Amanda of Amaranth Games talks about her latest games
You can download the podcast here…
Or listen to it here…
Interviewer: I’m here at Casual Connect and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?
Amanda: Hi, my name is Amanda Fitch and I’m from Amaranth Games.
Interviewer: What games have you done because I did interview you before a while back?
Amanda: Sure. My most known games are Aveyond, Grimm’s Hatchery and Yummy Drink Factory.
Interviewer: Now, you’re doing another Aveyond sequel.
Amanda: Actually, I’m trying an experiment. I’ve decided that I’m going to split up Aveyond into books. The most recent game, I had so much fun with the story that I didn’t want to let it go when it was supposed to end, and I realized that there was a lot more potential for it as well. The market has been changing and prices have been dropping which makes it very difficult to make a 20 or 30 hour game that’s only going to sell for several dollars when you are competing against other games that are only six hours long.
Interviewer: So, you’ve broken it up into chapter books then.
Interviewer: Let’s first cover the story, and then we’ll cover the development. So, then, have you wrote the whole story for how the whole game is going to go right now, or is it a kind of work in progress?
Amanda: I have a general outline, but it is a work in progress.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about writing more. Have you written for any other mediums or ARG forums, and what is the difference between writing for a game versus writing for a book or something else?
Amanda: I used to be a technical writer, so I have a lot of experience writing technical manuals for large corporations. The difference is the creativity, I suppose. They are very similar, though.
When you are writing for a game, you have to be very technical. You need to set everything up so that your developers and your artists and everyone else involved can understand what is going on and it makes sense. To do that, you really have to be organized.
Interviewer: Do you have someone that you bounce ideas off of and get feedback on? Do you have a collaborator to actually improve the story and make sure it’s compelling? Do you story board the story itself?
Amanda: Yes, I actually story board myself, but I get help from everybody I work with. I’m very keen on people telling me exactly what they like and they don’t like and not trying to just tell me what they think I want to hear. I like a good bashing.
Interviewer: Do you then write up the full outline and then take it for feedback, or is it, as you’re developing the outline itself, you get feedback.
Amanda: I write the outline, and then I get feedback. I like to involve people from the very beginning. I’ll go through the outline. It usually takes about two or three tries to get it right, and then I write the cut scenes and bounce it off everybody. It also goes through about two or three revisions, and then eventually we come to something that looks a lot better than the first thing I created.
Interviewer: What do you wish you would have known when you first started writing for games that you now know that makes writing more effective?
Amanda: Well, when I first started making games I didn’t actually write any design documents. I literally started up my computer and just started writing the game code. Of course, when you do that you never know where you’re actually going to end up, and you don’t know how long it is going to take. Writing a game design document is something new for me. I started that with Aveyond 2, and since then it has made development a lot easier and faster.
Interview: The design document is a living document, so it’s constantly changing. Are you keeping it up-to-date, or how does that work?
Amanda: The design document changes, but I try to keep it… Before everybody starts doing a lot of work on the game, I try to make as few changes as possible. I actually do try to make it as static as possible because every time you make a change it just requires a lot of communication, and there’s always confusion when that happens.
Interviewer: And now, the last time we spoke, you were doing this alone. It sounds like now you’ve gotten help. Can you talk about that transition from independent or individual developer to someone who is actually relying on other people and other teams to get their project done?
Amanda: Sure. Well, I think there’s a natural progression when you’re working on your games. Every time you release a game, the business side starts to eat up more of your time. Eventually, you get to a point where you are going to be working 26 hours in a day when you really shouldn’t be, and it’s no longer fun. So, you have to start learning how to delegate, and that’s pretty much where I’m at right now.
Interviewer: How did you find these people? Where did you find them? Did you just go to Craigslist or something else like that to find them, and what types of people have you gotten on board to help you finish your game?
Amanda: I go everywhere. First of all, I go to LinkedIn because a lot of professionals-everybody is sort of communicating and socializing there. The web is huge for me. I do everything through the web, and it’s really important. I like to look for people all around the world so I can get the best sampling of good work.
Interviewer: And you were doing games in RPG Maker, so are you still using RPG Maker or have you moved on to a different platform? What’s the status on that?
Amanda: I’m still using RPG Maker because I love it, but I have moved on to other platforms. There are other games that we’d like to make besides RPG games. So, the next big thing for us is Flash.
Interviewer: How are you going to bridge the gap between using RPG Maker versus programming in Flash? Are they already tools on RPG Maker for Flash?
Amanda: I don’t know that there are. I looked and I couldn’t find anything that was really great, so I ended up biting the bullet and just hiring a team of Flash developers to take over the project.
Interviewer: How did you find these Flash developers? How do you know if they are even capable of making the game? How does that process work?
Amanda: I found them through LinkedIn, and a lot of people just had written comments that they were great to work with. Then, of course, I Googled them and they also had a lot of great comments. I looked at some of their games. I played their games; the games were good. I thought they were programmed nicely, and so I contacted them via email and that’s how it started.
Interviewer: What’s the schedule then to actually get them to do the work? How long will it take for them to finish it? Is it going to slow things down? Is it going to speed things up?
Amanda: Because this is the first time I’ve ever done this, I’m not sure. You’ll have to ask me in about six months. Right now, it looks like it’s going to be a six month project. So, hopefully, if communication goes well everything will work out and we’ll have a game by February.
