Indie-Ana Co-Op and the BetaDwarf Interview
An Independent Danish Development Team is Breaking Out, Co-Op Style
Co-Optimus: Tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you all came together as a development studio?
Steffen Kabbelgaard Grønning: The Danish games industry is really small. You may know games like LIMBO or Hitman, but there are really few studios doing well. So what we realized several years ago, was that pursuing a game development career was basically the same as wanting to be a professional football player. Being aware that only a few succeed, Kenneth (my partner) and I founded BetaDwarf two years ago at a University in Denmark, and we decided to go all in! We convinced a lot of people who wanted to build [their] CV’s, to join us with the possibility of a job in the future and potential revenue from FORCED. Rumours of an ambitious startup quickly spread and, as we had hoped, more than 10 awesome people joined us in just the first year. We had found a deserted classroom at our university and we actually lived there, because it was a bit far from the city and it became convenient to just crash near the computer.
Some team members even skipped their apartments to save the rent, because they spend all their time in our classroom studio anyway. After a year of what was basically training and learning how to work as 10 team, we applied for government funds, and were the first students to succeed. We got $30.000 which meant everything for us at that time, because the university had discovered that we were living in one of their classrooms, which apparently was not okay. So we literally Googled the cheapest place to live in Denmark, and found a big house in Karlslunde, which 7 of us moved into. The 8 others in the team kept their apartments and are taking the train instead of the stairs down to the living room, which is now our studio. We’ve been here for almost a year now, and more than 30 people has contributed to FORCED, however the core team is around 8 people.
Co-Optimus: So, a new studio, with new developers to the video game scene. Your first undertaking, as you mentioned, is FORCED, an action/tactical cooperative game that seems equal parts Diablo and Gauntlet. Explain the general setting and gameplay.
Steffen: FORCED is about cooperation in a fantasy gladiator setting. As players you were born in a valley with only one mysterious exit. From experience your folk knows that a small group must be sent down into the hole every now and then or bad things will happen to the valley. So upon birth half of the valley [dwellers] are marked with a sign indicating that they are explorers, and must spend their life preparing for the day - when it is their turn to venture down the hole. No one has ever made it back to the valley...
We actually just finished the animatic intro yesterday!
FORCED is about small concentrated challenges (a bit like small WoW instances). These challenges vary a lot from being very tactical, action oriented or even puzzle solving. You can play 1-4 players but we have put a huge effort into scaling the difficulty vs number of players. Usually games just ramp up enemy health- and damage or number of enemies, or they might even put in a limited player AI or simply not allow anything else than a particular number of players. Our solution is quite ambitious, as we are making new enemies and even altered environment based on number of players. So in a 3 player game, you can encounter enemy types that you would never see in single player. This also allows us to make enemies that require a lot more co-op to defeat, as these ones doesn’t have to be beatable in singleplayer.
Some of our main features are invented for co-op and are simply made possible to use in single player, instead of the other way around.
Co-Optimus: Like what?
Steffen: Like our most unique mechanic in FORCED, the spirit mentor. It’s a trainer formed as an orb, that guides the players through the challenges and the gladiator world that the hole has lead to. Basically it’s a player shared character. Players can control it simultaneously, by simply pushing a button, which will call the Mentor to the calling players position. The Mentor can interact with special shrines, forming it into a powerful bomb, a magical razor blade, a healing pulse, a shockwave and many other powerful forms that are vital for success. Activating the Shrines and utilizing the shrine powers ensures a lot of tactical player movement in the game. And when a team communicates and really utilizes the orb, it turns FORCED into a very unique experience.
Besides the Spirit Mentor, there is also another cooperative mechanic - the combat mark system which allows various cooperative maneuvers. Most player abilities either spend or add marks, and in that way players are able to combine abilities for more effective playing. “An area stun ability, stuns all surrounding enemies while adding 3 marks to them and a chain lightning shot is fired to spend those marks dealing heavy lightning damage”. Unlike many ARPG’s, FORCED is controlled with either dual stick controller or w,a,s,d mouse, allowing movement while you attack and aim.