Continuing Gamasutra's 'Road To The IGF' feature, we talk to One Ton Ghost's Tynan Wales and Darren Koepp about their 2008 Independent Games Festival Best Web Browser Game Award finalist Iron Dukes.
The title, which is currently available in Flash preview form, is best described as a greedy professor's sea adventure against a warlock Thomas Edison and other oddities in a fictional 19th-century America, and Tynan and Wales answered Gamasutra's questions on a host of subjects.
What kind of background do you have in the game industry or in making games?
Tynan Wales: I have been working in the industry since 1996. I have worked on over 15 titles which include a previous IGF winner, Oasis. After several years as a lead artist, I officially moved into game design. Before that I used to program some horrible stuff on my TI-99/4A, and make board games on my dining room table which consisted of thousands of hand-drawn chits.
Darren Koepp: I also started my game career in 1996. Ty and I dropped out of art school to pursue our love of games. Like many people, I began as a tester and worked my way into level and game design. My interest in making games goes back to learning BASIC on my PCjr (128K! Wireless Chiclet Keyboard!).
What motivated you to create a game like Iron Dukes?
TW: When we started, all I wanted to do was make a game without anyone looking over our shoulders. I wanted to work on a project where I could play around with nostalgic game design concepts and get a little strange with the art and writing. In typical large-scale game development, the hierarchy of publishers, producers, and managers can really put a bottleneck in the flow of creative thought. I was hoping we could make something straight out of our heads without having to answer for it.
DK: Indeed, Iron Dukes was an attempt to leverage all of the things we love about making games while trying to minimize all of the aspects that make us sad. Our small team size made decision making very rapid. Meetings usually consisted of grilled cheese sandwiches and an episode of Judge Joe Brown.
Where did you draw inspiration from in its design and implementation?
TW: I have a childhood crush on piecemeal games. By this I mean games such as Pirates, Covert Action, and Star Control II. Each uses the concept of several mini-games instead of one large mechanic. Then they blur the line enough that they feel like a cohesive whole. Iron Dukes was inspired by these great games, and like them it attempts to use several different game types to create a unified experience. I'm not sure if we succeeded, but we sure tried hard.
DK: Growing up in arcades in the mid to late eighties, I've always been inspired by coin-op classics like Black Tiger, Bad Dudes, 720 and so many others. I would also add the sites and games that inspired our Flash implementation: Home Star Runner, Stamen Design, Soldat, Fl0w and N.
What sort of development tools are used by the team?
TW: Art was made completely in Flash CS3. I also used various Office products such as Word, and everyone's favorite, Excel.
DK: All of the programming was done in Actionscript 2.0 using FlashDevelop as an editor. I don't know if you can call a remote control helicopter a development tool, but I used that a lot to get Ty's attention.
What do you think the most interesting element of your game is?
TW: I would love to say that our game design breaks new ground, but honestly the design is more of a tribute to some of our favorite old games. However, I do think we present a sense of humor that doesn't get much coverage in modern games.
DK: We didn't censor ourselves very much so I agree that our sense of humor tends to shine through. Dolphins as weapons, that's nice.
Roughly how many people have been working on Iron Dukes, and what has the development process been like?
TW: The core team is only Darren and me. We had help from a few different sources including a few bursts of incredibly helpful engineering. For the most part, the entire process was both of us sitting in my apartment and eating terrible foods. It has been roughly a year of wrestling with a large, formless, money-eating beast. But I would do it again in a second.
DK: Throughout the process we had the support and encouragement of our friends, many of whom contributed in some way, whether it was helping with tricky code, giving advice on a design doc or cutting the crust off our PB&J.
If One Ton Ghost had to rewind to the very start of the project, is there anything that you'd do differently?
TW: I think our only real problem was the scope of our project. With only two key team members, the design should have been much smaller. Since Iron Dukes was so big, we had almost no time to polish it. I regret that. In our next game, the player will be a ball with an arrow sticking out of it which can either rotate or fire. Not both.
DK: Technically, I would have loved to port over to Actionscript 3.0. That would have made many things much easier, but we simply didn't have the time. I think we agree that our next project won't be larger than Berzerk!.
What are your thoughts on the state of independent game development, and are any other independent games out now that you admire?
TW: I admire anyone who attempts to make a game on their own. Beyond that open statement, I've been enjoying Trillby: The Art of Theft, Aquaria, Clean Asia!, and other adorable games. As for the independent game scene, I think it's looking fantastic. Many titles are trying to push boundaries that mainstream games will never approach. Even if the creators make no money, generations of games will rob and mimic their discoveries for years to come. I think that's super important.
DK: I'm incredibly encouraged by the state of independent games and the technologies that enable them. I think open source initiatives are going to give independent developers an amazing opportunity to express themselves. When developers have less external pressure, I think we'll see more innovation and creativity.
You have 30 seconds left to live and you must tell the game business something very important. What is it?
TW: Console people – please make a way for the independent game developer to create and sell their games on your systems. Cheaply. A couple of you are nibbling, but the rest need to catch up.
DK: Games are very important, but so are Not Games. Venture out into the Big Room and get some fresh air from time to time.