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Penny Arcade Episode 3 developer on the pros and cons of working with a license

Zeboyd's Robert Boyd compares working on Episode 3 to working on games like Cthulhu Saves the World.

Penny Arcade Episode 3
Penny Arcade Episode 3

Zeboyd's Robert Boyd compares working on Episode 3 to working on games like Cthulhu Saves the World.

Though not on the E3 show floor last week, developer Zeboyd Games set up in a hotel across the street with an almost-final version of Penny Arcade: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness — Episode 3. And during an appointment, Zeboyd programmer/designer Robert Boyd broke down the main differences he sees between working on an original product and a licensed game.

You may recall a bit of a development hiccup when Penny Arcade Episode 2 developer Hothead Games moved on to other projects, and Zeboyd picked up the story with a dramatically different art style and approach, mirroring a 2D 16-bit role-playing game (which makes sense, given Zeboyd's roots of making original 16-bit looking 2D role-playing games such as Cthulhu Saves the World).

That all adds up to Zeboyd working a bit out of its comfort zone, given the license involved.

On a practical level, it means expanding the team working on the game from Zeboyd's two-person staff to include a producer, marketing support, and a script from Penny Arcade — though Boyd points out that he and Zeboyd's William Stiernberg are sticking with their independent funding approach by taking a percentage of the profits rather than a salary on the project.

"Our salary is basically what our games make," he says. "If our games have a good month of sales, 'Yay, we make lots of money.' If we have a bad month, 'Oh no.' So we don't really have a cost on the game because we're not paying anyone to make it."

On the design side, it means Penny Arcade has the final say, but according to Boyd, "they don't exercise their veto option very often."

"Most of my crazy ideas, I ended up cutting myself because they didn't work," he says, noting that he had overly complicated battle system concepts early in development that he altered to make things flow better.

Boyd says the main upsides of the license are creative rather than financial. "It's fun to work on an IP that we were fans of to begin with ... and it's also nice that we don't have to come up with everything, that there's lots of things we can use," he says. "I mean, if we're trying to come up with enemies for an area, we can go back through old Penny Arcade comics and say, 'Oh yeah, that would make a cool boss, or that would make a cool enemy.' It's nice to have this rich collection of work that you can integrate into your game."

And the main downside? "Because it's an established thing, there [are] certain things you can and cannot do. There's a certain tone that Penny Arcade has, and we wanted to stick with that and not go off the deep end."

Following Episode 3, Zeboyd is planning to roll right into Episode 4 to finish the story that Penny Arcade's Jerry Holkins initially wrote for the series. After that, Boyd says his plans are up in the air. If the Penny Arcade games take off, he's interested in possibly spending two or three years on a bigger project, but doesn't see the team expanding by more than another person or two.

Penny Arcade: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness — Episode 3 is scheduled to release on PC and Xbox Live Indie Games on July 10, with Android, iOS and Mac versions planned but not dated at this point.

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