Team Disaster Interview Part One

Almost a year ago I reviewed a small indie game by the name of Captain Disaster in: Death Has A Million Stomping Boots, developed by a small team that reached out to me in hopes I would review it. At that time, I was looking to review something different. Often times I’ll pass up a chance to review one of those multi-million dollar AAA releases in favor of smaller titles. Not because I’m intimidated or afraid of how those larger reviews will be looked at, not because I’m so prideful I don’t believe I need that feather in my cap, but because I like reviewing games that don’t get a lot of attention in hopes of helping it get more recognition.

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To me, smaller titles with realistic budgets are subjects of triumph for being able to accomplish what they set out to with limited resources. If I can, at the very least, review these small gems and get them at least one sale, I’ve done my job as a reviewer. If a game is bad, well, I’m hopeful my honest criticism will motivate the developers to try and polish, try to perfect their game. With all of that being said, very few titles caught my attention and caused me to truly love such a simple experience like Captain Disaster in: Death Has A Million Stomping Boots.

You see, they could have tried to make another Metroidvania game in an oversaturated genre (a genre I love and am in no way complaining about), they could have made another Action Adventure platformer with 8bit graphics, but, instead, they chose to make a game in a genre that doesn’t get much love nowadays. Point and click adventure games aren’t as prevalent as they once were, although we’ve seen some good ones like The Lion’s Song, and this release is a great showcase for the genre. Captain Disaster in: Death Has A Million Stomping Boots shows that with some wit, puzzles, hilarious dialogue, and a charming story can still set this genre head and shoulders above others. It is with great honor that I present a two-part interview with the two minds behind the game and it is my hope that this can help them reach their dreams and goals. To the wonderful Team Disaster, I thank you for this opportunity and we, here at The Loot Gaming, can’t wait to see what’s next from you!

The Interview With Team Disaster

1) What made you decide to make Captain Disaster In: Death Has A Million Stomping Boots?

CD: Making a point-and-click featuring Captain Disaster was something I wanted to do right from when I wrote the very first short story he starred in, which if my failing memory is correct was 1998. I have actually had a couple of false starts – one in 2003 IIRC and the other probably around 2010 – to make the game on my own. However my coding skills were really not up to what I wanted to do, and for a long time, I was unable to find anyone to work with. Eventually, I did – but we only got as far as releasing the demo, before TGP eventually took over the programming role – and, as it turned out, a lot else besides!! – and fortunately showed as much dedication to the project as myself, which is the only reason it got finished really.

TBP: My Captain Disaster story starts with my career journey. I was a professional game developer for several years before deciding to pursue something entirely different. I enjoyed making games – don’t get me wrong – It was a dream job, but I decided that I wanted to do something that I considered more meaningful. I poured myself into my new vocation for several years, and the only programming that I did was in service to my work. Around 2012, I started teaching my children to program, and I wanted them to learn the way I did: making games. It’s addictive. I caught the bug again, but I decided that if I’m going to do it again, I’m going to make the kind of games that I enjoy. I loved playing “3D graphic adventures” (to use the term as coined by Sierra). I got involved in the adventure game community and started entering contests. After finishing one of these monthly contests, I was looking to be part of a bigger team, and I saw a posting by CaptainD with the opportunity to contribute to a commercial game. He was in dire need of a programmer to fill a sudden vacancy. I showed him a portfolio, and our relationship began. Around the same time, however, his original programmer had returned. CD still wanted to do something together. So, we brainstormed a bit, I threw a short demo together, and we worked on that project for a few months, until the spring of 2013. The original programmer had quit again, and I came onto Death Has a Million Stomping Boots.

2) What are some of your inspirations? What are some of the elements you hoped to capture in your game? Were there any elements from games that inspired you that you wanted to change or “revolutionize” in the genre?

CD: Much of my inspiration in terms of game design came from the early LucasFilm Games productions that I loved growing up – especially Zak McKraken, The Secret of Monkey Island and Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade – The Graphic Adventure. I still have such fond memories of playing those games with my sister – before the days of hints and walkthroughs online, so we spent A LONG time on some of them!

