JA: First, I'd like to clear something up. Are Team Disaster, Captain Disaster and CaptainD (also your nickname), all listed in various places as developers of your games, the same entity?
DS: Ha, not at all. “Captain Disaster” is the name of a character I wrote some short stories about many years ago, and have more recently started making games about (The Dark Side of the Moon is out as freeware, although I’m going to be releasing a talkie version soon; Death Has a Million Stomping Boots is planned for release around July / August 2015, and There’s A Hole In My Galaxy is planned to be released… er… sometime.) “CaptainD” is an online name I’ve been using for over a decade now, it’s just meant to be a shortened form of "Captain Disaster" although a lot of people seem to have assumed it’s short for “Captain Dave”!
When we started making Captain Disaster we had been trying to think of a name for ourselves as a dev group, and one of the team just threw out the name “Team Disaster” pretty much as a joke. The name stuck, though, so now it relates to the dev group of any game I’m heading up. So hopefully, you’ll end up seeing a lot of games by Team Disaster over the coming years! (I’m also working with other teams, it’s only “my” games that are coming out under the Team Disaster label.)
There… I bet you’re glad you asked now!
JA: Your games feature a retro, pixel-art style. Can you tell us what attracts you to this kind of style?
DS: Nostalgia I guess, and maybe old age. To be honest, I love high-res adventure games as well, and indeed games of most genres, but somehow the classic 320x200 resolution keeps tugging me back. I guess it’s partly because I first fell in love with adventure games back in my Atari ST games – Zak McKraken and The Secret of Monkey Island mainly – and I have such fond memories of those that maybe it clouds my judgement a little. I’ve also been fortunate to work with some terrific pixel artists, especially on Troll Song, which has made me love the retro style even more.
JA: The upcoming Troll Song is billed as the troll story we haven't been told. I don't know much about trolls (other than they're usually bad guys), so can you clue us in on what's different? Will the game be a comedy, as your other games are?
DS: The difference is – with notable exceptions such as Discworld of course – that trolls are generally portrayed to be nothing more than lumbering brutes – as you say, the bad guys, but even worse than that – bad guys with no motivation, no personality. Just lumps of stone that are incredibly strong and incredibly stupid.
The trolls in Troll Song are different in a couple of major ways – they have real personalities, and they are not the bad guys at all (although other characters in the game may see them that way). I’ve changed their whole creation mythos to something that is, I hope, something both interesting and believable.
I want the player to connect with Clod and the other trolls – to see them as real people. I think I may have gone too far without realising it though – a repeated comment I’ve seen from people is that Clod is “cute!!” Not quite sure how that happened.
There will certainly be moments of comedy in the game, but the main focus is on strong story-telling and characterisation – so it will be a very different atmosphere. There will be bits that make you laugh but also several extremely emotional moments. Will it be enough to make a grown man cry? Well… I don’t know about that. But it will be a game with a lot of heart (whereas Captain Disaster is generally just unremittingly daft!).
JA: I understand that Troll Song was originally intended to be a series of episodes (also called "verses") released as freeware, then a decision was made to release it as a single commercial game. I've recently read, however, that the first chapter will be released as freeware, and the balance of the game will be released commercially in 3Q 2015. Is this the case? If so, can you tell us what was behind these decisions?
DS: Yes, that’s absolutely correct. There were a number of drivers behind this – partly for myself, realising that no matter how much I’ve liked some of the episodic adventure games that I’ve played – particularly by TellTale Games – there’s just nothing quite like a proper full-length adventure game. Another was the reaction of the game’s players themselves – much to my surprise, a number of people were actually encouraging us to make it a commercial release instead of doing it as freeware as we had stated. I guess people thought it looked good enough to pay for, or that if we made it commercial, we wouldn’t cut any corners on the quality. I’m not entirely sure, but the general consensus seemed to be that people would prefer a commercial release, and we really felt that as a full game rather than episodes it would be of a sufficient length and quality to justify that, so we decided to go for it!
