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sPlKe has created a game that's got an truly unique flavor. Don't take my word for it - just read this interview and take a look at the screenshots and you'll see that for yourself.


Q: Please introduce yourself by telling us a few words about your company and your past Gamestudio-related projects.

A: Well, my name is Ezekiel Rage and I formed IceValk entertainment ( http://www.icevalk.com ) in 2007. As of today, we released three games, two of them being commercial projects.


The first one was "Monster Mega Mayhem" and we did this with the A6 Engine. That was in 2007. I worked with Morten Storm back then on the Models and with HeelX on the codes of the game. In fact, many people have collaborated to the game, too many to name here, but HeelX has finished the coding part up. However, I can tell you that the first draft of the code originated from the AUM Magazine ;). I colaborated with HeelX again and him, myself and Kiyaku created "Trixie in Fairyland" in 2008. A small game, originally written for a contest (where it won the 3rd place) - the game is quite fondly remembered by us. Ask HeelX about a new version some time ;)


In 2009 Slin and I released "The Adventures of Ambages - Castle of the Goblin King" which happened to be featured in AUM #84. We had this game published, but as it sometimes pans out, things go wrong, and the game, although having a publisher, being complete and released, fell through and never found its way into retail. You can, however, buy the game from our website. In 2010 me and Morten Storm wanted to release a game called Pepe, based on the Character of Popeye. It was featured in AUM #87 and was close to completion before we decided to restart the project from scratch. We work on this in our sparse free time, as it would require a lot more manpower and money than we currently have. But we will not give up on it.


Q: You state that G.R.U.N.T.S. is an episodic first person adventure. Could you give us a bit more information about it?

A: Sure thing. You see, I have chosen the Episodic format because it allows me to create a big story and a long game but also allows me to focus on the small scale work I like so much. Big projects are hard to maintain, and expensive to realize. Small scale projects are not. That way, I have the best of both worlds.


For G.R.U.N.T.S. that means that I focus development on one episode a time, while planting hints and pieces of what's to come. I can tell you that the whole story is set up, as are the episodes. The game is divided into sectors, and each sector has its own theme. I thought it would be a nice idea to play with not only the graphical style of the game, but also with the basic video game cliche. For example, the first sector (MAZE) is a sandbox like environment and features a key fetch quest. And the player, whose thoughts are featured via voice acting, is not too shy about telling everyone what he thinks of that.


The second sector is different however. There is no fetch quest here, just straight forward plowing through the level, but here I have played with the graphical style. I simply inverted it. Black walls and white outlines. Same goes for the enemies. It is a nice contrast and looks a little bit like TRON. The game features an easy mode for beginners as well as a hard mode for the pros. But to be honest, even I have a really hard time finishing Hard mode.


Q: How did you achieve this XIII-like, and at the same time unique graphical style?

A: That may sound crazy, and frankly, I think it is, but i did everything in WED. Every single line you see in the game (excepting the tiled floor) is manually placed in WED. Every edge has an outline, and every outline is a brush textured black. I did not use any shaders there to achieve the effect. The general Idea for a game like that was in my head for years. I just could not wrap my work around it, as back then, my game design skills were very limited (that was even before Monster Mega Mayhem). However, thanks to various released and failed projects, I could finally work on the game.


The Models are done by the talented achaziel (no, he is not just spamming Morbius, he actually does something XD) who happens to be a personal friend of mine as well. They are skinned with an 8*8 skin and outlined by inverting the mesh. Once again, no shaders here. The only shader I use is a shader written by Chris B. that achieves the pixelated effect of the textures.


Q: What type of AI code are you using for the enemies?

A: Redeemer, who has done the codes for the game (and wrote a very wonderful and flat out honest report on his thoughts about it) also did the AI. However, most enemies are simply following their basic patterns. Since this is more of an adventure game and less of a shooter, I think that a complex AI system would only complicate things. I wanted it simple and arcade styled. We don't have a cover system, we don't use advanced path finding. Our enemies are rather stupid, but that only adds to the humor we have in the game, and you can hear the player complain about that quite a lot. He generally thinks the game is very 90ies.


Q: When can we expect to see the release of the first game episode? How many levels do you plan to cram into it?

A: I hope to release the first episode in late February for as less as 3.99$ via my Website. Although each of the five episodes "only" features two Sectors, I expect the average player needs at least an hour to complete the episode. The Sectors are not that small, and the enemies are tougher than it sounds, especially in hard mode. In contrast, the latest outing of a certain blue Hedgehog features four Stages (five minutes each) and costs 12$ per Episode. That makes me think our pricing is not that high.


