Dev Spotlight | Main Tank Software Q&A: Chris & John

Join us for this week's Dev Spotlight as Main Tank Software's Chris and John talk about their first two titles; Hexarchy and Dragon Saddle Melee.

Based near Atlanta, GA Main Tank Software is an indie studio made up of brothers Chris and John. With Hexarchy, a A fast-paced, turn-based, multiplayer 4x game and Dragon Saddle Melee, an online multiplayer, arcade, action game (with dragons) out in the wild, Chris and John have very kindly answered some questions over email about where their passion for game development originated, the inspiration behind their first two titles and what they’ve got planned for the future.

Q1. As brothers, when did you decide to form Main Tank Software – is it an extension of something you were already doing growing up together?

Chris: We grew up playing a lot of video games, starting with Atari, then NES, SNES, and eventually making the leap to PC gaming.

John: We still play and talk about games all the time. Over the past few years we’ve played a lot of Rocket League, WoW Classic, and Beyond All Reason together. We’ve floated cool game ideas around for decades and now we’re finally giving it a go.

Q2. Dragon Saddle Melee and Hexarchy are Main Tank Software’s first games, but are they yours as developers?

Chris: I’ve dabbled with game development off and on for a couple of decades as side projects. They were always small projects that never got fleshed out into a finished product. With these games we wanted to make game development our top priority and see them through to completion.

John: Same with me. They were smaller side projects or projects in school, but this is the first big game development project. I remember making a remake of the old Atari game Computer Ambush in my Java class (with network play!). We’ve both finished many large software projects before, just not gamedev ones.

Q3. What are the main inspirations and ideas behind Hexarchy and Dragon Saddle Melee?

John: Hexarchy’s inspiration came from wanting a multiplayer version of Civ that was a manageable length so that a game could be played in one session. I always liked the idea of playing Civ multiplayer but it was never really meant for it – the pacing was too inconsistent and it was difficult to coordinate a group of friends to play for 4+ hours over multiple days. The card playing and deck building mechanic also is influenced by games like Hearthstone. And, the competitive multiplayer aspect comes from battle royale first-person-shooters.

Chris: For Dragon Saddle Melee, the primary inspiration came from playing Joust as a kid. I also wanted to incorporate the joyful feeling associated with lots of those early Atari games. The mechanics were fun but generally simple and the fun came from interacting with other players.

Q4. Hexarchy and Dragon Saddle Melee are very different games to be developing side by side, are you working on both together or do you take individual ownership of one and focus on that. For instance, is Hexarchy Chris’ and Dragon Saddle Melee John’s?

Chris: I focused on Dragon Saddle Melee and tried to just be a sounding board for John as he fleshed out the game design behind Hexarchy.

John: Similar for me. I focused on Hexarchy but helped with the design, testing, and marketing of Dragon Saddle. Also, both games use similar technology under the hood and also similar systems for building and deploying the game and servers, so there was a lot of research we each did that could be shared between projects. It started off with us prototyping different ideas and we ended up with 2 ideas we wanted to do and thought we could take the core dev work for each to the finish line solo.

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Q5. Are you developing Dragon Saddle Melee and Hexarchy in the same engine? If so, what technical challenges/advantages have you encountered working with it? 

John: Both games are developed in Unity. Unity brings a ton of functionality and lets us avoid reinventing the wheel for lots of stuff.  But, like any big piece of software brings its own quirks and annoyances. Also, Hexarchy heavily uses the Entitas entity component system to organize the complex interactions that can occur in the game. We both use Agones for our multiplayer dedicated servers.

Chris: Dragon Saddle uses Unity for all of the rendering and audio / visual effects. The core game mechanics were written in pure C# so they could be deployed to a server without Unity.  Also, Unity didn’t really have a great fleshed out system for real-time network physics, so that stuff was implemented in the code that didn’t rely on Unity.

Q6. Hexarchy’s objective of cramming a multi-hour 4x campaign into a 1 hour long run is an interesting one. Couple that up with the competitive multiplayer mode and it’s starting to sound like speed chess. Are you interested in developing the single or multiplayer more, and do you think there’s room for a game like Hexarchy on the esports scene?

John: The concept was driven by a desire to make a skill-based competitive multiplayer game so I’d love to see it on the esports scene. Early on in testing we learned that a lot of people enjoyed the game and were really only interested in single-player. The bot AI could still use some love but the game actually works great single-player so we decided to fully embrace it. There’s daily challenges now and we’re going to add achievements and more single player options before 1.0.

Q7. Really enjoyed the mix of PvE and PvP in Dragon Saddle Melee, do you have any further plans in terms of expanding the game and growing a community around it?

Chris: I think that blend of PvE and PvP is part of what made some retro classics fun, too. You could help each other out and cooperate and make life easier, or you could focus on just fighting each other and almost ignore the PvE aspect of it. Both are really fun. In terms of expanding the game, we’re certainly looking for community feedback to help us figure out what would be the most fun to add.

Q8.  You’ve done a fair amount of public testing for both DSM and Hexarchy. How have you found a balance between your original visions while also listening to player feedback?

Chris: For Dragon Saddle Melee, I think the core vision has been the same from the beginning. Feedback from other people has influenced the fun things that have been added to the game like different power-ups, weapons, and round types.

John: Embracing single-player was a key pivot we made based on feedback. Aspects of the game design and UI have also gone through major iterations. It’s hard to watch sometimes, but there’s no substitute for watching a video of someone’s first play through. We’ve also had a survey testers can answer when they quit that’s yielded a ton of thoughtful feedback.

Q9. The soundtrack for DSM is classic synthwave – do you compose your game soundtracks in house, do you have a go to composer you have a relationship with, or did you find the right sound in stock/licensed libraries?

Chris: The music is by Teknoaxe and is licensed under creative commons. He’s got a lot of great royalty-free music.

John: For Hexarchy, we’re in the process of having an original soundtrack commissioned.

Q10. Are you looking for a publisher to work with or are you happy self-publishing your games?

Chris: We’re not actively hunting for a publisher, but I don’t think we’ve ever been against it either. It’s just not something that we’ve actively pursued.

Q11. What’s next for Main Tank Software?

John: Right now we’ve got a full plate with supporting Dragon Saddle and finishing Hexarchy. Hexarchy has a Kickstarter beginning March 14th to fund getting it across the finish line. It will also be in the Steam Next Fest February 21st – 28th. The Next Fest demo will have multiplayer and daily challenges enabled for the duration of the festival.

Hexarchy’s demo and the full release of Dragon Saddle Melee are available to play and purchase through Steam via the links below.