Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We at Joystiq believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, Andrew Strickland and Brett Estabrook of Pixel and Texel show iOS developers how RPGs are supposed to be done with their title, Fara.
What's your game called and what's it about?
Fara is an iOS Action RPG where you play a scientist stranded on a bizarre island full of vikings, wise-cracking blobs of goo, magic and disgruntled monsters.
What's the coolest aspect of Fara?
Brett: Probably our favorite aspect of Fara is the way we've integrated physics gameplay with classic action role-playing. This gives the world a really exciting, dynamic feel and gave us the opportunity to try new mechanics that would only work on iOS. In Fara, you swipe to control flaming arrows, tilt the screen to steer a suit of armor, or slide your finger to smash obstacles with a battering ram.
Andrew: A combination of physics, the touch screen, and the retro mechanics was a design we wanted from the beginning with Fara. It's the sort of "something old with something new" mentality that makes the game feel like it was made for iOS, rather than shoehorned onto the platform.
You used to work for id Mobile -- how has that experience affected your independent venture?
Brett: Both of us were really green, young developers when we started working at id Mobile and being around that level of talent at the beginning of your career is amazing. Working on a franchise that you respect also pushes you to make something great. That kind of environment gave us the experience and eye for quality that allowed us to move on to other studios and then finally form our own.
Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?
Brett: We've both had the experience of working for established studios, and while the resources and camaraderie that you experience at a larger place is great, you also don't have very much creative freedom. It also becomes a real hassle to push any sort of design decision through a huge bureaucratic chain.
Feedback can also be really hard to manage at a large company, where you may have everyone from a producer to a QA manager to the game director pushing for different features. Because our studio is tiny, we're able to avoid this design-by-committee approach. It's liberating to be able to take suggestions from testers, discuss the best possible change and then implement our idea quickly.
Andrew Strickland (left) and Brett Estabrook
How important was creating an immersive story, compared with gameplay, art or physics aspects?
Andrew: We're definitely "gameplay first" guys, so once we had those mechanics ironed out, we moved on to the art style and the plot. One aspect of the story that was really important from the beginning was humor, because we felt that there were way too many overly dramatic, grandiose RPGs floating around on the App Store. Fara's story has a lighthearted, quirky tone that we're hoping will be a fresh change of pace for people who'd like something new.
What inspired you to make Fara?
Andrew: It sounds a little cliché, but definitely our biggest inspiration was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. A lot of the gameplay mechanics in Fara borrow from that title, like using new abilities to reach previously inaccessible areas. We also wanted to make a game that was more focused on exploration and combat, while avoiding grinding and lots of item management.
Brett: We also wanted Fara to be enjoyable even if played for only small chunks of time. A lot of iOS RPGs and adventure games try to deliver the "full console experience." Generally, though, that's not the sort of thing people have time for if they are standing in line at the movies or waiting for a friend at the park. With Fara, we wanted to design a game that is satisfying for a few minutes or a few hours, so we implemented systems that cater to that flexibility. The game saves in every room, so dying can be a learning experience instead of a chore, and there's constantly something new in the environment to discover.
The artwork in Fara is gorgeous. Who is responsible for that?
Andrew: I handle all the artwork for Pixel and Texel. A lot of credit should also be given to Brett though, as he was nice enough to design tech that could handle some pretty crazy visual stuff.
Who composed the chiptune score for Fara?
Brett: Andrew composed the score. Besides working as a game developer, he plays in the band The Home Conversion so making beeping sounds comes pretty naturally for him.
Anything you'd do differently?
Brett: Because our team is composed of only two people (an artist and a programmer), we weren't able to squeeze everything into our game engine that we would have liked. Creating an engine from scratch is sort of an "infinite time" project where you always feel that just one more feature would make it complete.
Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?
Andrew: Definitely. It's so great to see so many fresh, small studios popping up everywhere and I think that indies are putting forth the most exciting ideas right now. It's amazing to think that just a few years ago, Pixel and Texel probably wouldn't exist, due to the need for a large publisher and a physical product.
Sell your game in one sentence:
Fara is an action RPG where physics gameplay and classic adventure collide in a beautiful, hand-painted world.
Currently, we're working on a fully HD iPad version of Fara, which hopefully will be out in a few months.
Fara is on sale for the Joystiq Indie Pitch today and Monday, for just $0.99! Grab it cheap and have heaps of RPG run wherever and whenever you want.
If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.