The long awaited(by anyone that knew it was going to happen) interview with SilkWizard about Silk Games latest installment NEStalgia has finally happened! While I couldn't interview all of the members of the development team at the time, do not worry. In the future, I fully plan to have another interview with the group once the game is further into development. For those of you that plan to work in a group with multiple programmers, you can take a note from SilkWizard here who seems to be near flawlessly working between himself and another programmer. I hope any future projects of mine can meet the same success. But enough talk, on to the interview.
Mikau: Hello, Ben, I'd like to start off by first thanking you for taking the time to meet with me. I know you've been really busy working on NEStalgia.
SilkWizard: Thanks! No problem at all :)
Mikau: I'm going to just jump right into some of the simpler stuff that we all may or may not know at this point, and then get more into the stuff that we've all been dying to know.
Mikau: When you first started on NEStalgia, did you have anyone helping you at that point? or did the others join you later?
SilkWizard: When I first started it was just me. I usually keep my games pretty low key when I first start working on them, because BYOND's fabled "Message of the Day" rings true. The best way to lose motivation on a project is to announce it before you actually have something.
SilkWizard: I probably worked on it for about 5 months on and off before making the initial announcement on my blog. A couple months in Spiff (tenkuu) somehow stumbled upon some hidden screenshots I had uploaded to the Silk Games blog while he was doing Proelium II work, so he found out about it early.
SilkWizard: Spiff joined a couple months in to the first round of testing. Long story short, he posted a message in the Silk Games staff forum that said "I have a present for you.". He basically took the initiative to code the NES-style naming system you see during character creation. From that point forward he helped code a lot of the "systems" stuff so that I could focus on game design and cranking out content.
Mikau: A lot of games that have multiple developers inevitably run into the problem of having conflict amongst ideas of how the game is going, or where it is going, did the two of you ever run into that problem?
SilkWizard: Not at all. Spiff is great, because he was fully aware that I already had a vision for the game - he just wanted to help me see it to fruition. He's probably a bigger old-school RPG buff than I am! I think that the only way to work this type of thing is to have one person who has "final say" about stuff. Spiff (and others) sometimes throw out ideas that I never would have thought of that add a lot to the game. Other times I push back against ideas that don't fit my overall vision for how the game should be, and everyone is fine with it.
Mikau: Most of the time group development has different members that each do a seperate job, pixel art and programming being the two major ones, but both you and Spiff are programmers. How do you guys keep yourself organized with your code?
SilkWizard: That's a really good question. We've kind of developed a system where I am the "keeper of the code", and I send the latest source to Spiff after every update. We try to coordinate about what areas of the code we're currently working on, so when he has changes he'll either copy/paste the procs he's changed into a forum post, or he'll send me entire .dm files to swap out. It's worked out surprisingly well.
Mikau: That's actually really interesting, something I plan to look into myself in the future. Anyways, a question that's always on my mind when I play a game is how much the developer was actually into it. Did you ever think about giving up on the game?
SilkWizard: With NEStalgia I've managed to keep up my motivation throughout most of the process. It's become much more complex than I ever thought it would, but the code base is very managable and it's easy to jump around to work on different stuff if I'm getting burnt out. Unlike Acheron's Awakening where life suddenly intervened for a couple years, I've had quite a bit of freetime on my hands lately as well. At this point I fully intend to see NEStalgia through to future content expansions etc.
SilkWizard: It's also worth mentioning that I really enjoy playing NEStalgia, and I've played through all of the existing content several times. I really love this game, which helps a lot.
Mikau: Do you think the difference in how it turned out was evolved over time by itself, or could it have been part of Spiff's doing?
SilkWizard: Working on NEStalgia has been kind of like writing a screenplay. Once you come up with great characters, a good screenplay practicaly writes itself, because the characters themselves will have to naturally respond a certain way to the plot twists that are thrown at them. With NEStalgia once I established the framework and the original test release, the game kind of naturally evolved into what it had to be. Figuring out what to do or add next has never even been a question - the question has been "do we have time to do it?". Spiff's involvement has absolutely affected the game. Me actually finishing the game on my own would have been a much greater challenge, but beyond that, Spiff has been responsible for some of NEStalgia's coolest features. The Marketplace, the Colosseum, the Casino, etc. etc. etc. NEStalgia would definitely be a very different game without Spiff.
