I am almost nearing 1,000 PC games in my combined game store libraries. That number doesn’t really include every video game I’ve ever played. That game count still pales in comparison to the number of games that are out there to play, all vying for gamer attention, all made with high hopes of being the next big thrill, well all except The Note. It can be quite easy in searching for that next great game to forget exactly how difficult it is for the men and women dedicated to developing and creating games. Especially today with the surge of multiple small development houses and the fantastic game creating tools available for little to no money, the market is crowded, the road is rocky, but the desire to create is still burning bright in many a game creator’s mind. After a cup of coffee, I patiently waited for Robert Miedema, Public Relations specialist for Triangle Studios to finish his latest match of Civilization V, while I was busy getting ‘pwned by some nutty asian Pudge player in DOTA 2. Once our morning digital warfare concluded, Robert and I sat down to discuss what it is like for a small development house of about 15 or so artists and programmers to publish games. Recently Triangle Studios completed Cross of the Dutchman, a historical action game based on the legendary Frisian warrior Pier Gerloff Donia. Prior to Dutchman, It Came From Space And Ate Our Brains an action arcade style shooter came out on Steam to positive reviews. I hoped to deepen my understanding on the ordeals faced by most small development houses on there. This is what I uncovered:
While gaming culture is a billion dollar industry, the men and woman who dedicate themselves to making games know completing a good game is not an easy thing to do. From start to finish, there are a lot of elements that come into play to produce one single game. It’s no wonder some games are in development for years before they release! How many bad games have you played? Or great ones?
The best game I ever played has been SOCOM: US Navy Seals for the PlayStation 2, the amount of hours I put into that game is insane! I met so many awesome people on that game, basically learned English while playing that game and played on a competitive level. I tend to like almost every game, even simple Android games. (I am an addicted for Google Play Achievements)
it mostly is the case that I am not interested in a specific genre what makes me not play a game, which doesn’t mean I think the game is bad.
Pier Gerlofs Donia, led an incredible guerilla campaign against his enemies however, he is not someone who has been displayed prominently in movies, TV shows, or other popular media. He is not well known in the United States; how well known is he in the Netherlands?
In the province of Friesland (where our office is also located) he is very famous! As children we heard about his life and his legacy. In the provinces in the North of the Netherlands a lot of other products are branded with ‘Pier’. For example, there is Pier-beer, Pier-sausage and a lot of his items are on display in local museums.
What inspired to you to use this game to tell Donia’s story?
Our CEO came up with the general idea, together with a writer that wrote a novel about the game. We wanted to share this story with the world, because simply put: it is an awesome story.
What were your goals when you set out to create the game?
Back in 2009 we launched a Kickstarter campaign where we asked for $50.000 to complete the game. The campaign failed and we didn’t manage to get it funded, which of course was a huge bummer for us since we put a lot of time in the campaign. By deciding to self-fund the game we took an extra risk, but we just wanted to share his story, make an awesome game and set out to bring an entertaining game to the market!
How close to the historical record is Cross of the Dutchman?
Really close! We have altered a few names to make the game more accessible. One example would be the wife of Pier is officially named: ‘Rintsje’. We renamed her to ‘Rints’ since English-speakers might have problems pronouncing the ‘tje’ at the end of her name. We consulted a lot of historians and experts to make an authentic game and deliver on the promise of a game based on a true story. We read a lot of documented files of battles, did our research on the architecture of buildings and how people dressed during that era of time. Because Pier is famous in the province where we are based we were able to visit his tomb, the village where he lived and take a close look at items that are still preserved in local museums. This gave us a lot of material to work with!
What challenges did you face in creating Cross of the Dutchman? How were you funded? How large is your studio? What parts do you think you think you succeeded on and which parts do you wish you could have done better with?
The challenge was funding like I stated before. We self-funded the game, which resulted in the fact that we sometimes had to hold off the game since there was no more money. That meant we had to put the game in the ‘’fridge’’ and take on outside projects to get funding again. With a studio of about 15 people we often had discussions of the direction we needed to go in, but it all worked out in the end! In my own opinion of what we could have done better is to deliver more language-options into the game so we can reach more non-English speakers.
Does the Netherlands have a tight-knit gaming development community?
Yes! In the North of the Netherlands we often meet up with other studios and we communicate with other game developers from all over the Netherlands on Facebook, mail, chat and what not! We discuss everything related to the gaming industry, it is a great way to stay up-to-date with everything!
Narrative is obviously the largest part of the game. The cut scenes that advance the story are well done. If there is a sequel, will you continue to use this style?
We would love to do a sequel, but it all depends on the success of Cross of the Dutchman. The story of Pier is a long and awesome story which we could also tell. If we continue with a sequel I would love to continue in this style, but that is not my call to make!
It is mentioned in your press release that Triangle Studios spent over six years working on this game. You went through multiple revisions. Budget problems. Even had your project put on hold. Can you talk about the hardships your company has gone through to get this game completed?
To make a game you need money. When we were out of money we took on projects from third-parties, which also needed out full attention so we could deliver a high quality product for our clients. During those projects you learn, grow and evolve as a studio as well, so when completed a project we were not pleased with the results from of the version of Cross of the Dutchman that we had put in that so called ‘’fridge’’ I talked about earlier. This meant we scratched a lot of stuff and basically started over. At one point we decided enough is enough and just went for it, the result is the game that is now available on Steam.
If you are able to continue Pier’s story, how would you do it if budget and resources weren’t an issue?
If budget and resources weren’t an issue I would like to make Pier’s story just as big as the Witcher 3 from CD Projekt. Pier has tons more battles on land, with ships and plenty of untold stories left. We would probably continue from where Cross of the Dutchman ends.
Now that Cross of the Dutchman is completed and has launched on Steam, what does a development company undergo during this transation? At what point does your team begin a bigger focus on the ‘next big thing’?
The next big thing for us is focus on split-screen mode (and some unannounced extras) for our other game: It Came From Space and Ate Our Brains which we released on March 19, 2015. We currently also have a few other ‘things’ in development, but I am not able to share this information yet, unfortunately!
Lots of ups and downs in the creation of games, almost makes Video Game Developer tycoon type of games seem pretty spot on. I can appreciate the hardships involved with securing funding, as Kickstarter campaigns become more and more crowded, Steam Greenlight harder to shine on your title. While this may spell doom for many a creative dream, a bigger marketplace can also yield more refined ideas, and leaps in creative concepts as “the next big thing” is usually the next “outside the box” idea. We hope you enjoyed this developer insight, and if you hunt down Robert on Steam, I am sure he will gladly take you on in his next Civilization match!