Note: The developer will be lurking in the comments to answer your questions!
I’m a big fan of games, obviously, but not just video games. I love board games and card games. Eurogames such as Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Power Grid. Things like RoboRally, Tsuro, Space Alert. And card games definitely hold a special place in my gaming-heart, like dead CCGs such as Hecatomb, Netrunner (which is back and I need to try it!), Wars, Rage.
But there’s a certain type of card game out there known as Deck-Building which I am continually drawn to for its replayability. The basic idea of a deck-building game is putting the players in charge of building their deck through the course of the game, in a competitive manner, from a pool of collective cards that all players get to choose from.
The first deck building game I was introduced to was Dominion, which from what I’ve been able to gather was the first deck-building game. I was immediately in love with the game, and the idea of the genre. Unless players choose to select the same pool of cards during setup, the game allows for nearly infinite replayability, dynamic redirection of strategy, and a good balance of direct player interaction in the form of offensive cards, along with a good focus on simple competitive bidding.
Dominion, since its original release in 2008, has become a monster in the board gaming world with its now eight large expansions and another planned for release next year. It has also inspired other great deck-building games such as Ascension, Thunderstone, Arcana and more.
I’m also a fan of city building video games. From the original SimCity all the way up to the excellent indie title Banished. Though, my love for these games has never been about the nitty gritty management. I enjoyed the building aspect of them. I would always try to make the nicest looking places I could, filled with parks and public transit, push the industry out of the living areas so they wouldn’t ruin the idealist conditions I had attempted to create. When it came to managing taxes, making sure garbage collectors didn’t go on strike, that stuff bored me. I wanted things to look nice and run smoothly. All that bureaucratic quibbling just got in the way.
Our focus for Indie Delve today feels like it blends those two genres into something new and exciting, with a splash of Tetris to top it off.
Concrete Jungle’s original incarnation was as a game called MegaCity, which defeated enough other indie games to evolve into MegaCity Deluxe HD (I’m pretty sure that’s how game development works. It’s like Pokemon, right?). You can play it online for free, and even get it on your mobile devices!
I had actually played MegaCity when it first hit Kongregate and thought it was a really interesting idea. I hadn’t seen anyone combine such otherwise disparate game mechanics before. While I didn’t stick with MegaCity for very long, I never forgot about it. It was too interesting and unique.
As I stumbled onto Concrete Jungle, browsing through Kickstarter’s indie games during my everlasting struggle with insomnia, I initially thought that another indie dev had had their idea ripped off. The progression from MegaCity to Concrete Jungle is obviously clear.
In Concrete Jungle the player is tasked with placing buildings onto a grid system in an attempt to build up points within each row of the grid. This is achieved by placing houses in spots which are worth points based upon other buildings around them which can increase or decrease their surrounding property values. Once the closest row has reached its required point value it will disappear, allowing a new back row to come into play.
The tricky part is, you don’t exactly get to choose which buildings you have to place. That is where the cards come in.
On the left side of your screen, you get to see the next five buildings you’ll have to place. You do get to choose between the first or second card. The only other control you get over your deck is the actual deck building aspects of the game.
Before you start a game, there is a deck customization screen you can use to fine tune your starting deck, if you’d like to. But the real strategy comes in when you’ve cleared enough rows in the city to add new cards to your deck. Some cards may increase property values in new shapes you haven’t seen, allow you to replace a building, or maybe lower the points of an entire row!
While it may sound simple when it’s all boiled down like this, it’s far from it. This game keeps you on your toes the entire time, and never takes it easy on you. I imagine the multiplayer mode will be pretty intense.
The sole developer, Cole Jefferies, was kind enough to send me a preview copy of the game prior to our interview. While it kicked my ass more times than I’d like to admit, from what I’ve seen so far Concrete Jungle is shaping up to be a very good successor to MegaCity, and something those who enjoy deck-building games, city building games, or tetris like puzzle games, should be excited about.
It’s pretty clear I like the game, and want those passionate about indie games to keep an eye on this title. So lets change gears here and get to know Jefferies a bit.
