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My name is Andy Schatz and I am the sole developer on the little 4-player cooperative heist game, Monaco.
How did you become interested in game development?
I've been making games since I was 7 years old when my mom bought me a "programming" book for the commodore 64. You just had to copy the code exactly from the book to the computer and you could make a little ski slalom game. I've been hooked for 24 years.
How and when did the concept for Monaco originate?
Monaco was actually a concept I thought of 9 years ago. I've always loved crime capers like The Sting. And shows like The A-Team and Mission Impossible really captured my imagination as a kid. I guess I just liked the idea of teams of brilliant individuals cooperating to do naughty things. I actually tried to get the game made as a big 3-D AAA title when I was at a game company about 6 years ago. We prototyped the thing but we couldn't find enough publisher interest to get the game made.
Did you dust off old design documents or just take what you could remember and approach it from a fresh angle?
I did end up using the basic graphic design from the original GDD. And while I didn’t actually refer to that document while I was making the 2010 version of the game, the prototype ended up awfully close to what I wrote in that document in 2004.
The game design section started with this sentence: “MONACO combines the low-level game mechanics of PACMAN married with the stealth features of HITMAN.”
I also recently built a board game version of Monaco in which each room was represented by a face down card. Each player could explore the building, turning over the cards, picking up loot, and dealing with whatever traps and guards they came across. It was flawed, but fun.
Over the course of development, what was Monaco’s most serious issue and how was it resolved?
It was almost never born at all. I was actually working on another title called Venture Dinosauria, and I was really struggling with it. I kept taking breaks from working on that game and coming back to it to recharge my game design juices. But alas, I was getting nowhere. I was very close to giving up entirely when I decided to take one more break and work on Monaco. After a week of work,it was fun. After two it was a blast. From there it just seemed to make sense to keep the ball rolling. I submitted to the IGF after 6 weeks of work, and continued updating throughout the judging process. The build that the judges most likely played was representative of about 11 weeks of work.
Did you choose the pixel graphics style for rapid development? Or was it more of a design/mechanics issue?
Both. The game is inspired by rogue-likes, and the visibility algorithm is all tile based. Since the game design was tile based, I thought the look and feel should actually emphasize the concept of“squares” rather than run away from it. I’m still working on moving the look and feel to be more Mondrian-esque.
What’s one thing you did wrong (individually or as a team) that you feel could have been avoided? How?
It's really hard to say. The game is so young in development, and the process has been so smooth, that I can't think of anything I would change. I certainly can't say that about my past projects,but this one has been a dream.
Do you feel that’s simply due to past experience? Choice of development platform? What do you think has made it smooth sailing (so far)?
Part of it is working in 2d. What a breath of fresh air. 3d is honestly such a pain in the ass; I’m not sure I’ll ever work on a 3d game again. You spend all your energy just making a game WORK rather than making it FUN when you are working in 3D. And I’ve been making games as a hobby for 24 years, and professionally since 1998. So I’m pretty good at what I do these days... ?
If there was one thing you could look back on during development and say “that was really cool” – what was it and why?
Having a playable game running on the Xbox and PC after 2 weeks of work was thrilling. I was able to start playtesting with friends and family from the very beginning. It's a lot easier to develop game if it's fun from the get-go... all you have to do is add features until it's done. If you are trying to make something fun that doesn't start out fun... that's a huge hill to climb. Also, getting a network game running after only a week of work was a big ego-boost..
How long has Monaco been in development? How much development time remains?
I've been working on it for about 14 weeks now (I took some time off over the holidays). The amount of time remaining entirely depends on what platform I end up targeting.
What was used to make the game and what tools aided in development?
I'm currently using XNA to build the game, though I may end up porting it if I decide to go to Wii or PS3. As for as tools, I use all free or open source stuff: Graphics Gale for pixel art, GIMP for image editing, Audacity for recording and sound editing, Lidgren for my network backend. I also use a Google Docs spreadsheet for my task/bug list.
What are some of the things behind your decision when choosing a platform (or multiple platforms)?
I actually have a big decision before me right now… do I go on my own to an exclusive console platform, do I try to work with a publisher to go multiplatform, or do I focus on the less restrictive platforms and go it alone there? Each entails different business partners, different final forms of the game, all of which are good. But I won’t even really know what my viable choices are until I start that conversation… which is happening pretty much as we speak.
What's the main thing you think makes your game fun?
How could a 4-player cooperative heist game - sorta like Gauntlet crossed with Hitman - NOT be fun. It's a blast. It's one of only two games my fiancée really loves to play. She likes to play asthe Prowler, I like to play as the Cleaner. We'll spend hours stealing loot, sneaking away from guards, and in the event of a mistake, panicking and hiding in a closet.
You can earn medals too - if you steal 100% of the loot and you don't get shot you get a Platinum medal. When I'm playing by myself I like to try to do Speedruns on Platinum. Getting a platinum on the shorter missions only takes about 5 minutes while the longest takes around 15-20. It's a great single player game. It's a great party game. It includes an editor and even lets you play your edited levels across the network. It's got a fun story. Great music. Atmospheric audio.And you can steal stuff. With your friends. What's not to like?
Were there any issues that cropped up you would define as specific to designing/implementing the co-op part of the game?
Making each character unique enough that they really act in complementary ways, while still making all of them fun, viable choices in single player, is pretty hard. I’m fine with one character being a more difficult single player character, but they can’t be broken. Players tend to identify with characters, not with abilities, so you want to make sure whichever character“speaks” to the player is a viable, but unique choice if they are playing by themselves.
Besides the IGF, what else have you done to get your game before players? What’s worked the best?
Well, considering that the game is so young, I haven't really done a lot to get the game out there yet. Mostly I just contacted individuals within the indie community asking them for advice on gameplay and art.
Is there anything about Monaco that you would like to reveal to other developers?
In Monaco, each character has a unique specialty and "bomb" that they can use to help themselves and teammates on the heist. The Hacker has thermal vision to see through walls and can plant spy cameras around the location. The Cleaner can knock out guards with chloroform and regenerates when standing still, the Locksmith opens doors and safes really quickly and has a smoke-bomb to escape from guards, the Prowler moves faster than her teammates and specialized in acts of agility.
And there are a number of unlockable characters that haven't been announced yet!
How did you feel about the judge’s feedback for your game?
I always find the feedback to be of high quality, though I've never felt that the feedback was an essential part of the IGF. I don't enter the IGF to hear what the judges would like for me to improve... I can get that kind of criticism from my informal playtesting. I enter the IGF in order to try and win it.
So I guess you get a break from hosting the IGF awards this year? Or could you potentially present yourself with an award? ?