Developer Speak: Chaosoft Games

Gamers are flooded with information about upcoming triple-A blockbuster titles on a daily basis.

But there is a secret you should know about: hundreds of games out there deserve your attention and run the risk of getting drowned out by the massive press coverage given to only a handful.

A couple of months back, I came across a video while looking at upcoming Xbox Live Independent Games in development. I was interested, so I started following Chaosoft Games on Twitter. Now, it’s time to put their feet to the fire and ask them about the most evil game coming to XBLIG: EvilQuest

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DNF: Can you give us a brief history of Chaosoft Games?
FM: Sure, let me start by introducing the team. We currently consist of three members. I’m Forrest McCorkle and I did all the programming for the game. Josh Ferguson is our primary artist. And Michael Hogan is the new guy, he is also a pixel pusher. Josh and I started working together on video game projects back in 2008, but we’ve actually known each other since first grade. I guess that would’ve been 1985 or so.

JF:  We both started messing around with computers as kids – we used to program graphics and simple text games in Basic on the Apple II, then we started tooling around with PCs.  When we were in high school, Forrest ran a BBS that I made graphics for.  Forrest went to college for Programming & Computer Science while I went to college for Computer Graphics and 3D Animation.  With that kind of combination of knowledge, it just seems crazy not to make games.

FM:  Anyway, we were working on a pretty major project for about a year and a half and then in the middle of 2010 we decided to release a game with a much smaller scope. The reason being, we wanted to see what kind of pitfalls we would encounter when we eventually released this other game. So, we ended up making a simple arcade-style shooter with 3D graphics called “Chaos Shift”. The game had a pretty unique mechanic whereby you could become invincible and inflict greater damage once you chained together enough kills. We called this altered state the “Chaos Shift” and ended up naming the game after it. Unfortunately the game never met with very much commercial success, but we learned a lot. Primarily that without marketing, your game is likely to languish in obscurity.  So, a few months later, we started working on something quite a bit different. This time, we wanted to do something that was closer to the games we enjoyed growing up, and something that we also believe will ultimately do really well in the marketplace. That game, of course, is EvilQuest.

DNF: Tell us about your upcoming game EvilQuest.

FM: I think EvilQuest would fit right at home with the JRPG games of the early 90s, but with one huge difference. This time, you’re playing as a villain instead of a hero. In fact, you’re the guy that you were always trying to stop in those old games. Your character’s name is Galvis, and he wants to destroy the world. It’s an Action RPG so you could easily compare it to something like Zelda, or more accurately Crystalis. But, the mood, dialog and setting is very different.

DNF: Do you think that having EvilQuest put you in the role of the villain alters the classic RPG dynamic for the better?

FM: Absolutely! Personally, I’ve played enough games where I’m some androgynous 18 year old whose father was a hero, or got a magic sword, or is from another dimension, etc… “Role Playing” is about taking on a Role, so why play the same one game in and game out? Don’t get me wrong, I loved the vast majority of the old NES & SNES RPGS, but the hero role has gotten old. So, I guess I’d say that the dynamic is not better because you’re playing as a villain specifically, but rather because you’re playing as something other than the traditional role.

JF:   I always wondered why no one made RPGs on the old consoles where you could play as a villain.  I know I’m not the only one who loves playing as an evil character in more recent games like KOTOR or Oblivion.   I eventually realized that in the 2D era, game companies tended to avoid controversy to please the parents who were buying games for their kids.  Even when you did get some leeway to be evil, there were always consequences – like in Ultima, you’d attack a villager and the guards would kill you.  You could attack the King but he was pretty much unbeatable.  So you’re still forced to play the game a certain way.  That’s still true to a large extent today – going back to Oblivion as an example, the guards still come after you if you kill a townsperson.   So ultimately, I think we’re making a game in a classic style that allows people to play a role they’ve never been allowed to play – but have always wanted to.

DNF: EvilQuest is a good looking game. Can you tell us about the evolution of its look?

