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Salad Sits Down With Darko From Entertainment Forge

Salad always strives to shine a light on the indie developers we adore. It’s our pleasure to introduce Darko Peninger, the mastermind behind Scheming Through the Zombie Apocalypse and Gladiator Guild Manager.

Join us as Darko delves into design inspirations, his storied career in the industry (he’s been around for a while!), and upcoming projects soon to grace the Salad Storefront.

I’ll try to give you the short version! I started planning what I should do in life when I was in high school. I knew how much normal jobs drained me, and I decided I could not live doing a regular nine-to-five. My parents were always struggling to making ends meet.

I had always felt entrepreneurial. Over the years, I tried little things like fixing friends’ computers, printing ads, or making Warcraft III maps. When I was fairly young — like ten years old — I got into making super simple games with Game Maker. It was just for fun back then. It had never occurred to me that I could make a living this way.

My high school programming class came super easily to me, so I figured I might try some programming in college. But with our financial situation being what it was, I was not sure if my parents could really support me. Since I knew a bit already, I started looking into making websites. That’s how I noticed browser-based Flash games.

I started digging deeper to learned about the industry and how it worked. I figured, “This is something I can learn on my own in a year or two.” And it would be way better than working as a programmer at some company.

I also knew that, if I did finish college, I’d still want to do something related to video games. So instead of doing four or five years of college, and then another year or two learning Flash and that whole business, I decided to jump right in and give it a shot!

I learned the things to make a basic game in six or eight months, and then spent four months making one. But as the project got bigger, the code got worse and worse. My PC took forever to compile it. I figured it would take me too long to finish, so I dropped that one. The next one didn’t gain any traction, either.

Finally I made a game called Mystery IQ Test that somehow managed to grab the attention of the sponsors who held Flash portals, even though the graphics were pretty bad since I had drawn and animated it myself. A sponsor called Yepi offered me $4,000 and an artist to make the game look better. Addicting Games would have paid me a bit more, but they wanted to release the game as it was. I went with Yepi.

They discovered a Filipino artist named Gilbert who was perfect for recreating the art. We worked pretty well together, and he ended up hiring me for one of his projects. And then I hired him for one of mine! Before the Flash games market died, we had created 15 games together as a team.

I do. It was a very exciting time. Flash games were in small resolutions like 800x600, which meant you could finish them in a couple months or less. We’d always be making something new or thinking about what we could try next.

On the other hand, we could never put as much time and polish into the games as we do now. I’m much more proud of my current Steam games, although we made some fun games along the way. I’d say my favorites were Mystery IQ Test, How Smart Are You, and Epic Boss Fighter 2.

I loved the first Kingdom Rush when it came out. It was really fun, and polished to a level that most Flash games weren’t back then. Company of Myself was dark, mysterious, and mind blowing to me at the time. I really enjoyed the turn-based game Sonny, too. It was really good. They made one for Steam, but it seems like they rushed it and didn’t put as much love into it.

My first Steam game was Puzzle Chambers. It had kind of a similar idea to Mystery IQ Test. You’re in control of somebody who woke up in a mysterious place, and you’re forced to solve puzzles to try and find out what is happening. I made it while learning Unity during a bit of a break from development.

I was feeling tired of games after the Flash market failed. You can notice it in all the similar games I kept making, like Bear in Super Action Adventure and its several sequels.

Puzzle Chambers is much more story-driven than its predecessor, and Scheming Through the Zombie Apocalypse is more of a story than a game. I realized I’m most interested in stories.

With time, my curiosity for making games returned because I found a more specific direction. I figured out what makes me tick and what gave me motivation to keep going.

Comedy is definitely important for me, though I like to touch subjects that have something real to them, instead of just random jokes. For some reason, I find terrible characters very entertaining — as you can see from Scheming!

Shows like Family Guy, Seinfeld, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia inspire me. With comedy, you’re able to poke at some darker truths, or just any kind of thing we don’t usually speak about. Rick and Morty does an amazing job at showing dark things. Even though they exaggerate and set these topics in a fictional world, there’s still some truth or meaningful message underneath.

That was why the characters from Scheming, Hank and Larry, always rationalize and justify to themselves how they’re good — despite being awful. They lie to themselves. It’s funny to me because we all do it, but the exaggeration makes it comedic and gets the truth across.

Right now our biggest project is Gladiator Guild Manager. I found the concept of managing a team of gladiators interesting for a long time, but didn’t have the skill or the time to make it until now. We’ve started a Kickstarter for the budget to keep developing it. We hope to release on Early Access and support and update the game from there. There’s a lot we can do!

We’re also working on episode two of Scheming — as Jared knows because he is helping us write it. Depending on how it’s received, we’re not sure how many more episodes we’ll make.

It’s hard to choose just one. When my first Flash game failed, it was super important to realize that I had underestimated the market, and needed to try more creative approaches. It also helped to realize what genuinely interested me. Getting closer to discovering my style has helped me bring more unique games to the table.

Working with Daniel on Gladiator Guild Manager has taught me how important it is to work with somebody you get along with. You need to be able to talk about difficult issues and disagree amicably.

As they say: “If two agree about everything, one is not needed.” Having good communication as we go through all the design issues together helps tremendously with making the best decisions — especially with a project that we feel is fairly innovative, where we can’t just look at other games for all the solutions.

Soon after our interview, Gladiator Guild Manager won first place at Gamescom. Congrats to Darko, Daniel, and the entire team at Entertainment Forge! Stay tuned for future updates, and developments on Entertainment Forge’s Discord Server.

By Jared Carpenter and Brandon Tepner.



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