BY DEAN MOSES
What games will you be playing this summer? Most likely it will be a blockbuster title from a developer backed by a big-budget publisher, who has—undoubtedly—hurled many thousands of dollars into its creation. But does a train really run better on a track made of dollar bills? Moreover, does it run smoother than the rest of the engines in the yard? Lower budgets do not correspond to bad games. Independent developers are not only making games with lower budgets—they are also creating great ones.
One such studio is Basilisk Games, the developers behind the Eschalon Trilogy. The Spring Creek Sun (SCS) talked to the company’s founder, Thomas Riegsecker about forming an independent company, life in creating games and advice on how to make your own games.
Spring Creek Sun: What motivated you to start up Basilisk Games and become an independent developer?
Thomas Riegsecker: Childhood obsession. Like many kids growing up in the 80’s, I was at the forefront of the video game revolution with the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and the first wave of home computers. Video games were an important part of my life and always have been. Then, sometime around 2005, I found myself jobless and decided it was time to follow my dream of making an RPG (Role Playing Game). It never occurred to me to try to get a job in the game industry. From the beginning, I always knew that the only way I was going to be happy was to start my own game studio, so that I could do what I wanted.
SCS: What were the inspirations behind the Eschalon Trilogy and how did you make it stand out from other RPGs?
TR: I was heavily inspired by the Ultima series of games. You’ll need to be in the 30-and-over crowd to remember those games, but back in the 80’s the greatest computer RPG series in existence was Ultima 1-5. It was a transcending experience to explore the massive, open world of Britannia. That kind of RPG was lost through the years as actionRPGs and MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) took over, and so with Eschalon I wanted to recapture some of that feeling.
SCS: Why have you chosen to focus on the RPG genre?
TR: I just felt that the big developers were no longer focusing on the aspects of role-playing that I thought were important. I wanted a solo game with lots of character stats, extensive exploring, and puzzles; as I said above, this was at a time when MMOs were taking over and good solo RPGs were nearly extinct. I should say that although we are now known for our RPGs, the truth is we have also been toying around with an adventure game concept which may one day be released. Only time will tell.
SCS: How much influence do your fans have on the games you create?
TR: Probably too much! I admit that in some cases fan requests have forced me to change my own design plans, and the result hasn’t always been for the best. But overall, I absolutely appreciate the opinions and ideas our fans give us to improve each game.
SCS: As an independent company, what are some of the challenges you face?
TR: Money is the first thing that comes to mind. It takes a lot of time to make a game, and finances can get tight in-between game releases. It’s hard to not envy the studios that have deep financial backing from publishers, but then I remember that I am happy to work with a tighter budget in order to make the kinds of games I want, without publisher constraints. But, perhaps more than money, it is learning healthy work habits. When you run your own company, it’s easy to find yourself burning the candle at both ends, which just burns yourself out. I had to relearn what it means to walk away from the job at 5 o’clock like everyone else.
SCS: What do you hope players take away from your games?
TR: I just want players to be entertained. I don’t expect to revolutionize the gaming industry with my ideas, and I don’t expect to make the next Minecraft. Game design isn’t always about bleedingedge graphics or revolutionary design; more often the most successful games are just the ones that give people a solid, entertaining experience.
SCS: What advice would you give readers who aspire to make their own video games?
TR: Well, you have to be passionate about the idea of making games, and you have to work hard at it. Honestly, it’s all about what you can do, not what’s printed on your diploma. If you want a job in the gaming industry, a great portfolio showcasing your talents goes much farther than anything else. Also, I don’t think there is such thing as a “Video Game Designer”, much to the disappointment of some of the people who have tried to sell me their ideas. I’ve never met anyone who actually gets paid to [churn-out] out ideas for games and nothing else. Who knows—maybe this role exists somewhere in the upper ranks at EA (Electronic Arts Video Game Company)? Within the indie game scene you must be a programmer, or a very strong graphic artist, to be able to have a real role in the design of a video game.
SCS: What games will you be working on in the future?
TR: Ah, that’s top secret! But for those who are interested, stop by our website from time-to-time this summer as we start to drop some hints about our next project.
SCS: Is there anything you would like to tell our readers or want them to know?
TR: Thanks Dean for asking some great questions, and thanks to our fans who have supported us for the past 10 years! More great things are coming!
If you would like to follow Basilisk Games as they move forward, you can visit their website: basiliskgames.com