An opportunity has arisen to do an interview to a well known indie games developer so I had to take a break from taking a break and do this interview. I haven’t done anything like this before and I have to say it was pretty exciting. But enough chit chatting, here is my interview with Dan Marshall from Size Five Games:
For those who don’t know who Dan Marshall is, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
“I am a silly British man sitting in my office in the middle of the glorious English countryside, typing out games and hoping people like them.”
You worked with Channel 4 on the educational game Privates which won a BAFTA award and brought a lot of attention to you up to the point where you gained a cult following. Did this put pressure on you as a game developer?
“Ha ha, I think most of my cult following probably comes more from the Dan and Ben games. They're these weird little adventure games that have done so much better than you might think. Everyone's played them, no one talks about them. It's like a lovely big secret.”
You tweet a lot (going for 30k tweets at the moment!) and in general keep a close relationship with the press and the community. Has the community presented you any good ideas that you implemented in your games?
“I tend to be pretty bloody-minded about my designs. I take a lot of advice from people during development, and beta phases. I don't know that much good stuff comes through via Twitter, mainly because I tend to keep things pretty close to my chest until I'll happy showing them off in a relatively-finished state. By that point, it's probably a bit late for advice from Twitter, but I always take comments on board.”
“Ben There, Dan That!” was released back in 2008 on a donationware model and while now that game, together with its sequel, is available on Steam, the bundle cost only 3,99 euro. I know you have a donation option on your website, but gaming development can be expensive. How hard does this client (customer) oriented business model make things for you and your studio?
“Privates was the only thing that was client-based, the rest of my games have been entirely self-funded. Donation models didn't really work, but then it was 2008 and the indie game space was just so incredibly different. I don't know how much of an impact BTDT would do now, whether it would bring in more or less cash. It never did anything other than beer money really, but then it was made entirely in my free time, so didn't cost anything to make!”
“The Swindle” is Size Five Games’ latest release and is a mix of stealth and rogue-like in a procedurally generated steampunk setting, quite different from the adventure games your studio released before.
I’ve read in an interview that you don’t really like stealth games, but here is “The Swindle”, which seems to contradict that statement. Is this game your vision of the genre without the game mechanics that annoy you?
"Yeah, that's the plan. I like the idea of Stealth games more than I like the execution of them. I like being hidden and sneaky and in shadows, but I don't like the restart-and-retry nature of the games, which leads you to learning where all the enemies are and playing by memory rather than adapting. The joy of The Swindle's random generation is that there's none of that - when you fluff it up, you never go back in time and retry."
I’ve played the game (thanks for the key by the way!) and it’s punishing to the point where it gets frustrating, but in a good way. Was this your goal all along and what do you consider to be the key to succeed in this game?
“One of the key moments in development was when I reduced the player's health to 1%, so one hit would kill you. The game was suddenly very hard but in a satisfying way. It was a case of making it so there's a sweet spot of load times meaning it's SO TEMPTING to just try one more heist when you die. It's more-ish, and all that sort of stuff has been finely honed.”
The Swindle already made its budget back through Steam sales. How happy are you about this success?!
"Delighted, obviously, It's a relief for the future of the company, but there's some way to go yet before I can start thinking about how much money I'll have to make the next thing. We'll see how it goes. "
Are there any plans for the game, like upcoming content updates or even DLCs?
"I'm working on patching some tech issues (the joys of developing games for a potentially-infinite combination of PC hardware!). If the game does well I'll absolutely be looking into how I support it, but there has to be a big enough demand for it, I guess."
Size Five Games has been creating 2D sidescrolling games up to this point, which is great. But this year some of the strongest graphics engines were made available for free for developers and this seems like a great opportunity for indie developers. Are you planning to use any of these engines for your future games or are you going to stick with the quirky and fun art style that you had going for a while now?
"I think I'll stick with Unity for the time being, simply because I can get things up and running nice and quickly and I know all the ins-and-outs. It makes the prototyping and development process that much easier when you have a good handle on the tools.
Style wise, I never stick to one thing for too long. I have no idea right now what the next game will be or how it'll look, and it's that exciting?"
I would like to thank you for the opportunity of taking this interview! On an ending note, do you have anything to say to The Game Slashers readers?
"Thank you so much for the interview, it's lovely to be asked questions that are so different to the usual fare :)"
Once again, big thanks to Dan Marshal for agreeing to do this interview! You can follow him on Twitter and for those interested, The Swindle can be purchased on Steam with a 15% discount lasting for 24 more hours.