The indie scene is full of fun experiences, and the Metroidvania genre is one that’s flourished in recent years. Quintillion Games has recently announced its newest project, Blood of Yamin, which is currently in development for PC. We got to talk with Johnathon Brown, Creative Director and Owner of Quintillion Games, about Blood of Yamin and the independent gaming landscape.
Chasing XP: Thanks for letting us ask a few questions about Blood of Yamin! How did the initial ideas for the game come to be?
Johnathon Brown: Of course! Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. As for the initial idea, well, Blood of Yamin has been something that has been toiling in my head for some time now. Over the years I would create sprites and concepts for the environments, knowing that the project was going to be a side scrolling game set in fantasy world. It wasn’t until I sat down and said, “Ok, let’s plan this out!” did it form more into a Metroidvania. I grew up on that stuff so it was something I held very dear to my heart and feel like I could make a meaningful contribution to the genre.
Have there been some things since the original concepts that had to be altered during development?
Oh yeah, for sure. A lot actually. Over time, one of the main focuses I had was to streamline our Game Design Doc (GDD) and the core pillars of the game into what it is now and I am quite proud and happy of it. We used to have an amalgamation of ideas and systems that needed tweaking. I pulled what I love from other Metroidvanias or RPGs and said, “How can we take these systems and mechanics that I love and marry them here?”. Over time, things were cut and others combined into what we currently have today, systems built on player identity and a choice in how they want to go through the world.
What were the inspirations for Blood of Yamin’s artstyle and gameplay?
For the artstyle, I wouldn’t say that I have a direct inspiration but one of the types of media that I have always enjoyed were western animations such as the DC animated films and things like Avatar: The Last Airbender. I grew up on Batman: The Animated Series, Gargoyles or Sunday cartoons. They always had a strong shape language to their design and that lends well to pixel art. Using those as inspiration, they became a jumping off point when creating the characters or environment. Alongside films like ‘Gangs of New York’ helped build some of the environment influences.
Gameplay wise, I would say that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a very high bar in this genre and one that I think of often when talking about Metroidvanias. So that game is always in the back of my head when designing and has been a study for the game we are making. But another big inspiration would be Action-RPG’s or RPG’s in general. As they are something I have played almost all my life. Trying to find a sweet spot with the melding of those 2 genres, leaves a lot that can be done. But build identity and allowing the player to have the ability to choose how they are going to tackle a problem is a big design philosophy I am bringing over from the RPG realm.
The Metroidvania genre is one that has been popping up in the indie scene this past decade. What is something that will make Blood of Yamin different from the competition?
Metroidvanias are very versatile and we have seen a lot of iterations over the years. One of the ways that we are separating ourselves from the crowd is through allowing the player to build out their character in a way that caters to their playstyle. Whether that is through playing a mage, a warrior or a rogue; giving the players tools to change how they want to play is key to this design philosophy. These tools can range from different weapons, stats, talent trees, Yaminite Beads and more. For example, for the Yaminite Bead feature, this is our way of taking something as simple as a double jump or a dash and giving it an active role in your combat with enemies. Like, a double jump that shoots lightning under you, doing damage and applying vulnerability to the enemy or a dash that throws daggers out in a cone in front of you and applying bleed to the enemies for each dagger that hit them.
What is your favorite part of developing Blood of Yamin?
Creating levels and environment design. It can be a lot of fun setting up the look of areas and figuring out how they flow. When you are in the middle of the workflow and you are creating items for the world on the fly and designing the level, it can be very rewarding and cathartic. I have always loved building things, like in Terraria, Starbound or even Fallout 4 modded. So, designing levels on the project can kind of feel like that but with so much more freedom.
What is something about Blood of Yamin you would want gamers to appreciate when playing?
Build diversity and worldbuilding. I have put a lot of time into both of these. They rank very high in my book, and I am very passionate about them.
As an independent developer, you have some different challenges when creating and marketing your game. What is something that you had to think of differently in developing the game due to the size of the team?
Scope and scope creep. This has been something I feel had to be managed well and to be cautious of. We have seen it time and time again in the gaming industry that something like scope creep causing many issues, leading to very surface level mechanics or giant world with nothing to do in it.
What is some advice you could give to our readers that would want to make their own video game?
It is very demanding and requires you to plan out as much as you can. Even if that means taking shots in the dark. Getting your hands dirty on the engine you are wanting to build your game on is also key. Get in there, experiment and keep calm. It can be very frustrating to spend 3 hours on something that once you know how to deal with is a 5-minute task. Learning what things do and how to deal with them is a majority of it. Another node of advice is that word of mouth is incredibly important and something Indie games live and die from. Sharing articles like this or social media posts is truly helpful and allows us all to grow and create games that we enjoy! Secondly, take care of your mental health. It can be hard out there and remembering to take care of yourself if very important.
For those who are interested, how can our readers stay updated with Blood of Yamin? Will you make any appearances in local conventions soon?
Wishlist our project on Steam, follow us on twitter, join our mailing list on our website and follow our Kickstarter. The best place to stay up to date with us is Twitter as that is our main line of communication with our community and engage often on it. You can get sneak peek looks at behind the scenes and updates on the project like when our Kickstarter debuts!