JF:  Well, after Chaos Shift came out, we were working on another 3D title.  While I prefer to work in 3D, I do have a love of classic JRPG-style sprite art. EvilQuest originally started as an experiment by Forrest while I was on vacation.  He put together an awesome concept for a 2D engine in a very short amount of time, but his sprites were… drawn by a programmer.   We put development on the 3D game on hold and figured we’d get this 2D game done and out in a few months.  Well, fast forward almost a year later and we’re finally about to release.

We really tried to keep the scope of this game reined in, but at some point we got invested in the project and it went from being a “quickie” project to being one that seemed like it could really become a unique and awesome game.  I think it takes a lot of commitment and endurance to be able to consistently produce quality sprites.  I’m not the type of person who easily compromises on the quality of an artistic vision, so it takes as long as it takes.  A couple of places in production where the art style “evolved” were when we decided to include a cutscene-style intro and ending, and when I pushed for the entrances to towns and dungeons to be unique, detailed, single-screen locations rather than just a town icon in the middle of the map.

About 3 months into the project I was deep in the weeds and decided to contact Michael, one of my former students, to see if he wanted to come on board and help me with sprites.   I knew he was a fan of JRPGs and that he could produce quality 2D sprites – and more importantly, he’s able to do it in a very similar style to my own.  So we split up the list of monsters, which was a huge part of the art production on this project.  I created all the bosses myself, along with all the major characters, cutscene graphics, backgrounds, town & dungeon entry screens, spells & special effects, and item icons.  Michael took on the bulk of the NPCs and the weapons.  We both worked on “deco” tiles, though Michael worked a little more in that area than I did.  Finally, Forrest did just about all the base tilesets for the game, with me doing some touch-ups here and there.  Also, Forrest and I both wrote every single piece of music for this game ourselves, with the greater portion of it authored by Forrest.  I just want to say that anyone who thinks that creating a 2D game will somehow be easier than creating a 3D game is deluding themselves – they’re both hard, just in different ways.

DNF: Do you feel that classic style RPGs can find a home in the XBox Independent Games?

FM: Yes, I think that we’re already starting to see signs of it. Things really got going in the middle of 2010 with Breath of Death, Cthulhu at the begining of 2011 and then in the last two months we’ve seen at least three other JRPGs released on the service. I’m aware of several others that are in the works and only see this trend continuing. Traditionally the Playstation has had the stronger library of RPGS. This was definitely the case on the PS2 and XBox and seems to be continuing in the current gen of consoles. Microsoft could really tap into a huge market by reviving and embracing this genre. If they promoted the service as a place to get cheap, fun & innovative RPGS then you could really see a second age of the 2D RPG…maybe the “Silver Age” to the NES/SNES’s “Golden Age” for my fellow comic geeks out there. Of course, something like this could only happen if the quality of the games is high. And it’s up to us as a community to promote our best games as much as we can.

JF:There’s a large audience for classic-style RPGs that often gets ignored in this day and age of big-budget AAA game studios that play it safe by releasing rehashes of the same FPS and Sports titles.  XBLIG is a great outlet for small devs that are willing to put in the time and effort to get their RPGs out to a wide audience.  One downside is that we’ve seen several recent XBLIG RPGs that use stock RPG Maker graphics, so the games look very similar, and many people can recognize them for what they are.  On one hand, it’s great that people are able to find a solution to bring a game idea to life.  On the other hand, I see it as a cop-out that is insulting to game artists who make a serious effort to produce quality work.  The sad thing is that the market at large will never know about the cheap shortcut that these devs are taking.  I think these games should automatically fail review, and wish that people would take the time to create original content – or if they lack the talent/ability, find someone to work with who is capable of doing so.  I am very proud to be able to say that EvilQuest does not use an off-the-shelf game engine, and contains artwork, music, and sound that is 100% original and was created specifically for this project.

DNF: Have you found the XBLIG community supportive of EvilQuest?

