August 2, 2011

Interview with Zeboyd Games!

Some of you may remem­ber an arti­cle I did a while back about a two-game bun­dle of indie RPGs by a small com­pa­ny called Zeboyd Games. They explod­ed onto Steam and made more in under a week than they had in an entire year on Xbox Live. If you haven’t read the arti­cle yet (and received my some­what vio­lent demand to pur­chase the games), I rec­om­mend you click this link before con­tin­u­ing on.
This after­noon, I had the chance to chat with both mem­bers of Zeboyd Games about their games, their com­pa­ny, and their way of doing things. They’re a cou­ple of real­ly nice guys who were more than hap­py to talk with me, which only fur­ther cements my  “You must pur­chase their games” stance. Enjoy, and be on the look­out for details on their new game!
Char­coal:  First off, how many peo­ple are a part of Zeboyd Games? Is it just the two of you?
Robert:  Yes, it’s just the two of us. We usu­al­ly have anoth­er per­son work­ing as a con­trac­tor with us for music. Like right now, we’re work­ing with Alex Mauer for the music on our next game. For Cthul­hu Saves the World, Gor­don McNeil did our music.
Bill:  Yes, Robert is the design­er and pro­gram­mer. I do the art, maps, and oth­er visu­al assets.
Char­coal:  So, when you designed Cthul­hu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII, how many peo­ple con­tributed to the project in total?
Robert:  Breath of Death VII was made by the two of us and we just licensed some pre­made music for it. Cthul­hu Saves the World was made by the two of us + Gor­don, so 3 total.
Bill:  We licensed a vari­ety of songs from dif­fer­ent artists for the music in Breath of Death VII through, so the total num­ber of peo­ple who con­tributed was larg­er, but those actu­al­ly “work­ing on the game” were the two of us. For Cthul­hu Saves the World we worked close­ly with Gor­don on the OST. We’re a lean and mean team  😉
Char­coal:  Was Breath of Death VII your first game togeth­er? How long has Zeboyd Games been a pro­duc­er?
Bill:  Robert can tell you a lit­tle about his pre-offi­cial-Zeboyd time, as he released a cou­ple of games under his own name before we start­ed work­ing togeth­er as “Zeboyd Games.”  But as the team, Zeboyd Games, Breath of Death VII was our first game. We have both devel­oped var­i­ous things in the past seper­ate­ly, but we both com­pli­ment each oth­er’s skillsets pret­ty well, which is why we make a good team for Zeboyd.
Robert:  In late 2009, I released a cou­ple of text-based Choose Your Own Adven­ture games (Epiphany in Spaaac! and Mol­ly the Were-Zom­pire), but Breath of Death VII was the first game we worked togeth­er on.
Bill:  Breath of Death VII was the first “Zeboyd Game.”
Robert:  Yeah, it’s the first time we actu­al­ly used that name.
Char­coal:  How hard has it been to turn a rea­son­able prof­it, being an indie devel­op­er? Is it some­thing you can live off of, or have you had to con­sign it to the “side job” or “hob­by” role?
Bill:  That’s a good ques­tion, there’s a lot involved in answer­ing it actu­al­ly. Start­ing any busi­ness from “scratch” is often dif­fi­cult, to get the ball rolling and bring­ing rev­enue in.  For an indie devel­op­er, it can be dif­fi­cult to get word out about what you’re work­ing on, and get peo­ple inter­est­ed; for many indie devs, it is mere­ly a hob­by — and for some, it’s sim­ply that.   Robert and I start­ed out Zeboyd Games with Breath of Death VII and a busi­ness ori­ent­ed approach. We were both work­ing (rather, he was work­ing and I was in law school) when we start­ed Breath of Death VII, but the idea was that if we could sus­tain a busi­ness, then we might even­tu­al­ly do it full time.
Bill:  With that in mind, we both approached every­thing from a busi­ness stand­point, includ­ing mar­ket research, which has been very impor­tant and I feel is often over­looked by indie devs.
Robert:  Exact­ly. My goal with Zeboyd Games was always to turn it into a full-time job even­tu­al­ly.
Char­coal:  And you would say that it’s become that now?
