Summary: JCal sits down with the flying Finns at Frozenbyte to discuss their surprise hit, Shadowgrounds.
FiringSquad: Now that the Shadowgrounds has been released for a little while now, are you pleased with the reaction the game has received?
Joel Kinnunen: The whole team at Frozenbyte is happy with the reaction, me included of course. There's always a couple of odd reviews and gamers who don't like any given game, but overall we are satisfied with the Shadowgrounds reviews and also with the response from gamers.
Since Shadowgrounds is our first game, we were anxious to see how the reviews would come out and what the general response would be. We knew all along that we had made a good game but just how good, that was the question. It was really exhilarating to see a new review each day and then read it with eagerness.
FiringSquad: Developing a top down action game is something that is rather unique in this day and age. Do you think the decision to design the game in this matter helped or hurt the game in the final analysis?
Joel Kinnunen: It definitely helped but honestly we never even considered any other perspectives. The top-down perspective is part of the old-school roots of Shadowgrounds, and something that has defined the game from the get-go.
FiringSquad: Looking back what were some of the more interesting challenges that went into the release of Shadowgrounds?
Joel Kinnunen: With no prior industry experience, the whole development process was a huge challenge as a whole. There were many hurdles that we had to overcome but in the end I think we got through them smoothly. Our lack of experience at the time probably shows in the story/dialogue, and perhaps in the non-gameplay player experience. For example, we underestimated the time each mission would take to complete, which means that our save system isn't as good as it should have been. And in general, we didn't realize how many different kind of gamers and playstyles there are!
These issues are quite minor in the end, though, so overall we are happy with the way the game turned out. A good example is a recent thread on our official Shadowgrounds messageboard, where users talked about their favorite weapons and tactics. All of the weapons were mentioned and not a single one came out on top, which gives a lot of credit to our weapon system and the weapon upgrades. All the weapons are useful and give the player a nice range of tactics to try.
All this said, I think we struggled more with the business and marketing side - mostly because that's not where our strength lies, at least not at the time. We had to learn A LOT, and there's still things we learn every day. The management side - that means myself and our CEO, spent countless hours talking to publishers and negotiating deals. In the end we managed to get all the necessary deals and we haven't been screwed over (at least not too bad) but next time we'll definitely be able to do a better job on this front.
FiringSquad: You also released two different demos for the game. Do you think the demos helped get more attention and how hard was it to make two demos of the game?
Joel Kinnunen: A lot of gamers have told us that they first tried the demo, and liked it so much that they bought the full game. I would say that demos have been vital to Shadowgrounds' success.
We released two demos because it simply gives a little more buzz for the game. There's really nothing else to that. :)
Making the demos wasn't hard at all - it took one day per demo basically. We spent some time on the end splash screen and made sure that the demos were incompatible with the full game but that's about it.
Joel Kinnunen: Because independent developers like us don't have huge marketing budgets (or in fact, none at all) we're pretty much relying on the hardcore gamer segment and word of mouth. Steam has helped a lot in raising Shadowgrounds' public image and there's many gamers who hadn't heard of the game before seeing it available on Steam. I think Steam also gave us more prestige among our peers and press. And of course, Steam has been a great help sales-wise, and there have been surprisingly few problems with the system.
Overall we feel that online distribution is a great thing for mid-size independent developers. The retail marketplace for PC games is getting smaller every day, so independent titles like Shadowgrounds get less and less shelf-space if they are not backed up by a multimillion marketing campaign. But online is a different beast. Word of mouth can go a long way, and developers also get a larger share of the sales price. I believe that within a few years it's possible to create games like Shadowgrounds completely without any retail plans.
Right now retail is still important, and I'm sure publishers will still be in the business in the coming years even if online distribution takes off. Publishers have market information and marketing & PR muscles, and that's always important. For independent developers, it's a question of finding the right partners. Case in point, Meridian4 has been a great fit for us in the North American marketplace.
FiringSquad: What plans do you have in terms of upcoming patches and/or content updates if any?
Joel Kinnunen: We just released a patch in early June. It was a rather important patch and fixed one nasty crash bug with the computer screens/PDAs, weapon upgrade menu and other screens that featured text. We also added some minor features.
We're going to support Shadowgrounds as long as it needs support. The official messageboard will be kept alive for years to come, and we will be fixing bugs on a steady basis - although it seems that we've got most of the bugs squashed by now. We feel that supporting a game after release means good things in the long run, and builds up a good rep for the company. And brings more sales eventually, of course. :)
The patch also prepares Shadowgrounds to be compatible with the upcoming Level Editor release, meaning that gamers can create and play mods or new missions.
FiringSquad: You announced plans to release a level editor for the game. Can you give us a progress report and also what will be contain in the level editor once it is released?
Joel Kinnunen: The Level Editor is most likely released in mid-June. Basically it features tools for creating new missions, either a single mission or a multimission campaign. You can use all of the Shadowgrounds objects in the new missions. It's easy to make your own menu screens, loading screens, conversations between characters and so on - all the stuff that we had in the original Shadowgrounds. There's also some useful scripting stuff for those who want to go one step further but none of the basic features require any heavy scripting or programming skills.
We've given the Beta version to some active fans, and they are already hard at work on mods. The Level Editor is surprisingly easy to use, although it was never intended for public release. It only takes a few hours to get familiar with. So I'm confident that there will be some cool mods within the next few months and later in the year.
FiringSquad: Are there any plans for an expansion pack or sequel to Shadowgrounds and if so what can you tell us at this time about those possible projects?
Joel Kinnunen: Shadowgrounds is our own IP and that means a lot. An expansion is possible but not certain yet. It kind of depends on the sales, to be honest. Nevertheless, we have a lot of ideas for future Shadowgrounds games, and we already have an active fanbase. I'm sure there will be another Shadowgrounds game within a few years...
FiringSquad: What plans does Frozenbyte have in the future for other upcoming titles?
Joel Kinnunen: Shadowgrounds is still taking a bit of our time (and will do so in the future too) but yes, we are working on something special. I can't reveal more about that, sorry.
What I can say is that it's a tough business. Shadowgrounds is doing ok, and we have laid out plans that allow the company to be in the business for a year or two, but we're hoping that Shadowgrounds will "have legs", and continues to keep selling in the coming months. This is totally up to gamers. The more income we get, the better games we can create. That's really the bottom line.
FiringSquad: Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Shadowgrounds?
I hope that gamers try the demo and test the game for themselves. That's all I hope, because that's the hardest part. Shadowgrounds has been well-received by everyone who's played it so I hope others give it a chance too. (And remember to try the Free Camera mode, too!)
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