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Kamil Krupiński on Game Industry Production Work and Community Management

“A lot of problems that you can have in organizations that have 120 people can also be found in organizations that have like 12, so you manage at a smaller scale, but those problems tend to be the same.”

Kamil Krupiński gained a following as a games journalist and editor before moving into the development space. He worked in narrative and quest design on the Dying Light series alongside noteworthy designer Chris Avellone at Techland before moving into a producer role at Draw Distance. He is now a game director and producer for Awaken Realms.

Krupiński appeared on GameDev Breakdown during the development of Ritual: Crown of Horns to discuss challenges of production work and the evolution of Ritual prior to his departure for Awaken Realms.

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Mitchell: What is your position with Draw Distance?

Krupiński: I’m a producer. I’m in charge of planning and other boring stuff like that, but it’s actually really interesting. I decided at some point it might be an interesting career path, so that’s what I’m doing.

Mitchell: How early did you get into that position? Did you ever do anything else?

Krupiński: I used to be a journalist, then I was a narrative designer and quest designer, then I started at Draw Distance half a year ago as a producer. That’s what’s happening right now. I’m trying to manage problems and everything that this position entails. I joined them after they launched Serial Cleaner and a Mixer game called Halls of Horror, so my main project was to help with development of Ritual.

Mitchell: So before we dig into that, where are you guys located, exactly?

Krupiński: We’re in Krakow, in Poland.

Mitchell: What other industry studios are there?

Krupiński: In Poland we have CD PROJEKT RED who made The Witcher, Techland, the people who made Dying Light, we have 11 bit who made This War of Mine, and our friends across the street, Bloober Team, who made Layers of Fear and Observer. So yeah, Poland is growing pretty strong in terms of video game development, and the future is looking very bright for us.

Mitchell: Those are pretty heavy hitters.

Krupiński: Yeah. Every single year it’s getting better and better. We have plenty of talented people and amazing studios. More studios are trying to start in the industry every single year, so there’s a lot of stuff happening.

Mitchell: How big is Draw Distance right now?

Krupiński: I think we are about 15 people.

Mitchell: That’s pretty good.

Krupiński: Yeah we have some people in marketing, some people working on business development, and things like that, but in terms of the development team, we have somewhere around 10 to 12 people.

Mitchell: That’s enough people to make your job difficult, right?

Krupiński: Yes it’s not exactly easy. A lot of problems that you can have in organizations that have 120 people can also be found in organizations that have like 12, so you manage at a smaller scale, but those problems tend to be the same. It can be difficult and kind of weird.

Mitchell: Being in charge of other people and getting them everything they need throughout the day, your job must look completely different every day.

Krupiński: That’s exactly what’s happening, but I love that. I always love those kind of jobs. Whenever someone asks, “So what do you do?” my reply is, “Today? This hour? When? What exactly are you asking about?”

It can vary depending on the day, especially on a team like this. We’re indie, so everyone is pretty much doing whatever they can. Sometimes I’m implementing dialogues and whatever into the game. Just by being producer, I can implement dialogue, write dialogue, correct some things on levels, playtest the game, or do whatever is actually needed at the moment. That’s amazing. I love that. Some bigger organizations have to stick to the plan and do exactly what’s expected of you, so being indie is amazing.

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Mitchell: You must be extra valuable to them because you have writing experience.

Krupiński: That isn’t up to me to judge. I hope so.

Mitchell: Your previous game Serial Cleaner is still doing pretty well, right?

Krupiński: Yes. It’s pretty amazing how the game is still selling well. I think there are some amazing things that are going to happen in the future, but I can’t talk about them yet. You will be surprised when you hear about that. When I heard about some plans for our future in general as a company I was like “Okay, what the hell?” I’m going to be a tease, but I can’t tell any more about this.

So yes, Serial Cleaner is doing pretty okay. I don’t know if it happened already, but it’s going to probably launch soon on iOS devices.

Mitchell: Oh really?

Krupiński: Yes. It’s going to be available on mobile, so that’s exciting. I’m going to play the game on my phone. It’s amazing just to see a game that was made two years ago still living and breathing, that’s amazing. We hope Ritual is going to be another game that’s going to live long and prosper.

