Last week I sent out a few e-mails to video game developers on Kickstarter (both Indie and otherwise) and requested to do an interview with them. Thankfully a LOT of them actually replied back and the 1st to respond was Mr. Phi Dinh of Phi Games, maker of the new ARPG in development Tiny Keep. Brimming with excitement, this ol’ chap flew to the UK and sat down to have some tea with Phi. OK I lied, I didn’t fly to the UK (I wish I did), but I DID interview him and together we had a very good time.
A bit of a background on Mr. Dinh: he started coding at age 11 (simple text-related codes for adventure games). He grew up studying Computer Science in the University of Birmingham where he developed a few games as his final projects, which fostered his love for programming to grow bigger and eventually led him to work at the video game industry. He currently doesn’t have a big shot company of his own unlike many Indie developers (who knows, that could change soon), but that doesn’t stop him from making games that he himself wants to play. Here’s how our lil’ online chitchat went along…
30: Greetings Mr. Dinh! Nice to have you today!
Hi! Please call me Phi! Pronounced “fee” by the way. I’m both the programmer and project manager and it’s up to me to pull everything together and hopefully create Tiny Keep, which for years has been my dream game.
30: Well then, let’s start by talking about the game. What’s Tiny Keep all about?
Tiny Keep just looks like another run-of-the-mill hack and slash game, but I really wanted to make something different, something unique to play. So I focused on the AI, the big selling point of the game; intelligent monsters with believable behaviors! The rest of the gameplay is kept simple, no crazy combat systems and no dry stat progression dialogs – I’m hoping players will be blown away just by their interaction with the dungeon and its inhabitants. Oh and there’s definitely no button mashing. That’s my vision!
30: Do you have any specific games that inspired and influenced you in creating Tiny Keep?
Definitely! I used to love playing classic roguelikes like err... Rogue! There’s also Net Hack… oh and Ultima IV was pretty cool too, I swear it was the first open world game I ever played. The amount of stuff you could do in that game was ridiculous! And then there’s old board games like Hero Quest, I remember playing with my cousin and I was the evil wizard Morcar. All those little bits of furniture, walls, doors, treasure chests and plastic Orcs, I LOVED them! Yeah it may look a little bit sad I guess, but a lot of my childhood was shaped by these games.
30: Don’t be ashamed, board games are AWESOME!
Hahaha well, I guess you can tell why I wanted to make one of my own!
30: Since it’s YOUR OWN game, what features does it have that stands out compared to others?
Well, I’m VERY PROUD of the AI, and I’ll always point that out when talking about Tiny Keep. It’s totally the most exciting thing about the whole game, but it’s also the hardest to get right – so I’m spending the majority of my time building behaviors, testing, tweaking, rinse and repeat. A lot of people seem to like my procedural generation stuff too, I ended up posting my algorithm onto Reddit and they loved it and it brought a lot of backers to Kickstarter. Put the two together and I think you’ve got something unbeatable!
30: It looks like this game doesn’t follow the typical RPG template or formula.
The thing that frustrates me about RPGs is that a lot of them focus on the combat system, leveling/grinding and things like that; they usually have poor AI, monsters either standing still waiting for you to come or they blindly chase you around the map.
30: OMG you’re so right, they’re basically either just sitting ducks or broken cheaters waiting to gank you up! LOL
This needs to change! lol
30: Speaking of changes, any plans on releasing Tiny Keep to other platforms once it becomes successful?
Windows and Mac versions, for sure. I’d love to support Linux, but currently the engine I’m using doesn’t fully support it. After that I’d love to port the game to iOS and Android. It can pretty much be done out of the box, with a little bit of optimization work. If I ever get the game onto Steam, the whole Steam console thing is very exciting. The game looks great on a big HD telly (TV)!
30: What’s the biggest challenge or obstacle you have faced so far in making this game?
