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The CMP Game Group (producer of Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra.com, and the Game Developers Conference) established the Independent Games Festival in 1998 to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize the best independent game developers. They saw how the Sundance Film Festival benefited the independent film community, and wanted to create a similar event for independent game developers as well as the student population of game developers.
I sat down with the developers from Detective Brand and Chronic Logic to talk about Detective Brand Golf, a game created in conjunction by these two studios. Taking the normal laws of golf and adding a real-time multiplayer aspect (a la Shizmoo Games), Golf becomes a wacky variation of the game we all know and love (well, those of us who haven't bent a club in frustration playing it anyways).
So who are you and what was your role on Detective Brand Golf?
Andrew: I am Andrew Laing, a game designer and I teamed up with Luke after having worked with him at Blackbox games. We thought we would do a small game to see how well we worked together and I think we thought we could do a small golf thing. Luke suggested getting in touch with Chronic Logic based on their other efforts and I basically called them up and asked them if they wanted to work on a project together Luke: I am Luke Hetherington from Vancouver Canada. Josiah: My name is Josiah Pisciotta and I like to make games. I help with programming, design and testing Alex: I am Alex Austin, I did some programming
Congrats on making the finals. Is this your first time entering into the IGF?
Josiah: Alex and I have had games in the IGF finals for the last couple of years Andrew: Yes, this is Detective Brand's first game
How long has Detective Brand been together?
Andrew: Hmmmm… around 2 years I think, right Luke? Do you count all the times we get together and say "We should make a game?" I think we started on the golf project around June 2003 Luke: 2 years. The first year we didn't really do much. Golf started a year and a bit ago I think Andrew: I remember that we didn't do much the second year either Luke: That is true as well
What made you guys decide to make games?
Alex: I'm only in it for the groupies Andrew: I just got caught up in the whole dark dingy arcade scene of the early 80s. Ha ha. I always remembered the rush I'd get seeing a new game. When you're a little kid it's a real thrill if that's what you're into, so I guess I am looking to recreate that thrill for some kids, not really make a million bucks or anything Luke: We don't make games. Well, not yet at least. Hopefully when this is done we can say we make games. Right now we make unfinished projects
What were some of the things you had to go through to get the game ready for submission to the IGF?
Josiah: The game was not really ready for either IGF deadlines. For the first deadline we really added a lot of stuff in the last few days to get it ready. We put in a simple interface, got the music and sound working. We also added the levels on the last day possible. For the second IGF deadline (the final submission) we already had the playable demo finished, but it was missing a lot of stuff, such as interface, sound and music. We didn't really think we could put that all together in time so it was left out, eliminating all chances of winning prizes this year Andrew: When you make any kind of submission before a game is complete, you leave yourself open to having serious bugs and obviously missing content that will be in the final game. It's one of the little pitfalls of game development. You'll be halfway through getting something to work and then you have to stop in your tracks and get a submission ready for E3 or a publisher. It's just a necessary evil. At the time of the IGF submission, for example, we were changing how the sounds were going to work in the final game, and so even though we had full sounds for a year, there was no sound in the IGF submission. It's really easy to lose two or three weeks of production to submission preparations, because you have to do as good a bug test as you can as well. It's a good idea to keep milestone builds that are robust at every stage of development which can be used as demos if you are on a tight schedule. If anyone reading this interview is interested in developing a game for next years IGF, I believe that their deadline is in September. The good news is that they allow for an updated build after the initial deadline. It would be a good idea to make sure you have something that you can submit a month in advance of the deadline, that way you have something to fall back on
So what's the general idea behind the game? Is there anything that makes it different than any other golf game out there?
Andrew: Ha ha. Is there anything that makes it the same? I personally never got into any golf game before, and I tried them all hoping someone would get it right. So I thought Luke and I could take a shot at a simple golf 'toy'. That was the original idea Josiah: This game is very different. Its real time multiplayer and the art style is very unique Andrew: There's no point in copying something that is only successful because there's a big time face on the cover. We really concentrated initially on making sure it felt like you were playing something rather than jumping though the hoops that some other golf games set up for you. In fact, there are many golf titles out there that you can play with your eyes closed by just honking on the same button. Our game is hopefully considered to be a real departure from the other guys
The simultaneous multi-play - in what ways does that affect the play of the normal game? Is it, for example, the first person to sink the ball in the hole?
Andrew: It makes it crazy! Alex: Well you don't have to wait for slow people like Luke to line up their shot for one thing Andrew: If you think about it, the game of golf evolved over hundreds of years, but computer golf hasn't really had a chance to evolve yet. And in the real world, you rarely golf by yourself and the only reason you takes turns is so you don't get beaned in the dome. So we removed that limitation. It was a huge jump in Fun Factor when we attained multiplayer Alex: Also you can simulate robot sex on the other players Luke: It's true, what Alex said. I got it today Josiah: No comment...