As for local conventions, quite possibly. We are based out of Las Vegas and there are a few conventions that come through yearly. So, keep an eye on our twitter and we will let you guys know when that comes to fruition.
Finally, any last words for our readers? Maybe favorite foods or music recommendations?
Yeah, for music recommendations, I am a big fan of Lofi while working. It is something that is calming and helps me focus on the task at hand.
Blood of Yamin’s Kickstarter campaign will be released to the public soon. Stay tuned for more interviews and gaming features here on Chasing XP.
New Pokemon Scarlet and Violet got announced in February, and many people are excited about a fresh take after Pokemon Arceus.
New Pokemon, new mechanics, and a new region. These are all typical for a new Pokemon game. Plenty of people are speculating whether or not Scarlet and Violet is the new era of Pokemon that long-term fans have been waiting for.
The games have a release date of November 18th, so we have a lot of time to speculate as Nintendo drip-feeds us information.
Is this the Next Chapter, the new era In Pokemon?
Scarlet and Violet introduce three new starter Pokémon: Sprigatito (grass), Fuecoco (fire), and Quaxly (water).
We’ve also seen the two main legendary Pokémon, Koraidon and Miraidon, plus a few other new ones like Pawmi, Smoliv, and Lechonk. Of course, most Pokemon haven’t been announced yet. Some rumors state that some older Pokemon will reappear, but we don’t know yet.
There are plenty of rumors surrounding Pokemon Scarlet and Violet. Still, we know a few things that The Pokemon company confirmed.
Pokemon Home – Scarlet and Violet will work with the pre-existing Pokemon Home system to transfer between games.
The first genuinely open-world Pokemon game, where the story doesn’t limit you to progress to new areas.
Four-player multiplayer – This is the first time multiplayer will be introduced to the mainline franchise.
Seamless transitions to battles – This was part of Pokemon Arceus but is now being brought into the next generation.
I won’t be surprised if The Pokemon Company brings back an older mechanic. Things like Mega Evolution, Z-Moves, Dynamax, or maybe even a new attempt at a similar mechanic for a newer era. I would love to see a return of Mega Evolutions, personally.
A New Era of Pokemon?
When Sword and Shield were released, many gamers say it divided the community. Fans were vocal about not being interested in them, but the games still sold well. I believe it was a testing ground for new mechanics for the franchise’s future.
I do believe it was more of a tech demo more than anything. Pokemon fans loved many features from the last two games that are making their way to Scarlet and Violet.
We’ve already seen the two previous iterations of Pokemon trying to break the mold, with Sword and Shield having open ‘Wild Areas’ that allowed you get a taste of what a free-roaming Pokemon world would look like. Pokemon Arceus improved on this with a better camera system, and battles no longer being instanced, allowing for wild Pokemon to join the fray.
From what Game Freak has said so far, the two new Pokemon entries will be FULLY open-world, no longer restricting you to one area, and opening up to a new open-world experience for Pokemon.
Sword and Shield introduced DLC to the Pokemon franchise for the first time EVER, which has continued into Arceus too. We also saw a new method to catch Pokemon, free aim catching, that allows you to skip the slog of battling to catch new Pokemon.
With the way The Pokemon Company designed Sword and Shield and Legends of Arceus, it is obvious Scarlet and Violet will be their next era of Pokemon. With the emphasis on Pokemon Home and Multiplayer, it’s obvious they have a new and fresh team working on Scarlet and Violet.
Let The Pokemon Hype Continue
For people who have left Pokemon for whatever excuse, will they come back to Scarlet and Violet, or would it be for true Pokemon RPG fans and young kids? Only time will tell, and more trailers and gameplay can sway the opinions of the masses. I have high hopes for myself and firmly sit on the Hype Train.
If you liked this article, check out our podcast episode on the Pokemon genre of games! Jeff and Crev cover the entire genre A-Z, and all the new IPs inspired by the originals.
Geod Studio is an army of one. Truc is the fiendishly clever developer behind what is considered the foremost 3D NES emulator. The twist? 3dSenVR is available in VR – which takes immersion to a whole new level.
Available onSteamand Itch.io, 3dSenVR will ignite your retro fire, and take you back, while simultaneously keeping you in the future, as you jump, run, fight, fly and more in virtual reality.
We wanted to know how Truc came up with the concept, and how he managed such an incredible project on his own. Here is the interview. Links, videos and more information can be found at the end of this article.
Hey Truc! What an amazing project 3dSenVR is. We saw that you have been working on it since 2015. What gave you the idea back then?
Well NES console was my first ever gaming system and always have a really special place in my heart and my mind. Similar to many other children at my age, I had many imagination of how the game worlds look like in 3D. Fast forward to 2015 I was a developer working for an out-sourcing company. The job didn’t fit me well and I lost all the working motivation. The repetitive work [and bureaucracy] was really killing me; I really wanted to work on something original that I loved.
I started asking myself why I didn’t do something special [for myself]. That was when everything began, and as people often say the rest is history.
What got you started in game development originally?
It comes to me the most natural way possible. When I was a kid, I loved playing computer games like crazy and often skipped school to play/watch other kids playing. Since 4th class in 1989, I learned in a special school for pupils with special capability in math. They did also teach programming quite a bit because math and IT are close domains. But some of us are [only] interested in gaming not programming. When I grew up a bit we naturally shifted our interest from playing games to game creation. That was the time we decided to switch from math to IT. Classmates who didn’t like gaming followed the math path and we who love gaming followed the IT path. That’s my story : )
What was the first game you wanted to play through on 3dSenVR?
