For those who have frequented my YouTube channel, you may have seen my recent Let's Play with Black Ice developer Garrett Cooper, A.K.A. superdupergc. Garrett was also kind enough to sit down with me without the distraction of laz guns, web crawlers, and The Shark, so that we could discuss Black Ice uninterrupted by my penchant for anarchy and chat about his Indie game development experiences.
Garrett is a man of passion. He is in the enviable position of being able to 1) envision his ideal game 2) actually be able to make it. Charismatic and sociable, he works diligently and patiently to share his love with others so that they, too, can whittle away hours while blasting away foes.
Ok, gimmie the pitch: what is Black Ice?
Jack in to cyberspace and hack megacorporations in this fast-paced FPS/RPG. Gather loot, upgrade your character, mod the game, shoot cyberspiders with rocket shotguns while jetpacking about!
What sources did you use as inspiration?
I'm very proud of the sky I use in Black Ice. I intentionally tried to duplicate the Infinity Room effect in Disneyland: EPCOT's Spaceship Earth ride. They used LEDs and mirrors; I used a particle effect.
My major influences for setting are the novels Neuromancer and Snow Crash. I encourage everyone to read them! Movies such as Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix, and Dune were so heavy and rich in theme and feel I couldn't help but lean on them.
As far as other games, I drew inspiration from the classics, Quake 3 for player movement and weapon feel, Diablo 2 for items and overkill, Borderlands to maintain humor and personality, Android: Netrunner for the RAM mechanic I use, and Path of Exile to use abilities as items.
What made you decide to develop a game in the first place? Did you have any experience prior to making Black Ice?
Black Ice is my first game. I taught myself to code TI-BASIC on my graphing calculator because I wanted to make games, way back in 6th grade. Then I got some formal coding education in college (I'm an engineer by day), but only after discovering Unity, and being encouraged by the wonderful Indie community, have I thought I might actually be able to make a fun game that people would play. I was very surprised to discover that people actually like my game!
Welcome to the Party
What has your experience been like trying to get industry exposure?
Getting exposure has been tough. The Indie game idiom is true - making the game is hard, but it isn't the hardest part - getting people's attention is. That's why I've been putting so much time into streamers and let's players. I honestly don't email press as often as I should, but I was covered by Rock, Paper, Shotgun at one point!
Have you taken Black Ice to any shows or events?
I attended GDC and met a ton of awesome people! I just had an expo pass, so I wasn't able to show off the game to many people, but I was able to hand out a few copies of Black Ice (on floppy disk!) to some of my heroes and heroines. I bought a table at GaymerX this year, so I'll be able to show off the game to more people! And I'll have buttons to give away so please, stop by!
Is "mainstream" the place that you want to be or do you prefer to appeal to your passionate niche?
Do I want to be mainstream? Oh no, I don't hold any illusions that an indie FPS about something as bizarre as cyberpunk hacking can really be mainstream, but I do try very hard to make the game approachable. I try to retain as much depth as possible, while cutting down on complexity. For instance, I originally had a system where you could place different payloads into weapon abilities; you could use a laser or a fireball with your shotgun or sniper, but people had a hard time grasping it. So I changed it to where you'd find items that were a combination of these - no less combinations (depth), but much less complexity, since the user didn't have to put items together. This helped immensely. I'm fine catering to people who have already read Neuromancer or Snow Crash, but I'd also like to hook new people who might not be fans of the genre(s) yet. I've got a lot of things going on with Black Ice - Cyberpunk, FPS, RPG, Loot, etc.
As a one-man, lean, mean, coding machine, how has the Black Ice experience treated you? Has the game dev community been instrumental in your success by providing you tips and support?
Making Black Ice has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The Indie community is fantastic, devs and players are really awesome, I've had a chance to meet people that I look up to and actually have them say they like my game! Other developers have *definitely* been instrumental in helping me move forward - I've got a list of my favorites here. Honestly, the best thing about Unity is that 95% of the problems I need to solve are explained in tutorials on YouTube already. I'm a big fan of not writing code if it's already available, so this is great.
You’ve done admirable work cultivating a community on reddit. Do you find that they heavily influence the direction game development is taking?
The /r/GameDev subreddit definitely influenced the early development of Black Ice - I used to post every week on the Feedback Friday thread. They helped me hone the core loop of my game into something great.
