Interview with David Stanley of Skelattack

Skelattack

Many a day I have spent pillaging the multitude of castles and dungeons lying in waste upon these lands. All in search of plentiful loot and treasures. I have cut down the demons, monsters and skeletons that infest such places. I am a true hero, as are you if you have been so brave to play games that feature a dashing knight or a magical sage in search of greatness and glory. Yes, we are such great people. Now lets take a second and think about how those skeletons and monsters weren’t actually bothering us. They were just chilling, living life… or dying life? …or eh.. existing? I don’t know what you would call their state of being. Anyway these creatures were just chilling in their dungeons not causing any trouble, when crazy raiders decided breaking and entering would be a great idea. Forget veganism what about skeletanisim? Seriously though, the demo of Skelattack is coming out Aug 27th and its going to make you feel like %$&* about all the times you raided dungeons.

The story follows a skeleton dungeon dweller who is alerted of trespassers when the castle’s alarm system goes off. From that point on players must defend the castle from knights, wizards, warriors and other gold-hungry trespassers. But fear not, the protagonist is armed with a bone sword and a magical bat, who does the most adorable twirl when casting her spells, as well as the ability to upgrade weapons and spells through the game.

Solo indie developer David Stanley is the man behind the skull of Skelattack. Interestingly enough the protagonist was actually a scraped idea. But now as David says  “its my baby”. In our interview Dave took some time to talk with me about his game child and what players can expect in the demo.

 

First thing I want to ask you about is why did you choose Game Maker Studio. There are plenty of game development engines to work with. What drew you to Game Maker Studio for Skelattack?

I was always such a visual learner; things made better sense when I could apply paint or ink to a surface and watch the results in real time.  Programming was such an abstract concept. I avoided it as much as I could.  I eventually learned about game-creation that didn’t require programming skills, such as RPGMaker, Stencyl, Game Salad, etc.  I enjoyed each of these, but soon realized I needed more control.  I heard about Game Maker’s Drag-and-Drop logic, as well as its extensive programming library. I knew this would be a great way to take off the training wheels since I’d have the simpler D&D functions to back me up if needed.  Turns out I really enjoy programming, and haven’t touched the D&D functions.

Awesome so Game Maker would be a good starting point for those with a limited programing background. – Emily

Exactly, the GM forums are incredibly active and full of great tutorials and helpful folks to ease you into it. – David

You are the sole developer for Skelattack, which means every tiny detail of development is left to you. How long have you been working on this game? And when did you first come up with the idea?

This month is a full year of development!  It sounds like a lot for just a demo, but I wouldn’t be doing myself any favors if I didn’t do my best to really understand the programming that I was putting into it.  Also as an artist, I went through a few iterations on some concepts and character designs/animations, which took time.

I first came up with the idea for Skelattack accidentally…my day job consists of developing mobile games, and many times I’ll make a quick demo or a sketch to show the boss for approval.  In one of my demos I had animated a crude little skeleton hopping on some platforms, just for fun. We passed on that demo in favor of another game, but I kept thinking about that skeleton.  I asked myself what a big game would look like if he were the star of it.  I came up with the thought that as gamers, we blindly run through dungeons and smack down rats, bats and skeletons with no regard.  What if the skeletons had their own society, etiquette, and culture?  What if they are just trying to protect their way of life from these endless groups of human treasure-hunters? In the world of Skelattack, humans are the enemy.

Hahaha that is hilarious because I immediately had player’s remorse about all the games where I was killing skeletons and bats. – Emily

Right!?  You start to feel bad after slaughtering an entire family of cute slime monsters. – David

Your making me feel worse about my past gaming :s   – Emily

Maybe we can all redeem ourselves through Skelattack 😛   – David

I think people are so used to playing from the perspective of the raiders, so it’s interesting to see the alternative side of the story in Skelattack. Will there be any details of who the protagonist was when they were alive or about the castle when the inhabitants were alive?

It’s interesting that you bring this up, since I’m trying to address it partially with this demo.  I thought about giving the player pages of background story, because there’s no doubt that I could come up with lots of content. That felt very hindering to the flow of the game, so I decided to have different bits of lore spread randomly throughout this huge dungeon, in the form of books that the player can read. You will be able to learn a bit about the past, their culture and daily lives through skeleton journal entries, novel excerpts, manuals and etiquette guides. It’s all optional to the player, but for those who like a more full experience, the bookshelves will be scattered around if you care to find them! You get to see the world through the lense of these odd little skeletons.

Skelattack

As we have been discussing, the protagonist of Skelattack is not completely alone in the fight to protect his home. I’ve seen that he does have a bat companion and there is also a blacksmith location. How much of a role will these characters be playing in the game? And do you plan to have more Skeleton pit stops?

The bat companion plays a large part, as she likes to give helpful advice as well as protect you with magic spells! I modeled her largely on Navi from Ocarina of Time, but I wasn’t looking to have a carbon copy. I didn’t want her constantly stopping you to tell you something that you might already know. So I have a system in place to let you know when she has something crucial to discuss, but it’s still optional to speak with her at all. She will also have lots of random things to say if you speak with her at any moment during the game. She’s your best friend, and really helps the dungeon to feel less lonely.

I was really happy to get the Blacksmith into the game. As I was understanding programming better, I realised I could let the player upgrade the strength of their sword attacks. Standard stuff, but it felt revolutionary to see it come together for myself. The Blacksmith serves more for exploration than for plot points. Finding his shop won’t always be easy, but I intend to reward players who explore all the nooks and crannies of the dungeon. Aside from his shop, there will be other areas to stop in as well, such as a Spell Room where you can swap out your magic spell if you like.

