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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Control and Conquest


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, Eric Goldberg wants to get you off the couch with an RPG that uses GPS to make IRL things more exciting, and he calls it Control and Conquest, from Grind Factory.

What's your game called and what's it about?

Our game is Control and Conquest and it's all about going out and playing -- quite literally. We want to encourage (but not force) our players to go about town, crawl the dungeons of their neighborhood, and treat the game as an augmented-reality layer on their normal world. At its core, it's a fantasy RPG with location elements, territory control, a battle system and mini-games. And epic beards!

What inspired you to make Control and Conquest?

We've both been big fans of many genres of video games our whole lives. We wanted to make an RPG, but we wanted to pay homage to other genres and works that inspired us to do what we do. We were both at a point in our lives when it was a good time to try a venture like this, so we teamed up in February with one goal: Make a game we want to play. We figured if we wanted to play it, there'd probably be at least a few other people across the planet that would like the same thing.

What were the challenges in developing an app with a GPS interface?

Numerous! For one, it's hard to test a lot of real-life situations; it's impossible to simulate being under cloudy skies in a rural area outside Johannesburg from my desk in San Francisco. Also, the phone doesn't necessarily use the GPS. It may just use cell towers or wifi networks around you. We don't directly control it; we just ask the iPhone for a moderately accurate location, and it will make the determination of whether it needs to turn on the GPS radio to achieve that or not. Battery-life impact is actually pretty minimal in our game compared to many other location-based games. Also, we allow players total control over how often location updates happen, via a settings screen.

What techniques do you use to differentiate Control and Conquest from other RPGs -- humor, challenge level, art style or the like?

We like to keep things fresh and mix up some traditional genres a bit. For example, our turn-based combat system is very JRPG-inspired, but the actual hitting success is determined by a reaction time-based mini-game, not a digital die roll. As for the writing, we tried to keep it playful and humorous, with a hefty dose of hidden and obvious references from our favorite works of literature, film and games. It's a location-based game, yes, but it's not overly-gimmicky or spammy, and we feel it has lasting value for our players.

What's the coolest aspect of Control and Conquest?

The coolest aspect of our game is that it's always in your pocket, asking to be checked up on. We sought to create something that combined elements from our favorite games.

Anything you'd do differently?

Not pick the biggest game design as the first one to execute on! We have three to four other ideas we've been putting some time in to on the side, and they're all about one-fifth the size of this game -- but very cool in their own ways, of course. But a large project like this allowed us to explore many concepts that'll forever be in our toolboxes for future projects.

How much does it cost and why?

It's free to play. It's more F2P in the Team Fortress 2 sense, not the Buy More Energy Nuggets sense. You could play for free forever if you can't afford to spend or we haven't done a good job showing you the value of spending money in our game. To us, the worst possible outcome is telling someone, "You can't play our game." No kid likes seeing "Insert coin to continue," and we don't either.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?

There are a lot of advantages, and the sacrifices and risks jived pretty well with us. There are certainly many great companies out there, but the only way to completely guarantee the game is true to our original vision is to have complete creative control. And that can mean soaring success or crash and burn, but at the end of the day, there's a lot of satisfaction in driving this process instead of being a passenger.

Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?
Sell your game in one sentence:

Control and Conquest: because battling goblins makes the lines at Costco more bearable.

Sure. We don't have a membership card or pay dues, but there is a really exciting indie spirit in the gaming world right now. I think it's a very multifactorial phenomenon, but we're sort of at the confluence of several important things: High game demand, high market penetration of devices that are easy to develop software for, low costs, and a generation that is reaching "entrepreneur age" who grew up with video-game systems in the home since childhood.

Just to pick one of these. Costs to develop have never been lower, as many companies are giving away tools for free or cheap. And with cloud-hosting services, scaling-oriented data and doc storage solutions for free download, and the proven success of open source software, you can get a lot of mileage out of your first one-dollar bill. I'm kind of excited that I don't need to know exactly where our servers are at a given moment. That's pretty cool.

What's next?

We have a backlog of at least a year's worth of stuff we'd love to add. Our roadmap is only a couple months out because young products require frequent course-correction.

As for the medium future, we want to keep adding new monsters, weapons, pets and game mechanics. We're going to add socketable gems for weapons, which will let you imbue your weapons with status effects and buffs. More multiplayer interactions are good too, and to that end, we have several things we're designing to help you get a leg-up on enemy summoners and their minions.

Control and Conquest is currently on version 1.3.2 and is free via iTunes or on the game's site. Go to the grocery store, show some fantastical creatures who's boss and maybe even meet some real people, all at the same time.

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.

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