Super Mario Bros.
The interest in the emulator has been incredible, and you’ve shown you like to be close to the community. What’s the most requested feature that you have implemented/are planning to implement?
This is the support for the game Punch Out. I’m planning to add support for it at some point in the future. Imagine you control the character by throwing punches yourself… makes me really excited.
Punch Out is an absolute classic. Making it into a VR first person would just be incredible. Is this something you have developed in the past, or will this be 100% new to you?
I gave it a quick try in the past but quickly realized that’s not something easily solves while there are other games with equal interest from the audience which I can quickly solve and support. So I left it and will come back later at a point in the future with more skill and experience.
…and which game has proven to be most popular with retro gamers?
Super Mario Bros as you can guess. Everyone knows and loves it already so they want to try it first with 3dSen.
The project cleverly takes advantage of VR, but not in the traditional sense of a shooter, driving or other genre of VR game. Do you think the VR industry is going in the right direction, or is there not enough diversity?
Well we are still in the early stage of this current VR technology area (there were already some VR waves in the past). The tech still evolves fast and there are still many things to explore and imagine. I wouldn’t say right or wrong but I would say as of a VR enthusiasm it’s a very exciting time to be alive.
Have you been disappointed with Nintendo’s lack of VR development?
No I’m not disappointed at all. It seems to me that Nintendo philosophy is a little bit similar to Apple. They are never the revolutionists but most of the time they do provide the best and unique experience (all aspects around) to their loyal users.
How difficult was the overall development process – were there any bootstrap methods you could build on, or was it entirely from scratch?
The most difficulty I met in the overall development process is the mentality aspect. I have to constantly fight against myself and keep the motivation up. There is nothing like a bootstrap method cause there is no similar work like 3dSen in the past. I have to let my imagination fly then try to find a practical solution for it then repeat the process : ) That’s my methodology.
I see the project rather like an inner up-hill battle against myself.
Truc – Geod Studio
Was there ever a point where you thought you bit off more than you could chew – with such a massive retro gaming audience anticipating the launch?
Never. Big or not, it is how we evaluate our resource and how we limit the project scope to match it. It’s true that when I first showed my project to the public, there are some people liked it but there are also some people hated it and even talked shi@t about it. I was a little bit shocked at first but I quickly realized that no matter what I do there are always likers and haters.
So it’s all up to me. Am I capable of creating a solution for my vision, of polishing it, of finding the right audience without losing the motivation in this (very very long) process? I see the project rather like an inner up-hill battle against myself. So no, no outside pressure at all!
Was you shocked at the popularity of the project when first build was released for browsers back in 2016?
Yes I’m truly shocked, it’s covered by all big tech sites and people talked about it everywhere. For the up-coming launch not that much of a shock as you stated above: I interact quite closely with the community.
What were the biggest challenges you overcame?
Winning against myself to maintain the motivation. There are time continuously in several weeks I kept turning on my PC then read news after news the whole day until I was completely tired and fell asleep. Those are the hardest times when I lost all the motivation. Luckily I overcame it all in the end.
What are you most happy about with 3dSenVR?
I’m most happy and proud with the profile for DuckHunt game. From a 2D game it completely turns into a real 3D first person shooter game. This is 3D gameplay; I mean the ducks really fly in all 3 dimension and you can move and aim from whatever angle you want.
What advice would you give to any indie game developers that are inspired by the originality & concept of your work?
Well I was almost a loser and there is a big luck factor involving the moderate success of 3dSenVR release on Steam. So I don’t think i’m in the position to give advice to anyone : )
Do you have any plans for other development projects besides 3dSenVR?
Yes in my vision, once I’m done with NES I will probably move to another 8-bit console like GBA or Master System. 16 bits console graphics are way too complex so I prefer supporting another 8-bits system.
Thanks so much for the interview, Truc. It has been a pleasure talking to a true pioneer in VR development. Even better that you are an indie game developer who is unafraid of pushing boundaries. Truly inspirational!
Thank you for the selection. It’s really my honor!
3dSenVR – a multi-platform voxel based 3D NES emulator
Based on the horrifying works of Trevor Henderson, Siren Head: Retribution is a free first-person horror that was developed by indie developer Nathan Brower, and released on Itch.io in March 2020.
In Siren Head: Retribution, you take on the role of a mechanic who gets a little more than he bargained for, while performing some routine maintenance.
“It should have been easy to drive up to the Chattahoochee National Forest ranger station. It would have been easy to meet up with Riley and Dan for another quiet evening. It should have been easy to leave.”
Siren Head: Retribution on Itch.io
We were lucky enough to get one of the first interviews with Nathan Brower, to get a peak in the mind of an indie game horror developer (who doesn’t like horror games!).
Hey Nathan! Thanks for doing this interview. Siren Head: Retribution is an open world horror game based on Trevor Henderson’s work. There are a number of Siren Head games but yours has been lauded as one of the best by more than one reviewer. What sets it apart, in your opinon?
Hey, and thanks for having me!
I think the primary difference between this and other Siren Head games is that Siren Head: Retribution gives you a bigger world to explore, and since some points of interest are shuffled between playthroughs, you have to often find a different strategy to win the game.