With the bat handling all of your spells, there’s a limitation in that she can only hold one spell type at a time. This should encourage players to try all the spells, and find the one that suits them the best.

Keep an eye out also for NPCs who might lighten the mood a bit or give you some insight to the game. Or maybe they just want to make small talk.

One of the issues you were trying to work through in development was variable damage when striking. Where are you currently with that and what types of attack will the protagonist be capable of?

Variable damage works perfectly now!  It was tough going for a while though. I wanted to use it to make the attacks feel more organic. Instead of knowing you are going to do exactly 20 damage with each slice, now you might do anywhere between 15-30 damage. Every time you attack, the game rolls a random number within that controlled range and deals the damage. On top of this, I made a Critical Hit system that gives you a chance to do extra damage. The Blacksmith plays into this, as the upgrades he offers will increase the maximum critical damage that you are able to do. Upgrade enough and you may find yourself dealing one-hit KOs to some opponents.

Besides these basic sword attacks, I currently have a ranged fire spell that produces a tower of fire from the ground in front of you. This is the only spell out of the three that can damage enemies at the moment. Aside from that, you can trick Fire Mage enemies into blasting their own partners if you time their attacks right, and then jump out of the way! There are also arrow traps that can be used to damage enemies…you can also deflect an arrow with your sword and it will damage them if they are hit by it. Again, it’s very dependent on good timing.

These are the types of damage-dealing that will be available with the demo, but there are other things in mind for the full release.

Skelattack

There are also blue torches in the game that allow players to save their progress and respond after dying, if they remember to light them. Is this the only way players can save? Will this be one of those games that makes me late for work because I couldn’t make it to the next checkpoint?

Good question!  We’ve all lost progress at some point because we just couldn’t find that next save area. I’ve been placing multiple torches in each main room that you must explore. While this is the only way to save, you’re going to be saving multiple times per area as you make progress. I was also careful to place a torch on the other side of most doorways you go through. After lots of testing, I feel like a lack of saving will not be a problem here. Some of the platforming sections can be quite challenging, so I tend to reward that hard work with a warm blue torch!

Your art style for Skelattack is cartoony. However, I can tell that you value implementing lots of minor details. In one of your TIG Forum posts you said the game will feature “cozy environments and attention to detail that I wish I saw in more games.” How do you feel minor details impact the overall game?

Yes, I’m a sucker for details!  Similar to how individual frames of a film make a satisfying whole, I think minor details in a game can improve the overall experience. Especially in a game like this, where an unspoken focal point is that these skeletons live very full lives, I want to show the history and unique vibe of this place whenever possible. When building an area in Skelattack I’ll ask myself, “If a player took a screenshot of this, would I be ashamed of it?” I found that this pushes me to create my best work.

In many games, I’ve had a great time just standing around and enjoying all the detail. Skelattack is a fairly fast-paced game much of the time, but there will be plenty of places where you can stop and smell the roses.

Skelattack

The Skelattack demo is set to release later this month, you also have a newsletter for when it is live for anyone interested. What sort of feedback are you hoping to get from this demo release?

Yeah, August 27th is when I’ll be setting it free! I’m very interested to see how people play the game, and if there are any problematic areas that affect pacing. I built levels with a certain tactic in mind, but you can’t always be sure that the user will think the same way that you do as a developer. The same goes for bugs: I have done a huge amount of debugging and game-breaking on my end, but I expect some players to find bugs that I never considered. This feedback will help me create an even more solid foundation on which to build the full game.

In light of the demo do you have an expected timeframe of when you see yourself finalising Skelattack?

Every time I’ve tried to come up with a date in the past, I blew right past it. I’d love to get this game finished in the first half of 2017. Getting this demo polished through player feedback will go a long way towards helping me achieve that goal, since I’ll mostly be able to build out the rest of the game in peace with as few bugs as possible.

With that in mind what kind of advice can you give other indie game developers who are working in small teams or individually, like yourself, about staying motivated during development? 

1) Keep a game design document, keep lists, and look after your progress! You should want to know tons about how your game will work before you’ve programmed anything or made any art. Seeing your progress as time goes by is a great way to feel like you are actually getting somewhere.

2) Don’t let your “awesome list of cool features” get out of hand. So many projects are killed because there just isn’t enough knowledge or manpower to program everything. Don’t be afraid to cut things that don’t serve your game. This frees up time to polish the things that matter.

3) Read about Impostor Syndrome, and understand that every one of us struggles to feel like a “real” developer. Push through that, and make an amazing game.

4) Use your social media and hashtags. I’ve met so many great people through Twitter alone, and seeing them working on passion projects daily keeps me motivated to work on Skelattack.

 

In the spirit of Skeletal remains; did you know its possible to determine the biological sex of remains from the width of the pelvic cavity and bone thickness? Hahaha, SCIENCE! Of course you came here for videogames so if you want to keep up with Skelattack be sure to sign up for the demo release newsletter. As well as David’s social media accounts. Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Youtube, TIG.

Profile photo of Ellie Punn
According to my license I’m an adult… I think that means I can perform a citizen’s arrest now. When I’m not protecting civilians I enjoy indulging in sci-fi or martial art movies. I play videogames when I can’t fall asleep, and if that doesn't work I fistfight the ghosts in my basement. Nice to meet you.

1 Comment

  1. Awesome interview with Dave! One of my favorite Indie Developers out there! I can’t wait to get my hands on his game later this month.

    Reply

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