After playing the beta for the intriguing FPS Tower Defense game Sanctum we had to see if we could get an interview with developer Coffee Stain Studios. CEO Anton Westbergh was kind enough to face our barrage of email questions and got back to us just after the games release.
Good morning and thanks for taking the time to talk with us. We’ve been playing the Sanctum beta quite a bit and we’re very impressed with both the concept of the game and your implementation of this unique look at Tower Defense.
Please introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about your background and give us a quick run down of what you do at Coffee Stain Studios.
My name is Anton Westbergh and I am the CEO of Coffee Stain Studios. Originally I am from Stockholm, but I moved to Skövde a couple of years ago to study. Coffee Stain Studios was formed last year and my job is to keep the team together, lead the company and the production. Beside of this I do a lot of public relations and marketing.
The first game you developed was the iPhone game I Love Strawberries. How are sales going on that one, why was the iPhone chosen for the first game and how did you hook up with Atari to publish it?
I Love Strawberries is not a big focus for us at the moment as it’s not doing too well. It’s kind of buried in the huge mass of apps available on App Store. Kind of sad, because the game is really great! Try it! :) We made an iOS game because we were very interested in the platform potential and also to learn more about how to develop for it. We might very well produce additional titles for both iOS and other mobile platforms in the future but we will probably do things differently than we did with I Love Strawberries. How we got in touch with Atari was actually because they contacted us. At the start we discussed Sanctum but it ended up with a deal around I Love Strawberries instead.
As I said in our introduction, we’ve been quite taken with what we’ve seen of Sanctum so far. Could you tell us about the game for our readers who haven’t seen it yet?
Sanctum is a Tower Defense played from a First Person Shooter perspective. This might sound strange but it works really well! A common critique about Tower Defense games is that you’re just a spectator. The first person perspective changes this and engages the player to become an important part of the defense. Sanctum gives a new level of depth as you always have to consider whether to upgrade your own weapons or the towers.
Sanctum started as a project about two years ago which spanned over the duration of ten weeks. By then the game was a mod for UT3 and we applied it for the “Make Something Unreal” competition held by Epic Games. The game did really well there, and that was basically the reason why we decided to make it into a full commercial product.
How did you guys come up with the idea for Sanctum and was there anyone who you’d consider to be the driving force behind getting the mod team together?
I was not personally part of the team at that time, and I actually don’t know who came up with the original idea. The whole group has been a driving force throughout the whole project.
We know that Sanctum will be coming out on PC, are you planning on releasing it on any other platforms?
We want to move the game to as many platforms as possible, but it’s too early for me to get into details.
Developing a game, even a mod, is a long and oft times frustrating process, how did your team stay motivated?
The core-team always dreamt about creating a real game development studio, and the opportunities around Sanctum have always shined like a bright star for us. To release a real game is such a cool thing to do by itself which of course has been a huge help. The fans of the UDK tech demo and the Mod version have also been a big motivation!
How many people worked on Sanctum and what was the development time like? Are you doing it all in house or do you bring in outside people from time to time?
We have had around ten developers altogether working on Sanctum for about a year. We produce all content in-house which is something we’re really proud off. Coffee Stain Studios has some big talents in all fields and it’s one of our big strengths. We do employ some extra people to do stuff like testing and other tasks but the game itself is built by the crew.
Can you tell us a bit about the quality control and beta testing you do on the game?
Much of the testing is done in-house by the team, but we’ve also ran a couple of focus tests using students from the University in our town. Since we released a tech demo in March 2010, we’ve also been able to gather a lot of feedback from that. We’ve also used the beta to gather additional feedback and find the last remaining bugs.
How significant was it for you guys that you placed as highly as you did in the ‘Make something Unreal Contest”?
It was very important for us. If we hadn’t done well in that competition I am not too sure we had been where we are today. The competition was basically what made us decide to move on with the project.
There’s quite a few game engines out there that you could have selected, what made you select the Unreal Engine?
Basically the decision to go with Unreal Engine was because our graphic artists liked to play with the UT3 editor, and considered the tools and assets superior to any other alternative. The possibility to create very advanced shaders and quickly get your models into a scene was also a deciding factor.
Any plans for a multiplayer versus mode or the ability to have more players in game? Sanctum seems like the sort of game that would be a natural fit for that sort of gameplay mode.
We’ve been talking about a competitive game mode, but it’s nothing we’ll focus on right now. We’ve got a lot of other things that needs to be done before that happens. Four-player multiplayer on the other hand is something we’re currently planning to start working on after the server browser has been implemented. Currently we need to focus on getting the actual game together and then add more content.
There’s quite a bit of feedback from beta testers taking place on your forums right now. How important is community feedback to your team?
The community feedback is very important. It’s one of the most motivating factors for us as developers, to see the community react and interact with us in the development process.
Are you going to be doing a retail release of the game or just online?
We’ve been discussing it, but it’s too early to say. It might happen later this year if we find a suitable publisher to help us ship the boxes.
It’s always great to see a small game company making fantastic products. I’ve long held the belief that the indie scene is where most of the real innovation comes from these days in the gaming industry. Any thoughts on that or the future of Indie gaming?
I think that being innovative is really the key to become successful as a new studio. You have to come up with ideas how to tackle the big players hard and make enough buzz to reach your market. Another reason why I think indie gets more innovative is because it’s often not big focus on monetization, but more on the creativity and joy of making great games.
Any tips for readers thinking of getting involved in game development?
The single most important thing is that you’re interested in games. The best way to start off is to try some stuff out. There are lots of easy to use and free technologies like UDK, XNA and Unity to play around with. Sanctum started as an UT3 mod, by some graphic artists and some designers. They didn’t even have a coder, and look where that got us!
What do you see in the future for Coffee Stain Games?
Coffee Stain Studios will continue to produce innovative titles. Hopefully we’ll get a nice community up and running around Sanctum, and we’ll keep supporting the game. The company will grow, but we don’t intend being too big, as we feel quite comfy in the current situation.
And the final, most important questions of all: Who around the office has the coolest thing on their desk?
Mikael Mård our lead artist who has a huge Alien model standing beside his monitor.
Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us and we wish you success with the commercial release of Sanctum!
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