This week Gamer Limit catches up with Wolfire Games, creators of the cult game Lugaru. We discuss the indie game scene, surviving as an indie developer, and their upcoming game Overgrowth.
Gamer Limit: To start with, the stock standard question, can you offer our readers a brief background on Wolfire Games, how it came to be and who is involved?
Wolfire Games: Wolfire was created by David Rosen who has been making computer games since age 7. Because we were going to the same elementary school, I had the good fortune to see David create his first computer game in second grade. Using a black and white flip book programming language called HyperCard, David created an intense choose-your-own-adventure stick-figure war game. He even made his own realistic gunshot and explosion sound effects by blowing into the computer microphone. David’s game was so fun that it quickly spread around our school and then was promptly banned for being too violent.
David quickly moved on to other games. He made pong in basic, but realized it was boring and quickly added weapons like fireballs and razorblade launchers that could chop the enemy’s paddle into pieces. By the start of high school David was already making his own 3D games using C++ and OpenGL. Black Shades was David’s first FPS and has you play a psychic body guard trying to protect a VIP in a procedurally generated city of assassins. Towards the end of high school David made Lugaru, his first commercial game, which integrated brutal close quarters combat with fluid parkour moves. The Wolfire site was born when David decided to group his games together in one online location.
After releasing Lugaru, David was recruited by big companies like Crytek, but turned them down to go to college. After graduating last year, he decided to start Wolfire up full time. He is now joined by Aubrey, our lead artist; Jeff, our resident web guru and David’s twin brother; Phillip, the craftsman of our editor tools and myself, the guy doing whatever non-coding tasks I can so the other guys can focus primarily on game development.
GL: To jump straight into it, what made you choose a rabbit to be the hero in the Lugaru series?
WG: When David selected the Lugaru universe, he had a few things in mind. First he wanted to put his dog Wolfie into a video game as a fierce warrior. Second, he wanted to create a world that would set the stage for brutal combat yet wouldn’t be full of cliche characters like barbarians and space marines. Third, he wanted characters that wouldn’t fall victim to the uncanny valley. No one really has a preconceived notion of what a humanoid rabbit is supposed to look like so it’s easier for players to suspend their disbelief. Fourth, David wanted characters that could perform brutal, human-like moves that players can relate to without the same jarring trauma that might occur if actual human characters were getting beaten to death. Finally, the Lugaru universe allows for interesting species-based stereotypes. There’s something epic about the idea of a rabbit who despite his genetic and cultural aversion to fighting, still summons the courage to charge off fearlessly into battle against wolves.
GL: Also on that point how many different species are you planning to have in Overgrowth?
WG: There will be five species in Overgrowth: Rabbits, Wolves, Cats, Rats and Dogs. Each species will have its own strengths and weaknesses. Rabbits for example, will have strong legs and prefer kicking attacks while wolves will favor their claws and teeth. Rats will try to avoid frontal assaults in favor of stealthy sneak attacks. Cats will prefer light but sharp weapons, favoring intimidation over actual brawling, while dogs will wield heavier weapons and are well-accustomed to brutal and direct confrontations.
GL: Do you have any games that have inspired Lugaru/Overgrowth ’s anthropomorphic characters? Maybe Jazz Jackrabbit? haha
WG: Jazz Jackrabbit is a great game but David’s major inspirations for Lugaru were the 3rd person Viking deathmatch game Rune, famous for its decapitations, and a 3rd person combat shooter hybrid called Oni. David took his favorite parts from each game, added many of his own features and the result was the fast and furious combat of Lugaru. To this day I am not aware of any game that has come close to David’s streamlined and intuitive fighting system.
GL: Since you are creating such an insanely complex engine with such a small group of developers are you concerned that technology might outgrow your engine before you finish it?
