Ep. 15: Ghost Town Games – How to Know when Your Game is Done

Ep. 15: Ghost Town Games – How to Know when Your Game is Done

Ely was telling me about a new Co-op game she had a blast playing with her friends.

And then several days later she was excited again.

“Remember that game I was telling you about? They said they would do an interview with us!”

I thought that was really awesome and was excited to hear about the game’s history from the designers themselves.

So thanks Ely for setting up the interview and asking them the questions.

Now let’s find out more about today’s guests.

**Warning – Both of the designers are hilarious and have an amazing chemistry together. Do not read this interview any place where it is inappropriate to laugh out loud.

About today’s guests and where to find them

Company
Ghost Town Games

Their Game
Buy Overcooked here on Steam

Interviewees
Phil Duncan
Oli De-Vine

Location
Cambridge, UK

Social Media
GTG’s Facebook Page
GTG’s Twitter Page

1. When and why did you start playing games?

Oli: I’ve been playing games since I was about 3.

I mean my first console was a BBC Micro computer and I remember playing some Ladybird game on that.

That’s the first memory I have of video games. Or Sonic the hedgehog when I was 5. What about you Phil?

Phil: I’m trying to think…I remember having the old Spectrum ZX Games, wasting a lot of my youth waiting ages for them to load.

I remember getting them for Christmas when I was little and getting the box for this one called “Snapple Hopper”, that was like some weird kid’s matching game.

I remember unwrapping it and being like “I’ve got a book, I’ve got a book!” And my parents were like “No it’s not a book, it’s a game” and I opened it and was like “No, it’s not a game It’s a tape!” 

2. What is the name of the first game you have published?

Overcooked

3. When was the first time you remember wanting to create a game of your own?

Oli: So I remember being at my grandmother’s house and drawing level designs for something a bit like a Donkey Kong Country game.

Phil: For me I remember doing old adventure game drawings, having no idea how you make a game, but just drawing characters and thinking “This is how it’s going to look” and “This is what’s going to happen and that’s all there is to it right? And then with some hand-waving that will just magically become a game”

Oli: I remember drawing a world map and being like “That’s it. Level design can come later. The world map’s all that matters.”

I can’t remember how old I was when I actually tried making a game…maybe 6 or 7 because I was programming text adventures on Commodore 64.

Phil: I was primary school I guess yeah.

Oli: Yes, definitely primary school. The days when you were meant to bring in a board game, i’d bring in a VTEC Powerpad. To programme in the basics.

Phil: (Laughs)

How Phil and Oli made their first game, Overcooked

4. What steps did you take in planning out Overcooked?

Phil: We started with the goal of making a co-operative cooking game, that was as much planning as we had originally.

We put together a quick prototype and we hashed out a lot of the early challenges with a view to getting something in front of people.

Oli: We had that prototype and a series of short-term goals.

First of which was getting something in place we could take to Norwich Games Festival. I think that was our first target.

Phil: We knew we wanted to be fairly flexible with it.

We knew we wanted to get it in front of people fairly quickly so we could make changes based on user-feedback rather than just what we felt in our guts.

Oli: Yeah. The important thing was to get it in front of players before it was ready. In a testing scenario.

We had a build for Norwich and then we took the feedback we got and that became our plan. It didn’t get more structured than that till later.

5. Was it difficult finding playtesters?  How did you find them?

Phil: We had lots of friends and family members who we would often sit in front of a build (game version) and get feedback from.

Not to mention other developers but it’s not always the best feedback from those avenues.

Free conventions like Norwich were great because you got a good cross-section of users playing the game.

We also worked with Anglia Ruskin University – their students did some playtesting for us which was really useful.

Later on in the project, where we relied on testing for gathering data for score boundaries etc. that’s when working with Team17 was really useful.

Questions about publishing Overcooked with Ghost Town Games

6. How did you publish your game and what was most challenging about this process?

Oli: We published it through Team17, mainly because everyone we talked to said that the best way to release a game on multiple consoles was to do it simultaneously.

This was something we weren’t set up to do ourselves.

That was probably the most challenging thing because we had to go through all the certification processes simultaneously and also release as a PC title.

Phil: There were definitely sides of things we had less experience with and we couldn’t physically do with just the two of us. So having Team 17 on board in that respect was really useful.

7. What obstacles did you overcome in the publishing your game?

Phil: Oh wow. So Many.

Oli: (Laughs) All of the obstacles.

Hmm… I guess one of the big issue with Overcooked was actually PR.

With making a cooking game, because cooking games are traditionally of a particular kind, we had to do a lot with the design and theme to try and make it clear that our approach was going to be different.

Phil: If you say you’re making a cooking game, that tends to come with a lot of baggage.

But we knew the game we were making was unlike any other cooking game that had come before and was a lot more about co-operation than cooking.

It just happened to be the best vehicle for getting that particular gameplay experience across.

Oli: Yeah.

Phil: So for us the hardest bit was convincing people of what the game actually was.

They had preconceptions – we had to do a lot of work to convince them it was a different experience.

Oli: People would play a few levels and they’d get to the pirate boat level (where the level suddenly starts to move) and then they’d go “Oh, that’s what the game is!”.

It was hard to convince people this wasn’t a simulator and also that it wasn’t the mini Cooking-based games you get on mobile. That took a while.

8. How long did it take you to create your first game from the planning to the publishing phase?

The game was in full-time development for 18 months in total.

