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Driftwood Devs On Approach to Creating Tricks & Preparation for the Steam Release

Driftwood developers, Leonard Schölch and Jason Mann, told us about the perks and challenges of being a small indie studio, spoke about Driftwood's core gameplay, and discussed their steps to prepare for the game's release on Steam.

Introduction

Leonard Schölch & Jason Mann: Hi there! We’re Jason (the artist) and Leo (the programmer) of our two-person studio Stoked Sloth Interactive. We founded our company in 2021 to develop the flowy downhill longboarding game Driftwood, after studying game design at the HTW Berlin together. Driftwood is our debut game and it will be released later this year. 

Perks of Creating Games Independently

Leonard Schölch & Jason Mann: Going indie gave us the freedom to develop our game at our own pace with full creative freedom. It also seems to be less risky, since there isn’t a big publisher whose conditions we have to fulfill. We also felt that the growth of our game would be more organic, giving us a very direct form of feedback on what actually grabs the audience's attention. 

Challenges of Being a Small Indie Developer

Leonard Schölch & Jason Mann: The greatest risk is never actually finishing your game, so it is important to constantly re-evaluate its scope and cut out unnecessary features. Another big challenge was the business side of things. Corporate law and entrepreneurship were new for both of us.  

Marketing is another big one. Overall we are learning a lot at a rapid pace by overcoming these challenges though. 

Balancing the Creative and Business Aspects of Game Development

Leonard Schölch & Jason Mann: We struggled a lot with balancing the creative and business aspects in the beginning. There were days on which we were stuck doing endless paperwork and dealing with bureaucracy. It was extremely frustrating. But we eventually settled at a manageable workload.

Hiring someone to help us with our taxes was a lifesaver. When it comes to marketing we are currently following a grassroots approach, since we don’t have the budget for a big marketing campaign. Currently, we are working on social media management a lot. We are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of using social media hashtags/trends. 

Staying Motivated

Leonard Schölch & Jason Mann: In the early days, we mainly had each other to keep motivation up and consistent. Now that we are starting to release images, videos, and an actual demo, we are getting a lot of positive feedback from people. We are also showing it to more people around us and seeing people play it live. On top of that, we are seeing the first videos on YouTube and Twitch of people playing the demo and they really seem to be enjoying the core experience. We also started a Discord server and are receiving feedback there. These are huge motivators that have pushed us significantly! 

Driftwood

Leonard Schölch: I developed the first prototype of Driftwood in 2018 after totally failing at making a skating game on a weekend. Later I discovered and got obsessed with downhill longboarding videos on Youtube and Instagram. After keeping it in the back of my mind for a few years I asked Jason to found a company with me and to join as a Concept Artist, Level Designer & Environment Artist. I can’t quite remember how we settled on a sloth as a main character but it was Jason who did the first concept art and it all came together really well. 

Strike the Balance between Speed and Control

Leonard Schölch & Jason Mann: The core gameplay was the most complex part of our project, where we studied the physics of longboarding very well to create the behavior that we wanted. We ended up writing our own physics simulation that would let the player go fast and do long drifts while maintaining control. From the beginning, it was clear that drifting (actually called sliding in longboarder lingo) was going to be a huge part of the game. Finding the perfect balance between realism and fun is still an ongoing effort.

Approach to Creating Tricks

Leonard Schölch & Jason Mann: It was clear that we wouldn’t be able to offer street skating tricks, so we looked at what we could use to challenge the player without creating something that’s disconnected from the longboarding experience itself. In general, we want to keep our game minimalistic.

Our players will be able to choose what they want out of Driftwood and we don't want to interfere too much with that. Driftwood is meant as a sandbox to have your own fun in while still offering some direction through progression. Some of our players are already getting creative and figuring out unintended shortcuts and that’s exactly what we had hoped for. 

The Game's Art Style

Jason Mann: I am not quite sure who came up with the sloth as a character, I think it was Leo. I loved the idea and tried to give him an old-school skater/surfer aesthetic. Eddy – our protagonist – is "that dude". The first ideation of the world took place during the lockdowns, so the idea of presenting the player with authentic and pretty nature environments really spoke to us. With both of us living in Germany, we have a good amount of experience when it comes to mountains and forests. I’m also a fan of plein air painting and try to incorporate things I learned there into the art style of the game. 

Tools that Help Bring the Game to Life

Leonard Schölch & Jason Mann: We build the game in Unity because that’s what we have the most experience with. Blender is awesome and has served us extremely well, but also Photoshop, Procreate, and Substance 3D Painter for painting concepts, skyboxes & textures. ZBrush for some more organic modeling and Adobe Audition/Premier for sound & video editing.

We also use a few different Unity add-ons, “Easy Roads” has been a great tool to help us create the road systems for example.  Since we are only two people we try to use all the tools possible to help us realize our vision in a realistic time frame. 

Preparing to Release Driftwood on Steam

Leonard Schölch & Jason Mann: Getting your game on Steam is mostly a question of time and preparation. Everything is well-documented and easy to test. One thing that ended up taking a lot of time though was writing our game’s store page and preparing all the images Steam requires. Integrating the Steam API into our game went very well. 

Attracting Audiences

Leonard Schölch & Jason Mann: What definitely helps is sticking to your original vision, especially when it’s one that hasn’t been done too often or has examples that didn’t work out. We felt there is a lot of pressure to fit in with the current style of games being released and it can be tempting to try and blend in. In the end, listen to your test players, if they enjoy what you are making, that’s the most important information. 

Advice for Aspiring Indie Game Developers

Leonard Schölch & Jason Mann: If we had to give advice to those who wish to try their hand at indie game development it would be to have a strategy for how to finish your game. Try to stay consistent and habitual when working on things and don’t get lost in big rabbit holes for too long. Try to divide big tasks into smaller chunks that are easily achievable. Share your game early to get feedback from friends and family and start marketing as soon as possible. 

Stoked Sloth Interactive's Roadmap

Leonard Schölch & Jason Mann: We have hit the first major milestone with our demo release for the Steam Next Fest which was available until February 13. We are planning on releasing it in Early Access later this year. Until then we are working on new levels, boards, player customization, and a small hub world that we haven’t shown yet.

Jason Mann & Leonard Schölch, Co-Founders and Developers at Stoked Sloth Interactive

Interview conducted by Ana Kessler

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