Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Miss Chromehounds? Check out M.A.V.

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  I am pleased to welcome Chad Mauldin to talk about his exciting Kickstarter M.A.V.  Thank you for joining us today Chad.  

No problem, glad to be here.

Fans of the robot combat genre will definitely see some similarities to other games with M.A.V.  Could you give us a rundown of the game?  

M.A.V. is all about customization and fighting along side your squad. While there will be just plain ‘free battles’ the real meat of the game will come in the campaign mode. This campaign mode is a territorial war against other factions, played out in a persistent environment. You will join or create a faction, take your M.A.V. into battle, either with your friends or with AI mercenaries and start building up your control. With control, comes resources, and you can then use these resources to get new parts for your M.A.V., hire more mercenaries, or build up your defense’s. The goal is to create this really organic play mode that works just as well in single player or multiplayer, and allows players to experience really compelling battles that are unique to their version of the war. If players are not swapping virtual war stories, then I have failed as a designer.

M.A.V. definitely seems to heavily focus on customizability.  How key to success is making a custom M.A.V. going to be?  Will it be an arms race to bigger and better guns all the time?

While there are bigger and better guns, great care is being taken to avoid drastic power curves. How you customize your M.A.V. will be more important to making sure you are comfortable playing with it versus some type of optimal build. In fact, I fully expect some players will not want to spend a ton of time in the garage perfecting a build, which is why I created an ‘Auto Generate’ button. This will just create a computer optimized M.A.V. for you to just hop in and start playing with.

For some when they see big robots they expect to see lasers, jump jets, and Macross Missile Swarms yet M.A.V. doesn’t seem to have any of those, why is that?  

Lasers and missiles are awesome, but I think they reflect a different core game, one that puts more focus on maneuverability. In M.A.V., every projectile is physics driven, which means you have to lead your targets and really learn to take your time with your shots to make them count. I want players to be able to take pride in the skill that it took to land that sniper cannon shot and not just have instant hit damage trading.

How key to the entire combat system is the fact that every individual part has its own hit points and armor?  One larger parts like the treads does the entire piece have a shared hit point or can you say shoot just the guide wheels or track?  

Very key! The individual health of a part will play a key role in how you want to build your M.A.V., not only in the parts you pick, but also in how you place them. What part to protect with that armor plate, becomes an important choice and really depends on how you want to fight in the battle. You can also try and layer your weapons to protect your cockpit, forcing the enemy to ‘peel back’ the layers before being able to destroy you. It also allows structural weak points to be exploited by skilled fighters. Aiming for a smaller target, say the weapon holding on to other weapons, will have a big reward of destroying all the parts that were attached. The choice of what to do, in the middle of combat, is really what sets M.A.V. apart from other games. It is not a point and shoot like other games.

The parts are ‘grouped’ into the full part, so there is no way to damage just the guide wheel of the tracks. While it is technically possible to do, I think it would push M.A.V. too far into simulation territory.

Every game is pushed in new ways after players get their hands on it. With the game already in Alpha have the players surprised you with their creations yet?  Have you had to adjust anything major with your design after receiving your initial feedback?  

Yes! I have discovered the players are already much better at building M.A.V.s than I am, {laughs} but that is good! They have found different ways of playing, clicking on things I never would have thought too, and in doing so, helped discover issues and usability feedback that I would have likely not found until much later in development. The players and community are seriously the greatest group of people I know.
There are still quite a few discussions going on, but for the most part I think players have seen my ‘vision’ so to say. Some times it has to be in the game before I win them over though. If I remember correctly, there was quite a bit of concern over losing parts if a structural failure happened, but now it is a pretty core thing that the community is behind.

Of course, sometimes I am just flat out wrong. I actually removed a whole class of parts from the game one time. The generators. At the time, I saw them as not adding anything to the design and really just making it more confusing for players. I thought that weight alone would be enough. Well, there was quite a bit of backlash to this, but for reasons I would have never thought. The two biggest reasons players didn’t like the removal was because they felt it strained the fiction, meaning they liked the idea of a visible power plant on the M.A.V.. The second reason, and I would say bigger reason, is because they were using the odd shapes of the generators to create very interesting M.A.V. builds. The different shaped parts just added a lot of freedom to the creation process. This goes back to what I said about them playing differently than I do and discovering stuff I would have overlooked. So, generators came back, with a revised design, and I also added in spacer parts, which do nothing other than add different ‘shapes’ to the parts bucket.

