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Terraria Inspirations, Robot Origins and More… The BIG Epic Inventor Interview

Epic Inventor has been one of my favorite finds of 2011. With its side scrolling platform gameplay reminiscent of Terraria combined with a few unique aspects in building plots and resource gathering I thought it combined the some of my favorite bits of Terraria with other features missing from the Minecraft-like sidescroller.
So when I finally got a chance to sit down with one of the designers of the game, I used to opportunity to figure out how the game came to be, where it was going and whether or not it would be free for its entirety. Check out the full interview below.

DIYGamer: Before we begin with all the details about Epic Inventor can you let us know who you are, what you do on the team and who else works on the game?

Mike: My name is Mike Wiemholt, or “Weem” and I am the Game Designer and Artist for Epic Inventor. I also handle community management, and general PR stuff. Other members of the team include Forrest Hatfield and Brandon Williams, both programmers and co-contributors to the game.

DIYGamer: So tell us a little about Epic Inventor (EI). How and when did development start? What were your inspirations for creating such a game?

Mike: Development on Epic Inventor began in June (2011). The three of us were playing a lot of Terraria at the time, and essentially EI was born from ideas I thought would be fun to see in a game like Terraria. We were actually all playing at my house one day and I was (as usual) going on about how fun this aspect would be, or how that feature could be added. At one point Forrest said to me, “You know, we could make a game like that”. His reference was speaking more to the fact that between the three of us (as web developers) we had the skills to make a side-scroller that had the elements I was looking for. We started work on the game about 2 days later.

DIYGamer: So, since the game has such a resemblance to and was inspired by Terraria, how would you differentiate between the two?

Mike: One of the big differences was that I wanted to have structures that had meaning. I wanted structures that were vital to achieving my goals in the game as a player. Where Terraria had “houses” that essentially were waypoints for NPC’s, I wanted there to be unique buildings and tools that had their own specific purposes and would benefit me in a number of different ways. I also wanted to stress exploration a bit more by removing the ability to dig anywhere you like. The fact is that if you are looking for a game where you can dig in all directions and then stack the gathered blocks into shapes of your choosing, you had a number of great games to do that in (including Terraria). By removing this ability, getting around in the world would be a bit more of a challenge and would set up opportunities to build in other challenges down the road (puzzles and traps getting between you and your desired destination to give one example).

DIYGamer: So let’s talk about the “Town” a little bit. Why limit a person to a single place for a town [unless I am mistaken] and what advantages do you see in having a “town” as opposed to just being able to build wherever you like?

Mike: Right now there are a few “town” areas, these being areas that your structures can be placed on (and in fact, can only be placed there). As such, one of the aspects of the game you would need to focus on is real estate management. Being limited to these areas forces you to focus on strategically placing the structures you feel are most important. With that in mind, we wanted to make sure it was easy to pick these structures up and move them around. We have a small timer for picking them up, and in the next update, the timers for placing them have been drastically reduced. With all of that said, we are considering removing the town restriction entirely but still need to do some testing there.

Mike: A number of the big advantages of limiting the placement to these areas have to do with updates we had in mind for the future, which may or may not come to pass.

DIYGamer: One of the things I thought was really interesting about EI was the inclusion of the robot. Can you explain a little about the history of how he can to be in the game and why you guys felt the game was better (it is) with the robot, as opposed to not.

Mike: Yea, I had thought about some kind of robot early on, but at the time it felt like something extra that was not necessary. During a trip to visit my family, I was telling my step-mother about the game, and she said, “oh it would be so neat if you had a little robot!” I told her I had thought of that and that we may see that much further down the road. About a week later, while working on updates to EI at my house, Forrest said, “You know, it would be cool if you had a robot”. At that point, we put everything on hold and started talking about how it could work. I thought it would be great to be able to customize the robot with attachments you made. Allowing the player to build multiple robots that looked different was a bit much at this stage, so having one that you could customize was going to be the best option.

DIYGamer: Are there any future plans for the robot? Anything you would like to add onto him?

Mike: There will be more attachments in the future, including some that change the appearance a bit more (most attachments have specific functions, with only 3 being only cosmetic in nature). Beyond that, it’s open. We have a lot of ideas, but we’re not sure yet which will see their way into the game.

DIYGamer: Let’s talk about the monsters a bit. What are your goals with the monsters? Will we eventually see large, boss-types?

Mike: We have one large boss in the game right now named “Melvin”. He charges at you, and stomps the ground a bit paralyzing you when he does so. In fact, I voiced him, so if you get tired of hearing him complain about “Inventors”, you can blame me, haha. The goals with monsters has been, frankly, to give you the WTF look. Obviously many of them are mashups of various creatures… a Zombie Walrus, a Flying Lion, etc. These usually come to me randomly, and generally if I think it’s pretty random, it’s going in. Most of the mobs in EI currently behave the same, but with the next update, many will have behaviors of their own. Some, like the Snail, will have new attacks as well!

DIYGamer: I noticed you guys are finishing up the Rock Monster for release. What can you tell us about him? [Note: this interview was conducted last Friday so the Rock monster should be out already.]

Mike: The Rock Monster is in the new version of the game we will be releasing this weekend (last weekend of December). I had an idea for a monster that looked like an ordinary resource you could collect until you got close to him. One of the challenges with these kinds of games I think is that you can see them before you get to close, allowing many to be killed at range with the right weapons. The thing I like about mobs like this is that while you can see them, you do not know you are seeing them right away. These are the kinds of creatures that cause players to pause – to slow down a bit. They also introduce an element of surprise, which I also love.

DIYGamer: Getting to the business side just a little bit, Epic Inventor is currently free. Will it remain so forever or are you guys planning on charging eventually?

Mike: Epic Inventor will always be free. This is our very first game, and as such we learned a TON in the last 6 months. In releasing the game for free, we free up our resources to focus on completing the game and sighting in on the next game. For example, if we charged for the game, there is a lot of infrastructure that needs to be set up for that as we would be distributing it ourselves. We felt that time was better spent elsewhere, and that the learning experience was more valuable to us than the money we might make from selling it.

DIYGamer: Finally, what future updates can we expect? What are you guys planning on adding within the next few months?

Mike: We have a new release coming in the next few days, as I mentioned. There will be some new things in there of course, but as for the future, we’ll have to see. We are heavily involved with the community following the game. Much of the feedback we get guides our decisions, so as we make big updates to the game and people play it, we look at their experiences and go from there. A lot of what goes into the game is not known to us more than a few weeks before the update itself is release. As such, that makes it hard to say what could come next.

DIYGamer: Thanks a bunch Mike for taking the time to answer our questions!

Mike: Thanks for the opportunity!

[Epic Inventor]