Monday, January 25, 2016

An interview with KillHouse Games!

                Door Kickers 2 was officially announced on January 17. In the light of these news and the fact that I’m having such a good time with the original game I asked KillHouse Games for an interview and they agreed to do it.
So let’s find out more about the studio and the people who are now working on a sequel to the successful indie game Door Kickers.

First of all I want to thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for The Game Slashers. I’m Romanian but not a nationalist by any stretch of the imagination yet I have to be honest looking at the accomplishments of Door Kickers I’m a little proud that an independent studio from Romania made such a game. After all, Romania is known more for exporting beta testers than producing video games.
Before this interview I’ve done a little digging on the internet and there is less information out there about KillHouse Games than it should be and that’s a shame. I couldn’t even find a Wikipedia entry for the studio or Door Kickers.
For those that don’t know much about KillHouse Games, can you tell a few things about your studio?

“First of all, thanks for the kind words … but I must respectfully disagree with the “known more for exporting beta testers... “ part, and I’m sure hundreds of talented Romanian developers at Ubisoft, EA, King, AMC, Funlabs, Amber Studio, Mobility Games, etc disagree too. Romanians are known as excellent programmers, and our artists are top notch too. Silent Hunter 3/4/5, Tom Clancy’s HAWX, Ghost Recon Future Soldier, Assassin’s Creed … are only a few of the games that are built integrally or in significant part by Romanians. And our guys go and work abroad too! Just a small example - checkout the interface team for Witcher 3 - who’s the first name on that list? I’ve worked with that Dan, he’s a very good professional and deserves to be on top of that list :)

Now, about us. KillHouse Games was established in late 2012 by 3 veterans of the local game industry, ready to be more than simply “cogs in a large corporate machine” :) We’re very hardcore gamers, we play a lot, but we’re not young anymore and this means we don’t have that much time to play - part of our days are spent changing diapers, reading children stories or teaching young ones to skate or … run-jump :)

This is important as it translates in our game making philosophy - we want our players to get both their money AND their time’s worth. Our games are full of content, but also fulfilling! When you master a couple of missions in Door Kickers, you feel you’ve accomplished something, not just spent time in front of the computer.”

In the modern era of gaming the tactical shooter sub-genre is slowly dying being abandoned in favor of blockbuster action oriented games. Because of this, right now Door Kickers is one of the few options for those interested in a gameplay similar in concept to the older Rainbow Six games and SWAT 4. Knowing about this market shift you still made Door Kickers which must have been a huge undertaking for an indie developer.
What drove you to create Door Kickers and how many obstacles did you have to overcome to get it done?

“In today’s market, just making a good game is not enough - people will simply not find out about your game and you’ll starve to death with no visibility.

In that sense, going for a niche game is much better than going mainstream, as niche players will care for your game and be on your side when promoting the game. They care someone is finally making a game for them - as there are indeed “too few options like that”.  They will share news about your game, help with the buzz and in general be on your team!

But, to be honest, what we really wanted to do was make a cool game that we’d like to play - and a tactics / strategy game akin to the old favorite Rainbow Six was high on the list of possible projects. We analyzed it and decided it was a good first project too, technical and production wise.

From that point of view, it was not that difficult - we made sure when we started that we didn’t bite more than we can chew (in our experience many wannabe indies fail this part). But on the design and interface side we didn’t want to make “just another strategy game” or copy an existing project. We wanted to bring something new in the way these games are played, better accessibility but also deeper control than usual. We wanted players to be able to focus on their tactics and ideas instead of interfaces and action points, and we struggled to create the interface for that. In Door Kickers 2 you’ll see the next iteration of that idea and interface.

On a different note, any startup is a tough job, you have to be unflinching in your focus and dedication, work a lot and be at your maximum capacity. And plan well - on our side we advise peers to “have something to sell in max 6 months”, but this is a longer story :)”

Door Kickers has seen success since its early Alpha stages and the community rallied behind you with ideas and tons of user created content. Now, what I observed with the official announcement of Door Kickers 2 – Task Force North is that you clearly know how to keep the community on your side. Complete modding support, improved mission editor and partial source code access is part of the love you are showing to the community in the upcoming sequel.
Are you on the track of setting an example for other developers out there on how fans and customers should be treated? (:D)

“We do have the greatest fans around and it’s natural for us to treat them very well. But we’re not alone in this approach, many indie developers do the same. That’s part of the fun of going indie - you don’t have to ask for permission to talk to your fans, you don’t need countless approvals to add something to the game. You want to release the source code, it’s yours to do so. Minimum red tape, maximum fun :)

However, even when we were working for Ubisoft we kept in contact with our players, helped them enjoy their games better, helped them understand the technical side so they can mod the game and improve it, which in the end benefitted us as developers. Every developer should understand this, but the lesson is not new - we’ve known it ever since Gooseman has modded Counter Strike and people have bought Half Life just so they can play it!

