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I’m very pleased to be doing this Question and Answers article with Rich, Lin and Sam of Freekstorm with special guest star appearances by Michael & Maria.
When I first came across Freekstorm, two things really captured my eye, firstly in was the wonderful looking & colourful characters of your up and coming game Dr Kvorak, and secondly that you’re actually a family.
Thanks! We’re all really chuffed that you like the game characters (more about them later) and yes, we feel as though we’re fairly unique in that we’re a family studio. In fact, we’re always looking for other families who love to make games, so if anyone knows of any more, please let us know. We’ve only found one in the UK so far besides us.
So our readers can find out a bit more about Freekstorm, could you just tell us a little bit about yourselves and what you do at Freekstorm?
There are five of us in total. I am the developer so my role is to handle the game design and coding. I share the artwork with my son Sam, who is currently in his first year of studying 3D Games Art at HertfordshireUniversity. He has worked on Doctor Kvorak for the last few years after school and in his summer holidays. In fact, our kids have all grown up with the Doc. They’ve lived and breathed making games for the past five years, so the younger two in particular don’t really remember life without it. Being indie is in their blood.
So you can see that gaming is really important to us as a family. Everyone plays an active role in making the game. Lin handles the marketing, finance and legal side of things and our other two (Michael, 15 and Maria, 9) help with overall design, testing and audio. It’s a team effort. If someone doesn’t like something in the game then they always say so, and we change it. We feel that’s the best way of making a good game. On the other hand, kids can be rather harsh critics, so our egos have been somewhat bruised on occasion. Still, we hope the end result will be worth it!
How did you come up with the name Freekstorm?
We’re all gaming freaks so it seemed to fit. I don’t think anyone in this family could be classified as ordinary.
Where did your interest in the Gaming industry begin?
I’ve played games my entire life so it seemed natural to want to make them. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
There’s a long and torturous blog post about the story behind Freekstorm at http://www.freekstorm.com/archives/1492 if anyone is interested, but basically I taught myself to code as a teenager and I wrote and sold my first game (The Key of Asmar) at around fourteen. I went into business software after university, so making games was put on hold for a while. It wasn’t until Unity came along that we decided to revisit making our own game.
Had you made any games prior to Dr Kvorak?
Besides The Key of Asmar (which didn’t sell terribly well at the time) about five years ago I wrote a little indie game in Unity called Table Top Tanks, mostly for my kids. At the same time the family was really enjoying making short films together for a fun family project. We created a short animated film called Doctor Kvorak Destroyer of Worlds which went down really well at an international film festival, so we all decided that it would be fun to continue his story. And that’s how the Doctor Kvorak game was born – as a natural progression of both game and film-making.
I started of making stories and levels in Garry’s Mod when I was younger and I’ve also spent rather too much time creating multiplayer maps for TF2 and Left 4 Dead using Source SDK.
Who are the main characters in the Film & Game and could you tell us a bit about them?
Doctor Kvorak is a dastardly green reptilian intergalactic super-villain who flies around the galaxy shrinking planets and capturing the inhabitants (this is in our film Doctor Kvorak Destroyer of Worlds.) Doctor Kvorak the game features three friends, Greeboo, Micmac and Tiktok who have been captured by the evil Doc after their planet fell prey to his mighty shrink ray (it’s called a “bio-purification beam” in the game, but “shrink ray” probably sounds better.)
In the game, the player follows Greeboo’s brave and fearless quest to rescue his comrades and save his world from certain destruction. Players will take control of three characters, each with their own special power, who must work together to traverse the Doctor’s mysterious ship full of dangerous traps and complex puzzles. But all is not what it seems….just exactly who is Doctor Kvorak, and what does he really want?
You’ll have to wait for the final game to find the answer to that last question!
As mentioned above Dr Kvorak started life as a short indie film, which I must say is very good, what was it that you felt would turn these characters of the film into a successful game?
