It's not that there are too many indie games; it's that there aren't enough hours in a day to play all of them. The Joystiq Indie Pitch curates the best indies to play now and watch out for in the future.
What's your game called and what's it about?
Race the Sun is about racing a solar-powered craft toward the sunset at breakneck speed, and trying to keep up as long as possible using various powerups and boosts to keep you on pace with the sunset. When the sun goes down, or you crash into an obstacle, it's game over. The world you race through is created with a combination of hand-designed patterns and a procedural world-creation engine. This forms a unique, endless world that's slightly different each day, and that gets more difficult with each region you pass through.
Or to put it more succinctly: It's like Star Fox meets Temple Run.
Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?
I worked in a game studio for over seven years, working on some of the biggest franchises out there, most recently Modern Warfare 3. The job was actually great, with good benefits and bonuses, reasonable hours, and great people.
But ultimately it was driving me a bit nuts to be working on someone else's games as a cog in a giant machine, with the ultimate purpose of maximizing shareholder value. Being independent gives us creative control, and it also lets us interact directly with our fans, which has been awesome so far. When a dad sends me pictures of his kids playing something that the two of us created ourselves, and tells us how much fun they're all having, that's a really special feeling that's hard to describe.
How has being on Kongregate helped Race the Sun, in terms of marketing?
We love Kongregate! When we put an early alpha build of the game up there, we expected to get some useful feedback. What actually happened is that the demo was highly rated enough that we got featured on the front page, and suddenly around 80,000 people had played it. This early feedback and community interaction was incredibly useful for us; it really helped shape the game's direction early on, and it's led to tons of opportunities.
One thing we have learned is that Kongregate and Steam users don't seem to overlap a lot, and people tend to stay on Kongregate when that's where they find the game. So in terms of sales and Greenlight votes, we haven't seen a huge surge there – but it's still a fantastic way to give people a taste of the game. We plan to release an updated web version once the game is done, perhaps using their Kreds payment system to let people unlock full-version features.
How has Steam Greenlight gone so far, and how important is a Steam launch to you?
It's been a struggle. We launched the page pretty early in the development process, and to be honest it wasn't quite ready yet. And what happened is, the queue of games for Greenlight users gets our game in it, and if they vote "no thanks" then they never see it again, so we missed our "launch window," so to speak, with a lot of those users, even though the game has improved drastically since then. The other thing is that while the game is highly engaging and fun (our beta testers play for an average of about three hours per session) – it's still kind of niche and hard to categorize, so we've struggled to move massive numbers of people there so far.
Getting on Steam is really important to us. It seems like the perfect fit for the game, given its community focus and price point (probably $10). So right now our plan is to get the game in the hands of reviewers and YouTubers, and hope that with a bit more attention, we can climb up that chart. It could be the difference between the game working for us financially, or not.
Would you recommend Kickstarter as a way for other indies to fund their games?
Yes, definitely. When we launched our Kickstarter after about seven months of work on the game, we had sold about 200 preorders for the game. When the Kickstarter finished, we had over 1,100 backers. But more importantly, it really helped us reach a wider audience, and to be objective about what was working and what wasn't. It was like an early barometer of sales and player feedback.
What inspired you to make Race the Sun?
One day I was playing with Google Sketchup and put together a scene with some abstract shapes, and realized that with a bit of dramatic lighting, it was actually a pretty inspiring scene. With a little brainstorming, we came up with the idea of racing through that at incredibly high speeds, and soon the idea of actually racing the sunset seemed obvious to us.
What's the coolest aspect of Race the Sun?
That would be User World Portals. We've put a lot of work into this world-creation tool we call the "Simplex World Creator." It's the tool we've used to build the built-in worlds, and it's built right into the game. So players will be able to submit their crazy new worlds to our server – but the cool part is that when you're playing in the standard built-in worlds, you'll sometimes encounter these portals, and if you fly into one, it'll take you into a random user-created world. We think it's going to give the game a really crazy unique feel, and keep players coming back to see what new worlds there are to explore.
Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?
Sure, to a degree. It's an interesting time in the industry, with so many changes going on with how and where people are playing games. I think small indies are playing a unique role in the ecosystem right now, because we have the means to take a lot of crazy risks with design and change directions on a dime when needed. It's awesome to see games created by one or two people getting prime-time attention and making such big waves, because it gives me hope that this industry can survive even with games made on much smaller budgets.
Having been in the AAA industry for a time, I also appreciate that it is an ecosystem though, and I try to stay away from the "Us vs. Them" mentality that seems kinda prevalent in some circles. We're all in it together, really, and I think we've got a lot to learn from each other.
Sell Race the Sun in one sentence:
Race the Sun will give you an unparalleled sensation of speed, an unending world to explore, and it'll keep you coming back every day for more.
Right now we're putting the finishing touches on the game, getting feedback from beta testers, and hope to be finished within the next few weeks with the 1.0 version. Beyond that, we'll be talking to our community and improving the game in as many ways as we can – and we'll also be making some announcements about other platforms for the game. We'll keep working on it as long as we feel there are new avenues to explore.Race the Sun is due out in August for PC, Mac and Linux, and it's up for a bid on Steam Greenlight now. Try your hand at flying against the sunset now on Kongregate.
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.