How long ago did you release the original MegaCity? How long was it between MegaCity’s release, and the Deluxe version?
MegaCity was my first proper attempt at an indie game, and was released at the end of September in 2011 for iOS. I was learning fast, so not long after release I started working on what was originally planned to be a sequel. I started by re-coding everything and remaking all the graphics to a higher standard. In the end I just ended up releasing that as an update to the existing game, which is the version you see today.
You released the Deluxe version for free through Kongregate, but also sold it on a number of different platforms. The ability for indie devs to move themselves into viable markets all by themselves seems like such a game changer from the old days of everything coming from big studios. How has your experience been with it so far?
I wanted to dip my toe in all the different waters. One of the benefits of using dev kit software is that you can output to different platforms relatively easily, so it made sense to explore the different possibilities out there. I ended up porting Megacity to quite a range of platforms. Now I've got a pretty good sense of what platforms get the most out of my games, and what works on certain platforms and what doesn't.
Steam, however is going to be a new experience for me. It's also the platform I've been looking the most forward to getting on, as I'm an avid PC gamer myself. I never attempted to get any of my previous games on the platform however, as I felt they were perhaps too small in scale (not that small games can't work on Steam, but I wanted my first shot at a steam release to be something bigger).
Moving from the original game, to the deluxe version, and now to Concrete Jungle, do you feel your development style has changed at all? Did you step away from the game for awhile between iterations, or has bringing it to this stage been something you’ve been working on from the start? Were there any projects in between?
Yes, I've been prototyping on and off for ages, mostly between other smaller game projects. My game development style is one of splicing ideas- take a pinch of this and a spoonful of that, mix it together and see if it works. Needless to say, there have been a lot of failed prototypes along the way!
Soon after the release of the first megacity, I began ambitiously expanding on it's original concept. To start with I wanted to introduce a management aspect, so I built a version that played a bit more like a traditional city builder combined with the numerical mechanics of MegaCity. It failed - I couldn't find the fun. For each building placement the player had to do too many calculations. As the city got bigger, the complexity of the analysis the player had to perform to play the game also increased. I had such high hopes for this concept, but I just couldn't gel the two core ideas together and the time came to go back to the drawing board.
Dialing back the management aspect a little, I tried another prototype that used traffic systems as a mechanic to affect buildings. I wanted to draw on some tower defense gameplay- roads would be like lanes, and instead of creeps there would be traffic. Some buildings like shopping malls would react positively to cars, some buildings like residential estates would react negatively. So it would become about clever redirection of traffic. It suffered from similar problems as the last prototype unfortunately - too fiddly, not enough fun. I'm still convinced there may be a game here, but I couldn't get it to play like how I envisioned. Perhaps I'll return some day because I find tower defense compelling, and I really want to have a play around with it conceptually. It's not this project though.
At this point, I was tired of ideas not coming together, so I did perhaps what I should of done in the first place and went back to the original to try and preserve what made it work while innovating on the original ideas. Replacing the purely random list with a slightly more controlled mechanic -deck-building- worked well and gave the game a whole new dimension. So I stuck with that idea, and it's now Concrete Jungle.
How much do you feel the table-top genre of deck-building games has been an inspiration to MegaCity/Concrete Jungle? Did you play table-top games a good bit before development, or were you just introduced to the basic concept and immediately ran with the idea?
I do love a good tabletop game with friends from time to time, but I don't know the landscape as well as I know videogames, so videogames are still my primary influence. Nevertheless, there are some really cool innovations in board games which I would like to see make a move to games. I think we're starting to see that crossover happen in a few other recent indie titles.
The deck building mechanic in Concrete Jungle is inspired from the tabletop scene. I love the concept of deck-building as it naturally generates dozens of interesting decisions and tactics- I knew I wanted to do something with it right away!
Did you ever think about developing Concrete Jungle as a table-top game, instead of a video game? What made you pursue it as a video game?