We’re really glad you liked the film. We really enjoyed making it! After the film festival, as we always intended to continue the Doc’s story, the whole family got together and decided it would be even more fun if we could do so in the form of a game. It was a family decision, although in retrospect none of us actually realized just how hard making a game would be!
I’ve always wanted to make a game, so this seemed like the ideal opportunity. In my opinion, the game medium can provide more depth of character than a film because the player can interact with the characters and feel like part of the story.
Would I be correct that the film will be included as a bonus feature with the game when it is released?
Yes. Although My Games Lounge members can also watch it on our web site http://www.doctorkvorak.com/doctor-kvorak-destroyer-of-worlds/ and play the Doctor Kvorak demo at http://www.doctorkvorak.com/demo-download/
All feedback is of course, very welcome!
Do you feel any of your individual personalities have gone into any of them, if so who’s most like who?
Well, quite clearly Rich is Doctor Kvorak. Not that I’m staying that I’m married to a seven-foot-tall green megalomaniac but he does have certain, shall we say, evil genius tendencies….
Gee, thanks. And Of course you’re not remotely short, blue and tubby!
(ignoring his parents) I designed the three alien characters to complement each other. So Greeboo is the main hero and he’s the cute one. He’s intelligent but not remotely athletic. In fact he’s rather clumsy and falls over a lot. He has to rely on his wits to solve puzzles. At Eurogamer Expo, we found that players really identified with him and older kids in particular really loved him, and I think that’s because of the way we designed his character. Players said that they liked the fact that he wasn’t your typical athletic hero lead-character, and he had to think in order to survive.
Micmac is the red one and he’s the fast and agile character. He also has a fairly unique special power, as does Tiktok who is the clever green insect-like female character. I don’t want to give too much away about their powers at this stage, as more will be revealed in the game!
Now we know about the characters, What is the objective in Dr Kvorak?
Greeboo has to rescue his friends and save his world. I’m afraid that I can’t say much more at the moment without revealing spoilers. Suffice to say that Doctor Kvorak has an evil and cunning plan, and you don’t discover what that is until you play the game.
What machine are you programming Dr Kvorak on?
My main development PC is a Dell Precision 690 workstation. It’s getting on a bit now.
What language are you coding Dr Kvorak in?
C# and of course we use Unity Pro as the game engine.
How many hours a day do you put into Dr Kvorak?
10+ hours a day, when I’m not working on our other software (we also develop a business app.) Yes I work weekends too. I’d rather work less hours but with two products in development, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.
I’m now studying 3D Games Art at Hertfordshire University which means I’m swamped with uni coursework most of the time, so unfortunately I only get time to work on Doctor Kvorak when I’m home in the summer. For the last four years, when I was at school, I worked on it at weekends and during the summer for about 7 hours a day.
I split my time fairly equally between our business application and Doctor Kvorak. You have to be very flexible with your time when you’re an indie and you have to be prepared to work evenings and weekends too, if needed. I don’t like the idea of crunch either, but when you’re a self-employed indie, you have to be prepared to work pretty hard in order to put food on the table.
Music/soundtrack is very important in a game or film, the music in the film worked perfectly, who produced the music for Dr Kvorak?
I produce all the music. As for the software I use, it was originally Acid Pro but I have now moved to Cakewalk Sonar X3.
From start to finish how long do you think Dr Kvorak will have been in development?
Five (very long) years.
Now I cant imagine working on games with my family. There must have been some interesting moments behind the scenes at Freekstorm, are the any specific moments you have felt its helped or hindered being a family Developer Team?
Actually we all work really well together as a team. We know each other’s personalities really well, so we know how each other thinks. We all really want the game to be a success, including Michael (brother) and Maria (sister) so everyone isn’t afraid to speak up if we feel something in the game isn’t right or needs changing.
