Interview with Exato's John Getty - On Guncraft's Past, Present, and Future
Exato Game Studios has been quite busy of late, with its voxel-based shooter Guncraft''s official launch last week and its approval on Steam Greenlight earlier in the month. We've held off on a review of the title - at the developer's request - until its official launch on Steam, as there will be some significant additions. Until then, we have something else to tide you over.
On Monday, I had the opportunity to sit down for a Skype interview with Exato co-founder John Getty to discuss the development history, inspirations, and future of Guncraft.
First, let's find out a bit about you. Who are you? What got you into gaming?
As a hobby, I got into it at a very young age. My parents were both very into gaming, and they got me a Super Nintendo; we spent a lot of time playing Super Mario World into the late hours of the night. I remember getting into many arguments with my mom about losing her lives, not doing a level right, et-cetera. It was a bonding experience.
As time progressed, gaming just grew more and more important. All my friends on the block would come over to play a bunch of different games like Mario Kart. That only became more frequent when the N64 came out; four-person split-screen changed everything.
My first step into game development was when I was modding Command & Conquer Red Alert way back; I just played around with the units and made a few easy scripts. I wasn't very good at modding back then, but I did alright. My first real leap into modding was with Starcraft. I made a lot of maps - some very complex, some not complex at all. At least one of them, Jail tag, got kinda popular - I'd see it in the games lobby at least once or twice a week.
I stuck to Starcraft until I got to college, and then stopped because school was too time-consuming. That was where I met my business partner and founded Exato games. It started out as a hobby, but quickly escalated into a full-fledged thing.
What initially inspired you to create Guncraft?
We liked the idea of a voxel-based sandbox game, but didn't like the lack of objectives. The name - and actually, the concept, too - came from a joke one of our previous programmers told: "if we had guns in Minecraft, we could call it Guncraft." I said that was a really good idea, and then rolled for a week in prototyping and conceptualizing the game on paper. I pitched it to my partner, he liked the idea, and we shelved our previous title, Progenitor, in favor of Guncraft. The initial "spark" was to make an objective-based Voxel game.
Speaking of Minecraft...when any game uses voxels, comparisons to that game are virtually unavoidable. What influence did Minecraft have on Guncraft's development?
Nothing about the basic game design of Minecraft made its way into Guncraft, save perhaps for the map creation system. What we liked the most was purely the procedural environments and the voxel system itself.
We'd go on YouTube or Google images and Google Minecraft and there'd be these incredible structures people would spend hours making. The problem is, all they could do was look at them - it just seemed like a total waste of effort. We wanted to have a game where people could build those structures, and do something with the awesome environments they made.
What other sources do you feel influenced the development of your game?
On the shooter side of things, Guncraft was mostly inspired by Halo, Call of Duty, and Battlefield. There's a bit of Quake in there too, as far as speed of gameplay goes.
I was always a big fan of Call of Duty and Halo. Battlefield, I never really got into, but I loved the vehicles. I kind of wished they were more prominent in Call of Duty (though I was able to get my vehicle fix in Halo). Our jumping mechanics are drawn from Halo, our movement speed is on the Quake side, and our shooter mechanics are a mix of COD and Halo. We didn't incorporate recoil because we wanted to keep the pacing fast, but we do have iron-sights to make it feel like a more modern shooter.
The class and kill-streak system was also inspired by Call of Duty; it kind of went with our whole mantra of giving all the power to the players. We didn't want to restrict them from doing anything, so we wanted to give them the full class creator so they could have their own custom classes.
As for game-types; Onslaught was inspired by Horde Mode from Gears of War, though we wanted to make things a bit faster and more frantic, so we basically threw a hundred fifty units at you. I think Lava Survival and Meteor Survival stemmed from my personal enjoyment in post-apocalyptic fiction. I'm a big fan of anything post-apocalyptic, I love survivor stories; that's probably where those stemmed from.
Last week, you officially released Gunsmithing, a new feature which allows players to create their own weaponry. Do you have any other, similar features in development? Any ideas for the future that you can talk about?
We have Skincrafting in the build too, to allow people to make their own skins. We do have a lot of conceptual ideas for Guncraft. We've played with the idea of doing vehicle crafting - that's a pretty big undertaking and represents a considerable change to the game; whether or not we bring it in really depends on how well Guncraft does when it's released.
We're also looking at things like add-ons for guns such as a silencer or a grenade launcher, as well as giving people the ability to make their own secondary weapons, melee weapons and bonuses; there's a whole list of things we have that we want to do in addition to Gunsmithing. This is kind of stage one.
Content sharing is another big one. Right now, you can't share any of the things you make. That's something we really want to incorporate as well, but we'll see.
Will Exato be designing and releasing its own maps and weapons in the coming months, or will this be something the community will manage?
That's kind of our DLC plan to make some extra money - we'll be releasing convenience packs: sets of guns and skins made by our team and released for $1 or $2 on Steam. These packs are for people who don't want to spend a bunch of time making guns in the guncrafting and skincrafting tools, but still want a steady influx of new weapons to play with. I'm sure we'll end up doing map packs too, for holidays and such, but for the most part, that's kind of our main DLC plan. The majority of our major features will be free add-ons to the game. We don't want to split the community between people who've spent more and people who've spent less.
Microsoft's received a lot of flak lately for their treatment of Indie developers. With that in mind, what spurred your decision to release on the Xbox Live Indie Games Store instead of the PSN?
At the time when we started development, the PSN was much less open. We started our company in 2009, but didn't really start development until 2010. At that time, the PSN was just as restrictive as the Xbox Live Arcade. Because of this, Xbox Live Indie Games was kind of our main option. Alex, my partner, also knew C-Sharp, so again, Xbox Live Indie Games was kind of the easiest route for us to take to get on a console.
There was also the whole Dream, Build, Play competition that Microsoft does every year, as well. Through that, we were hoping to get on the Xbox LIVE Arcade through Xbox LIVE Indie Game development.
We have no issues with going to PlayStation now that they are more indie-friendly. It's just a matter of code. They use a different language - I don't really know everything about the Playstation Networks programming languages. For now, we're still sticking with Xbox, but if we could get a PS4 contract, we'll definitely get on Playstation.
Would you consider releasing on any other platforms in the future?
We have an OUYA devkit, and we played around with the idea of putting it on there, but I'm not entirely convinced that's worth our time. Mobile's another platform, but that's probably going to be a big bottleneck as far as optimization goes. It really depends on how well/how finely-tuned we can get the Xbox version. That's already proving to be a little difficult. I think that's pretty much it. We don't have any next-gen plans, at least not yet.
Oh, and I guess Mac and Linux. Can't forget those guys. We've got a company that's porting for us. Once we get it on Steam, we'll be exploring the possibility of releasing on those platforms.
Lastly, what's in the future for Guncraft? What about for Exato games?
We've got preliminary plans for several years down the line, but when we started in 2009, we expected to be at a very different place than we are right now. I don't imagine any of the things we think are going to happen in five to ten years actually will happen. Things will probably shift.
We'll always be game developers, so we'll always be making games. It would be nice to be able to start working on multiple games at once, but I don't know. It's... I guess it's not really something we can really talk about too much. It's more in the business plan.
As far as a second game goes, we'll definitely be working on one. When we start prototyping it is up in the air. We definitely don't have the manpower for it right now, since we're busy working on Guncraft. Depending on how the Steam launch goes, however, we could see the next game being started as early as September.
You can find out more about Guncraft here.
A gamer at heart, Nick started writing when he was a child. He holds a BA in English, works as a freelancer, and loves every minute of it. One day, he hopes to net himself a career in game design - but that's something for the future.
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