NEO Scavenger Developer Q&A: Part 2

Platforms: PC

Welcome back to our chat with NEO Scavenger developer Daniel Fedor. This is Part 2 (you can see Part 1 here) and we discuss the game itself, and the plans for its future.
Your first project is NEO Scavenger - which is a turn-based, quite traditional, RPG with an emphasis on crafting and survival. Tell us about that.

Turn-based play was actually a big consideration for me when I set out to make the game. I enjoy having the time to really consider my next action, to enjoy the problem solving, and not be pressured by time constraints nor other players. I enjoy twitch games too, but sometimes, I just want to sit down and leisurely enjoy a rich, challenging game.

The crafting and survival aspects of the game are largely borne of my love for post apocalyptic settings. In a post apocalyptic world, one has to look at items with new eyes, and imagine creative ways of using limited resources. It reminds me of my childhood days of scavenging junk to make forts, and rummaging through piles of Lego, trying to find a serviceable part for my creation. Post apocalyptic settings also offer the ability to tell two stories simultaneously: that of the world gone by, as well as those who live among its ruins.

RPGs also played a big role in my childhood. My friends and I would spend hours in elaborate campaigns, and even more time researching and designing settings, adventures, and characters between sessions. I wanted to capture the creative problem solving aspects I enjoyed so much from those games. Players will quickly notice that encounters in NEO Scavenger have multiple solutions, and I try to encourage these creative approaches.
The game is quite "hardcore" - with (perma) death coming easily and often. Is this something that will be true of the final version, and what made you decide to take this approach?

As much as possible, yes, it will be a part of the final version. Knowing that everything is on the line makes decisions more interesting, and the game more compelling. There's this one quest, after the player has spent quite a while struggling to just stay alive, where they're presented with a foreboding building they must enter. I've had three separate people tell me that when they saw that house, they thought about all the times they nearly died trying to just stay fed and sheltered, and decided "nope, I'm not going in there."

That's exactly the kind of role-playing I was hoping for. If the player could just save their game before entering the house, and reload at any time later, they'd do just that. The mystery of the house wouldn't be a reward for the brave anymore, just more content to consume.

There are still some bugs to work out, though. Many things in the game can kill a player regardless of the player's preparedness, and that's not cool. Like in traditional RPGs, I want death to be something of a joint failure between the player and I. Either the player took an unnecessary risk, was lazy, or I didn't provide the necessary in-game tools. That'll take some work to sort out, but that's the goal.

There's also the question of how to handle death once the game's plot gets longer. I plan to extend the plot beyond what's currently in the demo and beta, and the longer that plot becomes, the more annoying death becomes. For now, death is a minor setback, and a chance to try a different approach. But if the plot gets long enough, death may be more frustrating than fun. There are ways to address that, and I'll have to see what works best. But I definitely want to maintain the "hardcore" feel that's there now. It's part of what sets NEO Scavenger apart from the "can't fail" games that exist.

There are lots of items in the game which give the player pieces of the backstory. Is the plot and background of the game already all worked out? Or is that still being developed?

A good deal of work has been done creating the setting and overall plot structure, but details still need working out. Ultimately, NEO Scavenger takes place in a world in which I'd like to tell many stories. NEO Scavenger is meant to be a sort of introductory episode in a series of games in the same universe. So it'll reveal a pretty wide-but-shallow collection of setting and plot info, and leave further detail to future games in the setting.
You seem keen to involve your players in helping you develop the game, through the forum and by voting on features. Is this something which you think is important?

I definitely want players to feel like they have a voice. Part of the reason I started this whole enterprise was because I wanted more creative input into games, and this is a way to share that experience with customers.

The feature voting was an experiment with letting paying customers help drive the development priorities. Most studios will engage their customers in forums, and this can be a great way to get feedback. However, forums can often be misleading, as the volume of discussion may not accurately reflect the number of customers who care about it. Offering paying customers the ability to vote means that I'm seeing an accurate representation of what paying customers want, in proportion to the amount of money they think it's worth.

How many of the proposed features do you hope to be able to implement?

Everything! Seriously, though, the features up for voting are all ones that I'd like to see added, finances permitting. I have a vision for what I think the game should be, and the voting is meant to help with prioritizing that vision, rather than changing it.

If I had to choose only a few from that list, it actually wouldn't be too different than the current voting ranks. The game needs at least a little more plot work before I'd be satisfied. And combat is still really rough. I'd like to work out a richer system for that, allowing the same sort of creative latitude as the rest of the encounters in the game. I see the value in a larger resolution, though I could technically live without it. And the rest are mostly for variety more than anything.
How important is it for you that people support the game now, while it is still in development? Would you be able to finish the game if people didn't do this?

If nobody had supported the game, I probably would've worked on a bit more plot, wrapped it up, and moved on to a new game. Having people support the game early has allowed me to do a huge amount of refinement to NEO Scavenger, including adding some new features. In particular, the new day/night, visibility, AI, and camp additions were mechanics which probably would've been skipped without outside support and feedback. So having people participate in both the funding and design of the game was a big deal.

I'm not sure how much more I can afford to work on before I need to move on, but extending the plot is still an obligation I'm imposing on myself. Even if I had to go get a job at the supermarket to pay the bills tomorrow, customers at least deserve some more plot.

So, with all this in mind, when do you think you’ll be able to release the game?

A final version? It's hard to say. Probably no sooner than June 2012, if I were to start wrapping up plot work tomorrow. I estimate it'd take at least that long to create and test the content. However, if pre-sales pick up again, it might be enough to fund a new feature or two, so that would protract the schedule.

Ideally, I'd have enough funds to flesh out the plot some more, fix up combat and wounding, and add some extra variety to the game's collection of items and creatures. I could then start selling a downloadable copy from my own site, as well as shop it around other channels, such as Steam and Desura. And hopefully it would be enough to start work on future installments, probably with a continuation of the plot. I could see this option taking more like 3-4 months to complete.

So sometime in the summer, perhaps? Of course, my original estimation was 4 months all-told, for a September 2011 release. We can see how accurate that was!

So, there you have it. We’re very excited about this game. Hopefully some of you are too and will want to support it, and enable Daniel to put in all the features that he has planned. Don’t forget that you can do that, and much more, on the website.

We would like to say thanks to Daniel for answering all of our questions. Don’t forget to check back here once the game is finished for a full review!

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