We talk to GalaxyTrail’s Stephen DiDuro about new game Freedom Planet, being an independent developer, Gunstar Heroes, sequels and siding with Eggman (Dr. Robotnik to many of us).
Can you tell us about your team at GalaxyTrail?
GalaxyTrail began with just me, but shortly after I started working on Freedom Planet I made the decision to put together a team of artists, designers and voice actors to help me. It was the best decision I ever made and I don't feel Freedom Planet would have been nearly as successful without them. To that effect, we're essentially a multinational team spread across the globe, mostly in the United States, Canada and Australia. Our main office is based in New York.
How difficult is it for indie developers in this current market?
This is a fantastic time for indie developers, with more tools than ever at our disposal and more ways to self publish our games, but with that ease of development comes a flooded market. I think building a game is actually the easy part: the hard part is selling it. Marketing a game requires a completely different set of skills, and even then there's no guarantee that it will catch on.
Despite the difficulties, I think it's worth it to get your game out there since there's a good chance it will eventually reach its audience. Nothing says that your game needs to be an overnight success, and as the industry changes and gamers look for different experiences, they often stumble on older titles that were previously overlooked. The recent rise in visual novels is an example of that. In the case of Freedom Planet, we were a slow burner for over a year before we reached success with our Wii U release.
What advice would you give to someone looking to work in the video gaming industry?
Try not to invest, haha. Indie mega-hits like Minecraft and most recently Undertale have come completely out of nowhere and were impossible to predict.
Personally I feel like consistency is an undervalued quality in the game industry. There's so much focus on innovation and people who try new things that the developers who iterate and expand on existing concepts are frequently overlooked. They play a very important role in the development of games. I feel that when you're just starting out, you'll stand a better chance of finding a team or company to work with if you pick your strongest skills and present yourself that way instead of presenting yourself as a catch-all "game designer". On the other hand, if you start your own team and look for people to help build your game, you'll see what I mean.
What game(s) have had the biggest affect on your life, and why?
People might assume that my answer would be Sonic, but I actually don't consider myself much of a Sonic fan. (Eggman all the way, muahahaha.) I'm more of a fan of the concept of fast-paced platforming that franchises like Sonic, Mario and Mega Man are known for.
It's really hard for me to pinpoint a single game here; a lot of my values as a player and a developer stem from several different games that I consider to be technical masterpieces, but of course I have a special place in my heart for platformers. Mega Man games on the NES taught me the value of teaching a player the rules of a game through clever level design. Mario games taught me the importance of pacing and sticking with a tried-and-true formula. Sonic games taught me about iconic character design that stands out from the crowd. Treasure games like Gunstar Heroes taught me to go absolutely nuts with my action sequences and boss battles. Ratchet and Clank taught me that games can have Saturday morning cartoon-styled cutscenes and still be enjoyable.
...Personally I feel like consistency is an undervalued thing in the games industry. There's so much focus on innovation and people that try new things that the developers who iterate and expand on existing concepts are frequently overlooked...
What are your hopes and plans for Freedom Planet looking into the future?
As your might know, our team recently announced Freedom Planet 2. My biggest dream at the moment for the Freedom Planet series is to establish an identity for it that's distinctive from its sources of inspiration, and I feel like the sequel will give us that chance. It will have the same basic game-play as the first game but on a more ambitious scale with higher-res sprites, fluid animation, a higher stage count, crazier boss fights and more customization features.
As a developer, I'm also fascinated with story in video games, and I'd like to pursue a method of storytelling for Freedom Planet that perfectly compliments its game-play. The story is the single biggest thing about the original Freedom Planet that I feel could use refinement.
What's next for GalaxyTrail?
Freedoms. Freedoms in planet form. Although honestly, I have some ideas for games of other genres I'd like to try someday. I've always wanted to make a 3D racing game and I think that's something I'd love to explore in the future when I have more experience with Unity. A simulation game like the ones Maxis used to make in the 90s might be fun too.
If you were on a desert island (it has power) and could only take one console, what would you take, and why?
Does PC count? I'd totally take that on a desert island with power and keep building games while I wait for someone to rescue me. The years would fly by, and I'd be the first game developer to build a game from start to finish on a desert island with natural electricity.
Thanks to Stephen at GalaxyTrail for answering our questions. Freedom Planet is available now on Wii U and PC - keep your eyes on PTC for our upcoming review. As always, tell us your thoughts on the forum.