The Big Indie Pitch is a regular event run by the makers of Pocket Gamer and PC Games Insider. It sees indie developers engage in a speed-dating-styled pitching competition for fame and those sweet, sweet promotional packages.
The event gives indies five minutes to pitch their games to a panel of press, publishers and industry pundits. The judges then pick three winners and everybody gets valuable feedback.
The indie view
The Big Indie Pitch is getting bigger and bigger as we bring it to events all across the world. To give you an idea of what the event is like, who attends the events and the games on show, we've sat down with a number of past PC Indie Pitch contestants to offer their views.
Today, we're speaking to MGP Studios' Michal Neugarten, who submitted Project Downfall to The Big Indie Pitch (PC / Console Edition) at White Nights Amsterdam 2020 and walked away as the winner.
Sophia Aubrey Drake: Tell us a little about yourself and your indie studio - who is on the team, and what are their inspirations?
Michal Neugarten: MGP studios started off actually as a three-man team (myself alongside 2 programmers, Paweł and Grzesiek), and after releasing our first two games (Sinless and Roll'd), the brutal world of indie development caught up with us, as it simply was not very profitable and the guys enrolled in larger companies full time. However, I kept on trucking with my next game Sand is the Soul, which was fully solo developed (hopefully it will be released this year).
So currently it is now just a 1 man team. However, Project Downfall is being made in collaboration with Dawid from Solid9 Studio. So there's 2 of us working on the game. Dawid is responsible for the programming, whilst I'm doing pretty much everything else.
Tell us about Project Downfall that you pitched at the competition.
Project Downfall is a game I wanted to make for quite some time. An unusual FPS, mixed in with adventure elements and unusual solutions: be it the in-game sanity system, non-linear day progression, presentation and more. And of course, with dynamically changing music-I'm kinda a sucker for that.
Inspirations include the likes of the classic Strife, F.E.A.R., Max Payne, to more recent titles such as Hotline Miami and movies such as Falling Down, Hardcore Henry or John Wick.
The action segments of the gameplay out more like a fast-paced puzzle with lethal consequences, whereas the adventure elements, will heavily impact how the game progresses.
All in all, I wanted to present a unique take on the FPS genre, with an immersive world and audio-visual composition, where seemingly obscure choices and decisions will impact how the game plays out.
What do you think are the most unique and interesting aspects of Project Downfall that gamers may never have seen before.
Judging by response and interest at tradeshows I'd say the audio-visual presentation is the first thing that catches people's eyes (and ears). I'm pretty happy with the sanity and moral system of the game since sometimes-like in the Souls (bloodborne, dark souls, etc) games- the smallest obscure decisions can have dire consequences and significantly change how the game and plot progress.
For example: if you took too much medication on your initial ride back home from work, you will start tripping out and depending on the route you took, might end up „decorating” some poor guys bar. Obviously he won't be too pleased with that. However, if you kept your medication in check and took the same route, all will be well and the barman will order a cab making your remaining trip back home that much easier.
Also permadeath per playthrough for major plot characters: once you kill them, they are gone for good for the playthrough, blocking you from progressing their plot, but also possibly opening up new paths and possibilities.
This can go much further, as levels playing out differently, to going down completely different paths leading to one of the 10 different endings.
Also worth noting: the game doesn't have a regular level by level progression but rather a day by day progression(the plot takes course over 8 days) and depending on your choices and actions you might have different levels play out leading to one of the multiple endgames.
So hopefully this will have a positive impact on replayability, on trying to find and achieve all endings, including uncovering a Nation-wide conspiracy, which as conspiracies go, by default shouldn't be easy to find;)
Project Downfall blends a range of different genres and themes. What made you choose these gameplay mechanics and themes, and what do you think you bring to it that may not have been seen before?
I really appreciate when games give us choice, even better when those choices have a direct impact on the actual game instead of the last few minutes before the credits roll.
Making this multi-branching plot will hopefully encourage the community to engage in conversations on forums on how various and different approaches can be made. I remember my first playthrough of dark souls: after finishing it I was amazed and impressed by reading other player's experiences: someone could have achieved the same goal but by different means with obvious differences in how we got there. Same for Project Downfall- there are currently a handful of levels that always happen per playthrough- but the game offers some pretty significantly different ways the player can reach them.
As for the combat: I was aiming for a distinct „dirty” style that would fit the game's tone with aptly recorded Soundtrack that would change accordingly with what is happening on screen. Hopefully, this gives the game its own unique flavour.