Robert:  How­ev­er, it took quite some time to get there. I’d say now that we’ve released on the PC on Steam and Gamers­gate, we’re final­ly self suf­fi­cient.
Bill:  The orig­i­nal idea was to only focus on the Xbox Live Indie Games mar­ket. While we were Xblig focused, we prob­a­bly could have sur­vived as a com­pa­ny, but it would have been extreme­ly tough. Robert is right, now that we have expand­ed to the PC mar­ket, we are com­fort­ably able to sus­tain our busi­ness and focus on it full time for both of us. So it was a lot of work up front, and we were doing OK for the Xblig mar­ket, but to sus­tain our busi­ness and make a career out of it, we had to expand to anoth­er mar­ket (in this case PC).
Char­coal:  Giv­en the over­whelm­ing suc­cess on Steam, will you change the way in which you choose to release your games in the future?
Robert:  Instead of releas­ing on XBLIG first and then on PC, we’re plan­ning on releas­ing on PC simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. We’re also look­ing into oth­er plat­forms.
Bill:  Yes, going for­ward we plan to release our next games on both the Xbox and PC mar­kets simul­ta­ne­ous­ly.  Right now, we have fans and there is a mar­ket for our style of games on the Xbox, and while we are see­ing more sales from the PC mar­ket, we want to con­tin­ue to sup­port the Xbox and our XBLIG fans.  For­tu­nate­ly it is not too ter­ri­bly dif­fi­cult to sup­port both, and we plan to do so simul­ta­ne­ous­ly.
Char­coal:  Have you con­sid­ered releas­ing any­thing for mobile plat­forms? The Apple and Android “App Stores” have become very pop­u­lar for indie devel­op­ers recent­ly, as well as down­load stores on mobile con­soles such as the DS and PSP.
Robert:  We’re look­ing into the iOS mar­ket at the moment, but we don’t have any­thing firm to report yet. Ask us in a cou­ple of weeks. 🙂
Bill:  The nice thing about XNA is that doing Xbox and PC ver­sions is rel­a­tive­ly easy com­pared to oth­er plat­forms.  It’s not effort­less, but we would have to do a lot of work get­ting it on oth­er plat­frorms.  The DS and PSP mar­kets at the very least have more up front costs.  The iOS mar­ket though, like Robert just said, we are look­ing into as it has few­er up front costs. It is a nice mar­ket and we believe that a good num­ber of peo­ple would enjoy play­ing these types of games on a mobile device.
Char­coal:  So, what was it that inspired you to make the games you did, the way you did them? Was there any­thing about the “retro RPG” genre specif­i­cal­ly that drew you to it?
Robert:  I’ve been a big fan of RPGs ever since I was a lit­tle kid and played Drag­on War­rior 1 on the NES for the first time. How­ev­er, what real­ly got me start­ed was when I played Gua­dia Quest in Retro Game Chal­lenge. I saw that game and how it was fun despite using very retro graph­ics and thought, “I could total­ly make this!”
Bill:  I had played Retro Game Chal­lenge as well, before we start­ed work­ing togeth­er.  I’ve always loved the idea of cre­at­ing a retro game with new game­play mechan­ics.  I have cre­at­ed top down 2D RPG style art­work before, so I thought it was an excel­lent idea and that it would be fun.  Plus, it just sort of feels like you don’t see many games in this style any more, and that sure­ly there’s a num­ber of oth­er gamers out there who feel the same.
Char­coal:  About how many man-hours would you say went in to pro­duc­ing Breath of Death VII and Cthul­hu Saves the World? Were you able to recy­cle any pre-exist­ing knowl­edge and mate­r­i­al from Breath of Death VII into Cthul­hu Saves the World?
Bill:  I’m not sure we can put a hard num­ber on man-hours for each game.
Robert:  Breath of Death VII took us 3 months to make. For most of that time, I was only work­ing part time, but towards the end I was work­ing full days. No clue how many total hours we put in. And yes, we were able to reuse a lot of knowl­edge from Breath of Death VII when mak­ing Cthul­hu Saves The World. The game engine for Cthul­hu Saves the World is basi­cal­ly just the Breath of Death VII engine with a lot of improve­ments added on.
