ED Note: David had the great opportunity to interview Nicholas Laborde from Raconteur Games which is an independent video game studio that is currently working on their first title, Close Order, which is tentatively set for a 2015 release. You can read all the different questions that were asked which gives more insight to Raconteur Games and also Close Order. Let’s have a look at this interesting interview:
David: Nick, firstly let me say that it is fantastic that I finally get to say that I genuinely have a friend who is the Head of a Studio! Oh, yes, and it’s cool your studio Raconteur Games has got a game to Alpha stage and hopefully get greenlit on Steam… But hey, the important thing is I can say I know a Head of Studio! That’s great isn’t it?
Nicholas: It’s certainly exciting! I also get paid a commission each time you say Head of Studio, including that one, so keep the excitement coming!
David: Next, you and I worked diligently at OXCGN.com before we handed the reigns over to the very capable Arthur. In fact, I think I recruited you. But less about me… What did you learn about the gaming industry working with a video gaming website like OXCGN that helped prepare you for getting an indie studio up and running and your first game made?
Nicholas: When I joined OXCGN, I had to make several treks through the Australian wilderness. There were good times, there were bad times, and I was also made aware of the wonderful slang term “tinnie.” You also shouted “SEE YE IN TH’ARVO” at me several times. It was a trial by fire, and I’m impressed that I survived.
On a serious note, writing for OXCGN helped me learn about the industry, make some essential contacts, and learn how the press side of things works. The most important thing I learned is how the press tend to prioritize news and reviews, which was essential in coming up with the marketing plan for Close Order. I also channeled my experiences on that side of the industry to make our emails and press releases as easy as possible for the press to digest and be interested in. It was an extremely valuable experience!
David: Raconteur Games is from the French, meaning to tell a story or storyteller (see how cultured I am?). Why did you choose that particular name when you clearly are from the melting pot society – the USA, which only speaks ‘American’? (For those of you thinking I’m being mean, you have no idea of the number of kangaroo jokes I’ve endured over the years!)
Nicholas: We chose Raconteur because of the place where the company really came together – Lafayette, Louisiana! It’s a nice tie to our Louisiana roots, and felt very fitting given our focus on wanting to tell stories. Lafayette is a wonderful city with tons of culture (predominantly French), and Raconteur seemed to be the name that encapsulated both where we’re from and where we’re going.
David: Raconteur Games telling stories seems to be your approach to gaming. Why do you believe storytelling is so important in games, and what games do you think got that part of their video game right?
Nicholas: Video games are the ultimate medium. It’s the only truly active storytelling medium, and that results in a unique experience. Simply put: You’re in control. It’s not the author’s story, it’s YOUR story. At Raconteur, we wish to harness the power of what this medium can convey and capitalize on that. I’m a huge fan of the Metro series because of the way they convey both powerful emotion and subtle nuances.
David: One more question about your studio: it’s an indie studio made up of how many people? What is your major role there?
Nicholas: There are seven people, counting myself, spread out all across America. We have three programmers, two artists, a composer/sound designer, and then myself. A good friend of mine named Zachary has come up with this idea of the “Entrepreneurial Triangle.” It’s a triangle with three points, and I’ll illustrate with my world-renowned Paint skills. You have three points: Deal Maker, Technician, and Administration, with CEO in the middle.
The purpose of the triangle is to point out the essential parts of an entrepreneurial operation. Deal Makers are your people with business acumen who bring the vision to life through their connections, their training, their education, and more. Technicians are the actual people who bring the Deal Maker’s vision to life, and are highly skilled. (Note that they don’t have to be in a “tech” field – this is anyone who is highly skilled like a lawyer, doctor, accountant, etc.). Finally, administration is everything in-between that makes it come to life (office managers, anything to do with paperwork or operations, etc.).
I’m a Deal Maker – I can’t actually do the technical work on the game, so I hire the right people who can and get them everything they need to be successful. I’m responsible for all aspects of production: ensuring deadlines are met, solving production problems and/or bottlenecks as they arise, keeping communication clear and flowing, and overall driving the creative direction of the project(s). Also, I am the de facto “business guy” and thus manage hiring, finances, budgeting, marketing, strategic planning, and maintaining business relationships (attorneys, CPAs, etc.).
David: Let’s talk about Close Order. It looks like a space shootem’up game but there is more depth than that there; explain for those who don’t know. How is the game more than just a space shooter?
Nicholas: Close Order is an arcade shooter with one simple goal: become a badass armada! It’s so much more than just that, though. It’s a mix of shooter, strategy, bullet hell, shoot-em-up, and classic arcade. It’s modern Galaga on steroids. It plays like a shooter, but allows you to strategize and change your approach, while maintaining a fast bullet hell & shoot-em-up pace, and feels like it’s an arcade game you played many years ago – but better!
