Interview with Black Ice developer Garrett Cooper
In May, IGS got the chance to interview Garrett Cooper, the lone developer behind the Tron-meets-Borderlands indie game: Black Ice. We discussed Black Ice’s current development, Mr. Cooper’s experience with Steam Greenlight, and future plans for Black Ice.
IGS: How does it feel to see Black Ice succeeding on Steam Greenlight after all your hard work?
Garrett Cooper: Black Ice is doing well on Greenlight, but it’s far from over. I’m sitting at 67% of the way to the top 100 as of 4/29. People love the game, but it’s still not very well known. The trick is getting people to come to the greenlight page, and articles like this are great for that!
IGS: Being a lone developer is very impressive, especially considering how fleshed out Black Ice is. How do you balance your day job and game development?
GC: Thanks! It’s difficult to balance work and life, but luckily my wife is very supportive and I’m pretty good at keeping a schedule. I keep a public, roughly prioritized list on Trello, which makes it easier to make the few hours a day I work on the game really count.
IGS: From a developer standpoint, what do you think went particularly well with Black Ice and what would you like to improve about the game?
GC: Now, this is my first game, so I can’t claim any particular genius, but I think the short, repeatable experience of starting a hack, killing the enemies, and then getting your loot is a great feedback loop. The player feels awesome, they get comfortable with the routine, and it doesn’t take too much time. It’s great because busy people can spend a few minutes hacking a half dozen buildings and log off, confident that they’ve made meaningful progress even in that small amount of time. This 30 seconds of fun loop is what games like Halo are based on, but I didn’t really do it on purpose.
Also, I glad I’ve struck upon an art style that’s evocative and fits the theme without actually being very complicated. This is great for two main reasons – one, the sparse style helps the player focus on the more important (and visually complicated) enemies, and two – it’s not very difficult for me to put together, with my poor art skills.
IGS: I noticed that multiplayer is disabled on the web version. Will we be seeing the multiplayer feature come into play later on in development?
GC: Multiplayer is in the full version of the game, mostly because I’m paying for the multiplayer servers in the cloud. There are several benefits to this approach. Hosts can leave the game at any time and another player will take over. Players don’t need to worry about port forwarding or IP addresses. My particular favorite benefit is that public games are possible, which makes it easier for players to find each other and have fun together.
IGS: If so, what kind of gameplay changes will be made, if any to the game in multiplayer mode?
GC: Multiplayer right now is entirely a cooperative experience. One player hacks the server, but others can help, even from outside of the hack radius. This is just the first iteration of multiplayer – I’d like to add more cooperative elements, like the ability to join another player’s hack for shared experience and a larger hack radius. I also want to add a PVP mode where players can damage each other, but spawn randomly throughout the city, and can still hack servers to gain experience and loot.
IGS: Obviously Tron and Borderlands played a large part in the inspiration for Black Ice, did you draw inspiration from any other sources?
GC: Absolutely! I’ve got tons of inspirations, actually. Primarily, I’ve taken thematic inspiration from cyberpunk novels like Neuromancer, by William Gibson, and Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. I started Black Ice because I wanted to experience the hacking as described in these novels. On top of that, I was disappointed in the way that loot worked in Diablo 3, so I’ve put a lot of focus on the items in the game. I really love Diablo 2, and if you look, you’ll see plenty of references to it, in the numbers if not in the text. For the FPS gameplay, I’m primarily emulating the Quake series, especially Quake 3. I want the game to feel fast and kinetic, and I want people to be afraid of what’s around the corner.
IGS: I absolutely love the inventory system and the items you can collect really stand out. Can you walk us through your thought process of designing such a well-executed inventory/level up system and the humor behind each of the weapon names/design?
GC: Much of the inventory system is similar to Diablo 2 – but I’ve got a little bit of Path of Exile in there too. I knew I wanted items in the game, and abilities as items was a concept that I loved from PoE. It just makes sense for a piece of software that you find in cyberspace to be a valuable commodity as well a useful tool. I haven’t figured out a good reason to explain why you can’t just duplicate any item that you find, since it’s just software, but I’m working on it.
For the level up system, there’s no level cap because I wanted the player to always be able to make progress, even when they can’t find loot. It’s permanent because I want the player to feel some ownership for their character, and psychology experiments suggest that the brain convinces itself that it is happy with its choices when it can’t change them. It’s fascinating! I’ve got some ideas about more ways the player can make permanent choices to shape their character, but those are on the back burner for the time being.
The loot is randomized for a number of reasons, first and foremost that it’s fun to keep hunting for loot, and randomized loot creates a huge number of combinations that you can never really figure out which is best. I actually started with a system by which the player could level up their weapon software and kind of socket each weapon with a payload (bullet type) – but people found this confusing in practice. Now, some of the weapons spawn with different types of payloads, but they can’t be separated from the weapon type. This actually doesn’t remove any depth from the game, since the player can still find each of the combinations, but it removed a lot of the learning curve and complexity.
The humor in the item names and corporation descriptions are because I’m just a silly person, and I can’t keep that out of my work. You can’t take yourself *too* seriously. I reference a lot of things, like Lord of the Rings, The Venture Brothers, and Dune.
IGS: What can our viewers expect from Black Ice in the future, or any upcoming projects you are working on?
GC: I have no other projects planned for after Black Ice, because I plan to work on Black Ice for the foreseeable future. I intentionally made the game extremely modular so that I can keep adding on. After all, what interested me most in Diablo was the loot, so that’s what I like making in my game. You can bet you’ll be seeing tons more items in Black Ice. I’ve got a big item update planned soon – I need to rebalance many of the items, but each item’s attributes are stored in an individual file. I’m going to be exporting all of these to a single .csv file so I can edit the items en masse, but the interesting thing about this is that I’ll be able to import someone else’s .csv instead of my own. This is basic mod support.
I’m also going to be creating a difficulty scale to the game, so that you can keep making the game harder, and keep getting better loot. To do this, I’ll need to make the items scale as well, and that’s another reason why I need to rebalance them. More information here – http://www.reddit.com/r/BlackIce/comments/247gvi/lets_talk_about_items/
IGS: Last question, and I have to ask, what’s up with the giant flying shark of death that circles the apparent final building players can hack?
GC: The S.H.A.R.K. is a boss creature defending Finality, Incorporated, the ultimate server in the game. He’s great because he breaks the rules – you don’t have to hack a server to spawn him, he flies, and he can actually knock the player back. He’s there to shake things up and make sure you never quite feel safe. It’s fun!
IGS: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Cooper!
Black Ice is currently in Beta and up for Steam Greenlight promotion. The beta version can be played at http://superdupergc.com/ or by downloading it from http://www.indiedb.com/games/black-ice/downloads and supported on Steam Greenlight here: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=232152287