We’re continuing our interview boom! It’s been an incredible few weeks for the website, and I hope to keep that going!
Demos are amazing for gaming because they give the consumers a chance to experience a slice of the product. Even if there are debates on how useful they are for developers, I’m always fortunate we still have these. Valve frequently holds big events on Steam for developers to showcase their games through demos, and it’s usually exciting to take part in.
One of my favorite demos this year was Space Wreck: a non-linear space RPG that focuses on immense depth and replayability. The work of just two guys, there’s no release date for the game yet, but it’s one of my most anticipated games. I had a huge amount of fun with the demo, and you guys can check the game out through its Steam Page here:
I recently got the chance to interview Martin, who is the lead designer of Space Wreck. Hope you guys enjoy, and I’m excited to see Space Wreck’s release!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you do?
Hi, my name is Mārtiņš Ceplis (Martin Ceplis) and I am the lead designer and developer of a post-apocalyptic role-playing game “Space Wreck”. There are just two of us in the team – me and the artist Ernests Kļaviņš (Ernest Klavins) who is responsible for the visuals. I get to do programming, designing, and writing.
What does being a game designer actually mean?
It’s about painting the space between a cool idea and the final playable product – this is how I would put it. You just fill it in to the best of your abilities and according to your own vision. There are no rules, no authorities, no correct way to do it: if it works – even for just a few people – then nothing else really matters.
You could design the game by coding, by creating art, by writing, by designing levels – as long as you shape the experience, you are a game designer.
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 think it’s the evolution of “if thing A works, why not push it to max?” idea. There is a saying – “content is the king” – implying that it is the main substance of the game. Giving up all of it for one single-time payment – classic premium pricing model – is a bit wasteful, if you look at it from a business perspective. By cutting the game into smaller bites, you can squeeze out a lot more money.
Having said that, there’s another aspect for DLCs, though: they are now a part of gaming tradition. As a player, you sort of expect “EA”, “release” and then “DLC” and can even be upset if your favorite title does not get additional content after the release. Creatively DLC offers developers a way to do fun things with their game, try out something new and experiment. See Far Cry Blood Dragon, for instance – I think it is a great and creative way to expand the game beyond its original footing. But, of course, there are worse examples – say, some horse armor set for 5 bucks is probably not expanding upon the base game much and is a bit of an unimportant addendum.
As for lootboxes – I think this is just gambling; to me they feel artificial and severed from the main game, I don’t think I’ve encountered a creative and fun use of them. They are not even “bits of content” but more like addictive bait to pray on people’s weaknesses wrapped within a game. Unlike DLCs, I don’t think lootboxes have any redeeming qualities.
Tell us about your current project.
Space Wreck is a classic role-playing game with a heavy focus on role playing; sometimes to the extremes. It’s a story about a newbie captain trying to repair their ship and return home by any means possible. The crux of the gameplay is that your character cannot be good at everything, so you have to leverage your strengths to overcome your shortcomings.
For example, you may be good at computers but so bad at socializing, that you literally cannot start a conversation. Hence you have to figure out how to progress through the game without speaking to characters which is a challenge, of course. Or, maybe you are good at talking but a miserable weakling, unable to carry more than a couple of items. Point is, the game has a lot of ways to reach the goal, the gameplay is finding the one that works for your character. Or maybe coming up with inventive ways to bypass the problem altogether.
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?
Well, I start off by accepting that the other party – like it or not – is right. If a player says the game sucks, it sucks. Period. But what does it change? Even if 99% of the world population would hate your game, it does not matter if there are players that enjoy it.
Learn why they hate your game – it can be valuable feedback, but don’t focus on them, build the game for your target audience. There’s plenty of fish in the sea, find your niche.
What advice would you give budding developers into taking the plunge into game design?
Ask for players’ complaints not suggestions. When they complain about something, it is a signal of a problem. This is good – you can identify the problem and figure out a solution.
When players suggest a solution, they are doing it based on their vision and limited knowledge of what this game should be. That is nothing wrong but they will not be working on the game, right? You will. So you should stick to your vision – not their vision – not because yours is better but because you will have to deliver that game, not them. And you know more about it anyways. If you try to implement someone else’s vision, you’ll probably end up with something neither you, nor the critic wanted.
