To begin with, why are the games called Dark Disciples?
When I first started work on Dark disciples I, it was intended to be a rogue-like game with random dungeons, perma-death and so forth. The idea was that there were 5 icons of evil -the Dark Disciples. And of course you mission was to defeat them. However I was never happy with the random dungeons my algorithm was generating, so I converted to hand crafted dungeons. As I progressed, the game transformed into a traditional CRPG and I changed the plot too. So the name no longer really means anything. ;)
Among your previous work, you had several rouge-like games. How did these contribute to the development of Dark Disciples?
Prior to DD1, I'd started but never completed several rogue-like and CRPGs. Each time, the project failed because I'd designed, on paper, something way too large or complex for a single person to ever finish in a reasonable amount of time. It's a very easy trap to fall into, and I suspect most hobby CRPG programmers start out this way as it's almost impossible to overestimate the sheer amount of time it takes to complete a non-trivial CRPG project. My current rule of thumb is: work out how long you *think* it will take and multiply it by 20. J So, having learnt this lesson, I began work on DD1. While the game ultimately morphed from a rogue-like to a traditional CRPG, it was a realistically modest game design that enabled me to complete it.
Did you code the entire game from scratch? Did you have any pre-made functions?
DD1 and DD2 uses DirectX 5.0 graphics and sound functions. I downloaded a little example project and learnt how to use the DirectX functions from that. The rest of the code I wrote myself.
How long did it take you to make each game - from starting out, to the last stable version?
Hmm, I'm not sure exactly. I've been working on and off on DD2 for several years, and I'm still putting out new versions every now and then.
Is it hard to balance such games? And how much does fan support count in such situations?
Balancing the games is a challenge and also a painful experience at times: I mean, how many times can you stand to play through your own game? J This is where fan support has been utterly invaluable. Several players, in particular, where regularly sending me bug/game balance reports and without their help I don't think DD1 or DD2 would ever have been finished. In fact, many DD2 game design changes occurred because of fan suggestions. So, if I was to give one piece of advice to someone starting out in hobby CRPG programming it's this: collect as many play-testers as you can and treat them like royalty: they're worth their weight in gold.
Probably the trickiest aspect of DD2 game balancing was the difficulty of the puzzles (and DD2 has quite a few). A given puzzle may seem easy for one person, but obscure and frustrating for another. In the end, I somewhat got around this issue by incorporating multiple solutions for a given obstacle. Also, many puzzles do not need to be solved to win the game. But no matter how hard you work at it, some puzzles will always frustrate some people.
Do you have a background in IT? Do you code out of passion or as a job?
I studies programming and did a short stint on an IT helpdesk. However I never was able to get a job in programming so I retrained as a scientist. So programming is just a hobby.
Did you ever consider upgrading the graphics to 3D, or would that lose the effect of the game?
Not really, because it would have been too much work. Also I'm not an artist and I have no means of obtaining free 3D graphics and models. So practicalities dictated the perspective I used in both games. I must admit though, I still hope one day an artist will come along and offer to revamp the graphics for DD2! It would, of course, remain a tile based game, but a makeover of the sprites would improve the overall look.
How did you come up with the stories? Compared to most commercial games on the market, they both seem original and fresh.
Thanks! I made a very conscious effort to avoid the usual CRPG cliches as much as possible. Funnily enough, some of the better ideas arrived because I was making it up as I went along and had written myself into a corner. This is a good technique for forcing oneself to think outside the box. :o)
What games inspired you to create the Dark Disciples series?
With DD1 & DD2 I deliberately tried to appeal to the nostalgia many of us have for old-school CRPGs. I have the fondest memories of the C64 Goldbox D&D games and the Might & Magic CRPGs. Oh, and Baulders Gate 2. These all made me want to write my own game, although DD1 and DD2 didn't necessarily end up being much like them!
What are the main differences between the two games, from the developer's perspective?
For me, DD1 was the 'learn the ropes' project while DD2 was the 'Make the game I really wanted' project.
How will the series continue?
I don't have as much free times as I used to, so I'm not really sure. I'm fiddling about with DD3 at the moment which uses the DD2 engine and incorporates an overland exploration mode. But it hasn't really 'clicked' yet, so I'm still messing about with early stage ideas.
Have you ever received negative feedback for game content?
I've had plenty of constructive criticism, which I've taken on board and it's helped DD1 & DD2 become better games. Surprisingly (considering the nature of the internet) I've never had any derogatory or unconstructive feedback. I put this down to the old-school CRPG community being a great bunch of people!
What got you into video games to begin with? And what was the first RPG you ever played?
I grew up with the commodore c64: an awesome gaming computer for its time. I don't remember the first CRPG I ever played, but it might have been Phantasie. I really became an addict with the Goldbox D&D games, though.
Any words of advice from a developer of games - for both gamers and developers?
I think, for people that want to create their own CRPG campaign, they're probably better off using a construction kit for a popular game such as Neverwinter Nights 2. It's easier, quicker, and you'll have an initial fan base to aim your project at. Programming from scratch is only really a good option if you enjoy the technical aspect of coding algorithms (as I do) or are determined to create your own system.
If you want to program your own game, my best (humble) advice would be:
Make sure your design is realistic (there's a reason why it takes 50 people 3 years to develop a modern CRPG). Develop one or two good original ideas to distinguish your game, and don't overcomplicate the rest. You can always add extra features later down the road.
Be very receptive to constructive feedback from your playtesters! Their help can make the difference between a successful and failed project.