Developer Interview: James Petruzzi – Developer of Chasm

James Petruzzi of Discord Games is an Indie Gamer Chick all-star.  He has two games on the Leaderboard, the writer of the most popular Tales from the Dev Side editorial that’s been published here, and now he’s chosen to sponsor the new (and still unfinished due to laziness) XBLIG Developer Index, kicking in a whopping $200 towards Autism Speaks.  He also happens to have a very interesting looking Metroidvania coming later in 2013.  James is here to talk about his new title, called Chasm, and the trials and tribulations of making games for XBLIG.

chasm_logo_big

Cathy: Chasm is not coming to XBLIG.  Et tu, Brute?

James: Right off the bat, I haven’t decided yet.

Cathy: Oh?

James: It runs on my Xbox 360 right now, and I’m planning on keeping it that way.   But whether I release it or not, I’m not sure.

Cathy: Why not?

James: I’m not going to release it for a dollar.

Cathy: Oh.

James: My only option I feel is 400MSP, but whether people on that market would spring for it, I have no clue.

Cathy: So?

James: So?  I hear you boil developers who release games at 400MSP in oil.

Cathy: As a point of order, I did place Bleed, a 400MSP game, in my Top 10.

James: Yea, but you also boiled them in oil after that.  They’re still in bandages.

Cathy: Good game though.

James: Did the Bleed guy ever release numbers?

Cathy: Um yea, actually I just asked him.  He told me it sold 900 units on XBLIG.

James: Those numbers show the problem with XBLIG.

Cathy: Net gross of about $3,150 for the developer. Sad thing is, can’t prove it, but I bet it would have sold a couple thousand copies at 240.

James: Either way it’s still terrible for a game that high quality.

The awesomely fun Take Arms was a critical hit, but about as well received by Xbox owners as a bagpipe simulator.

The awesomely fun Take Arms was a critical hit, but about as well received by Xbox owners as a bagpipe simulator.

Cathy: What about PlayStation Mobile, where developers have huge flexibility on prices?

James: I haven’t really researched it to be honest, and I’m not sure whats all required to even get on there.

Cathy: It’s supposed to be a relatively open platform.  I don’t know.  Sony had said they would get back to me and never did.

James: So I’m just squarely focused on PC for now, I want to launch on Win/Mac/Linux and then go from there.  But if it makes money, I’ll port it to everything under the sun with a D-pad.

Cathy: I’ll look forward to the NES, Master System, and 3DO releases.

James: Hahaha!  Well, I’d consider PlayStation Network, Wii U,  and maybe 3DS or Vita releases.

Cathy: Take Arms was pretty well received by critics, but it kind of flopped in sales. 48 Chambers was good, but again, didn’t really sell well.  Is that why you’re trying to more traditional game with Chasm?

James: No, I’m actually just making it because it’s the game I’ve wanted to make since the beginning.  If you watch the Evolution of Take Arms video we put on YouTube, you’ll see that started as a Castlevania type game.  We were way too inexperienced though to deal with that much content, so we decided to make it a multiplayer game instead.  Obviously something flopped with Take Arms that’s beyond the amount of content or anything.

Cathy: Maybe it was difficult to articulate that it was a multiplayer game. There’s obviously SOME interest for those on XBLIG, as seen in the success of Shark Attack Deathmatch.  Maybe “Take Arms Deathmatch” sells 10,000 units and has a robust user base to keep it going?

James: Yea that’s definitely a possibility, but at the same time, I think you must have the right product at the right time.

Cathy: I think the big sticking point is the amount of people who play it daily. I reviewed Shark Attack Deathmatch in late December. I checked it last night, and there is still a wide variety of people playing. Then I tried Take Arms and found that nobody was playing.

James: If I would have kept up with content updates we probably could have grown a community or something around it.  But that’s the hard part with multiplayer games, and why I will probably never do one again.  With them, the community of people playing it is what gives the game value.  If you take that away, it’s basically worthless.

Cathy: I would rank my play session with Take Arms against the other XBLIG critics as one of the best times I’ve had since starting Indie Gamer Chick. Do you think maybe some form of organized tournaments might have caused it to catch on?

