May 10th, 2010 | By Mike Gnade
When did Wolfire start?
David Rosen created Wolfire in 2003 as a web site where people could find and download his major game projects. Though the original Wolfire site only featured David’s later work, he had actually started developing games in 1992 when he was in second grade.
Because David and I went to the same elementary school, I had the opportunity to watch him create his first masterpiece. It was a black and white, choose-your-own-adventure, stick figure war game he designed in a programing language called Hypercard. He even created his own gunshot and explosion sound effects by recording the distortion that occurs from blowing into a microphone. David’s game quickly became more fun than it’s closest competitor (the hunting section of Oregon Trail). It spread around the school computers until the administration overheard explosions and gunfire coming from their computers and promptly banned the game.
By the time he hit high school, David was making games in his own 3D engines like his procedural first person shooter Black Shades and the classic ninja rabbit fighter Lugaru. After turning down recruitment offers from companies like Crytek, he finished college and decided to assemble a team. Now David is joined by our lead artist Aubrey, his twin brother Jeff and myself and we’re making a sequel to Lugaru on steroids called Overgrowth.
Where did the name Wolfire originate?
Many years ago, David and Jeff decided to adopt a stray dog that was following them home after a vacation in the mountains. The dog looked fairly wolf-like, so they decided to call him Wolfenstein or Wolfie for short.
When David was thinking of a name for his video game company, Wolfie sprang to mind but he realized that if you add an ‘r’ you get Wolfire. Wolves are awesome, fire is awesome, so why not Wolfire?
What was it like in the early days when Black Shades first came out? Both in the indie scene and within the company.
When Black Shades came out, Wolfire was just David working all by himself. He had entered his procedural FPS in a uDevGames contest and Black Shades won some awards and earned him a reputation with indie gaming enthusiasts. The scene was smaller then. So most of David’s peers were also hobbyists as opposed to people trying to make a full time living by developing games. Recently though, it’s been very inspiring to see games like World of Goo, Braid and Castle Crashers break into the mainstream industry a little bit.
What is the feeling or image you want people to think of when they think of Wolfire?
Aside from the sweet Wolfire Logo which David and Aubrey made together, another classic Wolfire symbol has become the Whale Man. Whale Man represents fun, outside-of-the-box thinking and he is not afraid to stomp things that deserve it in our Whale Fail posts.
Has development from Black Shades down to Overgrowth been a continual process for the team?
Wolfire has been David’s one-man company until he decided to bring the rest of us in to work on Overgrowth. For David, it has been a continuous learning process. Each iteration has expanded his game development vocabulary. From black and white war games in Hypercard; to FirePong in QuickBasic which needed fire and lightening particle effects along with paddle damage modeling; to GLFighters which David made in his own 3D engine and custom built forward kinematics animation editor; to Black Shades which used procedurally created levels and inverse kinematics; then to Lugaru which had seamless transitions between complex skeletal animations and ragdoll physics; it’s been quite a whirlwind. And remember these were all games David made before he went to college. Now that he has graduated and has a team backing him up, Overgrowth is going to be totally awesome.
After David created Black Shades, what inspired him to make Lugaru?
David had been playing Rune and Oni and realized he wanted to express his own vision of intense 3D melee combat. While both games provided David with some initial inspiration, he managed to carve out a fast-paced, intuitive, combat system that is unlike anything else in the gaming industry.
What was the inspiration for the art direction in Lugaru and how will that change in Overgrowth?
David had many reasons for his choice of setting for Lugaru: avoiding the uncanny valley, leveraging species-related stereotypes (How hardcore is a rabbit that dares to fight wolves?), immortalizing his faithful dog Wolfie in the context of a video game plus he also wanted to create devastatingly realistic combat without having the damage inflicted on human characters.
Overgrowth will be inherting the essence of Lugaru but because we have been building our brand new Phoenix Engine from scratch, we will be able to achieve a much more photorealistic experience. We’re also going to be adding more characters (dogs, cats and rats in addition to rabbits and wolves). From Aubrey’s beautiful 2D concept art to his carefully sculpted character meshes, you can already get a good sense of just how immersive Overgrowth is going to be.
Was the reaction to Lugaru’s release what you were hoping for? How has that affected Overgrowth?
Lugaru was basically a hobby project that David put together in his free time. Despite the fact that he didn’t have time to promote it much, it became an organic success and sold several thousand copies. The community even went so far as to reverse engineered his code to unlock the map editor. Today there are now 5 total conversions of Lugaru which rival the quality of the orginal game with more announced and on the way.
