What are some of the challenges you faced bringing AI War from concept to reality?
As an indie starting with a zero dollar budget, everything except the game design and programming was a challenge. Of course, both programming and game design are also quite challenging, but these were areas in which I had lots of prior experience and which I could resolve with time. But no amount of time will make me a great artist, or a composer of any merit! This sort of scenario is utterly common for indies, and for a lot of the aspiring indie programmers this can even be a permanent roadblock that makes their game never see fruition.
For me, I focused on the game itself and the fun-factor first, using free graphics graciously provided by Daniel Cook, the artist you may recognize from the classic game Tyrian. Coupled with his work, I cobbled together some lesser-quality stuff of my own, and that’s the state in which we went live with our 1.0 version. Since I lucked into meeting Pablo, we were able to have great music in the game right from the start. As the early public versions of the game became increasingly popular in a niche sort of way, so too did our options increase. For the first seven months of the game’s post-release life, I’ve actually reinvested all of the money the game has made into Arcen itself – when I go fulltime game developer in December, that will be the first income I actually make from the company. As a tiny little indie developer, these are often the sorts of choices you have to make, and there’s nothing to do but make the best choice you can at each step of the way, and then improve things as your finances improve.
Was there any feature or element that you had to cut from the game that you wish could have made it into the final product?
I always have a laundry list of features that get cut for reasons of scope; it’s the nature of the business, I think, and a sign of a healthy product if there are a lot of extra ideas surrounding it. There wasn’t any particular one feature that I really wanted to see in the base game that got cut, but our first expansion, The Zenith Remnant, basically has a lot of the content and ideas that didn’t make it into the base game -- plus a whole host of new ideas from players themselves. In looking at the base game, the biggest thing that I wanted to address was increasing variety in the grand strategic aspects of the game, so that has definitely been a prime focus for the expansion.
As word is getting out about this title, AI War is building a dedicated fanbase. In what ways are you working with and learning from the game community?
We have an absolutely huge Development Discussion section of our forums, and players put suggestions, commentary, balance ideas, exploits, and bug reports in there. Then there is a whole lot more discussion on each item, and then many of those items make it into the game. In October we released our giant new 2.0 version of the game, which is a far cry from the original 1.0 version we launched with. Community feedback was absolutely instrumental for that process.
Likewise, probably half or more of the new ships in the first expansion were suggested by players. I always have to evaluate every idea for its feasibility and how well it fits within the overarching design of AI War, but I really enjoy collaborating with the community in this way, and they seem to get a lot of satisfaction out of it, as well. Most important for Arcen, this lets us really give players what they want while still keeping a cohesive product and game universe – rather than having a lot of divergent and non-cross-compatible unit mods that only a few players might see, the ideas that make it through our development discussion process become a part of our core products so that a much larger segment of players will actually see them.
By seeking feedback from our player community early and often on our titles, that also gives us the freedom to really innovate and try new things, thanks to the security of getting to try those innovations out on players before official release. Players aren’t shy about voicing their distaste when a new idea isn’t a good one. Having an army of constructive critics is an incredible boon for us as a company.
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