Interview talks Columbus, OH game developer’s Dangerous game.
As rumors of always-online consoles continue to stir controversy, digital distribution continues to grow. Despite concerns, increased connectivity has one major advantage: independent developers now how more options for self-publishing their creations than ever before. This has led to an explosion of small, self-funded teams working to create titles that may never have been possible in the past. Multivarious Games, based in Columbus Ohio, looks to capitalize on this trend while growing Central Ohio’s small but budding game development scene in the process.
The studio is comprised of roughly a dozen individuals, most of whom put in long hours on the game after working various day jobs. Dangerous is their labor of love; a competitive platform-shooter that pays homage to the classic same-couch titles they grew up on. The project recently hit Kickstarter and is looking to raise a modest $25,000. We caught up with project lead Christopher Volpe to learn more about their debut title:
Chris: Dangerous originally started from one of our games we tabled which had some interesting ideas, but the production was just taking too long. I remember watching one of the demo levels in which the character was running across the screen, and all of a sudden these turrets on the ceiling starting rain down bullets. Like it literally looked like a rain storm coming down. It was one of those, “Oh shit,” moments in games where everything is really intense, but then the bullets started hitting the character and you realize that each bullet did virtually no damage and all the suspense was lost.
However, I noticed that the bullets were also eating away at the blocks on the ground. So the tension all of a sudden wasn’t about the damage from the weapons, it was about getting your ass moving or you’re not going to have any where to step to keep moving forward. It was at that point that I was like, “Destructible environments, we can do something with this.” And that was were Dangerous started as an idea; a game that revolved around a constantly changing environment that the player could use to their advantage, or could betray them.
The second part of the idea for Dangerous came about by me and my friends playing one of the new Worms games in my basement. We had such an awesome time, a lot from the nostalgia of playing worms when we were kids. It’s really hard to find mutliplayer games where you can all be on the same console today. I think Castle Crashers was the last game that I played where all of us could be in the same room playing together. And that’s how we got started. A fun, frenetic game where all of us could be playing together that was based on this idea of dynamic environments.
Everything after that has been the result of all the great talent we have on the team, and it shows in the way to game is turning out. I consider myself really lucky to be able to work with the people we have.
[snippit author=”Christopher Volpe”]”When we were young, we had the Mario Kart, Goldeneye, Worms, Bomberman, among many others. And being with your friends was as big a part of the fun as the game itself. If we can recreate that, I think we’ll have done okay”[/snippit]
Watching your early build of the game, ‘Dangerous’ draws comparisons to a real-time Worms. There’s certainly better examples of similar games — the DOS game Liero for example. How do you describe your game?
Our elevator speech is along the lines of, “Dangerous is an exciting multiplayer 2D platforming shooter where quick reflexes and sharp wits are your key to survival. It uses a vibrant, hand drawn art style, in combination with fast and frantic gameplay to provide a unique multiplayer experience for the Xbox 360.”
I think comparing it to a real-time Worms is appropriate for a quick description. Worms was one of our inspirations for the game when we started, and many of us on the team played a lot of Worms when we were younger. We by no means are the first to do a side-scrolling 2d shooter like this. There are recent games like ZP2K9 which have a similar thing going on, but we think we’re adding a lot of interesting new ideas to the genre. Besides the amazing art style we’re using, we have incorporated a lot of interesting mechanics into our game, such as destructible environments, and interactive environments, that dynamically change the way each game plays out.
We’re also trying to create a sense of progression and growth through the use of customizable characters. We want players to be able to build their characters up in a meaningful way, that fits how they play. And lastly, we’re making it four-player local multiplayer, which as strange as it seems, is really rare these days. Very few games come out that let you and some friends play on the same console at the same time. They’re usually all online based multiplayer.
Ultimately, we just wanted to make a really frantic and fun experience that you and your friends can joke about and enjoy. And if our demo is any indication, we’re doing a great job so far.
The downside to a growing indie scene is that it becomes harder to stand out in the crowd. What makes ‘Dangerous’ something players should get excited about?
That’s very true. The democratization of video games has been great for smaller developers. There are a lot of avenues for smaller studios to get their games out to customers in an efficient and cost-effective way. The industry is going through a shift — lots of medium sized studios have gone under or been bought up by the big guys, and even the big studios are taking really big loses. There’s a lot of instability right now, and no one is quite sure where or when it will even out. But that means there is also a lot of opportunity for smaller studios like us to get in there and make a name for ourselves.
We can try new things out that might only appeal to a niche group, but if you can do it well, and cost-effectively, you can make a sustainable business out of it. Not every game has to make a $100 million.
But to get back to your other question, the open availability of distribution channels means there is a lot of stuff for customers to wade through. There is also a lot of crap out there on these app stores. Content management is a big problem that none of the distributors have gotten right yet, be it Apple, Microsoft, Google, etc. That means until they do, we have to work really hard to not only differentiate ourselves as a quality product compared to the other guys, but we have to push to make sure people are hearing about us. And that strongly relies on building a community around ourselves.