Mitchell: I do like Serial Cleaner a lot, and I like when games I enjoy either hit mobile or Nintendo Switch because it can be hard to get through a game that you like. We’re all grown-ups, and our days are busy. I know not every dev can do it, but if they can it’s really nice.

Krupiński: Yeah that’s what we decided to do with Ritual. When we started designing the game, we were trying to come up with something that might be kind of easy to port to Nintendo Switch, for example. We are focusing on our PC launch right now, but when you take a look at the game with the targeting system and the construction of the levels that last for three to five minutes, I think it’s going to work for mobile or Switch. That’s good to have in mind when you have a smaller game that might be a suitable fit for a platform like that.

Mitchell: It’s smart. It requires that clever modular design, nice compact experiences, I think that’s a really good fit.

Krupiński: Hopefully, but I don’t know when or if we’re going to launch it on the Switch. I hope we will because I love that platform and I need a top-down shooter, so I really hope we launch on the Switch.

Mitchell: I think a common strategy is to go PC, see how it does, then decide whether you want to expand on the content or move to other platforms, I think that makes a lot of sense.

Krupiński: Yeah. Adding things to the game on PC is way easier. I know that players hate this—and PC developers earned it—they tend to hate unfinished games released through Early Access. But when used properly, this whole idea of open development is something exciting, really. We can’t wait to properly support this, to give people new levels or new weapons, to test, and to listen to their feedback. It’s something you still can’t easily do on consoles. I never look at that as, “Let’s launch on PC and then just port it to consoles,” but it’s an opportunity. It’s something you can do, especially being a small company that doesn’t need to plan five years ahead in terms of marketing budgets or whatever.

Mitchell: I’ve looked at your Early Access page for Ritual and it lays out very clearly where the game’s at, what you plan to do with it, and I think players will respond positively to that.

Krupiński: I certainly hope so. I’m really looking forward to talking to the community, listening to them, and working with them.

At the same time, there’s a really interesting question here about the authorship of the game: what do you want to make, and what do people expect of you? People could say, “We hate this part!” You might have to say, “Okay. You can hate that part, but it’s a critical part of the experience that we have in mind.” I’m kind of afraid of this conflict that might happen at some point in the future because giving too much power to the community is going to be giving them an idea that we’re going to do everything they say. How do you say, “We need your help. We value your feedback, but in the end, we have a certain experience in mind?”

Mitchell: I don’t know if you’re familiar with Killing Floor 2, but its community had big issues with that. Certain community members felt like development had to go a certain way. I think if you’re truly listening and communicating what you’re doing well, hopefully it won’t be too bad. I understand that concern.

Krupiński: Yeah it’s kind of amazing to me. This weekend we wanted to get this demo that I sent you to the people on our Discord server. They started giving their feedback about weapons that we have, and some people said they hate the revolver. They say it’s underpowered and boring. Others said, “I love the revolver, just please don’t nerf it.” There are plenty of opinions and there are going to be more of them.

We realize that this is exactly what we wanted. At some point while designing the game, we decided that we want to give players options. This is exactly what we should have expected, that some people will love automatic weapons and some people will prefer just a crossbow or something like that. Someone might never touch a weapon that you love, and they love something that you will literally never use. This is already happening, and it’s amazing.

I kind of wonder what we can do in the future to embrace that, make sure everything is communicated properly, and make sure all of those voices are heard and nobody’s feeling left out of the discussion. That’s a really interesting thing for us right now. We want to do it well, but if you’re listening to things that are happening in the video game industry right now, you know that this is pretty much a minefield. Sometimes it’s very intimidating to do anything.

Mitchell: Ritual is a top-down shooter, you can think of it like a twin-stick shooter. It’s going to be on PC. I’ve said it’s like a twin-stick shooter set in the Diablo universe. It has that kind of vibe to it. It’s really different from your last project. You guys had something between Serial Cleaner and this, but the people who know you for Serial Cleaner are getting something new, so they should have that expectation.

Krupiński: Yeah. The way I think about Serial Cleaner is that it’s Hotline Miami in reverse. Instead of killing people, you clean up after the mess that somebody made already. Then we had another weird project. It was House of Horror, a game for Microsoft Mixer which is like Twitch, but people can make decisions. They can vote on things that are happening inside the game. It’s weird and it’s amazing.

