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Kot-in-Action creators of Steel Storm Interview!

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After a little wait (Alex went on holiday!) Alexander "motorsep" joined me for question time this week at Gaming On Linux. He is responsible for the Steel Storm series of games!

GOL: First off thank you for the interview, can we start off by telling us a little bit about Kot-In-Action and the Steel Storm series?

My name is Alexander "motorsep" Zubov. I am the founding shambler (yes, that is what I have on my business card :) ) of Kot-in-Action Creative Artel and thank you for having me here, so to speak :) Kot-in-Action Creative Artel was formed in 2008, right before Quake Expo happened. At that time I had a sufficient theoretical knowledge about game development and Darkplaces engine art workflow, and I was eager to put it to the test. I wanted to make games since I played Dangerous Dave and Wolf3D (sweet high school memories).
So, it was 2008, Quake Expo was around the corner and I though it was a good opportunity to make a tech demo of my first game and showcase it. Gathering a team proved to be difficult as no one wanted to work on something that was only on the paper. I had to roll up my sleeves and plunged into work. My primary field of expertise is art, but I had to learn some QuakeC and create basic gameplay for my game, which was titled "Prophecy: Return of the Blademaster". Once basic framework was in place, I again began looking for a game logic coder, who could help me finish the tech demo. Although I have a playable prototype, I was having hard time finding a coder. As you might know the ratio of artist to programmers in the game industry is 10/1 and good programmers are hard to find.
I was fortunate to get Clay "daemon" Cameron interested in joining the project and helping me finishing it. The tech demo was never released to the public, but the video of the gameplay was released during Quake Expo 2008. The showcase was received quite favorably and we began planning for a fully fledged game to be developed. After estimating the time and effort for the dream to come true, we decided against it and The Prophecy had to be put on hold. The game required a lot of art assets and huge amount of code to be created. Neither of us was confident in our skills and ability to pull it off. I had another idea in mind, a simple arcade shooter with WASD control scheme. We agreed to make the game and shortly after, the preliminary design document was written. Steel Storm was born. The game was meant to provide player with short bursts of gameplay. It was designed to be episodic and it had to be very old school. During the course of the development we added more features, refined the gameplay and made it into what the game is today.

GOL: Do you guys work for Kot-In-Action full time or are some of you just part timers with another job on the side?

When we began the development cycle, both of us had full time jobs. Through the course of the development, which lasted 3+ years, we went through several full-time and part-time jobs and developed the game part time. The jobs we held were not in the game development field. Once the Steel Storm: Burning Retribution was released, we quit our jobs and began working at full capacity as indie game developers, full time.

GOL: What is your operating system choice and why?

Windows has been alway my primary and only platform of choice until I tried Ubuntu. When Ubuntu 8.04 came out, I read quite a few reviews and got an impression that Linux came to the point that it could serve as an alternative OS to Windows. Out of curiosity I installed it on my PC and I liked it. It was a smooth transition for me and I have been using Ubuntu Linux since then. It became my work platform since 2009, when Ubuntu 9.04 came out.
Darkplaces engine's tool chain is very Linux oriented, if I may say so. All the tools are command line tools. Compiling Darkplaces engine on Linux is a breeze, same goes for the NetRadiant, a level editor that is compatible with ID Tech games, starting from Quake 1 and ending with Doom 3 I believe. I can keep the tech and it's tools up to date, without a need to find someone to help me to compile most recent builds on Windows or figure out why some libs are missing and how to compile those libs on Windows.
My Windows XP copy is 32bit and I can not take full advantage of my hardware with it. Basically everything works faster for me on Linux 64bit than on Windows 32bit. I also get higher fps in games that utilize OpenGL renderer :) Nowadays every piece of hardware I buy works out of the box with Ubuntu, so for the most part I don't have to worry much about compatibility with Linux any longer. Heh, I can even make my desktop looks like Mac OSX desktop with Cairo ;) All of the apps I use for the development work natively on Linux. I had no problems getting SVN and Web server up and running on my Linux machine. I have no clue if I could setup the same infrastructure as easily and for free(!) on Windows. Probably not.
Those are the reasons why I stick with Linux vs Windows. I suppose if Darkplaces was created on Windows for Windows, or I would be using UDK or Unity, I would never experienced Linux OS.

