After the Indie Showcase went on a brief hiatus, it’s back once again! This time we are speaking to BAFTA award winning developer Dan Marshall of Size Five Games, creator of such games as The Swindle, Ben There, Dan That, and Time Gentlemen Please. If you are interested check out our last Indie Showcase with OhNoo Studios.
Battle Misfit: For those that aren’t familiar with you, tell us a little about yourself and your work.
Dan Marshall: I’m an indie developer, probably still best-known for a couple of comedy adventure games I made back when Indie Games were barely a thing, called Ben There, Dan That! and Time Gentlemen, Please! Since then I’ve also made a multiplayer deathmatch thing called Gun Monkeys, and my latest release The Swindle, which is kind of a procedurally-generated burglary simulator.
BM: Being an independent studio, do you think it’s harder to make an impact on the industry as a whole? Or with the rise of indie games and studios in recent years has it made what you are trying to do a lot easier?
DM: I think it’s really hard these days to be heard, and to get your games played. There’s just *so much* out there, even if your game does really well critically and commercially, the sweeping majority of gamers won’t play it. It’s odd, because it feels like every game you make that isn’t the new Braid or the new Limbo is a failure, but I wonder how many truly ubiquitous indie games we’ll see from now on. That age feels like it’s passed.
BM: Your latest game is called The Swindle, which we gave a 10/10. In your own words tell us a little bit about it
DM: It’s a Steampunk/Cyberpunk burglary simulator. You break into buildings however you like, nab all their cash, and run away again before the police turn up. You can then spend that cash on upgrading your thief to take on bigger and better heists, with bigger rewards…
BM: We must say, we are huge fans of the art style. Is this another string to your bow? Or do you work closely with artists/animators to get the look of the world you have created just right?
DM: The art is all Michael Firman, he has this amazing, unique art style. Everything he makes is just gold, he has an incredible eye. I take everything he sends, and I do the animation; I quite like the fact that I stull have some input on visuals, I’d hate to be just programming.
BM: What was the thought process of giving the ‘Heist Genre’ a twist and setting it in a Steam Punk version of London?
DM: *Laughs* I’m not sure there was one. The idea of the 2D break-and-enter thing came about first, and I’ve always wanted to do something Steampunk. I’m not sure when it happened, but it felt unique.
BM: Is there anything in particular that influenced the game? Maybe a Film, TV Show, or perhaps another game?
DM: Quite a few things, really. Spelunky influenced the PG levels and ‘simple’ enemy types, XCOM influenced quite a lot of it, as well as stuff like Deus Ex. There’s a lot of little bits going on in that game.
BM: It’s a few years too late but congrats on winning the BAFTA for your sex education game Privates! Was that a surreal moment for you collecting an award as prestigious as that?
DM: Yes, it was utterly surreal. It still feels very, very odd.
BM: How did the game come about and how did a dialogue start up between you and Channel 4?
DM: Alice Taylor, who was commissioning editor of games at C4 at the time, had played BTDT and I went in for a chat, because they’d started making educational content. She said they wanted pitches for a game either about Sex or Politics and I dont’ think I have it in me to come up with an interesting politics game, so it all sort of went from there.
BM: If it was possible, would you be open to working with any publishers or studios for future projects?
DM: I’m always open to stuff, we’ll see what happens. One of the great things about being an indie is being able to try stuff like working with other teams. Curve helped bring The Swindle to consoles and were amazing. I’d happily talk to anyone who can offer me something brilliant.
BM: We think Sony’s Xdev program or Microsoft’s ID@Xbox is a great thing for the industry and to help smaller companies get more exposure. Would you like to see bigger companies (Rockstar, EA, Activision etc) create a similar program?
DM: *Laughs* I’m not sure how that’d work. I’d totally like to see companies loan out their old, unused IP to indie devs so we can get some new Syndicate games, and stuff like that. Maybe that’s the way they could run it!
BM: Who or what inspired you to get into the industry? Would you have any advice to give people who are just staring out?
DM: Oh wow, I don’t know really. Anyone who made games for the BBC Micro in the 80s, or Megadrive games in the 90s, I guess! My advice to people starting out is always to have a proper job to pay your rent until making games starts to pay off. You need to have a roof over your head and food in your tummy- work evenings and weekends, and put up with your boring Day Job.
BM: What’s more important for you: Crafting a memorable story or keeping gamers happy with a unique style of gameplay?
DM: Depends entirely on the game I’m making; for the Dan and Ben games it’s all about laughs and story, and characters. For The Swindle, it’s more about letting people tell their own stories and getting into exciting scrapes.
BM: Now for the mandatory fun questions! A friend of yours approaches you who knows nothing about video games and wants to get started. If you could choose one game and one console from any point in history for them to begin their gaming journey what would you choose and why?
DM: Probably Portal. I think it’s an insanely accessible game that shows people exactly what they’re missing out on.
BM: If money was no object, what game would you want to create? (Maybe a remake? Or a sequel to a classic game?) How would you market it? (Have Michael Bay direct an advert for the game? Have an all star cast for the Voice Cast?)
DM: I’d probably want to make a decent Sonic the Hedgehog game. 2D, ultra cartoony. Something that understands what Sonic was. No idea how I’d market that. I’m not sure I’d even need to, the game would speak for itself.
BM: If there was one game from history that you wish you could have created, which one would you choose and why?
DM: Minecraft, obviously!