The dynamic duo of Chris and John are making waves at Main Tank Software, recently releasing the chaotic multiplayer Dragon Saddle Melee and developing the fast-paced strategy game Hexarcy. Gamers Heroes spoke with this indie team to learn more.
Dragon Saddle Melee prides itself on both its old school arcade roots and its multiplayer functionality. Both are (unfortunately) an absolute rarity these days – what made your team want to tap into these elements?
Chris (Dragon Saddle Melee Dev):
I grew up playing multiplayer Atari games like Joust and Archon with my brother, John (the Hexarchy dev). I have lots of fun memories from those games and wanted to try to recreate that feeling with an online multiplayer game.
Also, I started Dragon Saddle Melee after working on two other prototypes – a multiplayer action dungeon-crawler and an attempt at a multiplayer X-Com-inspired tactical strategy game. Turns out the warnings I’ve heard from the indie game dev community are true. It was a mistake to start with ideas so complicated. So, I decided to scale things back to try to get them manageable by a solo dev. Part of the beauty of the old school arcade games is that they are really fun even though the mechanics are pretty simple by modern standards. That line of thinking led to Dragon Saddle Melee. Even DSM – especially the real-time multiplayer aspects of it – turned out to be biting off a lot for a solo dev, and it took way longer to finish than I guessed.
One Steam review from knexrex for the game claims Dragon Saddle Melee is “online Joust with dragons, laser guns, and synth music” – sounds like a recipe for success! There’s definitely Joust influences, but were there any other old school titles that inspired you?
Haha. I know knexrex personally. That was nice of him to write that review. You’re right that the main inspiration came from Joust. Some influences also came from many of the fun two-players-on-a-couch games from the 80’s like Archon, Ballblazer, and Bomberman – not necessarily in the specific game mechanics, but in the vibe that comes from an intense multiplayer experience in a simple and joyful game.
We saw that there was a playtester session for Dragon Saddle Melee back in November. What was it like closely working with the fans on the development of this release?
I learned that getting feedback is not easy. Although hundreds of people signed up for the playtest, only a tiny sliver gave feedback and those were mostly people I already knew personally. I think I made a big mistake by not having a super easy way right in the game to prompt for feedback. John did a much better job in Hexarchy by asking new players to fill out a simple survey.
Multiplayer games can be tricky to balance – we’ve seen people in the fighting game scene pour over patch notes over nerfs and buffs on a regular basis. How have you kept Dragon Saddle Melee balanced?
I focused much more on making it fun rather than balanced. The game really isn’t balanced. Some power-ups are way better than others. Sometimes you get unlucky with how the enemies move and position themselves. I think that unfair-but-fun vibe is something that arcade classics did well, and I shot for a similar feeling in Dragon Saddle Melee.
We saw that Dragon Saddle Melee has automated matchmaking. Even though the game has only been out since January 26, are there any elite players that you’ve seen in the space?
I learned that matchmaking is really a champagne problem. It takes a huge number of active players to have enough searching for a game when a new game is starting to really warrant any complex matchmaking algorithm beyond just sticking them all into the next game. So that’s basically what Dragon Saddle Melee does.
Back to your question, some people just seem naturally good at playing. In terms of play-time, I’m surely the highest, but I still routinely get stomped by other people.
On that note, what has been the greatest clutch you’ve seen so far in Dragon Saddle Melee?
Because the game relies so heavily on physics based gameplay, I think the coolest stuff I’ve seen has involved that – bounce hard off a ledge above you, come crashing down fast on an enemy, while at the same time charging your laser pistol that fires and hits another guy.
Changing gears a bit, what has it been like using Kickstarter for Hexarchy? We saw that you are looking to use the funds for building out the missing game systems and tech tree and its localization, but how has the implementation process with this crowdfunding platform been going?
John (Hexarchy Dev):
Yea, we just announced Hexarchy’s Kickstarter. It launches on March 14. It was a decision between doing an Early Access launch or doing a Kickstarter. EA launches don’t seem to tell consumers much about the current state or the future of a game right now so we decided we’d rather avoid it. Some EA games are polished and basically a 1.0 product whereas others are prototypes. Hexarchy is totally playable already but we decided we’d rather fund its 1.0 development with Kickstarter instead of EA Steam revenue.
The Kickstarter’s success really hinges on how many followers we can get before it launches and whether or not Kickstarter chooses to feature us.
We saw that there is a Hexarchy Discord – what has it been like managing the community?
It’s been great. I know it looks like a Civ game, but Hexarchy is actually a novel game concept. There’s not an existing community of fast-paced turn-based strategy battle royale gamers out there so we knew we’d have to build one which was going to be a slow process. The community has been amazingly cordial and helpful so far. We had a lot of activity a year ago around the last Steam Next festival and then things quieted down some while we chugged along with dev work.
We just opened up our Steam playtest so the community is growing and getting more active again. Our hope is that the Next fest this February followed by the Kickstarter will bring in a lot of new community members.
Finally, what titles (outside of the ones from your studio) are you currently playing right now?
John: Rocket League, Hollow Knight, Beyond All Reason
Chris: Beyond All Reason, DCS World, MS Flight Simulator, Rocket League
For those looking to try out Dragon Saddle Melee for themselves, you can find the title on Steam here.
Meanwhile, you can learn more about Hexarchy (and play a demo) with the Steam page here.
Finally, you can follow the Main Tank Software development team on Twitter here.