Bill:  We def­i­nite­ly learned a lot while build­ing Breath of Death VII, and much of the engine was upgrad­ed and used for Cthul­hu Saves The World.  I learned a lot about effi­cient­ly mak­ing 2D RPG style art­work and pix­el art, and so I think Cthul­hu Saves the World looks sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter and has more vari­ety.  I can tell you that Breath of Death VII has about 1,400 art tiles while Cthul­hu Saves the World has about 5,500. I re-used very lit­tle art from Breath of Death VII, and those that I did received upgrades to make them fit the new game bet­ter.
Char­coal:  With that in mind, are you plan­ning on mak­ing any more games in that style? Name­ly, any sequels or uni­verse-shar­ing games for Breath of Death VII and Cthul­hu Saves the World? What hap­pened to Breath of Death I — VI? I want them!
Robert:  We’re cur­rent­ly work­ing on a new RPG but I can’t give any details. It’s not direct­ly relat­ed to Breath of Death VII and Cthul­hu Saves the World though. We may decide to make sequels, pre­quels, or spin-offs to Breath of Death VII and Cthul­hu Saves the World in the future, but we have no plans at the moment.
Bill:  As far as style, we’re going with the retro look and basic feel, though it is going to play dif­fer­ent­ly than Cthul­hu Saves the World and Breath of Death VII. Cthul­hu Saves the World was kind of a spir­i­tu­al suc­ces­sor to Breath of Death VII, but we want our next game to have its own fresh new game­play.
Char­coal:  Is there any pro­ject­ed time­line or release date, or is it too ear­ly to tell at this point?
Robert:  We prob­a­bly should­n’t say at this point. We’ll have an offi­cial announce­ment by the end of the month.
Char­coal:  Alright! I can’t wait. One more ques­tion, and then I’ll let you guys go. Sup­pose I want­ed to get a few friends togeth­er and cre­ate a game, for what­ev­er pur­pose. What sort of cap­i­tal goes in to mak­ing a game? What would we need to buy? What would we need to learn?
Robert:  With XBLIG, you don’t need much mon­ey at all. The XNA/C# tools are com­plete­ly free for down­load on Microsoft­’s XNA site. To actu­al­ly release on XBLIG or WP7, you just need to pay $99/year for a cre­ator’s mem­ber­ship, and that’s it.
Bill:  If you go the PC route, you don’t even need the Xblig $99/yr mem­ber­ship; you can make and release an entire game on Win­dows
Robert:  That’s true. Real­ly, the main expense is just time.
Bill:  What you real­ly need more than any­thing is ded­i­ca­tion and dis­ci­pline, and the abil­i­ty to stick to a plan.
Robert:  Yes, that’s very impor­tant.  A lot of peo­ple are too ambi­tious with their first project and burn out.
Bill:  Or they let fea­ture creep kill a project.
Robert:  It’s bet­ter to stick with some­thing more con­ser­v­a­tive that you can actu­al­ly fin­ish and then work your way up from there.
Bill:  Pret­ty much.  Some devs will spend a whole ton of mon­ey on new hard­ware and soft­ware that they may or may not actu­al­ly need. That’s an option, a route you can take, but in our expe­ri­ence it is not nec­es­sary. The bare basics of mak­ing a game don’t require much in the way of expense, basi­cal­ly. Tal­ent, dis­ci­pline, ded­i­ca­tion, and enthu­si­asm are the biggest require­ments.
Char­coal:  Alright. Well, it’s been an absolute blast talk­ing to you guys, and I can’t thank you enough for giv­ing me the time for the inter­view.
Robert:  No prob­lem. 🙂
Bill:  No prob 😀
Once again, be sure to give Cthul­hu Saves The World and Breath of Death VII a try! Huge thanks to Robert and Bill, and I’ll keep you all post­ed on the details of their new game as they release them!


  1. AceOfNades69 - August 2, 2011 11:25 pm

    Awe­some inter­view! Seem like some cool dudes

  2. zero_19 - August 3, 2011 8:57 am

    Nice inter­view! I may go pick these up now…just need to find time to play them!

  3. ScrotusKilmystr - August 3, 2011 7:36 pm

    great arti­cle they smed real­ly cool! the Q&A was real­ly well done and infor­ma­tive keep em com­ing!


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