Laser Guided Game is a new independent reality whose result is the beautiful Golem Gates. We at projectnerd.it have felt to reward the American project, enhancing its technical / graphic qualities combined with a decidedly modern and fun gameplay. So we decided to interview Matt Oelfke, one of the founders of Laser Guided Games together with Josh Nizzi from Hollow Earth, the company that defined the artistic direction of the game. Here’s what we asked them.
Good Morning Matt and good day Josh, it’s a pleasure to be here to interview you. Thank you for your time. So, I’d like to go straight to the point.
Q: Matt, we at Projectnerd.it looked up your biography and realized that you are an avid gamer. But what does playing videogames mean for you?
MO: For me, video games are about challenge and learning. Discovering new things and figuring out the scenarios. I’m the kind of player that turns the difficulty up as high as I can handle.
Q: Videogaming and creating video games are two very different things. For example: I really like videogaming, but I find making them really hard. In your case, Matt, why did you start making video games?
MO: I’ve been interested in making games for almost as long as I’ve been aware of them. When my family got a PC, I started looking into how they were made (at the library, no Internet back then!) and found that I took to programming pretty well. From there it was about learning how designing a game works – the mechanics and goals. For me, making games is about fun – for myself and as many others as I can get them to.
Q: The Unreal Tournament mods were the reason you were hired by Epic Games. How important was the experience at Epic Games for your professional career?
MO: Epic was where I learned how to be a pro. Modding is great but there are a lot of things that you don’t have to worry about as much, like deadlines or to some extent quality control. More discipline is often required; no matter how great it might be, you can’t include everything. It was also important for learning how to communicate with other disciplines and work together. As well as what a small team can accomplish with skill and motivation. What we did at Epic took many other companies several times more people, and I feel with Golem Gates we’ve similarly made a game with only 4 primary developers that in many ways rivals much higher budget games.
Q: Switching from a big studio like Epic to an independent one involves a lot of courage. How difficult was founding and carry out an independent project?
MO: The difficult part was finding others who not only share a similar vision, but are in a situation where they can take a risk on an independent game that might not survive. The first time I tried to do it all myself and found it’s really hard to keep momentum when I have to do so many tasks that I’m not good at and in some cases don’t enjoy. This game has been more fun to do just being able to work with a few talented people in other disciplines to bring it together.
Q: Josh, we know you’ve worked on many great Marvel movies. We well know that videogames and films are similar, but profoundly different. What’s working on videogames like for you?
JN: I’m lucky to be able to work on blockbuster films and be a part of entertainment that has such a huge cultural impact. It’s incredible how many people and how much money it takes to produce films like Marvel. I think Infinity War is going to break every box office record. In contrast to the films I typically work on, game development is a chance for me to build the worlds I have in my head and tell my own stories. There are a lot of things I love about game development. The challenge of combining technology, gameplay, storytelling, player interaction, visuals, sound, production and deadlines to create a cohesive experience is both extremely frustrating and satisfying. Making games is hard, and I love the challenge.
Q: Now let’s talk about Golem Gates in detail. We at Projectnerd.it really liked the mix between RTS; MOBA and Card Game. But how did you managed to mix these three genres together in such a coherent way?
MO: The core idea started with “what if a CCG was in real time”? But unlike some other games that have approached the concept such as BattleForge, we wanted to go a little further in to the classic CCG flow where you are actually drawing cards and working with an expanding resource pool. We still wanted to have a bit larger battles though, so we had the Glyphs build several units at a time to create that RTS feel. The options provided by the casting mechanic allowed us to streamline the unit interactions to some extent, making the game a bit more accessible without sacrificing depth. The MOBA elements – like the capturable camps – came later, mostly as a response to issues of the initial design that came up in playtests, like stalemates.
Q: Josh, Golem Gates is fun to play, but also nice to see. What inspired you to create it?
JN: Much of the visual inspiration and story are rooted in the game design concepts. The core gameplay of placing cards (glyphs) on the battlefield only in areas where you have sight through the fog of war brought about the idea of the nanotech cloud called “the Ash”. Since the Ash would be on screen all the time we wanted it to feel alive, almost like a character in the story, and in many ways, it is. The rest of the story and visuals really flowed out from there. After looking at other games in similar genres, I thought going with a darker fantasy/sci fi theme would help us stand out. Additionally, we are all fans of games like Bloodborne and Dark Souls, so a darker direction tied in with our interests as well.
