Interview: Monaco Sounds Splendid; Find Out Why
Every once in a while, amidst the incessant tedium of 21st century life, something comes along and grabs you by the testicles. At first, you’re understandably shocked, perhaps even plunging into a sea of self-doubt, as if all you ever knew about the surrounding world was crumbling before your very eyes. After having your virility ground and twisted in ways you never deemed possible for a short while, however, the element of shock withers away and is replaced by a quaint sense of curiosity about the nature of your sub-beltline shenanigans and, before you know it, you’re actually quite enjoying the experience.
What’s recently grabbed me, along with the indie gaming community at large, by the sweet reds is Monaco, winner of the Seumas McNally Award for Best Independent Game, not to mention the Excellence in Design gong, at the 2010 Independent Games Festival Awards. Given that the other nominees included such esteemed indie smash hits as Limbo, Joe Danger and Super Meat Boy, it’s something of an understatement to say that Monaco is looking to be something very special indeed. Find out why in our interview with its creator, Andy Schatz, below. Be sure to check out the two videos below as well, to hear the interview fist-hand.
IGM: Hi there, Andy. How are things?
Andy Schatz: I’m very well, thanks. Life is good!
IGM: That’s great to hear. So, for those who haven’t come across it yet, could you tell us a bit about the game?
Andy Schatz: Sure. Monaco is a one-to-four player co-op heist game, played from a top-down perspective. It’s a bit like Pacman meets Hitman, and it’s all set in an Oceans Eleven-style world.
There are various different player classes you can play as in your attempt to pull of the heist, and you’re all trying to get in, steal something and get out without being caught.
Up to four players can play on the same screen, and you can play through both a single-player campaign and online with friends, either co-operatively or competitively.
IGM: On which platforms can we expect to play the game?
Andy Schatz: It’ll be on PC and Mac, as well as consoles, although we haven’t announced any console plans yet. We haven’t announced a release date yet, but we’re starting to come closer to the finish line.
I’ll be selling the game directly through my website and through Steam. As for any other platforms, I’m not entirely sure yet.
IGM: An issue that’s been dominating the PC as a gaming platform during the last few years is that of DRM, an arguably intrusive implementation brought in by developers in an attempt to combat piracy? Is that a security measure in which you see merit?
Andy Schatz: I’m typically one to stand by my principles, even to the detriment of pragmatism, but, in this case, the pragmatic argument is so strong that it’s impossible to ignore. DRM does not serve consumers well.
I don’t see anything wrong with a developer trying to protect their profits. With that said, I used a standard DRM system on one of my old games, and I actually have three totally unlocked versions of the game on my web server that I’ll send to anyone who has issues with the DRM. I found that a lot of people do have problems with the DRM, and I would have been better served if I’d gone with a limited version and a full version download and not worried about it. If someone wants to pirate a game, they’ll pirate it, and there have been very few circumstances in which DRM has worked for games that people care enough about to pirate.
IGM: OK, back to the game itself. As we all know, stealth is a particularly difficult gaming genre to pull of well, especially as there’s such a fine line between establishing a working stealth mechanic whilst avoiding the creation of a slow, plodding pace. How are you going about ensuring that the game remains true to its stealth-based concept whilst remaining fun and exciting for its players?
Andy Schatz: I’ll go back to my description of the game as “Pacman meets Hitman”. In many ways, Pacman was the first stealth game, and it’s an action-based stealth game, so it wasn’t super-finicky. Imagine that concept with a much greater level of richness and interactivity with the game world, and also add in additional features for the player character.
IGM: You touched earlier on the co-operative aspect of the game, the crux of which seems to be the different player classes. Could you give us some more details about the different classes?
Andy Schatz: Sure, yeah. There are eight different classes, each with their own distinctive active and passive features.
For instance, there’s the Locksmith, who can open locked doors and safes much faster than everyone else.
The Hacker can send computer viruses out into the world that will shut down lights and help you get through security systems.