As far as Verse One being released as freeware, it’s partly down to wanting to at least keep part of it in its freeware roots (given that I had reneged on my earlier statements that the whole thing would be freeware, which I still feel rather bad about), and the fact that when I played through the existing demo myself, I realised just how much of it had already been improved. In addition – slightly embarrassingly! – I was aware of just how terrible my voice acting was for Clod. The demo was very short, contained no sound effects, the hint system wasn’t there… it just didn’t represent the quality of the game we were making.
JA: I must say I'm a little confused. Starting in 2012, various anticipated release dates have been announced for another game of yours, the comedy sci-fi Captain Disaster in Death Has a Million Stomping Boots. I've read on the game's website that some of the graphics are being redone, and I understand that the third act has yet to be completed. It this correct?
DS: Er… I like to confuse people? Yes, when I first started making these games, my estimates of when they would be finished were painfully over-optimistic. I can see this now… what can I say, it was a rookie mistake!
JA: Further, a page on IndieDB shows that Stomping Boots was released on April 1, 2013. Could this have been an April Fool's joke? Also, game publisher Screen7 has a Stomping Boots page that includes a link to purchase the game. This leads to a page that says "Captain Disaster is still in development, check back Soon!" and "Expected release: Q4 2013." Do you currently have a relatively firm release date for Stomping Boots?
DS: If I’d realised this was going to be a “let’s find all the things Dave has publicly stated about his games which have turned out to be complete nonsense,” I may not have agreed to this interview! Yes, it’s wrong… my publisher is despairing of me… a team member set up the IndieDB page that contained the optimistic date (er wait, can I now claim that it was in fact a stupendously witty joke? Guess it’s too late for that now…). We genuinely did think the earlier release dates were doable, but real life kept getting in the way. House moves, babies being born, pressures at work… they all add up. The indie life is nowhere near as glamorous as some people think!
But for Stomping Boots, we now have a more-or-less definite release date of July / August 2015 in mind. Yes, we are redoing some graphics, and Act III is mostly mapped out but not completely in production, but we should be able to keep to that schedule. I am, however, making no cast iron promises.
JA: Okay, now. There are two other Captain Disaster games: The Dark Side of the Moon, released as freeware in August 2013, and the unreleased There's a Hole in My Galaxy!. (BTW, I love the references to Pink Floyd and sci-fi TV shows and movies in Dark Side.) Were/are these in development at the same time you were developing Stomping Boots and Troll Song? If so, what made you decide to work on all of these games at once?
DS: The games have largely been in production simultaneously; I can only claim insanity really. Much as I would really love to work on one project and just see that one through before starting another, I don’t find it works out that way. Most of the people I work with also have a number of projects on the go at the same time. Until you’re actually focused on making your living from getting projects shipped I guess that’s just the way it goes for a lot of us – spread your efforts across a lot of potentially successful projects instead of focusing on one potentially successful project. Having teams of people all working in their spare time for free (at least until the game is on sale) is a highly inefficient and often stressful way of trying to get something done, but it’s often the only real option for new indie devs.
JA: In an entry in your devblog dated September 2012, Galaxy is reflected as the second Captain Disaster game and is described as freeware. Your post in the AGS forums reflects a 2014 release date; it also says the release is to follow Stomping Boots. Is there currently a relatively firm release date for Galaxy?
DS: Did I really say it was freeware? Huh, I was going to try to charge for it (although a very low cost – maybe if I release it as “Pay If You Want” I can cover both bases?). It is planned for release after Stomping Boots, and at this stage I really have no idea when it will come out. We’ll make it when we can. Maybe 2016?!
JA: I understand that the character of Captain Disaster is based on one you created some time ago in a series of short stories. Are these available anywhere? What made you decide to develop adventure games featuring this character?
DS: There are a few different ways to get it, but if anyone wants to actually help support me in my quest to one day be able to give up my day job and spend more time creating games…(pretty please?)...you can get the ebook for $0.99 from both iTunes and Barnes & Noble.
