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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Digitanks

Justin McElroy

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 Jorge "Vino" Rodriguez of Lunar Workshop about his old-school tank battler, Digitanks.

What is Digitanks?

Digitanks is a 3D artillery-based strategy game in which players command digital tanks to save their computers from an invasion of bugs and hackers.

So is it anything like traditional artillery games?

Yes, very much so, but also not at the same time. It's like the Schrodinger's Cat of video games. Allow me to explain.

There are currently two game modes available. Artillery Mode is just like the classic artillery games, but reinvented in 3D. We tested Artillery Mode out at a recent game conference (ECGC), and we got a lot of good feedback.

On the other hand, Strategy Mode works more like a turn-based strategy game, you have a base to build and must produce a fleet of tanks to destroy the enemy teams. There are four different units to build in this game mode and they each serve a special purpose in the gameplay. This is more of a thinking game and can take a while to play, and it's a lot of fun.

We've even had a playtester ask us to send him his save file so he could finish it at home. I didn't really have the heart to tell him that the game wasn't out yet, so I ended up giving him a free copy.

We're also working on a Campaign Mode with a more structured storyline in which the player fights off an invasion and tries to figure out who has infected his computer. We're still working on it but we plan to release one or two levels at a time every few months, with the first two appearing in the next few months.

Hard work and effort pay off in the long run, but they represent the inglorious dark side of life as a game designer.

How big is the team?

All of the programming and design was done by three programmers working as a close team: me, myself, and I. There's one contractor who does the art and another who composes the music. That's a small team compared to most game industry projects. I'd even say it's a micro-team. But then, keeping things simple is probably the most important thing an indie game developer can do. When you have so few resources you need to cut out everything unnecessary so to get the job done faster. Adding more people can make things more complicated, and I don't like complicated. I like simple.

Speaking of which, how long did Digitanks take you to create?

We've been working on Digitanks for about a year now. We continue to put out new updates every few months as well.

I built the Digitanks engine from scratch. It doesn't use any third party engines, only some supporting libraries. I wouldn't recommend this method to other developers, but I have a long background in C++ and lots of game development experience so it made more sense for me to borrow some old code and build the technology from scratch rather than be forced to license an engine.

How did you manage to build such a fun and nice looking game with such a small team?

Hard work, Justin. A lot of hard work.

I made a few careful decisions to reduce my workload: I picked a simple visual style and cut out unnecessary features. Then I focused 60-80% of my time (seven days a week, 10-14 hour work days) on designing and refining the game. The goal was always making it fun and easy to use. Hard work and effort pay off in the long run, but they represent the inglorious dark side of life as a game designer -- you had better like the game you're making because you're going to be playing it a lot. And I do; Digitanks has grown into quite a fun game.

What are you planning for future releases?

I'm focusing on multiplayer for the next few releases and making it easier for players to create and find games with other players online. First is the lobby feature for the next release. Lobbies improve the interface for creating hotseat and online multiplayer games because they allow for better control of game creation. Eventually I'll add a matchmaking system so the game will find other players and match you up with them automatically.

We're also working on Campaign Mode. The first level is shaping up pretty well and the second level is just starting to grow its legs. Those two levels will be launched together with more to follow. I can't promise exactly when we'll see this though; it's looking like it won't be ready for the next release.

And I'm always adding new weapons and structures. One structure that's going into the next release is the Firewall, a base defense structure that people have been asking for. It frees up some of those units you used to have to keep around the base for defense and lets the player hold off an attack until the big guns can be brought to bear.

Are you going to give a discount for the Joystiq readers who happen to be the coolest gamers ever?

Oh, Justin, you sly dog you! Sure, why not? Hop to the Digitanks website and use the code THXJOYSTIQ at checkout for 30% off.

Want to blow up some digital tanks of your own? Pick the game up right here.

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.

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