Categorized | Indie Interview

Indie Interview: Trenches

Posted on 01 February 2010 by Todd

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We are excited to have interviewed Michael Taylor, the creator of Trenches. We did not have time to interview all of his team members, but we think you will enjoy what Michael has to say.

Company: Thunder Game Works
Games: Trenches

Q: How long have you been developing for the iPhone/iPod touch? What did you do before you started developing for the iPhone/iPod touch?
We’re fairly new on the iPhone front.  Thunder Game Works was incorporated in August of 2009.  That said, everyone on the team is an industry expert in their own discipline, so we’ve brought all of that experience to bear for Trenches.

Q: How long did it take you to develop Trenches and how many people were involved?
The Trenches team was fairly large and incorporated developers, artists, musicians and marketing folks.  Quite a daunting under-taking for an indie developer, trust me.  The bulk of the team was made up of about five people, but the entire team was closer to a dozen.  It was a real challenge, but one of the things that I endeavored to do was find the best freelance talent available … and I think I’ve done that.

If I can speak for members of the team, I think the thing that attracted them to the project was my commitment to really allow them to push the boundaries.  All too often talented people get stuck working on projects that are completely penned in.  With Trenches, the whole design was just let the talent folks go and see what they came back with.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Trenches?
Trenches seemed to be the next natural step in a progression of games currently on the AppStore.  Trenches incorporates line-drawing, side-scrolling and Castle Defense.  We just wanted to kick it up a notch.

We wanted to create a side-scrolling attrition-style combat game … games like Knight’s Onrush, Cartoon Wars and XenoWars.  Players (like us) love the castle defense style games.  It seemed like a natural fit.

We also love the cartoony graphics of games like Minigore and Fieldrunners.

They’ve got great graphics.  We wanted to deliver on this, but also add in multiple sequences … to keep Trenches gameplay fresh and visually interesting.

Q: What inspires you? And is it different for each game?
That’s a tough question … you know, I love playing tough, in-depth, thinking games … then … I really love just blowing stuff up.  (As you can tell from using artillery on Zombies in Trenches)  I think the inspiration comes from the entire team throwing out ideas and building on each others ideas.  It’s a really cool environment.

Q: Can you describe your development process?
Most of the people on our core team are very seasoned software people.  We stick to a very regimented software process that, while boring, tends to deliver fun games … since there’s much fewer bugs.

Q: What does the creative process look like during the initial stages?
Ah, yes … the creative process is the most fun.  Generally, we sit around and chat about game ideas that we think would be fun … just blue-sky, crazy stuff … to get our minds really stretched.  Some of the best ideas come out of those meetings.  Once the concept is roughed out, then we sic our artist on character creation.  That’s when is gets real fun!  The crazy stuff he sends back is the best.

Being an indie developer, we answer only to our players.  It’s really cool.

It really cuts through all the stuff that doesn’t matter and down to what does.  Do the players like the game?

The other great thing about being an indie developer is that half through building Trenches, we had a great idea to take Trenches a completely different direction.  This new direction was going to make the game a lot more fun.  So, we just went for it.  We didn’t have to ask permission, we just figured that the players would like the new direction more so … it was a done deal for us.

Am I even answer your question anymore?  Sorry to get us off track there.

Q: Did you do any pre-marketing before Trenches was released?
We did actually … we did a lot.  It wasn’t, though, just pre-release marketing … it’s constant.  We communicate with Trenches players daily and yes, we actually do read every email and every forum posting.  We love to hear what the players are saying … they give us the best ideas.

Q: What are you working on now?
Well, we’ve got a bunch of new things.  I’ve literally got twelve months of game development on my whiteboard.  Unfortunately, all of it is too speculative to let out … because some of the ideas are terrible … <grin> … and some are good.  We’re trying to figure which is which.

Q: Any plans for updates to Trenches?
Absolutely!  We’re completely committed to making Trenches the very best it can be.  We’ve got new Skirmish battle types coming; like King of the Trench and Capture the Flag.  Those are going to be a whole mess of fun when we release Trenches multiplayer.  We think Trenches is pretty fun right now … but it’ll go to a whole new level with multiplayer.  I can’t wait to get beaten to a pulp! (It always happens) <grin>

Q: What was your most frustrating task while developing Trenches?
That’s a good question … I can’t really think of a frustrating part of developing Trenches.  I guess I never really had a moment to think … let alone get frustrating. <grin>

Q: What have you found to be the most successful way to market Trenches?
We’re still discovering that … if you’ve got any ideas, we’re all ears.
Marketing iPhone apps is a part Voodoo, part hard work and late nights.
During the initial rollout of Trenches, we were working 16 hour days …
just communicating with reviewers, players and anyone that would listen.
Now, it’s like we’re part-time … we’re only working 10 hours a day. <grin>

Q: How much does user feedback affect your planning of updates and also future projects?
We live and breath on user feedback.  It’s one of the reason we really wanted to develop on the iPhone platform.  Developers have the luxury to get so close to the players.  We’re talking directly with players daily.  The early players, especially, have actually affected the direction of the game and the unit balancing in Trenches.  When I said that we read everything, I mean EVERYTHING … and we take it all to heart.

Q: Do you write games for yourself or for others? And why?
We’re all so focused on playing multiplayer games … we really only build games for the AppStore.  Maybe it’s because there’s no time let in the day.
Meh, in either case … the desire is to draw Trenches (and our other titles) to multiplayer.  The desire is to make all the Thunder Game Works titles standard with multiplayer.

Q: To what do you attribute to Trenches success? Did you expect this level of success?
Well, we thought Trenches would do well, but it’s done better than we expected thus far.  Time will tell though, as we have a very long view for Trenches and the other titles in our development pipeline.  As for what we did “right”, boy … that’s a tough one.  I can’t think of a single thing that we really “hit out of the park”, if anything … it was just everyone on the team bringing their A game.  We all worked really hard to bring the best game we thought possible.

Q: How close was the end product to your initial conceptualization?
Wow … it was actually quite a ways off.  The original concept for Trenches was pretty low … certainly compared to what Trenches is today … and will be in a handful of weeks.  It was kind of funny … once a build was ready and we’d play around with it … we all just started in with “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if …”  Yeah … Trenches took a little longer than we’d planned. <wink>

Q: How did you keep yourself motivated? What tips do you have for people with AADD like me?
You know, I would just encourage anyone to just build it and put it out there.  The players are pretty vocal and they’ll tell you what they liked and what they didn’t.  Games can’t be a ship it and forget it deal.  You’ve got to be committed to long-term support and enhancements.  I mean … look at Pocket God.  Good grief … they’re the poster child for on-going support.

Q: If you were stuck on an island with a laptop and no internet access what apps would you have loaded?
Ack!  Would I have solar power to recharge the battery?  <grin>  I think my greatest video game addiction has got to be Left4Dead.  Now, maybe you can see why there’s zombies in Trenches.  Once the batteries on the laptop died, I’d likely drop into a deep psychosis and start recruiting the native island animals as Rochelle, Ellis and Nick … I always play Coach.  Don’t ask me why … I don’t know … it just works out that way.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to say?
If I could communicate one thing to your readers, it’s our freakish commitment to supporting Trenches and making it the best value on the AppStore.  We’ve got a long list of improvements to Trenches.  Once that list is complete, we’re confident that the loyal players of Trenches will have a new list for us.

We want to thank Michael for his time!

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