Gaming is one of the most single-handedly rapidly growing industries. This is an industry where a “generation” means around five years, and in that time, the previous become so obsolete that something from ten to fifteen years ago can seem ancient. And though we have advanced, there will always be a desire to recapture the feeling of a previous generation. The retro market is flooded with developers that wish to recapture the feeling of old school gameplay, but many do it with modern twists or from a modern standpoint. Evan Barmes is a developer working on a retro-styled game that challenges the notions of “What is a classic retro platformer?” Barmes has recently started a Kickstarter in hopes of funding his passion project, The Mole. I followed his blog because of a video of his gameplay, and I was genuinely impressed with what I saw. I had never really followed an indie developer’s progress before, but I had speculation. This has to be a stressful position to be in, I’d imagine. Without financial stability, and almost insurmountable odds, indie developers have come and gone. The creators of indie titles do so because they love creating, without the ties and twisting their vision in order to conform with “projected” demographics. They do what they want because of passion, and Barmes was giving me a way to experience this with his blog. Over the past few weeks I’ve seen the beginnings of a game. A game created from nothing. It’s exciting, and one of the reasons I want to be in the field that I’m in.
I recently had the chance to ask Barmes about his upcoming game and his Kickstarter launch. He was eager to talk, and wanted to get the word out about The Mole.
How did you get into developing games?
I started using Flash to create browser-type games when I was maybe 13. I really got into it more because I liked scripting than because I was looking to do game development. Actually my freshman year of college I began a degree in computer programming, but I quickly transferred to Full Sail where I graduated with a bachelor’s in game design. All along I’ve been scripting, so combining my technical knowledge with my design degree insight to become an indie developer was really a no-brainer.
Your blog seems to go step by step with the development of The Mole, was it your plan to have an open dialog with potential players?
Absolutely. As a developer of one it’s very easy for me to pack the game with what I think would be awesome, only to have it received with complete disgust. Feedback is always critical when trying to get a balanced perspective and to not come up with a game that’s quite skewed by personal preferences. In many of my earlier post I specifically asked for feedback, but lately I’ve been a little preoccupied with running the Kickstarter.
Any fears of negative criticism due to the open window of development?
I understand that the internet can be a cold, harsh place to look for feedback, because people can be obnoxious, crude, and downright degrading all while remaining hidden behind screen names and avatars, but I’ve learned to sift through feedback, looking for any grain of truth. At times, harsh feedback can be rooted on an underlying truth, and I’ll always try to find what’s at the core of the response while looking past any unnecessary remarks. But in the times when feedback is simply obnoxious for no reason, I’m fine with simply ignoring the post.
The Mole seems to flash back to the age of mascot platformers. Where did the inspiration for The Mole’s snazzy design and gameplay come from?
Moles are pretty stealthy creatures if you think about it. At least where I live in southern Indiana, those guys can really wreck a yard all from underground without ever being seen. In addition the game is full of puns and irony, so the fact that The Mole will literally and figuratively operate “underground” was just irresistible. The mole is so snazzy simply because it’s a requirement for being a secret agent. You’ve mentioned on your blog that The Mole will feature stealth gameplay. How do you plan to combine retro platforming and stealth?
My inspiration for the platforming aspects almost solely comes from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, so anyone familiar with those games will almost instantly feel right at home. I even want the new grappling hook and digging mechanics to blend right in and just feel natural. Those old-school platformers were all about the feel. From there I’ll start working in the stealth mechanics and making sure they don’t simply add to the fun but multiply it. Currently I’m looking at implementing a sight and sound system so the enemy AI can look and listen for the player, as well as other stealth game staples like hiding unconscious bodies, picking locks, and of course laser-based security systems! Have you thought about expanding and getting other developers for The Mole and any future games?
I would love to have more developers to work on The Mole with me, but I just don’t have the budget right now. The plan is to do The Mole and possibly a few more games solo, then look at investing any capital into launching my own studio, and at that point hiring another programmer and maybe an artist.
We see various amounts of Kickstarters out there for game development, what made you decide to launch The Mole’s Kickstarter at this stage of development?
The Mole is indeed very early in development, but I based my decision on the breakdown that follows. I would like to complete The Mole in about 12 months working 40 hours a week as my full-time job, but to develop full-time I need the support from the Kickstarter. Working on The Mole in my spare time allows about 8 hours of development per week at the most. This means that The Mole would take at least 5 years to complete, and I’m just not sure if I can stick to one project for that long. I really want to get The Mole into the hands of the players as soon as I can and for this I need the support of the Kickstarter and indie game communities. I do wish I had more development to show, but I guess I’m asking for a little faith.
Where will the funding from the Kickstarter go for the development of The Mole?
About $15,000 from the Kickstart will serve as my salary for the year that I spend developing The Mole, and the other $5,000 will go towards art and sound production. In the case that 5 thousand isn’t enough to cover art and sound then I will offer the artist and sound engineer a cut of the sales once the game has been released.
The Kickstarter is ambitious, but what happens in the event that it doesn’t meet the funding goal?
I’m so busy trying to get the word out about the Kickstarter right now that I haven’t given too much thought to the what-ifs. I really want to see The Mole completed one way or another though, so in the case of a failed Kickstarter I might look into other ways of getting the game developed.
What features do you wish to implement in The Mole?
As mentioned above TheMole will be running, jumping, swinging, digging, hiding bodies, and picking locks. The AI will be looking and listening, and I’m looking into adding many other features such as a world map, race levels (both above and below ground), boss battles, one time use items in addition to upgrades for The Mole’s gun, and even skydiving. I’m trying to be ridiculously ambitious for my first project, because I would rather shoot to high and come up a little short than make another run-of-the-mill 2D platformer.
I’m rooting for Barmes, because even though indie developers are increasingly getting their products out to the public, they still face near impossible odds. Games like The Mole need to exist. These indie titles need to come to existence from nothing but the desire to create something they think will be fun. He’s aiming for The Mole to recapture not only the retro platformer, but also a genre that he feels is genuinely fun. If anything, Barmes’s only crime is being too ambitious, and even if things don’t work out with the Kickstarter or The Mole, I have no doubt Evan Barmes will continue to grow and develop titles that further his vision.
It also helps that The Mole, despite its early stage of development, looks incredibly fun and promising. You can find The Mole on its Kickstarter page and Steam Greenlight page, and Evan Barmes’s blog here.