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David Addis worked on the Burnout and Fable series, but now he's gone indie with ESP Games and the turn-based strategy title Miasma: Citizens of Free Thought (available on Xbox Live Indie Games). I recently interviewed Addis via email to talk about the inspiration behind Miasma, and what it's like to leave a big developer and strike off on your own.
Louis Garcia: First off, Miasma is pretty amazing, especially considering it's on XBLIG. How many people worked on that title and how long did it take?
David Addis: Just me, but I had help! At the start of the project a couple of friends helped create the debug menu system (for editing game settings while it is running) and the level editor. And I convinced some other friends (Gareth and Elliot) to do some icons and graphics work that needed to look professional.
XNA is such a great platform to start developing on — as all the maths libraries and rendering tech is already there — letting you just get on with the process of making the game. The XNA (now MSDN) forums were invaluable, and the other developers there are usually very helpful — there's a great sense of community spirit. These things definitely made the process easier and cut a lot of the start-up time I would have had otherwise.
That said, it was a slog for eight months, and I had to get quite obsessive about finishing it. It takes so much work to finish a project, no matter how big or small, and it's important to stay realistic about what you have the time and energy to finish, whether you work alone or in a team.
LG: While playing Miasma I got a little bit of a 1984 and V for Vendetta vibe. What inspired the story for the game?
DA: You're right, the game is definitely inspired by gritty dystopian films like those as well as Minority Report, Moon, and (going back a bit) Metropolis.
It's also inspired by real life! Companies already play a big part in running our lives — you can see this echoed in the actions of our governments all over the world (I would encourage everyone to watch The Story of Stuff for a candid and full explanation).
I tried to extrapolate this to a future where one company might own everything and become immune to antitrust suits. Hopefully the "loyalty drug" won't ever get created though!
LG: How important was the emphasis on story in your game, and how important is it for a game to tell a good story?
DA: It's crucial. A good story and believable, likeable characters are the keys to presenting any form of entertainment.
LG: What inspired the gameplay?
DA: I have sunk so much time into turn-based strategy games like Advance Wars and Front Mission, but I often felt a little detached from my units. With this in mind, I wanted to create a game with all the fun elements I liked from those games, but [one that] felt more like you were really there and could see the triumphs and defeats up close.
I love the strategic feeling of moving your troops around, trying to flank the enemy, and using the statistics and abilities to your advantage. I wanted to put rugged men and sexy girls in the game, so it had to be 3D, and I wanted to get the most out of the Xbox 360 GPU — a 2D sprite-based game just didn't cut it for me.
LG: What's your background in the game industry?
DA: I suppose I'm a fairly grizzled veteran by now :). When I was about 10 I made text adventure games in GWBASIC on my Dad's work PC, a green-and-black hulking beast. It ran at about 10MHz, but at the time it was amazing. Many years later, after I graduated, I worked at Codemasters, EA, and Lionhead Studios on games like Burnout and Fable, so I've had good exposure to the methods, techniques, and tribulations of AAA game development.
LG: What made you decide to go indie?
DA: I love making games. It's exciting to create a product and then get it out there. The thought that thousands of people have played it is really rewarding. I had to make it indie, as I had an idea and wanted, quite selfishly, to keep total creative control of the project. The plan was never to get rich or famous (although I certainly wouldn't mind either), but just to craft something exactly the way I wanted it.
LG: How did you form ESP Games?
DA: I just sat down and started coding. I have incorporated ESP Games Ltd, but that was more as a precautionary measure so that another studio wouldn't take the name (on purpose or by accident), and [so that I have] the freedom to set up a business if the game is successful. But there isn't really a thing you need to do, or approval you need to get — you just have to start doing it. :)
The game was developed in our studio in Guildford in the UK, where a bizarrely high number of games developers seem to have set up shop. I think it may be due in some part to the Bullfrog legacy, and the fact that the industry is almost like a family — spend a few years in it and you will get to know everyone.
LG: What's the status on a sequel at this point?
DA: I would love to make one, but I'm waiting to see how well this game sells, and if there's a demand for more. There are so many ideas I want to incorporate into a sequel; it's a little difficult sitting on them and knowing I won't be able to release them soon!
LG: What were some of things you had to cut from the game?
DA: It's dangerous to answer this question, as it might make people miss them! But as you can guess, there are a few features that had to be chopped, like cut-scenes before and after missions — simply because I'm not an animator and didn't have access to creating that sort of content. I also toyed around with a real-time attack element, something like the rings system in Lost Odyssey, before deciding I would keep it all strategic instead.
LG: What was the most difficult part of making the game?
DA: There were two points where I felt particularly stressed: one was setting up the depth-of-field effects quite early in the game, when I was up until 6 a.m. two nights in a row, just trying to find out why my 'depth texture' wasn't rendering properly. It turned out to be a stupid and tiny bug (a multiply that should have been a divide).
The other was, as the game was finishing I had to temper my own excitement and just fix the last few bugs and convince myself to keep polishing when I desperately just wanted to release the game and start selling. Getting the game through peer-approval on MSDN was fairly stressful, too. You just have to wait and hope nobody finds any crash bugs or legal issues.
LG: How do you feel now that it's released?
DA: Immensely proud — it's the culmination of so much work and excitement, and I think the game turned out pretty well. It's a bit like being a teacher and seeing your favorite student go on stage — even though it's technically not you performing, it shows all your dedication and tuition over many months.
LG: Has it been successful in terms of sales?
DA: Relatively, yes. Although sales on Xbox Live Indie Games are pretty slow. Microsoft has hidden away the indie games channel, and most Xbox owners don't even know about it. It's also very saturated with scrolling shoot-em-ups and platformers, so even if you stand out in the 'new releases' category, it's not for long. I think Microsoft needs to make improvements to how it categorizes and orders indie games, and give them more publicity.
LG: If you could make any game what would it be?
DA: I would make Miasma 2 on Xbox 3 with 100 staff members at my disposal! For now, though, I will keep plugging away with the resources I have and make the best, tightest experience I possibly can.
This interview also appears on Digitalhippos.com.