My influences from the writing side are very obvious – Hitchhikers, Red Dwarf, and Discworld being the biggest influences in a comedy sense. As far as more serious sci-fi goes I’ve always been a big fan of Asimov, Wells, Wyndham, Verne and Arthur C Clarke, so possibly there are influences from them as well.

In fact my intention was pretty much the opposite of introducing change or revolutionizing the genre (though I think you’d need to have a huge ego to make any claims at the latter anyway!) – what I wanted to do was make a game that not only evoked the spirit of the classic point-and-click games from the 90s, but feel exactly like it actually could be made back then.

TBP: CaptainD and I are on the same page when it comes to pop-culture. It’s one of the reasons why we work so well together. Star Wars defined my childhood. Indiana Jones was a close second. Arthur C. Clarke, Star Trek, The Hitchhiker’s Guide, The Xanth Novels, Monty Python, Dune, The Explorers, E.T., Gremlins, Goonies, C.S. Lewis, pre-Hollywood Tolkien – they all shaped the way I think about sci-fi and adventure.

Our sensibilities are complementary. When I saw that CD put a monolith in the Rubbish Dump, I told him that we had to make the description say, “it’s full of stars,” and work some monkey bones into the game. I designed the femur puzzle with the idea that we would play the theme from 2001, but we wondered where we would find a free performance of Thus Spoke Zarathrusta. CD ended up humming it with his daughter. It was genius! I followed suit when I later surprised him with our gratuitous Monty-python/space-quest-death gag sequence. I had put a “dangerous uniform” on display in the haberdashery (it’s a red-shirt uniform from Star Trek) and wanted to find some way to work it into the game.

Sierra games were my first love in the genre, after text adventures. I played all of them, waiting ravenously for the latest episode in every series (except for that naughty one). For LucasArts, the movie is what inspired me to buy a copy of The Last Crusade. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the Sierra Games, but The Fate of Atlantis will always be one of my all-time favorites. I eventually played and enjoyed all of the LucasArts adventures, and as the “Golden Era” of the genre came to a close, I think LucasArts took the lead with such hits as Sam and Max Hit the Road, Day of the Tentacle and finally, Grim Fandango for the crown. For Sierra: What happened? I’ve never quite understood where they were going during the Gabriel Knight series, and then the last few episodes of each series lost their way. It was sad.

One game that really impacted my design sensibilities is Loom. Would anyone have the guts to weave musical composition into a AAA game today? Which brings me to one of the things that I love about the genre. Adventure games were educational without being “edutainment.” Edutainment plays down to children, and I’m convinced that’s why it’s never really entertaining. It was while playing the Perils of Rosella, that I learned how to spell “uvula,” and I’m glad that the text-based interface didn’t allow any substitutions. An adventure game puzzle that requires a little bit of research to complete stretches the imagination and the mind.

3) Your game is a point and click adventure, why choose that genre?

CD: It’s a genre I’ve always loved. To me it is the perfect blend of narrative and gameplay – although I love other genres, the adventure game has always been the one that spoke to me the most. Once I started getting involved with the AGS (Adventure Game Studio) community there was really only one way to go!

TBP: When I think of a game story, I tend to think in this genre. It’s my preferred storytelling medium. In the professional game industry, we made the games that made money on the platforms that made money. When I talked about my desire to make point-and-click adventures, I was reminded of the risk and the budget. It’s simply not profitable for most professional teams, and I would imagine that the companies that succeed today do so only because of their passion for the genre, small teams, and specialization.

4) Captain Disaster was made by how many developers? How long did it take to make?

CD: A long time! The very first aspects of game development I think were in April 2012. We released the demo in December 2012 and it won the AGS Award for Best Demo that year. Then there was a short hiatus, followed by a long hiatus, followed by an unbearable hiatus… at which point I looked at other options and TBP ended up joining the team. Although with testing, voice acting, music and the like we have had well over a dozen people contribute to the game in some form, it’s essentially the work of the two of us. All in all nearly 6 years, but that includes some long breaks in development for various reasons.

