Interview With Koen From Koonsolo

Koen Witters the founder of Koonsolo and the developer of Mystic Mine (MM) agreed to answer some questions for us.
He was fast to replay and had a very interesting answers.
So read and enjoy !

1. First please tell us about yourself, where are you from and what are you doing in your daily life.

My name is Koen Witters and I live in Belgium, the land of beer and chocolate. I’ve been creating games for a long time, both professionally and as a hobby. I’m currently working as a software developer, and next to that I create my own indie games.

2. Why and how did you start working on MM, was it like a hobby at first or you did really want to make a living out of this business ?

Creating computer games has always been my passion. I started at the age of 14, and ever since then I’ve been creating games in my spare time and later professionally. Mystic Mine was created in my spare time. Making a living from indie games unfortunately doesn’t come overnight. Rule no.1 when starting out as an indie game developer is “don’t quit your day job”.

3. I’m very happy to know that you are a GNU/Linux user and that you developed MM on GNU/Linux using FOSS.
what tools did you use in creating MM and why did you choose them ?

The language and library that I use to create my games are Python and Pygame. Python is just a great language to get things done quickly, and if you’re working alone and only in your spare time, speed of development is a huge factor. Python/Pygame is also multiplatform, which allows me to develop in my favorite OS, and deliver to all the mayor platforms. Pygame also relies on the SDL library, which I’ve used before in C++ and knew that it’s great.
For the art I use the 4 most popular Open Source art packages: Blender 3D for my 3D models, Gimp for 2D art, Inkscape for vector graphics and Audacity to edit my sounds.
On the more technical side, I use gVim as my main text editor, Subversion to store my files and Trac to keep track of the remaining work and bugs. Then for deploying/installing my game I used NSIS, py2exe, py2app and cxFreeze. Funny thing is that the author of cxFreeze actually saw that my game was using his tool, and he bought the game and wrote me a friendly email.
I’m doing this all on a Kubuntu system, which in my opinion is the most user friendly OS out there.

4. Many game developers complain that it is very problematic to port games to GNU/Linux and yet your game “just run” on the 3 OS’s without extra effort.
How is that possible ? what do you advice other game developers to do so their games will be “multi platform” “out of the box” ?

Those developers got themselves in that situation. If you start developing your game using OS specific code/libraries, of course it’s a big effort to port your game. If you make sure from the start that you are not doing anything platform specific, and use libraries that support multiple platforms, it takes no extra effort. And I’m not only talking only about pygame here. The previous game I developed was Rabbit Wars (which was a project for an external company). It’s developed in C++ and uses the same codebase for PocketPC, Smartphone and Windows. Linux support was not required, but it would probably take me a day to get it running on Linux, since I use SDL as my main library, and try to stay far away from any Microsoft libraries ;). The same could apply for 3D games of course.

My advice for competing game developers? Keep buying expensive, Windows specific engines/libraries. Focus on Windows only, and stay away from Open Source software. If it’s free, it can’t be good, right? Because in the end you will get what you pay for… . No, seriously, if you’re smart, you will do the exact opposite of what I’ve just said, but who listens to me anyway? ;).

5. I’m wondering about MM sales per platform vs platform market share.
I assume you can’t give us actual numbers (for some unknown reason) but percentage wise how much GNU/Linux, Mac and Windows sales went ? Is there indeed a market for GNU/Linux games ?

As you know I’m an indie game developer, so you can’t really compare my numbers against some best selling AAA games. But I’ve just checked my direct sales (those I get from my website), and I’m selling equally well on all 3 platforms. Mac OS X is at the top, then comes Linux, and finally Windows, but it’s a close one, because Windows represents 1/4th of my sales. So there is definitely a market for Linux games if you’re an indie developer, and quite honestly, you must be stupid not to support all 3 platforms, because as stated above, it just doesn’t take any extra effort.

6. You developed MM almost alone (except the music), even your company koonsolo run only by yourself.
It’s not very common to see game developers who are “good at all arts” , like programming , graphics, game design etc…
What is your specialty and how did you overcome the other less familiar to you, weaker points in creating MM ?

My specialty is definitely the programming part. I’ve been doing that as a hobby when I was a kid, then studied computer science, and I’ve been a professional software developer for 7 years now.
The graphics is a leftover from when I was young. I was pretty good at drawing things, but later my main focus went more to programming (which was also a better “career choice” ;)). But I’ve always found creating visual arts very interesting, and can still draw better than the average person. I’ve also continued to mess around with 3D modeling, but hadn’t done anything serious, until I created the art for Mystic Mine. As you can see the graphics of Mystic Mine are way better than ‘programmer art’, but still don’t reach the level of someone who’s doing it as his main profession. I’m still not pleased with the fact that the graphics don’t represent the quality of the product and gameplay so much. They are not bad, but could definitely improve. For my next game I would love to work together with someone who’s art skills match my programming skills. I’ve done some effort to find someone like that, but haven’t succeeded yet :( (if someone is interested, please mail me at koen@koonsolo.com).

7. MM is very unique game, how did you come up with the idea for the game and how much time it took you to finish developing it ?

I knew about isometric games and the “Escher” problem they sometimes have. So I thought to myself, why not create a game based on impossible isometric levels, like those paintings from Escher. The gameplay just kind of went from there. One thing led to another, and it all came together with the game you currently see. I like to approach game design with a simple prototype, and then iterate from there. In my opinion this is the best way to get to the most fun.

8. How are the overall sales of MM ? were they successful enough to start working on game development full time ? Are you working on a new title ? can you tell us more about it ?

Mystic Mine is selling way better than I expected, especially on Linux. Linux users are used to getting quality stuff for free, but obviously they are also prepared to buy games, which is great of course. Unfortunately the sales are not yet enough to start working full time on my indie games alone. I live in expensive Belgium, have a family to support, and I currently have a well payed job as a software developer. So I have to sell a lot of copies to support my life. But the current sales of Mystic Mine allow me to work on it part-time, so that’s a good start. As an indie game developer you really need to build up a customer base to go full-time at it, so I’m definitely working on it :).

I’m indeed working on a new title which will also feature those impossible levels, but the gameplay and theme is entirely different. I currently can’t tell you much about it, but if you subscribe to my newsletter at http://www.koonsolo.com/newsletter.php, you will definitely receive the latest news on that front.

9. MM is played by only one button, did you originally plan to support people with limited mobility ? what influenced your decision ? did you have any feedback on this from those people ?

I didn’t plan this. As stated above I use an iterative approach, and at one time I had those gold cars moving on the levels, and you could switch those tracks with the mouse. Suddenly I realized you could also switch the upcoming junction with the keyboard, and so it suddenly became a one button game. After that discovery, the idea of multiplayer on a single keyboard flashed before my eyes.
I requested feedback for the accessibility features, because I didn’t know much about it, and received a lot of great suggestions. One of those people who responded was someone from the Anne Carlsen Center, who works daily with individuals with disabilities. It’s a great feeling to know that there are plenty of kids with physical and tracking impairments out there that are enjoying Mystic Mine.

10. I assume you used a level editor to make the hundreds of levels in MM ,but you didn’t include it in the actual game…why ? are you planing to include a level editor in the future ? what about add-ons, additional levels and expansions ?

I programmed a very basic level editor to create those levels, but it’s not user friendly enough to release it. Some of my friends seem to enjoy creating those impossible levels, so I might still consider improving and releasing it. But currently I’m not putting any effort in it, my main focus is on my next game.

Thank you Koen Witters for a great interview
We wish you good luck on your mission developing great games for all major platforms.

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1 comment

  1. Margaret September 5, 2009 5:38 pm 

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Margaret

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