Interview with Muse Games

May 18, 2010 in Community

When Valve’s popular Steam distribution system was released for the Mac last week, Muse Games’s Alex Jarocha-Ernst wrote the following:

Muse Games just released our game “Guns of Icarus” on Steam! Thanks to Unity’s cross-platform support, we were able to be one of the first SteamPlay games available.

Guns of Icarus, as well as Max and the Magic Marker and Bob Came in Pieces are all Unity games which were available at launch as “SteamPlay” games — games which you can buy on Steam and then download for either Mac or PC, or both. I had to find out more, so I contacted Austin Lane, one of the founders of Muse Games.

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What’s your name/title?
Austin Lane, we’re pretty small so our titles don’t mean much but I’m essentially the creative/product director. Brian Kehrer, our technical director, helped with some of the dev questions. We’re both co-founders.

What is Muse Games, a developer or a portal?
Both! We believe completely in the future of high-quality gaming in the browser, and MuseGames.com is our attempt to realize that future. That said, we feel it’s our duty to set the bar through our own games. In the end, people are looking to play great games, and if they’re no good it’s irrelevant what the rest of the experience is.

Also, we truly relish the creativity & freedom that gamemaking brings us. We had a serious two hour conversation about flamethrowers the other day. I mean c’mon, that’s awesome.

How long has Muse Games been using Unity?
Muse has only existed for about 16 months, but the core team has been using Unity since 2006!

When did you start developing Guns of Icarus? What was the development timeframe? How large was the team?
We developed Guns of Icarus last summer and fall. It took us about 5 months total and we had between 3 and 4 team members (+ some extra art help) working on it through that time.

What was the process of getting Guns of Icarus onto Steam like? Did you have to do any technical integrations? Any kinds of loops that you had to jump through with Valve?
Really easy actually. We just showed them the game and what people thought about it and they said yes. There has been no loop jumping whatsoever and we’ve really enjoyed working with them. Technically though, yes, there are implementation details. We had to build a compatibility layer between the C++ of Steam and the C# of Unity, and that took some time. If anyone’s interested, we’re gonna figure out how to offer this solution along with our other API tools to developers sometime this summer.

Do you have plans to develop future titles with Unity? Any details?
Absolutely. Our next title “CreaVures” will be debuting this summer. We’ll have a trailer for everyone in just a few weeks. We’re really excited about that. We’re also debuting an entirely new MuseGames.com next month.

And there’s even bigger announcements coming that won’t start popping up til later this year!

Anything you can say about your Unity meetups in NYC?
They’re really casual and really fun. We combine Unity discussion with actual gaming of all kinds (console, pc, board, etc), which really helps people bond and stimulates genuine discussion. We spend enough time hearing theory and poring over implementation details during work, so we try to use our meetups to forget about that stuff for a second and help remind us what it’s all about – the joy of gaming. Also we have free beer. So that’s good.

How many of the games on Musegames.com were developed by Muse Game vs third parties?
We’ve just recently debuted our first two 3rd party games, but that’s been a long time coming largely because of all the backend development we’ve been getting in to order. This summer we’ll be ramping up our 3rd party publishing significantly, and our release pipeline is starting to look pretty solid . MuseGames.com is ready to show the world what Unity & the community are capable of.

p.s. If you’re a developer with a great game, let us know!

What’s your favorite aspect of using Unity?
Ease of prototyping & multiple deployment is by far Unity’s killer feature. However equally important to the easy to use tool set and API is the ability to dig deeper into the program and interact with the application on a much lower level. We find that Unity does exactly what we want 90% of the time – out of the box. When we need to go deeper or change fundamental behavior, Unity doesn’t get in the way or slow us down.

Have you extended Unity’s editor in any way?
We’ve frequently used the editor scripts to add small features or to integrate better with our art pipeline; this includes things like exporting arbitrary textures to files, or changing the default mesh import settings. But there have been a couple of larger extensions, as well. The first is our build scripts, which have to build multiple versions of the same game for different distributors with different integration requirements, feature restrictions, and so forth. We’ve also added game-specific extensions to turn the Unity editor into something like a level editor, using custom assets and editor tabs, that can integrate new scenes with our game code without a programmer needing to set anything up.