So just to go off on a slant – how did you get into dame development?
My dad is a computer wizard, and he taught me Java at young age. I was always interested in computers, and being able to write instructions to tell them what to do really engaged me. Later on, I made several mods for Star Wars BattleFront 2 (the classic 2005 version), and released one to the public. Seeing all the comments and videos of people playing my creation truly filled my heart with joy, and it was that moment that I realized this is what I wanted to do.
Holy mother of Lord baby Jesus on a tricycle… I personally think this is the best Siren Head game I’ve played so far!
Andy R – YouTube
You worked on the game with your brother… are you good colleagues?
Yes! Matthew actually came to me with the idea of making this game. He realized that Siren Head was a popular internet topic right now, and if we wanted to get our names out there, creating a game based on the character would be a good idea. I was actually against this at first, as I have a project that fills my days currently, and taking time away from it made me uncomfortable. I slept on it, and decided that he was right, there would be a good chance that many people would see our work.
Now, Matthew is not a game developer, but he is a great story teller, and he’s written several. One of which is a rather lengthy sci-fi novel that he’s looking to publish soon. Naturally, he would be in charge of all the writing in the game. He also stepped up and did most of the sounds you hear when playing. The title screen music (and the chase music which is a variant) was created by him recording sounds in our garage.
Was making a horror game that is so foreboding difficult in terms of keeping your spirits up… or can you disassociate from the mood of it when developing?
So I have to admit. I do not actually play horror games, and do not watch horror movies. I’m basically a big chicken! Part of my initial resistance to developing this game was being scared by my own creation.
But I must say: between having knowledge of where Siren Head was probably going to be, overall desensitization, and being able to see through the console what he was thinking at all times, there were virtually no instances I was scared through development, which was, for a scaredy cat like me, a pleasant surprise.
Was there ever a point in the game where you thought “Yeah, that part will scare the pants off the player!”?
Ok so I fibbed a little during that last question.
For some context, the astute player might realize that Siren Head is actually teleporting about the map over the course of the game. There are various reasons for this, but I had to do my best to hide this mechanic, as Siren Head does not canonically teleport.
One of the ways I tried to hide this was by making the actual audio source that outputs what Siren Head is yelling at you, track to his location. So, when he would teleport away, instead of having the noise immediately vanish, it would sound more like he’s simply walking away. When I first jumped into the test world to try this out, I was a little freaked out by the sounds pitch shifting up and down. I was not expecting it, and it sounded quite creepy. This is actually the doppler effect, and I considered removing it to hide his teleportation a little better, but since it scared me even after all the knowledge and desensitization, I knew I had to leave it in.
What was the biggest challenge about creating Siren Head: Retribution, and how would you do things differently?
I would say the most challenging part of developing Siren Head: Retribution was getting Siren Head to correctly navigate through the trees.
For those familiar with Unity, Siren Head tracks to the player through a Nav Mesh Agent. In order for a Nav Mesh Agent to walk, you must provide a Nav Mesh that shows where to go. You can mark GameObjects as ‘NavMeshStatic’, and this will tell the Nav Mesh that you don’t want any agents walking in that area. This works great for things like buildings, but the trees were a different story.
You see, the Unity terrain system will mark all trees on the terrain as ‘NavMeshStatic’ regardless of the actual tree prefab. Since all foliage, not just the trees, were placed using the terrain’s tree system, it created a hilarious display of Siren Head tip-toeing around every flower and fern, but mostly just caused unsolvable tracks and rendered poor Siren Head motionless.
Ok great, I thought. I’ll just erase the small plants just leaving the trees, bake the Nav Mesh, and simply undo the erase operations. This worked, but there was still a problem. The trees created a big ‘X’ in the Nav Mesh due to the highest LOD level being two planes in a cross. This resulted in Siren Head giving each tree way too much girth and still resulted in unsolvable positions.
Since Unity ignores the tree prefab’s static setting, I couldn’t immediately come up with an elegant solution. I thought my options were to remove the cross from each tree prefab, bake, then add them again for each of the many trees for each time I had to rebake, or manually add a capsule enveloping the tree’s footprint, for each of the trees in the scene.
I wasn’t excited about either option.
At some point I realized I could actually automate the capsule creation process with an editor script that loops through each tree at a given prototype index and instantiates a capsule at the same scale. With this, I was able to erase all the foliage from the terrain before baking a Nav Mesh to just leave nice capsules where I actually wanted Siren Head to avoid. And if I ever needed to rebake, it was a simple process of running the script a few times. Hoo-ray!
Do you have any advice for budding indie game developers?
Let me preface this by saying I am certainly no expert. However, I do think the following advice is valuable, and I wish I had followed it much sooner.
Don’t let your own taste for game quality stop you from putting yourself out there. Especially in the early days, it’s easy to create something that doesn’t live up to your standards. Heck, Siren Head: Retribution doesn’t live up to mine!
In that same vein, it’s important to limit your scope. Could I have spent another several months polishing and adding things to Siren Head: Retribution in an endeavour to bring the game up to my standards? Of course. But you have to draw the line somewhere. Drawing that line in the sand in terms of scope will help you finish way more projects instead of spending countless time on one project in the goose chase of your high standards.
