Casual Connect has been a breeding ground for the upcoming game developers and this time around too the turnaround at the conference was mind-boggling with over 1200 people turning up for the event. The conference’s competition Indie Prize was filled with promising games and one developer that stood out from the crowd was Adrian Lazar.
Sweeping three awards, namely Best Game Art, Most Promising Game in Development, and Critic’s Choice at CC Asia 2015 for his game ‘Planet Alpha 31’, we got talking with Adrian about his game, his big win at Casual Connect 2015 and some more gaming gyaan.
Tell us something about yourself and how did you land up making games?
My name is Adrian Lazar, I’m 31 years old and I live in Copenhagen, Denmark. I started working in post-production when I was 17 and in 2009 I switched to game development and haven’t looked back since – for me this industry has the perfect combination of creative freedom and technical wonder.
Over the years my role shifted from primarily creative to mainly technical, transition accelerated at the previous work place, FullControl – a medium size studio that focused on core PC games like Space Hulk: Ascension. I’ve been working on pet projects in my spare time ever since I remember, be it short CG animations or more recently video games, most of which never saw the light of day but were great for learning. As I gathered more experience and know-how so did my urge to develop my own game grew – I felt I could bring something unique to the industry but I wanted to do it with complete creative and technical control.
In December 2014 I started working on the original version of Planet Alpha 31 and I haven’t stopped since. I’m not completely independent though, as my project is yet unfunded I do have a full-time job at IO Interactive, developer of the Hitman franchise – a company where I have had two stints at an earlier date.
What is Planet Alpha 31? Why should people be excited to play the game?
Planet Alpha 31 is an immersive, story driven puzzle platformer, mixed with bits of agility, action and exploration that takes place in a beautiful but dangerous world.
It’s a tribute to the old-school games I grew up with, and there will be little to no hand-holding. To survive you will have to explore and to be observant of this strange place – head on approach rarely works – think before you shoot and tread cautiously.
During your stay on the planet, you will face both alien and human enemies, each having to be overcome in a different way.
Here are the main features:
If I have to pick one thing that I believe people will love, that would be the experience – the experience of exploring this planet, the experience of solving puzzles, conquering agility challenges and confronting diverse enemies, and the experience of the unfolding story.
Music from the trailers has a very ambient feel, what more to expect?
For a few months I collaborated with David Kamp to create the music and some of the audio effects. His idea was to let the natural elements of the planet create the soundscape and I think it works really well. While our collaboration unfortunately had to end (in a friendly manner) his idea for the music will stay implemented.
Could you tell us more about the art style used in the game?
The art-style was researched and developed over many months to ensure it can offer an immersive experience for the players but that is also something I could pull off on my own if needed. Developing my own project means that I can play to my strengths and cut corners where I think it is required.
I’m trying to create a living world where the visuals influence the game-mechanics and vice versa. For example the real-time day and night cycle affects the game-play but at the same time the player can affect the day and night cycle. For me, this constant connection between gameplay, visuals and audio, is key to create an immersive experience.
There are many sources that inspire the visuals of Planet Alpha 31 – from ancient Greek architecture to the amazing futuristic design found in cities like Singapore to space photography – we live in an amazing world with no shortage of inspiring sights.
On what platform do you develop your games; any particular reason for the choice?
I started working on the first version of Planet Alpha 31 using Unity3D and progress went fine at the beginning. However after a while I started to need more control from the engine – the prefab system was becoming limiting, there were few options to debug render issues and post-processing lacked in overall quality.
Unity is a good engine but my project outgrew it – as the game became more and more complex so did the requirements for the tools grew. After half a year I stopped the development, becoming frustrated with the slow pace at which the project was advancing at that point.
I took a break for a couple of months then I started experimenting with Unreal Engine 4 – it was still new but I was instantly impressed. The blueprint system is extremely powerful, it offers more debug options than I would ever use and the renderer is state of the art. More importantly, the node based workflow fitted me better since both Houdini and ICE (XSI), tools that I worked with for years, share the same design.
Having solid tools that you can trust is always important, but it is even more so when you are an Indie. Limited time and resources means that I need to rely heavily on the software developers and good communication is the key. Luckily, Epic Games does a great job at being transparent with weekly streams, lots of developers join the discussions on the forum and a public roadmap is in place for one to know what’s coming next.
What is the monetisation strategy you follow and what are your thoughts on Freemium vs. Premium games?
Planet Alpha 31 is a premium product that will have a fixed price and at this moment there are no plans for DLC’s.
I think Freemium can be a fine monetisation strategy but it’s also often abused by developers or publishers. Freemium also has a big impact on game-play design since you need to motivate people to purchase whatever you sell in the game and I don’t want to have these kind of forced restrictions on Planet Alpha 31. For me game-play should be about one thing only: entertain the player.
Going premium kept some publishers away and in the end might prove to be a mistake but it is my mistake to make. And I strongly believe that good quality premium games can succeed and make a nice profit.
What learnings do you take away from Casual Connect Asia 2015?
In mid-May I visited Singapore to attend Casual Connect Asia where Planet Alpha 31 was chosen to be part of the Indie Showcase Program. It was the first public hands-on event for my game and I was terrified. I knew from the screenshots and short videos posted online that people liked the visuals so that wasn’t my worry. But with Planet Alpha 31 being the 1st game I’m doing alone I did have my doubts about everything else. Are the core mechanics solid? Is the level-design good? Are the puzzles too hard or too easy? Maybe the platforming is too frustrating?
Attending Casual Connect and the Indie Prize Showcase was totally worth it. I met some great people that I hope I’ll see again, Planet Alpha 31 won three awards during the Indie Prize Ceremony, including for Critic’s Choice: Best in Show, and I gathered some very useful feedback from the first public hands-on event. I also received a huge morale boost from the great reception Planet Alpha 31 had and most importantly I got the confirmation that I am on the right track with my game.
Having a face to face connection with the players, being able to see how they react to certain events in the game, what frustrates them, what they liked and how they played in general was very useful and I hope to attend many other events like these. Time and money are always an issue and I would like to thank Epic Games for awarding Planet Alpha 31 the Unreal Dev Grant that made possible attending Casual Connect Asia.
My task is to bring Planet Alpha 31 on as many platforms as possible now, however with limited resources I will have to do it one at the time. Currently the lead platform is PC with a release date targeted for 2016.