(Credit: Primitive Studios)
Two Aussie gaming studio veterans have formed indie developer Primitive Studios to build a new game, drawing inspiration from Where the Wild Things Are and The Little Prince.
Australia grows ever more fertile as an environment for independent gaming development. CNET Australia caught up with Auran veteran and video-game artist Jon Baginski of the newly formed Primitive Studios to find out about its first project: Dreambow.
Can you tell us a bit about the background of Dreambow? How did the concept come into being?
The core team is composed of myself and Chris Bergmann (a programmer). We met while working at Auran — a well-known Australian games company in Brisbane that was behind the international PC game hit Dark Reign. Chris was the lead programmer at Auran, a superstar coder who makes games and plays quite a lot of them, too. I was the effects artist, and happened to work on quite a few projects providing art, animation and even cinematics. When Apple introduced the iPhone and it hit Australian shores, we had a meeting over dinner to discuss if it would be worth doing something on the device, as the multi-touch screens had a lot of interesting potential for unique games (this was before Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja hit the App Store).
As we worked our nine-to-five jobs trying to survive the volatile games industry, we gradually came up with the idea of an iPhone game inspired by retro video games like Pooyan (Konami, 1982). The concept was to integrate a storybook look and feel, since we pictured dialling back the clock to what it would have been like as a kid reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, but with the interactivity of what is now seen on an iPad.
We got to a point where we had a nice-looking game with unique gameplay and pretty much started a new IP. Not sure how I came up with the name, but it was an "escapism"-themed game, and the archery aspect seemed to work well. The difficulty was then finding some form of funding to accelerate development and work on the game full time. We tried all sorts of avenues, with most being a combination of too little funding for too much up-front work, and also the detrimental part ownership of the game by a third party. Something we decided from day one was to maintain 100 per cent control and ownership, due to previous experience with game publishers walking out on studios, leaving projects unfinished and people without a job — and no possibility of taking the work elsewhere to be finished due to contracts.
Why did you decided to go indie — and why Kickstarter?
Becoming an independent developer was always on our minds; the key was to do it correctly and not release a sub-par game as our first project. So instead of being an indie developer full time, we were mostly restricted to working on it late nights and on weekends — drawing out the development time over two years, but keeping expenses to a bare minimum. That's not to say it was easy; a lot of sacrifices had to be made, and the strain of working day jobs that were not nearly as enjoyable as working on our own games (nearly) drove us mad.
Kickstarter exploded onto the scene as quite possibly the best way to get a project funded without all the red tape and hassle that turns creatives into business people. We knew Kickstarter was great for two things: the first being the funding aspect, and the second the exposure to potential players of our game. Setting up Kickstarter was time consuming in terms of waiting for the right time and then having an associate producer help with the US citizen requirements of launching a Kickstarter. Ultimately, Kickstarter satisfied our requirements of keeping full control of the game, ownership of IP [intellectual property] and not having to completely divulge all the inner workings of our game (and prevent theft of ideas and technology).
Can you tell us a bit about how Dreambow works?
Dreambow is an arcade side-scroller puzzle game, where the player navigates through a series of obstacles with a magic bow and arrow. The key is to bring back balance to the cosmos due to a group of misbehaving stars (your targets). The misbehaving stars are responsible for scattering objects around like a child messing up their room. Certain items hold great value and a points/time system encourages players to get through the levels as quickly and skilfully as possible for rewards and high scores.
There are a lot of projects on Kickstarter. What does Dreambow offer that can't be found elsewhere?
There are plenty of successful projects on Kickstarter, and this was really encouraging for us.
Our project caters for a slightly different market than what most video-game projects on Kickstarter aim for. The obvious difference is that Dreambow is a game meant for anyone who loves fantasy and is interested in something other than running around with weapons, blowing zombies up, or space simulation/RPGs, of which there are countless projects on Kickstarter. We are developing a game that we know we will be playing and so will our kids, possibly even generations down the line. That's why the artwork and experience is really important — so that the game stands the test of time, much like a storybook. There also has to be a greater purpose to what we are creating, and that is to ignite imagination and long-lost wonder in adult gamers.
US$75,000 seems like a lot of money. How will the funds be used?
I don't believe there is a single publisher out there who would be willing to fund a game like ours until it's 95 per cent done and we have done all the work of finding and amassing an audience.
This brings us to why US$75,000 is our goal on Kickstarter. The first point we will make is that after all US Government taxes (20 per cent) and fees to Kickstarter (5 per cent) and Amazon (5 per cent) have been paid, we actually end up with US$49,000. Very few Kickstarter projects are realistic about their funding goals, and often they run two campaigns to raise enough money. We found the Kickstarter project: Mercenary Kings by Tribute games to be one of the more realistic funding campaigns, and at a US$75,000 goal, they still pointed out that US$200,000 would be a more practical figure to finish the game. (Mercenary Kings finished with US$116,064, a great achievement for a wonderful-looking game.)
It is simply a fact that once you work in a team and require expenses such as software, equipment, studio space (and let's not forget coffee and snacks), you can burn through a month's salary (from a savings account) in a week. Had we paid for the development of Dreambow so far, it would be in the amounts of US$130,000 and upwards. We are at the point where programming can occupy two days a week, while art, sound and design are practically full time for three to four months.
Our cost breakdown (each department includes software, material and equipment expenses) is as follows:
Animation/art (two artists at US$9500 each)
Sound designer SFX (US$4000)
Level/game music (US$6000)
Gameplay programmer (US$9000)
Tools programmer (US$5000)
Engine/porting/optimisation (US$5000 — flexible, depending on devices)
Legal costs/trade marking/contracts (US$1000).
Our Kickstarter campaign aims to be as transparent as possible, and we are documenting our experience to better help other independent developers, should they find Kickstarter an attractive option for funding. A final note about Kickstarter is that the minimum to help back a project is US$1 and we strongly suggest that everyone signs up to Kickstarter, as it is a vibrant hub of creativity and innovation — where you can become a part of it.
Find out more about Dreambow in the video below, and head over to the Dreambow Kickstarter page to make a donation.