GOL: Was it particularly hard for you to support Linux? What was the biggest hurdle for you and how do you think that can be changed? Also did you always plan to be cross platform?

Supporting Linux was super easy as it's my platform of choice and the Darkplaces engine runs on Linux natively. The biggest hurdle was reaching Linux's gaming audience and distributing the game on Linux. Linux gaming audience is very fragmented. The was no centralized service similar to Steam and no centralized gaming portal that would congregate the audience. Big gaming sites rarely focus on Linux games and gamers, and therefore it's hard to get exposed through the traditional channels. Now we have mighty Desura on Linux and that, hopefully, will change things around. Another major issue is the attitude toward commercial projects on Linux. Not only an average Linux user seems to understand the basics of the economy, but also some software engineers have no idea how real-life economy works outside of corporate contracts. Sure, there are companies that invest in free open-source software for Linux, but I don't see any corporations paying indies or big companies to make free high quality games for Linux. This model is not sustainable and until most of the Linux users understand that by paying for Linux games / apps they support growth of that sector of industry, Linux gaming will stay in the shadow of the Windows / console gaming industry. The reason I am saying that is that I have been told many times by gamers that since Steel Storm is made for Linux, it must be free, because Linux itself is free. This is wrong and damaging thinking.
To answer the second part of the questions I will say that since Darkplaces is cross platform game engine, going cross platform was never in question.

GOL: The engine behind Steel Storm, is it custom made? If it was custom made why did you decide on a new engine over an existing one? If it was not custom, then why that engine?

The Darkplaces engine was designed by Forest "LordHavoc" Hale, a brilliant self-taught software engineer. He took source code of GPL GLQuake engine, released by ID Software long time ago and decided to refine it with the purpose of producing better picture. He wanted to play Quake with cool effects and such, and he accomplished it. While the engine is about 10 years old (or even older), it's capable of what ID Tech 4 is capable of minus megatextures. By no means it's a bare Quake engine. It's a sophisticated piece of tech with completely rewritten renderer, networking and some other parts. Yes, it's based on Quake engine, but it's Quake engine no longer.
Steel Storm is using stock Darkplaces engine. Whole game is written using QuakeC scripting language from scratch. The reason why we used Darkplaces engine is simple - we come from Quake modding community and we have been familiar with the tech. Also, as I recall, there was no other engine available for free or for a small fee at the time we began working on The Prophecy. So there was nothing to choose from and we did not want to start a mod for Source engine or Unreal engine and hoped that in the future, maybe, Valve or Epic would grant us a full binary license so we could release a commercial title. We did not want to take that risk, make a game and were not able to sell it.

GOL: Why did you decide to release the first episode for free? I have read before that you enjoy Demo's for games, was it just because you wanted a form of Demo for the next part - i mean was it actually planned like that?

Looking back I can tell you that it was a big mistake releasing Episode 1 for free. We needed to measure the reaction of the community to our game, and that's the only reason we released it for free. We wanted to build up a user base who would buy the follow-up episodes. A major flaw was not providing means for a feedback to our users. There was no (and there is not to this day) way that users can momentarily tell us about the bugs they encountered or provide a suggestion to us. I hate to say that, but majority of the modern gamers are much lazier than the generation of gamers I come from. So going to the forums and registering on the bug tracker is just too much work for them. So in-game communication tools are a must have feature in my opinion. Since we never made it easy for our users to reach us, we did not know that gamers though Episode 1 was too monotonous. In turn, we could not tell them that Episode 2 will have all the fun :) So we lost Episode 1 user base, which was around 300,000 users (according to your tracking stats).
Not knowing that information about Episode 1, we included it into the full game and we got burned. Most of the reviewers never gave Episode 2 a chance. They misjudged whole game, based on their experience with Episode 1. We have learned the lesson the hard way.
I do enjoy demos, but Episode 1 was a fully fledged game. It was never meant to serve as a demo. Demos are cut down version of the full game. Steel Storm Episode 1 had all the features and multiplayer enabled. It's just did not work out the way it was intended to.

GOL: What makes Steel Storm different to other games in the top down shooter genre?