And in the end, it’s our little fame as “good guys that stand behind their project” that helped us get attention when we first revealed Door Kickers :)”

Door Kickers is mostly about breaching buildings and close quarters combat with little outdoors action. But Door Kickers 2 moves the action to the Middle East with a Task Force fighting what look like insurgents equipped with some powerful weaponry. It feels like the change in setting between the two games could radically affect the gameplay.
How much different is Door Kickers 2 than its predecessor?

“Door Kickers is meant to be different - we’re not just doing a DLC in different colors, but a whole new game, and we mean to do justice to the new setting and provide the gameplay and challenges that fit it.

Door Kickers 2 takes place in a fictional country in the Middle East, and it’s not always a friendly place for player’s units. Mission locations can be secure, uncertain or even fully hostile to your presence and actions. This means you need to secure a way in, but also a way out. You also need to make sure you bring your boys back even when the mission fails. It also means that you have to be careful with bystanders - people live there and can get in your way. Most of them are innocents that should be protected, but some can prove to be a threat.

On the gunfight side, suppression is in, and you’ll need it to fend of the new threats. But there’s more than that, related to the new player units and classes and the way they work. We’re not, however, ready to reveal that part yet :)”

Door Kickers 2 is making the transition from 2D to 3D graphics. Does this change come with other advantages aside of a better graphical fidelity?

“We’re mostly interested in the advantages rather than the better graphics - specifically that 3D characters can easily share a set of animations without hundreds of sprite sheets :) This means adding a new animation is possible without rendering it for ALL characters, and changing a character or an animation does not mean rendering everything again. Should make modding characters much easier too!

3D characters also mean we can change weapons and gear in their hands, add attachments where appropriate and - most important given our feature set - customize their appearance for multiplayer purposes.
There’s also plenty of opportunities created by using a 3D environment - but we’ll talk about those later in development - or you can read below :)”

I have to say that my only big complaint with Door Kickers comes from its controls. Rerouting individual links from the movement chain is impossible and getting the cursor stuck in various objects is never fun.
Does Door Kickers 2 come with improved controls?

“You have valid concerns. I am happy to say that switching to 3D environment will indirectly improve path plotting as we’re not using a low resolution collision map anymore; There’s also an alternative path plotting method we’re investigating, one that should work better for multiplayer purposes.

This new path plotting should also take care of the “can’t modify path” issues that you mention.”

I’ve noticed in the only screenshot released for Door Kickers 2 a new command that seems to chain units together and also one of the troopers is leaning. I think it’s safe to assume that there are some improvements to the original concept for tactical commands and that’s more than welcomed.
Can you give some details about these new mechanics?

“The leaning will be straightforward stuff, with troopers doing it when the opportunity arises - based on your orders and the field of fire you assign to them. You’ll also be able to order them to “keep their head down”, which is the opposite of leaning out :)

The “group command” means to allow better coordination in the field. Grouped troopers will walk together at the speed of the slowest one, and they’ll keep the orientation you set. You can have a formation with all around security, if that’s what you need. We also have some features related to coordination which are not revealed yet.”

Door Kickers 2 will include a co-op multiplayer which is great! But the game is designed to work through a planning phase and a real time phase in which the players can adjust their strategy with the help of a pause system.
It seems tricky to build a multiplayer around these core mechanics and I’m wondering how exactly will the multiplayer work?

“It’s tricky indeed but not impossible to do :) The multiplayer we announced is Cooperative in nature, so it’s based on players working together, not competing. We have some ideas on how we can make the planning/pause work naturally, in any case.”

Is the unlocking system going to make a comeback in Door Kickers 2? And if so, will the classes be again blocked behind unlocks?

“There will be some unlocking in DK2 - as in most games out there, and we took the player’s feedback into account when we designed it. As in the first game, the unlocking is meant to give the player a chance to gradually get himself accustomed to the various units under his command and the tactics needed to be proficient in the game. The game can still be completed with basic units, and they never get “out of style” and have their role in the game.”

When will Door Kickers 2 be released and on what gaming platforms do you plan to release it?

“Door Kickers 2 is planned to hit Early Access in October 2016, on PC. As Early Access implies lots of fast version updates, we’ll go for Steam only initially. The full release date is not set in stone as we want to have a good, complete and polished game first, and only then apply the “finished” stamp. So “When it’s done” sounds about right :)

After we’re done with the PC we’ll do Handhelds, mainly Android and iOS - but no options are out of the books ;)”

                I want to thank KillHouse Games and Dan Dimitrescu once again for giving me the opportunity to take this interview. You can follow any news about Door Kickers 2 on the studio’s official website. I wish the people at KillHouse Games best of luck with the development process of their newly announced game and with any projects that might come in the future.