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Dev Interview: Ross Turner

"I think a degree of familiarity with the generic tropes helps a player ease into the world - too many fantasy writers fall into the trap of naming things something weird and wonderful - call an axe an axe, not a b'tach!"

 

Ross Turner is a software development consultant working on an indie fantasy game called King under the Mountain. He took some time to answer questions about the project, which he expects to release sometime in 2018.

Q: How did Rocket Jump Technology get started? How large (or small) is your dev team?

A: Not as a game developer, but as a private limited company for myself to work as a contractor/consultant in software development - which I'm still doing while developing the game as a hobby project. As with a lot of indie developers, the dream is to doing game dev full time, on my own projects on my own terms. The dev team is technically just myself with freelancers helping out on the more creative side of development - artwork, sound and music.

Q: What role(s) do you play on the dev team?

A: I'm the game designer and programmer, or you could say I'm the project lead. My time is split between game design, engine/code design and implementation, project management of the freelancers, and the all-important marketing.

Q: On its surface, King under the Mountain seems to offer the familiar trope of humans, orcs, and dwarves. What sets it apart?

A: Good question! I think a degree of familiarity with the generic tropes helps a player ease into the world - too many fantasy writers fall into the trap of naming things something weird and wonderful - call an axe an axe, not a b'tach! Having said that, there's a blend of interesting ideas and lore in the world of King under the Mountain, often inspired from other fantasy settings - humans are not "the average all-rounder race" but in comparison are ruthlessly capitalist and more difficult to play than what are effectively socialist dwarves. Orcs don't breed but instead grow quickly from spores similar to the Warhammer Fantasy setting, and part of the challenge in playing orcs is that they want to (and often do) end up killing each other! Also I'm lucky enough to have a fantastic concept artist on board (Anthony Avon) who's extremely dedicated to making sure that his dwarves, orcs and humans stand out from the fantasy norm.

Q: What’s the elevator pitch for King Under the Mountain? You know: the line in the design doc to answer the question “Why should this game exist?”

A: It's the deep simulation-based gameplay of Dwarf Fortress mixed with the approachable visuals and style of Prison Architect, spiced up with touches of The Settlers, Dungeon Keeper and a few of my own unique additions. Also, my biggest problem with this kind of game tends to be that you build this impressive creation of a city/dungeon/fortress only for it to sit languishing on your hard drive for no-one to see. In King under the Mountain, you'll also lead teams of adventurers (made up of the best and brightest of your settlers) to explore and loot the creations of other players, playing out in turn-based tactical battles like XCOM or Fire Emblem.

Q: When is the game expected to release? And on which platforms?

A: The current plan is to launch a Kickstarter in March 2017, which if successful will follow through to a beta/early access release in March 2018. That sounds like a long time from now, but I believe it's achievable and realistic, whereas too many kickstarted games promise a launch window relatively soon that ends up being delayed by a year or two.

Q: What tools are you using to make King Under the Mountain?

A: It's written in Java using the LibGDX cross-platform framework, so technically it's my own engine. LibGDX does a lot of great things, including automated packaging of sprite sheets. The artists are using Photoshop and Flash due to the vector graphic look, and I use GIMP for bits and pieces of graphic work. I'm also writing my own tools for more specific stuff, like the character asset viewer you can see in some of my recent tweets and dev blogs.

Q: How are you marketing the game?

A: Currently, Twitter and Reddit (r/gamedev) are garnering the biggest interest. At this early stage in the game, I'm mostly posting development blogs and updates to the game's website, IndieDB, TIG Source and the like. Unfortunately, that means I'm really only visible to other game devs rather than my actual market of game players. I'm currently working on getting a professional logo produced and some early gameplay videos, to let me take the game to Steam Greenlight and the wider gaming community. As with most small indie devs, marketing is not only the most difficult part but also the most important!

Q: Is this your only gig or are you developing the game in your spare time while working a day job?