Believe it or not, I have not played any arcade shooters since the days of Jackal on NES. I absolutely dislike vertical/horizontal shooters and bullet hell shooters. Those are the reasons I wanted to make a different shooter. I think free exploration, FPS controls, flexible camera, built-in real-time collaborative missions editor (few people can work on the same mission at once, like in Minecraft) and multi-player component are the elements that make Steel Storm: Burning Retribution different from other arcade shooters.

GOL: Has Steel Storm been a success for you so far?

Absolutely, but it could have done better :) Marketing is 90% of the success. The other 10% is making a compelling game and finishing it.

GOL: A quick question about Gameolith if i may, a recently released game store for Linux which i see Steel Storm has been put onto, how is it going so far with them?

It's not going. Last time I checked, there was 1 sale. As I mentioned earlier, marketing is everything. Apparently, marketing muscles is what Gameolith is missing right now. It's always the same story - good fellas, good intentions, but no marketing muscles :(

GOL: Now you timed this interview perfectly for this one - How come you decided to enter late into the latest Humble Indie Bundle? Do you get anything other than publicity from it? Either way it's awesome.

We decided to enter HIB2 with Steel Storm Episode 1 as a free bonus (we asked for no compensation whatsoever) and got rejected by HIB3 guys. Then I personally asked them to check out Steel Storm: Burning Retribution and gauge if it's up to their standards and if it can make it into HIB3. I heard nothing back. It was their last minute decision to include Steel Storm: Burning Retribution into HIB3. I don't know exactly why, but they made that decision. We were offered a tiny-tiny fraction of what HIB3 made, a very small (compare to the profits of HIB3) fixed amount of money. We were tracking their sales and HIB3 sales were going down. When Steel Storm was released as a bonus, their sales jumped up significantly. Despite that, we did not get any bonus, and by any bonus I mean even a dollar or anything of that nature, something symbolic. Basically, we were told that the publicity we will be getting will pay on it's own. We were told our sales will sky rocket just because we were in the HIB3. None of that happened. Sales dropped sharply after HIB3. We did get a lot of users who redeemed their copy of Steel Storm on Steam and Desura. So we are hoping to get our current user base, which we gained with HIB3, interested in our upcoming games. So only time will tell if HIB3 was awesome deal or not. Maybe, maybe not. If it works out as a long term investment, it will be awesome indeed. If not, I will never ever participate in such capacity (as a bonus item for a small fixed payout) in the future HIB bundles. We all do have bills to pay and families to feed, don't we?

GOL: For a laugh - what was you're most outrageous request you received for Steel Storm?

To add a deep story, characters, RPG kind of stuff. Basically remake Steel Storm into a game it was never meant to be :)

GOL: Any plans for an Episode 3 of steel storm, if so any radical changes or cool new features you care to share with our readers?

We changed the naming scheme for the additional content. "Episodes" are gone with the latest patch. You will no longer see Episode 1 in the game and what is used to be Episode 2 is called simply Burning Retribution now. We are working on the upcoming DLC for Steel Storm, working title of which is Steel Storm: Anomaly. It will be a mission pack, with 3 new maps with a short story behind it, 2 new weapons, a gadget, and perhaps few new enemies. It will be a single-player / co-op oriented DLC. No radical changes will be coming to the gameplay.
Speaking of new content, we have released a pre-alpha of the internal prototype of the mod, called Steel Storm: Towers of Doom. It features MOBA gameplay and is a PvP multi-player mode. It's raw, but very playable and fun. The mod currently available to Steam and Desura users only. You can check out some videos on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hR64HhKKMr4 , http://t.co/TQ81dmlE , http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGspF4CJJ4Q
Towers of Doom may eventually be made into a standalone game if we have massive positive feed back and huge user base for the mod.

GOL: Now you sent me a little tweet before about what could be a new game Kot-In-Action are doing, could you tell us a little bit about your plans for it?

Video of what I am talking about:
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(An old prototype)

While we work on DLC for Steel Storm, we also work on our new game, codename "Tomes of the Mephistopheles". It will be an adventure game with emphasis on exploration, combat, crafting/trading and building up player's experience, withing a persistent magical world. The game will feature solid single-player experience and up to 4 player co-op (actually there could be many more co-op players, but in reality it's actually hard to find 3 other persons to play any game, unless it's an MMO). The official announcement will be coming soon :)

GOL: Any favourite Indie games at the moment?

