After playing The Spirit Engine for a short while there was no question that we simply HAD to have an interview with Mark Pay, the developer of The Spirit Engine. The spirit Engine 2 is currently in the making.
A little intro to the game:
The Spirit Engine is a 2D, sidescrolling adventure/RPG game with a simple story and a straightforward, innovative real-time combat system. Written as an experimental reaction to old 16bit console RPGs, it took a little under two years to complete and was released in November 2003 as freeware under Natomic.
We finally got a hold of Mark Pay via mail and sent him these questions for answering.
You can find The Spirit Engine on our site here.
And so we begin:
Q: Tell us more about yourself - how old are you, where do you live, what do you do for a living? (one of these basic interview questions)
I am 24 years old and currently living in Kent, South-East England. Right now I am muddling along trying to make a living as a 2D game artist.
Q: When did you start playing games? Do you have any fond memories of those times and did you decide to make a game of your own because of some of them?
I started playing on a friend's NES and Gameboy. My interest in games development began there, although I had none of the tools or knowledge required to get involved. Our family got a SNES and a PC around 1994. My fondest memories are of hauling my PC round to friends' houses to play games over serial cable. C&C Red Alert and Duke Nukem 3D were particular favourites.
Q: Were you a big fan of a particular game that might have put you on to making this game or did you just like games in general?
It was more of a disappointment in a particular genre. I was playing some old 16 bit RPGs on an emulator and wanted to try doing them another way.
Q: Did you ever have crisis where you almost decided to make commercial games instead of freeware?
Not until the Spirit Engine 2 when I decided that I could not justify the investment of time required without aiming for some sort of financial compensation.
Q: What made you decide that you wanted to make freeware instead of commercial games?
Back in 2003 when I released The Spirit Engine, the games that I was making were not good enough to ask money for. I was also at school, with more free time and fewer financial concerns. There were far fewer independent commercial developers back then.
Q: Have you considered making commercial games?
Yes, see below :)
Q: Why was The Spirit Engine 2 made commercial? This is always a good chance to tell gamers that games cost money to make no matter how enthusiastic you are.
It's all about finding time. The bills need to get paid and if game development helps to support those costs, you are able to devote more time to it. That lets you make better games, faster, and makes you a happier person too. Developing on top of a 9-6 job + commute is exhausting, especially when you sacrifice your recreational time, social activities and other responsibilities to try and speed up your progress.
I expect that most developers and artists share the dream of being able to work full-time on their projects.
Q: If there is ever a Spirit Engine 3 will that also be a commercial product?
Inevitably I think, otherwise it would be a major regression from 2.
Q: If you were to make a commercial game (however cheap or expensive) what kind of game would you make? And inspired by what?
If money is no object? I think it is a crime that a better FPS/RPG hybrid than Deus Ex has still not been made in the last decade. Somebody needs to fix that.
THE GAMEMAKING PROCESS:
Q: Did you work alone or with more people?
(If with other people)
I had the lovely Josh Whelchel writing the soundtrack for the game.
Q: Being the leader of a group of volunteers can be frustrating as you canÂ´t really demand anything from them, since they are there of their own free will. How do you motivate the people making the game?
Lead by example I think. Put a lot of effort in yourself and try to create a game that others would be proud to be associated with.
Q: Was the game ever in danger of not being published? Why? And at what state?
Not really. I had a hard-drive crash, but plenty of backups.
Q: What specific tech side of making a game is the hardest (to find people for)? (Music, Graphics, storyline, translation, etc.)
For me personally - music, since I would like to think that I have a basic competancy in most other areas. I have been very fortunate to have Josh working with me on the soundtrack for both The Spirit Engine and its sequel. Finding good, trustworthy testers is hard.
Q: Did any sacrifices have to be made with the content?
Plenty. I have a hard time justifying optional content when I am the only person working on it, so the result was a very linear play experience.
Q: Where did you find the will to power through this consuming job? Did the fans help or was it just sheer willpower?
A mixture of willpower and a lack of interest in doing other things with my time! In the end, I think you have to find that stubborness inside yourself, to drive a project to completion, accept its shortcomings and release it. There are some wonderful fans who have supported The Spirit Engine, but ultimately you can't rely on other people for your own motivation.