After making a game for a streaming platform that allows people to make decisions, we translated that experience into a board game. We have launched a Kickstarter for that. After all of this, we have Ritual. Ritual is a top-down shooter that’s heavy on action. I love the description, “like a top-down shooter happening in the Diablo universe.” I love that.

The projects that we do—there’s a lot of weird stuff happening here, and I love that. I love that we can pretty much do anything we want. That’s what’s great about being indie. Ritual is a weird one for us because it’s the first time that this company is working on a game that features combat, so designing that was really something. It was kind of hard and exciting at the same time.

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Mitchell: It feels really good. I don’t know how to describe it, but when I picked it up and used my controller plugged into my PC it felt exactly the way I expected it to feel, it just worked. That was nice.

Krupiński: Thank you very much. It’s all about that screen shake y’know?

Mitchell: The screen shake was hilarious and awesome. Yeah.

Krupiński: It’s the screen shake and the controller vibration. That’s it.

What I personally love about this project—it’s kind of a funny story. This game was in development for quite a while, and it was a different game, initially. It was more focused on crafting and survival, and shooting was actually just a mechanic that was there. It was not utilized to its potential. At some point when I was kind of talking to Draw Distance and joined them, I was playing this demo and I said, “Okay why is this game not based around shooting? It feels amazing!” What they already had in the game included this amazing aiming mechanic. It immediately set it apart from other top-down shooters I was playing.

You have the twin stick shooters that have a right stick. You can aim in any direction you want, shoot, and hope that you hit something. What happens in Ritual is that you pull the aim button, and it instantly targets a nearby enemy. Then you aren’t wasting any shots, and this was present in this crafting/survival game that they were making.

I don’t think this game ever really clicked with the audience. They showed it off at PAX or Digital Dragons in Poland, and people kind of liked it, but they weren’t sure about it. Plenty of things were not working, so around November of last year, we decided to overhaul everything and just base the game around the shooting mechanic.

Building it out from that mechanic clicked instantly. It was amazing to see the game grow every single day to support this one single system that was so great. I think it’s great, and hopefully other people think so too. Your reaction when you say it just worked—I think that’s exactly the thing that we were hoping to achieve.

Mitchell: The overhaul you mention was something I meant to ask you about. I saw in the Early Access description that you said you’d been through a couple of big changes so I was curious about where something starts and ends up here. What you did worked out pretty well.

Krupiński: It was an interesting concept. It was a game about protecting the witch. In order to do that, you had to create barricades, craft things, and collect resources. Then at some point it shifted into a more combat-based game. So you had to protect the witch by utilizing the barricades you made, using resources that you crafted, hitting enemies with a melee attack, and sometimes by shooting them if you had enough crafting components to create bullets it was a huge game and it could have worked, but it would have required a lot of time to actually get finished and release a version that was polished enough to send out.

We decided to create a very simple prototype of the game based around protecting the witch by shooting with this amazing mechanic that they already had. It just worked. One of the earliest prototypes was just a witch in the middle of a completely black prototype. There were some walls and there were dozens of enemies attacking you from every single side so we were like okay what can we do about that? Let’s add another weapon. Let’s add a shotgun. Let’s add a crossbow. Let’s add grenades. Let’s add dash instead of dodge/roll or whatever, and we said, “Okay, this makes sense, and this is fun.” Then we would come up with new skills, new weapons, and new level layouts.

In January we still only had levels based on running around one hut in the middle of the screen, but then we decided to come up with new mechanics in order to make something interesting of the levels. We said, “Okay what can we do about that?” We started creating plenty of different mechanics, so for example: we’re going to have a level in which the witch teleports from one point to another. We decided to have something different, so we said, “Let’s get rid of the witch and make it a level in which your only goal is to protect yourself.” Then we said, “Okay let’s make you faster, and let’s add different types of terrain. We can do ice where you’re going to be faster,” and we’re like, “Yeah. That’s making perfect sense!”

Then everything was suddenly clicking, and we had plenty of different mechanics. We didn’t have time to polish some of them enough to include them in our Early Access release, but we have levels happening on ice or snow, and then with one of our patches we’re going to add levels happening in a swamp, so you would have to dash properly or find paths not to get slowed down. When you get slowed down, what happens when that enemy starts to go faster than you? It’s suddenly a completely different game.

