Exclusive Interview with Dinofarm Games
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Keith Burgun, the lead designer at Dinofarm Games. Their latest Android game, Auro, has received critical acclaim due to its ambitious and innovative monster-bumping strategy and beautiful fantasy universe. The main idea of the game is to guide Prince Auro across a grid, pushing monsters into the water by bumping and a handful of spells and skills, and gaining points. During our time together I got a chance to learn more about who Dinofarm Games is, what they’re goals are, and all of the nitty-gritty about their hot new title, Auro (Nerd Bacon’s Mobile Game of the Month).
First off, how did y’all get together? And how did the name ‘Dinofarm’ come to be?
The founding members of Dinofarm Games are myself and artist / fellow composer Blake Reynolds. We met, actually, in school studying composition. We were also in a band in college called Dinosaur Lightning. When it came time to make a “team” for some early games we were working on around 2006, we went with Dinofarm Games. I guess I kind of had a “dinosaur” thing for a while, not exactly sure why. I guess dinosaurs are cool in a little kid way, but they’re also actually cool and interesting, even to adults. That’s a retroactively-conceived explanation, though.
A lot of things. Firstly, I’ve always liked the idea of “pushing people off of the edge of things” – I remember my favorite level in Super Mario 64 was that one with the bullies and the lava for exactly that reason. I think even back then I had an intuitive sense for the fact that there’s something a little more going on there – the game space is being used better. But then obviously there’s a Rogue inspiration (as with our previous 100 Rogues, obviously).
Around 2011 or 2012, I was getting seriously into designer board games – stuff like Through the Desert, Puerto Rico, The Resistance, and a bunch of other stuff. Through playing those games, I consciously realized something that I always sorta knew about videogames: they have no system. These board games are like a tight, logical and brilliant little clockwork system of gameplay that is easy to learn yet difficult to master. Videogames tend to be the opposite.
So anyway, really, Auro was my second attempt at doing what I tried to do with 100 Rogues: make a super simple, easy to learn, but super deep single-actor tactics game.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of coming up with an idea for a game and using team collaboration to transform that idea into an actual game? Does each person have an individual role?
In general, yes, everyone has a role. We’ve found it’s generally best to let one guy be the person to have the final say on a particular field. With
that said though, of course, everything is discussed by everyone a lot. Blake is in charge of the visuals, but we’ll definitely work together on some concept art and trying to figure out what things should look like. I’m in charge of game design, but Blake pushes back on design calls all of the time. I’d say for Auro, most of the creative work is between me and Blake, and then a lot of it is with our forum-goers (dinofarmgames.com/forum, come say hi!) who give us tons of feedback. Unfortunately our programmers haven’t had much of an opportunity to really get as involved on the creative aspects since they’re just so inundated with work and have such limited time and resources. We hope to change that aspect of our company for the next game.
Well it’s good to see that everyone stays busy either way. I’m sure you had your programmers dreaming in code. Did the experience with your previous game, 100 Rogues, help the development of Auro?
Absolutely. I’ve been making games just for fun since probably around 1995 or so, but 100 Rogues was our first attempt to make a “professional” / “commercial-quality” game. So, we were completely green at that time, and we made a ton of incredibly huge mistakes which we were then able to avoid doing on Auro. Almost every aspect of Auro is done smarter and better than the counterparts for 100 Rogues.
As a design note, 100 Rogues also was my attempt to boil-down the Rogue model as far as I could just about. Boiling down much further than that, and it becomes too apparent that there’s really nothing there at all. So 100 Rogues really allowed me to understand that, and from there I was able to build a new system, from scratch, for Auro.
On your site, it says that Auro took approximately four years of development, and it shows. There was obviously a lot of hard work and effort. Did it ever get so frustrating that you wanted to hurl your computer or just scrap the project altogether?
No, but I also don’t express frustration that way. I prefer to make sarcastic jabs about how the game is just “never coming out.” Blake hated when I did that though, so I think I’ll try to avoid doing it in the future.
It was stupid, but at the same time, I’m not totally sure how I would have done things better if I could have gone back in time. I think what we did might have still been the optimal thing to do. Auro is a really, really fantastic thing and so while I’m really really glad it didn’t take longer than it did, I’m at peace with how long it took. I also am excited to find ways to make the next game go much smoother. I do not expect us to take more than 1-2 years with the next game.
Really those designer board games were just very inspiring to me. They suggest that all you have to do is find the right set of rules, and you have this little magical machine that you can play with basically forever. I feel a temptation to list a bunch of videogames that I liked when I was younger – and many of the classics you might expect were almost certainly a big reason why I ended up having a romance for games. However, ultimately, it was the failings of all of my favorite games that inspired me most, not the successes. I look at those old classics, and I know that I can do them better.
