During our interview, Andrew revealed how Ludum Dare helped kickstart his first game, how he tries to separate himself from his game to avoid stress, and his love of the Mayan god of wine!
What games have you worked on?
Aside from jam games, and a few hard drives full of discarded prototypes, my first commercial game was Mable and the Wood.
That started out as a Ludum Dare entry, which had a successful Kickstarter and was later picked up by a publisher who funded the last six months of development. I was learning on the job making the game, but it did well enough overall to allow me to continue making games after its release.
How would you describe These Doomed Isles?
These Doomed Isles is a mash-up of The Settlers and Slay The Spire. It's a settlement building and survival game, where you're building up your islands to support your followers and fend off invaders.
Instead of having a regular menu with all of your buildings and powers unlocked, you have to build a deck, with each card representing a building that can be placed or a power that you can use, like showering meteors on your foes or making it rain on farms to increase their yield.
Some of the cards you can use to
inflict suffering grant blessings!
What inspired you to create it?
I play a lot of board games, so a lot of the ideas have come from them. I’ve been playing Empires of the North and Spirit Island quite a bit during development of These Doomed Isles, but it's more the feel of those games that have been the inspiration, rather than any specific mechanics.
From a digital point of view, Against the Storm is a recent game that I've been inspired by, particularly in its focus on the city-builder experience and the fact you're not spending 20 hours building up each settlement only to abandon it and move onto the next.
The shorter play sessions felt really refreshing compared to a lot of other city-builders.
What makes These Doomed Isles stand out from other card games?
The deck-building in These Doomed Isles is more of a supporting system - it's there to allow you to feel as though you're growing in power.
After being played, a building card is removed from the deck, so when picking new cards to buy, you're considering whether it works not only with the cards in your hand, but also the cards in your deck.
You're also constrained by the amount of room that you have to place buildings. Rather than worrying about having too many cards in your deck, you're more concerned about trying to expand your islands so you can advance before the enemies grow too strong, or you start to get debuffs from not answering the prayers of your followers.
What is the most difficult part of creating a card game?
Because of the way different cards and buildings can interact with each other, and the variety of cards and effects that they can have, it can be difficult to make sure that things aren't overpowered.
These Doomed Isles had quite a bit of closed testing before releasing the demo with the second God, and I felt things were in a pretty good place. As soon as the demo went live and thousands of people started playing it, I realised that there were quite a few tweaks needed!
Even seemingly snowy Eden's can be found on These Doomed Isles
How did you become a game developer?
It started as a hobby back in 2012. I made a lot of Flash games for game jams like Glorious Trainwrecks and Ludum Dare, and a few smaller games that were commissioned by various Flash Portals.
As Flash started to die off, I tried Unity because it seemed like everyone was making games in that, but I just hated it. On a whim, I tried GameMaker for a few game jams and it really clicked with me, and I've stuck with it ever since.
What made GameMaker such a good fit?
I actually remember the exact moment that I knew GameMaker was for me. I'd been trying to remake an old Flash game that I'd made in Unity, in order to learn how to use it, and I'd been banging my head against the wall for nearly a week.
The original game had only taken about 48 hours to make, and I was even reusing the old art and audio. I decided to try it out in GameMaker, as I'd started seeing more games being released that had been developed in it, so I figured it must be pretty flexible.
A day later and I'd been able to recreate the original game from scratch and already felt as though I had a good grasp of how GameMaker worked. I used it for the next few game jams that I entered and it just worked for me, so I never looked back!
Is there anything that frustrates you about GameMaker?
I have had some smaller issues in the past where updates have caused issues with the game in development. The biggest headache was moving an old project to GameMaker Studio 2 when that originally released, but it's not been as common an issue with recent updates.
Place colosseums, statues, libraries, Parthenon's and more
What do you find most challenging about being an indie game developer?
Switching tasks is the most challenging thing for me. If I've not done art for a while and then all of a sudden I need to draw hundreds of sprites, that can be massively daunting.
I know the first few are going to take me way longer than they should and I’ll question every decision that I make, but it gets better once I get into the flow of it.
Aside from that, I think it's the emotional side of having something you've worked so hard on being put out into the world for everyone else to tell you what they think. It can be quite hard to separate yourself from the game, but I do feel like I'm getting better at that.
I'm hoping releasing in Early Access will actually help with this issue, because it's like one continuous release for twelve months or so, instead of a single moment when the game is 'out'.
What are your plans for the future?
The plan is to support These Doomed Isles for a while, as there's quite a bit of stuff that I want to add to the game, and I’ll be getting a lot of great feedback from the Early Access players - at least if the reaction to the demo and prologue is anything to go by.
If These Doomed Isles does well, I have a bunch of ideas for different ways to approach the core idea of the game, so it'd be nice if folks were interested in a follow-up.
'Stupid sexy Cernunnos!'
Which one of the available gods is your favorite?
My favourite is currently unannounced, so I guess I can't actually pick that one…
Of the three that we have in the game at the moment, Acan, the Mayan God of Wine is my favourite. I think that might just be because he's the newest God, so all of the mechanics feel fresh and interesting!