Moonpod Team Interview
Interview By: RabidFrog | Posted: 10/07/2004
games xtreme recently got the chance to ask the Moonpod team about their first game, Starscape, plus a little about the people who created it.
GX: Please tell everyone your name(s) and position(s) within Moonpod.
Mark Featherstone - game programming
arren Griffiths - engine programming
Nick Tipping - artist
GX: Moonpod is a shareware company made up from members of the industry; can you tell us some of the games you have worked on collectively in the past?
Totaled! / Crash!,
Actua Soccer 2,
GX: Everyone has a different view on what makes a good game, but what in your opinion makes a great game?
A game is a mixing pot of many elements, some more important than others, good games get a few elements right, but truly great games manage to acheive the same level of quality across all those elements. I'll play almost anything that consistently delivers across the board, here is an ordered list;
1.gameplay - if it doesn't have that elusive addictive quality then forget it
2.visuals - like it or not games are a visual medium, they just have to look great
3.user interface - if you don't know what to press, if you can't control it easily then it is just bad
4.sound and music - very important to add the right atmosphere
5.setting, story, plot and characterisation - it must have something to make you feel part of it, to suck you in
6. USP - unique selling points, what does this game do that is totally new, cool or just different
GX: Can you remember the last time a game really surprised you (either technically or emotionally?)
The first time was 3DMonsterMaze on the ZX81, I was playing it in the dark and was really scared, it kept making me jump out of my skin. The last time was C&C:Generals when the dam blew up and the rushing water swept away the enemy, that game just looks really cool.
GX: What are your favourite genres, can you give some examples of games from these genres that have inspired you as developers?
1. wolfenstein, doom, quake series - always cutting edge, gorgeous and always addictive
2. dune2, C&C, starcraft, warcraft, TotalAnnihilation - evolved and refined the RTS genre, always high quality
3. half life - a fps with gameplay and depth (eek!)
4. civilisation - shows that less action and more thought can still be amazing fun
5. elite - what a fantastic idea, you ARE han solo, shame nobody has managed an update that captures the same feeling
6. zelda and FFX - rpg heaven
GX: What were the goals you set yourselves when setting up Moonpod?
We wanted to stop chasing the curve i.e. getting that next movie/sports licence, increase the same old feature list, add another 5 men to the 30man team and extending the development time another year. We just wanted to see what 3 people can do in less than a year, that way we get to make more than one game before we retire and keep everything focused on just making it fun.
GX: Starscape is your first game, how did the development process go for you, has the game turned out as you had originally planned?
Mainstream industry is filled with canned projects, feature cuts, constant staff turn arounds, 2-3 year developments and dissapointing finished games. Having 3 people and less than a year fundamentally affects development, accepting these limited resources actually improves the end product. The original paper design for Starscape is fully realised in the actual game, we slipped by just a few weeks and no major features were cut. That is unheard of in mainstream development.
GX: Are you pleased with the response Starscape has received from the public?
Our forum contains a lot of praise for the game so we are very happy, everyone seems excited and wants more and I think that is a good sign.
GX: What are your plans now that Starscape has been released are you going to expand upon it or work on a different game?
We have started work on a new game, this time it is a RTS and again we are trying to focus on the core gameplay, what actually makes those games fun, the actually strategy and battle element. Boil the genre down to the essentials, wrap it up in a good looking package and hopefully get another fun game at the end.
GX: Will you stick with designing in 2D or you have ambitions for 3D?
A 3D engine is in development for use with our third game out towards the end of next year.
GX: How has your experience of Shareware been? Is it a business model you're happy with?
The problem is exposure, if people don't know about you then they can't buy your game, simple as that. There is a traditional large shareware market for puzzle and cheap games, nothing wrong with that but we need to differentiate ourselves from it. There are a small number of shareware titles out there that are actually aimed at normal gamers, usually slightly more expensive and with high production values. Problem is that normal gamers still associate shareware with puzzle games and low quality, it is also very difficult to get reviews or placement on mainstream sites.
GX: Has your publication via Shareware been a statement about the pricing of new releases or has it been about the independence of self-funded development?
Both I think, self-funding releases us to develop simpler games quicker, as soon as you can do that you can start to take risks and try new things. With a 30man team and 3 years to develop a game it is business suicide to take any kind of risk and this is why you see so many sequels and licensed games.
GX: Would you consider developing directly for a publisher or working with a publisher to facilitate a more widespread distribution of your software?
Absolutely, a publisher is still the only way to get your game to the mass market, I wish the internet would catch up so that wasn't the only way. It isn't just the publisher either, it is advertising and that costs money, lots of money. You have to do whatever you can to get your game under JoeAverage's nose, he can't play it if he doesn't know about it.
GX: Any final words on Starscape?
Starscape is great fun, if you don't believe me then go ahead and download the demo, it is absolutely free. We even give people their money back if they buy it and then later decide they don't like it, can't say fairer than that.
GX: Any final words in general?
Support independant development, it is the last bastion of innovation and creativity.