Ten teams. Ten games. Ten thousand dollars. One winner. Who will be the one to walk away victorious?
If you told me that this line sounded like the premise to a new wacky reality TV show, I would agree. However, this was the premise at the recent 2015 Whippering Indie Cup held in San Francisco last December. I was able to reach out to the winner of the cup, Tim Conkling- creator of the game Antihero, to talk about his experience in such a high stakes competitive environment.
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Thomas: So Tim, could you first shed a little bit of light on the history of Antihero? How long have you been developing it?
Tim: I’ve been developing Antihero for about 2.5 years. 3 years ago, I was working at Three Rings Design as a programmer and game designer. I really wanted to work on my own stuff, so I left Three Rings, spent about 6 months on a project that I ultimately felt was too ambitious for a one-man team, and switched gears to Antihero.
Thomas: Given that games can change quite a bit throughout their development cycle, what did Antihero look like early into it’s life?
Tim: Antihero’s original elevator pitch (to myself) was “Civilization With Friends.” I’d played a lot of Hero Academy, Robot Entertainment’s fantastic multiplayer tactics battler for iOS, and I was really excited to make an asynchronous multiplayer game of my own. Hero Academy was a tactics game with a Words With Friends pace and async structure; my goal from the very beginning of Antihero’s development was to do a similar thing, but in the 4X genre.
The earliest iterations of Antihero – well before it was actually called “Antihero” – were all about flying a blimp around a high fantasy orcs-and-elves world and sniping baddies. The Oliver Twist/Victorian thieves’ guild theme came later – I’d just created the game’s “scouting” system, which just *felt* thief-y. Also, I’d just re-watched Gangs of New York and felt like a city was the appropriate fictional scale for the game — and I wanted to put a Daniel Day-Lewis character in the game.
Thomas: Whippering Cup was a competition and I can imagine there must have been a lot of planning involved. Was there anything you did or any changes you made to the game in order to prepare for the cup?
Tim: Most of my development on Antihero thus far has been on the multiplayer component. Going multiplayer-first really forces me to nail down the game design; and on the engineering side of things, multiplayer adds a lot of code complexity that you really want to get figured out up front — it’s way easier to add a single-player component to your multiplayer game than vice-versa.
But when I show the game publicly, like at Whippering or PAX, I really can’t show the multiplayer component because it just doesn’t demo very well – it’s async multiplayer and most players at a show aren’t going to want to take a turn, then wait for their opponent to make a move before they can go again — it’s just kind of a non-starter.
So Whippering really forced me to improve the AI, and polish up the tutorial, because that’s what players are going to interact with when they first sit down with the game. I spent the weeks leading up to Whippering Cup completely overhauling the tutorial and new player experience, which is a task I procrastinate on because making a good, polished tutorial is such a gigantic pain in the ass. External deadlines, like shows, are great for forcing me to work on stuff like that.
Thomas: There were a lot of great games out there, but Antihero was definitely the best. How did it feel having won the Whippering Cup?
Tim: Haha, thanks! The quality of games at the Whippering Cup was really quite high. I certainly wouldn’t claim that Antihero was the best game there. Winning was a huge surprise and was one of the highlights of my whole year. It was a major validation of the work I’ve put into the game, which just feels amazing. Also I’d never held a giant novelty check before, so that was great.
Thomas: Oftentimes, successful Kickstater projects end up evolving once they go over their funding. With the influx of new money, projects grow but also sometimes slow down due to the wealth of additions being made to the game.
How do you think the additional funding from Whippering Cup will affect your game project? Are you planning any new large features or updates?
Tim: I’ve paid for Antihero’s development out of my savings – I’m doing the game design and programming, but the art and audio is all done by contractors, and good help doesn’t come cheap. The money from Whippering Cup has gone directly to help cover those costs.
So: no previously-unplanned features to the game – but there’s a lot of work left to do on it!
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And there you have it folks! Antihero’s website can be found here. If you like what you see and want to be updated, there is a mailing list available. I know I for one will be keeping an eye on this one!
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