Following on from the first part of our controversial FortressCraft interview, we sat back down with ProjectorGames lead DJArcas to discuss the development process, Microsoft's lack of support and the myriad pitfalls of following the Indie calling.
Jonathan Lester: Welcome back. As we reported earlier, you're developing FortressCraft on an incredibly intensive timeframe. What's it like to develop a whole game in a matter of weeks? What extra challenges does it entail?
DJArcas: To be honest, this is how I'm used to working. I have to rely very heavily on doing things right the first time, you know, bar the lighting. I've written custom movement systems and animations before so I know where the pitfalls are. If someone was approaching it fresh, they'd likely do the wrong thing. Some of the stuff I'm doing is beginning to push the Xbox 360 to its limits! Last night I ran out of RAM and had to optimise for its horrible 512 MB.
Jonathan: Has the increased publicity put you under any extra pressure? Were you ever expecting such a media storm?
DJArcas: When I started developing FortessCraft, I wanted people to know about it. But I expected ten people to talk to me and I was expecting that level of community involvement. You know, just twenty people on twitter! At this point I have 1179 twitter followers. I have 2500 youtube subscribers. It scares me. I recently put up a video and I was the seventh person to watch it!
This scares the shit out of me! If it crashes, if it fails... that scares me too. I don't like fame, I like obscurity, as only a couple of people will hate my game. FortressCraft has been posted on some really big channels, which is brilliant... but scary. As far as I'm aware, FortressCraft is the most anticipated Xbox Indie game of all time. Even I MAED A GAM3 came out of nowhere. No pressure!
Jonathan: Do you think that your publicity will actually help raise awareness of the Indie scene in general?
DJArcas: Actually, I sometimes lie awake at night and wonder if my game will be the death of the indie scene. If this flops, if FortressCraft fails, we've had so much publicity. I couldn't buy this publicity. My forums spin over, my inbox overflows with emails. If this fails, who's going to bother starting from scratch?
Jonathan: If I may, I'd like to talk about your previous title: Steam Heroes. Its subtle blend of match-3 mechanics and visceral action made it one of the best Indie games of the year... and yet hardly anyone bought it. Why was that?
DJArcas: *Sighs* In the indie game market, not going in at the lowest price point is very risky. Hitting the 50MB file size point is also very difficult; we didn't manage it with Steam Heroes, we can't do it with FortressCraft and I can't stick to it in future. Of course you know about the scandalous dashboard disaster!
Jonathan: Too right.
DJArcas: No offence, but there was also a lot of crap coming out at that point. We really polished Steam Heroes and thought it would do well. The conversion rate was okay, around five percent, but trials are very low. From my point of view, I've been very lucky to work on some big games and I try to be humble whenever I can. I thought that I must have been wrong about Steam Heroes? I thought it was good looking, funny, polished, and I thought it would sell well. Maybe match 3 games have run their course?
Do you want to support me? You can send me money if you want. But you should buy my games. Some of them are very good! If you want to spend a couple of dollars and get a decent game, check out our back catalogue.
Jonathan: I'd like to ask you whether us journalists are providing you brave Indies with enough help and exposure (as well as the right kind of exposure) to get your games into the public domain. Is there anything more that we could be doing to help?
DJArcas: Sure. If you want to look up news and big games, you've got Kotaku, Eurogamer etc... but who do you go to for Indie games?
DjArcas: Haha, yeah, okay. No. But new Indie sites keep popping up and go under after a few weeks. Surely there should be a centralised Indie hub by now, or at least major coverage by the biggest channels. I recently read an article about FortressCraft on a major gaming site- and had to comment that “I would rather hear about more Indie games than another article about Call Of Duty.” If you look at their front page, it's all the same stuff. Angry birds. Gears 3. Ooh, madden. NBA. Tell me about something that I don't know! Tell me about Creeper World! It's a brilliant game that I love to bits, but you won't ever hear about it. Seriously, don't tell me about Uncharted!
Jonathan: What about support from Microsoft? What more could they do to help?
DJArcas: *Laughs* Anything would be a good start! I've only had one bit of contact with them throughout the dev cycle, though it really cheered me up. The upshot was that they wanted me to “stop asking people to contact us about bumping FortressCraft up to a full XBLA release.” People are actually doing this! But that's all the response I've had, and Microsoft don't seem to be doing anything. Don't get me wrong: I'm very happy with the XNA stuff, and they'll deal with credit cards, payment etc. But they're enormous and they really need to stop to the “release anything” attitude on the Indie Channel.
Jonathan: What do you mean?
DJArcas: Imagine that there are four games on the service. If three are shit, you won't play the fourth one- even if it's brilliant! They need to ensure a higher level of quality.
Many people think that us Indies have only had a single blockbuster success. But we haven't! Our theoretical cap for sales is 28 million, but where's our million seller? If a game sells a million copies, that's worth £300,000 to Microsoft. Indie games will always be small compared to triple-A, but it's money for nothing. Microsoft doesn't pay for anything!
Jonathan: Here's hoping that Microsoft will pay attention. After all, XBLA has been taking a beating at GDC. Finally, back on topic, when is FortressCraft set to release?
DJArcas: Haha, people ask me this all the time. I'll tell you what I tell them. Go on, ask me: when does FortressCraft come out?
Jonathan: ...when does FortressCraft come out?
DJArcas: When my to do list is empty, it'll come out! I've only got a few things left, so it should be fairly soon.
Jonathan: It's been a real pleasure talking to you, and we wish you the very best of success.