WG: Haha, no we’re not going to use the Duke Nukem forever development model. We have a finite list of features we’d like to get into Overgrowth and so far we’ve been powering through them. If you browse the Wolfire YouTube channel, Overgrowth Facebook page or Overgrowth ModDB page you can see we’ve already got detailed terrain, a comprehensive map editor, sophisticated shadows, initial ragdoll physics, post processing effects, all the scripting needed to make a platforming race level, and we’ve just recently put in decals. We’re certainly not trying to win an arms race against the industry giants and their hordes of talented developers. However, for a small team, we will be able to offer players many of the features considered to be “AAA” at half of the AAA price.
GL:You have reported that there will be co-operative play featured in Overgrowth, can you expand on this? Will you be able to play through the entire game co-op or are you only planning a select number of co-op scenarios?
WG: We’ve had some successful multiplayer trial runs already. Our plan is to allow small-scale peer to peer co-operative levels. We’re probably not going to make Overgrowth’s core story co-op compatible. More likely we will have special multiplayer challenges like how many wolves can you and your friend defeat in a row before getting defeated.
GL: From the looks of it you have spent a massive amount of time working on the physics and graphical side of Overgrowth, what are you doing to avoid the trap which a lot of big studios fall into of having a great engine but lacking gameplay?
WG: So far we have spent more time on Overgrowth’s technology than the actual gameplay but that comes with the territory of building our own engine, the Phoenix Engine, from the ground up. All the technology we have built is designed to take every feature fans liked about Lugaru and pump it up on steroids. Our next major task will be to finish off our new animation editor. Once it is completed we will be able to start implementing our combat system, the most anticipated aspect of Overgrowth.
GL: Although this is still a long way away, in regards to piracy, do you have anything planned to try and counter it? Maybe the dreaded DRM?
WG: Right now we have a little DRM in the alphas just to make sure that they don’t leak all over the place. However, we will probably not have any DRM in the final version of Overgrowth. No matter how much DRM you put in your game, it’s going to get cracked and then it serves only to give your honest users an annoying registration experience while the pirates are free to do as they please. Similar to the Starcraft model, we may check the validity of user registrations for individuals accessing Overgrowth content online.
GL: Developing a totally independent game must be a massive financial hardship, how does the dev team cope, are you all moonlighting for other dev companies?
WG: Lugaru sales provided much of our initial funding but accepting preorders early has been a huge help to ensuring that we can continue to work full time on Overgrowth. Fans that preorder get access to the Secret Preorder Forum where they can download our weekly alphas. Many people really seem to enjoy the opportunity to watch Overgrowth get built from the ground up and because we’re working so hard, there’s usually something interesting and new in the alphas for fans to explore each week.
GL: Would you consider Overgrowth art or tech?
WG: Our goal is to make Overgrowth an all-around awesome game by integrating high-end technology with Aubrey’s beautiful art assets. I’d have to say that I consider Overgrowth to be both. However, at the end of the day we don’t really care what category Overgrowth gets put in, we just want to make it as fun as possible.
GL: And to conclude, we have heard that David (the lead developer) is an illusion, smoke and mirrors to mask the true identity of the dev team… would this be true?
WG: David is our fearless leader and he is most definitely real. We have put some pictures of him on the blog. Here’s an awesome photo of David getting an early start using a computer at age 3. More recently, we have pictures of David standing next to Ed McMillen, Jonathon Blow and Kyle Gabler. I know it’s hard to imagine that one person can accomplish what David has done, but he is definitely real.
GL: But on a more serious note will we be seeing a public demo or beta of the engine or Overgrowth any time soon?
WG: Right now only preorderers have access to our weekly alphas. We’ve been amazed by how much cool modding activity there has been in our Secret Preorder Forum. We’ve seen fans making their own models, maps and texture packs. The map Foothold is completely fan-made and is probably the best example of the sophisticated things people have been able to create with Overgrowth’s editing tools. We will definitely release a free Overgrowth demo later on but for now only preorderers can get their hands on the alphas.
GL: Thank you very much for the interview.
WG: Thanks for taking the time to interview me. To keep up with Wolfire’s latest Overgrowth development news, be sure to check out the Wolfire Blog.