TBP: Too long… and I came on board after the unbearable hiatus! There are many talents that contributed to the game, but it was the daily chats of CD and me that carried the ball. As I mentioned, I came on board because of my background in programming, but it wasn’t long before I was also contributing to art, design, and production.

5) What were some developmental issues faced? How did you overcome them?

CD: The main one was – and still is – finding the time. We both have to fit gamedev in very busy schedules which include full-time employment, family life, and other responsibilities. The dream for me has always been to be able to earn a living from making games and therefore be able to give up my job and do it full time – still a long way away from that becoming a reality but you never know, one day!

Time zones are also a challenge for real-time communication. I’m in the UK and TBP is in the US, and with both of us having large sections of our time dedicated to other things, it can be difficult to keep in touch as much as would be helpful. Email is of course always an option but there’s no synergy to it.

Another (I have to admit, slightly unexpected) challenge is language! When I was working on A Playwright’s Tale (very sadly only to ever exist in demo form) we had team members from Sweden, Greece, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, and Russia at different times – that obviously posed language issues but I didn’t expect them from talking to an American! There are so many little cultural and dialectal differences that you don’t realize are there.

TBP: The main challenge for me was my commitment to my work and family. During the majority of our game’s development, I had an all-consuming full-time job where I was on call 24/7. I was the head of two non-profit organizations, I was a supervisor for another third, and I was on the board of directors for a fourth. My family grew by three children. I moved twice, remodeled a house, and became a caretaker for my parents. I also took a course in web application development and shifted from leadership back into full-time programming.

6) What advice would you give others who hope to make their own games?

CD: Start off small… and be utterly determined to keep it small at the start! What happened to me – and many other devs I know – is that you start off fully intending to make a small, manageable game but then you add this and that and extend something else, and before you know it the project escalates out of all reasonable proportion! That’s basically what happened with Stomping Boots and I’m eternally grateful to TBP for helping things stay realistic, without quashing too many ideas.

TBP: Don’t. Lol. Seriously, I would say, do it for the art, the passion, and the love of the game. If it turns into a job, then great, but if your goal is to make money, there are many more reliable ways to make a living. Welders make a good living. Try welding.

7) What made you decide that you wanted to make games?

CD: I always wanted to make games. Well, I always wanted to do a lot of things, including being a famous footballer, football manager, astronaut and a host of other totally unrealistic things. But basically, making games was something I had wanted to do since being very young. I toyed with making stuff in BASIC on the Commodore 16 and Spectrum +2. I later made a few decentish games on the Atari ST using STOS Basic. Unfortunately, I did too little too late to even see a public domain release. (The mad urge grips me even now sometimes to make something for the ST.)

It wasn’t until playing Zak McKraken and The Secret of Monkey Island that what I really wanted to make was point and click adventure games, however.

TBP: I started using computers during a time when computer magazines came with source-code listings. Getting a new game involved typing a few hundred lines of code. Even several years later, when I finally upgraded to a PC clone (286 with EGA graphics! Woot!), a lack of money and transportation to the mall drove me to program my own games. At least half of the games that I wrote had an adventure or role-playing element.

8) If you couldn’t develop games, what would you be doing?

CD: Whatever else I do or don’t do, I always have to be doing something creative. The business world has hardly ever interested me at all. The dream is to earn a living doing what I love – sadly that dream seems as far away as ever! I suffer from a terrible lack of ability to focus on individual projects. It’s something I’m still trying to combat in my (moderately) old age!

TBP: I’m not a full-time game developer. I’m currently programming for a non-profit, so I guess my answer is: I’d be doing that. But let’s assume this question is: What creative thing would you do in a world without computers and games? I like to paint and make miniature models. I also like to write and make movies. I like the creative aspects of storytelling and world-building. In an idealized vision of the middle ages, I think I would have been a cleric, monk, or bard. Although, my lute skills are lacking. You can’t be a bard without sweet lute skills.

9) Do you have any other projects in different media?

