Dan Marshall is one of the longest-serving members of the UK indie community, and one of its most renowned names.
Initially a bedroom hobbyist coder behind the likes of PC indie games ‘Time Gentleman, Please', and ‘Ben There, Dan That', Marshall rose to prominence when he was commissioned by Channel Four to make an educational game.
This became the comedy title Privates, a twin-stick shooter starring tiny condom-hatted marines shooting sperm and STDs.
I was told that Channel Four was making games. They had to be educational – either about sex or politics,” Marshall tells MCV.
I wasn't going to make a game about politics, so was forced down a certain path from the start. I was just idly thinking of ideas for games and this concept of a Gears of War parody came to me. It just made me burst out laughing. I pitched what would become Privates and got the job. Then every step of the way, from that first pitch all the way up to launch, I thought that surely at some point a grown-up would step in and ask: ‘what are you doing?' But no-one ever did.”
Marshall might have been concerned about Private's suitability, but it went on to win a Children's BAFTA in 2012.
It was a really weird experience. All the other nominations were these really kiddy games like Spot's Big Red Ball,” Marshall says. I was just sitting there thinking: ‘I have no idea what they are going to show from Privates in the nomination pre-roll'. It's a game about condoms and spunk – it was so inappropriate for the evening. I didn't think we would even get close to winning but we did. It was a huge honour.”
Though Marshall – and his studio Size Five Games – is perfectly capable of making and releasing his own games, he has turned to indie publisher Curve Digital to help release his latest title, The Swindle, a steampunk-themed procedurally-generated platformer.
Curve has a lot of experience in stuff that I do not,” Marshall explains. Steam is a very different place to how it once was. The Swindle is a great game and I'd like people to be able to play it on their machine of choice. The certification process required to get games on console is something I have no experience in. It's quite a tech-heavy thing that I have no interest in whatsoever.
I enjoy my job, I get up every morning, make a cup of coffee and I'm sitting at my desk having fun. The idea of doing all that sort of publishing stuff would have been a complete slog. Life is too short to be doing that. So I started talking to Curve about what they could do and take quite a lot of the boring bits off my hands. It seemed like a very sensible way of going about things. Rather than worrying about getting The Swindle working on a Wii U dev kit, I've been sat here fixing bugs, tweaking the game and adding new content.”
"To start, it was hard to get heard.
No-one cared about indies. Now
it's hard to be heard because
the market is swamped."
Dan Marshall, Size Five Games
Much has changed about the indie development scene since Marshall released his first game in 2006.
When I put Time Gentlemen, Please on Steam, it was a boom. People were saying ‘there's this tiny indie game, and it's on Steam' – that was enough to garner press for it,” Marshall says. The idea of that happening now is ridiculous.
Back then it could be really difficult to be heard. It was hard to get in the games press. No-one knew or really cared about indie games. They were such a small, niche thing. If you weren't Half Life 2 or Doom or whatever, no-one was interested. Fast forward ten years and you have the same problem – it's still difficult to be heard and get people talking about your game. But the reason for that is the market is so swamped. There are so many people doing this now. It's the same problem, but it's just a completely different cause.”
He concludes: Honestly, I've been doing this for ten years now and I'm still making this up as I go along and have no idea what I'm doing. That's one of the joys of being an indie developer – you can make mistakes and bollocks things up. You can try something and if it doesn't work, you do something else. That's how the last ten years have been really. Things have shifted so that there are so many more people making games now that you've got to roll with it and try your hand at things. Just see what works and see what doesn't.”