As you may or may not know, I’m from Belgium and while we’re a relatively small country in size, we don’t have to pay for it in quality when it comes to the videogames we produce. That’s why I sometimes like to take some time out of my schedule to interview local game developers and check up on their projects. Latest in this line of interviews is with the developers of the (garbage) town building game: Flotsam.
The development team behind this unique concept call themselves Pajama Llama, so that’s as good a start as any to start the questioning. (Answers below by Dave Van Verdegem)
Why “Pajama Llama?”
There really isn’t a big story to reveal here. We were looking for a name and thought it sounded nice because of the alliteration. It’s also unique and easily recognizable so we stuck with it. Though you could kind of make the story after the fact; we did start development in Stan’s bedroom with the three of us for a small year.
When did you start working on Flotsam?
It’s been so long, it’s become kind of blurry but we think we started on it in 2014. From the start we were keeping track of our work in a development thread on TIGsource*, a forum where you can blog about your game’s development and get feedback from other devs. It’s been such a useful resource that we’re still sharing our progress there.
*Fez, Paper’s Please are a few more famous examples who also did the same.
So you say you started with just three people? How did the team grow/evolve since then?
Yes, it started with just the three of us: Stan, Juda-ben and me (Dave Van Verdegem)
The size of the team varies from time to time. At the moment there are seven people working on Flotsam but just two weeks ago it was ten. We have a core team of five but then we usually have some interns, mostly students, who want to help with the game and learn from the process.
Do you develop everything in-house or do you outsource some of the tasks?
There are some things we hire externals for. One such example is technical art for which Brecht Lecluyse* lent us a hand. (He worked on the PSVR version of Space Pirate Trainer recently and also has his own game, Trifox, in development)
*I already interviewed Brecht some time ago, he seems to turn up in a lot of places. Read it here.
We also outsourced the sound and music, but the people we work with day in and day out are here at the office. Which makes it a lot easier to hold meetings.
How did you decide on what kind of game Flotsam would be? From the setting, certain visual elements, a specific type of gameplay?
Well for this it’s perhaps best I start with the background of myself and Stan: We met each other at school where we were both in Film & Animation and Stan wanted to make a Short for his end-of-year work. He didn’t finish it, but it was a movie about people who lived underwater. That’s basically where the theme came from. The goal was to capture how the setting impacted the lives of the people, how they adapted to their surroundings and such.
When we started thinking about a game to make we went through several prototypes but the water-theme kept floating back to the top. On the other hand we’re all fans of the citybuilding genre. As soon as we combined the theme with the gameplay, we realised it seemed like a good fit.
It would be A LOT of work, but whenever we showed bits and pieces of it to people we also got plenty of positive feedback which gaves us the confidence boost to persist. And three or four years later, we’ve made it this far!
I often see you guys at all sorts of cons & expos, worldwide. Is that a major part of your marketing approach?
Yes, our major goal there is community building. From the very start we realised it’s something we shouldn’t skimp on. The ties we build between the development team and the community has always been the thread running through our project. For that same reason we spend a lot of time talking with with everyone on our Discord. It’s fun to keep contact there with people we met at various fairs or vice versa. Our fans who got excited about the game have also been helping to promote it through word of mouth. (we’re very appreciative of their efforts!)
Another bonus of those fairs is that we get to meet other developers and we can discuss our work amongst each other, it often provides for useful insights.
You also won the Rising Star award at Gamescom. Any other awards you’re particularly proud of?
We’re happy with all the awards we’ve received to be honest. Though the first prize we’ve won at White Nights 17 was memorable as it came as an unexpected surprise. We scooped up the big prize “best game design and it was cool to realise there was an audience that appreciated our work.
Another one I remember fondly is receiving the star from Jupiter Hadley at EGX. Jupiter is a journalist/youtuber who we’ve been following some time so it’s very special to us that we receive that kind of recognition from her.
My next question was going to be “are you planning on entering the Belgian Game Awards” but I see you got that sorted out today.
Yes, we didn’t want to miss out on that: https://awards.belgiangames.be/games/flotsam
I’m curious as to how you’ve been able to fund the development on Flotsam. Could you enlighten us?
Well, at first we just used our own savings. We had dayjobs and worked on the game in our free time. It also helped that we didn’t have to pay rent for an office (Stan’s bedroom came free of charge). We then decided to step it up a notch and we received support from VAF to do so. This allowed us to get our own office and hire interns but to keep the company afloat we also had to do some contract work, mostly of an artistic nature like concept art for Brecht’s Glowfish studio and his game Trifox to name one example.
The biggest downside of doing contract work is that time spent working for other people is time you could’ve invested in your own project. That’s why it’s important to make estimates: how long will we need to continue working on the product, how much money is it going to cost and we realised we also needed to be on the lookout for a potential publishers.
I’ve heard you signed with Kongregate. Why were they the best match for you guys?
I think it’s because they’ve been very honest and open. We never had the feeling that we needed to be on the lookout for small print or potential loopholes. We can have open discussions with them about our priorities, they give feedback that is useful for the game… We really get the feeling like they’re there for us.
Flotsam is currently planned for PC only, are there plans to port it at some point?
We’re still thinking about it. Porting a game isn’t without challenge but we’ve gotten the question plenty of times if we were considering mobile. That would mean a serious overhaul of how the game is controlled. The same goes for consoles as you’d need to support controllers whereas we only have keyboard + mouse controls at the moment. If it does well on PC we can start thinking about the next step.
As for PC platforms, will you stick to the safe harbour that is Steam or are you shipping to other storefronts as well?
We’re certainly releasing on Steam, in fact you can Wishlist Flotsam there now. But we’re also sure to arrive on Kartridge, Kongregate’s own storefront as well as Humble Bundle, GOG and perhaps others.
Is the release date still set for 2019?
We’ll release in mutliple stages; first we’ll have an Alpha version outside of steam. Then we’ll have an Early Access release on Steam. The dates aren’t set in stone yet but it will definitely be playable in 2019.
Is there a playable demo available for people to download so they can get a taste today?
No, there is no publically available build yet. We prefer to be present when people are testing the game, that way we can gather useful feedback and observe how they play. This can then be incorperated into the next build. The game is often playable at fairs/conventions but it will always be a more recent version.
Flotsam has been in development for some time, do you ever let your thoughts drift and think about the next game?
Well it’s important to change things up, and that’s why we often try to participate in gamejams. It offers new ideas and sparks creativity, but Flotsam is SO, SO big when it comes to possibilities that we can still be creative in that world. Our only limits are time and manpower, there’s plenty still to add on to the game so there is not yet a need to dream of new projects.
Even after the release we intend to keep working on Flotsam, supporting it and adding more content.
Want to keep up to date about Flotsam?
Join their Discord or Wishlist the game on Steam!