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Interview with Digital Builders

ProtötheaThe CMP Game Group (producer of Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra.com, and the Game Developers Conference) established the Independent Games Festival in 1998 to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize the best independent game developers. They saw how the Sundance Film Festival benefited the independent film community, and wanted to create a similar event for independent game developers as well as the student population of game developers.

In this session, I sat down with a key team member from Digital Builders to discuss their game Protöthea, which was the winner of Cartoon Network's Project Goldmaster at this year's IGF competition.

Who are you and what was your role in developing Protöthea?

Alejandro Vairoli: I'm Alejandro Vairoli and my role in Digital Builders is Game Designer and Programmer, but I take the role of business man too

Congrats on making the IGF finals, how did it feel when you found out?

Alejandro Vairoli: Thanks, it was one pleasing surprise. We had some type of hope to enter, but to have arrived is another thing, and after having attended, we realized the dimension of which it had happened to us. It was an incredible experience

How did you hear about the IGF and what made you submit your game?

Alejandro Vairoli: We found out by a friend, that I advise to us to enter (www.futboldeluxe.com) and when we saw of which it was speaking immediately we entered the competition. Now we realize that was a very important decision

Indeed. We'll definitely get to that later. How long has Digital Builders been around? What got you guys started in game development?

Alejandro Vairoli: I'm old in development of video games; I started to work with the first Home Computers. The rest of the team begin to work in game development two years ago, when we began with Digital Builders

When and where did you come up with the idea for Protöthea?

Alejandro Vairoli: When we began to work, the idea was to make it like a hobby, to begin to know us as team and to see what we could do. Since I was the one that knew best on the matter, I proposed to make a classic shoot'em up, being very simple in its development. Soon however we decided to incorporate things that would please us for these types of games, and some others that people were suggesting to us. The game was progressing with time until being what is, for example the 2 last chapters of the game are completely in 3D

What makes Protöthea stand out most from classic shooters?

Alejandro Vairoli: Freedom – The freedom of movements. The freedom to select the weapons when one wants. The freedom to face each one of the challenges of the form in which the player decides it. The freedom to use bullet-time when the player considers it necessary. The freedom to play the chapter that they want.

What design issues arose during development as a result of this freedom?

Alejandro Vairoli: The main problem is that this freedom also had to be transferred to the enemies and to the scenes and for that reason the enemies have a certain type of intelligence, which was quite complicated. Also, we had to develop a very complete tool to edit the scene, so that it is used by artists and not for programmers. In addition, situations can appear in the game that we had not planned, which is good, but a little dangerous

What was the biggest challenge during development, and how was it solved?

Alejandro Vairoli: In fact there were no great problems, but maybe the most difficult part was the gameplay, and to exactly obtain the effect that we wanted. And to keep the artists happy too... :)

The game is very impressive visually as well, what made you guys decide to put the visual bar so high?

Alejandro Vairoli: In Digital Builders we are fans of the good cinema, and worked with a technique that we called "Quality of Cinema". This means that each member makes his work thinking that each thing must be able to be used in a film. For example, our 2D artist is the one in charge of the photography of the game, a concept that is only used in cinema. We hope that our following game (Necro) is far better visually

What tools were used to develop Protöthea?

Alejandro Vairoli: Visual Basic 6, Photoshop 7, GMax… I don't remember what sound program the artists use, but we also have some internal tools: ProtoEdit, TileMaker and UsmViewer

How long was the game in development?

Alejandro Vairoli: 2 years, first like a hobby, but in the second we worked much too hard

So how many hours a week do you think you were working on it towards the end?

Alejandro Vairoli: At the end we are working 30 hours in a week

Was there anything you think you could have done better to make things less hectic during the last stages of development?

Alejandro Vairoli: Yes, we should have planned things better. Another programmer would have helped, along with more concept art. And not to make changes already important when the development is so advanced

How has it been so far working with Cartoon Network as a result of Digital Builders winning the Project Goldmaster this year?

Alejandro Vairoli: At this moment I can say that we are still working on legal matters, but there is a great predisposition, and they give us enough freedom to work. So far we just know a single character

In what was has winning Project Goldmaster helped Digital Builders, both as a team and a company?

Alejandro Vairoli: It is very important us to have the honor to work with Cartoon Networks. As a company, it allows us to face a project of professional form but, since they are going to finance the development, also it gives the possibility of putting to us a challenge on approval since we are going to use known personages, and surely will be a challenge to be able to maintain the quality at the required level

Quality of life is a hot topic in the industry today. As indies we're usually tasked with our own QoL; what does Digital Builders do to relax and unwind and help keep the pressures off?

Alejandro Vairoli: The truth is that so far the pressure stays very high, and the QoL is not absolutely good, what helps us is that we can work as we want and we do what we like...

What's next for Digital Builders?

Alejandro Vairoli: First is to improve at company level, overall a better order, to make a great game for Cartoon Networks, and after that some AAA projects (perhaps Necro)

Well good luck with Cartoon Networks and your future projects. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview

Alejandro Vairoli: Thanks to you as well

Interview conducted by Drew "Gaiiden" Sikora

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