I make no attempt to hide my adoration for Organ Trail: Director's Cut. I love this game and I'm proud of it. So having the opportunity to ask The Men Who Wear Many Hats - specifically Ryan Wiemeyer, co-owner and designer - a few questions was quite exciting. From the Flash game with over half a million fans to their new Greenlight venture, it's all fair game for these enterprising haberdashers. Okay so they don't necessarily make the hats but you get the idea.
So, Oregon Trail with a brilliant twist. It must've been fun conceptualizing the original Flash game and putting it all together, huh?
You probably want more than that, huh? It was really easy since we were just making a 1-to-1 conversion of the game with new art and text. It really helped keep us in scope since we had an exact playable target of what we were aiming for right in front of us at all times.
And then there's the Kickstarter project that resulted in the iOS Director's Cut. What made you decide to try and adapt/improve the original version into a mobile game?
The fans. We included this feature in the flash version where you could easily leave comments for us about the game. A large number of people told us they wanted it for mobile. And as the number of players for the flash version broke half a million, business people started to tell me we REALLY needed to make a mobile version. But I didn't feel comfortable just porting and selling it when there was a free version on our website. So we devised a way to make the game bigger and worth paying for while also moving away from the source material so we could proudly call it our own.
Were there any significant hiccups along the way such as platform constraints to adjust to or other issues? Anything you were expecting to be a problem that actually wasn't?
Our biggest issues have been dealing with the Kickstarter backers. We found out the hard way the android doesn't do gifting and iOS won't let you gift internationally so we had scramble to make sure the backers that had pre-ordered it were going to be happy. Not to mention the month or so we couldn't touch the game because we were dealing with all the reward shipments. Most of the platform specific issues were handled by Unity, our development engine, or Michael Block, the lead programmer.
Do you have an aspect or mechanic in Organ Trail that's your favorite? I personally enjoy the little detail of putting a party member down. Love the contextual bullet impact animations.
Yea everybody loves killing their friends. In the flash version it was just a text popup but we wanted to embellish on it. We added the animations and made it so you had to pull the trigger yourself. And then we went the extra mile and added hit zones so you can actually put your friend down by shooting them in the crotch. People seem to enjoy that. I also like that we managed to add like... 10 or 12 new combat modes to the game. It really helps with the monotony of the flash version, which was the goal.
I was also pleasantly surprised with the boss fights. Were there others you had in mind that never made the cut (save the theorized zombie squid)? Any chance there might be more added in the future?
Honestly the boss fights feel off to me right now. The bear is unkillable and most people don't know that so they die trying to shoot it down. And the dogs are way too hard, last time I played. There is also no pay-off for defeating them which is a big missed opportunity. I think the boss fights might add more frustration than fun in their current state. We might try and balance them better. Boss fights was actually one of the $500, "Buy a new mechanic," rewards on Kickstarter. The original suggestion for a boss fight was actually a giant zombie octopus. I though it was too silly for our sometimes-serious-game. But at this point I think it would be really cool and exciting for the end boss fight so I'm eager to see how it could work out. I'm a huge fan of Resident Evil and they always have giant crazy boss monsters that end up being really memorable. So, I figure I should take a note from my favorite zombie franchise.
And now Greenlight. Are you finding this endeavor to be any more or less stressful than the Kickstarter project?
Greenlight has been a real pain but probably also a blessing. The only reason it could be considered less stressful than Kickstarter is because there is no real time deadline and no real failure state. We just kinda sit in there until we get greenlit. Again, my biggest concern is getting it out on PC/Mac for the Kickstarter backers. I feel bad every day they have to wait. The advantage to greenlight is that we've had around 70k hits to the page. Not to mention this Content Campaign we are running which is getting us some another odd 30k hits here and there from press attention. More eyeballs on the game is always good.
One of the strange elements we are tackling is the total lack of accountability for people who are supporting us. We cannot reward them or talk to them directly like we could on Kickstarter. So we had to come up with rewards that everybody can enjoy. This is why we mostly went with adding new content to the game. The downside is that we get people thinking that we are doing this "hostage voting" thing where we are holding back content. That's entirely not true. The game is done and we were set to never touch it again but we decided we would be willing to jump back in if the community can help us out and we know we can get more sales and justify going back into this finished product of ours. It's easy to say that some people are less enthused.
