Wolfire Interview

By: Craig Lager

Published: June 14, 2010 Posted in: Interviews

Wolfire games is an indie development studio behind the much anticipated Overgrowth – sequel to Lugaru. They put together the recent Humble Indie Bundle that you no doubt heard about, and also run a very open shop with an outspoken blog about all things game development. I thought it about time to pester them with some questions. INTERVIEW GO!

overgrowth - a part of the comic

You say that you started out in 2003 doing open-source games for competitions – what were they like, and were there hints of Lugaru/Overgrowth in them? Most importantly, did you win anything?

Wolfire’s lead programmer, David Rosen, actually got his start in second grade which would have been about 1994. David started his career with black and white, choose-your-own-adventure war games in Hypercard. He had a knack for doing everything from the graphics to the programming and even the necessary gunshot and explosion sound effects which David generated by blowing into the microphone.

By high school David was already making his own 3D engines. His most famous udevgames submissions were GL Fighters, Lightning’s Shadow and Black Shades (which is now available for iPhone). These competitions gave David a medium to share his game development talents with the world. The Wolfire site was born when David decided to put all his games together in one place where they could be easily downloaded.

In addition to winning awards, David’s games got him recruitment offers from big companies like Blizzard and Crytek but he decided that he’d rather go to college and continue to work on his own projects. When David graduated a couple years ago, he assembled a team and the 4 of us have been working more than full time on a sequel to David’s brutal, physics based combat game Lugaru called Overgrowth.

What is this obsession with anthropomorphism? Lugaru and Overgrowth both look like some Disney film gone bad.

First of all, in an industry dominated by space marines and barbarians, I think Overgrowth’s setting is fairly refreshing. Second, from a technological standpoint, using animal characters allows us to sidestep the uncanny valley because no one has a preconceived notion of what a ninja rabbit supposed to look like. Third there are fun stereotypes that exist for each species and throughout the game we will be able to reinforce or contradict these generalizations.

The ordering system for Overgrowth is quite innovative – preorder it and get whatever we have built – what made you decide on going this way rather than the normal funding routes?

Early pre-orders are basically an extension of our practice of open development. Rather than work on Overgrowth in a cave somewhere and naively walk out one day and say “here we are world, don’t you love us?” we decided we ought to keep the fans in the loop from the beginning. You won’t hear us claiming to have more than we do, but when we add new features, we’ll make a video about them and blog about them and if people like what they see they can preorder early to get early access to our weekly alphas. We are extremely fortunate to have an awesome community and it’s been amazing to see people already using our editor suite to prototype fighting moves and create their own cities.

The Humble Indie Bundle caused quite a stir – how did it come about and how successful was it?

Ever since 2D Boy’s pay-what you want sale for World of Goo and the Organic Indie Preorder Pack which we put on with the awesome guys at Unknown Worlds, we’ve had this theory that it is possible for independent developers to reach out to fans directly. The Humble Indie Bundle basically combined every hot idea we could think of in a way that hadn’t been done before: pay what you want, no DRM, each game runs on Mac, Linux and Windows, no middleman and supporting charity. We weren’t sure just how successful it could be when we launched but 10 days later after receiving over 130,000 contributions and raising over $1.25 million for indie developers and charity we were completely blown away. The 40,000 facebook shares and 20,000 tweets the bundle received suggest this was truly something people wanted to tell their friends about and we are extremely thankful for everyone’s support.

You said that the bundle had a 25% piracy rate which is something you discuss on your blog extensively. You also say that you wont do anything about it because of how restrictive DRM can be to honest, paying customers. Is this a view you would keep in the extremes? Say Overgrowth had a 90% piracy rate on release, would you stay DRM free for that remaining 10%?

Piracy rates for indie games have been reported by some to be around 90%. However, if you think each act of piracy is a lost sale, you are kidding yourself. Additionally, if big companies like EA and Ubisoft can’t make uncrackable DRM, then little indie companies like us sure as heck aren’t going to be able to either. Therefore by using DRM you essentially make the user-experience for all the honest users worse by giving them more hoops to jump through and all the pirates get the cracked, DRM-free gold masters. Rather than waste time and effort getting involved in this struggle, we’d rather work to create the best user experiences we possibly can. If the Humble Indie Bundle showed anything, it’s that if you make games with awesome user experiences, people will be willing to support you even if you try to give them away for a penny.

Can you give us any details on the five character types of Overgrowth (rabbits, wolves, cats, rats and dogs) – how will they play differently?

David and Aubrey had actually been thinking about a Lugaru sequel for a couple of years before we formally announced Overgrowth. I can’t say too much about the combat system yet but I will say that we have been imagining each species from the ground up to include their own cultures (clothing, weapons and architecture) in addition to unique fighting attributes.

When are you realistically expecting Overgrowth to be released? You say “When it’s ready” but you must have something in mind.

We haven’t announced an official release date yet because we have high standards for Overgrowth. If we announce a release date, we are afraid of finding ourselves in a situation where we are either forced to rush Overgrowth and make it a bad game or miss our deadline and make our fans sad. We know what we want to accomplish with Overgrowth, but not precisely how long it will take. However, as you mentioned, anyone who is impatient can preorder now to check out what’s going on.

If you had to genetically combine two animals to put the result into combat with all other animals, what would you choose and why would it win?

Perhaps man-bear-pig is too cliche, so I’m going to say crossing a Wolpertinger with a Whale would probably create the most devastating creature possible in the Overgrowth universe. Imagine a giant, winged, antlered, rabbit-whale advancing on your position and tell me you wouldn’t be scared.

Thanks to John at Wolfire for answering our questions.

Craig Lager
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