CD: I have several ebooks available for Amazon Kindle, one of which is also available as a paperback. Three ebooks are short stories about Captain Disaster, but there’s also poetry and a children’s book. Currently, I have one more CD story and another children’s book in the works, and potentially a novella version of Stomping Boots at some stage. My ebooks/books can all be found at my Amazon Author Page.

TBP: My whole life is working in other media: writing, speaking, radio, and at the moment, mostly programming. None of it would be interesting to this crowd.

10) Do you have any plans for a sequel?

CD: Yes – Captain Disaster in: The Trouble With Screeching Sapper Serpents. While the CD games were not originally intended to be sequential as such, this game will follow on directly from Stomping Boots – something you did in that game will cause an issue to be resolved, Currently I have the devlog up on GameJolt – people can follow the game there – it will appear on other platforms soon. No specific release date yet but certainly not intending it to take as long to develop as Stomping Boots did! 😀

TBP: A few weeks after we released Stomping Boots, I suggested that we make a game based in the Rubbish Dump. We could reuse a few locations, and since those backgrounds were my own, I know that I can quickly create more locations in that style. Sadly, we based it after a character in the game who has since passed away. That took the wind out of my sails – at least for a while. We will see what happens next.

CD: Just to clarify TBP’s comment above, we had a character returning from Stomping Boots. The voice actor who was going to reprise his role for the next game died in tragic circumstances, and this has rather knocked the stuffing out of our desire to develop this game for a bit (even though in truth we barely knew him), I always rather associate the characters in my game with the people who voice them, so it will also require a bit of a rewrite to have a different character appear in the game.

11) What made you decide to go on Patreon? What does your Patreon do? Where can people find it? What do subscribers receive?

CD: I hate asking people for money, so it took me many years before I launched any kind of crowd fundraiser at all. However given the fact that my financial situation was steadily worsening and my family has grown, in the end, I had to do something. Actually, though it feels more symbolic – the actual hard cash received from my Patreon is nothing earth-shattering but the fact that people believe in me and in the projects I’m working on enough to support me financially is quite uplifting in itself, not to mention humbling.

Also for commercial projects – such as Stomping Boots – I rather want to earn from them because people are actually buying the project (even though a number of people do seem to be more willing to throw money at projects that may or may not happen than actually buy a product that the devs have worked on and finished!). My Patreon, however, is a kind of catch-all for anyone who wants to support my projects in general – including all my gamedev, blogging, and writing (but mainly GAMEDEV!)

I give my patrons rewards in the form of regular shout-outs on Twitter, alerting them to free offers on my work or just giving them free stuff directly, giving exclusive access to games, a mention in-game credits – whatever I can think of really. You can find more details on my Patreon page.

TBP: Since Captain Disaster created CD’s original IP and concept, I let him be the public face of the game. In my mind, it’s his character, so it’s his game. One of my goals for getting into this project was to help CD blossom into a full-time game developer. Even though many popular parts of the game were my creation, I am happy to let CD take the lead, while I take a back seat.

12) A coworker wanted me to ask if the new God Of War nickeled ideas from you as they did to Ryse? (An inside joke based on this article)

CD: Uh… sorry, I have no idea! I find it unlikely but you never know.

TBP: Of course. “They’re always after me lucky charms.” Have you ever wondered why a breakfast cereal would employ a paranoid, conspiracy-theorist, mythical creature as their spokesman?

13) What are your thoughts on indie game development versus triple-A studios?

CD: I have no experience working in an AAA studio myself, but to me, the big difference is autonomy on what you work on. The idea of just working in the game industry doesn’t really do that much for me but making my own games does. Indie developers also have much more freedom to think outside the box, try new things that may not be (or are definitely not!) commercially wise but might be good or interesting in a gameplay sense. Indie development also allows people to pursue their pet projects – make a game that no-one else would make, or create something that is basically a love letter to a genre and time period in gaming that they feel has never or rarely been bettered. It’s obviously fraught with difficulties but that’s also kind of the point – gamedev is an art form, and you have to suffer for your art! 😀

TBP: Indie devs can make the games that they want to make, while the AAA game scene focuses on games that make good business-sense. In the AAA world, I had to work on game concepts that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but I did it. It made sense to me. You have to run a for-profit studio such that it’s for making profits.

