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?
The Grave Digger is a third-person stealth game all about plundering haunted graveyards for loot and escaping without a pissed-off ghost dragging you to hell. There are a handful of different ghost types that materialize the moment your shovel breaks consecrated soil, so there's a chance at the beginning of each level to read the tombstones in search of the most valuable loot and plan potential escape routes before the graveyard becomes "populated."
The ghosts have individual AI routines which change the level quite dramatically once they appear, so a big part of it is learning the best ways to outsmart them in any given scenario, be that timing your movements, creeping silently behind low walls or even baiting certain ghosts to different areas. There are no ways to kill or otherwise immobilize the enemy in this game. We've designed it in such a way that hopefully players will find their own strategies along the way using the limited tools we've given them.
What's the coolest aspect of The Grave Digger?
Unexpectedly, one of the things I find the most fun is running around before the ghosts appear, reading tombstones (hold "Q" near a grave). I think there's something quite serene and civilized about that bit, although perhaps that's just because I know how hectic it'll get when I'm fleeing a screeching ghost-bride.
Another thing I love is the humor in the game. That's something we never really sat down and designed so a lot of it was drafted at the last minute and as a result most of the gags crash and burn like any good-bad pun should (case in point: Home Groan Games, our company name), but I find that sort of unrefined comedy funny in itself.
Do you intend The Grave Digger to be a comedic, eccentric tale, or a morbid one?
Honestly, we didn't really think about this early on in the design process. I think the first time the issue came up was when we started making tombstones and somebody suggested we put names of famous dead people on them – that was the first time we considered how potentially offensive we could make the game, and thankfully we chose to go with fictitious and often humorous names on the tombstones because the last thing we want to do is offend anybody. There are potentially poignant moments throughout that some people will feel more than others, just as some will enjoy the comedy elements more. This is exemplified by thesetwo reactions, both of which Tom and I are thoroughly chuffed with.
What inspired you to make The Grave Digger?
We (I'm Joe and he's Tom) have a lifelong passion for gaming, but we often find ourselves talking more at length about what could be rather than what is, so it seemed inevitable that we'd both give game development a shot sooner or later. I guess The Grave Digger is quite a simple and entertaining concept at its core and probably the first of our ideas that seemed achievable on a budget of diddly-squat.
How have sales of The Grave Digger been since launch? Are you considering a launch on Steam or other platforms?
I'm not quitting my day job and if Tom had a day job, he wouldn't either. Understandably we see our biggest sales spikes whenever a good bit of publicity comes out so we're grafting to keep that ball rolling. At first the game was only available through our website, which probably didn't help – I know I always prefer buying through websites with an established reputation myself. We're now live on Desura and IndieCity, which both have a great track record and really enthusiastic indie gaming communities, so that should help. We're also considering Greenlight, if we can cover the £70 entrance fee.
Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?
That's just the situation we're in really – neither of us have a particularly relevant portfolio or qualifications, so the explosion of the indie scene and the advent of free/affordable software such as Blender and Unity allows us and other enthusiasts make a go of it on our own. It may be that at some point our independent work helps either of us find work with other companies, but that's not in the cards at the moment.
Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?
Yes and no. In some respects I feel that we're a little late to the party so the movement has already happened. On the other hand, nothing stays the same forever and the indie scene can easily adapt to serve (or more often discover) any niche left behind by the AAA studios, so perhaps indies are always on the move.
As more people get involved I imagine we'll see better defined sub-movements within the indie movement – for instance, some developers are much more interested in telling a story than challenging a player, and some hold much more stock in creating visual art, whilst others go for more functional graphics either by design or necessity. Those are the sort of decisions that really tell me a lot about indie teams when I play their games and I think that'll only become more pronounced.
Sell The Grave Digger in one sentence:
Dig graves, find loot, avoid ghosts, escape the cemetery and more, but only after buying the game – or downloading the free demo and then buying the game. Buy it! Sorry, that was two sentences. [Ed. note: Now it's three.]
The Grave Digger 2: The Diggening?
Okay probably not that, but we do intend to update the game with new content at some point and Tom's busily porting to Linux at the moment. We're also looking at Android, iOS and Mac ports and if we get a decent amount of sales we'd love to create a level editor.