Being a giant, beloved video game site has its downsides. For example, we sometimes neglect to give independent developers our coverage love (or loverage, if you will) as we get caught up in AAA, AAAA or the rare quintuple-A titles. To remedy that, we're giving indies the chance to create their own loverage and sell you, the fans, on their studios and products. This week we talk with Sam Goldberg, Simeon Maxein and Shawn Fraser. Sam and Simeon are the two founders of Gang Garrison and Shawn is a senior developer who was directly responsible for the major updates colloquially known as Gang Garrison 2.0 and 2.1.
How did you or your company get started?
Sam: Back in 2008 the TIGSource.com forums' design competition theme was "Bootleg Demakes," asking developers to take a modern game and remake it as though it were a bootlegged game created in generations past. I had just discovered Team Fortress 2 that summer and was playing obsessively, so it seemed almost intuitive to try and do a TF2 demake.
I posted my ideas on a thread in the forum for hooking up with collaborators, and Simeon, our programmer extraordinaire, responded. We quickly got to work prototyping, and by the end of the competition we had a rather impressive little multiplayer demake that garnered us a lot of players and attention. We came in second place and our success, as well as our following of dedicated fans, encouraged us to set up our own website and faux-company, so we could continue developing and perfecting the game.
What's your game called, and what's it about?
Simeon: The game is called Gang Garrison 2, and just like TF2, it's a team-based multiplayer shooter. The difference is that we reduced the game to a side-scrolling perspective with pixelated sprites, to make it look as if it could have been released for the Super Nintendo or in the DOS era.
Why did you want to make games?
Shawn: I've loved games since the TRS80 and C64. I learned to program on the Commodore 64 and made a few terrible games over a few years. I have so many unfinished projects because I was doing everything on my own. I was really happy the GG2 team took me on because we could share the load and I was actually getting stuff done!
Simeon: The C64 was a great machine to get people into programming. You got it to play games, but you pretty much had to learn some basic commands to even load and run any program, so the step to start experimenting with programming was very low. I started writing games because I liked playing them, and, because of my interest in programming, I started to become curious about how they work and how to create them. Over the years I started writing a few games and even finished one or two, but GG2 was the most ambitious one by far.
What is your development process like?
Sam: Gang Garrison has been developed in a rather unique fashion. The game is a major collaboration by volunteer developers scattered all over the world. The game is open source, so it isn't developed by a company, rather it is developed by anyone in the community willing and able to contribute to the progress of the game.
We had to start keeping track of a bunch of developers all eager to work at the same time. At first we gave anyone with the right skills and ideas a shot at bringing new things to the game, but we quickly learned that too much freedom lead to chaos. So we got organized, figured out who our biggest talents were (Shawn) and made development slightly less transparent.
These days we are much better organized and do our best to keep everything well documented and tested. Due to our scattered locations, we do most of our development through our forum and IRC room. It took some getting used too, but I've come to really enjoy and appreciate our virtual offices.
What are you proudest of about your game?
Simeon: The loopback connection failure error message.
Shawn: (Laughs) I remember getting that error when I first tried the game before I helped develop.
Simeon: "Unable to connect to self. Epic fail, dude." I didn't think that it could happen, so it was a surprise to see it actually come up in a bug report. On the serious side, I'm pretty proud of the whole networking system. Not because it's beautiful and elegant (it isn't), but because GG2 was my first attempt at creating a multiplayer game.
What has been your biggest challenge in development?
Shawn: The first time Valve mentioned the game on its TF2 blog we were inundated with players. I had to scramble to release an update with a lobby that had scroll buttons so we could list more than one screen of servers, with a full IRC channel losing patience. I was happy to find that a system was already basically set up for it, so it didn't take long.
Sam: That also happened around version 11, when an early version of our game was posted on 4chan. Overnight we went from one server with maybe 6 players to ten servers with 20-plus players on each. It was fantastic to have so many people playing the game, but at that point we were completely unprepared to handle games on that scale.
Simeon: That was an exciting time, but also quite stressful. I hadn't expected such a big interest, and the sudden popularity was a bit overwhelming at first. Back then, the game was freezing or crashing quite often, and with so many players I felt obliged to iron out at least the worst problems as quickly as possible.
To make matters more complicated, some knowledgeable people from the community decompiled the game and tried to fix bugs and add new features themselves. You might think that this was helpful, but it actually created more problems, because I had been working on the game as well, and now had to integrate these unfamiliar changes with my own. We released the game as open source soon after that and wrote a set of rules for collaborating on it to prevent this kind of problem.
What one thing would you tell someone to convince them to get your game?
Shawn: It's free, and to quote Valve, "It's pretty much better than TF2 in every possible way now. Except for the total lack of hats." Oh, that's two things.
Sam: Hats. Also: Gang Garrison 2.3 -- it's been so close to completion for awhile now, we just gotta get those final few bugs and features ironed out, and then we can release it into the wild.
Shawn: Also, me and Sam are working on a game for iOS. It's about mustaches.
If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email justin aat joystiq dawt com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.