It’s an interesting problem to have because it forces companies to talk to their customers, getting them excited about their products in a relationship way instead of a marketing way. In essence, it’s forcing companies to do what they should have been doing all along, which is building long-term partnerships, both financially and through communication, with the people that are supporting them. Building a community relationship is probably the most important thing an indie developer can do right now.
Your Kickstarter page features a lot of concept art for the game, and it looks stunning. Will the sketchy, water-colored look be translated into the game’s final style?
Yes. Currently all the “real” assets, that is the things that are not placeholders for stuff, are hand drawn. That includes the characters, the environments, and most of the other assets. Ideally, we’re going to have everything drawn by hand, scanned in and the reworked as needed to fit our scope, but our aesthetic is very important to us. We want it to be a vibrant and beautiful game to look at, and hopefully it will be something that’s not seen too often in the industry.
Kickstarter is a great platform for small developers like yourself, but it isn’t always a successful avenue for funding. What would a successful Kickstart mean for your game, and what are your plans if the pitch fails to meet its funding goal?
Kickstarter is great, but it’s not a guarantee. It’s also a lot of work. I think people underestimate how hard it is to get people invested in your project. We haven’t made our goal yet, and we’re really pushing to make as many contacts as we can to spread the word. The funding from Kickstarter is going to be very important for us since we’re looking at releasing on the Xbox 360 Live Arcade That has some significant fixed costs associated with it, so failing to hit our goal might mean we have to go the Xbox Live Indie Games route instead.
There is also some uncertainty right now around the console transition coming up. We know the Xbox 720, or whatever it’ll be called, is most likely coming out this year, but we don’t know anything about it. We also know that XNA isn’t being supported after 2014, which is what Dangerous is written in. So there’s a chance that if we do get into the XBL Arcade, we might have to re-write our game if we want it released on the 720. We just don’t know right now so we’re continuing on with our Xbox 360 development, using the tools we have, until Microsoft tells us something different.
Additionally, everyone on the team is currently volunteering their time. We’ve got people putting in 20-40 hours a week on this game, so it would be great if I could get them some money to compensate them for all the amazing work they’re doing.
Regardless of how the Kickstarter campaign goes, we’re committed to making our game. We’ve got great ideas, and a great team to pull it off. Dangerous is going to be released for sure, the Kickstarter funding will just allow us to do it on the more prominent stage of XBL Arcade. And it lets us cover the upfront costs of developing on that platform as well as having some extra resources to add cool additional features to Dangerous. The funding is really important for us, but we’re not going to let a little money get in the way of making a kick-ass game.
Where are you currently at with development, and what has been your biggest challenge so far?
We’re currently in an Alpha stage right now. We have the game engine working, and a couple test levels that we use for features. The game is stable and playable on the Xbox 360, and is actually a lot of fun despite it being very basic. We actually filmed the demo the other day for our gameplay footage video for Kickstarter. We probably played it for over an hour and a half, and it was a blast.
Limited funding is always a challenge, but I think our biggest challenge has been getting ourselves known in the community. Columbus isn’t really known for video game development, probably because we only have a few consistent developers and they’re all small. We’re a really small and new studio. So in a way it’s a real uphill battle. That being said, it’s obvious just in our few months of promoting ourselves and talking to people that there is a big love for technology, software, and video games in this city. People want to live here and make games, it’s just really hard because they don’t have any career options. We want to change that, and we’re trying to be the voice in bringing the gaming industry to Columbus, and Ohio in general. We haven’t hit the spark yet, but we’re hoping to be the catalyst.
Same-couch multiplayer games lead to some of the most insane, intense experiences in gaming. Have you had any of these instances that particularly stand out as you play test the various builds of the game?
Oh yeah. People seem to really love our demos even though they’re very basic. I actually wish we would have recorded our team playing the demos during testing, because we’re laughing poking fun at each other the way we would with a full release title. It’s really amazing. Yesterday we were recording the gameplay trailer for Kickstarter and we had a great time. That’s really where we’re coming from with this game. When we were young, we had Mario Kart, Goldeneye, Worms, Bomberman, among many others. And being with your friends was as big a part of the fun as the game itself. If we can recreate that, I think we’ll have done okay.
Some really wonky things happen sometimes while you’re testing. That just makes it all the more fun. For example, our programmer had made some changes the night before to polish up a few things and apparently it introduced a bug he wasn’t aware of. So we’re all sitting around the Xbox, recording the video as the countdown timer works it’s way to the game starting, and as soon as it starts, two of us blast off in space, followed shortly by a third, leaving one of us the winner solely because he didn’t jump.
Apparently the jump sensitivity got screwy, and a tap of the ‘A’ button was all you needed for lift-off. It was a hilarious way to start to day. We’re thinking about doing a bloopers real of our session yesterday, and it would have been amazing if we had recorded our voices playing it as well as the gameplay.
At the time of this article, Dangerous has roughly two weeks to reach its funding goal on Kickstarter; you can find the project’s page by clicking this link.
Old-school, high-intensity same-couch competition was a staple of early video gaming, and projects like Dangerous seek to recapture the magic. With its unique style and a passionate team behind the project, Multivarious’ efforts look promising. An early gameplay trailer has been released, which you can view below, and don’t forget to check back for updates as the project’s development moves forward.