Today I’ve something a little different to my usual fair of reviews and new trailers.
Off the back of reviewing their brand new game, Captain Cat, I managed to score an interview with Digital Tentacle’s Art Designer, Cesar Sampedro.
He was kind enough to share his thoughts on starting an indie development studio, challenges in breaking into the iOS gaming market and let me know what may be store for Captain Cat and beyond!
To start, can you share some of your thoughts on starting Digital Tentacle? How different is it to say, working within a larger, more established studio?
At the beginning it’s quite hard, because you don’t have the protection net that you have with a big studio – you don’t have a monthly salary and everybody needs to survive with their savings. On the other hand, the workday is great – we have much greater freedom in the way that we use our time and in what we do and there is a real variety of jobs to be done, so we never get bored! Because there are only 3 of us working as full time developers, we are not only doing the work related to creating the game itself, but also the marketing, design and other things that in a large studio would be done by someone else. This does mean that we work very long hours though!
We left the larger companies behind to chase our dreams and create games that we feel are more fun, because of the freedom we have to follow our ideas with them. Usually, in a big studio it’s hard to try something new or different, because of the risk it might fail or lose money. This also means that things need to be approved by several people before you are able to try them. Whereas, with a small indie company like ours, we are free to take those risks and create games that truly represent our ideas and creativity. We also felt tired of working for years on the same projects; we prefer to create a game in a shorter space of time and then move on to try another idea!
What are some of the titles the team, as a collective, have worked on in the past? How do you think these experiences enhance what you’re doing now?
All of us share a few indie projects in the past, but our last project together – before the creation of Digital Tentacle – was the game Deadlight. In Deadlight, we worked as the Art Director, Lead Programmer and Lead Sound Engineer. Because we were all leads on that project, we spent a lot of time working together and so got to know each other’s personalities and the way we each worked.
Of course, working together before we started the company meant that we knew we got on well, had similar goals and could discuss our ideas openly and easily right from the beginning. This has been really important for us, because we are mostly working from home at the moment, so having these shared ideas and ways of working really helps, as we are not always together face to face to do things.
Captain Cat just released on the iTunes App Store. Is the team focusing on iOS devices exclusively, or are you looking to branch out to other platforms?
We are planning to release Captain Cat, and our future games, on lots of platforms. This has been our idea from the beginning, as we want everybody to be able to play our games. We chose to begin with iOS as we have all worked on this platform before, and, of course, it is a popular, mainstream platform.
Can you share what inspired the team while developing Captain Cat? Anyone particularly fond of fishing?
No, there are no fishermen amongst us! We came up with the idea of using a new mechanic with something swinging, as we thought about how we could incorporate this into a game, we began to think of the idea of a hook or an anchor, which led us to the idea of a fishing game. We all wanted to do something completely different from the last game we were working on, something more fun and cartoonish, but with a bit more texture and effects – something to look more a bit more crisp than a normal cartoon game.
We started doing lots of tests, thinking about the sort of fish and creatures you would expect to find under the sea but making them more cartoon-like. For the level structure, we just did something similar to many current games – people really know that structure, so why reinvent the wheel?!
The gameplay in Captain Cat is extremely fun, not to mention addictive. But most of all it feels polished and refined. Can you share some insight into how difficult it was to get everything coming together, gameplay wise?
To start with a new mechanic is always difficult, but great fun at the same time! We spent a few days thinking about the best way to use the anchor and create a game that was fun to play with it. We began to think about ‘opposites’ or contrasting actions – things to make the game more difficult, and things that would help to combat these. For example, the anchor usually moves down, so we added elements to make it move up; it crashes with the rocks, so we added tools to let it pass through the rocks. We wanted to create a game that continues to throw new challenges at you, but also new solutions.
Once we had 10 or 15 of these, we began to plan how they would fit together in different levels to create the game. It took a lot of time to get it polished, but we were determined it would work! We did a lot of play-testing with friends and family which highlighted a lot of black spots in the game, allowing us to fix and improve them before release, and helped to create the learning curve and level of challenge in the game. Similarly, we added the three stars to allow for varying levels of difficulty – it might be easy to pass a level, but we wanted to add an extra level of challenge for those players who enjoy that, so we added the time, coin and knot bonuses.
What does Digital Tentacle have in store for Captain Cat? Should we expect additional levels in an upcoming update, new characters?
The game was designed with the idea of regular updates. We are going to add new levels through new episodes, using different fish with unique mechanics in each update. We also plan to add more new game modes, such as Infinite Mode. To begin with, we will be releasing an update to fix a few of the achievements, after that you should start to see some new episodes and fun new game modes!
There a lot of games being published on the iTunes App Store, maybe several dozen every day. What are some of the hurdles the team has faced with releasing Captain Cat on the App Store?
The main difficulty is the visibility in the App Store, but we knew this going into the game and it’s not a reason to stop or not release the game there – you need to trust your product and let people know about it. We have worked hard to publicise the game’s release and over time, reviews and feedback begin to appear, helping to get the game’s name out there. And then, we hope that as more people hear about it, buy it and review it, it will become more popular and noticeable within the App Store as well.
A few days before the release, the game in the App Store was going to be called Captain Cat HD, but, for a few reasons, the name was blocked and we needed to change everything to Captain Cat which was quite difficult and frustrating to do – and now we need to think of a new name for the iPhone version!
You mentioned to me in an earlier email that the team was working on a free version of the game. Is this going to take the shape of a separate version players can download and trial? Do you think this will help push Captain Cat further in terms of visibility on the App Store?
Definitely. I’m a customer too and I like to try games before I buy them and we know that there are lots of people who feel the same, preferring to try a game first. That’s why we are releasing the free version, which, as you say will be a separate version for players to trial the game with. If anybody is unsure whether the game is for them, our free version will be out this week and we hope they like it If people start to know more about the game, even through a free version, that’s always good for the visibility of the paid one too.
Are you able to share what the team has in the pipeline? Or what Digital Tentacle may be working towards in the long-term?
Right now we are focused on Captain Cat – the releases for iPhone/Android and Mac/Win/Linux and starting with the updates for all the platforms too. The version for the small devices is a bit more difficult, as we are going to redo all the levels for the small screens! In the long term, we have a few new game ideas ready which we think have the potential to be tons of fun, but that’s all I can say for now!
And lastly, on a more personal note. As a developer, what would be your favorite gaming platform to develop for? And as a gamer, what would be your favorite video game?
I know it’s still just a rumour, but Steambox (Valve) would be great to develop for, even better if it’s under Linux.
One of the games that I’ve really enjoyed playing recently was Machinarium, and my favourite game is Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.