Hark! Do you sense it? That sweet, alluring scent of… Nostalgia? As a ’90s kid, I can actually say that I’m a ’90s kid. And like so many before me, I’m going to make the bold statement that things just aren’t as good now as when I was a kid. It might not even be remotely true – in fact, I’m sure it isn’t – but the beauty of nostalgia is that you can shut up because it’s mine and only needs to appeal to me. Few things appeal to me more than a mish-mash of various pop culture concepts from my childhood being thrown into a turn-based strategy RPG, which is where Lead Developer Gil Maclean comes in with Odd Gods. He took precious time away from this monument to reminiscence to answer some of my questions about the game.
What has been the biggest challenge during development of the game?
There’s three really: budgeting, marketing, and keeping the dream alive.
We operate on a shoe string budget, so we have to make everything we do count, and we have to do it quickly – although, we try not to sacrifice quality for speed. Marketing costs money, and it’s not a skillset that many of us have a lot of direct experience with, despite having worked for decades as professional game devs. As an indie developer, even a relatively experienced one, getting any kind of recognition is tough. You live and die on your reputation, but if nobody’s ever heard of you, your reputation doesn’t matter.
Further to that, RPGs are big beasts. Systems still need iteration and testing, art and gameplay content require feedback, and that takes time which we rarely have. The team is dedicated and experienced, but we still hit while everyone who works on the game is passionate about the project – we still have to pay the bills.
After all that’s done, staying motivated despite the odds can be challenging at times – never tell me the odds. Luckily, we’re passionate (or crazy/stupid enough) to keep going. Getting such a kickass response at PAX Aus has helped a lot in that regard, though. Our approach to story, setting, class, alignment, combat, theme and aesthetic seemed to keep people coming back.
What inspired the game to begin with?
We take inspiration from wherever we can get it. Travelling, reading, music, film, art, mythology, getting raw feedback at things like PAX, boozy chats at the pub, as well as playing other games. Odd Gods is an anachronistic concept at heart, so we’re hoping to offer more than a ‘when two worlds collide’ setting, and we want to get CRPG fans interested in a non-traditional setting.
1990s culture and Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, tropes, politics, trends, etc. are obvious, I guess. Film-wise, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, Cronenberg, John Carpenter have a big impact. Book-wise, China Mieville, Fritz Leiber, Neil Gaiman, Jack Vance, Terry Gilliam, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. All the other Terries, obviously. Game-wise is too big a list, but the Ultima series at large, Fallout 1, and Planescape Torment are definitely up there.
Were there any other influences that changed development as it progressed?
I like to start with a high level design that makes sense and has some ‘pillars,’ although they’re guidelines as opposed to rules.
Getting the tone right takes time and experimentation. It’s dark and absurd, but it’s not ripping off Tim Burton. It’s Monty Python before it’s Benny Hill. It’s grungier than Stranger Things. It’s not high fantasy and there’s no bloody elves, magic swords, level scaling, random number generation, etc. None of that happened overnight. Deconstruction and analysis can only get you so far – you need to test out seemingly dumb ideas, follow a few dead-ends, pick up threads that work and see if there’s a way to weave it together. Just normal game dev stuff. And so on.
How long do you think it will be before development is complete, and what else needs to go into the game before you reach that point?
That’s tricky to answer. Nobody who’s designing an original game knows the real answer to that ahead of time (and if they do, well, they’re a lot smarter than me, or they’re lying, or…).
Making an RPG with more depth than breadth, in an original setting, that doesn’t have ready-made comparisons on-hand is difficult to quantify. Our current thinking is one year crunching like fiends might do it. 18 months from this point would be more sensible. It depends on our resources.
What has your experience as an indie developer been like without the support of a publisher or third party?
Rough as guts, awesome, and bizarre. It depends on the day. We do have a lot of help from other indies – custom scripting tools, utilities, and pipeline support shared with other studios, logos, assets – you name it. We couldn’t do it without that support or that of Film Victoria’s grant program.
One thing that’s cool is how many people just want you to succeed. It takes the edge off frazzled nerves.
What are the most significant lessons learned so far from developing this game?
If you make it, they will come. Trying something original, in a genre you love, with people you respect and like – that goes a long way.
What advice would you offer to anyone trying to develop their own title?
Embracing the chaos is something I find useful. That doesn’t mean ‘be disorganised’ – at least, I don’t mean it that way. Don’t have ‘follow convention’ as your primary design pillar. Have something you care about.
It depends on the title, I suppose. Back yourself, trust your instincts, and don’t go with the flow just ‘because.’ Make sure you care about your work, or you may regret it at some point. It’s a cliche, but I think people these days can find themselves saturated with ‘big’ brands, titles, sequels, and one-size-fits-all mechanics – and they’re bored of it. Make something cool and new, and see what people think.
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