Developer Interview: Volchaos

When I started Indie Gamer Chick I figured it would be a good hobby for me and a chance to check out some games that I might otherwise not have had a chance to play.  Then I ended up being contacted by developers and being asked to interview studios who have their titles entered in the Summer Indie Uprising.  I figured, why not?  I mean I’ll talk to a few of them and it will be fun and leisurely and not at all stir up a shit-storm of controversy.  After nearly thirty developers contacted me, I noticed that a lot of them (nearly one in three) felt that the legitimacy of the Uprising was questionable due to the inclusion of a game called Volchaos.  Why the controversy?  Because it’s designed by Kris Steele, who co-organizes the Uprising event.

At first I chalked it up to sour grapes, as many of those who contacted me had not made the top 25 cut.  But the situation kept coming up.  When Mr. Steele contacted me for an interview, I figured it would be in the public interest to ask him directly about this.  And then I found out the whole situation was news to him.  I would like say before posting the transcript that I do believe I came off a little aggressive in the interview but I found Mr. Steele to be a good sport about the whole thing, if a little cocky.  I won’t know if Volchaos is worth the scorn until I play it when it is released next month, but following this interview my interest in playing it was genuinely lifted.

Volchaos designer Kris Steele

Kairi Vice: How many people are involved in the making of Volchaos?

Kris Steele: Fun Infused Games is officially a one man shop though I’ve come to grips with the fact that I cannot do music or artwork very well. Even though I’m primarily making the games and our only official employee, I’ve contracted out for all my music and much of the artwork on my games. I’ve also recently been working with another developer that is going to port my game Hypership to C++ and bring it to some new platforms like PC / Mac / and eventually iOS. Mostly me, but a few other very key contributors too.

Kairi Vice: Of the 25 games in the Summer Indie Uprising, to be perfectly blunt the one I have the least faith in is Volchaos. So my first question is, how is it going to surprise me?

Kris Steele: Platforming games have been huge for years.. Mario, Sonic, etc. Super Meat Boy was a massive success on XBLIG, I’d say of any game out there, Super Meat Boy is the closest comparison to Volchaos. I get that the retro styling isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and it may not look as impressive as some of the other Summer Uprising games, but Volchaos will stand solidly on its gameplay, challenge, and fun

Kairi Vice: Isn’t comparing your unreleased, über-generic looking title to Super Meat Boy a bit arrogant?

Kris Steele: Ouch, tough crowd. I guess a cowboy that looks like Chuck Norris in a volcano has been done to death already? Just kidding. Let me address this on two counts. First, most of the screen shots and videos you see now are the levels minus the extra background artwork, parallax layers, etc. I’ve been concentrating first on making the levels play well and only recently have I been going back to make them look good. I believe the final versions of the game will not come across as über-generic.

Second, let me clarify my Super Meat Boy comparison. I did not mean graphically at all, these are two distinctly different looking games. But in terms of how they play, they have a lot in common. Mostly small levels, fast paced gameplay, lots of dying, high difficulty level, great sense of accomplishment when you finally can beat those tough levels.

Kairi Vice: Here is some of the actual feedback I’ve received from other developers regarding Volchaos: “A joke.”  “A farce.”  “Volchaos‘ inclusion delegitimizes the event.”  “It only got in because Kris organizes the uprising. There were many more deserving titles.”  “If it makes the top 8 the whole Uprising concept is dead.”  How do you respond to this?

Kris Steele: Volchaos is going through the exact same process as everyone else in the event, there is no special treatment. There are 70 developers that will be voting in those final 8 games plus a fan vote for 2 more. If my game gets in, it is because either the developers or fans voted it in, the same as every other title that gets in.  I have done several playtests of Volchaos over several months and have received overwhelmingly positive responses to Volchaos. I am confident that it is a good, fun game worthy of standing alongside the other Uprising nominees. No one has said anything to me before like the comments you just presented. If someone has issue with my game being in the promotion, I would love to talk with them (email me at kris@funinfused.com). And if there are aspects of my game they do not like, I would love to hear about those too either via email or on my playtest forum thread so that I can do my best to improve and alleviate whatever those issues are.

Kairi Vice: Okay, last mean-spirited question that I feel like a total bitch for asking: the guy looks nothing like Chuck Norris. At all.  And if it was Chuck Norris he wouldn’t be running from the lava. The lava would be running from him. Just saying. But really, the whole trailer and just screams “trying too hard” to piggy back on an internet meme. Are you afraid people are going to look at it more as a parody then a legitimate game?