Interviewer: I remember you had a strong community around your games. So, how is that going, and how are you building that up?
Amanda: The community is awesome, and I’m working on building it right now. It’s been a little tough because I’ve been swamped, but I’ve been bringing a lot of people on recently so I can get back to what’s important, and that is the community and adding new fun things for all of them.
Interviewer: How do you keep the community engaged while you’re spending six months to make a new game, and they end up waiting for it.
Amanda: Recently, what I’ve been doing is I’ve been finding a lot of really cool indie games that haven’t been picked up by any portals, and I’ve been trying to hunt down these games. And I’ve been presenting them on the community, trying to give people some interesting games that they can’t find anywhere else to play.
Also, I just like expanding the community. I have fun making new things. You know, we added some cottages a while back, and I’m trying to get a store, like this tiny virtual store, where you get virtual stuff on for free. I just like gadgets, just get gadgets for them.
Interviewer: So, when you say store, is that in the community forum or something or how is that?
Amanda: First of all, we have a store for actual real games with real money, but in the community it’s a little bit different. When you post or when you load art work or when you do a bunch of things, you’ve earned gold on the website. Right now, all of these people are earning gold, but we don’t have anything to buy with that gold. So, we’ve been brain storming ways, well, what can they do with that gold?
We’re going to make some sort of a store where people can actually go to the store, use their gold to buy stuff, maybe, for their cottages on the website or like little games that they can play or share with people, maybe, books.
Interviewer: How long is that going to take to implement because that seems like a very compelling way to keep the community engaged?
Amanda: It depends; if I get help, probably about two months. Pretty much the issue I’ve had over the last year is there was only one of me, and I’ve been getting a lot of help this year. And so, hopefully, two months if I have help.
Interviewer: Is it just then modifying the forum software itself, or do you have to build your own thing?
Amanda: It’s a little bit of both. We’re going to have to modify the forum software. We’re going to have to also build some new modules. That takes time, and finding somebody who can do it and do it right is difficult.
Interviewer: Are there any other things that you can do to expand the community and to keep it engaged? I know that with the community if you don’t respond to them consistently in a quick manner they even lose engagement. How do you manage that now that you’re doing other things, too?
Amanda: Oh man, I’m actually asking myself the same question right now.
Interviewer: What about hiring a mod or a volunteer adman [?]
Amanda: Well, I already have that, I guess. We’ve been having festivals on the website, so one of the cool things is I try to let the community take over the community so it’s theirs and not mine. They do a lot of things, like people put together festivals for their guilds.
Interviewer: Can you talk more about guilds and festivals, and exactly how that relates to the community because that seems a little different than most forums?
Amanda: Sure, sure. The great thing about this is that this wasn’t my idea. This didn’t come from me. This came from all of the Amaranthions on the forums and the guild a long time ago. People have played Aveyond 1 and there were guilds in the game, and so I had a lot of players who were like, “Hey, man, why can’t we have guilds in the forum?” So I said, “All right, fine. I’ll make you some guilds”.
I created some titles for people of different guilds, like the Enchanters, the Dragon Lords, things like that. I made this rule that when you got 1000 posts you could join a guild. So, that’s how that worked, and then as the guild started to grow the guild became their own little societies. And they would approach me with all sorts of things that they want.
One of the big things that took off was festivals. Each of the guilds has their own forum, and when there is a festival people can go into that forum and they share things, like they share recipes and they share stories; everything you can think about under the sun regarding that festival. The whole site changes its layout, so when you go to the festival you actually look like you’re in a festival that’s going on.
Interviewer: Is it only one guild that can hold a festival at a time, or is it a whole forum like festival?
Amanda: There’s no end rule. The engine and the guilds have said to me that they’d like to keep their festivals at separate times so that there’s no guild wars.
Interviewer: What about battles in guilds or working together with other people on alliances? Have you then added that functionality to the forum so that people can be more engaged?
Amanda: I think the players actually have sort of done it themselves so a lot of them, they have their little alliances and such things, but I don’t actually have a section where they can do guild wars. Actually, that is one thing I have been meaning to do, but I just haven’t had the time to do it. But I’d like to.
Interviewer: You mentioned that there are guilds in the game itself. I thought it was an RPG Maker game. How can you have guilds in a single player RPG game, or am I missing something?
Amanda: Well, OK, when you have a guild in a game, so you have a lead character. What I try to do with the games, with Aveyond games, characters have choices, and one of your choices is-well, you could go off and you could be a witch. You could be a sorcerer. You could be a dragon lord.
Whenever you join a guild, you get special things, like you might get some special spells, or you get special hints or you get to unlock a treasure trove of goodies that you couldn’t get to if you joined another guild.
Interviewer: Sounds good. Do you have any then suggestions for insights that you can share with other indie game developers based on your experience so far with the games?
Amanda: Well, I think it’s a really good idea when you start out to have your hand in everything, but when you start to grow you’ll know when it happens. When you start to work 18 hours a day, then it’s time to hire help and try not to do everything yourself. Learn how to delegate.
Interviewer: What about keeping up on new trends and new platforms? I know you mentioned you’re now doing Flash and potentially other ones. Is that something that you