PuppyGames managed to get an indie title, Revenge of the Titans, into the top 10 of Steam’s “Top Sellers” list. I was able to make contact with the owner, Caspian Prince, and conduct a full interview of history and insight into his creative mind. Here are the results:
First, how did you get your start in video game programming?
Started at age 7, 31 years ago, when my dad built a Transam Tuscan in my socks and pants drawer. That was obviously a bit crazy so a Vic 20 followed for Christmas. Then I just never stopped. I only started to seriously think about games programming for a living in about 2000. It’s taken me 11 years of whining, failure, and gnashing teeth to get this far and finally go full time!
What was the first game you ever fell in love with?
Space Invaders! But then, I was only 7. I then had a series of affairs with arcade machines like Pac Man, Defender, Time Pilot, and Gyruss. Then the C64 happened and arcades suddenly started to become irrelevant, really.
What types of tools, environments, languages, and libraries have you made use of?
I use Eclipse, and all our games are written in Java. I’m on Windows Vista 64 Ultimate Edition, which I don’t like much. We use JOrbis for OGG sounds, and OpenGL for graphics, and LWJGL (which I founded) so that Java can do all this cool stuff at high speed. And that’s all. I finally bought a Mac Mini yesterday so I can see our games running on a Mac. They’re horrible. I have Ubuntu 10.10 installed on the Vista machine as a dual boot but only boot it to test occasionally. I like where Ubuntu’s going but it’s still fundamentally as crap as the other two, just a few years behind.
Does designing for a wider variance of operating systems keep you from adding features you would otherwise like to? (Also, as a
windows/linux/mac user, thank you.)
Not at all, they’re all basically the same from where we’re sitting. Apple’s increasingly draconian control tendencies are making the Mac platform less and less appealing (along with dwindling sales to Mac users).
What types of education would you recommend for any aspiring developers out there?
That’s a loaded question: it depends if you want to write games, or whether you want to be an indie game developer. If you just like, you know, writing games, then by all means a degree in Computer Science will be very useful, especially if you’ve got a career planned. But if you already know how to code, and you’re thinking, I want to be an indie game developer – I was just saying to someone the other day I wish I’d done business and marketing studies at university…
With the knowledge that you have now, were there any issues in the past that you think you might have been able to avoid?
Mostly our issues revolve around the fact that I’m not a particularly good game designer, and not a particularly good programmer either for that matter! Tricky to fix even with 20/20 hindsight. I should really have been a lot more disciplined about it all and not wasted so much time on designs that weren’t very good, or were guaranteed not to sell. Yes, that’s it. We should have done much more canny market research.
I’d like to throw this tidbit of advice out there to budding indie games makers: programming is only about 10% of the total effort. It’s unlikely (though possible) you’ll cope with or enjoy the other 90%. Find someone else to help do the bit’s you’re no good at. Or several others. And remember: programmers are two-a-penny. If you’re a programmer and you’re reading this: you are not very important, or worth more than everyone else. Get over it.
Upon seeing the types of games you develop, I can assume you have a lot of older game influences. What would you say are the most influential 8-bit games of our time?
The big 8-bit influences on my gaming life have been Space Invaders, Galaxian, Pac-Man, Paradroid and all of Andy Braybrook’s games, Ancipital and all of Jeff Minter’s games, and a few other odds and sods. Amongst many. I played a LOT of games when I was younger! Not so much nowadays. Too busy writing them.
Strangely I have very little influence from the 16-bit era. There was an unfavourable balance around that time of requiring people to spend all their efforts trying to extract shiny-shiny from the fancypants new hardware rather than really getting down to write really good games. There were indeed some really good games: like Marble Madness, Ultima IV, Time Bandit… but even my C64 heroes never really managed to come up with anything good at that time. Paradroid 90 was pretty lame, and Jeff Minter didn’t manage to do much that inspired me though I enjoyed a couple of blasts on Andes Attack and Gridrunner. Oh, and Trip-A-Tron. That was nice.
How would you rate your experience overall with Valve, and how big a factor was Steam in your current level of success?
Brilliant and really easy to work with. I can attribute Steam as being about one third of our current success ;) – it’s paid for another year of development. This makes me ponder what a gulf there must be in sales of AAA titles to piddly little indie titles like ours, in order to support a 30-person studio 5 years to make a game. They must be making maybe 100x more sales than we do. This also gives me a nice warm feeling thinking that we’re effectively as profitable per-person as a AAA studio.
I’ve noticed many developers don’t include Steamworks achievements in Steam games. From a developer perspective, is this a code compatibility issue, or is it something otherwise difficult to add? (Also, is it simply something you have future plans for?)
It’s a compatibility issue for us – we use Java, the Steam APIs are in C++, so I have to write a wrapper between them which is ongoing. When it works I’ll put achievements into the game – they’re actually aready in there, called “medals”, and were conceived from the start to actually be Steam Achievements. The main issue is “time” and I think that’s largely what confounds any professional independent developer. Retrofitting achievements into a game eats into development time for the next title and the next title is where your next dinner is coming from.
Do you have any plans to add games into the Indie console market? (Xbox live, as an example)
We’re already on XBLIG with Ultratron 360; Droid Assault 360 will be coming later this year with 4-way split screen co-op; and Titan Attacks 360 will follow shortly thereafter I think. No plans for Playstation though they have contacted us – it’s harder, and requires a more fiddly porting effort. And we’re moving away from the kinds of games that are going to work on consoles anyway, and concentrating on the unique strengths of the desktop platform.
There are ongoing discussions about iOS ports with various contractors.
What is the single most important fun-factor of a game to focus on?
That’s a really difficult question. I’m not really sure what “fun” even is. There are different layers, some of which don’t even sound fun, but are essential to people apparently enjoying themselves. Who’d have thought that “grinding” was fun? Yet it’s an essential ingredient. You enjoy random treats oh-so-much-more when you get them unexpectedly and irregularly as you grind away. There are lots of tricks to making people think they’re enjoying themselves which if you put a cold, calculating eye on, you’ll realise it’s all quite sinister. But if I had one thing I’d stay stood out more than any other factor it’s the delight of the unexpected. The little aliens suddenly walking around your turrets and attacking from the back. The teetering block finally dropping on the last doo-dah when you’ve chucked your last Angry Bird. The wonderful discovery that you can teleport out of Ezekiel’s Shoppe with all its contents stuffed into a Bag of Holding. And so on.
What games are you currently playing?
Amnesia, when I get 2 seconds to myself, which is almost never. A teeny bit of Minecraft.
Do you have any shout-outs, special mentions, or projects that you would like to bring attention to?
Just a big kiss for my extremely patient girlfriend and two lovely daughters! And if anyone’s interested in where I hang out, it’s www.java-gaming.org (as princec). Oh and a big manly hug for Brian Kramer (subsoap.com – Faerie Solitaire!) for his help and his belief in us.
We want to thank Caspian for the interview, as well as allowing us to conduct the giveaways that have been going on all week. Be sure to check out our review of Revenge of the Titans. If you weren’t one of the lucky winners, also be sure to click the image below and check out the free demo!
Check it out!