The term “independent” derives multiple meanings in the world of game development. Sometimes it refers to distributing a game without the assistance of a large publishing company; other times, as you’ll soon see, it means having to handle the entire creative and development process on your own. Jesse Etzler, an indie developer from Minnesota, fits both descriptions. Jesse has started a Kickstarter campaign to get help in finishing his creative vision, A Dream of Life. In our interview he discusses his game, the trials he faced performing his own development, and what he hopes to achieve from the fundraising campaign.
Brandon: Let’s talk about your current project, A Dream of Life. How would you describe the game?
Jesse Etzler: A Dream of Life is, from my point of view, a hack and slash RPG that could be compared to games such as The Legend of Zelda. It takes place in a dream world where the main character’s soul is taken by a dark and evil man who puts it into a puppet’s body. From there you are thrown into a giant box that is your new world. You must fight through dungeons and battle epic creatures to return your soul back into your body. It’s a very basic concept, but I really like to be creative in order to develop something that works for my fantasy worlds.
Brandon: I’m really intrigued by the visual style of the game. Are there other games or subject matter from other mediums that have inspired the artistic design?
Jesse Etzler: I’m very inspired by all the old school games I grew up with, such as The Legend of Zelda or any N64 game for that matter. I also use to play a lot of World of Warcraft. I fell in love with all the dungeons and environments. It pushed me to take my creations to the next level each time I create something new. Other places, like Deviant Art, keep me inspired by displaying some amazing stuff that people draw up. I personally love art and do a lot of creature drawing and painting in my spare time. Also, I have to add that the entire indie world creates some very exceptional games that inspire me to make something just as good, if not better.
Brandon: I heard that you’ve been working on A Dream of Life by yourself. What has the development process been like?
Jesse Etzler: It has been a very tough road trying to create everything by myself, but it’s totally been worth it. I feel like I have more freedom to create the games I want to make when I’m the only one making them. I don’t like telling people that their work isn’t great or that they may have ideas that totally take away from the game experience. I like working with people who are very imaginative like myself and have amazing ideas that would benefit the game more than bring it down. I’ve been working on this game for about two years on and off, taking time from my other countless projects. Most of the work was performed in college for video game design classes, so it was almost like I worked on different parts of the game at different times, depending on the class I was in. I worked very hard and still do now that I graduated.
Brandon: Did you already have most of the skills required, or have you picked up a few of them with the challenges you’ve faced?
Jesse Etzler: I learned skills like modeling and texturing over the years. They are just second hand to me now, so there’s not to much more to learn. Other skills like programming, character development, and sound design, are things I was forced to learn because I was working on this project by myself and had to pick them up as I went along. Several courses in college taught me these skills, but I hadn’t gotten around to mastering each one of them yet. The Unity3d engine is a great tool that makes learning programming (and in turn making games) a lot easier. It’s something everyone should try.
Brandon: You’ve created a Kickstarter project to get funding for development, some of which seems to have been earmarked for the purpose of bringing in help. What are you looking for in terms of outside development assistance?
Jesse Etzler: I’m only one person and I feel that some of my skills are not at the level I need them to be to create a quality game; specifically, fields like character modeling, animation, advanced programming, etc. So, with this funding I’m hoping I can find some skilled people who would be more interested in this project if there is a profit involved. A lot of people don’t like working for free and/or are busy with other projects. If I do manage to get the funding, I can hire people to make this project go a lot faster than it has been going.
Brandon: Have you considered bringing in other indie developers to help with the project? The indie development community seems very supportive of one another, so perhaps you can bring in some volunteers?
Jesse Etzler: I’ve posted on multiple forums and am always trying to find new talent to join my team, but they all turn out to be sound designers. I’ve already found an amazing sound designer who is doing the audio for A Dream of Life, so anyone out there who thinks they have the creativity or skills, feel free to contact me.
Brandon: You’ve stated that even if you don’t get the required Kickstarter funding you will continue to see the project through. What’s your drive to get this game out to the public? Is it to showcase your development skills, to make the game you and others really want to play, or perhaps something else? What is it that fuels that commitment?
Jesse Etzler: Right now everyone who I’ve showed this project to has loved it and can’t wait to play it for themselves. I think my drive for the game is that it’s really something I enjoy doing. You don’t see a lot of games with the feeling or game play that this project is going to be offering. Games like The Legend of Zelda, or any old N64 game, remind me of the good old days when games didn’t need to be beautiful to be fun. These days the major studios don’t use enough creativity in their games and it seems like the same old stuff. With my game, I’m going to keep the same fundamental concepts, but be much more unique. I want to show other indie game developers that if no one else will help you, do it yourself. No one’s stopping you.
Brandon: For our readers who are interested in A Dream of Life, is there anything else you would like to share with them?
Jesse Etzler: I want to let the whole indie video game world know that I love both playing and making video games. I have several more projects on the way for people to check out. Specifically, I have two MMORPGs in the works that have been halted to finish A Dream of Life. I also have multiple iPhone and iPad games that have not yet been released. Hopefully more people will see my games for what they are and will enjoy playing them as much as I’ve enjoyed making them.
Brandon: Well it’s our hope that we get to see A Dream of Life sooner rather than later. Thanks for your time Jesse and best of luck in getting your work out there.
Jesse Etzler: Thank you Indie Mine. I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated with the project as it progresses!
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