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Interview: Nimbly Games On Indie Aerial Combat Title Altitude

Gamasutra spoke to Nimbly Games' Erik Measure about the studio's 2D aerial combat title Altitude, the pros and cons of indie development, and the studio's plans for the future.

Ian Adams, Blogger

September 20, 2010

4 Min Read

Nimbly Games' Altitude is a 2D aerial combat game with a focus on online multiplayer, developed by indie developers Erik Measure and Karl Sabo. The game uses a perk system akin to that of the Call of Duty franchise, and lets players tweak their aircraft to suit their play style. Its multiplayer suite ranges from traditional deathmatch to team and objective-based game modes. The game debuted on PC digital distribution services early last year, and has since been featured in the Penny Arcade Expo's PAX 10 and the 2010 Indie Game Challenge. Gamasutra spoke to Nimbly Games' Erik Measure as part of a continuing series on this year's PAX 10 inductees – discussing Altitude's take on online multiplayer, the pros and cons of independent development, and the team's plans for future titles. Can you describe Altitude a little? Erik Measure: We’re calling it a cartoon aerial brawler. You jump into a plane and it is all online multiplayer action. You load out your plane with whatever perks you’d like to use, you pick from five different planes, and then you jump into one of seven multiplayer modes, and from there it is standard death match or objective combat. You guys are one of the few in the PAX 10 that already has distribution; you’re on Steam. Right, we’re on Steam, we’re on Direct2Drive, we’re on GamersGate, as well as our own website. How has the PAX 10 announcement affected sales so far? PAX 10 has been great. The direct impact on sales is a little hard to tell; we might get a little more after PAX, but mostly it’s about getting the name out. That sort of trickles through. For you guys, what is the absolute best thing about independent development? We get absolute creative freedom. We create what we want to create. We made a game that we really love, and then to have people come and tell us “Hey, we are loving this game. Here are some ideas for improving it.” It just feels great to work on something you believe in, that other people believe in, and really feel that you have control. What have been the biggest drawbacks to independent development? The drawback is that you have no money, so you have to do what you have to do. For us, that means we live and work out of a small apartment, and that’s cool. Another drawback is that the media buys are non-existent, so you’re scrounging for whatever media you can get. Obviously you’re always in a struggle for coverage, always in a struggle for eyeballs. For us, that’s quite a big challenge. Have you guys had any part time jobs to make ends meet? We actually saved up some money doing real respectable work, and we’ve taken that bankroll. And now Altitude is generating enough money that we can probably do another game, based on the profit. Have either of you ever been with a mainstream developer? I worked at a start-up that was focused on cell phone games. Neither of us have worked for a mainstream AAA developer. I have a lot of friends in the industry, so I have a picture of how it works, but I don’t have direct experience; neither of us do. What was the difference between your vision of how development and release was going to go, and the reality of how everything played out? The primary difference is duration. There’s always this magnifying effect of time. One week becomes three months, which becomes two years. And development that was slated for an easy one year became three and a half. We’re still hammering away at it. That’s the main thing; everything has sort of gone the way we expected. Do you have any preferences as far as your distribution so far? Well, we love all of our distributors, but Steam in particular is awesome for its ability to send eyeballs your way directly. Their promotional people, first off, Steam is extremely generous to indie developers, but beyond that, its ability to drive traffic is simply unparalleled. So they give you a promo and boom, you’ll see 10’s of thousands of new eyeballs on your game, and no one else can do that on the PC side. Is there anything in particular about your game that makes it intrinsically an indie game? Well, right off, the game is 2D; that's one thing that sticks out. From the description, you might think the game is a flight sim, but it’s really not. It’s aerial combat, but in 2D, and it changes a lot of assumptions about how flight combat works. It’s also something that can be done with a small budget. Do you guys have any thoughts about console distribution? We would love to be on the console, but there are a lot of barriers for a small indies in terms of the certification process, the time it takes, upfront money, and most of those channels are getting pretty full with games from EA and sponsored 'featured' spots and stuff that’s a little tough for us to navigate at this moment, but it’s something we’re looking for in the future.

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