At the moment we have that foundation of the game. It got very easy to go, “Let’s add that, and add that, and add that,” and the game just started getting better and better every single day. It was an amazing feeling.

Mitchell: How did you guys decide at what point to go to Early Access? Is it mostly driven by your desire for feedback at this point?

Krupiński: At this point, yes. We could include more weapons, more spells, and more levels, but we are playing this in our studio—and sometimes we have a playtester or somebody giving us feedback—but I realized that feedback you gain from game developers is very valuable but not always the same things players are looking for. With people you just take off the street and ask them, “Hey can you play our game?” they just don’t care. They’re going to be looking at all of the things that you don’t want them to look at.

Right now when we let people play the game, people who are interested in the game are giving us extremely valuable feedback because they’re invested in the game. So at some point we have to say, “This is the moment we can hit alpha.” We can have every single feature implemented and we need people to give us feedback because we can go in plenty of different directions, and we need people to help us decide what is critical and what they need to see. Do they need more challenges? Should we prioritize creating an endless mode or maybe new custom-based levels? We are not using any generation, everything’s hand-drafted, so should we focus on generating an endless mode? Should we just make new levels? Is this boring for people, so we should make more new mechanics? So on and so on.

For this Early Access release, we decided to go with 18 levels and they’re kind of different. Some of them are pretty similar to each other, some of them are completely different. Some of them are like one-shots of something really exotic, so we need to hear people saying, “This is great, I love that, and I hated that,” and then we’ll know we’re going to push our resources to this and that, and we’re going to say “This is not happening. This is not interesting to anyone.” That’s really important at some point.

Mitchell: Before Early Access, how were you attracting people to your Discord server?

Krupiński: Oh man, that’s…a painful question.

Mitchell: Sorry!

Krupiński: We’re a small team, and everyone’s working on several things at once. At the same time we’re working on launching Ritual on Early Access, two days before that we launched a Kickstarter campaign for our board game. There’s just plenty of stuff going on, and I don’t think we actually had a plan. We were just going with the flow. We said, “We need to set up the Discord server. We need to talk to people. So okay, let’s do that. What else can we do? Let’s do this, and that, and that.” I don’t think we had a plan. I don’t know if I can give any tips about anything related to our community-building or managing because I don’t know.

Mitchell: I hear from developers all the time who say they’re either having trouble gaining traction in that area or it just happened to work out. I guess in a way that’s kind of what you want. You want people to naturally, organically have this interest in what you’re doing and come find you. If there was just a trick where you hit a button and everyone trickled in, it probably wouldn’t wouldn’t be very valuable.

Krupiński: Yes, that’s true. I can’t say that our Discord server is a huge success. We don’t have like 7,000 people writing to us, but that’s okay. That’s really good because the scope of this Discord server is pretty manageable. We ask people to introduce themselves, and there are a couple of people who did that, and I remembered them. That’s what I want to do. I want to remember those people and know something about them.

The server is getting traction. There are more and more people joining over time, and it’s great that it’s not happening in huge waves, but it’s happening organically. So it’s good. I kind of like that because we’re not drowning in feedback right now. We can react to it. We can answer every single question that people have, and we can actually talk to them, so this is amazing.

I kind of hope that there are going to be a lot more people joining us and a lot more people talking to us. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, so I don’t have any expectations. I just hope that they’re going to see that it’s something that’s worth investing their time into because we really listen to those people, and we try to answer everything that they say.

One of the hard parts about that was actually gaining any media attention. That was hard. Every single indie developer is going to tell you the same thing.

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Mitchell: Pretty much. Yeah.

Krupiński: Getting any media outlets to write about you is just a headache.

Mitchell: It’s interesting, because in the beginning, you’re kind of lucky if you can get that small focused group of individuals and you can kind of get into their heads a little bit. You can go through what they’re thinking and really take their feedback to heart. Obviously at some point you have to go for big numbers, but along the way it seems really valuable to have that relationship with a smaller community of people. I’m hoping that works in your favor.

