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Indie Interview: Laurens Lafebre

by Skavenhorde, 2011-06-03

Skavenhorde chats with Laurens Lafebre, the developer behind the Dark Disciples series about his games and life as an indie.

RPGWatch: Let's start the ball rolling with some background on you and your company Dodgysoft. How did it all start?

Laurens Lafebre: When I was a kid, my parents came home one day with a c64 and my life-long love of computer games began. I also used to play Dungeons & Dragons (the pen & paper game) with friends so naturally CRPGs were of particular interest. I think my first ever CRPG experience was a ‘Dark Dungeons’. Anyone remember that? :) I decided pretty early on that I wanted to write my own CRPG game and learnt some basic programming on the c64. I discovered Dark Dungeons was written in basic and poured over the code for clues on how to program games. I eventually went on to study business programming at Uni and always secretly hoped I’d somehow find my way into a games development / programming career. When that didn’t happen, I decided to write my game own anyway.

When the internet started becoming a household thing, I got really excited, because suddenly there was a realistic (and cheap) way to distribute home-made games. After several false starts (mostly due to overly ambitious designs), I started work on DD1 using C++/Direct X. DD1 started life as a roguelike but quickly morphed into a proper CRPG. ‘Dodgysoft’ came into being when the first demo of DD1 was completed. I figured, since I needed a website, I also needed a company name. And since I wasn’t expecting to make any money out of the project, I figured I may as well have a joke name – hence Dodgysoft.

RPGWatch: Tell our readers a little about your games Dark Disciples 1 and 2?

Laurens: DD1 and DD2 are single character CRPGs with a top down perspective. They’re very deliberately old-school in feel, because I wanted to invoke that same sense of wonder and exploration that I first felt when playing D&D and CRPGs for the first time. I also wanted to add modern features such as automaps and a modern interface. The other reason I chose a nostalgic old-school feel is obvious – my artistic ability is fairly limited! There are free tile sets on the net (most notably for roguelike games), but none of them covered all the images I’. I think what distinguishes DD1 & DD2 from most other indie (and commercial) CRPGs is that they’re quite puzzle/problem solving orientated.

RPGWatch: What was your inspiration behind those games?

Laurens: In a general sense, Dungeons and Dragons. I was fascinated by the endless possibilities of that game. The D&D Gold Box CRPGs on the c64 particularly inspired me to want to create my own CRPGs. My other source of inspiration was from the indie CRPG scene generally.

 

RPGWatch: Obviously there was a lot of blood sweat and tears poured into these games so why did you choose to have these wonderfully oldschool games as freeware? Personally speaking I would pay for more games like your Dark Disciple series.

Laurens: For me, writing DD1 and DD2 was always a hobby – I did it for fun and for a challenge. With DD1, it didn’t occur to me that I could perhaps charge a small fee for the game. In fact, I nearly didn’t bother finishing the last 25% of the game because, at the time, I wasn’t sure if anyone would actually be interested in playing it that far (or at all). With DD2, I did briefly consider charging for it but I really wanted as many people to play it as possible, so freeware was clearly the way to go. Another significant factor was that I’ve had a lot of people donate their time and energy playtesting the games, and offering constructive criticism. Their assistance has been invaluable and I would have felt a little uncomfortable saying ‘thanks for all the help guys, now I’m going to charge you for the game’. J In the end, I did put a link on the website where people can donate a few bucks to help cover the web hosting/domain name fees.

Who is the developer of the Dark Disciples series? (Basically age, name and location. By your surname I would guess your French and maybe live in France or America, but you can't really tell by a name.)

Laurens: You're correct in that my surname is French, although my french ancestory is many generations back now. I was born in the Netherlands, but I am Australian and live in Melbourne, Victoria.

RPGWatch: What do you do for a living?

Laurens: I work as a scientist in research & development (I retrained after failing to land a job as a computer programmer!).

RPGWatch: How long did you work on Dark Disciples 1 and 2?

Laurens: Hmmm, I couldn't even guess a number. Hundreds of hours? The most time consuming aspect of DD1 and DD2 *by far*has been writing and testing the NPC scripts. I dumped the text from DD2 to a txt file the other day and discovered I'd written an amount of text equivalent to a modest novel!

 RPGWatch: Was it difficult working on these games in your spare time and how did you manage it?

Laurens: Yes and no. Because it's a hobby, I don't have any timelines to meet, so I would just work on the games whenever I felt like it. I wrote most of DD1 while unemployed, though.

I think the single biggest factors that allowed me to finish both games were a) having a relatively modest design (many hobby game writers - myself included - start out my designing their 'dream' game and discovering, further down the track, that it'll take them 20 years to complete) and (b) simply enjoying the process of writing games. It probably sounds a little sad, but I used to wake up in the mornings, excited about the new feature or level or piece of code I was going to implement that day.

RPGWatch: How was Dark Disciples 2 different from Dark Disciples 1?

Laurens: I regard DD1 as my ‘learning the ropes’ project. In order to get it finished, I stripped out a lot of features, such as a proper magic system and skills. Also, the monster A.I. was not very sophisticated. In DD2 I was able to fit in all the features I originally intended for DD1. DD2 features, proper skills, a proper magic system, much better monster A.I. and numerous other features, including in-game help boxes. I also like the story of DD2 much better, as well.

RPGWatch: Are there any projects you are working on at the moment and what are they about?

Laurens: Unfortunately no (with the exception of occasional work on DD3).

RPGWatch: It says on your website that DD3 has been postponed indefinitely. Does this mean that there is no chance of a DD3 making an appearance?

Laurens: I still work on DD3 every now and then, but it’s still unclear to me if it’ll ever get properly underway. The biggest obstacle these days is simply time. Writing even a relatively modest CRPG takes a huge amount of work. However the good news is that there is a huge campaign currently being written by a fan using the DD2 engine. I’ve only seen the early levels so far, but it’s looking really good.

RPGWatch: One complaint about the games were the basic graphics. Have you considered paying for some help in that area and selling any future products?

Laurens: I briefly considered two versions of DD2 – the ‘standard’ version (as is) and a ‘deluxe’ version with better graphics, available for a modest fee. However, I assume it would be fairly expensive to pay someone for professional graphics (there are thousands of tiles in DD2 which would require a lot of work). I didn’t want to risk that expense, not knowing if I’d even get any money back.

RPGWatch: Thank you for your time, Laurens. Before we go is there anything you would like our readers to know about?

Laurens: Hmmm, I would like to give a special thanks to all the people who helped out with DD1 and DD2. The feedback has been invaluable – and always constructive! Keep those bug reports coming!

I wanted to thank Laurens Lafebre for doing this and would like to point out that you can get any of the games he's made for free by going to his website. They are basic, but there is a lot of good ol' RPG content in his games. Try out the first one and if you get bored then head on over to the second one. He improved a lot things in the second game.

Box Art

Information about

Dark Disciples II

Developer: Dodgysoft

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Fantasy
Genre: RPG
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: Unknown
Voice-acting: Unknown

Regions & platforms
Unknown
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2004-01-04
· Publisher: Unknown

More information