TinyDino Games

While we searched for awesome personalities to pick for our first interview session, an awesome game's video clip came in the way. At that very moment, we decided to talk to the creators of that awesome game. And they were more than willing to help us out. At the middle of the night, on twitter, they talked to us about their game! ​And we really loved it! Ryan and TJ, the brains behind The Ambassador, talks to ingare.

How did you come into game development? What was your inspiration?

Ryan – I’ve played video games all my life so it was sort of natural that I would take an interest in game development at some point. My first actual experience developing games happened during my sophomore year in high school about 8 years ago. I took an introductory programming class that turned out to be focused around games. Soon I was programming games and uploading them to the school server for my classmates to play. After high school I took a break from making games until my sophomore year of college. I then happened to see Indie Game the Movie on Netflix. It became apparent that making games was something I could actually do as a career and I’ve been taking it very seriously ever since.

TJ - Well for myself game development was originally more of a mental exercise. It was always entertaining to think of what aspects I liked or disliked in a game and what I wished there was more of or less. So I guess criticism sort of played into wanting to develop a game where what I wanted to happen could. I sort of fell into it by being college roommates with Ryan. He thoroughly enjoyed coding and had a passion to make games and I guess I sort of fed off that. He moved my design ideas out of the realm of thought into reality. As for what inspired me, it was sort of self-fulfilling. I really enjoyed designing game ideas with Ryan, and it made me want to bring them to life. So I've been inspired to make something I like, in the hopes that maybe others will like it.

So, how did you meet up with each other? What do you think, is developing alone easier or more independent?

Ryan – TJ and I were roommates for about a year and a half in college. He would help me with my physics homework whenever we weren’t screwing off doing god knows what. Eventually we both decided to try and make games. In some aspects developing games alone is easier. Planning and communicating with a partner can be difficult sometimes, especially when you want to just continue development. However the benefits far outweigh the challenges. TJ is a much better game designer and writer than I am. He’s also an excellent character artist and comes up with ideas that I would have never thought of. Plus it’s always nice to have a second set of eyes on everything and a person to bounce ideas off of.

TJ - We met at college as randomly place roommates. It took us a while to get to know each other because we were both busy with classes. We eventually bonded over a shared interest in gaming. We always have our most productive development sessions while working together. There are several times where Ryan will just need to work alone coding everything, but as far as design and even art elements, working together is much smoother. Once we both have a feel for the game we're making it helps to have that second look to see if it still matches the feel or style of the game we're making.

The Ambassador has a pixelated style. Retro styled games are popular among indie game devs. Many of them have that kind of style and feel. What makes The Ambassador different?

Ryan – So in my opinion and TJ might think differently on this, is that the pixelated art style for us is more out of necessity than a throwback to retro gaming. It is really really easy for us to bang out a tile set, new characters, or 20 weapons in a day using pixel art. Other art styles would take us much longer and time is something both him and I don’t have a lot of these days. The Ambassador differs from other games with its mechanics more than with its art style. We have two main mechanics in the Ambassador. The main combat mechanic is the ability to pause time. When time is paused enemies gain hp and when you let time stand still long enough, they will even evolve into different enemies. This forces to player to make split second decisions when in combat about if they are in a bad enough circumstance to pause time for a few seconds to gain a better position. The second mechanic is what we call “Actions have Consequences” I’ll go into this more in your later question but this boils down to something of a butterfly effect.

TJ - I think the main differences between most pixel art games come from the character design and color theory. With The Ambassador we kind of wanted a style that was almost less detailed or less rigid. Where you're brain will basically fill in anything not explicitly drawn. Our main character, Gregor, is sort of a short and pudgy guy. Not something you typically encounter in the genre. If you look at his design he doesn't actually have eyes, but because of the way your brain processes information it fills in where the eyes should be without the need to place an awkwardly colored pixel on his face for the eye. The rest of the character design spawned from his initial design. The color theory was something that went through several iterations until we settled on something we both liked. The game takes place mostly outside during the winter months, so we wanted the game to have that same cold feeling. When outside in a snowstorm we wanted to make the player feel like they're freezing right alongside Gregor.

What engine does this game run on? Why was it chosen? What platforms will it be released on? Is PC on the list? What markets will it come on?

