No Support: The Developers of Indie Minion Master Go It Alone
Game Front 1-on-1 is a continuing series featuring interviews with and personality profiles on a variety of people in the vast and diverse community of gaming, including creative fans, passionate players, amateur developers and everyone in between.
“If you don’t have a good core game,” said BitFlip Games’ David Steinwedel, “no amount of pretty graphics — well maybe some people get excited for it — but no amount of pretty graphics will rescue it.”
Sounds obvious, right? And yet so many developers with gigantic budgets tend to focus more on getting the superficial resemblances to popular genres down, or on amazing cutscenes, often at the expense of the core game that makes people come back to it over and over again. But perhaps it takes starting from almost nothing to make the necessity of focusing on the core gameplay obvious. If that’s the case, then the guys behind indie developer BitFlip Games can tell you a lot of stories about making something from nothing.
The materials for their booth at the Penny Arcade Expo, for example, were paid for in beer. The office space they use is a loan through a family connection. The software they use to make their game is a combination of paid licenses, shareware versions, and goodwill from Microsoft for small businesses using the Windows platform.
They even fashioned the original build of their game from playing cards and cannibalized board games.
That game is Minion Master. Originally the vision of Game Designer and Lead Artist Delaney Gillilan, the game looks to mix deck-building and board game conventions, digitize the whole thing, and make it available for single player, multiplayer and cooperative play. But in its first iteration, Minion Master was a board game, on a tabletop, fashioned from whatever components were at hand.
“We sat down and … we said, okay, let’s start designing it,” said Guy Somberg, Minion Master’s technical director and programmer. ” We had just started to throw out ideas, and say, ‘What about this, what about that, let’s talk about this, what about this technology?’ And just eventually kind of focused and focused and focused, and got it to a point where we could play it, not on the computer, but on a board — on the hexagonal with little figurines from Heroscape and dice and cards and whatnot. And once we had that going for a while, we did a lot of iterations just at that level.”
Gillilan said the original Minion Master idea was born of his love for board games and their general impracticality. Even Minion Master, when it was first created on a hexagonal board, was nearly impossible to play easily. It would take hours to complete even one turn, Gillilan said.
“I’ve played probably every board game outside of Monopoly that’s come out in the last 10 years,” Gillilan said. “So it’s one of my favorite genres, even for computer games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Magic: The Gathering, Heroscape — there’s a lot of things that they do really well. But I noticed that even with, like, Warhammer and even Warmachine, one: It’s really expensive as a hobby. And two, it takes so much time. You spend so much time just setting up your board and doing this stuff that you have to dedicate a day just to setup, if you have a big board. And then you have to say, I have to get my friends over and make sure their wives don’t know, and then we get to play a game. And we can play four turns and you have to tear down and go home.
“But the core idea of tactics games is so much easier than a general setting. So if you can take the rules and make them really good for a computer to do, you can take all of that core fun of building up huge maps and getting huge decks and doing all these kinds of things, put them together, and make it a 15-minute game — we didn’t know exactly how we were going to do it, but that’s the key idea, is taking something, a genre of game that normally kind of dies out or it’s very niche, and saying, there’s a good game here, let’s make it for have more of a mass appeal.”