Interview with Alex Gold (Psydra Games)

Since first checking out the oddball RPG / point-and-click adventure Dark Scavenger back in July, I’ve had a lot of questions percolating in the back of my mind. Thankfully, Alex Gold of developer Psydra Games was good enough to sit down and answer them.

Hey Alex! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions.
First, tell me about Psydra Games.

Psydra Games was established by a team of industry professionals with a backlog of pent-up passion, looking for an outlet to unleash it. Sometimes in the industry, you’re not always given the luxury to choose what you get to work on, so a few of us decided to branch out on our own.

Developing our first game, though frustrating, was ultimately a liberating experience. Whether or not we will pursue another project remains to be seen.

The mechanics for Dark Scavenger are unusual, to say the least. What were you aiming for while designing the game’s systems?

Our goal with the mechanics was to craft them specifically to the needs of the narrative. As we knew art support was going to be limited, we intentionally designed the gameplay to accommodate.

And as much as I love point and clicks, there are certain genre tropes that I find abhorrent – specifically, a strong reliance and backtracking and obtuse puzzles. We attempted to eliminate those gameplay grievances by making almost 80% of the content optional and giving all the puzzles multiple solutions. Players can explore the title at their own pace and at no point should they ever face a situation along the critical path that requires an FAQ.

What games have influenced you the most as a developer?

I am a huge fan of JRPGs and Point-and-Click adventures, which is why Dark Scavenger plays like a combination of the two.

Specifically for this title though, I would say Earthbound for establishing a quirky atmosphere before introducing an infamously dark turn and Munchkin the card game for its zany equipment and bevy of strategic options.

That’s funny; now that you mention it, I can absolutely see the influence of Munchkin in your game’s systems. One of the great strengths of Munchkin is in how the experience varies with each playthrough due to randomized encounters and player status effects. Did the team ever consider taking a more procedural approach to the game’s general structure?

This wasn’t something that we originally took into account but it is something that has been bouncing around a bit internally, just in case one of those sequel ideas pop up…

What gave you the idea for Dark Scavenger’s story?

Dark Scavenger is actually based on an original pen and paper RPG I created in high school. As I have been expanding on that lore for years, it was easy enough to adapt a small section for us to work with.
Our game was originally going to be much longer: Instead of having just one planet to explore, I wanted FIVE! Our lead coder Jim Otermat probably would have killed me if we continued down that route.

What point-and-click adventure games influenced Dark Scavenger?

On the humor-side of things, we took a lot of inspiration from classic Lucas Arts games such as Escape from Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle but it was really some of the stranger stuff like Ghost Trick, Zack & Wiki and Machinarium which inspired us to try and push the genre further.

Everything about the outward presentation of Dark Scavenger, from its name to its description to its box art, gives the impression that this is going to be a dark RPG that takes itself seriously. That is, of course, not the case at all; I was surprised to discover just how goofy and light-hearted the game actually is. I’m curious to know why you made those choices. Did you think it would sell better if you gave people the impression that this game was dark and weighty?

It wasn’t our intention to provide a darker tone for the marketing; we were aiming for intrigue. When users scrolled through the hundred of game thumbnails on any given distribution site, we wanted ours to be just different enough to warrant a *click*.

Although some of our marketing showcases the game’s lighter side, our title does have a sinister edge to it which we wanted to hint at within our public representation of it – it was almost our intention to make the marketing part of the experience itself.

Despite that though, it may have been initially more widely received if we had attempted to market it a bit less, um… artistically. Lessons for next time and all that.

Dark Scavenger was recently in Indiefort Bundle 3, where it did quite well. Had you been in a bundle before? Was it what you were expecting?

We had actually been in the Indiefort Bundle 2 but indie marketing guru Alex Poysky was kind enough to reach out to us a second time for participation within the IndieFort 3 competition.

It’s always difficult to tell how those things are going to go but it seems like the general reception has been quite positive. We are always grateful to have more outlets for getting our game into the hands of players; that’s what it’s really about after all.

You mention that developing Dark Scavenger was frustrating. Why was that? What would you do differently, if you had the chance to go back and make the game knowing what you know now?

Well, like any project, it becomes more difficult to motivate people near the end. We had several core team members slow-down or jump ship near the end of the dev cycle due to life circumstances such as getting a new job or working heavy overtime at their existing one – nothing you can really do about that. Many of us were pulling 18 hour days on a regular basis or squeezing in an hour of work wherever we could – it was a grueling affair and it’s nothing short of a miracle that we pulled through.

If we pursued another title, we would probably shoot for something smaller in scope assuming we weren’t willing to commit to it full-time. Better communication, a tighter pipeline for art and more extensive pre-production would also benefit us next time.

It sounds like there’s a lot of extra material lying around for use in a possible sequel. Have you given any thought to turning Dark Scavenger into a series?

I may or may not already have the next few potential installments in the series drafted out… you know, just in case.

Whether any of that actually sees the light of day will depend strictly on time and funding.

Back in April, you mentioned that a Linux port of Dark Scavenger was “possible.” Is that still on the table?

It’s definitely still on the table as we want to make our title accessible to as many players as we can. Although we have nothing to announce at the moment, definitely keep an ear out for it.

What will it take for Psydra to make another title?

After all of us have had a sufficient break, we may consider it but funding will be a big factor next time. We made Dark Scavenger on a shoestring budget and I would prefer not to bring that kind of stress upon us again if possible.

However, if there is fan demand for it, maybe we could be coaxed into making something happen a bit sooner…

Anything else you’d like to add?

We will be releasing our OST soon. Stay tuned to our Twitter (@DarkScavenger) and Facebook for more information.

Also, if you enjoy the game, please let us know. We love to hear from you all!

Thanks for your time.

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