Here at Black Shell Media, we find ourselves extremely lucky to build relationships with a wide array of developers from different backgrounds. Each and every one of our developer friends took very different routes to end up where they are today, published and professional. This interview series gives you a peek behind the curtains into the everyday lives of some of our best development partners, both in-house and out, and highlights exactly what it took to turn them into the game developers they are today.
This week, we’re talking to Martin Kupski of Nodbrim Interactive, the strategic minds behind the tactical turn-based RPG Acaratus. It takes place in a steampunk medieval world where players build their own mecha units and it’s currently on Steam Early Access. It is a unique title that deserves your eyes!
BSM: How did you come up with your studio name?
MK: Well, Nodbrim doesn’t really mean anything to be honest. We wanted a name that was a mystery, something uncertain yet familiar that sounds like it could mean something—and adding interactive after it implies that the unknown thing we do is something interactive, which is almost always the case.
BSM: How many people are on your core development team (including contractors), and how did your team get assembled?
MK: Everything started with another project I started with some former co-workers. The team split up because the project didn’t hold up, but that’s where I met Kristoffer. We started talking about this project I always wanted to do. It was ambitious but doable, and we really wanted to do something together, so we kicked off this project—more as a hobby than anything else.
We are the founders and core members of the team. We have now added Daniel, who is helping Kristoffer out with programming and balancing. I’m responsible for everything that is not programming, which means I’m managing contracts with freelancers, handling in-game art, running the marketing campaigns, and so on.
The rest of the team consists of Rafael Krux, who makes the music for our game, Klaus Pillon and Thomas Stoop who both handle concept art, and Mortel Brunbjerg, who writes the story together with me. Last but not least, we have Brus Ljuddesign who does all our sound design in the game. All these guys have their own stories on how they got on the project, but most of them I found by searching the web and through some contacts I had. We have become quite good friends, most of us, and we have a mutual understanding of each other. I couldn’t ask for a better team! Also, most of us have never met in real life mostly because we all live in different countries or very far apart.
BSM: What is your educational background? Did any of your studies directly help you in becoming a game developer?
MK: I think my passion more than anything else helped me to become a game developer. School only helps with the practical stuff, and I think it becomes harder if you don’t have the mindset to start with. They just help you grow with whatever drive you already have inside.
I studied Digital Graphics ten years ago, it lasted a year and a half and gave me a great foundation of software skills to go out and do what I wanted. My career started out a bit differently though. I got into the VFX industry working on commercials and films for several years. Eventually, I took a break and studied some scripting just to get into the developer mindset and started working with bigger companies. There, I also learned from experience that running a game company is hard but not really that impossible and that managing a team came naturally to me.
BSM: What made you interested in working on projects in this genre?
MK: Both Kristoffer and I are big fans of turn-based games, especially board games. Personally, I love Warhammer; that is something I played a lot as a kid, and painting figures was a perfect fit for my creative teen years. Final Fantasy Tactics and Heroes of Might and Magic were two other big influences that solidified my passion in video games and made me love the turn-based genre even more. Today, I think that the genre still has a lot of potential that others haven’t explored yet.
BSM: Why did you decide to take on a project of this particular scope and scale?
MK: The decision wasn’t made overnight. We started off just aiming for a multiplayer type of game with as simple mechanics as possible. Then when we playtested it, the game felt flat and like every other turn-based game on the market. We experimented with the modular approach and the game suddenly grew from something simple and basic into something complex and overwhelming. Kristoffer assured me that this could be done and I didn’t doubt him. The game turned out to be even more interesting with this mechanic.
Single player didn’t come into our minds until a bit after the testing phase. Mechanics were in place and we started to explore the possibility of getting a story down that complemented the gameplay in a good way. At this point, I started to get second thoughts on if we were growing the project too big, but since we didn’t have any time constraints or deadlines (because indie, hell yeah!) other than budget, we felt that it was a good investment into the value of the game.
BSM: Given that games can change quite a bit throughout development, what did your game look like early in its development cycle?
MK: At the earliest beginning, I started to do a paper prototype to try out the mechanics and if it was fun. We then dabbled in Unreal to try stuff out but quickly changed to our own developed engine because Kristoffer felt more at home and thought it would be more fun to do it from scratch. From a graphics point of view, I had nothing to start with—no editor, nothing close to a workflow. So everything was made as we went and I did what I could to give him assets to hardcode into the prototype. It was crude, but it worked for the beginning. The game was unbalanced and rough, but we got the basic idea of it down.
BSM: Describe a typical day of game development for you. What is it like?
MK: You should all know that this was and still is a passion project. We work from home and use Skype, Trello, and other software to keep track of progress and to stay in touch with what we do. I keep an eye on the overall schedule and what we need done from a general perspective, and Kristoffer manages the patch cycles.
A typical day for me looks like this:
- I have my day job (because indie) working 9-5 and then i get home
- Feed the cat.
- Fix stuff at home.
- Work on the game as much as my brain can handle.
With this, it usually means I go though emails, check with everyone else on what is done, and add comments if needed and continue with my own art for the game. Me and Kristoffer have production meetings on Skype almost every week, too, just to keep track on what we are doing and talk about fun stuff in general.
Weekends are a bit different, as I try to spend those days as full work days, but life kind of gets in the way of that sometimes.
BSM: What were some challenges you had to overcome in the development process?
MK: The biggest challenge for me has been the personal issues. I’ve lost a girlfriend after eight years of living together. The separation took a toll on me and I had a dark period for a while that kind of took some passion out of game development right around the time we released the Early Access on Steam. I went into a small depression and the game kind of suffered for it. This is nothing new, though. I know a lot of developers getting into real life situations that break the productivity and makes a dent in your life. We are humans after all.
Production-wise, I had lots of stuff to learn because we didn’t know how to make the modular attachment function practically. It took us couple of tries to get it right. Finally, I figured it out on my end on how to rig and animate all the parts, and Kristoffer got it working in the engine. Balancing all this together while having events to go to and needing to build a working prototype demo for others to try out was really stressful.
BSM: What are some of your favorite parts of game development?
MK: The beginning part when you actually can try your creation out for the first time. It’s exhilarating and disappointing at the same time. Though the disappointment is usually overshadowed by the sheer joy of having something in your hands that you made together. Then you polish that ’til it’s perfect!
Another thing I love is the actual process of finding a visual look and feel for the game. As a graphics guy, I really like to horde on references and inspiration. We tried several styles until we ended up with a simple yet detailed look that also is very cost effective to develop and produce.
BSM: What’s next on the horizon for you both personally and professionally?
MK: Professionally, we will continue with the game and finish it while working on our day jobs. Then after that, we will see what’s in store for our next project: the sales actually dictate a little bit what we will be able to do next. Personally, I’ve got tons of ideas I want to play with on my own but nothing I can share at the moment.