Roleplaying games aren’t difficult to find on Xbox’s indie marketplace service. Finding a quality one is another story. That might be about to change. In this interview I talk with Forrest McCorkle, one third of the trio that make up Chaosoft Games. We talk about their upcoming game EvilQuest and their experiences with the indie development process. Sit back, relax, and enjoy.
Brandon: Can you tell me a little bit about Chaosoft Games and your role within the studio?
Forrest: Chaosoft Games is a small independent game studio that currently makes games for the Xbox Indie Games channel. In the future we hope to produce games for the PC as well as the iOS and Android markets. My name is Forrest McCorkle and I do all the programming and a lot of the music. The other primary member of our team is Josh Ferguson. He is our primary artist and helps out on music and sound effects as well. We collaborate on the design and story telling aspects of our games. For our latest game, EvilQuest, we brought in another artist to help out with the artwork. His name is Michael Hogan.
Brandon: Before we talk about your latest game, EvilQuest, I want to discuss your first title, Chaos Shift, which came out in November of 2010. What was the process like for designing, developing, and releasing that first game? Were both of you rookies to the indie development scene?
Forrest: Well, the process was nowhere near as organized as it is was with EvilQuest. Yes, we were definitely rookies. We knew that we wanted to make games for XBLIG, but we wanted to do sort of a “test run” to see how the release process would go before embarking on any large scale projects. So, we figured the easiest type of game to make would be a shooter with a lot of randomness to it (To avoid designing any levels). The idea for the Chaos Shift game mechanic just kind of came to me one day while we were working on the project and was meant to infuse some originality in an otherwise pretty generic shooter. Overall, it took about 4 months from inception to completion, which was about twice as long as we thought. Incidentally, EvilQuest has also taken about twice as long as I thought it would. I think in the future we need to be even more regimented in our design process. Anyway, the most important thing that we learned was that you need to market your game. I know it’s no guarantee of success, but there’s no doubt that it gives you a much better chance of having a hit title and it’s actually a lot easier than programming a game engine, so why not? We also learned that you really need to pay attention to what’s going on with the Dashboard before you release. The reason I say this is because at the time Microsoft had just tried to bury the indie game channel and there was a lot of turmoil. I think our sales numbers were typical for a lot of other games, maybe a bit lower, but we never looked at those numbers and said, “Well, lets give up and move on to another platform”. Instead we looked at the mistakes that we had made and decided to give it another go with a more ambitious game. Now, most people around the Xbox indie scene will tell you that this is the exact opposite of what you should do, and that you should focus on short trivial games. That may be, but it’s just not what we want to do and it’s not where our heart is. We’re willing to take the risk of developing the type of game that we enjoy, and let the chips fall where they may.
Brandon: It sounds like you’re making a game in order to make the game you want to make rather than going for the quick cash grab. I think that’s very admirable. Are you two still looking at Chaosoft Games as a business or is this more of a creative venture?
Forrest: It’s certainly a bit of both. First and foremost we want to make the games that satisfy us creatively. But, we do approach this as a business and want to make enough money to go full time doing game development. Really, I think that’s every indie dev’s goal regardless of whether they are making a “cash-grab” or not.
Brandon: Let’s talk about EvilQuest which is set to come out on the Xbox in early January. From everything I’ve seen it appears to be a large-scale RPG, but in a twist you play an evil conqueror, set on revenge. What are some of the other characteristics or features that set this title apart from other RPG’s available in the indie market?
Forrest: The thing that will really stands out about EvilQuest to me are the story, dialog and boss battles. You get to play from the other side of the hero/super villain paradigm and take on the role of this really evil bastard named Galvis. He starts off the game in prison, having been foiled in attempt to take over the world. While in prison he grows even more evil and ambitious and decides that destroying the world is a better goal than conquering it. So he spends the rest of the game gathering resources that will let him complete this quest. He’s basically the guy you’re always trying to stop in games like Final Fantasy. We spent a lot of time on the boss battles in this game and I think we probably have the most varied and unique set of boss battles on the service. Another thing that’s a little different from most of the RPG games is that this is an Action RPG. You don’t get the turned based battle system that Zeboyd games and some of the other RPG titles on the service employ. The gameplay is much more like the old NES game Crystalis, but with a much deeper magic, item and leveling up system. The dialog is definitely dark and even humorous at times because of the outlandish things that Galvis says. The interaction with NPCs in particular is very different from other RPGs.
Brandon: The boss battles and cutscenes were the two elements that immediately caught my attention in the trailers I’ve seen for the game. It’s a level of presentation quality I’m not used to seeing in the Xbox Live indie marketplace. I know you’d said the game has taken twice as long to complete as you thought it would. Was it simply a matter of adding more polish or were the challenges steeper than that?