When the Lookout is standing still, she can ‘visualise’ the footsteps of the guards all the way across the world. There’s actually a new Hitman video out that highlights one of its new gameplay mechanics and, when I saw it, I was like, “Hey, that’s our Lookout!”
These things all interact with each other when you’re doing the heist. I actually like playing the game in either the single-player mode or in a two-player co-operative environment because, when you get four people playing, it becomes more of an arcade kind of fun, which is probably why it goes down so well at the trade shows, because the four-player mode’s just a blast to play. If you want a real skill-based game, though playing it with one or two players is really fun.
IGM: One of the most striking things about Monaco is its artistic style. What was the inspiration behind this visual presentation and is it something that you’re trying to implement alongside the gameplay itself?
Andy Schatz: I’ve always felt that art is best when created within fairly narrow constraints. When you have no constraints, it’s difficult to create something that’s interpretable by the eye, and it’s pretty difficult to even be inspired.
The constraint that created the visual style of Monaco lies with the fact that the visuals are ever-changing and complex when you look at them. There’s a full line-of-sight system that means that, when your character’s walking around, the areas he can see show up in full colour, and the areas he can’t see are rendered as a blueprint, in dim or greys. That contrast between areas of bright colour and darker areas that’s always changing, as well as the fact that, in four-player co-op, all these areas are overlapping, made it so that I had to keep the visuals fairly simple and iconic.
IGM: One of the key driving forces behind the recent success of certain indie titles has arguably been the great capacity for innovation that seems to reside among the smaller developers. Would you say that innovation in its raw sense is the most important thing that a budding developer can aim for in getting his or her game noticed?
Andy Schatz: Yeah. There’s a marketing booked called Purple Cow, by Seth Godin. Basically, it says that every cow is boring unless you see a purple one, and the reason that the other cows are boring is because you’ve seen them all before.
I guess, then, that innovation for innovation’s sake is sometimes important. It’s important to just do something new and, along with that, you’re taking the risk that your purple cow will make purple milk, and that no-one will want it, but at least you’ve got a purple cow that people will notice. If a dairy farmer has one purple cow, that’s how he’s going to make more than his subsistence living.
The same thing typically applies to indie game developers, but you can do “gaming by numbers”, and some people have become particularly rich by cloning existing concepts. At the same time, one of the real keys to succeeding is to do something that is notable.
IGM: I know it’s probably a little premature to be thinking beyond Monaco, especially now that it’s gradually approaching its finishing stages. However, I’d like to ask if you’ve had any thoughts about any future projects you might want to try your hand at. Are you at all intrigued by the possibility of trying out new hardware, for example?
Andy Schatz: I’ve got to say that I would be more excited about experimenting with hardware, but I’m very wary about ever doing something that ties me into a single business partner. Typically, there aren’t that many good people on the publishing side, and, on the platform side of things, they can be good one minute and bad the next. Basically, I tend to dream up the games in my head before I start to think about the context of their platforms.
With that said, although I don’t have a solid plan in my head, I’d like to make a console-ish RTS, except make it good. I’d break it down and strip away the existing RTS formula down to what real-time strategy is at its core, and make something that really works well on a console.
Another possibility is an endless RPG – an RPG which naturally expands on itself. I love RPGs, but I hate it when they end! I’m not a fan of MMOs, with all the grinding and raiding that occurs after you’ve explored all the content, so I’d like to make something that has an endless lifespan without ever losing its narrative focus.
IGM: Thanks very much for speaking with us. I can’t wait to see that game in its finished state, and I’m sure that a lot of other people feel the same way. If anyone wants to follow Monaco’s ongoing development process, how can they do so?
Andy Schatz: You can go to http://www.monacoismine.com/, and that will link you to the Facebook page, which can be found at http://www.facebook.com/MonacoIsMine, as well as its official Twitter page at http://twitter.com/#!/MonacoIsMine. My personal Twitter page is http://twitter.com/#!/andyschatz. I’m pretty active about updating fans there, and I’m always looking to post some interesting stuff.
IGM: Thanks again. All the best with the development of the game.