‘McDroid’ Interview with Laurent Lavigne of Elefantopia

IGM had a chance to chat with Laurent Lavigne of Elefantopia on his hectic tower defense game, McDroid. McDroid is a gorgeous cel-shaded tower defense and 3rd person action adventure game where you collect strawberries. The game is currently still in Beta and available for PC, Mac and Linux.


When did you start developing games? What got you into programming and designing?
I started when I was 10, made a few rooms in a first person adventure game on my TI 97, then at 15, I completed the graphics for a game that was inspired by RTYPE, horizontal shooter with wave gun and modular weapon system in the back that doubled as a shield. Sold it to Thalamus, the company went under before the game became anything more than one level on the Amiga but it was a really fun level.


What game inspired you to make games?
RTYPE but MULE and Gauntlet are close second, what am I saying, Marble Madness and Buck Rogers, The Pawn, Tass Time… they all build such a rich canvas of feelings.


What is your favorite indie game right now that you are playing? Why?
I am not playing any indie game at the moment, the free time I have I dedicate to McDROID and the real world. But I did spend hours on FTL and loved it, it was scratching that grinding itch and showed me some really tight gameplay and subtle bindings I’ll re-use.


How was Elefantopia formed? What is your origin story? Where does the name come from?
Ha that’s a long story. I quit the movie industry to make my own thing, wanted to be in direct contact with the people. First prototype was Karma, a game about transformer buggies, walking trees and pollution, things started to pick up as I got a hang of the chaotic process of making a game, that was when I spent a lot of time in India, in one Ashram in particular. Karma was going nowhere and I was addicted to Farmville I didn’t know why so I decided to make a social game type thing to understand. That game was centered around balance of nature and what I understood of spiritual energies – I needed a name. At the time I connected very deeply with a few deities, one of them is the elephant man Ganesha. I remember I was sitting under the roof and it was a typical Karnataka weather for the season with heavy rain drops then suddenly Elefantopia popped in my head. So when I froze the game and needed a company name, I recycled that one.


McDroid is the game currently in development. It is an awesome cel-shaded tower defense and action game. How did you come up with the idea?
Mmmm, the idea grew from so many ideas… maybe better I retrace the events to give you a glimpse of the chaos : Unity was running a contest to promote their new Flash output. I thought about it for 30 seconds and no idea came so I kept working on Elefantopia. One night as I was falling asleep an image popped in my head of a blocky robot carrying a giant pot of terra cotta with a pine tree in it, that woke me up and I painted it on my iPad.
Next morning I made it and the pine tree and the pot and it was awesome so I animated it, rigged it with simple walker script and by the end of the day I had a walking robot in a gray room. Since E was on a stand still, I mean I had no idea what the game was about in term of mechanic, I decided to use the 10 days remaining to submit this game to Unity, at the time it was called Spider Garden. I made a few monsters, the double blade you now have, the worm and another monster not in McDroid and the game was a harvesting, you plant either resources or turrets and you have monsters coming to tremble your sand castle, it was a third person. Fraser came back from New Year vacation helped me finish and on my birthday we submitted the game. Then something funny happen, as we got back to working on Elefantopia we kept talking about Spider Garden so I decided : fuck it let’s do it, I put E on the back-burner and gave us until February to do something with SG see what comes up, and in February we went so far and it was 10x more fun than that mission based island saving game so I put Elefantopia in the freezer and we worked on SG until it became coherent, still adding gameplay mechanics, simplifying everything so it runs on every device, keeping the core idea but changing this super complicated adventure-build-exploration-monster bashing game into a top view Arcade-RTS…


So yeah the idea grew from an image, a few ideas I really like and with a lot of luck, constant self reflection and play testing by other people it became something coherent and really fun.  The name “Spider Garden” didn’t resonate with people so we needed a new one, one that centers around the character if the game, that Droid… but what name ?  In the mid 80s we received our first Minitel (asci terminal, precursor to the internet), I created a login to chat with people, that login is McDroid.  So yeah the game has been around for some time


What made you select Unity as your development platform? Do you plan on releasing McDroid on any additional platforms like Android, Ouya or the iPad?
Other platforms? Maybe…


Why Unity? Because it had the best asset pipeline and I knew Aras’ demo work, also the UI looked pretty and I had just learned some Java.


Currently, McDroid is still in Beta. What else can we expect before you deem the game is complete?
Almost finished with level 9, we have a few surprises and secret chambers to add, polish the UI which looks quite disjointed, make an end of game animation bake it and ship it.


Your game is currently on Steam Greenlight. What do you think of that service? How close is McDroid to being greenlit?
I think it’s a brilliant gauge of popularity.  McDroid is not doing super great on GL, low in-flow, 54% to the top 100.


What has been your biggest success?
Finishing the game and making it really fun.


What does it mean to be an indie developer?
Direct connection with the people who enjoy your creation, also self doubt and hesitations, breaking into a fuck it which leads to self discovery, the usual artist stuff ya know.


What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring developers?
Keep asking yourself this question until there is only one answer then build from it: What do I like to feel?

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