The /r/BlackIce subreddit is great now, because I can get a lot of long form feedback on experimental builds before I release to the public, which is great for reducing bug count and tweaking balancing. It's a great place for people to post their videos of the game so people can swap tips and tricks, and I'm hoping it'll become a place where people swap mods and guides.
You openly solicit Let’s Plays, can you just not get enough of your own game?
I definitely can't get enough videos of people playing my game! If you're reading this and you want to make a video, do it! You have my permission, and you definitely won't have any copyright take-down trouble from me. YouTube and Twitch are basically how I do marketing - I make friends, send out review copies, and in turn I get much more organic connections than I could by paying Facebook for ads. Plus it's fun! People are always coming up with crazy tactics that I never expected.
Make You Code That Way
On your site you offer a couple of additional tiers of support with Kickstarter-esque bonuses. Do you think the positives of crowd funding with a low level goal would outweigh the negatives, especially for sustained development?
Well, crowd funding is a really interesting topic. Kickstarter can be useful not only to as a source of revenue, but also as a way to generate coverage for your game. If I were to do a KS or Indie Go Go campaign for Black Ice, I would set the goal low and point out that this amount of money is intended to fund development over a certain period of time. After that time/money runs out, I suppose I could run an additional campaign but I doubt many people would be interested in buying again. Because I still have a day job, I'd have a hard time guaranteeing that Feature X would be done by Month M. Even if I could make enough money to quit my job, many games underestimate costs and schedules... I'm not really comfortable putting out estimates. So if I were running one, I'd use it more as an advertising platform and a way to sell the game, and maybe as a way to make physical objects as rewards.
One of the things I offered when I first started selling Black Ice was a ($30) "Make-your-own-item" tier for purchasing the game. I wanted people to be able to help make the game, and I wanted to give people something back if they wanted to pay more than the minimum. I actually had a *ton* of response to that, to the point at which I have a backlog of dozens of items that I need to make, and each takes quite a bit of time, so I had to stop offering that tier. Once I get through the backlog, I'd like to offer that option again, but probably at a higher price so I don't get overwhelmed again.
You've decided to go the route of indefinitely extended development, or, the Minecraft way. Any particular reason?
Procedurally generated Indie games fit the "Minecraft" way very well. It's great, I can get the game out into player's hands early, get feedback, and earn a little revenue for bootstrapping to make the game better. New updates give players a reason to come back and play through the game again. I've priced the game so that it's always a good buy *right now*, even though you get free updates later. Even if you think you'll only play the game once, it's a good deal.
Games have always received updates but it seems that modern games have development periods extending years after launch, even AAA titles. Does that put the onus on developers to “get it right” the first time or be more comfortable in the knowledge that they have a chance to fix or change something in the future?
Well, I think a lot of AAA games (and game consoles) know that people are used to getting early versions of games now, so they have an incentive to release their products before they're really done. Many of them clearly are releasing less than perfect games knowing that people will still buy their games, regardless of initial quality. After all, they can always patch later. This results in a lot of $60 games being broken right when they come out.
On the flip side, I love it when developers continue to support games after they've been released, especially if it that means free updates. Look at Diablo 2, that game is still getting free content updates 10 years later. Paid DLC makes sense in story-based games like Bioshock Infinite, but replayable and/or procedurally generated games can get plenty of benefit out of free content updates.
If you have one, what is the overall goal of Black Ice?
I made Black Ice because I wanted to experience hacking the way it was described in Neuromancer - jacking in to cyberspace and looking around at the massive 3D world of the Internet. I will likely be looking into Oculus Rift support to further the immersion. I mean, how cool would it be for the game to prompt you to put on your cyberspace googles (rift headset) when you start a game? I get chills. A secondary goal was to see if I could make a game by myself good enough to get on Steam. Black Ice is at 94% to the top 100 on Steam Greenlight, so it looks like that's going to happen. Beyond that, I love having a toy that I can tinker with and add on to essentially forever - and by adding mod support, I'm letting everyone help make it better. And sure, I'd like to make games as a full-time job. Who wouldn't?
Garret Cooper can be found on Twitter. Black Ice has many social media outlets including reddit, YouTube, Steam, and Facebook. Please support Black Ice by voting for it on Steam Greenlight and by purchasing it!
Don't forget all of the other Here Are Words interviews.