Kenshi, an indie game from creator Chris Hunt, has just been approved on Steam’s new Greenlight feature. It’s an amazing success, and the reward of beating out hundreds of other games for approval gives Kenshi a place on Steam’s marketplace once the game is finished. Today I had an interview with Chris and got to talk about the life of an indie game developer, his game, and the Greenlight process.
If you’re curious about Kenshi, want to try it out, or if you want to buy the Alpha version you check out it’s website at http://www.lofigames.com/.
To start off can you give a quick description of Kenshi for our readers?
“It’s an open-ended RPG, and you control an entire squad of characters. The focus is (or will eventually be) on struggling and growing stronger in order to survive a harsh game world. There’s also a realistic take on locational damage and how it affects you in combat, and a whole system of base-building, upgrades, crafting and research.”
After playing it for a while it seems like a very technical and in-depth game. Where did you get the inspiration for it? Are there any other video games that you’ve drawn inspiration from?
“Loads. It’s a product of a lifetime of playing video games. X-Com Apocalypse has always been the king of games to me, for the sheer depth of everything you can do and the excitement of researching a new upgrade. Fallout 1&2 showed me the joys of adventuring in a wasteland and getting stronger. Jagged Alliance 2 showed me squad based tactics. Frontier Elite and Gothic II taught me you have to earn your power to really enjoy it, whether that power comes from skills or wealth.”
“And they all taught me the importance of loving your characters, and freaking out when one of them dies.”
From what I can see it looks like you’re currently the only developer? Is that right?
“That’s right, although for the last few months I’ve had a freelance art studio working for me, but none of that work is in the game yet.”
It must be challenging tackling so many different aspects of the game by yourself. I’m guessing you’ve worked as a programmer or designer at a studio before? Or is this your first project?
“I had a freelance job for a few years a long time back, and a few other mini contracts but thats it. I couldn’t have made the game if I was working full-time at another studio. I worked 2 days a week as a security guard for the years I spent making Kenshi.”
So where did you learn the technical knowledge required to make a game like Kenshi?
“I just sort of picked it up as I went… y’know… a book here, a tutorial there… I’ve been making games for a long time now, around 12 years I think. The first 6 years just learning and practicing and failing, the next 6 years making Kenshi. I’ve got very little in the way of formal education. I just did Music Technology at college, and then started making games.”
You’re one of the first 10 games to have gotten approved through Steam’s Greenlight process. Why do you think your game was chosen out of the hundreds of games that were uploaded?
“Maybe I need to have looked at a lot of the other submissions to answer that properly. Its an ambitious game, and regardless of how the game itself is at this stage the idea alone is something I’ve developed for myself, the game I’ve always wanted to have after a lifetime of playing classics and I think it strikes a nerve with a lot of gamers the same way it does for me. It gets people excited.
Plus it probably helps that I have a working demo to show as proof that I can follow through with it.”
And what have you as a developer gained from the Greenlight process? Any helpful feedback? Cheap marketing? Increase in sales or fans? Or just the relief of knowing people worldwide are interested in the game you’ve been working on for so long?
“The exposure, it’s awesome. The Greenlight page has about 170,000 views right now, from just 2 weeks. My website traffic and sales have skyrocketed. I’ve made almost 6 months’ worth of sales in 2 weeks.”
So do plan on expanding the Kenshi team, hiring more programmers, artists, and designers (besides the free-lance artist you’ve contracted)? Or are you going to publish the game as the sole developer?
“I don’t have that much money yet. But I’ve got enough now to keep my freelancer for further work, and if it doesn’t die off too quickly I can sort out an audio guy too.
I’m treating it for now as a sales spike rather than a permanent increase in income”
Do you know when the final version of the game is going to be done? And when it’s going to be avialable on Steam?
“Its certainly still a way off, the game isn’t even feature-complete yet, let alone polished and bug free. A couple of years unless the income goes up enough for me to hire a permanent full-time extra programmer. But it will get done one way or another, even if I had do it single-handed, piecing together every individual pixel with tweezers, while living in a cardboard box. Even if it wasn’t going to sell a single copy, I’d still make it.”
Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers about your development experiences, Kenshi, Greenlight, or the video game industry as a whole?
“Don’t buy computers with those crappy integrated HD graphics cards. They cause me trouble.”