Ryan – The game runs on Game Maker Studio 1. I’m the only programmer on the team so this was solely my decision. Game Maker was chosen simply because we wanted to make a 2d game somewhat quickly. When compared to the other options I decided Unreal or Unity were a bit too heavy weight for what we needed and rolling my own engine would have taken months. I’m a firm believer in using the tools available to you. As far as platforms goes, right now we only have plans to release for PC. If the release goes well on PC we will happily port the game over for console. PC will have controller support so don’t worry too much about that. No point in making a twin stick shooter without the sticks right? We are green lit on Steam so as of right now that is the only distributor we are planning on using.

TJ - I agree with whatever Ryan says here, since I have no experience coding. I will add I use an amazing program called Pyxel Edit to draw all of the art for the game. I am constantly singing its praises.

The game has a consequence system, that is all our actions have a consequence. To undertake such a complicated system must be really hard. What are your thoughts?

Ryan – So the “Actions have Consequences” mechanic boils down to allowing the player to do almost anything that they think they should be able to do. If you want to kill that NPC, sure no problem you can do that, but you better hope he doesn’t serve a role later down the line. Did you steal from a shop keeper? Cool well I hope the extra gold was worth it because over the next few levels he was supposed to purchase rare artifacts behind the scenes and sell them to you at a discount later. It’s that sort of thing we are going for. In the final version of the game we will also allow the player to go back in time and change their decisions. However they must be careful because once you go back in time you cannot go back forward again. You must play all the levels over again after making your new decision. As far as the system goes, everything is just a consequence of the code. Every action sort of assesses the current state of what’s happened so far and then conditionally produces an outcome that is then assessed by future actions. The real trouble comes with balancing it all.

TJ - It has definitely been a difficult task. It's very easy to come up with choices for a player to make. It is an entirely different task to make all those choices feel like they're actually meaningful choices. For instance, each time we introduce an NPC we had to ask ourselves, why might the player want to kill this NPC? What happens if they don't? And with one such character if you kill him you get to take his weapon from his lifeless corpse. If you let him live he will later act as a weapon vendor. So we had to balance the benefit of getting that powerful weapon early, but then not being able to buy upgrades, versus sticking it out with a lesser weapon, until you run back across his path. This will hopefully give the player a meaningful reason to replay the game, To have a different experience each time. The biggest divergence in the game comes with the first and only forced decision the player will make. You are given the option to be granted an unknown power from an old man you meet on the road. If you accept the offer, there is a terrible cost that will directly hurt the player. The old man will strip you of your family members, and the buffs that they provide to the player. In return he will give you the ability to stop time. If you reject his offer you will keep your family, but also keep the burden of needing to feed your family while you traverse the game. Each family member, when fed, will provide the player with a different buff. Stopping time during battles is a very effective skill so those buffs try to balance the paths. The later path will definitely be the more difficult still. Think of it basically as hard mode, to an already difficult game.

On the light of your experiences, what is your advice to new indie game developers?

Ryan – Keep in mind that we are semi new developers ourselves so take everything I say here with a grain of salt. We’ve released a few small free games in the past but nothing large like The Ambassador. Start small. Start really small and then make something smaller. The goal is to finish your games and get better with every game you make. Don’t make money your goal because you will be disappointed if it’s your first game. Just focus on making things as good as possible and grow as a developer. Also fail fast and learn from it. Don’t spend two years on your first game, and be crushed when/if it fails. You could have learned those lessons with a much smaller game that takes a month.

TJ - We are still technically new developers ourselves. I guess my main advice would be to realize that game development is a lot of work. Set goals and limitations on yourself. It's easy to bite off way more than you're ready to chew while still in the design phase, only to fade out during development.

How do you expect your game to go?

Ryan I’m not really sure how I expect the game to go. We are already green lit on Steam which is a great early indicator of success, but plenty of games fail on Steam. So far the feedback we’ve gotten on the game has been pretty good and constructive. My main worry right now is telling people about it. There aren’t a lot of people that know about the game and we’re trying to fix that. We have a playable demo coming out June 15th on newgrounds so we hope that raises some awareness. Honestly even if only a handful of people play it and have a great time, that will be good enough for me.

TJ - I have fun playing the game and I guess I'd expect people to have fun as well. I am a realist, and as much as I'd like for the game to be a huge success, if even a few people thoroughly enjoy our game I will be ecstatic.

And here is just a small note from the both of us: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, we really appreciate it! To anyone reading we are always more than happy to talk about the game so if you have questions or want an interview don’t hesitate to ask!