If you still have time to play video games, what are some of your favorite ones to play?
I am really picky. The last game I truly immersed myself into and played for 300+ hours was Fallout: New Vegas and, yes, it was a while back. I tried Obsidian’s Outer Worlds but eventually felt a bit let down in the RPG department. Colony Ship is an interesting project that I played a bit – it’s still in early access. While I don’t play much, I keep an eye on games in development and often watch letsplays of recent games. Next thing I am looking for is Starfield because it is a space-themed full-size RPG with pedigree; curious to see if they’ve learned from Fallout 4 mistakes.
What inspires you to do what you do?
When I play a game or watch somebody play a game, I take note of both the things that I like and things that I don’t enjoy. And, sometimes, there’s an itch to try and build something with it, explore the good things, fix/remove the bad ones.
If I ever get as far as to build something – and that’s not often, – then also seeing someone playing your game is a major stimulus to improve it even further. You keep adjusting it and then hoping for letsplay or stream popping up where you can see if your changes worked: it’s really exciting.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Finishing. While starting is actually not that easy, once you have something playable, it becomes really comfortable to just keep adding small things indefinitely. You could tweak the game bit by bit for years… but to finish it – to actually release the game – you need to deal with all those things you’ve been putting away as low priority. Icons, achievements, polishing, store page, marketing – tons of small things that are very important but not as exciting.
What was your favorite thing about game development? Is there anything you find difficult or challenging in dealing with the struggles?
Probably seeing people play it. I mean, there’s an addictive feedback loop – you make something, show it off, somebody interacts with it and you think, “Oi! Didn’t think about it!” and then you try to improve, show it off and there it goes again.
Making a game is both incredibly easy (these days especially) and still very hard. I think the biggest obstacle is yourself – finding the motivation, finding actual time to work on the game – do you make it a hobby or have a day job? And then, of course, because making the games is so easy, the entry bar is so low, the market is oversaturated and releasing your game can be like splashing a bucket of water into a sea – who will see it or play it? Will it reach actual players?
Game development is a long process and that can be discouraging. It’s easy to lose motivation, hard to keep focus and not switch to something more exciting (new idea!).
What lessons have you learned from your first game?
Don’t promise anything that you haven’t done already. Way too often I have been burned by premature announcements; you’ll feel way more confident when talking about something that is already created rather than an uncertain future. Besides, you lose motivation to build something because you and everyone else have already marked it as “done”. On the contrary, if you haven’t told anyone, there’s an itch to keep developing, to be able to finally show it off to the people!
This is probably not a universal law, of course, and I imagine in some cases you have to sell your vision to other people first. However, more often than not, I’ve found it’s worth at least considering the “do first, hype it later” approach.
What are your future project(s)?
I am not ready to talk about future projects at this time. See the previous question :).
If you couldn’t be a game developer, what ideal job would you like to do?
Well, I am a game developer only “by night”; I have a day job: a web app developer. I guess that would be that other job – I do enjoy building, tinkering with and improving these web tools. In a more hypothetical fantasy, I guess I would love to be a writer. I’ve written a lot of “illustrated books” in my childhood, then some articles, also PR and marketing – so this seems like the direction I could go.
What is your ideal video game if money and time was no object?
Full size immersive sim based on an atomic magic system. I mean, the game where magic is not a list of spells but rather a set of atomic abilities: ability to levitate an object, ability to turn solid into liquid and vice versa, ability to change temperature and so on. Then casting is combining these stand alone effects to create a dynamic spell on the fly.
And this would not necessarily be a combat oriented game because apart from obvious fighting, this system would be used to resolve quests. For example – you need to get inside a locked prison tower, so you levitate yourself, then liquify the bars. Or maybe you turn yourself into a gas and seep through the openings? I mean, the gameplay would be combining these fundamental tools to reach your goals in any way you can think of.
Magicka was something in that direction but I would live to explore this even more and not focus on combat.