Krupiński: I hope so. I know it’s valuable, and I’ve seen it work in my life. I used to work for a print magazine, and their website was quite popular in Poland. It was based around these big personalities. You knew the people that wrote these reviews, so sometimes you were buying this magazine to read their reviews even if you disagreed because of this personality-based system that they have. I think that’s pretty much what happened in every single print magazine in Poland that was writing about video games, now that I think of it. Even today, some people who join our Discord server are people who were reading my reviews from four years ago. They remembered that. Some of them wrote to me on Facebook or on Twitter.

I always reply to people and try to talk to them. This relationship that you have with people is extremely valuable. I always try to find time to reply to them because it matters a lot to people who are just starting with journalism or game development. Sometimes you just wrote something that really struck a chord with them, and they want to say thank you. I say, “You are the one who should get thanked for reading that, and if it helped you in any way, that’s amazing. I feel great right now. Thank you for telling me this.” All you hear normally is this hateful feedback that happens on the internet, so whenever someone takes time to actually reply to you and say thank you, man, it feels amazing.

I’m honestly excited when I see people excited by things that I do. Right now we’re making a game, and when people devote time to talking to us about this game, that’s just amazing. It’s extremely valuable, and I love the fact that suddenly I work in an indie company, and I can actually write whatever I want in our Discord server. That’s not so obvious when you work in the triple-A industry. This happened in my life, and I’m super excited I can do that.

Mitchell: I tell people all the time, if you like something, you have to reach out and tell that person because nobody hesitates to say something bad. People say something bad all the time. So if you like it, you have to speak up and let that person know, or they may just think that no one likes it and stop doing it.

Krupiński: Yes. Exactly! That’s it. When you find something that’s great, find the creator and tell them that. It’s amazing. We take it for granted that somebody made something that we like, so we think, yeah they’ve probably heard it a thousand times. Why should I even bother to tell them that it’s great? Then at some point you do write to somebody and they say, “Wow, you’re the first person that ever told me that,” and then you are very sad.

Mitchell: Speaking of community and marketing, tell me what happened with the name change from iFun4all to Draw Distance.

Krupiński: Oh come on. Do I seriously need to explain that? We all probably agree that iFun4all is the worst name you’ve ever heard.

Mitchell: Oh not the worst. I wouldn’t say that.

Krupiński: Give me a name that sounds worse.

Mitchell: People try to come up with names like “Kick Ass Games” or whatever silly thing. Or they’ll go the other way and they’ll be self-deprecating names like “Not That Great Games.” “Fun For All” sounds okay.

Krupiński: The examples you bring up just aren’t funny. That’s the only crime they’re making, but iFun4all—with the small i like in iPhone and 4 like it’s 1993 or whatever…

Mitchell: It may be a tad outdated, yes.

Krupiński: It was just wrong. That’s just my opinion.

This company is actually really old. This company has been in business for like ten years now. I think they were trying to develop some mobile titles and this name was kind of okay for that, but after Serial Cleaner, it started to become weird.

We started to have some discussions about Ritual. You have a game about shooting demons, and it’s called “Ritual: Crown of Horns,” then you see the developer name and it’s called “iFun4all.” That’s weird, right? I don’t know how it works, exactly, because it’s related to the stock market or whatever. It’s not a new name of the studio, it’s going to become a new name for the studio, but it’s just something that we use right now. I can’t explain that because I’m too stupid to understand all that stock market weird stuff.

Mitchell: No you’re right. I was looking at this the wrong way. I was looking at it like, “Wow, they have all of this momentum with Serial Cleaner, and then they changed their name” which was surprising. The right way to look at it was that you’re about to start making a game about shooting demons in Hell, basically, and it can’t be called “iFun4all” anymore.

Krupiński: Right that’s it. Even though it is fun. It’s just wrong to release a game like that under that studio name.

Mitchell: It almost sounds like Young Adult. Like, “Hey kids!”

Krupiński: Yeah so obviously we’re working on Ritual, but we have other plans for the future, so that name wasn’t going to cut it. It was just not working. I’m excited that this finally happened. For a couple of months, I was actually jobless. I didn’t have anything written on my LinkedIn account because I didn’t want to put “iFun4all” in there.