James: We should have focused on organizing community play dates and doing more  with it, but yeah, I guess we were just done after two years.

Chasm looks awesome.

Only the most secure-in-their-manhood blacksmiths dared to use a pink anvil.

Cathy: Okay, onto Chasm. It looks really good.  You originally intended Take Arms to be a Metroidvania, and now you’re finally doing one.  What made you decide that now you’re ready?

James: Well, to be honest, it was a last-ditch effort.  I quit my corporate job last May to focus on my next title full-time, Tim and I were talking again about doing something, which turned into this sci-fi Terraria-like called Solus.  We worked on that through may and part of June, and Tim decided he wasn’t having fun anymore and was done.  So we parted on good terms, but I was left with a big game to do by myself.  In July I basically decided to scrap it, and started working on the original version of Chasm, which was basically going to be a cash in I guess for XBLIG.  It was going to be a mining game like Miner Dig Deep, but with combat, weapons, some bosses and stuff to fight.  I mean don’t get me wrong, I’ve wanted to do a mining game for a while, but I couldn’t really tell you what I liked about them, but I think I somehow managed to cut all the fun out of it.  At some point by like September I had the engine pretty far along, but I was just hating it, I had completely forgotten why I started doing this stuff in the first place.

Cathy: What about the engine was off?

James: The engine was fine, I just couldn’t figure out a good formula for the game.  Nothing ever felt right, like I was battling it constantly.  And at some point I just began to resent it.  All the fun was gone.  That was definitely my lowest point in a long time.  It was nervous-breakdown type levels for a while.  So I scrapped it all.

Cathy: Do you know how many developers I’ve met since starting my site that I honestly feel would scrap something if they weren’t comfortable with it?  Probably not a lot.  I take it the current build you’re much more satisfied with?

James: Oh my God, yes!  It was like the next day I made a new project, started coding shit all over, and man, I was like in love immediately.

They eyes have it!

The eyes have it!

Cathy: So how far along is Chasm now?

James: Very early.  I started fresh October 25 or 26 I think.  I’m shooting to have it done in a year from then.

Cathy: You guys are on Steam Greenlight.  Most developers I’ve talked with who have listed their games on this have been, ahem, humbled by the, ahem, polite discourse on it.  How has the feedback for Chasm been?

James: Well first let me tell you, I put Take Arms and 48 Chambers on there immediately when the service first went up.  It was free for a while if you remember, so I was like why not?  48 chambers did incredibly poorly, as you can imagine.  I finally took it off there last week after being up since launch and it was at like 23% I think.  Almost every comment called it a mobile game and said it would be perfect on iPhone, which is funny since the entire game is designed around a thumb-stick, but okay.

Cathy: I do get their point, but yea, can’t imagine playing it with touch or tilt controls.

James: Take Arms did a bit better, but not very. At its highest point it was 52% to top 100, 48% when I pulled it off last week.  Now that, on the other hand, was called a “flash game” in a snobbish way.  Apparently there are a couple of flash games that are similar, so everyone on PC absolutely hated it.  I think Alex Jordan got same kinda criticism about Cute Things Dying Violently.

Cathy: Yea.  In fact, he did a Tales from the Dev Side on it.

James: Yea, so PC gamers are very weary of anything that looks like a flash game that they might have once saw.

Cathy: But then you put up Chasm, and it’s doing well to say the least.

James: I put it up just for the hell of it after we put up the new video on the 11th.  It’s now in the top 100 on Steam Greenlight.

Cathy: Very nice!

James: That’s with no major media support whatsoever, its purely from Greenlighters.

Cathy: I’m not major media?

James: Were you pimping it?

Cathy: That’s what I’m doing now.

James: Too late!  I’m top 100 now.  You get no credit.

Cathy: Awwwwwww.

James: I’m not sure where these votes are coming from, we’ve had 20k unique hits since then.  I didn’t realize that many people even rated Greenlight games for the hell of it.  So it’s a little surprising thinking I’m going to have to work my ass off to push traffic to it, when in reality i did nothing, just put a video on and answered people’s questions.

