In this episode of our series of interviews with Indie developers, we spoke with James Woodall, QA Director at Blind Mind Studios. We recently reviewed their real-time 4x sci-fi strategy game, Star Ruler, which showed a lot of promise. To find out what their company, as well as Star Ruler, is all about – simply read on!
Let’s start with an easy question. Could you give us some information about Blind Mind Studios – who are you guys? How did you get started?
ThyReaper is the founder of the studios and the game’s lead programmer; he came up with the idea of Star Ruler a long time ago and has been slowly fleshing it out in his head since then, only recently has he acquired the programming skills he needed to make the game. He came straight from High School into this business after finding his programming classes in his college to be uninteresting and not teaching him anything.
I came from leading the SpaceBuild Enhancement Project for Garry’s Mod (I was one of the co-founders). One of Reaper’s friends asked if I wanted to beta test a game and I said sure. I made the mistake of pointing out that I could do better interface art — soon after I found myself in my current position as QA director, contributed to the project, was slowly working myself into a fixed staff position, etc.
How did you decide on the name Blind Mind Studios?
It sounded interesting at the time. Guess we’re stuck with it now, aren’t we? :p
Who came up with the concept of your first game, Star Ruler? What was your inspiration?
ThyReaper did, actually, though some of the stuff is a semi-collaborative effort between me and his vision of 4X games; the bulk is Reaper’s.
How did you go about creating the game? Where did you start?
Reaper: “I started by prototyping some random games. I eventually arrived at Irrlicht for the engine and Star Ruler for the game and began working on Star Ruler. I originally got the idea back when I was in 6th grade, thought about it since then, and eventually got to this point where I can make it.”
Star Ruler was launched before it was entirely finished. Could you tell us a little about the circumstances surrounding this, as not everyone understands the difficulties that can plague a game developer?
Certainly. When we began to consider the idea of a professional launch more than a year and a half ago (it was still a hobby project at the time) I figured I had more than enough funds and time to commit in two years to get this game pretty much to where we wanted. Unfortunately, as we approached February of this year I hit a couple of rough patches which hurt my finances pretty sorely. We had also lost our modeler almost entirely, other modelers weren’t able to commit to anything substantial, and we weren’t able to keep anyone in the project due to their being in school, etc. We wound up having to contract a professional modeler to get things done; he was graceful enough to delay payment until our launch which is why we have those models done at all.
By May I had exhausted my surplus monies and was calling in favors to pay the rent and bills alongside trying to get and work in a part-time job (that fell through later that month). In June we decided that we had to launch soon or else I’d have to basically break off from the project which would severely limit the rate of development if not kill it outright. Reaper and I work together very closely on this game and we compliment each other’s thinking and working styles very well; it would be difficult to replace me, I think, with all the hats I have to wear on a daily basis. So we launched in August, with gritted teeth and expectations of being absolutely destroyed and ruined. (I believe I projected somewhere about 40~ pre-orders and expected maybe 2,000 units being sold)
You’ve spoken to us about your commitment to see Star Ruler through, and make it the game you originally wanted it to be. Could you tell us the three things you had to leave out that you feel would really have made a difference on launch?
Hmm… if I had to pick three, I’d choose: the Lobby system for Multiplayer, the System Window and Empire window revamp, and the lack of some clearer indicators for expansion and so forth.
At what point do you guys consider Star Ruler to be “finished”?
Star Ruler will be finished when we’ve got everything we planned the game to have at launch in the game. It’ll be ’2.0′ whenever we run out of things to add to it, and we’ve got a lot of things we can add to it; whether we’ll have the time to put all those in depends on how our sales trend over the next few months. We’re not in any danger, I don’t think, of having to shut our doors anytime soon but we’re still running pretty threadbare over here.
A game such as Star Ruler can really thrive on the modding community. What are your plans for supporting this community moving forwards?
Featuring the best of the best in our News, communicating actively with modders and providing semi-live support where we can, adding more documentation for modders and scripters, and taking requests for opening up parts of the game to be modded. For those mods that truly impressively improve or expand upon the game, we may consider reaching out to the developers of the mod to buy the rights to it and include it with the game as an officially supported mod. (For this matter, I consider Egosoft (Editor: X3 Developers) a good milestone for where we ought to be going, mod-inclusion wise) . We keep a very close eye out for that sort of impressiveness for mods that people post on our forums.
What are your plans after Star Ruler? If things go well, would you consider a Star Ruler 2? Or perhaps a turn-based variant?
Well we probably won’t have the time or funds to properly enact the development of Star Ruler 2 at this time; that is, if we decided to do it and could find enough new gameplay elements that we couldn’t do it in SR itself in the form of an expansion. We’re currently considering producing a new game in a different genre; I can’t comment on what that might be at this time however.
What is your greatest wish or desire for Blind Mind Studios at this very moment?
We want to stay independent and we want to keep making games. If we can keep those things alive then we’d like to do this (making games) indefinitely. Heck, if we had an infinite supply of funds I’d like to air-drop into mod teams and other indie developers ever so often and lend our hands — that’s a bit pie-in-the-sky though, given where we currently are, financially.
We really appreciate the time you have taken to speak with us – both in terms of this interview as well as your support and insight in Star Ruler. We would like to wish Blind Mind Studios the best of luck and eagerly await the changes you are making to Star Ruler!
Thank you very much. We hope that you all enjoy the game as we continue to add things in. (To our fans: Thank you for your support; you have truly astounded us with your generosity.)