Moonpod & War Angels (en)

The year is 2006 A.D. All of the UK is occupied by evil gamepublishers, which just want to make big money with small games. All? Not quite! A small developer team is holding out, strong as ever, against the greedy invaders and tries to get a fresh breeze into gaming business. Life is not easy for the legionaries of uncompromising capitalism stationed in the fortified camps of Eidos, EA, Ubi Soft and Atari

It has been a while, since we heard of them, but soon War Angels will be released. We had some questions about the game and Moonpod’s very own Nick Tipping took the time to answer them for us.

After the release of Starscape, one of the best sold independent productions ever done, they started working on Battlescape. Because this was not enough to keep them busy 24 hours a day, they announced Mr. Robot. Both games look, as far as we could see in screenshots and developer diaries, very promising, but they have not been finished yet. Why? Because Moonpod met with Hamish McLeod and this guy had a great idea. His idea convinced Moonpod that it would be wise to team up with him and help him on developing War Angels

War Angels will become a top-down-shooter. We already got some really good games in that category. If the player wants to fight through masses of enemies from up above, he can get Shadowgrounds or Alien Shooter and will be satisfied. So why should anyone buy War Angels? Nick Tipping was kind enough to answer us not just on this question, but some others too.

Nick: That is a really great question, and was one we had to give a lot of consideration to when we initially talked to Hamish. Mouse controlled arena shooters have been pretty popular of late, and there’s a lot of (apparent) competition arriving on the scene. You mention Alien Shooter, and Shadowgrounds, which are two great games, and let’s not forget Crimsonland, and the fact that Alien Shooter 2 is on the horizon and looking fantastic too. So, why another arena shooter?

Well, at Moonpod, we have one single golden rule: gameplay comes first. Great graphics have become the only way to sell games these days and the only thing people seem to talk about, but our goal is always first and foremost to get the game playing to perfection. Now, I don’t want to give the impression that we don’t care about graphics! (as artist at Moonpod, I often come close to emotional breakdown if I can’t get the graphics right!), but the single most important thing to us is how a game plays. Probably more than half the development time on Starscape was spent play balancing the game. I know a lot of game developers say gameplay is important, but for us it’s the one golden rule that supersedes everything else. After talking extensively to Hamish, it was clear that he had the same mindset as us about gameplay. I’ll even give you a great example: Hamish recently binned a couple of really amazing looking weapons, the result of a lot of work on his part. Why? Well, when it came down to it, as painful as it was to get rid of them, they just weren’t fun.! (Don’t worry though! he’s already replaced them with even better weapons!).

So, yeah, we could play the numbers game like other developers do: War Angels allows the player to command a team of four on screen at the same time, user controllable vehicles (Oh, walking around in a mech you are going to love!) and truly unique special character abilities. However, the reason I believe people should be interested in our game, (and why I jump around with glee every time we get to test out a new build!) is because the game plays beautifully.

On the Picture above: Nick and Mark, the core team of Moonpod. Note that they are drinking German beer to get inspired with fresh ideas :) Sounds nice, but who is Hamish McLeod and what’s so special about him?

Nick: Hamish is an extremely talented young programmer/artist/game designer from New Zealand. He had been pretty active in the freeware scene as part of the FAIND group. Having started work on a new arena shooter game there, work had progressed to the point where he realised he wanted to make the game much bigger, and he also realised that game making was what he loved, and that he wanted to make a career out of it. Around about this time, I had discovered the FAIND website, and read up on everything Hamish was doing. I was truly impressed with his ideas, and a preview video of the game blew me away. In particular, the game had a consistent and unique look to it throughout- something many of the more ‚professional‘ indie developers even have trouble with. I was compelled to join the forum and post a little ‚well done and good luck‘ message. Hamish then sent me an email asking for any advice on selling online and I was happy to write a detailed reply. A lot of what I said was tough for Hamish to hear – once you have one game out, half your time is taken up marketing and selling your game. For Hamish working as a lone developer, his dream of making a career out of what he loves could become an impossibility as the business side of things would take up more and more of his time.

Hamish also really wanted to concentrate 100% on game development, so this was bad news. It was almost an afterthought, but I suggested we talk about selling the game on and the more we talked about it, it seemed like a great idea. I knew our existing customers were going to love War Angels, which would hopefully give Hamish a head start with sales. We could also handle all the advertising, marketing, website and sales leaving Hamish free to do what he does best. If people like Hamish can be free to make computer games and live off the proceeds, then I think that will be great for everyone who loves gaming. How can we imagine your work with Hamish? He is in NZ and you’re in the UK, so did he move to the UK or do you work by email or phone? Isn’t it harder to work if someone is on the other side of the globe?

