Welcome back everyone my next interview this week is with Olderbytes Charles Clerc. We talk about his lesson in game development , and his new game Swords and Sorcery.
Couchpotato: Welcome to RPGWatch to get started can you introduce yourself, and your studio Older Bytes for our new readers?
Charles: My name is Charles Clerc. 40 yrs old, French but I grew up in large part in the US - I’m not good in English because I was good at school ;) I just recently moved from Paris to southern France (Toulouse) due to family related issues. OlderBytes fits in my laptop so there was no problem there.
In its current state, OlderBytes exists since 2011, as a sort of micro-company. I am the only person involved as of now, but I sub-contract graphics to a small studio called Studio GFX, based in the Philippines.
I “exist” as a game creator since 2007, when I released the first version of Peregrine’s Song. It was a learning experience mostly. I built it while learning to program. Needless to say it didn’t do very well. There’s still a video…
I named the entity Classic Games Remade. Not so much because I liked how it sounds but as a SEO experiment. I wanted to see how well I could rank for the keyphrase “classic games”. While I succeeded somewhat by getting a first page ranking, organic traffic from that keyphrase didn’t convert so I later decided to go with a more brandable name.
My handle on this site dates back to CGR in case anyone was wondering what those letters stand for.
Couchpotato: How did you start developing your own indie games?
Charles: I distinctly remember vowing to make a MM clone someday while playing the first iteration of the series on an Apple computer when I was 12 years old. We had basic programming classes in math class and I had an Applesoft Basic manual handy so I gave it a try. I made my first game, titled Mars Blaster, that wasn’t anything like what I set out to make. Thankfully for those that gave it a try, it was as short as it was awful. It was really very short.
Much later, I stumbled on Game Maker 6. I spent an entire day trying to figure out how to display an image on screen. When I finally succeeded, I spent another day drawing 32 basic walls on transparent backgrounds. Those were located so that when layered, the stacked images gave the illusion of a 3D environment. I kept adding functionalities, more or less replicas of MM1 mechanics, until I ended up with a very clunky engine that I could code maps into. I bought a few stock images for decorative purposes (monsters were not illustrated). I made a few myself. A few months later I had Peregrine’s Song. Artistic consistency wasn’t its strong suit.
After several updates I decided to take on a sequel. I went with something that would require as few assets as possible so I chose an underground setting. Swords and Sorcery – Underworld improved on Peregrine’s Song by having a party, illustrated monsters (stock photos at first). After a couple dozen updates, I had hired an artist and ended up with the current version of Underworld. The final update is almost ready. It will be a more modern version of the same game, and is set up to work on multiple platforms.
Most of the work involved in this rewrite consisted in making tools that have and will continue to facilitate the creation of upcoming titles.
So yeah, it’s been on my mind for a while now ;)
Couchpotato: So as a gamer/developer how do you feel about the current state of RPGs?
Charles: I rarely enjoy a 3D game. The premise of such games is that everything has to be displayed and therefore nothing is left to the imagination. It simply isn’t the same kind of gaming. This doesn’t really apply to the very first generations of 3D games like MMVI, because the world was pretty much visually empty and it was OK, because no one expected much more than that.
Some of my favorite memories in gaming are seeing the first dragon pop out of nowhere in MM1, or the first robot in Wasteland. Or cutscenes in Champions of Krynn. Those surprises made the adrenaline spike. They felt like rewards. This, suspenseful tactical combat, and character progression are examples of what I enjoy in games. Anything that gets the adrenaline going really. So that is what I try to make.
Thankfully, things have diversified a bit with indies and crowdfunding. Wasteland 2 offered a different take on its own formula but much of the things that matter to me are still there. Surprises, suspense and rewards. The same goes for Frayed Knights, despite the 3D environment. But the older games had these in higher concentration because they weren’t diluted in long hikes or cinematic cutscenes.
Couchpotato: Have any RPG games you have played over the years helped inspire you?
Charles: My most influential games are the ones I listed above. Might and Magic 1&2, Wasteland and Champions of Krynn. Having played these in my formative years probably played a part in this, but that isn’t all there is to it. Aspects of these games I mentioned above are real and distinct. I think they’re worth preserving, at least for the few players that remain with an interest in them.
Couchpotato: With the rise of crowd-funding, have you ever thought of doing a Kickstarter?
Charles: I’m not ready for crowdfunding. I lack the discipline and visibility on what I can get done tomorrow, next week and next month. Successful campaigns publish an update each day or every other day. Someone is there, answering comments practically in real time. I’d rather go slow and not take on something this big and stressful, knowing that the chances of success are low for an unknown developer still reworking his first (and a half) title.
But never say never. Ever.
Couchpotato: You've been an indie developer for a while now, so do you have any lessons you can share?
Charles: Everyone is different. I started with a struggle to get an image to display on screen. My degree of noobishness is probably unprecedented in this industry. I guess the lesson that stems from that is to don’t look at others too much. Do not try to be like this or that person. I occasionally envy and want to imitate a developer, who is much more in touch with his audience, like Jay Barnson, who writes a blog entry practically on a daily basis. Or any developer that is more productive (like all of them, but especially Vogel and Aldorlea with their game or two a year track record). I set out to do different things. I have different constraints, different goals and personality. Any sizeable effort to change those things is probably going to go to waste.
In short, be patient with yourself. But not too much.
Couchpotato: How will Swords and Sorcery: Underworld be different from your new game on Steam called Swords and Sorcery: Gold?
Charles: The next version is the definitive edition. It is a modernized version. Full screen GUI, fluid movement (optional), ergonomic layout (and inventory), visual effects (for spells especially), multi-platform (not sure how that will turn out yet), character portraits, texts in external files (for easier localization)… Visually there will be some new art but other than that the assets are largely the same as the Gold edition.
Couchpotato: Should anyone interested in buying you games purchase the Underworld: Gold version off your website, or wait for the release of Swords and Sorcery on Steam?
Charles: If someone can’t wait and the previous version suits them they can always go for that one now but keep in mind the next version will be the DE. I won’t be patching the current one anymore. That pretty much means little to no actual support. And saves will not be compatible with the DE. So I’d advise waiting. It shouldn’t be very long now.
Couchpotato: Thank you for your time do you have anything you would to add before we finish?
Charles: First I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to address your audience and write about things I don’t usually delve much into. It also acts as a reminder that despite my own advice some effort to communicate a little bit more can’t hurt.
You can visit the Olderbytes webpage for more information, and to buy his games.