Personally I think he looks more like Woody from Toy Story.

Kris Steele: When I asked my artist to create the character, I was looking for an adventuring type guy more in the vain of Indiana Jones. He did several mockups and changes based on my feedback and we ended up with the character we have now. It was only after I revealed the character and some early screen shots that other people (multiple people) started telling me he looked like Chuck Norris. The person that did the trailer for me happens to be one of those people who saw the resemblance and included a mention of that in the trailer. I thought it was a funny line.

One thing that Fun Infused Games always does is include humor in our games, that’s one of our trademarks, that’s one of the reasons our games are unique. I would say Volchaos is both a legitimate game and a parody. The game opens with a “Warning: Do Not try this at home” screen and each level is preceded by a light-hearted comic (one such comic has the main character proclaiming “My wife left me for a Walrus”). The fire death sequence is comical too as are a few of the enemies.

Kairi Vice: Wife left him for Michael Chiklis, huh? Harsh.

Kris Steele: The meaning of walrus is left open to interpretation. It could be a literal walrus too.

Kairi Vice: Again, Michael Chiklis springs to mind. But that’s neither here nor there.  A platformer lives and dies based on how accurately the player can control the character. How fine tuned should players expect the controls to be for Volchaos?

Kris Steele: Getting the controls just right is tough but a huge priority for me. Great controls are one of the reasons games like Super Mario Brothers or Super Meat Boy excel while other platformers fall flat. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into listening to user’s feedback on how Volchaos controls and making adjustment on top of playing other platformers myself and adjusting based on those too. The early versions of Volchaos were much more floaty and much slower moving than the current one is for example, early testers were quick to point out those issues. I believe when gamers get the final version of Volchaos, they’ll be fighting with beating challenging levels, not with beating frustrating controls.

Kairi Vice: Was the Youtube trailer at a point in development where the jumping was more floaty?

Kris Steele: The notorious “Chuck Norris” trailer is pretty close to the current movement, so there is still some floaty left. The older versions of the game were much more floaty.

Kairi Vice: A common theme with my reviews and these so-called “Punishment Platformers” is that as the challenge ramps up, the game stops being fun. It’s not impossible for a game to avoid running out of fun before it runs out of game (see Aban Hawkins & the 1000 Spikes) but it’s easily the most common problem with the genre. How will Volchaos avoid falling into this trap?

Kris Steele: With Volchaos, we’re avoiding throwing everything at you all at once. The levels start off easy… a few pits to jump over, some lava to avoid. Then progressively new platforming elements are added. New enemies, moving platformers, keys to open locked areas, blocks that disintegrate under your feet, blocks that bounce you high into the air, etc. At no point will the levels go from being easy to impossible, it will be progressive.  Each level also has a secondary goal, collect all the gems. This completely optional task, from the get go, will be challenging. Collecting all the gems will give more experienced players a challenge initially on the early levels and give novice players a reason to come back and replay those levels too. There will be some unlockables in the game the more levels you collect all the gems in.

Kairi Vice: You have four games currently in development. Some might accuse you of spreading yourself thin. How do you respond to this?

Kris Steele: At this moment, the only game I’m actively working on is Volchaos, as I want to make sure I can be ready for an August release date. I’ve back-burnered everything else. At other times though, I’ve definitely been working several projects at once. I believe this is beneficial though. While it does mean it takes longer for me to finish a game when that game isn’t getting 100% of my time, it also keeps me from getting burnt out on one particular game and gives me fresher eyes when I take a break and come back later. Nastier for instance is something I’m far along on but I haven’t worked on in quite a while. I’ve learned so much since putting it on hold about game design, player movement, etc that I’m confident when I do get back to it, Nastier will be a significantly better game for it.

Kairi Vice: Retro-style graphics are a perfect fit for the punishment-platformer genre. What were your inspirations for the graphical style of Volchaos?

Kris Steele: I’ve wanted to do a platforming game for a while, as those are the types of games that really got me into gaming, but I wanted to do something unique too. My previous release Hypership is pretty frantic, fast paced, and has been extremely well received by gamers. I wanted a way to tie that fast paced action into a more traditional platformer and thus the concept of being trapped in a volcano with rising lava was born. The pixel art style really came about because that’s the style of the platforming games I loved the most growing up. The game isn’t complex, you run and you jump and you collect items and avoid enemies… in a way, a more simple, old school art style seemed more fitting to this.

