Interview with Evan Massie creator of the amazing indie game The Caribbean Sail.
- Tell us a little bit about your game and where did the idea come from?
The Caribbean Sail is an 8-bit adventure about crossing the Atlantic in the 1700’s. As the Captain, you’ll manage the ship’s resources in an effort to survive an onslaught of diseases, storms, reefs, and hostile ships during the War of the Spanish Succession on a voyage bound for Nassau. Spear fishing, naval combat, liars dice, and online messages in bottles are only a few of the features that make a quick and unique content rich experience every playthrough- with much more to come.
I didn’t plan on taking my game public originally. I had been working on a much bigger project for three years and needed to test a few simple functions on something small. After considering what the fastest framework would be for making a game to test those functions, I decided on taking my love and knowledge of all things nautical and combining that with The Oregon Trail and an 8-bit art style designed for the fastest iteration time possible. January of this year I had created the foundation of my game within two weeks. I showed it to my friends who convinced me to continue developing it and take it public so I could learn about marketing and self publishing a game.
2. In which platforms is your game accessible?
3. In your opinion, what are the main characteristics of a good indie game?
Experimentation. Without game executives and focus groups dictating what developers are permitted to create and what loot boxes- I mean; what features must be in the game, the strongest place for indie games to thrive is through experimentation with completely new ideas or taking something we’ve seen before and putting a spin on it. A game like Paper’s Please or The Binding of Isaac would never be approved by a committee, but in the indie space: Truly anything is possible. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean every experiment will be good. For every successful indie game there are a thousand failures we’ll never hear of, and not always failures of quality but marketing.
4. What was your biggest challenge making the game, and how did you overcome it?
Most of the challenges were polishing the game to retail quality after deciding to take it public. Programming everything to run at 60 FPS from a previous 30, creating volume and mute controls, dealing with screen formatting from an abnormal resolution, etc. -but the biggest challenge was definitely online messages in bottles.
Originally, bottles were just like grave markers in The Oregon Trail. When you died you left something behind that you would come across on each new journey, but every player I talked to asked “Can other players see the bottles I leave?” and they were always disappointed when I had to tell them no. Without a budget to pay for real server hosting or the in depth networking knowledge to create the system, I had given up… then an idea struck. The host for the leader boards had a flexible system that I could use to upload messages; The message was the username, the score was the distance the player died at, and the player’s rank was a unique variable to randomly pull from a pool. By the end of the week I had it working perfectly.
5. What indie games are your top inspirations?
None of these directly inspired The Caribbean Sail, but they’re some of my favorite indie games that show how engaging experiences can come in many unexpected ways: Sunless Sea, Thomas Was Alone, Bernband, Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, Pony Island, Quadrilateral Cowboy, and Event.
6. What do you believe that needs to be improved in the Indie Games market?
Curation. It’s no secret the video game industry is flooded. The problem isn’t that we have too many games, the fact we have so many people working passionately on creative experiences is amazing. The problem is we have far too few well known ways to actually find those games. The most popular and groundbreaking games will always find their way around but so many experiences are simply lost to obscurity. We have plenty of reviewers who play games and try to rate them or explain how they could be improved but we need more people in positions of influence who actively seek out and bring attention to a particular type of game for a specific audience.
The goal isn’t to make every game be seen by every person on earth or to critique games to a single persons idea of perfection. We need people who represent a niche or unique interest that can easily be approached and raise awareness to those scattered audiences who might be interested.
7. Do you have any advice for beginners who wish to make games like you?
Begin with the end and develop with polish in mind. Developing without an end goal is a time sink you can’t afford and going back to re-make the foundation of your game after 300+ NPCs are using the same broken dialogue code is a nightmare. Deal with things like settings, saving and loading, controls, gamepad support, frame-rate and resolution first. Quality assurance is one of the most difficult things to do as an independent developer but with so many games vying for our time, you may only have one chance to put your best foot forward at launch.
Try to see your work through the eyes of an absolute stranger, and get a demo out there as soon as possible. You can never begin marketing too early. If you have a 32x32 pixelated character and name for your game, it’s time to start marketing. When you are ready to release your game, you need a fan base to release that game to! Otherwise you’ll announce release day to nobody on every social media outlet you can think of. No amount of time dedicated to your work will matter, if nobody plays it.
8. Are there any final considerations you want to share?
As a developer you’ll spend a lot of 48 hour long days alone with your first human contact being a negative reaction to your work, but in the end you’ll get to say you pursued your passion and completed what so few can even begin. Creating a video game.