Interview with Giacomo Vaccari - Missile Commander 2031

We had a chat with Giacomo Vaccari, the developer behind Missile Commander 2031 which currently has a 4.7/5 rating on GameJolt and has been played over 2000 times! Not bad for a project which Giacomo worked on in his spare time after work? He even offers some great advice for those who looking at breaking into the industry, as well as his personal experiences in game development.

Missile Commander 2031 is a FPS that “will defy your expectations as a player”,in which Giacomo has tried to make a comment about both player roles in videogames, as well as nuclear war. Missile Commander 2031 also features a novel circular movement mechanic and Danmaku-like shooting mechanics from a first-person point of view, as well as a unique art-style.

Q: When did you first get into game development?

A: I have always played videogames and had an interest in programming since I was a kid, but always found it
extremely tedious and was more interested in playing guitar than reading thick books, so it wasn’t
untill 2011, (at age 29) that I started looking into it more seriously.

At the time I was working at a media school, and one of the teachers there told me about Unity3D and
how “easy” it was to make a game, so I designed a very small, silly game to show to my then girlfriend.

Eventually I found out about UDK and Cryengine, which allowed me to script visually and brought plenty
of usable assets to prototype quickly, from which point I started trying to replicate any interesting systems
I saw in games I liked.

Q: What are the challenges of developing a game in your spare time after work?

A: Mostly being able to deal with stress. During MC2031’s development I worked a 9-5 job
that was in itself very stressful. Every single day after work I would work on the game for 3 to 5 hours, plus every
single waking hour of my weekends; needless to say I felt exhausted very often. I was extremely lucky to have a
very supporting girlfriend who helped me not lose my mind!

Likewise, it is hard to not doubt yourself during the process, and ask yourself if you “have what it takes”. There is never a guarantee
that you will finish the game and all that time won’t be wasted, or that anyone at all will like your game.

In the end I believe it really is a matter of believing in your own strengths more than your own weaknesses, and sometimes choosing to let go of perfection so you can actually release the game.

Q: How long did Missile Commander 2031 take to develop and did you encounter any problems you had to overcome?

A: All in all it took about 5 months, during which I had to learn pretty much everything from scratch, from how to set up
the specific controls scheme that I wanted to showcase, to creating interesting bullet patterns, to edit the ending credit

Surprisingly, the biggest problem I found was on release day; the website I chose to use to release the game would not accept
the size of my binary file, and I had to cut a lot on video quality /now there is an HD pack to solve this problem/ to make the game
small enough. I’d say that was an extremely stressful moment on release, as my artistic vision might have been lost by losing the twist
at the end of the game.

Giacomo and Jonathan on debugging day

Q: What made you come up with the idea of Missile Commander 2031 and what’s the message behind it? Did you take inspiration from any games currently out there?

A: I have always been interested in nuclear war and its meaning to mankind as a whole. Coincidentally,
there has been some controversy dealing with violence in videogames over the last year, and the role of the player in it (Spec Ops: The Lineis an excellent example of a game dealing with this subject brilliantly).

My purpose with MC2031 was to challenge players to reconsider the stereotypical role they portray in some videogame genres, where
the player becomes a “walking genocide”. To that end I knew that I would have to make the player question the consequences brought by his own actions.

It was a hard choice to show the images that are used during the game’s ending, but during user testing most players would be
upset about their own actions. Without spoiling the ending, this was exactly what I wanted the players to feel.

As for inspiration, obviously MC2031 is based on Missile Command by Atari, but from the point of view of the attacker. In fact, there are
a few Easter eggs in the game to hint at their relationship, so I encourage players to try and find them!

Q: What do you feel makes Missile Commander 2031 unique?

A: My hope is that it will make its players think about their role on the story, and its consequences, as well as how it applies to
the videogame industry at large. It is somewhat of an artistic statement that seems to be a bit of hit or miss.

On the gameplay level, I believe that the control system could branch into some new interesting systems, but at the moment I have no
specific plans on how to go about it yet.

Q: Did you expect Missile Commander 2031 to get the reception it has from players? What has it been like receiving that sort of praise?

A: I’m not particularly sure about what reception exactly it has gotten, since it seems to have polarized players. Those who enjoy the premise seems to enjoy it a great deal, and indeed receiving that kind of praise is humbling, if not even hard to internalize. As a developer I tend to see mostly what is wrong with the game as opposed to its strengths. I am still surprised when it gets a good rating or players go out of their way to mention how much they’ve liked it.

On the other hand, it seems that most of the negative reviews have come from technical problems or lack of explanation about the game’s objectives. These are improvements that I will keep in mind for my next projects.

Q: What does the future hold for you as a developer?

A: The release of MC2031 has made me realize where my passion lies, and I will be soon moving to Japan to follow my dream of becoming a full time game developer. It truly is humbling to see how many talented and hard working people devote their entire lives to this industry, and hopefully I will have an opportunity to learn from them.

As for particular projects, I can now disclose that I am currently working on a cyberpunk stealth game involving political commentary that I hope to release
within the next year, and I hope will be as surprising and well received as MC2031.

Q: Do you have any advice for people who wish to break into the industry or create their own games?

A: Learn how to deal with stress. You will be working hundreds of hours by yourself, and that is
difficult to deal with when you don’t know if anyone else will like your game.

When working with other people, be dependable. Many people offered to help with MC2031 but very few came through.

Be likeable. Networking is so important. Meet people and work with them if the opportunity arises.

Work hard in what you believe in. Don’t think because you have studied or are talented things will happen magically.

Less is more! Find what is new and/or interesting about your idea and explore that. MC2031 has perhaps only 2 things that are interesting about it, but had I not chose to focus on those, it would have taken years to finish it.

And last but definitely not least, believe in your project and in yourself. There will be very hard times and only if you know in your heart of hearts that what you are doing is good, will you be able to push thru your own doubts,and the pain of debugging.

You can play Missile Commander 2031 for free now on GameJolt. To keep up to date with Giacomo and his projects, check out his website here!