DLC-packs make better sense than the single-purchase model. If you think the game is OK, you pay a small price – if you think the game is great, you pay more. On the other side – the developer is incentivised to create great games that people want to play for a long while.
These models are all simple economics models. If we also introduce psychology, suddenly the picture becomes more murky. Micro transactions are basically subscription models which obfuscate and maximise the cost of the subscription. The idea of micro transactions isn’t really problematic in itself. It more depends on what psychological tools are used for obfuscation (like several in-game currencies) and maximisation (like social pressure through showing off highly wanted cosmetics).
For Hero’s Hour, the model that probably would work best for me if I wanted to make more money would be the Single-purchase model, as well as some infrequent DLCs, and then an opt-in Patreon where people get no actual game rewards for supporting development. Luckily, however, I’m in a situation where I do not want to make more money.
Tell us about your current project.
Hero’s Hour is a life-long dream of mine, hatched when I was a kid playing Heroes of Might and Magic and wanting to see the battles play out with huge armies instead of creature stacks, and matured when I was an adult playing Heroes of Might and Magic and wanting to finish a game within a single day. It is a classic strategy RPG, which combines turn-based map exploration and town construction with real-time combat encounters. There’s a bunch of factions and mechanics in the game, a lot of which are huge, powerful and a bit chaotic.
I started on it at the beginning of the year – now I’m finishing it up.
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’ve started being unable to keep up with all the comments on all platforms – but I do check out most reviews and comments. I mostly hear the feedback of those most involved in the community, for obvious reasons – but this makes it really hard, sometimes, because the issues most relevant for new players is very different from the issues most relevant to in-deep players. There’s also the question of what kind of feedback is relevant, because of feedback would push the game into a different genre and way of playing that would alienate other players. This makes it very easy to dismiss a lot of feedback, and with the bias of knowing mostly the most avid players, it can easily become a sort of echo chamber where you end up missing valuable feedback.
I don’t really systematise and order feedback, nor do I often change my plans to do things relevant to feedback. But I spend a lot of time thinking about the design of the game, and when solving something that I think is an issue, I often end up using ideas others had suggested, or choose the solution that best takes into consideration the issues reported by players. Rarely, there’s a direct A to B relation between feedback and what’s implemented; but it does end up holding a lot of importance.
What advice would you give budding developers into taking the plunge into game design?
Prototype, prototype, prototype. When you start a game, have as little planned as possible – prototype until you find a gameplay loop that’s fun – and then build out.
Also, I think that you’ll get furthest if you are able to do everything yourself. Having to wait to find someone else and having them do assets or code will make the project drag on forever and never get far enough to get off the ground. On the other hand, if you can start with some already made assets to skip time consuming asset creation time early, that’s perfect too. The advice is that you should be able to do everything – but hope that you don’t have to.
If you still have time to play video games, what are some of your favorite ones to play?
I haven’t really had much time lately, but through the last months, I have played some Rimworld, Minecraft and WOW Classic.
What inspires you to do what you do?
The community. I’ve done a lot of projects, but this is the one that’s been taken the furthest, and it 100% certainly is because of the people who have picked up the game.
Usually I start a lot of projects. I have a creative urge that makes it difficult to stop, but easy to switch. But having the community count on my work has kept me focused and able to continue to make this one project a true star.
What is the hardest part of your job?
My actual day job is the hardest part of my “game Dev hobby” job. There’s only so many hours in a week, and the popularity of the Hero’s Hour game would certainly fit with a full-time developer. Instead I have to juggle two jobs – my day job and the dev job – with personal time, staying up to date with outside coverage of the game, the community, and maybe even seeing friends and family from time to time.
What was your favorite thing about game development? Is there anything you find difficult or challenging in dealing with the struggles?
My favourite thing certainly is adding new features to the game. My least favourite thing is fixing bugs – or even worse, just trying to find rare bugs – relating to those features several weeks or months later.
What lessons have you learned from your first game?
Apparently trying to recreate and improve upon a game design created by a full team of developers – albeit decades ago – was a bit ambitious for a single developer. It’s common advice, but I’ll repeat it nonetheless. Start small.
What are your future project(s)?
I have plenty of ideas for what comes next. First, I have to finish this game and then take a month or several as hiatus.
However, I’ve stated before and will continue to state that the sequel to Hero’s Hour will be a mon collection game. This is 50% a joke and 50% true; the way I prefer to live my life.
If you couldn’t be an game developer, what ideal job would you like to do?
Um, I guess in a roundabout way my ideal job would be the day job I actually have. I could easily have quit it with the income from the game, but I have decided not to. So, if I couldn’t be a game developer, my ideal job would be to be a clinical psychologist.
Finally, what is your ideal video game if money and time was no object?
I once did a prototype project with the strangest game design, and I’d kind of love to see it lived out. In the game, you played as a trading card game designer, putting together effects and stats for the cards. The core of the game is a simulation that creates decks with the cards you’ve designed and figures out a competitive meta. The task would be to monitor the meta, buff and nerf cards, and design card expansions. The idea is so ridiculously niche – playing the game felt like work – but I think the world would be better if such a game existed. A bit closer to the dream of everything existing.
Thanks for the interview! Hero’s Hour is shaping up to be an awesome indie release in 2022.