Q: Can you tell us the names of a few great tools (paid or free) that you are using in your game development projects?

A: Well, apart from the ever useful Photoshop and Gimp utilities, I think Blender is a good option for the models. Of course, it always depends on what you want to do. Since I still use WED, I am a little bit old school when it comes to creating levels. Because of that, I *STILL* map out each stage on paper first: room size, placement and the likes. Pen and Paper is probably the most useful tool right after a Text Document where you write down the design. As for music and sound effects, there are a gazillion free tools out there. I personally use the very very very unprofessional Magix. Why? Because I like it simple. And Cubase. ;)


Q: What feature would you like to see being implemented in Gamestudio in the near future?

A: TUSC (The Universal Script Creator - George's note) really. That thing, I am waiting for years for now. But seriously, I'd like to see a better shadow system. Also, the Engine could use a boost in speed. But what bugs me the most is not even engine related. It is the horrendous Website and the version system. If I had my say, I would keep it simpler. *WE* understand the features and versions the "website" shows us, but my girlfriend for example does not. And that is, for an engine who wants to be beginners friendly, very unfriendly for beginners. I would streamline it to a three type system. Beginners system that is basically the Free version with the option to compile an exe. Included in the package should be an up to date manual and very basic tutorials.


The Extra version basically can be scrapped. The commercial version is good, but I would scrap the Multiplayer and instead lower the price. And keep the Pro version as it is. I know that some people are now saying: But Spike, what about feature XYZ? Why not ask for volumetric post processing parallax lighting normal bumping AO? Well, simply put because you don't need that. Listen folks, and I will go into much greater detail in the next answer but the truth is, if you can't finish a game with the features you have now, you certainly can't finish a game at all.


Q: Please give us a few tips for the beginners!

A: I usually tend to answer this question with the same answer. Sure, I may use different words but the essence stays the same. Start small. Learn your tools. But this time, as stated above, I will go a little bit into detail. Telly you something I usually only think.


Guys, you read this and you think: Okay, so he has no idea what he is talking about. And from a certain point of view, namely Retro Studios or Konami, you might very well be right. But that my dear friends is not the point. The point is, we are all unprofessional indie developers. All of us.  If you read this and consider yourself to be a pro, give your license back. Because frankly, you are not. That may sound harsh, but as long as you are not working on a multi million dollar project for a big budget market, you are not a pro. And that is okay.


I suppose since you are reading this, you are either a beginner or like me, a small indie. And tell you what. *WE* are the good guys. You see, a good game is not created in one day. And a good idea is also not done in a day. If you are really doing this, if you really want to go through with this, then be prepared: you have A LOT of work ahead of you, and you will fail. You will fail time and time again. Your first ten games WILL suck.


So what can you do about it? Well, keep on going. Create sucky games. Heck, for the sake of it, go now, open up SED, MED and WED/GED and create a sucky game. Create a game with four to six rooms connected to each other. Create a horrible player code. GO ahead and make a model or two and then place those models in your ugly room and play. Play the game you will work on for weeks. And then realize how much it sucks and throw it into a folder named "Projects that suck". And then start again. Do the very same game again. Do not change it. Just create the same game again. And again and again. And if you can do this game in one day and still make it better than your first few tries, you are on the right track.


I remember my first game. It was so horrible. And then I had this idea of a Castlevania game. And I was lucky enough to meet a great man who actually knew what he was doing. He basically created my game. And you know what? He is a pro now. And I am very proud to have ever met him. So my point being, like I have stated above: if you cannot make a full fledged game with the tools you have been given, you cannot make any game. Because a game is not graphics or shaders or music or gameplay, all those are things a game needs. But a game is an idea. And if you have an idea, no matter how stupid it may be, just go with it. Don't tell anyone. Take your idea, take a piece of paper and write it down. Draw it out. And then take your paper and create your game. It does not matter if it is ugly. It does not matter if it is sounding any good. All that matters is that you have taken your idea and made your game.


If you do that, if you really stick around with it, you will eventually learn to use your tools. You will know the do's and dont's of creating a game and then you will make a good game. And then, please drop me a line and tell me how you made your game good because I sure as hell have no idea how to do that :p


Thanks for your time. Never give up! Viel Glück!


Thank you, sPlKe!