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Free for All: An interview with Golemizer's lead (and only) developer


Ah, the life of the indie developer: long nights followed by more long days followed by long weekends, slugging through mountains of code to find tiny errors that break entire worlds... it would seem like a thankless job. It's ironic that many wanna-be designers and armchair developers often picture development as some kind of glamorous process, one that puts the developer in an office surrounded by character sketches, 3-D models, and walls of monitors.

The truth is that design, at any level, is often tedious and heart-breaking. You will more than likely find a designer surrounded by lists of numbers and spilled coffee before you'd find him tweaking character models. Making games is hard, they say. It's true. So then why are we so fascinated by the process? Why do we daydream of one day making our own world to explore and share with friends?

I decided to ask Dave Toulouse, lead-everything for Golemizer, what he thought about the whole process. Turns out Golemizer is pretty darn fun, complex and open... and it runs within your browser!

Click past the cut and let's see what he has to say about the ever-so-glamorous world of game design.

Massively: Who are you and why in the world have you developed games for... how long now?

Dave: My name is Dave Toulouse, I'm 31 years old, and I'm a part-time analyst-programmer and also part-time (working to become full-time) indie game developer since 2007. My desire to work on games came from my need to have more control over what I do with my time, really. It could have been anything, but I happened to choose a passion of mine -- games. After 10 years of working on projects I'd been assigned to, I needed to be the one to decide what I would work on. I get to do that as an indie game developer.

"People will first remember games and not the developers behind them, so you must remember that your games will be judged by the same rules as any other AAA production."

Indie developers often do not get much credit, from their players or from the public. Is this just the nature of the business or are indie developers just really in need of a PR firm?

A bit of both. First, the energy you put in a project isn't a guarantee, at all, of the results you might get from it. If it were easy, then everybody would be doing it. People will first remember games and not the developers behind them, so you must remember that your games will be judged by the same rules as any other AAA production. Since indie developers don't have access to the same resources, they often slip under the radar. However, indie developers are not victims, either. The rules are the same for everyone, so it's up to us to find a way to get the credit we're after. It sounds easy to say, but I've known many frustrations before accepting this. I guess you can call that experience. At first you just think it's unfair, and then you see others succeed and you start thinking about what they have done that you haven't. Basically, you need to learn how to become your own PR firm, as you probably don't have the money to hire one. This is the reality of being indie. You need to be good at many different things.

How many titles do you hold in your company? Do you have interns or volunteers at all?

Since I'm alone, I get to keep all the titles, except maybe artist, though I'm trying to improve this skill at the moment. For my game Golemizer, I received a lot of help from players who volunteered as artists or various community management positions. I also associate with other developers from time to time on specific projects like recently Psychoavatar Games (from Brian Green, who notably owned the MMO Meridian 59 from 2001 to 2009).

Why would some "AAA" MMORPG fan want to play your title Golemizer? What should he expect out of your game?

Players who are tired of linear gameplay in static worlds will find an incredible sandbox to play with in Golemizer. In Golemizer, you don't go from level 1 to 80 through the same path as everyone (there are no levels, in fact) -- you choose your own path. You are not just a visitor in a world built by some developer; you shape this world by creating cities, dungeons, quests, or shops. This MMO will particularly appeal to crafters, as I'd say 95% of what you see in Golemizer is crafted by players... from simple furniture to houses and of course the many monsters (golems) that give Golemizer its name. If you're curious to see how players are able to shape the world of Golemizer, I suggest you take a look at the Atlas, which contains pictures taken from players (taken directly in-game, using a gadget that players can craft... in-game, of course).

"I wouldn't do it again that way for sure, but that was my way to deal with the money problem."

The financial reality of indie development is often a scary one. Do money woes often taint the development process?

The initial budget for Golemizer was about $0. At some point, I did have to spend money, but it was nothing my day job couldn't pay for back then. So it's possible to do a lot with very little. However, it took me about one year to get to the release of Golemizer, working on it nights and weekends while keeping my day job to pay for expenses -- so it's far from perfect. I wouldn't do it again that way for sure, but that was my way to deal with the "money problem." When you deal with the "money problem" this way, and it takes so long to create a game, I do not need to tell you how many times you can feel like just giving up. The lack of money is always a threat to any game development project.

What sort of advice would you give to a brand-new developer?

Probably something like "start something you will finish" and then I'd add "learn from your mistakes and then do it again, again and again." My first game was an MMO, which everyone will tell you is probably the worst kind project a new developer can undertake, and everyone is right. I knew I was stubborn enough to get through it even though it was anything but easy. People will remember you for your games and not for your ideas for games, so making sure you can finish a project is really where it all begins.

If you had a large budget, would you continue to make games like you do now or would you go for something much different?

I wouldn't change a thing. For me, being indie means a quality of life I'd have a hard time getting any other way. Being 30 seconds away from my workplace when I wake up is priceless. I have no ambition to have employees, and I like to be part of every aspect of a game project. I like doing my own thing alone and working with small teams on occasion for specific projects. So a large budget would probably allow me to raise the scale of my projects, but in the end I would stick to how I do things currently.

Lastly, explain to the readers why supporting indie development is important. Or not, of course -- you can just tell them all to go away.

Something is bugging me with the expression "to support indie development." It sounds like it's some kind of charity or something. Ultimately I want people to support me because they like my games and not because I'm indie. However, here's some food for thought. To stay in business, indie developers need to come up with something different, to innovate, to find a niche. There's no point trying to come up with something like "World of Warcraft: Indie Edition" as it will only suffer in comparison. People are complaining more and more that big studios are just trying to sell them the same game over and over (the WoW-clone argument, for example), so they should pay attention to indie development as they might just find what they are looking for. Sometimes, yes, the production value of indie games isn't what it should be, and it's up to us indies to do better. When people "support" us, it surely helps a lot to improve our games. It ends up being interesting to players as they will have access to higher-quality games that are not just merely clones pushed by big studios that are too afraid to lose millions if they "innovate too much."

I'd like to thank Dave for taking the time to talk to me. He's obviously passionate about his game and world, so feel free to go to the official site and check it out. It runs on almost anything yet has surprising depth. You can also check out his games portfolio and read up on his official blog.

Now get back to coding, Dave.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!

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