After months of community-based beta testing, A Valley Without Wind is coming out at the end of the month. The 2D platformer blends an enormous randomly-generated world with an ambitious amount of RPG elements. At PAX East, Arcen Games founder Chris Park talks about the value of letting customers test the beta, his hope to never make a sequel and how the much-maligned Zelda II: The Adventure of Link partly served as inspiration.
How helpful has this beta process been?
Chris Park: I cannot express how helpful it as been. You know difference from the start [of the beta release] until now. There has been somewhere between…1,000 and 1,5000 individual accepted submissions from players. We have somewhere in the vicinity of 120 players who are thanked in the credits because they’ve made that many material contributions.
We took a week off from actually doing work on the game to just brainstorm. We did all this brainstorming in the forums for the players. We talked with players. [The other developers and I] would be on the phone for 3 hours a day to talk about our ideas and the players’ ideas.
Was it uncomfortable to release such an unfinished and early product to the masses when you made the beta available?
It was a relief. I get so uncomfortable when I’m working on something in isolation, even with a team of five people. To me that’s isolation. With [the previously released] AI War I’ve grown accustomed to having feedback from 1,000 people and once you stop having those 1,000 voices stop telling you all those various opinions…it’s so easy to misjudge drastically.
We realized we had the opposite problem we thought we had. We have to dial this back. It’s not a matter of adding more, we have to dial this back. We don’t want to take away the depth but we want to make this more streamlined and have people actually understand it.
Is this beta model, where hundreds and thousands of paying customers give feedback on an unfinished product, the future of game development?
I think there’s no universal way to make games when you get down to it. There’s no one way to do it and that’s a good thing. For a large, complicated indie game, with a lot of moving parts I think this is absolutely the way to do it because you have to have that testing feedback unless you just get lucky. If you just nail every future from the get go, but that’s like having lightning strike you a thousand times in a row.
How often is that going to happen? That didn’t happen to Shigeru Miyamoto in his early games. There were things – like Zelda II – that people bashed him about. He didn’t get that feedback when it came out.
On Zelda II
If Zelda II had DNA, there was some bad things in it’s DNA. It’s undeniable. I still love the game and it did so many things right. Because a lot of people really could not get over what it did wrong, a lot of the things it did right has been permanently lost to time. They’re just gone. I was such a big fan of that game as a kid that I like to think a lot of what it did right are finally seeing a resurgence here with a more modern sensibility.
When A Valley Without Wind comes out, you’ve planned a bunch of free updates and DLC, in additional to larger expansion packs that can be bought. Can you tell me a little about that?
My dream scenario for this is that when this comes out, we get enough success that 3 years from now we’re on version 5.0, we’ve got maybe there expansion packs out to make the game gargantuanly more bigger than it is now.
I always like to say I don’t want sequels for any of my games ever. I want to do expansions because as a player and as a developer, I feel there’s a lot of benefits. You get to keep all the existing content, the expansion content gets added onto it and it’s cheaper for you the player. It’s cheaper for us as a developer. Everybody wins.
A Valley Without Wind comes out later this month for PC, Mac and Linux. The beta is currently $9.99, and the full game will be $14.99 when released. This interview was shortened for brevity. Later this week, Try Indie will publish an interview with composer Pablo Vega. T