A: The game dev is in my spare time while working as a business software developer, in-between the normal demands of social life, family life and looking after my dog.

Finding the time around a full time job, family life and some semblance of a social life is definitely the most difficult part. My routine is to get up early enough to work on the game for an hour or so, go to work for the day and fit a little in during my lunchtime too. It's quite the drain that I'm sure I can't keep up indefinitely, so all my effort is to work towards the goal of raising enough funding to let me work full time on it.

My dog, Charlie, is a cavapoo (Cavalier King Charles and Poodle cross). Although he's quite lazy we have to find the time to take him for a walk in the daily schedule too! He's far more popular online than I am - he currently has over 1200 followers on his instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/charlie_cavapoo/

When you compare it to the 100 followers I currently have on Twitter, I should get him to do my online marketing instead! :)

Q: What do you want players to take away from their experience with King Under the Mountain?

A: I would love it if those players' experiences are passed on as in-game stories borne out of the simulation of the game world. The most famous example is the story of "Boatmurdered" from Dwarf Fortress, if I can inspire something similar, I'll have achieved what I set out to do. I'd also be very happy just for people to have spent as much time enjoying the game as I have making it!

Q: What are your passions when you’re not working on this game?

A: If not this game, gaming in general is my one true passion. I think games where you create rather than destroy are under-represented in the medium, I'm a big fan of Kerbal Space Program and Factorio, where you're given a bit of a sandbox and you, the player, create things to play with it. That's one of the pillars of design for King under the Mountain and if I'm lucky enough to make more games after this one, will feature heavily in those too.

Q: Pick one game that really inspires you from a design perspective and explain why.

A: Every iteration of the Civilization series comes to mind - each gameplay element feeds into the larger whole to become this great interlocking set of cogs and gears where no element ends up living in isolation from the rest. This inspires me to ensure every system I design for King under the Mountain feeds back into the others - even something as superficial as the lighting system can feed back into line of sight for characters, growth of plants and mechanics around nocturnal (or underground-dwelling) creatures. I'm also a big believer in Sid Meier's quote of "A game is a series of interesting choices," which drives a lot of my game design.

Q: What do you try to avoid in the design or production process?

A: For possibly all game development, and this project specifically, scope creep is the biggest killer to look out for. It's seductive to keep adding features on top of features which may end up having little impact on the gameplay or player. I've given myself a set roadmap to build a minimum vertical slice of the game then build from there. It's the kind of game which should allow for adding features over time so I hope to get the feedback of the community for what they'd like to see included the most.

I'd also mention that I believe Kickstarter to be much more difficult to "break out" on than the gold rush of a few years ago, where it seemed that all you needed was some impressive concept art and a good pitch to succeed on the platform. For that reason my main goal is to attempt to build up more of a following and have something actually playable before taking it to Kickstarter, the goal of which will be to bring in more creative types for content and allow me to dedicate myself to the project full-time (which will greatly speed up the rate of development!)

Q: Any advice for others who want to become indie developers?

A: Everyone has idea of what they think will be the greatest game ever - you have to find a reason to stay dedicated and finish something through to completion. For me, this game is my dream project and I'm having a lot of fun with it which helps me stay on track. The other side of it is you have to love what you do - if you don't enjoy programming or art then it's probably not for you. If you can get past that then go for it, there's never been a better or easier time to develop games as an indie, the only thing holding you back is yourself.

Wes Platt is the lead writer/designer for Prologue Games. Their first game, an episodic narrative adventure called Knee Deep, launched its final act on Steam in March. Before that, he was a professional journalist for the St. Petersburg Times and Durham’sHerald-Sun. He designed collaborative real-time adventures at OtherSpace, Chiaroscuro, and Necromundus for players at jointhesaga.com. He also worked as a design lead on Fallen Earth, a post-apocalyptic MMORPG, from 2006-2010. He's on Twitter at@DougPiranha. Reach via email at [email protected]

 

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