FortressCraft has become a bona fide Indie sensation that managed to set the scene on fire over the last few weeks. ProjectorGames' brave new project has attracted a huge amount of media attention ever since we first unveiled it... though much of the response has been extremely hostile to say the least thanks to its overt similarity to Minecraft.
To this end, I recently sat down with ProjectorGames' project lead to discuss what FortressCraft will be bringing to the table... and how he's dealing with the unexpected media furore. Oh, and the hundreds of death threats and poorly-worded hate mail that pours into his inbox on a daily basis.
Jonathan Lester: Many thanks for talking to us. First things first: could you please introduce yourselves to our readers?
DJArcas: Sure. I go by the name of DJArcas online, and I'm the lead designer, coder and gameplay guy at Projector Games. I'm thirty five years old and have written over 30 commercial games. I've also had the honour of working on the 7th best rated Xbox 360 game of all time. I have a couple of friends helping out with the code and sounds effects, but primarily, I'm behind 99% of FortressCraft's code.
Jonathan: Right, now let's get down to brass tacks. FortressCraft is quickly becoming one of the most publicised and controversial XBLI titles to have ever been slated for the service. Could you give us an introduction to what FortressCraft is all about?
DJArcas: I can do better than that. I'll explain what inspired it. Everyone thinks they know and almost no-one is correct.
In my opinion, Dwarf fortress is best game ever made... but it also had the worst user interface and the worst graphics as well. About eighteen months ago, I decided to have a go at rewriting it. I started but couldn't quite manage it, had issues with the graphics and lighting. I ended up shelving it four months before MineCraft came along.
A few months later, I got involved in an argument on the Minecraft forums about whether it could run on consoles. I knew it was possible, so naturally I took offence to people saying “lol noob, you know nothing." I set out to prove them wrong! Three months later I posted a basic prototype, but it was blamed for being fake- and even badly photoshopped! I wasn't going to buy a high-def capture card just to prove him wrong, but my next video caused him to shut up and proved me right.
I've been developing for 7 weeks and 3 days all told, which is very rapid even by Indie standards. The game I've had in my head for six months is not MineCraft. I have no interest in cloning Minecraft. Because it already exists. It's there. There's no point in cloning it.
Jonathan: So what about the core gameplay?
DJArcas: Okay. Now remember that this is only Chapter 1. Future chapters will have more things; different things. The primary part of Chapter 1 is the MineCraft classic experience. Just log onto a server and build stuff! There's no monsters, no progression, it's just great fun. It's a bit like Playstation Home, but with something to do.
One of the large parts about this game is that it's community driven. This is very important to me. If someone says that this game should be about “burning stuff” and comes up with an amazing system, I'll change my mind and put it in! If Episode 1 flops, people are going to help me out. I'll be able to write a game that people want: a game for the community. For example, people can use the engine to create a machinima- and can build the sets, change their avatars to zombies and soldiers and film it in the game. Hopefully people can do some amazing short films, that would be brilliant.
Jonathan: Multiplayer is slated to play a major role in FortressCraft- and we've heard that you'll be providing for an unprecedented number of players. What can we expect from the Multiplayer experience?
DJArcas: It's all about collaboratively working together, which is cool... but 32 players is interesting. FortressCraft will default to two players, okay? I personally recommend two players as being the perfect number, but if you've got monstrously fast internet then go for thirty players! The game will cap out at 128: four on each Xbox.
Jonathan: Wait, hang on, really? 128 players? That's insane!
DJArcas: Well, it might not work, but I'm not going to make that decision for people. I'll let you choose. If you write netcode for 11 players, you can bet that 12 people will want to play. If it goes wrong, I can't do much about it, but I really don't want to limit people.
Jonathan: Okay, it's time to deal with one of the most controversial issues head-on. Plenty of detractors are slinging around allegations of copyright infringement and good old fashioned bile. What do make of it?
DJArcas: It hurts when people say that FortressCraft is just a clone. It's like building your own car from scratch and people saying “dude, it's just a Lamborghini!” I've been writing games for a very long time and innovated plenty of new ideas. Here's one. You know in shooters, when you're low on health the sound goes all blurry? I invented that! People always talk about original ideas, which is interesting because in games, films and music, there's very little originality.
I'm very insulted when people tell me to “come up with original ideas.” If I spend six weeks making my own engine from scratch, don't you think I'd put my own ideas in too? I'm hoping that this will bear me out, make me enough money to quit my day job and let me do this full time.
In my mind, Halo is a Doom clone. But in many people's minds, that means 'identical.' Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter have similar gameplay, they're clones, but they're not identical. Much like evolution is a 'theory'... but its critics sometimes use the alternate meaning.
Jonathan: And what do you have to say to the haters directly?
DJArcas: Haters and trolls are just saying things for the sake of it... let me answer your questions! Are you just venting? Scream out of a window! If you want to put forward your view and actually talk to me, then go ahead. All these trolls don't seem to want to change my mind or actually learn about my games. It's like saying that “Avatar was a shit film” just to be different from the crowd. I had... 10, 000 emails. I can't keep up, so I've just stopped reading them. I've received 6 emails during this interview! [Laughs] And this is the quiet time.
If you support FortressCraft, you're supporting a real person. Not a big company. If I was a carpenter, I'd take your orders. But I write games, and that's my particular skill.
When I did the a recent live stream, someone said “You really are an indie! You slagged off the PS3!” I slagged if off because there's plenty of stuff wrong with it. Same goes for the Xbox 360. Don't treat me like a faceless company. I'm just me. You're having a go at me for writing the game I want to write... and it just seems mad.
Jonathan: And will Notch be mad, do you reckon?
DJArcas: I have a lot of respect for Notch. If FortressCraft makes me $50 million, I'd retire to a beach and spend it all on hookers and blow. I have the utmost respect for him setting up his company, taking it seriously and continually patching the game. I really, really, really want to do this. A lot of of it is going to be down to fan feedback.
Jon: The name couldn't have helped, mind. What were you thinking?!
DJArcas: Haha, right. The original original name was Diggers, which goes back to Dwarf Fortress. But the working title- no joke – was “Dwarf Fortress Meets Dungeon Keeper Meets Open Transport Tycoon Meets Minecraft.”
Here's the thing. I consider myself to be a hardcore gamer, and I noticed that our industry is full of suffixes. The “Craft” suffix means it's that sort of game. It's a snap gaming term like the words “gaiden” or “tactics,” but I'm running into non-gamers who simply don't get it. I've been blamed for stealing Minecraft's name so many times, but I'd like to point out: WarCRAFT? StarCRAFT? You don't hear them complaining.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we'll be discussing the trials and tribulations of Indie development!
FortressCraft is set for release this month on the Xbox Live Indie service, and will retail at 240 Microsoft Points.