Mikau: I really agree with that, and personally think when coming up with a concept for an RPG you really should start by sitting down and going at it with the angle that it's a movie before it's a game.
Mikau: You mentioned earlier BYOND's "Message of the Day", which has actually been more of a Message of the Decade by now, but jokes aside, another rule of thumb I tend to go by is that deadlines are just as deadly to a hobby project. Did you ever give yourself a deadline to work towards for the game to be finished?
SilkWizard: Yeah, I do give myself deadlines, although I try not to tell people what they are. I'm my own harshest critic, and when I set a deadline for myself, I get stressed out enough with the pressure I put on myself, much less pressure from other people! I've also learned only to announce solid release dates when your project is already done... otherwise you're setting yourself up for problems.
Mikau: So you give yourself a personal deadline for content releases, I guess as long as you don't announce it, there's no real drawback to not meeting the deadline.
SilkWizard: Yeah, I try to give myself reasonable goals to work towards. If I miss them, the only person who knows is me!
Mikau: As for the content, right now as you mentioned we have a colosseum and a casino, are there any plans for any more interesting places like that in the future?
SilkWizard: There is a lot more actual game content in store, but as far as cool side distractions like the Colosseum and the Casino, there is definitely more planned. More Casino games are on the way, but I've got piles of notes lying around for cool sub-games beyond the Casino. If all goes according to plan, what you've seen so far is only the tip of the iceberg.
Mikau: That's great to know, because a lot of people are enjoying this addiction you've wet their appetite with. Glad to see this is only the appetizer. Something I've heard people asking about, and now would be a good time to clear things up is about hirelings, or mercenaries. The game primarily relies on group effort and the players being social with eachother, but do you have any plans in the future for NPC group members for those unable to find a party?
SilkWizard: I think that I started the 'mercenary' fad on BYOND for these type of games with DWO 1.90... but I have no plans to add anything like that to NEStalgia at this time. Part of the reason that NEStalgia has 3 person parties instead of 4 is because I wanted to make the game playable for solo players without a gimmick like mercenaries. While I really enjoy mercenaries, I think that they take away from the both the strategy and the social aspects of the game. With NEStalgia my focus is on bringing players together. So yeah, the decision was made early on not to have mercenaries.
Mikau: I've heard rumours about the players being able to fly about the world of their own accord in the future, as well as the airships(if they are airships) being used as a type of player house. Is this true, and if so, how would it work concerning players logging out and such?
SilkWizard: Yeah, the plan for way down the road is to have purchasable air ships that also function as customizable player houses. Thanks to Spiff, the framework for this is actually already in the game. Picture FF3/4 style airships, where once they land you get onboard and can walk around inside them. One player takes control of the wheel and flies around while everyone else in the ship hangs out inside. When the ship lands, they can get out or welcome more people aboard.
SilkWizard: Needless to say, these ships will be incredibly costly. An airship won't be part of the main storyline, so these will be optional. We'll handle logouts elegantly, don't worry :)
Mikau: I think this will really open up how much people want to be part of guilds once the game gets to this point.
SilkWizard: Exactly. It will give people a real sense of belonging and ownership in the game.
SilkWizard: But again, Airships won't be in the game for some time.
Mikau: Now, switching topics, the items in the game have always reminded me of Diablo 2 in the sense that you have normal items, coloured items that boost stats, and unique items that have seperate names and are often better than what you can normally find. However, I've noticed in the game specifically that there is a headpeice, as well as armor with the same name, Hidden cloak/cap of the DSF. Does this mean that in the future the game will have a type of "set" equipment groups providing further boosts upon wearing the complete set?
SilkWizard: I'm a huge Diablo 2 fan. I'd absolutely love to add "set" gear to NEStalgia, and I likely will down the road. Item hunting has turned into one of the major past times for NEStalgia players, so I'd love to give them more cool stuff to hunt for.
Mikau: Down the road, long long down the road hopefully, do you plan to have an end for the story? I've always seen you as a writer before a developer, do you plan to keep writing the story to see how far you can take it?
SilkWizard: Yeah the story is actually already written, for the most part. I've got documents with the entire history of the world explained in detail, as well as a "treatment" the is basically the game's main storyline in short story form. The story will have an ending, and everything you see on your way there is carefully planned. There is still plenty of room for story content outside what I've written already, but I know where everything is headed and how the plot ends.