Mitchell: I was kind of looking at connections between Serial Cleaner and Ritual, and it seems like there’s a very cinematic quality to your games. You guys must have some film fans. Right?

Krupiński: I think that our lead designer on Ritual has a college degree in film.

Mitchell: Well there you go.

Krupiński: That’s probably what it is. Also our writer is such a geek about movies. When you talk to him and you ask, “Hey man, have you seen that?” He’s like, “Yeah. Obviously,” and then he’ll start talking to you about some weird Japanese four-hour-long experimental movie about something, and then your brain just shuts down after like two minutes of listening to him about that. That’s what happens. He’s like, “Yeah these movies about cowboys are very interesting because—” and then you’re just like “Yeah man. Just stop. Please.”

I really appreciate that we have some amazing people at this company who have huge brains, and they watch everything possible. It’s just amazing to hear their discussions sometimes. Especially when the writer and designer get to talking about something. It’s just mind-blowing.

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Mitchell: If anybody needs to see what I’m talking about, start by playing Serial Cleaner, sort of get that story in your mind, and then just watch the trailer for Ritual, and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. It’s very cinematic. It’s in your face. Somebody’s a Tarantino fan and watches cowboy movies. It’s got all of those cool qualities, and it just takes you into that world. It’s actually a really good thing.

Krupiński: We actually wanted this trailer for Ritual to be even more—it was a discussion between me, our writer, and Kuba from Radikal Studio who made the trailer. We were saying, “Man, just push it further. Make it bigger. We want that Cartoon Network feeling from the 90s. Make it campy. Make it violent. Make it wrong.” He was like, “Oh no. I’m not doing this. It’s my reputation on the line. Just stop.” So we were constantly pushing back and forth on this. We wanted more Cartoon Network mixed with gothic punk.

Mitchell: There’s kind of a Rob Zombie vibe.

Krupiński: There is! We were like, “Eh it’s kind of cool, but it could have been so much better,” but then we are probably wrong and he’s probably right.

Mitchell: Well, that’s the balance you have to strike.

Krupiński: Exactly.

Mitchell: So it seems like the feedback for the Ritual demo has been awesome. What are people saying about it?

Krupiński: The main thing is that people really seem to like the game. They like doing challenges. They like the way our shooting feels.

Obviously, they need some work on our side, but overall, people like how the game feels, and they want to play more of it. They want to see our new features like gear customization or unlocking new spells and things like that. The main two criticisms that we’ve heard so far are—for some people—this aiming system is not working properly. They can’t get it working. Mostly it just happens when they are playing with a keyboard and mouse so we know that we need to do a lot of work on that to make it feel great. That’s one piece of criticism. The second one is that some of those levels might be repetitive. So these are two things that we’ve heard that are negative, but overall, the feedback is really positive and just amazing for us.

Mitchell: I think people have to sort of imagine what it’s going to be like when there’s a lot more to it between rounds. Upgrading things, I don’t know what’s planned, but I’m sure there’s more to do and more ways to customize your experience as you go.

Krupiński: Yeah it’s going to be in the Early Access release, it wasn’t in the demo, but something like unlocking a new cape for the cowboy. You can do that. We have new capes, amulets, and rings. You unlock them in levels and you just equip whatever you want. For example: we have a cape in our current build that makes you reload pretty much instantly, but then you get killed in two hits. So it’s like a buff and a debuff that you have, and it’s a total game changer for me because suddenly I can just spray bullets, and I’m getting careless, and then I die. We have a lot of that. We have things that modify your game.

At some point in the future, I can’t promise anything, but we’re thinking about combo systems, scoring options, and other things like that. We have the core gameplay loop, and everything’s implemented right now. The rest is just adding and building on that. In order to build everything else properly, we need to hear whether people like the foundation.

Mitchell: Speaking of variation, what do you mean in the Early Access description when you mention the real world data-driven challenge mode? Is there anything you can tell me about that?