Q: One of the things that we most liked about Golem Gates is the fact that the game is developed both in single-player and multiplayer. We really like videogames that allow the player to decide to play alone or in groups without the game deciding for them. But what’s your thought about it, Matt?
MO: It depends on the type of game, but where possible it’s good to support as many play styles as you can. Some players don’t want to deal with others online and some players have more fun that way. That said, the developers have to carefully consider what those things actually mean for the design. What kind of interactions make sense? For example, it may be an unpopular opinion, but I think Dark Souls was better when you had to rely on unknown players in co-op – it was more aligned with the game’s themes.
Q: Golem Gates has a great soundtrack. From here we understood how music is really important for you. Josh, how much did the Hollow Heart experience affected the creation of such a beautiful soundtrack?
JN: The soundtrack was all done by Dalvin Kang who also designed all the single player campaign levels and knows how to connect nodes in Unreal like nobody else. We have been working together for many years on different project ideas that I hope we get to make after Golem Gates.
Music is very important to me, both in the creative process, and the final product. I get so much inspiration listening to tracks that fit the tone of what I’m working on. Dalvin and I can get into a nice creative rhythm where his music inspires my art and visa versa. When I first heard the main theme for the game, I felt like I could visualize the entire world I wanted to create.
I know that both in games and film some think of soundtracks as filler or something to support the visuals, that it shouldn’t stand out, but I’m much more impacted by films like Mad Max Road Fury and Blade Runner 2049, games like Doom and Dragon Age Inquisition, where the soundtrack has such memorable moments it elevates the entire experience. I hope that Golem Gates will be that kind of product for players.
Q: Will Golem Gates turn into a Game as Service? Or will it remain the same from the beginning to the end? What is your opinion Matt?
MO: It’s possible we’ll do post-release expansions that may cost money, depending on how things are going. But we won’t be doing any kind of microtransactions or paid loot boxes. One of our goals for this game was to avoid the problem the many free-to-play online CCGs have where it feels like you can never complete a deck or collection because the systems are designed to encourage endless paying and playing. The discovery of getting new cards/glyphs and incorporating them into strategies is fun, but it’s also important to know that you’ll eventually get where you’re going.
Q: Now a question for both of you: how much Golem Gates has improved your artistic and development skills? Do you have any plans for your future in videogame industry?
JN: For me Golem Gates has been about how to get the best-looking work as fast as possible. I hired some contractors to do assets and purchased a number of packs on the Unreal Marketplace, but at the end of the day I’m the only artist working full time on the game. I’m happy with how fast I have become at getting stuff done. More time would be so nice though, Haha! I hope that Golem Gates is successful enough for us to do dlc of some sort. I have some additional content I’d really like to make. Beyond that, there are some other game ideas I’m ready to get going on.
MO: It’s been a learning experience in game design for me. Figuring out how to get good synergy opportunities with the glyphs, creating a variety of interesting scenarios in the Trials mode and building an AI that can handle all of it were definitely challenging. After this, I’ll still be making games in some way or another. If this game is successful, I have some higher-budget ideas I’d like to try.
Q: A last spicy question … very spicy for Matt … What would you say to Cliff Bleszinski about his “failure” with Lawbreakers?
MO: I’m not going to comment on that specific situation, but I will say that if you are an indie and you are making a multiplayer focused game, you need to support some kind of AI mode. No matter how good the game is you can easily get into the chicken-and-egg problem of no one wants to play because no one is playing. I’ve seen a number of promising indie games fall into that state and some decent AI play – whether it’s bots or a separate mode – might have kept those games alive long enough for their potential to be discovered
Very well guys, we thank you for the great interview: we at Projectnerd.it hope we’ll se you in the future, better if you are going to develop some new great games.
Bene ragazzi, vi ringraziamo moltissimo per averci rilasciato questa bella intervista: noi di projectnerd.it speriamo di incontrarvi in futuro sempre sulle nostre pagine, magari con qualche vostro nuovo progetto.
See you next time!
Golem Gates review is avaiable (only in Italian) here