It’s true. We really try to listen to everyone’s opinion, and if someone feels strongly about something, then we will change it. For example, one of the reviewers from the games press at Eurogamer Expo felt that Greeboo ought to be more agile and fall over less, so when we got home from the expo we took out his tendency to face-plant and made him move faster and more fluidly. It made Maria cry. She loved Greeboo’s clumsiness – to her, it wasn’t Greeboo any more if he didn’t waddle and fall over. So we changed it back. We realized that it was Greeboo’s awkwardness that made him appeal so much to kids. Greeboo is who he is. The game wouldn’t be the same without him.
And finally before a few more questions that have been contributed from our members at My Games Lounge – When can we see Dr Kvorak being released?
*laughs* The original release date was September 2011, then September 2012, then September 2013. So I guess it’s fitting that the next one is September 2014?
Basically the game has taken so long because we kept adding to it. The game evolved from a fairly rudimentary 3D platformer into a fully fledged atmospheric adventure-puzzle game with a developing story-line. We also added a level editor so that players could create their own puzzles and maps. The editor alone created another year’s delay because it took a very long time to make the UI intuitive and easy for players to use.
Plus of course we were constantly learning and improving as we went, so we re-wrote and re-wrote the game until we felt it was just right. Eurogamer Expo was also a big beta-test and was hugely successful in that we used the feedback from the thousands of players to improve the game even further. So basically we’ll release Doctor Kvorak when we feel it’s the best that it can be. (Yes, we’re almost certainly crazy.)
I wanted to provide you all with the tweet that accompanied the picture of Dr Kvorak and TikTok below , always good to see beings from another world enjoying a nice beer.
— Freekstorm (@FreekstormUK) January 25, 2014
What is the endgame for indie developers , is it a sell off to larger organizations or retaining a loyal fanbase?
Like most indies, it’s not about the money. It’s about creating the best game you possibly can and hoping players like it. We all really love creating games and we want to keep doing that forever. So really we just want people to enjoy playing it and to hopefully make enough money to fund the next game. Rinse and repeat.
Which game that is out at the moment makes you wish that you had created it and why?
I don’t look at a game and think “I wish I’d made that.” It’s difficult to explain but I guess I don’t want to do something that someone’s already done. That said, I’m really enjoying Remember Me at the moment and I’m finding a lot of it very inspirational.
I don’t think playing a game is the same as wishing you’d created it. If you really wish you’d made a particular game then you might be tempted to use that as a basis for your next one. So I try to avoid wishing I’d created any one game. But I’m an artist so I often see some element of a game that is visually stunning and wish I knew how to create that effect (currently I’m very taken with the effects in PlanetSide 2.)
If you could be any video character and live in their world , who would you be & why
Batman. It’s the Kevlar I think!
Garrus from Mass Effect. I love his complex character – and the Mass Effect universe is amazing. I just want to explore it.
Cate Archer in No-One Lives Forever. Such a good story and Cate is cool, tough and one of the first great female protagonists.
And here comes Michael…
(making a brief but important appearance after tearing himself away from FIFA): Duke Nukem. It’s just me (the rest of the family nods sagely in agreement.)
After you have spent so much time building and developing a game, can you sit down at home and enjoy playing the game after all the hard work or do you get it finished and move on?
On an average day I play Doctor Kvorak all the way through at least 7 times. So after work I like to play something else, otherwise I’ll be dreaming of little blue aliens all night.
I agree. After working in the assets all day, if I play the game then I’ll just dream about it. So I play something else in the evening.
Maria and I play it in the evenings fairly often. It’s our favourite game, and it probably helps that we’re not involved in the actual development process. Michael plays it but tries to break it. He’s thus our chief tester because if anyone can find bugs, it’s him.
If you do have any spare time, what games do you like to play?
All types of games. Currently I’m playing a mixture of Battlefield 4, Remember Me, Kerbal Space Program and Ghostmaster.
I want to play every game in the world. Really. But at the moment I’m re-playing the Mass Effect Trilogy for the seventh time.
