Interview with Ben Mallahan, Lead Designer of ‘NEStalgia’
With NEStalgia looking to succeed in Steam’s upcoming Green Light system (you can read about their campaign in our previous article), we took a moment to ask Ben Mallahan, the Lead Designer of NEStalgia, a few questions.
A lot of gamers are curious about how a developer’s lives change after releasing a successful game, Ben Mallahan had this to say when asked how his life has changed since the release of NEStalgia:
“NEStalgia started as a hobby project in every sense of the word. My team and I are not game designers by trade; NEStalgia was just something we worked on for fun in our free time. I always hoped that the game would find an audience, but at the time my definition of “audience” was much smaller than what we ended up encountering on release day last year. Since that time NEStalgia has become a legitimate job for me. I’ve still had to do plenty of freelance work on the side in order to pay the bills (I’m a writer and film editor), but NEStalgia has been profitable enough to justify my efforts. I essentially swapped careers after NEStalgia’s release last year and have been focusing mostly on game development, and that switch has certainly taken some getting used to.”
A successful transition from hobby project to almost full-time paying job is pretty much the dream of most indie developers. Gamers and other developers would want to know, what was your favorite part about working on a fairly successful game like NEStalgia?
“My favorite part is really just the process of designing and implementing new stuff. I love taking a system that I’ve outlined on paper and making it come to life in the game. I’d equate it to the feeling of building stuff with Legos as a kid – the process itself is just really fun. We recently added an entirely new “Companion” system to the game which allows solo players to recruit monsters to fight alongside them. I probably created 30 different iterations of mock ups for how to re-design certain menus in the game to accommodate the new companions. Although that sounds tedious, that’s exactly the type of thing that gets me excited about doing this. I really get a kick out of working through those types of design challenges until things are just right.”
The Steam Greenlight system is likely to be extremely cutthroat upon its initial release. Do you think the community will help make your Greenlight campaign successful?“We have a very dedicated and enthusiastic community of players. A good example of that is our artwork contributions board, which is a place for artists within the NEStalgia community to submit new sprites either on spec or for a specific job that we’ve requested. In the past year we’ve been able to do almost a complete graphical overhaul of the game with beautiful new artwork, and the kicker is that most of the artists would not accept monetary compensation for their work. Somehow simply being a part of the NEStalgia effort and having ownership over their own little corner of the the game was compensation enough. In other words, there is a real feeling within the community of “we’re all in this together”. That’s why I believe that if any community for an indie game is going to have success on Steam Greenlight, it’s going to be NEStalgia’s.”Sounds like you’ve got a solid chance of success. I’ve seen the community behind NEStalgia, and they are definitely very supportive. What will you do if NEStalgia does get accepted for Steam?
“I’ll be absolutely thrilled if our campaign is successful, but there will still be a lot of work to do. I definitely won’t take anything for granted – simply having a game listed on Steam doesn’t automatically ensure success. If Steam does lead to a lot of new players (and new sales), the first item on my agenda will be hiring someone to help manage the customer service end of things full time.”
With a large community already, and an increase of players expected to come from Steam as well, its going to be tough to decide how things will run from here on out. Are you planning on any changes (gameplay, subscribers, etc.) when moving to Steam?
“Yup. What will most likely happen is that NEStalgia will become a downloadable game that allows players to host their own private or public servers. Right now we maintain all of the game’s dedicated servers, but keeping up with demand could potentially become an issue. Although we’ll always maintain a cluster of official servers, allowing the player base to host their own games would eliminate most of our growing pains concerns. The great thing about NEStalgia is that it works really well both as an MMO played with lots of people or as a private co-op game with a friend or two. The solo game is actually pretty fun as well, but nothing compares to partying up with other players.”
If NEStalgia does succeed on Steam, there’s going to be many more players (and in turn resources) for you to work with. What are your future goals for NEStalgia?“I have a lot of cool stuff that I’d like to do with NEStalgia in terms of both gameplay and future content expansions. The problem that I face isn’t a lack of ideas, but a lack of time and resources to get them implemented. Therefore, my overriding goal is to make NEStalgia profitable enough for me to be able to focus on it full time with no distractions. Win, lose or draw with this Steam Greenlight campaign, my top priority for the game itself over the course of the next year is to release several content expansions and wrap up the game’s current story line. Players have been waiting way too long to for some resolution.”Awesome, sounds like we should expect great things from NEStalgia in the future. Is there anything else you want to talk about?“I’d just like to mention that although I’m the creator of NEStalgia, there is a whole team of people behind the game who are integral to its success. My co-developer Scott Thompson has done a ton of work behind the scenes fixing bugs and coding some of our core systems, and our community manager Jared Reilly puts in a lot of hours keeping the servers in check. Last but not least, Tom Hehre and his team at BYOND worked back and forth with me for months developing the standalone version of NEStalgia that was released earlier this summer. Being able to distribute NEStalgia as a standalone project with no strings attached is a game changer for us, and I’m excited to see how far we can take it from here.”NEStalgia is currently available, free-to-play, from Silk Game’s website.