Cathy: I think now that it cost money to list your game, you’re seeing more dedicated, anxious fans, instead of haters and trolls.

James: Ya think?

Cathy: That’s my best guess.

James: So yea, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.  Which is crazy for something only two months into development.

Cathy: It’s a Metroidvania, but it’s also a Roguelike. Were you beat on as a child?

James: Ha ha, no.

Cathy: Hey, I still remember the original build of 48 Chambers.

James: Before you jump to conclusions, the Roguelike influence is more from Diablo than anything.

Cathy: Oh good, so Roguelike for pussies.  Noted.

James: I didn’t say that.

Cathy: The headline from this shall read “James Petruzzi, developer of upcoming game Chasm, calls all Diablo fans pussies.”

James: Are you trying to get me in trouble?

Cathy: Always.

James: I wouldn’t call it for-pussies! I think permadeath is pretty harsh punishment for failure.

Cathy: So when can we expect Chasm?

James: Hopefully late 2013.

Cathy: Come on, 400MSP XBLIG release?

James: Man I still like XBLIG, it’s a love/hate thing you know?  I love it for being an open marketplace, but I hate it for being an open marketplace.

Seriously, James. You've got to come up with more exciting screens than these.  This is your big moment!

Seriously, James. You’ve got to come up with more exciting screens than these. This is your big moment!

Cathy: Hey, some neo-retro games are getting full XBLA releases. Spelunky for example.  Why not try to secure a publisher?

James: Honestly, it’s really nice not having anyone to answer to.  Only problem is always money, you know?

Cathy: Which I hear you’re thinking of solving by going through Kic..kic..kic..

James: Cathy, you okay?

Cathy: Excuse me, you’re thinking of going through Kic..kic..kic..

James: Kickstarter?

Cathy: Yea, that.

James: You seem to have a little bit of blood coming out of your nose.

Cathy: Yea, that happens whenever I hear or say that word.

James: I don’t think that’s healthy.

Cathy: Tell me about it.  After writing that last editorial, my office looked like the Crazy 88s scene from Kill Bill.

James: Yea I’m thinking about Kickst.. that.  I’m thinking about using that.

Cathy: Nice save.  Gives me a chance to clot.

James: I’m also thinking about alpha funding, or even selling out to Microsoft.  I’ve considered it all, and I’m still not sure what the best route is.  We’re going to Game Developers Conference in March to show off Chasm, hopefully get some people interested.

Cathy: Might help to wear a tee-shirt that says “will sell my creative vision for food.”

James: I’m not THAT desperate yet!

Cathy: You’re thinking of using Kickstarter.  You ARE that desperate.

James: Cathy, your nose.

Cathy: Well shit.  Better wrap this up.  I’ve got to go to the hospital again.

Be sure to check out the official Chasm page at DiscordGames.com

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

5 Responses to Developer Interview: James Petruzzi – Developer of Chasm

  1. Playstation Mobile’s easy to develop for since it’s also in C#, and you can publish your games there for $99 a year. The problem with it is it’s made by Sony, so they’ve completely screwed it up like they do to everything they touch. The Vita and every phone PSM runs on all have over 500MBs of ram, but Sony only lets your app or game use 96MBs. On top of that, the PSM SDK doesn’t do texture compression yet so you’ll have even less ram to play with.

    But if you can live with that (and a lot of other issues), they’ll sell your game for more than $1.

  2. Pingback: Chasm in the Press | Discord Games

  3. Take Arms is definitely up there among my favorite XBLIG multiplayer games along with SpeedRunner HD, Hidden in Plain Sight, and most recently Squadron Scramble. I really, really wish it’d been able to maintain enough popularity over time to have regular community events. I played once with some of the XBLIG devs and journalists and had a blast.

    After Take Arms and 48 Chambers, anything that Discord decides to come out with immediately gets my attention. I thought this interview was entertaining (as always on IGC), and best of luck over the next 8-10 months wrapping up development, James.

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