Mikau: Once we reach the end of the main storyline, do you plan to evolve side stories amongst the characters? Point in example would be the relationship between Mildred, and her daughter Elma.
SilkWizard: I think that a lot of the characters like that will remain static, largely due to the restrictions inherit in the MORPG format. That said, I do have an elaborate 'end credits' movie planned where you'll see where most of the characters you met in your travels have ended up. Pretty typical console RPG ending, but fun.
Mikau: Sounds a lot like how Suikoden ended, always interesting to have some closer instead of the game just fading to black. Let's steer away from the end of the game, and talk a bit about something a little bit more recent. The classes in the game now are really balanced, and I know there are plans for more in the future. Can you tell me a little bit about what we are to expect?
SilkWizard: Sure. We have a million ideas for new classes, so our problem is actually deciding which ones to actually add to the game. The goal for each new class is to ensure that it has it's own unique playstyle. Ex: we wouldn't just add another caster with direct damage spells like the Wizard and rename the spells.
SilkWizard: So right now I'm sorting through all of my ideas and all of the ideas other people have thrown out there. The plan will be to add 2 new classes within the next month or so. Right now the plan is to add another caster, the Warlock, and another physical class.
SilkWizard: The Warlock will cast spells using HP instead of MP, and have a very cool spell set. The other class is under wraps for now, but I'll reveal both of them along with screenshots in a blog post in a few weeks.
Mikau: and for those subscribing to the game, is there any more perks they can expect in the future? Perhaps more lounges for them to hang out?
SilkWizard: From this point forward people can pretty much expect that big new features (like the new classes) will be subscriber-only. All of the content will remain free, but from here on out a lot of this stuff will be geared towards paying users.
SilkWizard: So yeah, more lounges are only the beginnning.
Mikau: For those that pay, this is good news, but for everyone else, I can see a lot of tension building up because of this. How do you plan on dealing with those that plan to retaliate in reaction to this?
SilkWizard: I plan to point out to them that the majority of the game is free. I could have very well made NEStalgia entirely pay-to-play, but I chose to go this route because I want to have lots of people playing, and because it actually leads to a lot more subscribers in the end. I work really hard to ensure that Subscribers don't have any sort of gameplay advantage (which most anyone who has played can attest to). Finally, if someone is actually capable of geting that worked up over $9, that's a good sign that I ought to be ignoring them anyway.
Mikau: Well, we all know there are those that are going to personally attack you about it anyway. It seems that you're a fence people have to be on either side of, they either like you or hate you.
SilkWizard: Yeah I'm certainly not a stranger to controversy. I think people take a lot of this stuff way too seriously, but that's the internet for you. In the grand scheme of things I'm just another random guy on the internet who most BYONDers will never meet, so who cares what I say or do?
Mikau: Exactly. So with that said, do you have a favourite class you prefer to play?
SilkWizard: People moan that I'm just trying to sell subscriptions, but my favorite class is honestly the Conjurer. The whole damage over time/heal over time thing is really, really fun. Playing a Conjurer takes a fair amount of planning and strategy, which is great. Even though they're in need of a buff in a forthcoming balance patch, Conjurer is currently my favorite class.
Mikau: So the conjurer is going to be getting a buff in the future, do you have any other spoilers for us about what's coming up?
SilkWizard: Yeah I kind of talked about the next couple small content patches in my recent blog post. The 'Arctic Continent' that finishes up the planned storyline for this initial release will be out soon, followed by this release's end game dungeon, 'The Black Sanctum'. After that I'll sit back and relax and start plugging away at the next major content expansion.
Mikau: Alright, that just about wraps up everything I can think of, do you have any last contents for the readers?
SilkWizard: Just want to say thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Also, a lot of NEStalgia's success is thanks to the efforts of the testing team. Many people have been playing this game for month and months to get it fined tuned for release, and their work really paid off.
Mikau: It's no problem at all, thanks for taking the time to talk a bit about your game. I think part of it's success is about how open you've been with it, and how relaxed you are about the critisizm you get. I look forward to the future content.
SilkWizard: Thanks! I'm looking forward to the new content too ;)