Some years ago, the Brisbane chapter of the IGDA (Independent Game Developers Association) started running a yearly event challenging developers to create a game based on a series of random words in less than 48 hours. It’s an important event that puts would-be developers to the test, challenging their skills and teaching them how to work together under pressure.
In 2009, the winning team were so happy with what they accomplished that they decided to form a company and continue working together. Now called Convict Interactive, Stephen Barnes (CEO, Lead Programmer), Rebecca Fernandez (CMO), Luke Mansfield (Art Director) and Tim Taylor (Project Lead) started out by creating a pack of mini games on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Indie games channel, before deciding to move into PC development.
Having been accepted as part of Microsoft’s BizSpark program (providing developer tools) as well as StartPad (an accelerator program), Convict Interactive has harnessed all its resources to create the recently-released Triangle Man, a devilishly challenging puzzle-platformer now available on Desura.
Gameplanet spoke with Rebecca Fernandez (CMO) about Convict Interactive's journey, and the challenges they faced bringing Triangle Man to market.
Gameplanet: How did the name Convict Interactive come about?
Rebecca Fernandez: We wanted something that was Australian in some way. A few of the members can actually trace their ancestry back to convicts in the first fleet! We were also just about to finish university at this time, and it felt a little bit like we were escaping to finally work on things that we wanted to do.
Gameplanet: How important do you think 48 hour Game Making Competitions (such as Game Jam) are to up-and-coming developers?
Fernandez: For us, they have been really important. You can learn so much about how to make a game and about your fellow team mates in a really short period of time. You're also normally surrounded by other game developers who you can learn from. We still regularly participate because it is great to work on something new for a weekend, and it helps to keep your game design skills fresh.
Gameplanet: Unlike a lot of independent developers these days, Convict isn’t making games for the mobile market. What influenced this decision?
Fernandez: Initially this was influenced by our university education. We all learned how to use Microsoft XNA at university, so we just continued to make games with that. This enabled us to make games for PC and Xbox 360. Despite the fact we have now learned how to use a number of other tools, we still aren't making games for mobile devices. We all believe that it is rather difficult to break into the iOS market without help. The market is quite saturated and it would be hard to get our games to stand out amongst the crowd. However, if we come up with a game idea suited to mobile devices that we really love and hasn't been done before then we would probably have to re-evaluate our stance.
Gameplanet: How did Convict go about getting the support of Microsoft BizSpark and StartPad?
Fernandez: With Microsoft it was actually as simple as applying! We were already developing for Microsoft platforms so we were exactly who they were aiming at with their program. Getting into StartPad was a little bit more involved. We had started attending meetings with the entrepreneurs club at the University of Wollongong and discovered pretty early on that they were thinking of running an incubator. We had to send in a lengthy written application and then do a live pitch before we were finally accepted into StartPad.
Gameplanet: How did you find developing a game for Xbox Live Indie Games?
Fernandez: This was a great learning experience! This was the first time we'd actually released a game, and the things we learned about the business and marketing side of game development during this time have really helped us with developing Triangle Man. However, the XBLIG market is also very saturated and the majority of the games available are of low quality. Also, rather importantly, Australians are not able to purchase these games due to the current classification laws. Since most of our fans are Australian we had a really hard time gaining traction and support.
Gameplanet: Where did the idea of Triangle Man come from?
Fernandez: It was the brainchild of one of our programmers. He really wanted to make a fun and unique platforming game, and actually created it in two weeks. That particular version is available as part of our games pack on XBLIG. After a short period of time we realised that people only really wanted to play Triangle Man. They were crying out for more levels and a more polished game experience. So we decided to indulge them and create a full-blown version of the game!
Gameplanet: Why Desura?
Fernandez: We love the idea of the alphafunding program! Triangle Man is not actually in a complete state right now, however we can sell it at a reduced price and gather feedback from our players. This means our players get to tell us what they'd like to see in the game and we can afford to buy noodles to keep ourselves alive! Desura also handles a lot for us that we would rather not spend time doing - for example the payment system, updates, protecting the game from piracy, and so on. And to top it all off Desura is an Australian company, so we are keeping all the profits in Australia.
Gameplanet: Do you plan on porting the game to other mediums? iOS, Android, and Mac, for example?
Fernandez: We do plan to release on other PC platforms, Steam being the major goal. We'd also love to release Triangle Man on consoles and handheld devices. We're not currently considering touch-screen-only devices such as phones and tablets because of the precise controls required to play the game. Perhaps if Triangle Man does really well then we will make a special version with completely different levels that we can release for smart phones and tablets.
Gameplanet: How important is it to be involved socially in the local game development scene (IGDA, GameJam, and so on)?
Fernandez: Amazingly important! I can't stress this enough! Becoming involved with the IGDA, initially with Brisbane and then Sydney (and perhaps Melbourne) has opened up so many doors for us. The game development community in Australia are so supportive and helpful towards one another. If you are willing to put yourself out there, share your experiences and help others then you will find that help will always be there for you if you need it. And here in New South Wales we are able to ask for advice from talented game developers who have, or are, working at studios such as Team Bondi and Halfbrick.
Gameplanet: What lessons have you learned during the development of Triangle Man that you would be careful not to repeat in your next project?
Fernandez: Well, we'd definitely be less optimistic about our time estimates. We're still learning exactly how long it takes to make a game of this size. We were also spending a lot of time setting up the company and developing the business during the early stages of Triangle Man - which pushed development back quite a lot. Planning is definitely crucial. I think we were too cocky and didn't plan as much as we should have; this means we've had to backtrack and spend time designing and redesigning things that should have been set in stone a long time ago. And we also wouldn't jump in to develop a 2D game without a dedicated 2D artist.
Gameplanet: What was your marketing strategy to build awareness of the game?
Fernandez: This is another area where we don't have much experience. I've just tried to create a solid online presence, and get the word out via social networks and local media outlets. The best marketing results actually came after a brief appearance in a segment on Good Game last year - despite the fact Triangle Man was only on for about five minutes we've had so many people recognise the game because they watched the show. We'd also like to get to as many events, expos and showcases as possible. We attended Supanova earlier in the year and are looking to show off Triangle Man at EB Expo and PAX, if we can.
Gameplanet: What advice can you give to other start-up independent developers?
Fernandez: Spend some time doing research on business development. This is something we wish we'd done a bit more of before we'd started. An even better idea would be to find someone who is good at that and ask them to join your team. Apart from that, make and finish games. A lot of people will start to make games and never finish them. You will learn much more from finishing a game - even if you think it isn't the best thing in the world - than you will from having 10 half-finished games. Also, network! You should start getting to know the people in your community as early as you possibly can, even if it takes time away from game development.