Have you/Muse Games used any other technologies like Flash or Unreal? How do they compare?
Not really. Flash is a strange solution because it wasn’t originally designed for game development. It’s been co-opted because of its plugin penetration, while Unity was built from the beginning to make powerful, modern games. If we want to change the future of gaming on the web, we need to look to the future of gaming on the web. We don’t think Flash is the future.

Unreal is a great, powerful tool like Unity. Just look at the level of games being made with it. But it can’t handle the web and cross-platform development we’re focusing on, and quite frankly, the licensing terms are really expensive for an indie like us.

It’s no secret we favor Unity for these reasons and more.

Do you have any tips on how to get exposure for your game or how to reach new audiences?
Make an original game, and polish it. Gamers, despite their cynicism, are the most engaged and adventurous audience around. If you make something good, they will give you a chance. I’m not sure why so many people choose to clone games they’ve seen countless times before. Don’t sell yourself short. Pretend you’re building the next franchise. If you only had one chance to make a game ever, even if its just in your spare time (actually, especially if its in your spare time), what game would you make? Make that game.

That will go miles further than any marketing you can do.

Also, good trailers are really worth it – chances are high the trailer is where the potential player will be making a go or no-go decision.

Anything else about your game or your company that you’d like to share?
We love to hang out and avoid work. If you’re in the area (downtown Manhattan) stop by!

Anything else about Unity that you’d like to share?
Unity makes a lot of what we do possible – rapid prototyping & development, 3d on the web, cross-platform deployment. But Unity alone cannot change the end consumer’s mind. It’s up to us developers to show people what the tool is capable of. Content sells the platform, and it’s going to take all of us to change the face of online gaming

Comments (5)

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  1. td_gamer81

    November 16, 2010 at 11:05 pm / 

    What about Power of Defense. This game is available on Steam for Mac and Win32. Power of Defense

  2. Martin Lindelöf

    May 21, 2010 at 5:32 pm / 

    @Thomas Grové

    Yeah ;D I kinda foresaw that step. I do think, utilizing unity3d w/O plugin is the BIG hurdle for common man out there, if anything tries to install during surfin’ the web they think it’s adware because they did that before, and had to reset their computers.

    Believe me I used to work for m$ support back in the days.

    So I for one is glad to hear that unity3d converted their player, so quickly to NaCl. This is something extra ordinarie.

    If I might be so bold and try and foretell something else. I really wish unity3d will release a unity3d developer for linux, not just the player.

    What they might consider is using the Qt SDK for that, almost every major vfx software is using Qt for their interface to achieve platform independancy. Maya, 3dsmax, nuke etc.

    we’ll see.

  3. Thomas Grové

    May 20, 2010 at 6:03 am / 

    @Martin Lindelöf: ask as you shale receive… the very next day no less!

    @WaZzUp115: fair critiques, but it’s pretty amazing for 20 man months! I personally don’t mind the boiled down experience, and frankly I think it is a great way to go if you have limited resources. I think the message here is pick a scope that is doable and work within your limitations to deliver as much polish as possible.

  4. WaZzUp115

    May 18, 2010 at 9:55 pm / 

    I tried Guns of Icarus but I was disappointed in the lack of depth and how simple it was, basically just an on-rails experience were you run around on your ship back and forth, shooting planes and repairing stuff.
    I love steampunk and Airships but I just felt the game had so much untapped potential and I think it’s sad that the devs never fully utilized the concept and took it to the next level.

    Maybe there’s hope for a sequel though.

  5. Martin Lindelöf

    May 18, 2010 at 7:11 pm / 

    As Flash will fade away, I shouldn’t be that sure about Unreal. What I know they have a killer SDK for game development. I’m currently hooked on blender realtime/game engine and will explore that more.

    But what you should consider, for competition to unity when we’re talking web penetration. Is the NaCl (Native Client) , check out the google I/O presentation.

    It will make it possible to have a front end JS/CSS/HTML GUI for games, and the game itself is run natively on C/C++. That will be a true killer combo.

    Unreal if they adapt fast they could just check their code base and , distribute the whole engine as a NaCl module. then developers using unity could load their extended functionality as another NaCl.

    And with that initial load, the game is ran on the client, nativly … and can talk to the server and other hosts via the site. It could be a potential game changer.

    WebGL seems good also but, there all the logic must be JS, I doubt it can reach the speeds that NaCl can.

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