Q: What part of the game were you most proud of?
Finishing it! Looking back I find almost every aspect of the game embaressing, expect for the soundtrack which of course is not my work. But I am still proud of the fact that I finished it and that people are still being entertained by it.
Q: The game is truelly a fan-favourite. It seems you got something good going here. Will we see similar games from you for free later in life?
Sadly I think not, at least until I reach retirement age (!). Finding the time required to create the assets for an RPG on top of a normal life is so hard.
A lot of TSE-2 has been written during my lazy student days and periods of unemployment, so it may be my last large game for a long time. I hope not, but life is rarely that kind.
Q: The game is much longer than a lot of other games for free. Was that just how it turned out or were you making it purposefully that length?
It wasn't planned. I pretty much wrote the game as I was going along and finished it when I thought it had gone far enough.
Q. The spirit Engine has an effect on people that didn't quite finish it in their first run. It seems to draw back people to the game, not letting them get away with not completing it. (I know since I am one of them) Did you put some sort of magnetic-script in the game? :D
No, but I should have added difficulty levels!
Q: Is there a storyline that you were more proud of than the others?
I liked Rick Brutal's little arc and I love the theme that Josh wrote for him too.
Q: When you play over the game, what combinations do you love to play yourself?
Just a mixed group with one of each character class. In all honesty, I haven't replayed the game for over 4 years now. My memory is hazy.
Q: Any favourite character in the game?
Probably Clemetas. I have a fondness for kick-ass pseudo-Christian priests in fantasy settings. TSE-2 has one as a main character too, but he is a more uncertain character.
Q: Will you keep working on the game or have we seen the last version of it?
I really want to fix the crash bugs with the music module which are affecting a number of people. It's a headache though, and incredibly boring to work on, so my progress has been slow. Otherwise I have no further plans to work on the game. It is very old now and I need to move on.
Q: What will be your next game/remake?
I really want to do a period version of XCOM with a strong Lovecraftian theme.
Q: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now regarding gamemaking?
Probably a burned out, bitter husk of a man, occasionally finding the time to work on some little 2D arcade game in the evening when I'm finished stacking shelves for the day.
Q: Any words for other freeware game developers?
Just have fun! Make what you want to make.
Q: Any favourite freeware games we should know about?
No, not really. :| That's bad isn't it? I spend a lot of time working on my own projects and only occasionally play big commercial games.
Q: If you were to mention a GOD of freeware, who would that be?
I don't think there are any creators who have earned such a title. There's plenty of great people out there, but I think that worshipping any particular one does a disservice to the others.
Q: What are you currently working on?
The Spirit Engine 2. Fixing all the stuff that was wrong with the first one!
Q: If you look by CWF's game vs. game feature right now, then TSE is listed at the top of that list, kicking away great quality games all the time. Why do you think that is, and what do you think about it?
That's really great! Wow. I think that freeware RPG's are a rarity because of the effort required to develop them. RPGs which aren't Final Fantasy clones are even rarer. If I had made a platformer of a similar overall quality, I think it would have received little attention.
Q: Have you ever heard of CWF's developer help project?
I haven't no. I don't read around much!
Q: CWF's dev help project aims to be a 'bridge' between freeware developers and people interested in participating creating freeware games. If you needed more helpers, would you consider opening a thread in CWF, telling which kind of help you need?
Certainly, though my current project is intended as a commercial venture.
Q: If you could choose to do a freeware game with any gamedeveloper (freeware or commercial) who would it be?
Blizzard, if it got me the keys to their big money bank. ;) Honestly, I'm not sure. I am rather fussy creatively and I think that any serious group project needs a clear hierarchy, strong motivation ( often money ) and good personal interaction to succeed. I don't know any other developers well enough to know whether a collaboration with them would work.
by Mark Pay
The Spirit Engine is a great mix between action, side-scroller and role playing game. You can choose from various characters in the beginning of the game (gets more important during later levels) and have the opportunity to upgrade these characters by buying new armor, weapons and amulets. You can also learn a great variety of spells which you can use during fights. Sometimes it's really hard to find the right spell combination to win a hard fight... (read more)
CWF Crew rating:
(6 of 6)