Because in my opinion, that’s really what matters. Finishing projects. Putting a bow them. Learning from each of them.
And of course, being able to show something to the person that asks: “So, what do you do?”
Siren Head: Retribution
Siren Head: Retribution is available now from Itch.io
First you build a hive, and then you make some honey!
Hive Time is a cartoon-style, bee themed management/base building sim. The player must harvest resources, grow their bee hive, and produce a new Queen before the inevitable death of the current monarch.
From Itch.io: “Manage different bee roles in a totally scientifically inaccurate depiction of hive dynamics. Send Foragers out to find pollen and nectar, have Builders research new cell types, and ensure you have enough Beesitters to raise the next generation of bees.”
“Make interesting choices that affect the hive. Respond to wasp attacks, deal with outlaw slugs, or help a caterpillar realise a lifelong dream!”
We caught up with Josh “The Cheeseness” Bush to find out what the buzz was all about (I thank you) with Hive Time. This little hive management game has been received very well in the indie gaming community, and reviews have been positive. The smart blend of management sim and cartoonish fun, and with the stars of the show being everyone’s favourite black and yellow insect, it makes for a game that is both entertaining and delivers heaps of longevity.
Hey, Cheese, it goes without saying, that is one unique nickname! As is “The Cheeseness”. Where did this come from?
I find that it’s more interesting to leave it a mystery (the truth is pretty mundane). That said, I feel very glad that I wound up with a name that still feels like it fits me over 20 years later!
On to more important things – Hive Time. A unique game in the indie sphere that involves building your hive out, developing infrastructure, and making honey! What gave you the inspiration for the game?
In terms of gameplay, I drew conscious inspiration from the original SimCity, Dune II, Flotilla, Spacebase DF-9, and MASSIVE CHALICE. I’ve enjoyed a lot of other base builders and management sims over the years, which potentially influenced my tastes and sensibilities, but those are the ones that had elements that I particularly wanted to try to capture/explore.
Thematically, my partner and I just like bees. They’re important pollinators and a critical part of many of the world’s ecosystems. They’re also fascinating creatures that are often wrongly depicted as problematic or aggressive. Contributing to positive representations feels pretty worthwhile.
Prior to starting the personal game jam that lead to Hive Time’s initial prototype, my partner Mim and I went out for a brainstorming walk. Halfway through, she suggested abandoning our initial idea of making a Flappy Bird-esque game in favour of something where you build a bee hive. That quickly led to the idea of population diversity management. The broad strokes for Hive Time were laid down by the time we got home.
Throughout the jam, and across Hive Time’s development phase, I kept a mantra of “Do as much as possible with as little as possible,”
Hive Time was a product of a ten day game jam back in May 2019. You really stepped on the gas pedal with development, launching ‘Beecember’ 2019 – how did you achieve this?
Throughout the jam, and across Hive Time’s development phase, I kept a mantra of “Do as much as possible with as little as possible,” aiming for the simplest approaches for achieving my goals, and taking time to reassess assumptions about what the game needs.
For example, Hive Time has no pathfinding – any bee can travel to any cell even if that means passing through another bee or a tall structure, which completely eliminates a significant and common place that bugs can manifest in these sorts of games. This, together with bees’ travel time between any two cells being (more or less) consistent, keeps the simulation simple and more readable when populations grow into the hundreds.
During the jam, we averaged 6 hour days, making sure to leave time for normal life. After the jam ended, Mim returned to her day job and I ramped up to full time hours.
I’ve been making computer games in some form or another for over thirty years now. That level of experience allowed me to approach Hive Time’s short development phase with a degree of confidence and consciousness that let me navigate the pitfalls and hurdles I encountered along the way. In particular, I feel like the previous jams I’d participated in gave me room to further hone my planning and project management skills by treating time constraints as management problems to be solved instead of trying to brute-force them by pulling all nighters.
Who was responsible for the various disciplines of the development, such as sound, graphics, coding etc. and how did you meet?
During the jam, Mim and I shared concept development, game design, and art roles. In addition, Mim hadn’t done any 3D work before, and we used the project as an opportunity to introduce her to Blender. After the jam, Mim continued to contribute event art every now and again.
I first met Hive Time’s composer Peter Silk while doing community work with Double Fine, and eventually recruited him as part of the community moderation team. Peter had seen the work I’d shared during the jam and offered to compose the soundtrack. I was originally planning to do the soundtrack myself, but Peter does great work, and bringing him onboard gave me more time to work on other things.
A few days before the game shippped, Aubrey Serr (another game developer friend that I met through Wolfire and 12 East Games) offered to help out, painting the game’s Queen portraits and saving a feature I was intending to cut to make release.
With the exception of one of the game’s bee sounds, and the fonts used by the game, I did everything else myself.
What got you started in game development in the first place?
When my family got its first computer in the late 80s, my Dad and I learned to program together by copying code out of the back of computer magazines. I made small games for myself, my family, and my friends, but that wasn’t really any different from making any other kind of art for fun.
I think the point at which I decided I wanted to pursue making games for broader audiences was when I started working on some Half-Life 1 mods at the end of the 90s. Only one of them shipped, and it’s as silly as it is buggy, but it was a great experience.