One of my biggest bugaboos for a Kickstarter is the budget breakdown.  Knowing there is a plan for the money is a key component savvy backers look for in any campaign.  You mention the Kickstarter is to bring on an artist so you can focus on program and design, does that mean all the money beyond fees is going to hire an artist?  What’s your plan if you go over your goal?  

All of the money will be going directly into an artist. None of the money is actually for me. The reason I went with a kickstarter, instead of just selling the game like I was, is because I need to be able to get a bulk amount of art, instead of trying to get a contract for just one piece at a time. There is a small portion of money set aside for sound as well, but that is mostly coming from my own pocket and previous alpha sales of the game so I didn’t include it in the kickstarter.

If I get overfunded? I don’t like the idea of stretch goals for design related things, as I think it is too constricting and I never promise something unless I know it’s possible. One thing that I would love to do and I believe the players would like, is to get an extended soundtrack for M.A.V.. I think music can really be an iconic part of a game, even if it’s as simple as beautiful menu music. Games like Halo and Hotline Miami have shown what the power of a good soundtrack can do.  Aside from music, I would personally love to get enough over the goal to get a dedicated terrain artist. There are a lot of levels in the game and having a dedicated arts for that would help things move along very quickly and I have seen the amazing quality that some artists can create.

I see you are on Steam Greenlight, how is that process going?  What do you think works with Steam Greenlight?  What do you think needs improving?  

M.A.V. just hit 100% to the top 100! I don’t really know what happens now though. So I suppose that would fall under the what needs work. When you first launch, you have this percentage that you are just staring at, trying to get it to go up. Now, I am just waiting, hoping the number doesn’t go down. There are no other indicators of progress or steps of action or anything. Just anxiety ridden waiting.

One thing that I think works, is the exposure that greenlight gives you. As soon as you hit publish, this tidal wave of people start getting your game shown to them. It’s incredible the feedback you get and just the sheer number of comments that start pouring in. I think it is a great stress test for the developers, to make sure they can handle the feedback and just the scale of steam. It was super eye opening to me.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

Double Fine’s adventure game. Personally, I didn’t start backing projects right away, as I didn’t find any that really captured what I wanted in a game and I never got enough trust from the developers that they could deliver. Then Rimworld came along and he had an interesting game and a very polished demo in the hands of youtubers, so I pledged. My next pledge went to Scraps, a really cool game that I think has a lot in common with M.A.V.. I had talked with the developer of Scraps before, as we face similar issues and we had compared notes, and I had full confidence that he would deliver a fun game.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

I think the biggest thing I can possibly provide to fans, backers, and potential backers, is to actually listen to them. I have been responding to every message I get, responding to comments, and not just on the kickstarter page either. In fact, my last update was a direct response to what people had asked. They wanted a better picture of the state of the game, not a cut together teaser. So I made an uncut video of me playing M.A.V. and talking about the game for 45 mins. I think the backers really liked that and it helps establish a trust. Backers are not customers, they are not just giving you money, but also lending you their emotional support. You have to make sure you can prove you are not going to let them down.

As for my other updates, I am still working on development while the kickstarter runs. I have a few development updates that I will update with, as well as news on the progress of Steam Greenlight and the finding of an artist.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

I have tried just about every avenue possible, but really what I have accomplished is peanuts compared to what the fans did. Backers and fans of the game got M.A.V. some great games site coverage, they have been spreading the word on message boards and reddit. They are amazing. I do have a M.A.V. facebook page with several thousand fans as well and I post updates there. But really, the fans have had way more success than I have. None of the media even emailed me back :(

So many options!

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

It sounds counter intuitive, but have a community and a solid game concept before you even consider kickstarter! Also, don’t underestimate the amount of people that will be contacting you once you launch.

And a slightly grimmer one. Launching a kickstarter is a beacon for scammers. Be careful with the people that start contacting you out of the blue.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Thank you very much for having me! Don’t forget to check out the game and tell me what you think!

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

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