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Gamedev Interview: Spellcast Studios
The Ardenfall demo went live recently: a promising and ambitious indie RPG. Today, I interview the minds behind it!
By TheThousandScar Posted in Gamedev Interviews, Gaming, Indie Games, PC on October 6, 2022 0 Comments 7 min read
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I hope everyone is doing well! I’ve got another cool interview to share with you all today.

One of the coolest demos you can play on PC right now is Ardenfall, an ambitious and fascinating RPG created by Spellcast Studios. While there’s no planned release date for the game yet, you can play the demo right now. There’s an enormous amount of content to try out already, and I celebrate everyone who makes demos. It’s great to explore and play these projects! I have spent some time with the demo already and I’m having a blast. It feels a bit like if Elder Scrolls was made out of Playmobil, and I dig that. Here’s the answers!

First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you do?

Hello, I’m Josh Steinhauer, primarily a games software engineer both professionally and for personal projects. My current project Ardenfall is definitely the largest game I’ve worked on, acting as the team lead / engineer. For the first few years of development most of my time was dedicated to designing and implementing the core tech of the game – world streaming, core systems, and so on. Nowadays it’s slowly shifting more towards a production role, managing all of our fantastic team members in Spellcast Studios as well as developing the roadmap.

What does being a game designer actually mean?

I would say the role of a game designer involves having an idea, prototyping it out, then seeing if it actually works. Collect data, and then apply it to your prototype, tweaking it until it really works as intended. This iteration loop is incredibly important. The ‘coming up with ideas’ part is the easiest part of the role, and is often what people assume designers do, but this is just a small piece of the puzzle.

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?

Game development is incredibly expensive and risky. Millions of dollars pumped into a several year project all to sell $60 is pretty insane, especially when you compare to something like a movie ($15 ticket for 2 hour experience). 

So I definitely understand why companies tend to cut content and release it for later, and very much understand why live services or apps go towards things like lootboxes. However, this can absolutely be taken too far, ruining the experience – which is not okay in my opinion.  I am definitely not at all a fan of in-app-purchases in single player pc games, for example. 

Tell us about your current project.

My current project, Ardenfall, is a first person RPG in the vein of Morrowind and Fallout New Vegas. It puts a ton of focus on player choice and freedom, particularly through dialog and quests. It has a lot of dynamic elements – you can kill every NPC, quest choices will interact with other quests, and so on. It’s been five years in development, and has officially launched its demo this week! 

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?

In this industry, you definitely need to grow thick skin. I enjoy going through constructive criticism, and avoid interacting with comments that are purely bashing a game that they haven’t played yet. I think social media has taught us this weird desire to interact with everything –  this is why “Facebook debates” are so common, and I think that’s quite unhealthy.

What advice would you give budding developers into taking the plunge into game design?

I know everyone says this, but it’s true – please, for the love of god, make small games. If you think you can make an MMO in a year, then it should only take a day or two to remake Tetris, right? Then do that! Remake Tetris from beginning to end.  Then move on to another project, maybe something more original. Making a game is easy, shipping a game is insanely hard. So learn how to do that as early as possible.

If you still have time to play video games, what are some of your favorite ones to play?

I don’t have much time! But I always return to Minecraft, often with mods. It’s a very special game to me. I’ve also been playing Daggerfall, which is always a lot of fun.

What inspires you to do what you do?

Everything. If I’m out taking a walk, I can’t help but look at nature and imagine how beautiful it is and how I would render it in a game. If I’m playing a game, I get so much inspiration in terms of graphics, mechanics, and so on. 

This is a blessing and a curse, as it’s hard to enjoy video games without being sucked back into development.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Leadership and production is probably the hardest part of my job – engineering is easy compared to managing over a dozen developers and planning such a large scale project has definitely been difficult. Luckily I have several team leads – Jarrid and Toshi – who provide a massive amount of support, I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.

What was your favorite thing about game development? Is there anything you find difficult or challenging in dealing with the struggles?

I love how many layers there are in game development, it’s pretty nuts. Rendering, physics, sounds, animation, tooling, AI, and so much more. Of course, this is also what makes game development so hard! If I’m overwhelmed, it usually means I need to break everything into more tasks and arrange them into levels of importance – the lowest stuff goes to the bottom, where it may never be done, and that’s okay.

What lessons have you learned from your first game?

My first games I developed as a child taught me a lot about game design and project management. Like many developers, most of these early games were never released – except one. It was a Christmas game, so I was forced to release it on a certain date. That forced deadline was very good for me.

What are your future project(s)?

That’s classified! Just kidding, I don’t know. I plan on making many small (several week) projects over the years – it acts as a huge energy booster, and is so much fun! As for my next big project, hard to say – making another large project sounds both incredibly tiring and incredibly exciting.

If you couldn’t be a game developer, what ideal job would you like to do?

Kinda cheating, but I’d love to be a software engineer for a game engine. I’m enchanted with building tools, so building tools on an engine being used by game developers would be an absolute dream.

What is your ideal video game if money and time was no object?

 A game with a world similar to Minecraft is definitely my dream game. The concept of a 3D world with a low resolution simulation of the world is something I’m obsessed with!

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