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DevChat: Interview with Chasm’s James Petruzzi

I recently got the chance to ask a few questions to James Petruzzi, who is the brain behind Discord Games and the upcoming indie Metroidvania platformer Chasm. Most of my questions were focused on how Discord Games went from regular XBLIG developer (Take Arms, 48 Chambers) to indie powerhouse with Chasm (which is slotted to be available on Steam later this year).

For developers looking to make the same jump from obscurity to somebody, these answers are a must-read!

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Chris: Five months ago, when you started your work on Take Arms on XBLIG, could you have ever predicted the success that you’ve had so far with Chasm?

James: Haha, no way! I actually hadn’t even thought of Chasm yet. It wasn’t until the winter after release that the idea came to me. I had pretty much resigned making games after the terrible launch of Take Arms, but winter boredom eventually got me working again.

Chris: How many hours per week do you put into Chasm these days? Between the website, administrative duties, marketing, and the game itself, I imagine there’s a lot to do.

James: I cover basically everything for marketing, PR, and most admin stuff (my wife helps with some duties). I’d say I do at least 12-14 hours a day of work, usually seven days a week.

Chris: When did you first decide to use Kickstarter to fund Chasm?

James: After we went to the Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2013 looking for a publisher, we decided it was time to go forward with it. I was hoping to find a deal that would work well for us, but publishers really don’t want to give out money with a risky game. Kickstarter seemed like the perfect fit for a niche title like Chasm that has a rabid Metroidvania fan base waiting for a successor.

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Chris: I think the hardest part of Kickstarter is knowing when to put your project out there. At what point in development did you know: we have enough to put this game out there and get the support that we need?

James: I was working full-time with money from Take Arms for about 4-5 months making the original Chasm prototype. We spent our last dollar taking it to GDC to find someone interested in it. The Kickstarter was basically our last shot at getting the game made before returning to full-time jobs and putting it back on the shelf.

Chris: How did you decide on $150k as the Kickstarter goal? Many good looking indie games struggle to raise even $20k in their Kickstarter campaigns.

James: There wasn’t really any other option for us if we were going to work on it full-time. Supporting five people for a year isn’t cheap, and you can’t ask for any less than what you need. My personal opinion was that if the Kickstarter failed then either the market wasn’t out there for the game in the first place or we weren’t ready for it.

Chris: What were the most effective ways you marketed Chasm for the Kickstarter – before, during, and afterwards?

James: We studied the Kickstarter school religiously, and tweaked the page endlessly. That paid off greatly as we were a Staff Pick the first day of the Kickstarter and got a nice push out of the gate. Also, having a playable prototype that showed the game was real and not some vaporware went a long way. Getting Youtube and Livestream personalities to play also saved us when we hit a major slump towards the end.

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Chris: Chasm will be available on Steam. Did Valve contact you, or did you have to seek them out?

James: Nope, we had to wait in the Greenlight line like everyone else. We were pretty mad when the Kickstarter was going on and we couldn’t get through. We felt like it would have helped pledges to have a guaranteed Steam key, but it didn’t happen until maybe 3 months after the campaign ended.

Chris: What are your plans after Chasm? Have you even thought about that yet?

James: If it’s successful, we’re hoping to get the whole team into one geographic spot finally. It’s been really hard working remotely, but it will be awesome when we can finally get everyone together in the same room. We have talked a bit about what we’re going to do next, and it will most likely be a smaller highly replayable arcade-style game before we attempt another massive epic RPG!

Chris: Any Easter eggs we can look forward to in Chasm? :D

James: Yeah we’re going to have a bunch of fun hidden stuff in there. One thing to look forward to is the “Backer’s Room”, which will be a special tavern underground with our $1000+ Kickstarter backers. They will each be in the game with their own line of dialogue and some other cool bonuses.

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Chris: What would be your biggest piece of advice to indie developers out there who are trying to make a living making games?

James: It’s REALLY hard! The market is saturated with great indie games now, so it’s getting harder and harder to stand out.  I would definitely recommend NOT quitting your day job until you’re able to sustain yourself.

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