FM: Yes, We have been in Playtest for a couple of weeks now and have had a bout a half dozen developers give us feedback on the game. That might not seem like a lot, but, this is an RPG and playtesting a game of this scope is probably a little more time consuming than other genres. Right now, we’re  relatively unknown, even in the XBLIG community. But, I think we’ll eventually get more support and recognition because we’re putting out a game that adds something unique to the service rather than a “cash grab” type game/app.

JF:  Sometimes it’s difficult to receive the criticisms that you get from playtest, but I think it’s helped us make several important tweaks to the game that will ultimately result in a better reception once the game launches.

DNF: What steps do you think Microsoft could take to make the Independent Market more visible to gamers who use live, but never visit XBLIG?

FM: As a mater of fact, they’ve actually started advertising some of the best selling indie games on the Dashboard in just the last few days. Who knows how long it will last or how far it will go, but it’s obviously great for the games that are being advertised. I think that more than advertising support, a lot of XBLIG developers just want to be treated with more respect. Just this week, there’s a bug in the dashboard that won’t let you download any indie games that were released in the past few days. This has gone on for three days now and we have no official response from Microsoft. There have been numerous other instances over the past year of bugs in the system, and each time, the affected developers just kind of have to sit there and wait it out without any clue as to what’s really going on. These games that just came out the past few days, they may be the best games on the service, but without those critical first few days of sales under their belts, I’m afraid they’re dead in the water. Another thing that I think would help would be to have two “Top Rated” lists. One for the recently released (past 3 months or so) and then one for all time. The “Top Rated Recent” should be the default list that gamers see when they first click on the Indie Channel.

JF: I’ve read all kinds of theories and suggestions on the App Hub forums, but one very simple solution I can think of is this:  when you’re on the main dashboard menu, periodically have some kind of pop-up balloon up in the corner saying something like, “Did you know?  Over 1000 games at your fingertips right here on Xbox Live!  Check out the marketplaces for XBLA and XBLIG!” and have a “take me there” option.  I have friends that had no idea that XBLIG existed until I showed them how to find it on Xbox Live.

DNF: After EvilQuest is unleashed what future projects can we expect from Chaosoft Games?

JF: We have two different 3D games whose development is currently on hold until our work on EvilQuest is over.  The future is uncertain right now.  Everything hinges on the level of success we see from EvilQuest.  If EvilQuest is successful, then obviously we’ll make a sequel or prequel.  We’ve talked about expanding our team and would like to get to a point where we can have more than one game in development at once.  One thing is for sure – as awesome as EvilQuest is, we have project ideas that have the potential to go far beyond this game.

FM: Like Josh said, it all depends on how EvilQuest does. The only thing I can say for certain is that I will be doing a PC port of the game and hope to release it on one of the major distribution venues such as Steam. I may also be porting it to other platforms as well. Ultimately we want what all indie devs want and that’s to make games full time. If we get that opportunity, you’re going to see a lot more from us.

DNF: EvilQuest is full of evil. Are you guys Evil? Or just good at telling Evil stories?

JF: Are we evil in the sense that we sacrifice kittens and drink the blood of small children?  No.  But Forrest and I have always had dark senses of humor and get into some pretty hardcore punk and metal bands.  For the most part, we channel that darkness into our games now.   I don’t know, though, if you asked some of my students about whether or not I’m evil, you might get a “yes!”

FM: Well, I read my Necronomicon before I go to sleep each night…does that qualify me? No, I think that we just grew up thinking the villains in all the cartoons, comics and games that we played at the time looked cooler than the heroes and that they got all the best lines.

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I can’t wait to get my hands on EvilQuest. If you want to learn more about EvilQuest, why not head over to their website? And follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

Thanks again to Chaosoft Games for taking the time out to sit down with us. You can look for EvilQuest on the Xbox Independent Marketplace early January 2012!

About Donald Conrad

Donald Conrad is an avid father and a dedicated gamer -- or maybe that's the other way around. He loves his games, and he loves his family, and he's pretty sure he loves sleep, even if he doesn't remember what it was like. Follow his life confusion on Twitter @ConManEd