An Interview with Krešimir Špes of Cateia Games
By Peter Rootham-Smith
GB: How long have you been making games?
KS: Well me personally since I was thirteen years old. I started Cateia Games fifteen years ago, and we've been developing ever since.
GB: What started you making games?
KS: Actually the game which started me on game development was Fallout 1 and 2. Fallout 1 and 2, and Curse of Monkey Island. Those definitely were the games which made me involved today, and the kind of games I want to make.
GB: You're a full time game developer?
KS: I'm the company (Cateia) owner actually. There are three owners and there are fourteen employees right now. We've made a lot of different games. It's about close to thirty right now. It's an impressive list. It's mostly casual today, because that’s what works in the market.
GB: What's your background?
KS: I'm a programmer. I started out as a professional gamer, but programming is what I stick to.
GB: What kind of games do you like playing yourself?
KS: Monkey Island definitely, I like to play all kinds of Adventure game, casual, but also RPG, for instance Shadowrun.
GB: Turn-based RPGs?
KS: Pretty much, except for Skyrim and Fallout 3. If it's top down, I'm going to play it. If it's first person, I'm not going to play it.
GB: Do you prefer turn-based RPGs?
KS: Turn-based. I'm a slower person. I like to take it easy.
GB: What influences your game-making?
KS: Well steampunk maybe -- that's a genre I like personally. You can see a lot of influences in the games we make. Aside from that I'm a Star Trek fan, Star Wars, anything science fiction that influences me.
GB: Are books an influence?
KS: Aldous Huxley maybe, George R R Martin, Game of Thrones. Mostly Science Fiction books.
GB: Do you ever wish you weren't a game developer?
KS: No, I can't think of anything else I'd rather do. The only way I’d do anything aside from game development would be if computers never existed. Maybe I'd be a mechanic, something like that.
GB: Even though game development means long hours and all days of the week?
KS: Really not a problem. When you love a job, you don't consider it as work. It's just something you play at each day. I don't consider it as difficult or boring work. It's something I want to do every day. I usually do end up working at home, and on weekends, but not because I have deadlines. It's because I want to. So this game for instance was developed at home.
GB: How do you plan game development?
KS: We have fourteen people, which means we're aware of everything in a small team. It doesn’t require any special management. We have separate groups of the art department, and the programming department, people separated into 2D or 3D artists, programmers and testers. There's one manager in each of the projects to manage all they do. We have a general workload schedule, we try to keep up the deadlines. Usually don't end up meeting deadlines, but we don't miss by too much.
GB: Do you use a project plan?
KS: We use Excel to record ideas. We have 27 games, and we usually do 5 games in parallel so planning is important. It's difficult to plan everything, as something always comes up. So for instance, Kaptain Brawe was unexpected, and it changed our schedule a lot. You can't plan everything in detail.
GB: Who do you make games for?
KS: The casual games we make are not something I personally prefer to play. "Kaptain Brawe 2", I would love to play that, and we're trying to orient more on that kind of game. In our first years, we did games that were mostly financially viable to build up the company, and now we're an independent stable developer. We're now moving towards more on developing games that we like.
GB: A lot of women play games.
KS: It's really difficult, a really big difference, hard to understand. Our casual audience, according to statistics, is 70% female age 35 to 65. That's like mothers and grannies -- really difficult to get in their mindset. I'm male, I like to play games that males like to play. It’s quite difficult. I make a game and present it to my Mum. She doesn’t like it. There are guidelines, and the people who write scripts -- they know how to approach those targets, and they do a good job.
GB: Do you work on more than one game at the same time?
KS: It's usually five at the same time, at different stages of development.
GB: Do you like connection with the players?
KS: I like that. It depends on the audience. Adventure players like that, but in casual games there's no such connection. That's the sad thing about casual games, but I think other players like it more.
GB: How important is support from the fans of Adventure games?
KS: Very important. I like to hear what they think, get their opinions. Every game we've released, we've usually started forum topics to see what people think of it, and we've got some really good ideas we hadn't thought of. Each game integrates feedback from users from the previous games. So the game is tuned to the players that you develop for. It's very important.
GB: Is now a good or bad time to be making games?
KS: Well, there's never a good time. There's always something up. Right now the free to play model is very popular. To make games that you like, you have to compete with free to play. Free to play isn't anything about games, it's about making money.