14) How supportive has your family been towards your career path?

CD: Well let’s be clear about this, gamedev is not (yet) my career. It’s what I do around my boring full-time job that keeps a roof over my head, time with my family and other responsibilities. Being able to earn a living from making games is something I’ve always wanted to do but sadly it was something I never put enough effort into to become even a marginal success at until later in life, when now having a family meant I was unable to take the chances financially that I probably could have managed in my younger years.

Having said that, my wife has been very understanding about the time I’ve spent on this project, even though she probably got very fed up of it at times! My children are young so being understanding and not bugging me every 5 seconds is not really in their DNA, but they do like Captain Disaster and I’ve tried to involve my oldest daughter (now 7) in the game development process at times. We made the dancing robot that you can find in RoboBar together (one of very few instances of my own artwork that actually made it into the final game!!), and in the Freedomator location in the Rubbish Dump on Acturus-1, when you throw an object (don’t want to say more as this is part of a puzzle solution!) and I voice my inner Richard Strauss, if you listen carefully you can hear my daughter’s “dum dum!” at the end. She was I guess about 5 when I voiced this and she was listening, wanted to join in, and I thought it was cute so decided to leave it in the game. 🙂

The rest of my family know how game-mad I’ve always been and it’s probably my sister who understands my desire to make this sort of game specifically since we used to play the LucasArts classics together when I was younger.

TBP: My family has always been supportive of me in all of my pursuits. One of the reasons I got back into game making was to get my children involved. Most of my children were player-testers of our game. Now, my oldest both enjoy making and playing adventure games, and I think that’s pretty awesome.

15) Are there any regrets you have with the game or throughout the course of game development? If so, what were they? How will you overcome them?

CD: Oh so many… most of them born of naivety. I had absolutely NO IDEA what I was doing, to begin with (of course I thought I did, but in retrospect, I knew absolutely nothing). From planning to communication to implementation I’ve made masses of mistakes in this project alone. The good news is that you learn from your mistakes and on the next game there are A LOT of things I would do differently. The other good news – better news in many ways, as I may not have actually learned from my mistakes so much without it, and Stomping Boots would either have never got finished or been a much lesser game – is that TheBitPriest guided me through so many elements of making the game that I’d been ignorant of (in particular planning game flow), and alerted me to issues with the game that I’d somehow managed to be oblivious of.

Along the way, I also learned that British English and American English have more idiomatic differences than most people realize!

TBP: I really wish we could have found a way to get together. I sketched out a budget and plan to travel to the UK more than once, but here was always some work or life event that made it impossible. If we were put together in a room for a week we could have rapidly iterated through major sections of the game.

16) Going back to Triple-A game development, Microtransactions and Loot Boxes are a big thing nowadays. What are your thoughts on them? Would you ever implement them?

CD: From the publisher’s point of view I can see the appeal – they are expected (though it doesn’t always happen) to continue supporting products that have long since stopped providing income for them, so I guess they see this as a way of tipping the balance back in their favor. However, I’m really not a fan of them at all and certainly don’t plan to do anything like that myself. I don’t mind games that are ad-supported if you don’t pay for the game and essentially the price you pay is to get rid of the adverts – that seems fair enough to me – but loot boxes and microtransactions seem a bit exploitative to me. Though online games that allow microtransactions effectively as a way of supporting the dev for keeping a free to play game running I don’t mind.

Bottom line is that I’ve been a gamer for many years, so when I buy a game, I expect to have bought the WHOLE game. (I exclude purchasable DLCs from this answer as paying for genuine extra content that extends the life of the game is fair enough.)