Kairi Vice: I’ve often said that anyone with a ROM editor can make a game that is excessively difficult, whereas it takes talent to make a game that has just the right difficulty from start to finish. Why go for the extreme difficulty when it’s often reflective of a game designer with no self-restraint?

Kris Steele: I think you’re right, anyone can do a hard game but Volchaos isn’t like one of those hacked Mario Brothers levels you see on YouTube. There aren’t any insanely difficult levels that are just one trap or obstacle after another. Levels are fun and interesting and unique, not just a mash of hard stuff.  Most of the levels are challenging but not to a point of utter frustration. A lot of the reason I ultimately have made this a more difficult game is that by doing so, the sense of accomplishment is far greater when you do succeed.

Kairi Vice: I dunno, I felt pretty, um, something, when I beat Kirby’s Epic Yarn… okay point taken.  What are the other games you’re most interested in from the Uprising?

Kris Steele: It’s unbelievable how many great games were submitted to the Uprising, when we started putting together this thing, I had no idea there would be so many. I don’t really want to play favorites and name any names while developer voting is still going on, but suffice to say, there are way more than 10 quality titles here. It’s an exciting time to be involved with Xbox Live Indie Games.

Kairi Vice: What’s the most challenging aspect of programming with XNA?

Kris Steele: I still struggle with the networking aspect of things, partly because I haven’t done much on that end and partly because it’s just plain hard. I’d love to have games with online play in them but I haven’t had the time or patience yet to really figure out how to do that right.

Kairi Vice: And finally, if you could change one aspect of the XBLIG platform, what would it be?

Kris Steele: I want more gamers to know we are here, only a fraction of Xbox users seem to know we exist. Too many good developers are leaving the platform because they made good games that get good ratings but that doesn’t translate into sales. There are a number of ways to do this but honestly adding Achievements to XBLIG would probably be the most effective. Give us those and the gamers will follow.

Kairi Vice: Thanks for you time. On a personal note, I will admit I was like “ugh, same old shit” when I saw the trailer to Volchaos, but you had many A answers and now I am genuinely interested in reviewing it when the time comes.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

4 Responses to Developer Interview: Volchaos

  1. Jacob Crow says:

    Interesting interview. I was shocked you just attacked him like that, felt like that was a bit unprofessional. But on the flip side of that, it also does not strike me right that he is one of the coordinators and was allowed to submit a game. Wasnt he in charge of slimming the games down to twenty? Does not sound fair at all to me. Anyway this was informative and Kris seems like a nice guy. I will be checking Volchaos out when it gets released.

    • Kairi Vice says:

      He was one of four people who was in charge of making the cut to 25.

      I admit I was aggressive and maybe over-zealous but I think unprofessional is a bit harsh considering that so many people brought it to my attention that I had no choice but to bring it up.

  2. Dave Voyles says:

    Great interview. Very direct, but I’m sure most people appreciate it.

    Sure, people may question the legitimacy of his title as being a part of the promotion (or top 25 at least) but he was only 1/4 of the equation. He wasn’t present for the sit down meeting that the three of us had, regarding the 25 to get in. He simply filled out his form of the document with the titles which he believed should move into the top 25, and with how much conviction he felt behind each title. So in all honesty, it came down to four people making that cut, which the developers on the App Hub forums decided was the best approach.

    Regardless, if many developers felt that it shouldn’t be a part of the promotion, that’s fine, and quite honestly, understandable. Let their votes speak for themselves and play the cards as they fall. In 36 hours we’ll have the vote totals in, and those will reveal which will be the 8 titles promoted from this point on.

    In all fairness however, he is one of the coordinators, and a developer at the same time, although any of the developers could have put the time into organizing this event if they were inclined to do so. The fact that he has a title entered in for consideration just lends to the relevance of how dedicated he is to not only his craft, but that of organizing such a large scale event for his fellow developers.

  3. Chounard says:

    Jeez, Kairi. I think “a little aggressive” might be a bit of an understatement.

    He could have just grabbed a couple of developers and kept the entire selection process internal, as the first indie uprising was run. (The games from the organizers were included in the promotion. There was no voting process.) Maybe the whiners should have gotten off of their asses and organized a promotion.

    Sour grapes, indeed.

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