Interview with Damien Crawford

I recently reached out to Damien Crawford (@TheWorstRPGDev) for a short e-mail interview. They run CannibalInteractive, a small solo studio that’s made things like It’s Six Random Characters and a Single Floor Dungeon, That’s the Whole Game. They also hosted the “Shorter Games with Worse Graphics” bundle that ended after going way past its final goal of a nice $6969.69. So, without further ado…

Why the moniker “CannibalInteractive?”

I was getting ready to file paperwork for a sole proprietorship business license, but I was having trouble coming up with a name for the business. I had looked up a few ideas but they were already taken. At some point I was talking to a friend about how I was dressing up as Hannibal Lecter for Halloween later that year, and the thought came to mind to make Cannibal Interactive my official business name. So it is, ha ha.

What got you into making indie games?

I had a state job that paid decent wages, so since I had disposable income, I figured I’d buy a game engine that was on sale (which happened to be RPG Maker VX Ace at the time) and start making a thing on the side. I really got into it, and after a lot of things in my life fell apart at once, I figured taking the safe path wasn’t getting anywhere, so may as well take a chance and try to go indie. The day I left home and became a full-time indie was back on January 9th, 2013.

How is your life as a full-time indie developer?

Life as a full-time indie sure is a life, ha ha. I wouldn’t have managed it past the first year without help from friends, and I’m still getting a lot of help from them. When I was doing the Kickstarter for ‘I Have Low Stats But My Class Is “Leader”, So I Recruited Everyone I Know To Fight The Dark Lord‘, a friend pitched in $250 out the gate because they knew you have a better shot if you make 10% in the first day. There was a friend that put down $400 in the last few hours to make sure it succeeded. There were people who let me stay at their places to have a roof over my head and a hot meal when I was homeless, even when their roommates were less than thrilled about it. Right now, I’m at a friend’s place because COVID happened during a long-distance partial move, so I keep the place up in exchange for staying here.

8 years in, and now I also get help from fans and my games get some attention, so I’m able to eat better. I am beyond grateful for the kindnesses people have shown me, and I work every day with the hope that I can pay everyone back for their trust.

I may technically be a solo developer, but it’s because everyone’s physically carrying me toward the finish line. If I ever become one of those antisocial bigshots, everyone’s gonna be like “dude, chill, you owe literally everyone everything” and put me in my place deservedly.

You recently organized the “Shorter Games with Worse Graphics” bundle. Are you satisfied with how it did for you and everyone involved?

Oh, absolutely. The first goal was set to $1k USD, and I was confident we could get that much in that time, but only about that much. It raising over 8k was massive. It was also a very international bundle; some of the developers in it effectively made a month of minimum wage pay. I’m very glad that everyone in it was also happy with the result.

A lot of your RPG Maker work is very experimental, with your ambitious 99 character game and randomly generated dungeon crawler. Do you aim to push the limits of the RPG systems in RPG Maker?

Yes, I hate doing things that are easy, ha ha. But really, I think of it like exercise. You can do 20 pushups every day, but at some point it’s not actually going to make you any stronger. It’s important for me to reach out and try to make things that I’m not sure I even can. In the end, I always manage to finish it, even if it just ends up as a simple prototype. It’s also fun to make things and have people respond in shock that I somehow made a thing in RPG Maker.

What is your opinion on working with RPG Maker, and do you think it’s an engine that deserves more recognition?

It’s definitely limited in what it’s able to do, but the limits are much further out there than people assume. I’d say it has a worse rap than it deserves, much like Unity deals with because both have a significant number of games that clearly use basic assets. I’d say it deserves more recognition, definitely.

Debris Dungeon seems to retread some of the ground that It’s Six Random Characters and a Single Floor Dungeon, That’s the Whole Game established. What do you plan to do with Debris Dungeon to make it different?

Debris Dungeon was actually started first, but money was tight and I needed money, and had an idea I’d been kicking around for a roguelike for a while, so I made Six Characters with the same sort of base I had set up. Not that anyone will ever see it, but they have the same test map in the files.

Debris Dungeon will differ in that you have a core party of six characters where you explore a full 50ish floor dungeon. Assigning points after leveling up and paying attention to equipment durability will be much more important. Six Characters was my take on Rogue/Wizardry; Debris Dungeon is my take on SMT/Etrian Odyssey.

You generally read to me as somebody frustrated with the bigger game industry, with frustration over patents on game mechanics and setting up the “The Shorter Games With Worse Graphics Bundle” in response to a growing sentiment against triple-A game development. What’s your general thoughts on the industry?

I like individuals and I hate the collective. There’s a lot of cool people in the game development space, and most of them exist on the edges because they’re constantly being pushed to the sides by the things that are perpetuated all because “it’s just business”. I mean, Nathalie Lawhead has been flatly ignored by a journalist outlet for over a year when all they want is for it to take accountability for its actions. Crunch is rampant at studios, but copies fly off the shelves and the company and shareholders walk away with the cash while the employees are left with a shredded bag. I honestly have no hope for the industry, but I wish I could, so if we all keep trying maybe we’ll give the next generation hope and actual change from this nonsense. Running things like that bundle and NemesisJam are the little ways that someone like me can take action, so I do.

To end things off, are there any games made by peers that you suggest other people check out?

1968

There’s a lot of good games, but I also honestly don’t play many these days because I’m too busy working on my own. In terms of RPG Maker games, ‘Hylics‘ definitely showed me some things about pushing the boundaries of what the engine could do. ‘1968‘ is a short but fantastic game. ‘Trash Planet‘ is one I haven’t really played, but has a feel I’m into and I’ve heard good things about it.

In other engines, ‘Homing‘, ‘Ben Was Assimilated‘, andBaby Labor have a short but interesting story to tell. ‘Noah and The Quest to Turn on The Light is a fantastic game about creating. Kitfox Games is mostly known now for ‘Boyfriend Dungeon‘ and helping with publishing ‘Dwarf Fortress‘, but their game ‘The Shrouded Isle‘ is fantastic and difficult. ‘Automata Empire‘ is a neat RTS sort of game, and growth‘ by Liz England shows both how well the Twine engine can tell a story, and how to do short horror well.

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