Now and then it takes someone like Danny Garfield to remind everyone that while game development is difficult, it’s still a career about making games. Garfield has a couple of game releases under his belt now, with his most recent being The Weapongraphist. So far the title has been picked up by a number of press entities including Kotaku, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and GameSpot. As a creator Garfield seems to bring a lighthearted and positive attitude to the table, which is something not emphasized enough in this industry.
In The Weapongraphist players don the armor of Doug McGrave, a well-known demon hunter mercenary. His chiseled jaw, arsenal of high level weapons, and gear have earned him quite a reputation as a qualified hunter, but also an utter jerk. To make up for his egregious character flaws and refusal to help a town under siege by monsters, but too poor to pay for his services, a witch puts him under a curse and forces him to fight off the demon hordes without all his fancy equipment.
This top-down arena styled game in the same vein as The Binding of Isaac, forces players to vanquish a variety of enemies in randomly generated dungeons, using randomly generated gear and weapons. The curse that has caused McGrave to lose all his enhancements is constantly nipping at the player’s strength, and is only stalled by the filling of a combo bar through constant attacks. Garfield was more than candid when we sat down with him to discuss his experiences in game development, and management.
Jesse Tannous: You now have two games out and available on Steam, even that can seem like an unattainable goal for hopeful game developers. What did it take for you to get to this point?
Danny Garfield: Ha. Since our little studio has opened, I’ve been referring to it as “Operation: Big Stupid Gamble.” It’s been a trip. Our first game, Concursion, was a totally seat-of-the-pants affair. Totally self-funded, with no idea how to market a game. We started with a team of just two and grew (well, a little) from there. Luckily, Mastertronic, our publisher, was kind enough to show interest just before we launched, and helped us spread the word. I know, sometimes publishers get a bad rap, but they’ve been awesome. They let us do what we want, do the stuff we don’t want to, and give us much needed advice. I can make a game…but I’d have no idea how to make someone play it without them. From there, it’s been a constant effort to keep our heads just above water, making just enough. That’s the goal!
JT: Using your experience with The Weapongraphist as an example, how much time do you think developers should expect to spend working on their game, and networking with the community once it has been released?
DG: Honestly, I think I under-promote. I’m a code nerd, and I love building things. I’d spend every waking hour in front of the keyboard, if I could. To that end, Concursion was a learning experience. I think we were too secretive. We held our gameplay idea too close to the chest. Since then, we’ve been doing dev diaries, and trying to be super visible and candid. I say heck… maybe the split of development vs promotion should be like…70/30? Maybe even more time spent on promotion. We should probably be doing more, honestly. This interview counts, right? Points for me?
JT: How important has your presence at events like E3 or other conventions been to the popularity of The Weapongraphist? How do you think other hopeful developers can best utilize conventions?
DG: Conventions have been really huge for us. Honestly, Rezzed and PAX have probably been our biggest wins. Being able to meet players and fans in person, see faces, and get real-time reactions from people playing the game, it’s awesome. It’s really uplifting too. Developing alone, from home, can be a slightly lonely affair. Getting to really reach out and meet the players is amazing. Most of the players that keep in contact with us, we’ve met at those shows. E3…oh man, we try every year, but that is tough. We’re the tiniest people in the room, competing with absolute juggernauts. We’ve got nothing on EA or Nintendo, right? Still, guerilla promoting warfare works…a little. It’s worth doing, if only for the post-show drinks right?
JT: I imagine those events can get pricey, any advice on how others could offset or take advantage of those opportunities if they don’t have the capital to dish out the cost for memberships, flights, or hotels?
DG: Crash with other people. Have no shame. Crash on couches, and ride-share, and scrape and claw. Take part in any contest or competition you can find. It’s worth the entry fee to have a chance. In all honesty, without a really big win, it’s hard to say that you’re actually going to “make your money back” on a game show. It’s not as straight-forward as that. But, if you resign yourself to have fun, and meet some new people, and have a good time while you’re there… it’s a good split. “Work….cation”?
JT: The internet can sometimes be a pretty rough place for criticism. Indie developers usually have to do their own PR and community management, how have you dealt with this aspect of game development? Has it been difficult?
DG: I learned to stop reading reviews, for the most part. Especially previews, before a game is done. Whether good or bad. Bad ones used to get in my head and make me sad for a day, and good ones stood the chance of over-influencing the game’s development. Now, I mostly skip to the bottom, and look for a summary. Or for someone around here to tell me what they say. I think we’re at a good balance right now. Really open to suggestion and criticism, without being super kneejerk about making the changes. I think it’s good to absorb what people have to say…and then run it through your own filters. For the most part, we try to stay out of the comments sections of any article. But even that, we’re probably only 50/50 on. I’m a weak-willed guy, and if I see the opportunity to make a joke…I’m going to make it. I think the biggest thing is…as open as we’ve ever been, there’s always room for more. I’d set up in the middle of a mall for all to see if we could.
For additional gameplay videos, images, and details make sure to check out The Weapongraphist’s Steam page or official website.