Part 1 -- Zero Point Software and “AAA Indie”
FS: A recent press release stated that the idea for this game first came about in 1993. What took so long for it to start coming to fruition?
FiringSquad: First off, could you introduce yourself to our readers and tell them a little bit about Zero Point Software? How many people do you have on staff?
Kim: I’m Kim Haar-Jørgensen, Game Director and co-founder of Zero Point Software. The other founders are Nicolai Grønborg (CEO/Composer), and my cousin Gert Haar-Jørgensen, who is our primary investor. We are currently four developers: Mikael ‘heks’ Garde Nielsen (Lead Programmer), Kenneth Ellegaard Andersen (Producer/PR/Lead Sound Designer) Nicolai and myself. Bullseye was made with a team of 8 developers in 3 months, and Running Man was made by 9 developers in 5 months.
FS: What kind of background does the team have in terms of development experience? Done anything before we might have heard of?
Kenneth: The level and game designer on Bullseye is a former IO Interactive employee and has been part of the team behind Hitman, Freedom Fighters and Kane & Lynch. So he might be the closest thing we have to a “gaming celebrity.” The rest of the team have several years of experience in the gaming industry as well as related industries such as architecture, film and commercials, music, etc. Besides Interstellar Marines and the IOI titles, our recent team’s track record includes Escape from Paradise City (PC), The Land Before Time: Into the Mysterious Beyond (GBA), Babar to the Rescue (GBA), and Gangland (PC), as well as a handful of commercial web games and other titles which are either not published yet or were canceled during production.
That’s right, the initial idea for Interstellar Marines was spawned back in 1993 when Nicolai and I played a game called Hired Guns from DMA Design/Psygnosis, which was an exciting click-to-move, split-screen, sci-fi, co-op FPS on the Amiga 500. The idea and concept grew from there and slowly evolved as we played more and more FPS in co-op. The most significant inspiration for Interstellar Marines came as we entered the new millennium and played a game called System Shock 2 from Irrational Games, which gave us one of the best co-op game experiences of our lives and ultimately inspired us to introduce role-playing mechanics into our FPS formula.
Back in 2001, I wrote the first draft for both the design document and the manuscript and we had an opportunity to get the project off the ground in late 2003 when my cousin Gert came on-board; Nicolai and I were able to quit our day-jobs thanks to his investment in the project. The first few years were spent working out the details regarding the concept, design document, and manuscript, but we also spent time writing uninspiring business plans used for securing additional funds.
The last five years have been one long, continuous roller coaster ride with lots of excitement and emotional ups and downs. In 2006 we were 4 guys creating and releasing a small cinematic trailer trying to sell our vision of the game to everybody. From early 2007 to late 2008 we grew to 20 developers, all working hard to create the first playable demo for potential publishers, which were unfortunately only interested in “all or nothing” deals. In early 2009 we were ready to release a cool multiplayer game on an engine we could not afford, but we were facing bankruptcy after being hit by the full force of the financial crisis… We never gave up, and have been focusing all of our energy on establishing a community website as well as presenting the world with a few playable previews on the Unity engine. Not your typical development story I guess, and we still got a long way to go, but our situation at the moment feels stable and we’re enjoying every minute of this wonderful journey.
FS: You seem to be very proud of the fact that you’re making this game completely independently. Do you really think this “AAA Indie” movement of yours will catch on?
To a certain extent it has already caught on in other forms or using other terms for it. We clearly see a tendency [in the industry] towards independent developers making games on larger budgets and with bigger scopes; Natural Selection 2, Overgrowth, and Heroes & Generals are all made by independent studios using some kind of open-door development and pre-order strategy. And if you look at two of the best and most-praised games of 2010 -- Limbo and Minecraft -- you can see that quality games really sell. Neither of them had multi-billion-dollar marketing budgets, they are just great games!
FS: Speaking of Minecraft, there’s a reference to that in the new trailer. How have Notch and his success influenced you guys?
First of all, it’s really motivating to see that a great game can sell just because it’s a great game and even before it is finished! With Bullseye and Running Man, we waited to make them available to our community until they were in late alpha/early beta because we were concerned about whether or not the community would be able to see past all the things not working properly or features not yet being implemented. But for future releases we’ll put them out there as soon as we have anything new, even if it’s only a new audio ambience soundtrack for a level, just like Minecraft and other open-door development titles. If Notch has the guts to do it, so do we!