Forrest: Adding polish was a big part of it. I had this story in my head that seemed very solid, but once I got it out on paper, it was clearly lacking some things. So, 4 dungeons became more like 7. 6 Boss battles became closer to 20. We added a lot more stuff to the towns than I was originally planning. We added new item types, more spells and types of armor…basically we had a pretty major case of “feature creep” going on, but all that added stuff makes the game much better. Another thing that factored in was release date. We were originally planning for June/July. As things got closer to that date we realized that we would not be satisfied with the state of the game and that we would be competing with the “XBLIG Summer Uprising” suite of games. So, we pushed the date back a few more months. We missed this deadline as well and targeted early October. We just barely missed this date, and could have actually released the game around the first of November. However, we decided to delay for several reasons. First, there were a ton of blockbuster AAA titles coming out starting with Skyrim and culminating with Zelda. I know that we’re not serious competition for those types of titles, but with XBLIG you have to get as much attention as you can right off the bat, and If we had released during the same week as Skyrim, we would have probably been almost totally ignored. Second, we wanted people to get used to the new Dashboard. And, if Microsoft decided to do something wacky again, we wanted to allow time for them to address it (which they haven’t to date). Third, we are in the holiday season. I think that those first two points aside, this is just a bad time of year to release on a service with such limited visibility. There’s just too much other stuff that people are wrapped up with right now. So, I said it took twice as long, but not really. These last two months, I’ve been spending a lot more time playing Dark Souls and other indie games than working on EvilQuest. It’s also been nice to have this break, because once EvilQuest drops, we’re going to get right back onto development with the next project.
Brandon: All wise decisions in my mind. Although XBLIG developers can update their games at a later time, with an RPG you probably have to nail it right the first time. Were there any features or design concepts/choices that still didn’t end up making it into the game? Perhaps some ideas that will come to light in your future projects?
Forrest: Oh yeah, there are a couple of story events that ended up on the cutting room floor. I can’t really say what those are without spoiling parts of the game though. We talked about having a grappling hook and doing more traps and puzzles, and I would say those are all things you might expect in a sequel. Another thing that we are really keen on implementing in the future is a weapon crafting system. It wouldn’t really work in this game because of how tied to the storyline the individual weapons are, but again, it’s something that could show up in a sequel or other future RPG game. I wish that we had made certain pieces of music longer and that we could have added some more music, but we were pretty close to the size limit that Microsoft imposes for a $1 game, so there wasn’t a whole lot we could do there. All in all, I think we accomplished what we set out to do and much more. I’m very proud of the game and I think we’ve given it as much of a chance to succeed as we possibly could.
Brandon: How are the two of you feeling now that the game is just days away from releasing? Have you been getting much support in the development community? It seems there’s almost a brothers-in-arms mentality amongst the Xbox indie developers because of the uphill nature in getting recognition for quality titles.
Forrest: Well, I can’t speak for Josh, he’s hopefully in a cabin right now far away from a computer, but I’m pretty excited. If you’ve paid attention to XBLIG over the past two years, it’s hard to be very optimistic, but it’s also hard to keep yourself from wondering “What if…”. I think I’ve prepared myself enough mentally for whatever the outcome is. We’ve definitely gotten good support from other developers. Quite a few other devs playtested, and the peer review process went much more quickly than it does for some games. I was actually expecting us to have a harder time with these phases of the development process since our game requires more of a time commitment than most. After all other developers are very busy with their own projects. I don’t think it’s that hard to get recognition for quality titles. What’s unfortunate is when a quality title doesn’t perform well in the marketplace itself. In my opinion, this is often due to pricing, poor box art, poor screenshots or lack of originality in an over-saturated genre (Platformers & Shooters in particular). Anyway, I do think there is too much bitching and moaning when it comes to XBLIG. Yes, there are huge problems with the service from a customer service and support standpoint, but people need to realize that just making a game does not and should not guarantee to make you independently wealthy.
Brandon: You briefly mentioned that you’re planning on getting started with your next project right away. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to drop a few hints as to what it might be?
Forrest: Well, we hope that EvilQuest does well enough to warrant a sequel. If not, then it’s probably something we haven’t thought of yet. Either way, there’s a very good chance that it will be another RPG. And, at some point, we’re going to make the switch to 3D. In fact, we started off doing a 3D engine and editor, but have since come to realize that the XBox indie channel is probably not a good place to release a highly polished 3D game.
Brandon: With EvilQuest about to come out, you’ll now have two games released in the Xbox market. Is there anything that you feel the team still needs to get better at? As an indie developer, are there some key lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Forrest: The main thing that comes to mind is the length of our development cycle. I don’t know if we’re truly underestimating how long things will take, or if there is some more regimented design work that we could do before starting development that would shorten the overall time. The main thing we’ve learned along the way, is that if you are an indie developer you must also become a promoter to give your game a good chance of making it in the marketplace.
Brandon: Well I wish you and your team the best of luck with the launch next week. Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers who might be interested in picking up your game?
Forrest:Thank you Brandon, we appreciate your support of the indie community. I would like to tell your readers that if they like RPGs or adventure games then they really need to check out EvilQuest. There’s no need to bother with a trial. For only a buck, you’re going to get to experience one of the best RPG experiences on the service. The unique story, dialog and many of the gameplay elements are not found anywhere else and I’m certain that you will thoroughly enjoy this game.
EvilQuest is set to launch January 4th in the Xbox Live Indie Games Marketplace. Be sure to check it out.
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