I had a few people suggest I should try a MegaCity board game- to the point where I tried to make a prototype out of cardboard. It could work I think, with a bit more development. I ended up using counters placed on the different buildings for scoring. The problem is I might be too in love with making video games to see this through. Concrete Jungle as a tabletop game could be really interesting though.
SimCity and Tetris are clearly inspirations for the game as well. Are there any other sources that directly inspired the idea for MegaCity/Concrete Jungle?
Apart from those, I'd have to say Pipe Mania, which I had on my 486 when I was younger- that was one of the main influences for the original MegaCity.
Recently, Hearthstone. In particular the arena deck building- I really like the choices it presents you with- having to choose the best of three. Concrete Jungle has something similar that happens as your city grows where you choose from four. So it's got a bit of that randomized decision making, but it's spread out over the course of your city development.
How long have you been working on the Concrete Jungle iteration specifically? And how long are you hoping it will take you to finish it from where it’s at now?
The prototypes that I mentioned earlier have been spread out over the course of almost three years, although they were in development sandwiched between other my projects. I got the working prototype done over the summer, and since then I've been molding it into what is currently the preview build. The kickstarter campaign has taken a lot of time too (worth it!)
I'm aiming for a May 2015 release, I think that's sensible. Although like most developers I also find it difficult to predict development time. The last 5% of a project always takes the longest.
Apart from the music, you’re the only one working on Concrete Jungle, yes? Can you talk about that a bit for us. How do you manage having the entire project being dependant upon you?
Yes, it's just me. Although now that the game has passed the kickstarter goal, getting a little hired help is something that could happen. It's daunting, because it's a lot of work, but I also enjoy it so much I'm looking forward to it. I will need playtesters as the game gets bigger, especially for balancing- and I foresee a *lot* of tweaking with the cards throughout the entire project.
Did you originally come from an artistic background, or a coding background? How has learning a new side of development been for you?
Artistic. I was an art student and I have a degree in illustration. Over the course of my game dev escapades I've been getting more comfortable with the idea of being in the coding camp though. I'm a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none in that respect. I find a technical approach can help you a lot in digital art creation, and a creative approach helps problem solving in programming.
Have you worked with a team on anything before, and if so what are your thoughts on working solo versus with a group?
Not in game development yet. I'd like to operate as part of a team at some point though- building something bigger than what I could manage by myself. That said there's a lot of satisfaction when you achieve something when working alone, and I also like developing my ideas. Both are great in their own ways.
What development tools are you using for Concrete Jungle?
I'm using Fusion 2.5 by clickteam. It's a tool I've been using for a while to make my games, and I'm just so used to it by now. It's easy to use, but it's got a good amount of functionality too. The community around it is small but great, there's a lot of helpful people. We're just starting to see some breakout indie tiles made in it- Five Nights at Freddy's, Heart Forth Alicia and Freedom Planet are some recent examples.
Have you used any other of the development tools out there available to indie devs? Any thoughts on them?
I used hammer editor for source engine a few years back, just as a hobby. Back then it was all about modding! I started making a co-op mod for half-life 2, 'Pandora's Box', that had one of the speedy head crabs randomly roaming the map, running in and out of vents etc. It could kill you in one hit, and the players had no crosshair. So when you encountered it, everybody starts panicing and shooting. I never released it, although I wish I had.
I've done some work in UDK too, just as a learning exercise.
It's great that indie devs have so many tools out there right now - it's really breaking down the technical barrier to game creation somewhat, giving people new ways to more easily realise their ideas. Even the AAA engines like Unreal and CryEngine are getting more accessible and indie-friendly.
Is game development your full time job at this point?
Game dev has been my main focus for about three and a half years now, although I've done freelance work along with it to keep me ticking over. Before working on Concrete Jungle I did some contract work developing a digital version of a board game 'Camelot the Build' for example. I live cheaply so I can do as many of my own projects as possible. Bread and soup keeps me alive!
I'd love for game dev to be my career from this point forward. But it's not an easy thing to achieve- you need to work hard at it and there's a lot of people out there trying to do it right now.
Do you feel you want to remain an independent developer, or are you interested in working in the “AAA” industry?