What they learned from promoting their game

9, Where did you promote your game?

Phil: We did a lot of grass-roots stuff originally.

Lots of conventions, online blogs and we were on twitter shouting about the game a lot.

We also emailed anyone we could think of that we might be able to get the game in front of.

Oli: The big break was when Double Fine played Overcooked on twitch.

And it happened completely by accident – we had got in touch with them by email but we never dreamt they would end up streaming the game.

Phil:We’re huge fans of Double Fine and on a personal level it was really exciting and it put us on the map in some ways, having Tim Schafer and Greg Rice play our game.

Oli: Eurogamer were very good to us in the early days too.

Phil: That’s true. Christian Donlan from EG invited us to show the game in their offices which was really exciting.

Oli: We were very keen to take the game to people personally, so it was really nice to be able to do that.

And then later on, when we had a little bit more press attention, we were able to run it through youtubers and we got some really big press from that.

When you get streamed by someone like PewDiePie things really start to snowball.

10. What did you find to have worked best in promoting your game?

Phil: It’s always a combination of things,

I don’t think for us there was one key way to promote the game that really took off for us.

Oli: Yes, you have to do everything as an indie developer.

Phil: As we touched on earlier one of the big reasons we wanted to sign up with a publisher is because we knew we didn’t have the time to develop the game and spread the word about the game as much as we needed.

Team 17 were able to get the game in front of a lot more people and a lot of people we simply wouldn’t have had access to on our own.

What they have learned from being game designers

11. What are several things you wish you did differently when creating your first game?

Oli: There were a lot of dead ends with the design and also with things like reaching out to different publishers.

Phil: There were lots of routes we had to explore that lead to dead ends yeah.

Oli: But you have to do that. You have to try all those things.

Phil: Because it might lead to an opportunity.

Oli: Indies always have very stringent budgetary restraints which mean that they don’t have time.

So we did what we could with what we had and any mistakes we made along the way were only things you could say were mistakes in hindsight.

But you have to try the ideas, even if they don’t work.

12. What’s your least favorite part of game design?

Phil: Hmm… good question…what did I really not enjoy…it can wear you down a bit.

So much of Games Design is about compromise and about trade-off.

So much of your day, particularly towards the end of the project, is looking at all the lovely features you’re not going to get to add.

Oli: Yeah there’s always more.

You get to the end of the project and you’re like “well ok. I guess we’re gonna ship it like this. So…not fixing that.”

Phil: And knowing that you’re gonna get some feedback as well, when you release it.

Oli: You know there is something that you really wanted to do that you didn’t do and the first thing someone’s gonna say on seeing it is “did you not think of that?” And you’re like, yeah we did, but it had to be finished.

Phil: It’s like this story my dad told me.

My dad went to a restaurant, it was an old Fatty Arbuckles where they used to have one of these eating challenges where you could win a t-shirt if you ate this massive meal.

It involved some kind of big crazy starter, chicken wings or something and then there’d be like this massive steak with loads of fries and then this big ridiculous ice cream at the end that you have to eat.

And my dad was telling me this story and he said that his friend got really close – he got down to the last mouthful of ice cream and literally couldn’t finish it. And that really confused me for the longest time.

How can you just not eat that last mouthful?

Oli: Surely you can always just force a spoonful of ice cream in.

Phil: And he said you have to consider that when he started eating the ice cream, he was already the fullest he’d ever been in his life. Like every mouthful was a chore.

Anyway the point being that there’s always a cut off point. And that’s kind of what it feels like with Games design in many ways. (Laughs) You’re left with like scraps of features you want to add and you just can’t.

There’s no physical way. You’re either out of time or out of cash.

13. What was the hardest part about working together?

(Phil & Oli laugh)

Phil: The hardest thing about working with Oli… hmm… it’s little things mainly… like his personality.

Oli: (laughs)

Phil: No, I think the hardest thing about working with you is actually the thing that makes it work the best… We’re so different when it comes to making decisions.

I’m totally like “Let’s take more time and think it over” and you’re like: “let’s do everything right away.”

Oli: Yeah we definitely have different approaches to risk taking. (Laughs) If I’d done this project, on my own, it would have been a short lived project that set fire to itself.

Phil: Mine just wouldn’t have got released at all.

Oli: So somewhere between those two is probably a normal, well-balanced human.

How to know when your game is done

Thanks Phil and Oli for the entertaining answers.

My big take away from today’s interview was how to know when your game is done.

And the answer is “It’s never done!”

I have struggled with this when making my own board games. When I am creating games I seem to get in an endless loop of trying to perfect my games.

And I will keep adding new features to “fix that one last problem” only to cause yet another problem. Then another. And another until I finally give up and move on to the next game.

It was nice to see that other (all?) game designers struggle with this as well and to know that there is a solution.

The solution being to set a due date and just know that your game will never be “complete” or “perfect”.

And even more importantly, that’s ok!

It is very freeing for me to realize this and I think it will help me be able to publish one of my own board games if I want to.

What was your big takeaway from today’s interview with Phil and Oli from Ghost Town Games? Let us know in the comments below.

 

See more interview from awesome people in the game design world

How to self publish a Pokemon like RPG through Kickstarter
Yang Pulse – How to Make a Digital Card Game
Kerry Keith Murdock – Practice Makes Perfect (Board Game Designer)

Like this post? Get the latest from SLG