I actually always wanted to make a game based on the character, maybe not from the very first story I wrote (I actually had plans to be a writer more than a game designer), but certainly pretty soon after I started writing the stories. Unfortunately, my first efforts were terrible (using an old version of AGS, I think it may have even been when it was still DOS-based!), and I never got very far into it. At various times I tried to get capable people to help me make it but until 2012, no sucker fell into my trap. The plan initially was to create a series of small episodic games (sound familiar?!), each based on an episode of the stories. However, it soon became apparent that this idea simply wouldn’t work very well – the stories really did not lend themselves to porting straight over into a game. Fairly soon I had concocted a relatively complete plot and a legend was born… (well I can dream, right?)
JA: In addition to game development, you've also done voice work. Although you may have appeared in other games, the ones I'm familiar with are Captain Disaster and The Cat Lady (in which you play Jesse). Can you tell us something about the voice-acting experience? Have you lent your voice to any other games?
DS: Voice acting is a lot of fun! But it can also be quite challenging. The ones I enjoy most are those where I can do outrageously over-the-top accents and characters. Sadly, with two young children, finding the time and having any peace and quiet to do voice acting is very difficult!
I’ve voiced in a few games now. At time of typing this I play a suspect in Sleuth, and am voicing Detective Charles Davenport, the lead character in Jack: The Ripper Murders. I voiced 3 characters in Baron’s game Blue Lobe Inc. for the AGS Bake Sale last year, and that was great – I voiced a grouchy old dad, the player character’s nefarious arch-enemy and a robotic vacuum cleaner!! Most recently I’ve been voicing all 5 characters in Captain Disaster in The Dark Side of the Moon, and a very small role in James Dearden’s excellent Technobablyon.
Um… what else… oh yeah I voiced a lumbering idiot in The Apotheosis Project, that should be out soon. My very first role was a cockney caveman in Tino Bensing’s Unga Needs Mamba, which got me into the whole thing – I also voiced a spaceman called Charlton who’s lines were stolen directly from Planet of the Apes! Oh yeah, there was also Eggie’s Play It Again: An Improv Adventure in which he gave the scenario and let a whole bunch of people record their own dialogue, and then you could play the game with random people’s voice acting for each character – brilliant idea!
JA: What made you decide to start developing games? How long have you been a developer? Do you have any advice for those thinking of getting into game development?
DS: I guess I wanted to make games ever since I was a child playing games, way back on the ZX81 even and certainly after that the C16, Spectrum +2 and Atari ST. I was always dabbling with BASIC and trying to creating little programs and games. The only problem was, I wasn’t really very good at it!
I have had several abortive attempts to learn a language well enough to make games with it. It was only really in 2012 that I came to the conclusion that, while I could with a lot of time and effort become a moderately capable scripter using AGS, I would never actually be good at it. So I eventually decided to just quit the idea of programming my own games and simply stick to what I was good at (or at least hoped I was! ) – the designing aspect. I never made it as a writer, of course, but the skills I developed in crafting stories are extremely useful to a game designer, and I have wasted enough of my life playing games to have a good grasp of what works and what doesn’t (even given that everyone’s view of that is somewhat different). So I began by helping out in small ways on other people's projects and eventually, as I got to know some people in the AGS community, and I felt comfortable enough to try to get a small team together. It’s been a very stop-start process, but in the end it seems to be coming together.
My advice to anyone wanting to break into game development would be to get involved in an active dev community – whether AGS, Unity, GameMaker, or whatever appeals to you – and learn by seeing what other people are doing, and maybe offering to help out on projects that interest you. Cut your teeth on a few small projects to get a taste for it before embarking on any big projects (oh, if only I had taken that advice myself!). Game Jams / monthly competitions such as MAGS are good ways to get some experience and get known in a community. You never know quite how the dev communities will end up being of help to you, but in one way or another, they certainly will be!
JA: Is there anything else you'd like to say?
DS: Only to thank you for the opportunity to waffle on about subjects close to my heart! :-D
Also, if anyone’s interested in Troll Song or Captain Disaster, they can check the dev blogs, which I admit I don’t always find time to update, but I’m trying to improve on that.
Many thanks for taking the time to chat with JA. I wish you much success with all of your current and future games!