Krupiński: What’s happening is that we are working on technology that allows us to collect certain data from our real world—let’s say the current weather anywhere in the world or in your time zone—and then tweak certain features accordingly. We’re planning to do a special mode for Ritual that’s based on astrology, phases of the moon, stars and planets, and they will generate certain challenges. For example they might pick levels from the game, put them in a certain order, and then you will not be able to get back to change weapons in the meantime. You will have to play them in this order that was picked for you. Maybe you’ll have to play through three maps that are each five minutes long, so you’ll have to survive for 15 minutes, and then you will have some statistics and other things tweaked. Imagine something like two or four maps, you have to survive them, and now enemies are like twice as hard to kill. Or your reload speed is like fifty percent of what you had. We want to have something like that. That’s the real world data-driven challenge mode.

Mitchell: I think people will be into that. I like that idea.

Krupiński: I’m excited about features like that because I’ve been playing this game for like half a year now, and it’s tough for me to have any challenge with it because I just know it. So I’m excited for things like that. Just make me scream in pain when I’m playing. I can’t wait for that, because it’s going to be randomized to some extent, and I just can’t wait to get my ass kicked by this game again like what was happening during my first month of development.

Mitchell: If you could pick any project for the studio to do next, what would you pick? Obviously this is just a fun thing, but what would you like to see the studio do more of in the future?

Krupiński: I can tell you only my personal opinion? Just me?

Mitchell: Yeah this isn’t like, “Game revealed!” or anything like that. This is just for fun.

Krupiński: Just for fun, what I would like to do in the future…this is hard.

Mitchell: Yeah it’s tough.

Krupiński: Some of the projects we were talking about may be made, so I’m trying to think of something that’s probably not going to be made.

Mitchell: Well this sounds good though. This sounds like the kind of stuff you want to do is maybe in the works. Or maybe in the future.

Krupiński: It’s great. It’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about this company: you can go and talk to the CEO and say, “Dude here’s an idea,” and he’s like, “Oh man that’s actually kind of good,” or like, “Whaaat?”

But something weird that I would like to make—I would like to make an idle game. Like a Cookie Clicker type of thing. About something stupid, probably.

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Mitchell: If those have a sense of humor, I like those.

Krupiński: Yeah they’re kind of good. Our programmer’s playing something on his phone. He’s constantly clicking this. It looks kind of fun. I always liked those type of games. It’s something that we will probably never make, so I’d kind of like to do that.

I also have a dream of making a proper old-school FPS, but by the time we could even try that, the market is going to be so saturated with that it will probably never make sense.

Mitchell: It’s harder to stand out.

Krupiński: Yeah. You have all of those revivals right now after Dusk was pretty much a success, and now you have Romero making a new game and so on.

Mitchell: He’s in the middle of something, yeah.

Krupiński: Oh, I know! I would love to do a shoot-em-up. An old-school arcade shoot-em-up. Like DoDonPachi or Ketsui or other Japanese classics from Cave.

Mitchell: I love that stuff.

Krupiński: Oh it’s amazing.

Mitchell: Well I hope you get to work on that because you can’t make enough of those games. I’ll play every one. That’s fine with me.

Krupiński: I’ll make sure to send you a code if we ever get to do that.

Mitchell: So being a producer is pretty great. Do you see yourself staying in that capacity or moving to do anything else? What do you think the future holds for you?

Krupiński: It’s a hard question. I used to work as a narrative designer and a quest designer, so I know how it is to work as a specialized employee. There are a lot of things that I’d like to do beyond that, and being a producer at a small company gives you a certain sense of ownership. You have a lot of responsibility. Maybe suddenly you have to decide which feature will be cut. It’s actually really exciting to be able to make those decisions, have the responsibility on you, and be unable to say, “Oh it’s just not my job to do that.” So this is great.

As long as it’s possible to have this sense of ownership, then I would love to stay a producer. Every single company has a different idea of what a producer is, so it works for us right now, but we’re going to see how it’s going to work in the future. I would certainly love to do anything that has a lot of responsibility written into the title, so management for sure. Then you have no way of saying, “I’m not doing that,” or no way of saying, “I just don’t care.” I hate that attitude.

I hate any blocks in decision-making. Your job as a producer is to make sure that there are no roadblocks during production, so lack of decisions is one of those huge roadblocks that’s happening at pretty much every single company I’ve ever heard of. So yeah I would love to stay like this kind of role, and I think it would be really hard to adjust to something different because my ass would be just so frustrated.

Mitchell: Makes sense.