I didn’t start working on games full time until I injured my hands and lost my software developer/sysadmin job in 2010. Since then, I’ve been primarily working on my own projects, taking breaks to do contract work here and there to boost my savings.
You decided on Godot as your dev platform. What were the reasons behind this?
I typically use game jams as an opportunity to try a new piece of tech, a new workflow, or a new way of thinking about things. I’d used Godot for a couple of 2D projects previously, but had stalled on my previous attempts to do experimentation with it in 3D. Our little jam felt like a good time to approach it with a focus and goals.
I typically gravitate toward tools with Free/Open Source licences for a few reasons. On top of being able to debug my work running within the dependencies I use (which allows me to fix things on my own terms and contribute upstream changes where appropriate), it also means that I can share the tools I use with others without restriction, and that feels like an important part of healthy cultural participation.
Do you have any plans for a Steam release?
No plans at this stage. I’m committed to pay-what-you-want with a minimum of $0 and a default price, and to allowing purchases/downloads without an account.
If Valve implements these features, I’ll definitely consider making Hive Time available on Steam. In the meantime, I’m happy that by offering Hive Time on Itch, I’m making it easier for people to play my game (and with fewer strings attached) than it would be on storefronts like Steam, GOG, Humble, Epic, etc..
Many indie devs are porting games to mobile – do you see a place for mobile in your future plans?
Mobile’s not for me.
As fun as the game is – and it IS fun – there is an element of education that goes along with Hive Time, would you agree?
Education’s definitely a subjective thing that only occurs when a person comes across something that they can engage with and learn from.
“I wanted to make sure that I did something to highlight what makes real bees interesting and exciting in their own right”
On the surface, Hive Time is intentionally cartoonish and not an accurate portrayal of bee life or bee lifecycles, but a little deeper than that are some consciously constructed representations of how diversity and infrastructure availability affects the dynamics of human populations.
Beyond that, I wanted to make sure that I did something to highlight what makes real bees interesting and exciting in their own right. When the Informational Update launched and the Beepedia went in, I made sure to make room for some “true bee facts.” I haven’t worked it into the game’s UI nicely yet, but the game’s json data files include reference links for relevant research papers for many of these in the hopes that anybody who’s interested will be able to follow that interest and discover more.
The management side of Hive Time is paced well, and structured intuitively. Do you have a background in management?
Not specifically! I’ve had some positive experiences running projects and managing teams in the past, but most of that has been ad hoc and grew out of first hand experience with the relevant work and recognising that managerial roles are about facilitating the work of others.
What have you been most proud of with Hive Time up to press?
I think the thing that I’m most happy with is the way that I was able to keep development moving forward and focus on getting and keeping Hive Time playable/enjoyable from May 2019 onwards.
It’s the largest scale “solo” project that I’ve shipped to date, and being able to go from prototype to shipped game with seven months’ of work has been a big morale boost. My main project has been in development for six years now, and while I gladly embrace all of the opportunities and side-projects that have slowed it down, it’s a little disheartening to go so long without releasing a polished game of my own. Creating Hive Time has definitely topped up my positivity and enthusiasm levels!
The reception has been very positive for the game – have you received feedback that was useful in development?
I brought the first round of testers onboard in May 2019, and slowly introduced more people in batches right up until the game’s release. All up, I gave out around a hundred pre-release keys, and while I didn’t hear back from everyone, I did get a lot of valuable information that helped me identify some of the game’s friction points and areas where intended concepts weren’t landing. Without their support and attention, Hive Time definitely wouldn’t be as strong as it currently is!
What’s the next development project for you and the Hive Timecollaborators?
There are two more updates that I’d like to ship for Hive Time of a similar scale to the recent Informational Update: one that focuses on high cost mid-game constructions that reflect the hive/colony’s journey through the game; and another that focuses on steering players towards setting their own goals and exploring alternative playstyles.
Outside of that, I’m looking forward to getting back onto In The Snowy Winter’s Wake once I wrap up Supply Chain – another little side project that I’m very close to shipping.
Mim and I will likely collaborate again on something in the future, but don’t currently have anything planned.
Peter’s been doing some music for Supply Chain and has some unannounced projects that he’s doing music on. I’m not sure what Aubrey’s current focus is, but 12 East Games recently released an Apple Watch app called Everyday Matter.
Looking back, did you learn any lessons that you know will be useful moving forward on other projects etc.
I try to draw as many learning experiences as I can from the projects I work on.
On a positive side, I’ve developed some new workflows for particular types of asset creation in Blender that I didn’t have before, I have more familiarity with the ins and outs of Godot, and I’ve continued to find ways to optimise my own productivity while avoiding working faster than I can think.
On a less positive side, I’ve learned that player driven goals are not something that has a lot of mindshare and/or aren’t intuitively embraced so much these days, I’ve discovered that people tend towards seeing “pay-what-you-want” games as “free” games when that’s not specifically addressed, and I’ve learned that it’s possible to at least partially recover from a launch with no press outreach.
Is there any advice you could give to future indie game developers?
Be conscious about sustainability, both in a financial sense and in a personal sense. It’s a tough industry with very few guarantees that crushes a lot of people. Do what you can to find ways to work without relying on one big success and without sacrificing what gives you the passion to create.