Apart from the whole Kickstarter process (which is an emotional rollercoaster of its own) I think the biggest obstacle for me as a programmer is the graphics. I admit I’m a bit of a perfectionist at that. When I first started making the game it was all in 2D, like most roguelikes. I had to use some placeholder sprites I found on the internet, but it was really frustrating making it all look good enough. I tried to do a bit of pixel art but I guess design isn’t my strong point.
I had everything else perfect: the dungeon generation, the AI, the multiplayer networking stuff, all working how I wanted it… but the graphics just looked plain BAD. I think the project fell by the wayside for a year or so… then I discovered 3D graphics, and got in contact with an amazing artist, Matthias Andre from Germany and everything was alright again! So I LOVE developing this game – I’m really having the best time of my life!
30: Well the game looks BEAUTIFUL so good job guys! Another thing I wanna know is: why turn to crowdfunding?
Thanks man! I’m glad you like it! Sometimes when you work on something for so long you forget what the game might look like to other people, and you begin doubting yourself and your project. Some days it seems easier to just quit and make something else…. but then you have to remind yourself that this is THE project, and it really is worth my time. When people comment on my game saying it’s beautiful or that they can’t wait to play it, that really means a lot to me, and it strengthens my belief in the game.
As for Kickstarter… I’m a big fan of crowdfunding in general, because it gives HUGE opportunities to people and encourages them to work on their dream projects that would otherwise be too risky for corporate backing. I think that’s the way the world is going, more power to the small people! For me, crowdfunding is a source of money that would otherwise be IMPOSSIBLE through other means. I need the funding because I really want to commit to the project full time. I’m kinda at the point where there’s only so much I can do in my spare evenings and weekends!
30: Let’s go on to more philosophical topics. Tiny Keep’s a dungeon crawler like Diablo, which is known to be violent. What do you think of violent video games in general? Will Tiny Keep be serious or friendly? I believe this is a landmine topic in America right now, but I imagine it’s a lot different in the UK where you live.
To be honest I think the UK has a very different mindset when it comes to violence in games and on TV. I think it’s much more accepted here, though probably not as much as the rest of Europe! The last time I heard of any parents complain about games here was the first GTA (Grand Theft Auto), where running over grannies was the “next big thing”. As you can probably tell from the graphics, Tiny Keep has a more lighthearted nature. The art style is completely different from the serious D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) stuff that you get with most of the games in this genre. I think it adds a real personality to the game.
I hope players who are more used to the other stuff CAN SEE PAST THE CUTE GRAPHICS AND APPRECIATE THE GAME FOR WHAT IT IS, a challenging and innovative dungeon crawler.
30: Here’s one question I ask ALL developers. What’s your opinion regarding 1st day DLC and DRM?
Damn anagrams. I’m not interested in any of that rubbish – I just want to sell games at a fixed price, TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT! In the same way I dislike achievements, social games, and so I couldn’t care less about DLC or DRM! I guarantee you, however that every game that I make will be complete in its own right. If there’s ever any updates, THEY WILL BE FREE. The only time I’ll charge for something is for official expansion packs and things like that. I guess I’m a little bit old school in that respect, but these are the type of games I would much prefer to invest myself.
30: I love how you’re being a straight shooter without the politically correct BS!
MORE PREMIUM, LESS FREEMIUM!
30: OK my final question is rather sensitive. What’s your personal perspective on video game piracy? Do you think it’s an unavoidable and inevitable part of the industry?
My honest answer? I’m not worried about it. It’s better that way! I create a great game and people either buy or acquire it through other means. Either way, when these people play my game I hope they’re getting some enjoyment out of it. Perhaps if games were less about corporate giants and more about the individuals that make it, these “pirates” would be more inclined to buy the game because they want to support the devs. Anyway, making games for me isn’t about profit, IT’S BECAUSE I LOVE DOING IT! Isn’t that the whole point of the Indie Game industry?
30: Well then that’s a wrap! Thanks again for taking the time to be with me today Phi!
Thanks for having me, I loved every single moment of it! Let’s do this again soon when Tiny Keep is released!
For the latest news about Tiny Keep, visit the official site.
Don’t forget to support and make the game happen by pledging at their Kickstarter page!