Super Smash Bros. (the original game, for Nintendo 64) is a good example. I really love that game, and I might play it forever. However, I actually don’t think that they exactly knew what it was they had. The sequels, to me, show me that they misunderstood the potential genius in their own product. I hope to make a “Super Smash Bros. 0” game someday, that changes rules in the opposite direction that they went in for Melee.
That’s an interesting concept and we’ll have to discuss that one in a different interview one day! But back to Auro. How do you balance a social life and spending hours developing a game?
Short answer is, “I don’t”. Especially in the last six months or so, I just really have not made any significant time for social activity, and it’s not good. One thing is, Blake and I are housemates, and we have another housemate who is also super awesome, so I do see them and chat with them almost every day. Other than that I have a girlfriend who I see a few times a week, but even when we hang out a lot of the time I just have to work. Thankfully, that kind of works, because she’s also an artsy entrepreneur like I am. Side note: she’s also the inspiration for the Foxy monster, and she also served as a graphic design consultant on our game!
But still, I think it’s good to make time to be social, and it’s just so hard to do that when you’re starting your own business and doing freelance art (which is my dayjob). In a way, any of your time could be free time, but that also means that none of it feels like it should be spent that way. Really, what I think I need to do is just actually schedule on and off time for work, which I plan to start doing for the next game. But it’s hard to follow that. I really want to work – it’s my favorite thing to do!
Amen, Keith. So what is the hardest part about creating a game?
Programming. At least, that’s the hardest thing for Dinofarm, since our core team are two guys who can do everything but programming for games.
But for most people, I think probably the hardest part is probably making something that actually contributes to the conversation. By that I
mean, something that is relevant. So, not “Tower Defense + RPG” or “Puzzle Platformer + Tower Defense” or “RPG + Puzzle Platformer”. As with all arts, figuring out what the world needs is the hardest part. Having something to say. Your game should be a bold statement that says, “games should be like THIS!” Judging from what people are making, this seems to be the hardest part about creating a game.
Ever since Auro became available on Google Play, it’s been getting extremely positive reviews and praise, how does it feel to work so hard and then garner such positive attention?
It feels good. The reviews are great, and even the negative reviews so far are pretty constructive. I try to respond to all of those people in a non-confrontational way and really thank them for their help. We plan to keep making Auro better and better and better, so please come and insult our game – it only makes us stronger! But really, we love to hear about when people “get it” about Auro. The absolute best is watching people play on Twitch and seeing them uncover stuff that we worked on for months and months. Each ability in the game took a massively long project to get right, and it’s so great to see people unpacking that.
I know you’ve mentioned making another game. Do you have any plans for this game or is the focus right now to expand upon Auro?
Both. I already have the beginnings of a prototype for the next game cooking (since I sort of learned how to program during the development of Auro). We’re excited about that project, but whether we make it or another game will depend on a lot of factors, like how well Auro does and whether we can get funding.
I’m on the record as saying “your game is your baby” numerous times, though, and I really mean it. Auro is the first game that we, Dinofarm Games, have full control over, and I hereby promise that we will support it for as long as we possibly can. Hopefully decades.
Do you have any advice for our fellow nerds who are looking to become game developers?
If you’re looking to become a game developer, seek to obtain some high-demand skill, probably programming or art. Then just apply for jobs at studios, normally. Or start making your own things.
If you’re looking to become a game designer, it’s a bit more tricky. Game designer is not an entry-level job. In order to become a game designer, you basically either have to start your own team – which is what I did, and it’s really really hard – or you have to go obtain some high-demand skill and get your foot in the door as an artist or programmer. Then from there you might be able to move into design. Level design and QA both tend to be good starting positions for people who want to move into design.
I don’t personally really care too much about game development in general; to me it’s just a necessary evil for doing game design. So I have much more advice for those who would like to be game designers in the future.
Avoid adding anything to your game which might end up being a chore for players; beware of making players place square pegs into square holes, or running down corridors. Remember that players have done you an incredible favor by even taking a look at your game. You owe them, and you should repay them by delivering the most efficient, quick, interesting and deep experience you possibly can to them. Don’t waste people’s time!
Keith, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us and share your thoughts. We’re excited for all of you at Dinofarm Games and we wish you the best of luck!
Auro is now available for Android devices on Google Play. Auro will be available for iOS devices soon, so keep checking!
You can visit the fine folks of Dinofarm Games at their website: http://www.dinofarmgames.com/
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