It’s the apocalypse, and you are running for your bunker; you can only grab ONE game (not your own!) to play as the world crumbles around you, for a long, long time… what’s the game?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. Maybe Firewatch. I love existing in its spaces, and it is one of the medium’s most mature (in the sense of mastery over craft as opposed to the less-mature “adult” sense) works.
Somewhere – I like to believe – there is a fan-made Game Developer Top Trumps deck…
Among the legends, the greedy and the fallen – players hail “Ocean Software!” and “Fireforge!”. I believe that this fabled deck holds a high-level developer that takes on giant, grand strategy universes, and builds teams of war-hardened developers that hammer out powerful mods, and masses of beautiful code with nothing but their vice-like grip on vintage sci-fi, signed copies of “I am Spock“, and poetic scrawls of advanced mathematics. Jaws drop as the card is drawn from the deck; the demi-God of grand strategy game development clutched aloft in the victor’s hand…
Editor’s note: You show me a better intro than that, and I’ll give you $20.
That overpowered, behemoth of a game developer would no doubt be Johnny Lumpkin – or johnnylump to the rest of us. His modding prowess bringing forth the self proclaimed “Long Warriors” the famous Long War mod for Firaxis‘ XCOMgame.
Johnny went on to build further mods alongside Firaxis, and always with the help of an incredible, dedicated team of developers alongside him.
We were very fortunate to have a quick sit down with Johnny Lumpkin, amid the global chaos around us, and in the final throes of the Terra Invicta Kickstarter… Pavonis Interactive‘s latest charge.
Thanks for joining us, Johnny, as we enter the final days of your Kickstarter… which has rocketed its way past your $20,000 goal on day one and is well on its way to $170,000 with over 3000 backers! Awesome stuff. It looks like you got the majority of backers early on; no doubt from your huge Long War following?
Thank you! Typically Kickstarters show the biggest growth in the first days and the last ones. The final surge comes when Kickstarter sends out reminder emails at the 48-hour mark to people who have expressed interest in the project. We’re eager to find out where we end up.
We do think Long Warriors are definitely part of our core audience, although we also jumped genres a bit in that we left turn-based tactics for grand strategy, so we think we’re gaining a following from 4X and grand strategy players. Hopefully lots of people are like me and their tastes span both types of games.
You have said in the past that you started out by modding games, but was XCOM where you cut your teeth… or had you dabbled with other games before?
In the 1980s I remade the entire storyline of “Aliens” as a game with Adventure Construction Set on my Apple IIc. I programmed here and there for fun and worked on a space game in Pascal for my friends in college. Made and posted a module for Neverwinter Nights in 2006, but Long War was on another scale entirely, with a big team handling all kinds of tasks.
Were Firaxis helpful during Long Wars mod development?
For Long War, in addition to taking notice and talking about us, they reached out when they heard we were expanding our voice acting to pass on some unused voice files for a popular character in-game, and gave us some additional info on how to process original voiceover work from our volunteers so it fit with the default VOs (voice overs) that came with the game.
Long War 2, meanwhile, was done in close collaboration with Firaxis. We frequently chatted with their technical lead about issues we were running into or additional functionality that would support mods. They were great to work with every step of the way.
What changed for you (and the team you were working with) when you got the call from 2K / Firaxis to partner up and make mods for XCOM 2?
Personally, I was wrapping up a PhD and wondering what I was going to do next, so when they contacted us about paying work, I jumped at it. Then began the steps of going from hobbyists to pros by forming a proper company and formalizing how we worked.
What was the most difficult – but most rewarding – mod you pulled off?
Long War 2, by a mile. Riffing off the XCOM 2 guerrilla war storyline with a bunch of new mechanics involved some significant code changes, but we felt we successfully did for XCOM 2 what Long War did for XCOM — honor the main gameplay and narrative while widening the scope and challenges for players who wanted an epic experience.
Does the game’s community play an important role in the modding process, or do you start out with an internal plan that you try to stick with?
For the first Long War, we didn’t have a plan at all, because we didn’t know what was technically possible. Our technical lead figured out new tricks to mod in new features to XCOM, and we’d then design around them. Feedback came in and we incorporated it into our overall thinking.
As bad a rap as Internet comment feeds receive, the Long War community was great. They’d post long essays, offer evidence from their play, and have actual discourse on strategy and balance. Their posts were a delight to read and participate in, and they directly influenced our developing of the game.
Long War 2 was a little different, because we had to do most of the work before it was announced. We had a small team composed primarily of people from the original Long War days, including some of the people who didn’t participate in developing code or art, but were some of our favorite playtesters. We did implement feedback from the wider set of players after it was released, but it was much more of a traditional development process.
Your work has been praised by the likes of – to name a few – Wired, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and PC Gamer. Even Jake Solomon was quoted saying XCOM was “a 20-hour tutorial for Long War”. With so much positivity around your work, what has truly been your proudest moment in your professional journey so far?
That’s tough to say. The support of Jake and the Firaxis team is definitely a highlight — it really taught me that game developers really like to see one another succeed and don’t regard games as a … zero-sum game, I guess. Beyond that, all the feedback we’re getting on Terra Invicta is amazing.
People are putting up real money because the story we’re telling is capturing their imaginations. That’s thrilling and also daunting; we do feel an incredible responsibility toward them to make sure we get them the experience they have signed up for.