Nick: We use any and all methods available to us. The big time difference makes email the most concise way to use our time, but instant messaging is also a boon when you need it. A lot of people have been lauding the ability to work from home using video-messaging etc, but despite the fact that we are making good use of that, I’m not convinced it’s the ideal situation. It works with Hamish because he’s one of those rare people that know how to communicate their ideas well and concisely. Perhaps you have some information about the story which awaits us?

Nick: Yes, we recently wrote up our ‚about page‘ blurb for War Angels, which should give you a flavour of what to expect:

As our planet’s future unravels, four battle hardened commandos must travel through time to stop a malevolent evil that knows only war. As you travel into our past and future you must master unfamiliar weapons from each time period and bring down bloody retribution on an age old enemy. Each commando is a highly trained weapon specialist with their own unique arsenal. Fight alone or lead the entire squad. Show no mercy. Take no prisoners.

I’ll admit though – we aren’t giving away everything just yet ;) How long can we play until we finish War Angels?

Nick: Hard to give a concrete answer to that at the moment – All I can say is that I guarantee you will be satisfied with the amount of game available. Right now, the game is very fast paced with lots of quick combat excursions, but new features are going in all the time which alter the structure of these battles. It’s really hard to nail down specific mission times as they change all the time; we move things around a lot to get the best difficulty curve. Any Multiplayer ambitions?

Nick: In many respects, the goal of War Angels is to try and give you the feeling of multiplayer in a single player game and so it’s really focussed on giving you that single player + computer controlled team feel. However, one thing Hamish has been keen to keep open, is the ability to add co-op multiplayer at a later date if the game does well. I personally love co-op arena shooters (Anyone remember ‚The Chaos Engine?‘), and with War Angels being based around a squad of 4 players, this is a real possibility I’m keeping my fingers crossed for! In the last months I saw lots of indie games getting published by smaller companies over Europe, like Tribal Trouble, Tube Twist and some others. Do you think about that or will you try to stay online-only?

Nick: A lot of people who have read our forums often think we are anti-publisher based on some of the stories we have told there :). That’s not the case however, we have a few publishing contacts who we really trust – and working with them has been a truly wonderful experience. It has to be said though, that for the most part – it just isn’t worth it. There’s a certain amount of money worth getting out of bed for, and most budget publishers won’t offer it (When someone is telling you they can shift a lot of units easily, but won’t offer you any kind of advance, you pretty much know they are a waste of time.)
The problem is, we get 3-4 publishing offers a month, and following them all up wastes a lot of our time. Honestly, we could have made a small game in the time we have spent talking to publishers! We realised a long time ago that relying on retail publishing is not a way for us to run a business, so we have concentrated our efforts selling online. If a publisher comes along with a good offer, we are always interested, but we certainly haven’t based out business on chasing publishers. You started with <B>Starscape and then continued working on Battlescape. Suddenly you started Mr. Robot and now you even started developing a 3rd title. Isn’t that too much for a small team like you are?

Nick: The switch to Mr. Robot from Battlescape was a really, really difficult decision. Battlescape had been a pet design project of Mark since he played Dune 2 something like 12 years ago. We were very deep into its development and could easily have finished it by this point. However, it wouldn’t have been quite the game we wanted; much of it would be spot on, but certain technologies we had developed in house needed time to mature if we were to make Battlescape the game we always hoped it to be. So, we made the decision to pause development, and insert a number of projects in between that which would help develop the things we need for it. The first of these, Mr. Robot, was actually a project we had done quite a bit of work on before we had a 3D engine, so development time was not expected to take too long . Since we switched development though, the project has grown in size massively, as we decided there were so many things we wanted to add. What was initially, a fairly straightforward platform-puzzle adventure game, has turned into a much richer and more detailed game world – with associated cost in devlopment time! We aren’t complaining though, everything that has extended the project time has happened because an idea popped into our heads that we just had to put in. So we have only ourselves to blame, and we don’t care because we are having so much fun! What are you doing to get your games known? Do you think a bunch of good reviews will do?

Nick: Reviews yes, but not necessarily from websites (although, obviously, they help massively!). User reviews seem to go a long way for indies. Many of the copies of Starscape that we have sold have been made because someone took a chance on the game, loved it, and recommended it to all their friends. We have been really lucky in that regard.
Obviously, we are now at a great advantage in having an existing customer base from Starscape, who (fingers crossed!) will also find War Angels and Mr. Robot interesting. (Mr. Robot, is more of a gamble, because it’s a pretty unique game, but I’m convinced anyone who enjoyed Starscape will absolutely love <B>War Angels.) Beyond that, it’s just perpetual hard work trying to get exposure though every and any means possible. A incredibly rough guide would be that sales = game quality * exposure. Obviously, nobody is going to buy a game unless it’s top notch, but they aren’t going to if they don’t know about it. We probably spend half the week sorting out new ways to get exposure through all the many internet marketing channels available. Thank you for your time, Nick. Good luck with your upcoming games.

Cool? Dann erzähl doch anderen davon! Danke! :)