With two businesses and three kids, I don’t get any spare time, but on those rare occasions that I do actually get an hour to myself, then I mainly play indie games. I’m currently (im)patiently waiting for Psychotic Psoftware’s Power Up which comes out next month.
Michael can’t answer this one because he’s too busy playing FIFA.
And introducing Maria..
Pokemon and Minecraft are my life!
Whats the hardest part of being a game developer?
Knowing when to say “that’s it, I’m done” (the perils of feature creep) and conversely, knowing when to say, “That’s too much, I’m taking something out.”)
Not being able to work on our game because I’m at uni.
Lack of security, especially financial security. Other indies who are self-financed and do this full time usually agree with me on this. Living the indie dream sounds incredibly glamorous but it’s actually pretty tough in practice, especially if your game takes years to create.
Whats the most fun part of being a game developer?
Being able to have an idea, bring it to life and have other people love it. Showing the beta of Doctor Kvorak at Eurogamer Expo and Norwich Game Expo last year was definitely the high point of the last few years. People loved the game, and they told us they loved it. Amazing. There’s no feeling quite like it!
Even if everyone had hated the game, I’d still be really proud of it. So I guess I’d have to say the best part of being a game developer is having created something unique that I’m really proud of.
Who is Easier to work with Sony or Microsoft?
We’ll tell you when we’ve worked with one of them! At the moment, we’re concentrating on finishing Doctor Kvorak for the PC, followed by Linux and Mac. After that we’d like to be on one of the next-gen consoles, but that depends on how welcoming Sony and Microsoft are to indies. We’re also looking at Nintendo. Doctor Kvorak could be a really good fit for the Wii-U.
From your experience do or did Developers have a preference to work on Xbox or PS3?
Indie developers have a preference to work on any platform they can.
And finally what do you think of the Next-Gen machines?
In the interests of full disclosure, we have an Xbox One so far, although we may well get a PS4 later on this year if we decide to port Doctor Kvorak to it. The Xbox was preferred simply because Rich and Michael are crazy about Forza and wanted to play Forza 5. So our decision between the two was based on the games, not on the tech, which is interesting I think. In the end, it’s all about the games themselves rather than a particular spec
I was fortunate enough to try both the Xbox One and the PS4 at Eurogamer Expo last year. They are both pretty cool, but not as cool as my PC! You can always upgrade your PC and then of course there’s the new Steam Boxes coming later this year. For this reason, I think it will be tough for the PS4 and Xbox One to keep pace with PC’s in the future.
Agreed. Unreal 4 is already developing tech that could not be used on next-gen consoles and PC technology has already surpassed the tech on the Xbox One and PS4, so I believe that in the future the really big leaps in innovation for graphics and gameplay will mostly be from PC developers. Although personally I can’t wait to see the new releases on the PS4 and Xbox One games in the next few years. The new consoles have really raised the bar and set a new standard for game quality. It will be interesting to see how the next-gen machines influence the evolution of games and to see what developers (and indies in particular) create in the future.
And with those very interesting thoughts on the Next-Gen consoles it concludes this exclusive Question & Answers article for My Games Lounge with Freekstorm.
Check out the fantastic Gameplay video featuring our little blue friend Greeboo as he negotiates the beautifully smooth 3D environment.
Please feel free to ask Freekstorm any questions you have in the comments section.
On behalf of the members of My Games Lounge I would like to extend a massive thank you to Team Freekstorm, Rich, Lin, Sam, Michael & Maria. I do hope Michael has put FIFA down to read the article.
Now that all of you have had the chance to get know them, please head over to the Freekstorm website & follow them on twitter by accessing the logo’s below.
I would personally like to thank Rich , Lin & Sam for taking time out of their very busy schedule to answer my questions and would like to wish them all the best with Dr Kvorak.
It has been great getting to know you and your lovable Characters, I even found myself calling him Dr K whilst doing the article.
Good luck with your studies Sam and I look forward to meeting you all in the future.