TBP: Believe it or not, I was asked to write a demo (a 3D platform game) while working for a AAA studio when this idea was hot off the press. The game world was filled with spinning jewel cases of pop-music. When the player character would pick up the object, the case would spin to the upper right-hand corner, playing a clip of one of the tracks on the CD. I thought the idea was genius, and yet it made my skin crawl at the same time. Around the same time, I remember sitting at lunch with a few coworkers talking about people who were selling their Ultima Online characters on eBay for ridiculous amounts of money. We said, “Hey, we should make an online game, let it grow, and then just periodically make new killer items to sell on eBay!” If we only knew…

17) Do you think games lack the magic from generations ago where unlockables and hidden secrets were plentiful? Do you think that’s ever recaptured?

CD: Hmm… I think some games still do this, although in terms of recapturing the “magic” of it I guess I never truly experienced it at the time, not having been a console gamer particularly. The difference with games now is that there is such a massive variety and range of games compared to when I was a kid, and perhaps that has resulted in people being less likely to spend a long time on any particular game unless they particularly love it. I only very occasionally get hooked on a game, in my old age I just can’t seem to get into them as I used to (also with 2 young children I seldom have the time or energy!). Of course when my kids like a particular game they keep playing it and then I have to help when they get stuck, which is the reason why I have so many hours logged on G-Force! (Which was an excellent game but not one I wanted to replay the moment I completed it… but my kids did.)

Er… sorry, I feel like I’ve deviated from the topic somewhat – what was the actual question again?

TBP: If by unlockables you mean “feelies” that ship in the box, then that would be awesome! Lol. I wonder if anyone has considered making 3D-printable “feelies”? If one of the readers goes for it, just give a hat-tip. You’re welcome.

18) What is your favorite game series? Favorite game?

CD: Wow okay this is an amazingly difficult question to answer! I usually go with the games I really loved during my teenage years, which means Atari ST games, which means Populous, Player Manager / Kick Off 2, Pirates!, Midwinter, Defender of the Crown, Disc, The Games: Summer Edition, Millenium 2.2, Formula One Grand Prix, Balance of Power, Stunt Car Racer… etc. There have been so many awesome games on so many systems I really can’t choose one.

In terms of game series, I can’t really pick one. Probably something like Settlers or Civilisation, but really I can’t think of any particular sizable series of games where I’ve played all or most of them.

TBP: I have had so many. All of the adventure games and series that we’ve mentioned. Additionally, I remember one holiday weekend playing Halflife without much of a break for eating and sleeping. I enjoy RPGs and Roguelikes and have made dozens of Ultima-like game engines for games that never fully materialized. I was inspired by the design of Rayman 2, and I’ve always wanted to bring one of my 3D platform games to fruition. I like strategy and world-building games. I’m still a fan of Urban Assault.

19) Why did you choose The Loot Gaming to review your game? Why me specifically?

CD: I’d love to flatter your ego with the stuff I get via email from devs wanting me to review their games sometimes – “I’m a big fan of your site / you produce amazing content” etc, but the sad truth is that ever since releasing the game I have been scouring Twitter for new reviewers and YouTubers to contact. I knew a fair few already but I’m always looking for more!

If it makes you feel any better, I was very happy with the review and have you among the first people to contact when the next game comes out (because I’m a big fan of your site now that I know you produce amazing content…;-D).

TBP: It’s the best and you’re the best. Right?

20) With the rise of social media and platforms like Twitch and YouTube, what are your thoughts on live streaming and video content?

CD: I think they’re great, although in the context of point and click games perhaps it’s harder to make videos without loads of spoilers. For me, I like seeing people play the game, but it’s also a bit of a painful process at times as I keep seeing things I should have done better!

TBP: Games are being recorded for posterity, and I think that’s great.

This was the first part of my very long, and extremely fun, interview with the two developers behind a real fun experience. The folks over at Team Disaster are really nice, down to earth guys who didn’t mind answering all of my questions. I think their different personalities really came across well in the interview and I hope this opens doors for them and allows you, the players, to get a better understanding of the team behind this game. If you haven’t played Captain Disaster or anything else from them, just check it out. Follow them on Twitter for more information on them and if you end up checking out their game, let us know. Stick with The Loot Gaming for all your gaming news and reviews and on everything related to Disaster.


Read part 2 of the interview here.


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