Shame on me, I have not been playing any games since I began working on Steel Storm. I have backlog of games on Steam I've yet to install and play. Also I do not like, absolutely do not like so called "nuovo" games (experimental gameplay that is), which is what trendy nowadays. It seems like the weirder the game is, the weirder it's gameplay is, the more awards it takes, the more praise it gets. I don't fall for it. I prefer and enjoy orthodox gameplay, with maybe some new elements. Therefore I am looking forward the following games to play, as it appear to be fun: Magicka, Torchlight, Amnesia, Natural Selection 2.

GOL: Any words you would like to end the interview on to tell our readers? Perhaps some encouraging words to other Indie devs?

If you truly want to see many more good games on Linux, please don't drink that coffee at a coffee shop or eat a store bough sandwich - save the money for a good Linux game! :) j/k
I would like to encourage Linux users to participate in rating Linux games on MetaCritic and other similar sites. Write up a small reviews about Linux games you have played. Support the indies with kind word at least.
Indies always know what they need to do :) Nevertheless, I would like to encourage them to make high quality games. Please don't think you have to make crap looking game or go for 8-bit look just because it's trendy. Go for a game you want to make, go for a game you want to play, don't do something just because it's trendy, of because a game of particular type made a lot of money overnight.

So big thank you to Alex for taking some time out from holidaying, programming and generally being awesome to sit down and do this for us!

Now go buy yourself a nice copy Steel Storm (Desura Link) if you haven't gotten it already!

Sorry if there are any errors, a lot of text to read through/clean up for formatting. Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
Tags: Misc
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I am the owner of GamingOnLinux. After discovering Linux back in the days of Mandrake in 2003, I constantly came back to check on the progress of Linux until Ubuntu appeared on the scene and it helped me to really love it. You can reach me easily by emailing GamingOnLinux directly.
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Hamish 3 Oct, 2011
I assume that "Tomes of the Mephistopheles" is going to be using their Unigine license?

I will hopefully be getting Steel Storm down along with some of my other HIB3 titles over Thanksgiving since my uncle is lucky enough to have unlimited internet. I can give a proper opinion of the game then.
Hamish 3 Oct, 2011
I assume that "Tomes of the Mephistopheles" is going to be using their Unigine license?

I will hopefully be getting Steel Storm down along with some of my other HIB3 titles over Thanksgiving since my uncle is lucky enough to have unlimited internet. I can give a proper opinion of the game then.
motorsep 3 Oct, 2011
I can't say for sure what engine we will be using. We are performing internal testing after which we can conclude which engine is most suitable for the project.
motorsep 3 Oct, 2011
Btw, the video featured in the interview is not the video of "Tomes of Mephistopheles" :P
Bumadar 3 Oct, 2011
have to agree with you on some of your comments, I got SteelStorm 1 and did find it very bland. It was only because of the HiB3 that I came into contract with SteelStorm 2 and was pleasantly surprised. Feel a bit sad though that your cut was so little. New missions will be a must buy though :)
Liam Dawe 3 Oct, 2011
Gah i thought that was the right video...oops what is the video i put in from?

I will remove it.
motorsep 3 Oct, 2011
No worries Liam, it's a video of the internal prototype of another game I had in mind, but "Tomes of Mephistopheles" can be counted as it's spiritual successor, but with First Person view ;) Keep the vid, just maybe note it's not the "Tomes of Mephistopheles" game.
Liam Dawe 3 Oct, 2011
Added a note to say it's an old vid :)
KIAaze 3 Oct, 2011
It was interesting to finally get a little bit of insight on how the HIB money is split between devs, notably the bonus games.
They added a slider to choose how much you want to give to the HIB2 games, but not for Steel Storm if I remember correctly. :/

As for Gameolith sales being low: I think it also has to do with the fact that the game was out for a while before Gameolith started, and then there was the HIB. So most people interested in the game probably already had it.
Liam Dawe 4 Oct, 2011
Yeah learning how Alex was treated by HIB was quite shocking really, not as good as they make themselves out to be eh.
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