Terence Lee, creator of Storm, joins the growing list of independent game developers lucky enough to find a publisher. His game, created specifically for an independent games competition at 2BeeGames.com, will find refuge on PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, WiiWare and iPhone next year via a new publishing deal announced by Zoo Games. We talked with Lee about the indie games scene, and what we can expect from the console version.
What is Storm? How did the concept come about?
Storm is a game where you use weather elements, like wind, rain, and lightning, to solve physics puzzles. I had been playing around with some physics sandbox games, like Garry's Mod, and I found that these games were all based on experimenting with mechanical interactions. I wondered if an organic style could also be fun. And what's more organic than a storm? Plus storms bring lightning and every game needs explosions.
Isn't it risky to jump into games development? What inspired you to create Storm?
It doesn't have to be risky. It does cost a lot of time and patience, but there is a lot to learn from even trivial adventures in development. Previously, I had been tinkering on an unrealistically large game project. I finally convinced myself that working with a projected completion time of "a couple of years" was not going to get me anywhere. So I put that on hold and started working on much smaller projects that each cost about a week's worth of time. After a few games, I found out about the 2BeeGames contest (for which Storm was created), and knew that it was the perfect chance to put my newfound rapid-development skills to the test.
Apparently, the Storm prototype was created in two weeks. Now that you're signed to create a full game, what are you planning on adding, changing?
Everything you see right now is from the prototype, which is just a very rough sketch of what is to come. There will be new weather elements, like snow and perhaps wildfires, as well as more physical interaction with the environment, like breakable/burnable trees, floating logs, and rockslides. I'm also going to focus on much stronger level design. I had frantically created all of the levels in the prototype in the last eight life-siphoning hours before the contest deadline, and I think that shows. Now that I get more than thirty minutes to design and draw a level, I can actually focus on making levels that require experimentation and creativity from players to complete, and also give opportunities for them to explore the hopefully-interesting aesthetic. This game will be pretty; there will be a lot of hand-drawn art and a lot of attention paid to capturing the mood of the weather.
"All the resources, communities, and software that you need to learn and explore game development are available for free online."
It is definitely viable. All the resources, communities, and software that you need to learn and explore game development are available for free online. Anyone can have a good experience as long as they have the determination to really practice the necessary skills and the motivation to complete frustrating projects (they'll all be frustrating at times).
I won't pretend to know everything about publishing, since this is my first experience, but I have found that having a publishing partner has been extremely helpful. It's opened up access to a lot of resources and relationships that I wouldn't have otherwise. For example, I think we'll be working on integrating Natal technology for the Xbox version. I doubt I could've gotten close to a Natal SDK had I worked alone. I would have been stuck with throwing Wiimotes at the TV.
What are some of the key challenges indie developers face today? What kind of advice can you offer them?
I think for a lot of maturing developers, the key challenge is sustainability. It's too easy to get burnt out, lose motivation, or run out of ideas. They first need to get enough experience where they can comfortably focus primarily on the design, rather than mostly on technical details. After that, it's still not enough to just have good ideas (everybody has them). In implementing these ideas, indie developers are still heavily restricted by their experience, dedication, partnerships and finances. These barriers can easily kill motivation mid-project. That's why developers must have the ability to distill their ideas, to discern exactly what makes the idea good and to shed the excess, and then reform it in a way to realistically fit the context of their real-life development situation. If they can do that, then they get to keep their creative vision, while finishing projects faster and more enjoyably, which can only lead to success sooner than later.
In summary: be realistic with your short-term goals in order to reach your long-term ones.
"We'll be working on integrating Natal technology for the Xbox version."
How involved are you in the development process? What platforms can we expect Storm on? How will the game take advantage of each platform's unique features? For example, the Wii Remote and the DS touch screen?
There is still a lot of development left, and I will be leading the overall design as well as contributing to the music. So far, Storm will be available on XBLA, PSN, Wii, and iPhone. There are a lot of exciting possibilities with each platform. We're going to try using Natal with the Xbox version: imagine summoning lightning, arms raised, like a crazed scientist. The Wii offers some similar capabilities, as well as the SIXAXIS controller for the PS3. The iPhone version will also make good use of the motion sensing and touch screen capabilities. Basically, there will be physical movement involved, if that's your thing. We're discussing other platforms as well. I think the touch screen capabilities and portability of the DS would make for an interesting game.
Storm was created by just one man. Do you want to continue pursuing solo development, or are you looking to build a team?
I am already working on another project with Chris Hendryx. He's focusing on the art. Solo development is definitely fun but it really limits the scale of my projects. I really enjoy working on all aspects of development, including the music and art, so I think it'll be great to put together a small team in the future where we have the creative liberty to contribute to any part of the game.
I'm also open to exploring work at other companies, big or small, to get some valuable experience and exposure to the industry. In the meantime, I've got two more months of school left, so I need to deal with college stuff, like pass my classes and figure out who keeps eating my groceries.
Storm will release in 2010. Aspiring game developers interested in 2BeeGames' second indie games competition have until October 15th to submit their games.