I'm also pretty happy with the destruction. Obviously this is not AAA top tier quality due to our limited manpower and no budget, but given our possibilities, I think it turned out pretty well. Enemies will chip away at your cover (providing they see you go behind it), making that only a temporary solution.
Sanity is another major factor: although done in other games, Project Downfall has its own few specifically related mechanics. Depending on your state of mind (based mainly on medication usage) the game will differ and progress down alternative routes. You can counteract this by taking another drug (you will need a prescription from your psychiatrist, but you have to make an appointment first). However, this other drug will also affect how the plot progresses but in yet another way.
How did you come to choose the platforms that you would develop Project Downfall for?
This one is pretty easy. For the initial release, we went with Steam Early Access since due to past experiences, we preferred to go down the self-publishing route. With publishers, you might not need to worry about marketing and the like but have less control over your own product which wouldn't bode well for Early Access.
Due to having a developer account on Xbox and Switch we will also get on those versions as well, once the game is good enough to leave Early Access.
The Playstation version is still pending.
Looking at the studio a little more now. How hard is it to survive as an Indie developer?
Pretty tough. This might be the best job I ever had but far from the best-payed job I had.
It is much easier going via investor/publisher who offers financial support, pre-payment, MG (Minimum Guarantees), etc. The flip side is you will lose some control over your own project.
Going self-published gives much more creative freedom, but involves more risk and perseverance.
Being your own boss can be a blessing and a curse. As long as you are good at self-management and have a strong work ethic you will do fine. Otherwise, it might be hard to motivate yourself to work because there won't be a supervisor dishing out tasks with what needs to be done.
Are there any tips and advice you would give to independent developers out there who are just starting out?
Start small then go big. Looking back, despite not that much of a fan of casual games, I would have started with smaller projects instead of Sinless (which is a relatively large game considering the dev time/team). If you have a polished product finding a publisher shouldn't be hard and by making a few games like this a year you will be able to gain enough financial support to proceed on to larger projects.
If you decide to go with publishers: as much of an idealist as you may be, don't fall for any gentlemen/handshake agreements. If it isn't on signed paper you won't be able to enforce it. In case of any doubt, I'd highly recommend going over disputed elements of the contract with a lawyer, to make sure all is well and there is no underlying „catch”.
Also, be sure to negotiate the right terms: by working with publishers and/or investors, usually for Revenue Share, if they have a spotty sales record*, it would be worth discussing pre-payment or MG.
If self-publishing: if you have someone to help out with building a community/social media this will really help get the game noticed and spread the love. This was one of our major mistakes: releasing the game without creating a community (on Steam, Reddit, Discord, etc)
* It's worth remembering that some publishers will only look at your game to bump up their notes on the stock exchange and despite flashy promises, won't aim to get the game any marketing resulting in poor sales, since all this effort will be put on their other heavily promoted/largest titles.
How did you find your experience pitching as a part of the Big Indie Pitch?
It was a great experience. Not only did I get valuable feedback, but also got to see the other cool games in the competition.
I also think the quick elevator pitch style is perfect. Granted, 5 minutes is not a lot of time to present your game with all its features but provides great practice for how you should prepare your pitch and gain interest with minimum time.
What do you feel you have gained from the experience, and what do you still hope to gain?
Besides feedback, I learned the value of keeping the pitch short and concise. With the first round, I hardly managed to explain what the game is about, missing on multiple key features only to learn time was almost up, so by the second round I adapted accordingly and just stripped down to the most vital info (which would also be easiest to show in the build I had running).
What are your hopes for this game in the future, and do you have any plans for any future projects?
Currently, the majority of content has been added to the Early Access version so now it mainly a matter of polishing and refining existing content until good enough to leave Early Access.
I hope finally the snowball effect will kick in and as mentioned earlier, a community will grow with players interacting and discussing their different playthroughs and how they achieved their goals.
I was overwhelmed by the reception when I showed the game in China (Shaghai WePlay 2018, Beijing G-Fusion 2019) and overall the game is getting interested wherever it goes; noticeably larger than any of our previous games (some of which sold pretty well but via publishers).
Sadly this does not translate into sales. So now our main goal is to get word of the game out there along with continuous progress.
As for future projects: I have 2-3 games currently on hold, including the sequel to Sinless. However I will most likely adapt to my financial situation after Project Downfall, and either go with a smaller/less risky project or if Project Downfall kicks off, get back on track with larger, more ambitious titles.
Want to show off your exciting new game? We host Big Indie Pitch events throughout the year, so be sure to keep an eye out on our events page for an event near you, or even our new Digital pitches.