At this year’s Radius Festival, amongst all the plethora of indie games being shown was a quirky little 2D adventure game that grabbed my attention with its own unique visual style. Combining elements of classic twin-stick shooters with a more original take on deep-diving exploration, the game is a more cerebral attempt at modernising existing genre tropes, by ensuring that the player partakes in a journey that doesn’t belie its retro inspired roots.
So as to find out a little bit more about the game, I spoke to Andy Gibson (Game Director), and got to ask him as to what impelled him to start his own indie inspired adventure. Enjoy.
You’re making a game called The Kraken Sleepeth. What’s the game about?
The game’s a combination of the classic arcade twin-stick shooter and a Victorian gothic mystery, so I’m hoping to be able to intrigue people with something they haven’t seen before. It’s got a really strong art style of a nice B Movie, Hammer House of Horror type look. Very saturated colours, with a really strong art style and atmosphere. And then it’s got a really unique feature where the twin-stick shooter – the battery torch – also casts a light around the player, and it gets smaller and smaller as you go further and further down and deeper into the sea. So hopefully the combination of a strong new theme, together with fresh new elements, is something that people can pick up and play straight away.
You describe yourself as the game’s Director, with Team Pesky handling the development duties. How many people comprise Team Pesky?
Team Pesky is probably best known for Little Acorns, which is now available on most platforms, and is a very retro 2D platformer. I had the original concept, and worked with Dave Reed who did the coding. A really talented designer by the name of Richard McClaughry did some of the level design. And I did the music and the art for that game. So that’s Team Pesky for Little Acorns. But Team Pesky is really just me, and whoever I need to make the next game.
I’m really working on my own for this game, but am also working with a really talented musician called Ben McCullough. So for The Kraken Sleepeth, I’m doing the art, the design, and the coding myself. It took about 10 months overall, and the game is due out on Windows App Store in August.
Is it for Windows or Steam?
It’s for Windows 8 App Store. There may well be additional platforms after the initial 3 months timed exclusivity with Microsoft.
Did Microsoft contact you to ensure exclusivity?
Last November, I pitched the game to Microsoft as part of their Greenshoots Program (in association with Creative England). I was one of the few studios selected for funding. Microsoft actually put money on the table, have been great to work with, and have been very supportive on a range of issues. Microsoft have three months exclusivity for the game, and I’m happy for The Kraken Sleepeth to be launched on Windows 8 platform.
With The Kraken Sleepeth coming out on Windows 8, will we see the game on XBox 360 or XBox One afterwards?
Not XBox 360, but I’ve worked on the XBox One, so will be asking that question as soon as the Windows 8 version is finished. For now though, my main priority is to really make the game the best possible game it can be. It’s about getting that level of polish and robustness into it, so that when people do try it, they know that there is something of quality there.
Did the game take 10 months of full-time development?
The game’s taken ten months from scratch, and yes, it was full-time. To be honest, I work on my own, and I put a lot of extra hours into it. But I’m glad to be making independent games. This is my vision for the game. Ben came on board to do the sound, but the rest of it has been down to me really.
How old are you if you don’t mind me asking?
I don’t mind you asking, and I’m 48.
Given the level of polish evident within the game, I assume that you have been part of the industry for many years. Is that correct?
Yeah, I’ve been working in the games industry for about 15 years. The last two of which as an independent developer.
What made you decide to go independent?
I just got sacked one too many times I guess (laughs). I usually get sacked or get bored. Making an independent game is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I’ve been taking steps and teaching myself. Learning the coding, putting the time into game design, taking steps to market the game and to put it into peoples hands… All of these have been challenging, but I’m really happy to be where I am at the moment (where I get to make this game).
You mentioned the word “sacked”. Aside from the implied negativity, and with the industry being the way that it is, where so many people are losing their jobs – either via their own conduct or because of market conditions…
Yeah, it’s a really good point. I read somewhere that the UK games industry has contracted in size and is half of what it was five years ago. I think you’re either Triple-A and money’s not a problem (like Rockstar), or a couple of guys who are a really small team doing cool new innovative stuff. It’s the middle ground that’s the dangerous area now.
I think there’s never been a better time to be making games. The tools are more available and are better supported. The market’s never been bigger. There are more players, more types of players, more types of games, more platforms. Now is the time to be doing what you need to do and make games.
You were lucky enough to be able to get funding from Microsoft who are, whether you like it or not, the game’s publisher. But for so many people out there, and this is evident with the Apple iPhone App Store where you have a glut of products, how does one stand out?
Yeah, there is so much noise in the market. You can download Unity for free, make a Flappy Birds clone, and release it on the App Store. There’s nothing stopping people from making games. But that’s actually a good thing, as what it means is that anyone can get the tools, and have a product to market.
The hard bit is getting noticed, as well as coming up with something that is innovative and is polished. That’s hard work, but if you’re prepared to put in the work (by keeping things simple and polishing as much as possible), then that’s the root to getting a good product to market. You still need luck, and I wouldn’t say I was lucky to get support from Microsoft, but there was hard-work and talent there… So with a bit of persistence anyone can be knocking on those doors, and developing games and getting them released on the market.
Assuming that you were still a paid employee, would you have considered making The Kraken Sleepeth as a personal side project?
I doubt it really. It’s a personal, independent game. I think big or medium sized studios are either looking for work for hire (or licensed work) for their bread and butter, or they’re doing big projects for their own IP. If it’s a free-to-play game, then there are a lot of conditions attached to that, but I’m not going down that route and am putting my cards on the table.
This game will do what it says it will. If you like the look of the game, you can get a free trial. It’s not for everyone, but I’m taking pride in what I’m doing, and I’m hoping that it will offer a lot of fun to a lot of people.
You’ve stated that Microsoft were great to work with. Given that the company holds the purse strings, what sort of clauses did they include so as to control the editorial remit of what the game would be about?
None whatsoever. The only editorial control were the ones about violence and pornography – the things that affect any game at any size. There was no editorial control at all. That was part of the agreement, in that I keep the IP.
Click here to go to Part 2 of the interview.