For Overgrowth, we decided instead of hiding the editor tools we should just bundle them tidily with the rest of the game. We now have a map editor, decal editor, sky editor and even an animation editor built right into our Phoenix Engine and we’ve already seen fans construct their own cities and levels.
How is Black Shade doing on iTunes? Was the conversion a hard process?
Henry Kropf was the developer that brought Black Shades to the iPhone for us. Black Shades iPhone hasn’t done super well, as it has barely broken 1000 sales. We had a few complications with our launch on the App Store which hurt our chances of making the top lists. But there aren’t too many first person shooters with skeletal animations and ragdoll physics on the iPhone, so at 99 cents, BSi is a steal. You can grab it on the app store here.
What was the most difficult time for everyone? Personal reasons or otherwise.
We’re fortunate enough to have a really awesome team. We all care a lot about Overgrowth’s development process and while we don’t always have identical opinions on how things should go,we’ve never had a situation we couldn’t figure out with a brief chat and a brainstorm session.
Personally, the most difficult time for me was when the Organic Indie Preorder Pack sold over 1000 sales and I was forced to fulfill an agreement with the fans to dye my beard pink. Going out in public with a pink beard can be a bit disconcerting.
Proudest moment yet?
The success of the Organic Indie Preorder Pack combined with David’s post about why you should use OpenGL which landed on the front page of Digg, Slashdot and Reddit was probably our proudest recent moment. However, the most exciting things are yet to come so I recommend staying tuned to the Wolfire Blog!
What went into the development of the Phoenix Engine? Will you be selling it independently?
Our main goal is to make Overgrowth an awesome ninja rabbit fighting game and we decided building our own engine would be the best way to do this. Although it’s a lot of work, it allows us to maintain direct control over the project and we can easily build and modify our editor tools to optimize our level creation workflow. A huge side benefit of building our own tools is that we can bundle them directly with the game and give them to fans without worrying about licensing complications. Though it’s been some extra effort, we’re strong believers that it was the right choice.
We’ve definitely had a lot of people ask us about licensing our engine or pieces of it for third party projects. That would be very cool but supporting a developer’s kit for third parties would be a ton of work and we might prefer to spend that time working on a game instead.
Does the Phoenix engine translate to XNA or Unity? Will you be converting Overgrowth for either of these platforms as well?
The Phoenix Engnine is powered by OpenGL which means it will be easily compatible Mac, Linux and PC. This cross platform compatibility has been a huge boon for Wolfire While we would definitely like to get Overgrowth onto consoles as well, we haven’t come up with a formal plan for how to do that yet.
How long has Overgrowth been in development?
Overgrowth has been in development for just over a year. We’ve spent the whole first part of our development process working on our core engine technologies. However, since David just laid the foundation for scripting last week, we are dangerously close to being able to start crafting the game itself.
With the webcomic and the youtube channel there appears to be transparancy between fans and the developers. What does that do for Overgrowth and Wolfire? Is this a direction for future branding for the company?
We’ve been advocating our practice of open development quite heavily. Rather than try to make a game in a cave and then walk out one day and say “Hello world, here we are love us.”, we’ve been showing people every step of our process. This has not only helped us raise early awareness about Overgrowth but also gives us valuable feedback on our game as it develops. I don’t think the Organic Indie Preorder Pack would have been a success without our efforts to reach out to the community from day 1. We were asked to speak at GDC Austin about open development and we were invited back to speak at the main GDC in San Francisco.
When can people expect Overgrowth to be finished?
We don’t have an official release date for Overgrowth because we want to be able to spend enough time to get the game done right. However, as part of our open development process, you can already preorder Overgrowth and get access to our weekly alpha builds. Rabbot recently died so now there’s a real looking rabbit running around in the engine.
What is the best way to monetize a game? Sponsor? Straight price? Donation? XBI (NA)?
I don’t think there’s one right answer to the question. However, I will say that with our indie peers experiencing 90% piracy rates for games and the democratization of distribution and marketing via the ever growing power of the internet there’s no reason to think that the best way to monetize a game today will remain the best way to monetize it tomorrow. In fact, for small developers that don’t need that many sales to turn a profit, there is more freedom to try things that are a little crazier but fairly likely to generate you some serious pr. Our fear is that a lot of indies just think that if they make a great game, everything else will fall into place. While this is certainly possible, we think it’s a lot better to develop openly from day one.