INTERVIEW: Tanmay Chinchkar

Tanmay Chinchkar is barely out of college and his first game, which he created as part of a three-day development sprint, has already earned him a BAFTA Award nomination.

Project Heera has come along quite a bit since it won Chinchkar first place at last year’s BYOG competition at the NASSSCOM GDC. From a solo creation, the project soon grew to a team of five, and earned itself a place at Dare to Be Digital in Scotland earlier this year.

Chinchkar is set to talk about his experiences with Project Heera at this year’s NASSCOM Game Developers Conference, where the game is also nominated for Student Game of the Year in the first ever NGF Awards. We caught up with the young developer to talk about his experiences at BYOG, studying game development in India, and life beyond Heera.

How did you get into games and what made you want to study game development?

Childhood was mostly dominated by Mechanix sets and Hot Wheels, and combing them with stolen motors from RC cars was the pinnacle of my home wrecking inventions. The NES and PC came much later, with countless hours of Goonies, Mega Man, Adventure Island, Hitman, Need for Speed, Age of Empires, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Zoo Tycoon, etc. And of course, hundreds of college lectures were bunked to slip in sessions of Counter-strike and DOTA. Somehow making games was one of the things I always wanted to do. I remember experimenting with Gamemaker and Flash a few years ago, and what started then never stopped.

Is the concept of Project Heera something you’ve been working on for a while or is this an idea that came to you during the BYOG competition itself?

The idea came up while I was making a prototype for a game based on Inception. This was just the day before BYOG and coincidentally it was perfect for the themes of the game jam.

The game has come a long way since BYOG. How has it evolved since then?

Heera was just a small prototype when it was made in three days. It didn’t even have proper multiplayer features and I had to make do with local split-screen and a book to manually divide the screen. But even with the minimal gameplay and art, it was more than enough to prove the potential and fun factor of the idea.

Now, Project Heera has a proper vision of a 15-minute e-sport. The game system has evolved to support more players and is now focused on developing the metagame and offering players a variety of classes and skills to use. We have also carefully added new mechanics and details that are simple enough not to break the game if neglected, but add a great amount of depth for hardcore players. The aim is to achieve the perfect balance between strategy and skill.

On the technical side, it now supports proper LAN and online play, spectator modes, a working level editor, improved fog of war, etc. Overall, the game has evolved a lot in both gameplay and technical features, and we’d like to continue experimenting to discover more possibilities.

Project Heera

What impact has the Dare to Be Digital experience had on you as a game developer as well as the game itself?

It was wonderful to meet other passionate teams at Dare. We got immense exposure talking to and interacting with the various industry experts and other participants. The four-day showcase at the end of the event was really amazing as we had hundreds of players coming in everyday to play, giving us the opportunity to get some real feedback from an actual audience. Not to mention it was a great way to confirm the competitive vision of the game.

You started Project Heera by yourself, but it is now a five-member team (Team Mazhlele). Did you feel you needed a bigger team to get the project done or was this due to the five-member rule of Dare to Be Digital?

Most of the team was assembled before we decided to pitch Project Heera for Dare to be Digital (we had other concepts in mind earlier). But yes, the project did need a proper team to progress. Kudos to the team – Neeraj Shastry, Shashank Dhongde, Dhruv Dave and Shriram Srinivasan.

What platforms are you planning to release Project Heera on? What sort of multiplayer features will it have?

The Game was originally made for consoles (since its best played with a controller). But with the announcement of the Steam Controller, PCs are again in consideration. We’ll be launching a PC version soon with keyboard and mouse support and we’d like to check the response and feedback before making any concrete decisions about the platforms. The game will include a level editor and the usual features like spectator modes, replay system, player profiles (with progression), etc.

Are you open to tying up with a publisher or do you prefer going down the indie route?

Considering the scale of the game, tying up with a publisher would be the wise thing to do. Then again, I am not always wise.

Team Mazhlele at Dare To Be Digital

Does the BAFTA nomination and the attention that comes with it encourage you or make you feel under pressure to deliver with Project Heera?

Both. The attention and support is really encouraging and it gives us confidence to raise the standards of Heera. But it certainly makes me feel much more conscious. There is pressure to release the game as soon as possible, but it is still evolving and I’d like to give it some time. But I am really thankful for all those who believe in and support the project.

Now that you’ve had a chance to experience how game development is taught abroad, do you feel that the education system for game development in India is adequate? Are there any areas where you feel the Indian game dev education system needs to improve?

I have two suggestions. First, students, make more games! Theory is useless if not executed. Team up, participate in game jams, experiment! If you spend more time designing your portfolio than making games, something’s really going wrong. Secondly, student-industry collaborative projects should be encouraged. It’s a win-win situation for both. Students can get real hands-on experience and companies/studios get fresh ideas and find potential talent. Not to mention the projects can later be carried forward for commercial releases.

When are you planning to release Project Heera, and do you have a plan for what you’re going to work on after that?

We have no concrete plans for a proper commercial release yet. Getting the community involved in the early stages of development is a priority for us, and hence we plan to release a concept version of the game very soon. It’ll also be showcased at NGDC 2013, so you can catch us there.

I have a few other prototypes which I keep working on every now and then and mostly it’s going to be one of those after Project Heera.

Would you like to continue as an independent developer or do you see yourself joining a larger studio in the future?

Although I see myself inclined towards the indie side, joining a larger studio isn’t going to stop me from experimenting on personal concepts (I hope). So it’s certainly not a problem. I’d like to keep all options open.

NASSCOM Game Developers Conference 2013 takes place on 15th and 16th November in Pune. Check out the Project Heera Diamnond Heist trailer.

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