I want to make games. There are difficulties now, but there's still enough interest to make our kind of games. Kickstarter is one way of making games, for instance (we hope). If everything is free to play, the way it is now, it's going to be sour.
GB: There are a lot of sales and game bundles.
KS: The game is just a way to extract money from the player. I really don't like that.
GB: Would you recommend making games as career?
KS: Definitely. If you're passionate about games, you can't go wrong. You're going to have a struggle in first two years -- learning stuff, failing of course. I think it's worth it in the long run. My recommendation would be for new developers, for people who are interested, is don't start your own game first. Get employed somewhere. Get some experience first. And then if you really want to, then go independent. But if you go independent first, with no experience, then you're going to have a bad time. You're not going to have any context. You're not going to know what to do. It's possible, but don't do it at first.
GB: Can games be Art?
KS: Think so, yes. You can express art in the graphics pretty obviously, and you can express art in the gameplay. Games like "Braid" for instance, that's a really artsy idea. So it's not the primary function, but a side-effect. But games can definitely express art.
GB: Can games have messages?
KS: Think so, but you have to be careful about how to do it. How to convey a subliminal message for gamers. It's difficult but it’s doable.
GB: Will you still be making games in ten years time?
KS: Oh yes definitely. Even if I make a billion dollars. Just with more of a budget.
GB: Do you develop in English?
KS: Yes. We're in Croatia, but everything in game development is in English. I can't force my own language in it, so do everything in English. I code in, I even think in English.
GB: Sometimes humour doesn't translate well.
KS: We did have that in "Kaptain Brawe 1" and it didn't work out. So have to think in English. I read books in English, I watch shows without subtitles just to get into the language. English is really quirky. Lots of phrases. You have to understand it to be able to convey humour.
GB: How are you promoting "Kaptain Brawe 2"?
KS: The biggest boost to visibility of the project is that we made a free game in the Kaptain Brawe universe, called "Kaptain Brawe: An Unexpected Intermission". It's a small 20 minute game which you can explore. It’s distributed free on PC and Mac so far, if I can get word of this game out, I can get a lot of players interested in the Kickstarter campaign.
So there's a main menu, all the Kickstarter videos are available inside the actual game, it's a free game, it's fun, it's interesting. If I can get people to play it, they get to know about the campaign. There's a link on the website. You can download it for PC and Mac completely free.
But it's not a demo of "Kaptain Brawe 2". It's just something we cooked up over a couple of weeks development -- just to give something to promote. The actual "Kaptain Brawe 2" will have voice-overs, it'll be of better quality, Steve Ince will write a script and everything. This is something we did internally. I don't want to confuse players this is the final quality which will be pretty good quality.
"Kaptain Brawe 2" is really promising, I'm working with Steve Ince and Bill Tiller, the people you want to work with on a game. The game just needs visibility. Everything else is perfect.
GB: What excites you about "Kaptain Brawe 2"?
KS: Have you played "Space Quest"? There are no such games being produced today. All the adventure games that are being developed today are something else. They're serious, they're puzzles, they're more CSI like. I want to make something comically funny and leisurely -- and that's something rare today. The first "Kaptain Brawe" was that style, but it's lacking in voice-overs and lacking in quality. I want to make something that's high quality and fun.
I think there's an opportunity to do it. Kaptain Brawe himself is basically a buffoon -- an idiot if you will, but in a good way. You can sympathise with him as he's trying to do the right things.
In the main menu for instance, we hid a few jokes in it. For instance if you try to exit the game, Kaptain Brawe will be mad. You can poke him in the eye and get a response. This is the kind of thing we’ll build into the game. The main story with humour on the side of it. I think audiences really appreciate that.
We just need the opportunity to be able to do it. We're asking for $75,000, which is a really small amount, especially when working with Bill Tiller and guys like that. We're willing to invest more money ourselves, but obviously won't be able to cover everything. I need at least a show of interest before I can do this.
GB: When did Steve Ince come on board?
KS: There was a conference in our country around April, and I met him personally. I had the idea to do "Kaptain Brawe 2” when I talked to him, and it kind of happened on the spur of the moment. We talked about it, then later exchanged emails and discussed it in more detail. He was really enthusiastic. He wasn't particularly interested in it at first, but then he played the original game and was hooked. He wanted to make a sequel.
He's personally behind the game which is really good. It's not just a job for him. Something he's really interested in. Bill Tiller as well. I like that.
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