Indie Spotlight is a series at Gaming Nexus that explores the origin and development of unique and innovative games designed and produced by independent developers. Each article includes a developer interview that focuses on examining the concept and design processes involved with each project. Indie Spotlight strives to showcase new and upcoming games that range from a variety of genres and development studios across the world.
As an Community Strategist, Eric Doty lives the video game industry from sun up to sun down. In his spare spare time he has created a comic book with a machine gun wielding corgi and he's now working on his own video game, Troubadour. I had the chance recently to have Eric answer some questions about his game and here are his answers.
What is Troubadour about? How did you come up with the name?
Troubadour is about accepting the responsibilities of adulthood and getting past our reliance of unnecessary distractions. These distractions often help us cope with the natural stressors of life, but we need to learn how to enjoy them in moderation. If we don’t then we risk having our problems spiral out of control. The game, which is more of an interactive graphic novel, takes you through what I would consider a moment of enlightenment for the lead character. There is a heavy focus on music, provided by LA musician Dallas “Deezign” Stoeckel, that comes through some of the graphical elements in the game. The name Troubadour is taken from the spiritual/mental guide that walks you through this experience. The idea of clearing your head and figuring out your personal goals, whether short term or long term, is something Zak Alexander and I both can relate to.
How long was the concept for Troubadour been floating around in your head? Which concepts took you the longest to sort out?
Troubadour was originally meant as an action game when I first started working out the ideas after publishing Steamfunk, an all-ages comic book pilot issue, with Luke McKay. Then I realized that A) making a FPS is way too big of a project for a small inexperienced team and B) the story had some really interesting elements that, if boiled down, would work great for an experience similar to Benjamin Rivers’ game Home. We’ve been working on it on and off over the past 8 or 9 months under the name Cicatriz Entertainment.
Could you tell us about Lucy and who she is as a character? What were the inspirations behind Lucy?
Her name is Lucy, but she goes by Lu. Much like my comic Steamfunk, many of the characters are named after musicians or songs, so Lucy is named after B.B. King’s famous Gibson, Lucille. Lu is a regular 20-something that has spent way too much of her life interacting with the world through illuminated screens. I think that’s the one thing that most people who interact with Troubadour will relate with. A bit of irony considering that they’ll be playing it on a computer.
Who would you consider to be the target audience for the game? Do you know how you are going to distribute the game yet?
I wish the target audience was everyone, but I understand that a slower paced experience like this isn’t going to resonate with someone who only plays shooters. Maybe Troubadour will be their first time interacting with a game like this. We were pleasantly surprised at how many people at PAX understood what we are trying to build and were willing to sit through our rough demo. If you enjoy slower, atmospheric games like Home or Kentucky Route Zero then I would hope you’d check out Troubadour. It will be available on PC and Mac, but we haven’t locked on specific distribution channels yet. We’re interested in having it on mobile/tablet, but there are some touch-friendly elements that I’d want to add first to make the platform compliment the experience better.
What are the biggest influences on the game from a cultural and gaming perspective?
A lot of inspiration came from outside games like the shows Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and comics by Brian Wood (Local, Demo) and Jeff Lemire (The Underwater Welder). There’s something alluring about characters that experience strange paranormal events that serve as metaphors for real life problems.
Could you describe the art style of Troubador? Did you experiment with any other art styles?
Zak has a background in graphic design and fine art, so I’m very thankful to be working with him on this. There are different styles throughout the game that we’ll talk about later, so it’s tough to nail it down to one description. We definitely looked at old Sierra adventure games and Sword & Sworcery before starting development, so I think you’ll notice little influences here and there from those titles.
What tools you are using to create Troubadour? What’s the one thing that you know now that you wish you had known when you started?
We’re building it in YoYo Games’ GameMaker Studio. It seemed like the easiest to learn how to use and build quickly in a 2D space. I wish I had known earlier that GameMaker did not support the ability to play videos within your project. There were some ideas I was working around that included live action video and that had to get scrapped due to there being zero support for it. It was frustrating at the time, but the unexpected limitation allowed Zak and I to work on some creative solutions.
Have you gotten any advice from other game designers? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten so far?
There was one piece of advice that I received before we started that really stuck with me. Everyone has cool ideas and no one is going to build your game for you. Those that know how to execute on ideas are already working on their own game. Either you do nothing or you take steps to become one of those people.
Do you have any advice for anyone who is trying to build their own games? What skills should someone have before starting a project?
I’m going to paraphrase Richard Hofmeier (Cart Life) and say that it’s never been easier to make your own game. There are so many tools out there that require little to no code experience that you just have to put your heart into it and make it through those first few hours of tutorials. Start by building ugly clones of your favorite 8-bit era games and after one or two you’ll start to see how things come together and how game elements interact with each other. It’s not as hard as you think it is. The hardest step is the first blah blah blah. To be fair, we haven’t shipped a game yet, but we’re getting there.
Also, go read Anna Anthopy’s book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters.
What things would have to happen for you to consider Troubadour a success?
We ship it and get to work on our second project as a team.
Can you give us any idea of what that second project is? Is it related to Troubadour or something completely different?
We’re trying not to think about it too much for obvious reasons, but there’s a long list of ideas I’d love to build that just won’t work for our current game. We’ll just have to see where we are in six months.
Any aspirations of getting this on a next generation console?
Nah. We’re building a pretty niche game on some very specific tools. We’re just happy to have it anywhere for people to play. Would I like to eventually build a game that my friends can play on Xbox One? Definitely. There’s a lot of veteran developers already building amazing things in that space, so Zak and I are just taking it slow and using this as a learning experience.
Do you have an idea of when the game is going to be released?
If this was my full time job we could probably have it done in a couple months. That would be amazing, but I have a day job that is fun and challenging in its own ways. Zak and I are looking to release Troubadour in late Summer 2014 at the latest. That seems like a long time to build this sort of experience, but it’s our first game and we want to make sure we put something out that we’re proud of and a hopefully a little unexpected.
We'd like to thank Eric for taking the time to answer our questions.
Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom. I have been a Microsoft Xbox MVP since 2009.