The Iron Oath is a turn-based, tactical CRPG taking inspiration from games like Darkest Dungeon and Dungeons and Dragons. The game began as an idea to add another feature to the development team’s favorite game, Darkest Dungeon. As more ideas kept coming, they decided to do a full-time project and successfully funded The Iron Oath with a Kickstarter campaign.
Check Out Our Full Review Of The Iron Oath
I recently spoke with Nik Mueller and Chris Wingard of Curious Panda games about their experience developing a large game, The Iron Oath, as a small-scale development team. The Iron Oath is a beautiful, well-rounded game with no small feat of development from a team of only two people. The glimpse they’ve been able to offer into the excitement and trepidation of embarking on such an ambitious project with limited resources was fascinating!
Let’s dive into their advice on developing a game with a team of only two people…
What are some advantages and disadvantages of creating a game with a team of only two people?
One advantage is that there are fewer people to go through for approval when we’re adding new features. Between the two of us, we can reasonably quickly propose new features and mechanics and collaborate on the design if we decide it’s something we want to add to the game. It’s also much easier to maintain the overall vision for the game when there is less input from others.
The biggest downside of such a small team is that there is so much to do, and everything takes longer. We can’t design and implement something and hand it to a bug-testing and balanced team. We have to do all that ourselves, so it can take some time to get things in a fully completed state.
Check Out Out High-Level Combat Tips For The Iron Oath Here
Was it a planned decision to limit the size of your development staff, or did you two never feel the need to expand your team?
It wasn’t a conscious decision.
We came up with the basic idea together, and with one of us being an artist and the other a programmer, that’s all we needed to get started. We have employed a few contractors for various things, such as additional animations, art, and music.
We haven’t added anyone else full-time, though, as we’ve had to be careful with our budget. A bigger team would help us complete the game a bit faster, but it also increases our expenses and overall risk – the game would need to sell more copies to be a financial success.
Did your team employ specific programs or management strategies that made the development of The Iron Oath by just the two of you less challenging?
We use a program called Sourcetree for our game’s source control.
This lets us efficiently work on different game parts without manually sending files back and forth to each other. Since the game is developed in Unity, we’ve also used the asset store to save time on programming certain things instead of doing it from scratch.
Regarding management strategies, we’ve always had a rough roadmap of our task list. It helps with time management when you’re working off of a detailed schedule instead of deciding on the fly what to work on next.
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What sort of planning, emotions, and logistics go into deciding to work full-time on a project like The Iron Oath?
Once we came up with the idea for the game, we both became quite passionate about pursuing it full-time. We started off working on it in our spare time.
As the game took shape, we felt we potentially had something special on our hands and decided to take a risk and make the jump to full-time in 2016, with the plan of launching a Kickstarter campaign in 2017.
Had that failed, we probably would have gone back to working on it as a hobby, but thankfully our Kickstarter was a success. The campaign also generated interest from some publishers, and we ended up signing a publishing deal with Humble Games, which gave us further financial security.
The planning and marketing for the Kickstarter itself took months and was pretty stressful, so getting a publisher who could handle the marketing for us from that point on was a significant relief!
Did having a team of only two people make it easier to plot a course toward the kind of gaming experience you both wanted The Iron Oath to become?
I think so.
We’ve always had a similar vision for the game, so when designing new features, it was pretty easy to agree on how to implement them best so they aligned with the game’s vision. It was a lot of fun in the early days, just spitballing random ideas back and forth!
The downside of that type of freedom is that it becomes easy to bloat the game with features, and over the years, we’ve had to cut a few things and put them on the back burner. We’re still hoping the game will do well enough on our full release so we can bring some of those scrapped ideas!
Did the two of you have any significant disagreements on what you wanted The Iron Oath to be?
We haven’t had any significant disagreements.
We occasionally have differing opinions on some minor mechanics, but we’re usually pretty quick to discuss pros and cons and ultimately agree on something.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed or burnt out by the amount of work you’ve set out to accomplish between just the two of you?
We’ve gone through a few periods of burnout, but I think that’s pretty common for indie devs.
We were working 10+ hour days, which isn’t sustainable over extended periods and would lead to us taking a little time off or cutting our hours for a bit.
The game is pretty complex, so our task list can sometimes be overwhelming, too. The most significant help is to lay out everything in a schedule that breaks up large tasks into smaller objectives. Seeing it laid out in that manner and having a schedule you can stick to helps to avoid feeling overwhelmed!
As a small indie development team, do you have advice for aspiring developers looking to start their games?
I would recommend starting with a game that is smaller in scope, especially if it is your first project together. We don’t regret our choice to work on The Iron Oath, as we both enjoy it and think it has a lot of potentials (we hope to be able to continue working on it for years to come!). With that said, there are times when we wish we had done something a bit smaller first before tackling a project of this scope.
All images from Curious Panda Game’s Imgur account, TheIronOath. Check out their page for more content on the game!