So multi-play isn't the only play option?
Andrew: It is once you've tried it Alex: You can play alone or with up to 4 other players Luke: Just buy it
So what's this about robots? Is that who you are in the game?
Josiah: Yes, your player is a robot Andrew: You have to ask yourself, don't all golfers love robots?
Are there any distraction techniques to use against your opponents?
Andrew: It's all really you against the course. Once you add shooting and tractor beams it becomes something else... we found out the hard way
So the course has obstacles on it you have to work around?
Josiah: Yeah the courses are similar to a real golf course – dog legs and trees, sand traps and hills Alex: Most of the holes resemble standard golf holes, with trees and grass and sand, and then some have other objects like Pachinko machines Andrew: At one point some of the holes were really just little puzzles, so there was nothing but an obstacle that you golfed on really. I really liked those but it wasn't too much like real golf. Yeah! The Pachinko machines were cool!
I've seen the screenshot of the game. Is that cell shading? What's inspired the look of the game?
Luke: It's not cell shaded. The objects have wire frame lines though. What inspired the look? I guess other videogames of some kind
What were the tools used to make the game?
Andrew: I prototyped in Blitz 3d. It was really fast. Luke: For art I use a 3D program and a paint program Alex: For the programming we've used Visual C, and libraries like SDL, OpenGL and OpenAL Andrew: We use Leveller for the levels. Sound is a mixture of recording real world sounds digitally and manufacturing sounds with synthesizers
How did you guys all communicate to manage the project?
Alex: We didn't Andrew: We tried several different things, because we had never worked long distance before. Mainly ICQ, email and phone; just what you would expect Luke: It's true, communication was terrible. Long distance communication didn't work at all Andrew: Yes, there was always a tendency for people to not communicate
Looking back, what were some of the major issues and what could you have done to fix them?
Andrew: The long distance was trying sometimes, that was clearly the main issue because really there were only 4 of us, so tight communication would have been easy in the same room, but it proved to be a tough point Luke: Yeah the separation of the team was the biggest mistake. It doesn't work for us... it might work in theory but it didn't work in this case Alex: It was definitely difficult working over a distance Andrew: The camera system proved to be tough. I've done camera stuff before, but every project has its unique factors that make it a challenge. In Golf, the challenge was to have a camera system that would accommodate unknown obstacles (you don't want to change your camera because one of your later levels has huge trees for example) Josiah: The distance combined with lack of design and unified vision was the main problem
Any tips or advice you'd like to give to others looking to maintain a virtual team during development?
Josiah: Don't do it if possible. It's so much easier to work together when in the same location. If you have to make sure one person is in charge and he communicates with everyone else very regularly about everything that is going on Andrew: Let me precursor this by saying I am not referring to any specific case, this is general advice. It's vitally important that someone with a good sense of responsibility is at the reins of the project. It's equally important that this person has veto power, or you might end up with an ego-project with people not being able to ‘let go' of their babies. This drags development and it's possible for one person to stall the entire project. It's difficult to get people to submit work that they aren't ready to part with, so it's a good idea to have scheduled submissions, whether the work is complete or not. This also allows the producer to gauge the time required. When you're building a team, interview the potential members like it was an actual job interview, because it is! Likewise, when you are applying to work on a virtual team project, (Is that a new term?) make sure you know who is in charge of what and what is expected of you. Try and have good communication, even pre-scheduled daily meetings if possible. It sounds easy but we found communication to be our sore spot. Even if you know the people you are working with, (perhaps especially!), it pays to have signed contracts in place. When you decide things with a verbal discussion, time tends to play a big role in changing people's memories down the line. You don't have to use a lawyer, something you wrote yourself is better than nothing. Avoid any verbose statements and just use plain English, clarity is the key to resolving disputes down the road. If the contracts are well written, most disputes are resolved by referring to the contracts. My last piece of advice would be to try and have fun with what you're doing!
So will Golf ever be totally finished?
Andrew: Ha ha! That's a great question Alex: Yeah, it should be done by GDC Luke: Yeah, GDC Andrew: The toughest thing to do is realize that your game is done and that you should finally step away and say "OK, time to do the next project." Golf. Done. Two sweeter words were never typed. By the way, I don't like the use of the word "should" there, Alex Alex: I meant GDC 2006 Andrew wails in despair
Well good luck at GDC guys, I'll see you there in March
Andrew:Thanks Drew it was a pleasure talking to you Alex:Thanks Josiah: Thanks Drew