I'm all about being independent as long as people are interested in my projects. I like the freedom. But that said I think I could enjoy an environment art job in the AAA industry, I love designing and making environments.
Alright, back to your current project. You’re obviously releasing the game on PC, and wanting to have ports for Mac and Linux. Is there any desire to get the game onto any other platforms later on down the road? Will platform saturation be a priority for you once the game is finished?
Bringing the game to tablet would be nice, but I'm going to be very careful to design for each platform individually. I think a mistake a lot of developers make is to have a universal control scheme that tries it's best to work on all platforms, so as to not have to re-design the UI or controls. Particularly when it comes to touch screen vs non-touch screen. In the past I've been guilty of that myself too. But, each platform is so different developers really have to concenrate on them individually. With my gamer hat on- it's so easy to see what type of platform a UI has been designed for.
So my attitude on this project is to take things as they come, starting with PC and mac and then expanding from there. I get a lot of requests for linux, so that's probably what I'll look into after.
You’re planning on the game having 6 unlockable characters. Will they influence gameplay in any way?
Yes. Each one will have a few unique cards/buildings to their name, which act like special abilities/perks, and they'll be unlockable through a story mode. There will be an option to play without these if you prefer a more 'barebones' mode.
Can you give us some insight into how the multiplayer will work, as well as why it will be local only?
The versus game mode is still in it's early stages, although I have done some limited testing with it. It's the mode that I'll be developing multiplayer for- so far it's really quite intense to play and requires a lot of interesting decision making.
Unfortunately I am limiting it to local right now. The reason is simply because once things go online, things get harder to manage quite quickly. You have to think about servers, matchmaking, cross-platform stuff. The project is already quite sizable, so while I'd love to do online multiplayer, it's not on the todo list right now.
Your Kickstarter page makes it clear that Concrete Jungle will be avoiding all free-to-play and micro-transaction mechanics. Why did you make that decision?
I made a game a few years back that was free to play for mobile (a small Husky sled game for mobile called 'Sleigher'). I didn't enjoy designing it in the manor that was required of free-to-play. You really have to 'dangle the carrot' as it were. I believe there are ways to implement f2p well- I would consider Hearthstone one of the best examples personally.
But I think you need a lot of resources to make it work because you have to provide enough content for it to be fun for free *and* hold enough back as incentive to make players want to put down their money. I think what irks me is that you are artificially limiting the gameplay. It makes more sense in the casual market, but that's not especially a direction I want to explore with my projects. I think a lot of gamers have grown tired of it over the last few years too- so hence I decided to avoid it for this.
Thankfully, you've already surpassed your funding goal in just a couple of days. Unlike most campaigns though, you don't have any stretch goals listed. Other than letting you eat more than instant noodles during development now, what will extra funding bring to the development?
I created a backer vote when we hit the target to ask what the extra money should be spent on. I've got a good idea of what people want (a bigger game- more buildings, more characters etc). But I also had some feedback that advised me to complete the original pitch and not get carried away with stretch goals because they can easily lead to delays (it's easy to get ambitious with content promises once targets have been hit).
So I came up with a solution which I think is best for everybody- I'm going to complete the game to the what's been originally pitched, release it, then expand it for free. So the extra money is essentially paying for the expansion of the game once it's is done.
Aside from that, I want to do everything I can to get the game ready on time, so I'm looking into hiring some freelancers to help out with things like some 3D model work, texturing and perhaps character art. This frees me up more time to concentrate on development of the core game.
Is there anything else you think people should know about Concrete Jungle?
I think a lot of people see the screenshots and think it's a SimCity clone. The game doesn't play like simcity, but don't let that put you off. You're still placing buildings, but it's more about planning, not managing- if that makes sense!
Head on over to Concrete Jungle's Kickstarter page for more info, and to chip in on this awesome project! Concrete Jungle thankfully passed its meagre funding goal only a few days after its campaign started. But game development is a hard and treacherous process, so every little bit will help Jefferies make Concrete Jungle into something awesome!