Krupiński: Yeah. Just waiting for someone else to make a decision, I’m banging my head on a wall in the meantime. That just sounds like a nightmare.

I was reading about what happened during the development of Anthem at BioWare. It’s not a story about crunch. It’s a story about a lack of decisions. If they have people who are able to make decisions like, “Yes, obviously we want to have flying in this game,” then this could have probably been a much different game. Being able to say, “Yeah, we need that. This is one of the core things about this experience,” is just great. You know that you can fail, that decision can be wrong, but at least the decision has been made. So everything went one step further even though it could have been the wrong way.

Mitchell: I’m glad I asked you this because I like to hear people in your capacity say, “I have some ability to prevent crunch and prevent a bad workplace for people,” and maybe a decision is right, and maybe it’s wrong like you said, but you’ve made a decision, and you’ve given those people something to work on and hopefully manage the project correctly.

Krupiński: There are things that can surprise you if you never had any formal training in project management like I never had. Your management style is probably not going to be suitable for certain types of people, so you need to adjust to that.

Managing people’s morale while managing project timelines is really tough. You have this amount of time, but someone says, “Hey I have this amazing idea.” You hear that, and it really is an amazing idea, but then you just look at your calendar and say, “Oh man. There’s no way. It’s impossible to make that.” You have to say no, and this person loses a bit of hope that this project is going to be as good as they hoped. There’s a lot of soft skills and ego management.

On this higher level, when we’re talking about things like crunch, we were overhauling this whole game and changing it since November, and there was pretty much no crunch at all in this project. The ability to adjust course on the fly is just amazing because you can see that there is no time wasted. You can have this idea of how you’re going to proceed in the future.

You’re going to have a lot of power and influence over how a project is going to be structured in the end. Oh, that’s Spider-Man. This is what I should have said. You have great power and also great responsibility because you can steer the project in whatever way you want to, essentially. As long as it’s what your boss wants, you can steer the project a certain way.

At the same time, you need to look at the people who are making it. They’re going to hate some decisions because their idea of the project is different. When you have a huge company that employs 300-500 people, those voices just disappear because you have all of those structures. Someone’s a junior, someone’s regular, someone is a senior, and someone is the lead. There are plenty of departments, and no one cares because there are people on top who have the last word.

When you have a company of like 10, 12, or 15 people, every single complaint is heard. You have to decide whether you’re going to talk to those people and say “No, we are cutting this. It’s impossible to make that right now,” and risk the fact that they’re going to be pissed off, or just say okay, cut another part that you feel might be really important to the game, and implement whatever they wanted in order to balance this morale. It is hard.

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Mitchell: It sounds hard, but it sounds like you have your head on straight about it. I think that’s probably going to serve you well.

Krupiński: Hopefully. I hope I’m not going to come to work one day and see a guillotine there in the middle of our office.

Mitchell: Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Krupiński: It’s stressful. It’s hard making a game in a couple of months. Even a year is hard. There’s a lot of stress included, and I hope that even though we might disagree, it’s all going to work out in the end when we see people playing the game because it’s so exciting when you actually see someone actually playing it and sharing their opinion. It’s just so great. I hope everything’s going to chill and calm down after we release because those periods leading up to release are always the hardest.

Mitchell: Speaking of people interested in playing the game, where can people find what you guys are doing? Who should they follow online? Where should they look?

Krupiński: They should definitely follow us on Twitter @DrawDistanceDev, on Facebook, and feel free to join our Discord server and just chat with us. We are not currently starting new social media channels for our games. You won’t find an official channel for Ritual. We’re trying to boost and get people to follow our studio, not a game. So follow our Twitter, our Facebook, and our Instagram if you want to see pictures of dogs and cats, probably, because that’s what game development is about, right? And yeah feel free to join our Discord because that’s where we are at.

Mitchell: When will Ritual be available on Early Access, do we know?

Krupiński: 17th of May. Delete Created with Sketch.

Draw Distance posts project updates and news on Twitter under the username @DrawDistanceDev and on their website at DrawDistance.dev.

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By Todd Mitchell

Todd Mitchell is a US Midwest-based independent game developer and freelance writer. He's the author of Inside Video Game Creation, the founder of CodeWritePlay, and host of the GameDev Breakdown podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mechatodzilla.

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