On to Terra Invicta, which looks to become an incredible success. What unique aspects can players expect that they might not see in other similar grand strategy games?
A couple of features spring to mind: One, you have your councilors, who are something like a party in an RPG and function as your proxies on Earth. They are characters you develop while you send them to manipulate world affairs. So instead of some nameless overlord directly interacting with nations and other game elements, you have people doing that work and putting themselves in harm’s way to do it.
Beyond that, I’d say there aren’t many grand strategy or 4X games that stay exclusively in the Solar System. You jump from Earth-based games like Civilization or Hearts of Iron, straight to interstellar empire games like Stellaris or Master of Orion. In the latter type of games, your homeworld is just a busier version of the colonies you are trying to develop.
Terra Invicta covers the time in between; humanity, under the threat of an alien invasion, will establish a real foothold in space, on Mars and in Asteroid Belt and on the gas giant moons. But what you build in space is not what you are managing on Earth — outposts of a few dozen to a few thousand people can’t compare with what it takes to direct and protect billions on the homeworld. So we have different mechanics and goals that feed into the overall simulation.
The Solar System strategic map can be scaled according to how complex a game the player wants (and can handle with their hardware). How was this mapping developed – and were there any shortcuts… or just long nights at the office?
Wonderful, beautiful math! And publicly available astronomical databases. We use what are called Keplerian orbital elements to build the Solar System. Seven numbers and the current time can locate any space object on an elliptical orbit.
(Purists will note we’re not doing a more perfect n-body simulation, which is far more computationally intensive and probably asking too much of your CPU. But we’re close enough for our needs.)
Habitats – or habs – play a hugely important role in the player’s faction. Which of the hab modules do you think players will consider the most valuable for progression?
One of the goals in the game is for the player to industrialize space. That means transitioning away from reliance on resources hauled up from the bottom of Earth’s gravity well and instead using what you can extract from asteroids and moons. The module that does that combines a mine and an electromagnetic catapult to fling the mined ore into your resource pool.
The R&D in strategy games can be a “make of break” for some players. Has this been one of the most difficult aspects to get right?
We’re trying to actually separate the R from the D to make the decision set a little more interesting than picking one tech at a time and waiting for it to finish. Terra Invicta has global scientific principles that all of humanity researches at once, and you as a player can decide how much effort to contribute to them. Or you can put your efforts into developing private engineering projects that directly benefit your faction, at the expense of the world’s overall technological process slowing and you not having a say in where it goes.
It’s a bit more complex than a traditional tech system, but the projects are really open-ended in what we can do with them.
Some factions in the game will work against human resistance and side with the alien invaders for their own gain. Though the majority of players will be thrilled to play as the resistance, have you had encouraging feedback about playing as the “invader sympathiser”?
Yes. We’re seeing some people already do a bit of lighthearted role-playing, arguing the aliens really are here to help us. It’s great.
As a player – what will you enjoy most about playing Terra Invicta?
Because I know what’s going on underneath the hood, probably the most satisfying moments for me will be when I see things happen that I didn’t directly script or otherwise expect. The game has a bunch of smaller systems interacting with each other; sometimes those systems will generate events I wouldn’t have predicted.
I’m sure this sounds twisted, but I felt a little burst of pride for the AI when it, via North Korea, launched an ICBM at my hometown of Dallas, Texas, during a playtest.
I’m sure there have been huge accomplishments along the way, but what was the biggest high five moment so far… any incidents where you managed to solve a real time vampire of a problem?
I had to look at our code and check with our lead dev to see if I could come up with a good story, and I’m afraid I can’t. It’s a credit to our original architecture that we’ve been able to adapt it to things that have come along.
I guess getting some of our ECS working again through a significant Unity upgrade was a challenge, but that’s not a terribly sexy story, just reading docs and looking up things on Stack Exchange, and being relieved when we got it compiling again.
Has there ever been a moment of doubt where you thought you had all bit off more than you could chew… if so, at what point did this happen?
Oh, self-doubt is always there. It keeps me honest; even though I’m leading the project I’m always aware there are people on the team who are better at their job than I could ever be. So I lay out the vision and help them do their jobs as best I can. And when I’m unsure about things, we talk and work toward a consensus.
For most game creators there was a moment very early on when they became enamoured with a particular genre. For you this seems to be alien invasion/grand strategy. What was the catalyst for this do you think?
I think it’s probably a synthesis of multiple things. My love of science fiction goes back to seeing Star Wars at age four in 1977. Geopolitics and history come from talking with my late grandfather, a World War II fighter pilot turned Texas oilman, as I was growing up. Video games I remember from the 80s include Balance of Power, Strike Fleet and Earth Orbit Stations.
The first grand strategy game I played was the original Victoria; I remember being delighted at the idea you could simulate a period of history in that level of detail. The first alien invasion game I really loved was the original X-Com from the 90s — sort of this mix of the X-Files and Starship Troopers, set in the modern day.
Some game developers admit that their (overactive creative) mind wanders to other game ideas as they get into the process of game development. Has this happened to you, and what was the strangest game idea that popped in there?
Probably the wildest game I thought of would be something like a space pirates game, where the setting is kind of a unscripted 4X empires game played entirely by a bunch of aggressive AIs, and you’re just flying around trying to survive in it. I’m not sure how strange that is, though; it’s probably already on Steam somewhere.