The Kickstarter was a lot easier to run because there was an established system with live updates and it's a great community that people can get behind. For "The Greenlight Trail" We have to introduce our game, what we are doing and greenlight (Which most people who are using it have no idea what it is yet.) It's a hard sell. And on top of that... We currently exist in this strange black box where we get very little information about how we are doing. No on I know has changed rank for over a week and we don't know how to update our fans on how we are doing because we don't really know...
I'm really liking the tiered rewards - although I think the aim assist is for wimps - however I noticed that most of it seems to be intended for the PC/Mac/possible Linux releases. Just how "for now" do you think that will be? What I mean is I wants it on my phone, too!
We get a lot of complaints about the controls being too hard to use. My girlfriend can easily beat scavenging with deadly zombie activity, while pitching the game idea (at PAX) while playing upside-down. So yes... some people are wimps. But we want wimps to be able to enjoy the game too. So we will just reward people who don't use the aim assist.
In regards to the PC/Mac/Linux only stuff, since we are working in Unity and all builds are basically the same... there is little reason to hold content from the mobile version. Unless, that is... it doesn't work for the resolution or touch controls. We are saying "for now" on certain things because for instance... the nude patch... although hilarious and not really obscene in any way... could easily get us pulled from the app store. So we might try and call it "pink baby mode" or something for mobile... if people really want to see it.
The CRT filter will only work well on a monitor since it will be a somewhat high def effect and might cause some distortion for some of the buttons and combat... We aren't really sure how that will work out, haha. We just though it might be a fun idea.
We plan on charging more for the Steam version and a some Steam users are getting up in arms since there isn't really any extra content for it... so how can we justify the price? Well I'll tell you the mobile version is well under-pricedb for the amount of content and time that went into that game. But we needed to be realistic for the market. So, I was trying to find some way to justify giving Steam users something extra. But it's so hard since there are so few reason to not put something the mobile version... it costs us almost nothing to do so. So... I still don't know how that will all turn out. I think if something cool is in the game... everyone will get it. That's probably what will happen.
Short of jumping on Steam and thumbing-up for Organ Trail for Greenlight, is there anything else any of us can do to help make all the awesomeness a reality?
It's less about the voting... which obviously we need you to do. But more about sharing it. Getting the word out. Telling people about our game and all the cool stuff we want to do and mostly share this link with everyone you know: http://www.hatsproductions.com/organtraildc/greenlight.html
Another weird hurdle: There was no way to integrate the Content Campaign into the Steam page so we had to make it on our own website and a lot of people just end up sharing the steam page... which means no one sees the cool stuff we are trying to do. There is this frustrating disconnect.
We easily get a thousand people to the greenlight page a day... so it's strange because if you get someone to tweet about it... that might get a friend or two to see it and vote... which at the end of the day isn't really make a big a dent as I would like. So we are trying to find bigger ways to reach more people. This... no money, twitter only marketing approach isn't working for us as much anymore. This is sort of the big leagues. So... if you know anyone famous... get them to tweet about it for us, thanks! Haha.
As of writing this... we only have 13 days left to make a big splash and get out by October... (yikes)
Assuming everything goes according to plan and the ultimate edition of Organ Trail becomes a thing and we have a begrudgingly made *other* zombie game to tide us over, where to from there? Even more content updates for Organ Trail? Revisiting other projects? An altogether new project? A much needed break?
I don't get a break. I quit my job to do this full time. We have a lot of idea we are prototyping and talking about. We're trying to find ideas that excite us but right now there is this nagging, "I have to pay rent," feeling. So time and money are currently a factor in our designs and I hate it. I would love to get to the point where we can just make whatever we want without having to limit ourselves because I only have 6 months of money left. I know that's probably pretty selfish but that's the reason I quit my job; so I can be selfish and enjoy myself.
I guess the other goal is to become someone in the indie scene. I would love to have one of our games in the IGF or Indiecade or anything like that. This is less about fame and ego... although I have a pretty sizable ego, but more about accountability. I feel like if people expect great things from you... you tend to raise your own bar a little. So I'm hoping to use outside pressure to turn us into a diamond... or something like that. Also I just love indies and want to meet more of them. Great folk.
Finally, is there any sage-like advice you'd be willing to pass on to other independent game developers out there?
Those moments where it's hardest to focus, when you feel like you have writers block or just can't make any progress; those are the most important chances you have to becoming a better developer/person and push yourself. Set a new standard for yourself.
Also, advice I think about every day: "Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sort of good at something." -Jake the dog.
Organ Trail: Director's Cut can be had on the App Store right now for $2.99. You can also "demo" the game in a manner of speaking via the original Flash version. And don't forget to vote on Greenlight!