This year at the Perth Games Festival I was able to play a few rounds of the multiplayer version of The Ballad of Crater, an action-adventure game set after a nuclear apocalypse. So far the game has a solid basic concept, and it controls well. I’m definitely looking forward to finding out more about the narrative side of this game too!
I got to speak with Juan van Litsenborgh, one half of the two-person team that’s working on The Ballad of Crater. He was kind enough to answer my questions about both the game and what attending a Perth Games Festival as a developer is like.
Have you or your team attended the Perth Games Festival as a developer before? What was your impression of it this year?
This was our first year attending as developers. We had a great time sharing what we’ve been working on with people and seeing what some of the other Perth developers are up to.
What inspired you to get into games development?
I’ve always enjoyed games and tinkering with them, like installing mods or fiddling with game editors. I also grew up playing a lot of bargain bin games (although a lot of them are quite well regarded now!). The final inspiration was the daunting realisation that a lot of the really cool, action-packed dream jobs, like being Indiana Jones or Batman, were not as achievable as we’d once hoped.
Tell us a bit about the game you showed at PGF, The Ballad of Crater?
The Ballad of Crater is a twin-stick action-adventure game that tells the story of Crater Town: The Small Town at the End of the World. It’s a small but quirky game set in the Crater left at the end of a nuclear apocalypse. There’s a bit of a focus on exploring, solving puzzles, general adventuring, and twin-stick shoot-outs.
What were some of your major inspirations for it?
When we set out to make Crater (What we call it for short), we really wanted to make the type of game we wanted to play more of. More importantly, we wanted something that we felt we could accomplish at our level, learn from, and have fun making.
We are inspired by the type of games we like and the industry ‘heroes’ that came before. Things such as the exploration and puzzles in Zelda, the quirkiness of Conkers Bad Fur Day that doesn’t take itself too seriously, the environmental depth and narrative in Dark Souls, and the simple but addictive gameplay design from Doom, etc.
We are also inspired by TV and movies such as Star Wars, Mad Max 2 and Once Upon a Time in the West. We are also trying to channel some ’80s disco ‘coolness’ into it with the afros and music etc. There’s a whole pot brewing in our minds, and we try to combine a lot of what we like into what we hope becomes a really fun experience for us and eventually for players.
How long have you been working on it for, and what has been the biggest challenge so far?
The first testing and prototyping started in February last year. The biggest challenge has been finding enough time to develop at a good pace. We were under a lot of pressure to release previous projects half-baked, and because of the lessons we learned from those games, we are able to sit back and take as much time as we need to make this one just right.
There’s a new big challenge around every corner, and my brother especially likes to push me (sometimes aggressively) out of my comfort zone. From migrating from Android and the PSM platform to my brother doing asset placement, story work, etc., when he came from only really doing sound in previous projects. We enjoy pushing each other further and learning as we go and I don’t think we’d both be where we are now of we didn’t do that.
One of the biggest challenges we faced early on was networking. It took us a while before we were at a place where we could, and were comfortable with, attending games shows. They have offered valuable feedback that has made the game as fun and playable as it currently is.
Can you tell us about the single player mode?
We are working hard to try and deliver a good blend of subtle linear narrative but also non-linearity. We want this game to feel like there is something happening in the world and the lives of the NPCs, but also want to leave some room for imagination, not overburdening it with the narrative to the point where everything is either exposition or hand holding (Probably our Dark Souls and Zelda inspirations shining through there).
Gameplay-wise, we are pushing ourselves to make (what we as two people consider to be) a sizable open hub world, some dungeons, side areas and a few cool gadgets and tools to use for exploring and puzzle solving.
You had a four-player multiplayer mode set up at PGF. What is your goal/vision for this mode? Is it being made for online multiplayer?
The idea of multiplayer came about rather naturally. We were working on the single player and talking about content we would like to add to increase the enjoyability and value of the game. We were really, really enjoying split screen ‘arena’ games at the time and one day we just thought, “why don’t we try putting that in?”.
The goal was to make a quick and gripping gameplay loop. We are pretty happy with how it’s progressing and are planning to include power-ups reminiscent of arena shooters and more modes, weapons, etc. Online is something we are considering, but our focus is still on the single player firstly, and then on 2-4 player split-screen, and then anything else after that. We are still only two people after all, and try to spend our time wisely.
How did participating in PGF 2016 help you as a developer?
We got a lot of compliments and pages of great feedback that we are already implementing. It’s always great to stand back and see how others play our game so we can make it the best we can for all different play styles and see what needs more TLC to get it working as intended.
Keeping what makes this ‘our’ game, and making that better all the time, is really important to us. When we look at feedback, we don’t say: “that doesn’t work, scrap it”, we try to say: “how do we better communicate that idea.” It wouldn’t be as playable as it is now without this type of feedback and we are always looking for more.
I understand you mostly work on The Ballad of Crater during university semester breaks at the moment. However, do you have any estimates for when the game will be released?
At present, we try to get as much done as we can in our spare time, but as uni students with part-time jobs, we can sometimes go days without having time to open the project, which can really suck! But we are always thinking about it and are committed to seeing it through.
We hope to have the game finished by the time we graduate at the end of next year. The way we see it is that most the foundation work has been completed. The gameplay is feeling good, the narrative is loosely written down, and the over-world planned and under construction. All that’s left is completing and polishing our ambitious ‘world creation’, narrative implementation, etc.
How can our readers follow your work and support your games?
We try to be as active as we can on Twitter (@BalladOfCrater) and to a lesser extent Facebook. Although genuine messages do sometimes get buried by spam, we try to get to as many as we can. The best way to support us at current is to check out what we tweet and click the heart if you dig it. It always makes us happy to see others interested in what we are doing.