David: And there is storytelling there?
Nicholas: Absolutely! We have a dedicated story mode, which is set in an alternate space-faring reality where humanity had to flee Earth in the 1980’s. The player is among the first generation of humans born post-Earth, and leaves everything they know in order to find out what happened to the remnants of humanity.
Apart from our story mode, though, behind every armada is a story. Every single time we hear from someone who’s played the game, without a doubt they give us a recap of the minion combination they used and how they felt about it. No two people play the game the same way, meaning it’s a web of stories: We tell ours, and you weave your own.
David: How did Close Order come about? How did you decide that all these elements would make an original fun game?
Nicholas: It originally started out as a prototype brought forward by a programmer on our team. We were working on a really ambitious project that we had to table due to resource constraints, and we were looking for something new. I booted up his project, and man, it was basic… but even as I looked at it in all of its two color, blocky glory, I could see its potential. Within days that was our project! It evolved over time into what it is now, but we kept to that original idea of bullet hell goodness. That original prototype had three key ideas that are still in the game today: 1) it’s a bullet hell game, 2) it revolves around things around you called minions, and 3) you can adjust how the minions are arranged.
David: You are currently trying to get green-lit on Steam. What are the challenges your studio faced to get the game to this stage, why are you doing it this way, and what further challenges do you think you’ll face if you are greenlit?
Nicholas: It took us a while to get to this point because we were really trying to figure out how to evolve the game creatively. The major design challenge we’ve faced is keeping things moving quickly – after all, it’s a bullet hell game AND a shooter, but also has strategy elements! The fact that we allow you not only to buy ships around you, but to be able to move them around however you please? It’s easy to sink time into that. We have to be very cautious when making decisions, because anything that would slow down the game any more than we already ask from the player is out of the question.
From the beginning, we wanted to make something different that really and truly made you think, “Whoa!” It’s been a challenge, for sure. The formation editor has posed a lot of problems since it’s the core of the game, but I think we’ve finally gotten it right. That, as well as the other elements of the game, have really stayed the same in concept since the prototype – evolving them was the challenge, as I mentioned earlier. We had a stint where we thought about giving the minions AI, but it didn’t really work very well! We’ve thrown thousands of ideas to see what stuck, and what you can see today is what did.
The biggest challenge we’ll face is definitely finishing the game. If we can keep up our current pace and momentum, we’d love to do Early Access. It provides such a great opportunity for feedback and community interaction, and it just clicks with how we make our games. All of our team members work part-time from completely different parts of the country, so there’s a finite ceiling to our pace.
David: People are able to play a free demo of the game on your site. Are you happy that the demo gives enough of an impression of the final product?
Nicholas: Absolutely! It’s a perfect snapshot of what the game is, where it currently is, and how it’ll improve. We showcase some of our minions and gameplay, we allow players to buy them and customize their armadas as they please, we give them some great music… and then laugh maniacally as they try to not get sucked into a black hole! It’s entirely the essence of what Close Order is.
David: Close Order has already got the attention of a couple of prominent people in the industry like Randy Pitchford of Gearbox Software and Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox. It must be satisfying to know that the indie gaming scene is important enough to attract even the more mainstream game makers.
Nicholas: It’s been an incredibly humbling experience to see the reception we’ve gotten, both within the industry and here at home. To have industry leaders talk about us like that was incredibly profound! Seeing places in Lafayette come together to promote us has been great, too, with my university even sharing our page. It’s been a very surreal experience and everyone at Raconteur is pleased by the response.
David: You’ve been featured in magazines as an up and coming business person. What business model do you think indie studios have to employ to hopefully be successful?
Nicholas: Business model as a term is a bit vague, and as with everything in life there’s no right answer – but there are definitely ones that can be improved! I think there’s a lack of business-driven indie companies. We see tons of brilliant people making something that may never end up being finished, or immediately pulling back when the audience first sees it because it was never given a market test. It’s a dream of mine to be successful enough to help out indie companies with those things the future – right now reddit posts will have to suffice!
David: Finally, if you had some advice for those wanting to start their own studio and make a game, what would it be?
Nicholas: Be prepared to work hard, to fail, and to learn more than you ever imagined. With your journey, that failure will bring you to success. It’s exhausting, but it’s extremely gratifying. Don’t talk about tomorrow – talk about TODAY!
Thanks for that Nick, and, for the last time, no, we don’t ride kangaroos to work. The kids ride them to school.