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We recently had an opportunity to sit down with indie game legend Seth Robinson of Robinson Technologies. From the time he helped revolutionize BBS door games with his smash hit Legend of the Red Dragon (LoRD) 15 years ago, to his more recent creations, Seth has ducked in and out of the spotlight with one innovative title after another. Whether it's his slightly disturbing lawn mowing simulator Teenage Lawnmower, or the more mainstream but equally innovative Dungeon Scroll, Seth and his co-worker/spouse Akiko have covered more gameplay ground than most companies could even dream of. So what's next for Seth and Robinson Technologies? How about an "epic RPG?" Is this a sign that Seth is getting back to his roots? Could this be a revival of LoRD? Keep reading and find out for yourself

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DIY : We're here with Seth Robinson. It's not Seth Able? Or is it Seth Able Robinson?

Seth Able Robinson : Either way. Able's the middle name, but some people still say that. Seth A. Robinson is good.

DIY : Back in the day with Legend of the Red Dragon you were just known as Seth Able.

SAR : In those days you couldn't fit your full name when you made a login account on a BBS, it wouldn't fit, so that's why I went with the middle name.

DIY : Got it. Actually, how old are you if you don't mind me asking?

SAR : I'm 29.

DIY : So when did Legend of the Red Dragon come out?

SAR : 1989 for the Amiga, and later was ported to the PC.

DIY : So you were about 13 or 14 when you released it for the Amiga?

SAR : Yeah, 14 years old. It's sad, it was released 15 years ago and it's still my best seller. It sold about 25,000 copies, even in the days of actual mail order, when everyone had to send checks. I got real lucky with it spreading.

DIY : Have you heard about Legend of the Green Dragon? What do you think about that?

SAR : Yeah, the free PHP version. It's cool with me. I did sell Legend of the Red Dragon to another company, so people doing clones is fine with me now. (smiles)

DIY : If you don't mind me asking, why did you sell off the rights to it? You had it for so long by that point.

SAR : Well I had been working on it for seven years and I was done. There were no more upgrades, I had done the sequel, and I couldn't see doing Legend of the Red Dragon 3. I was hoping they (Metropolis) would take it and continue to add to it, maybe make it into a single player game. Just do something with the property. Not much happened though, but I wasn't going to do it, I was so sick of it. After seven years you're ready to move on!

DIY : Do you ever get sick of people mentioning Legend of the Red Dragon to you? I imagine you get random emails from people saying "Oh my God!"

SAR : No, not at all. I used to, maybe five years ago. I would just direct them to the FAQ. But now it's rare enough where I can go "Yeah, all right!" and kind of wish maybe I still owned it, and could maybe do a new version. But hey, you can always clone your own work, so it's not like I couldn't.

DIY : The next time I heard your name pop up was during the Independent Games Festival a few years ago, thanks to your entry of Teenage Lawnmower, but you had some other projects before that.

SAR : Right, Dink Smallwood and Funeral Quest.

DIY : When did Dink Smallwood come out?

SAR : That was around '97 or '98. It was my first PC game that was single player, and it did pretty good. Then I did a lot of work on retail games, subcontracted programming. During that time I didn't do much on my own so there would be big gaps in what I would release on my website.

DIY : After Teenage Lawnmower it seemed like you got a bit more steady with your releases.

SAR : Kind of, after Teenage Lawnmower I got swamped with more commercial work. I did programmed Duke Nukem Mobile (2D BREW and the 3D Tapwave version) and Stargate SG1 for handhelds. The money is good, but I'm trying to keep it even and go back and forth. It's great to know the mobile stuff, it's very hot right now.

DIY : What are you working on now for yourself?

SAR : I'm working with the Torque Engine on a new project. It’s an adventure RPG style game, it's the biggest project I've ever worked on. I'm pretty excited about working on something this big, the last game I worked on was more of a casual game. Dungeon Scroll, which also made it into the IGF, took one month. It feels weird to do a game in one month then transition into this. It doesn’t feel like you've really earned it when you go to IGF with a one month game - you feel like you shouldn't even be there. I was saying "Ohh, you worked two years on yours?" and then just shrinking into a corner.

DIY : Is the game itself just in the planning stages at this point? Have you done much work with the Torque Engine?

SAR : I've been working with Torque for about two weeks converting our art over. We've done a lot of art for it already because all of our designs use similar art. I just let Akiko, my wife, go crazy. She's working full time on the artwork. She goes wild and just starts making stuff, I don't know what we can use. I tell her "I really hope we can use that kitchen, bread, and chairs sweetie!"

DIY : What else can you tell us about the game?

SAR : It's going to be a medieval theme, because that's the art we have (laughs). All of the themes we're working on involve a strong storyline and dark humor. The real question is 'how hard is the game?' Should it be semi-casual adventure, or a little more hardcore RPG? Right now I don't know. I'm trying to make something I'd really like that would also appeal to more people than previous things I've done.

DIY : Do you have a approximate release date in mind?

SAR : Our internal release goal is a year or so. I guess longer, since I’m also doing a few more mobile games too.

DIY : You've been making games for a long time now. What are some of the major lessons that you've learned that you could pass on to other independent developers? You've been around longer than most people.

SAR : (laughs) Well, I won't leave, I'll keep popping up and releasing random stuff. For developers, I think it's great to participate in programming contests, like the 48 Hour Contest, you learn allot, it's fun, you network with other people, and you can test out your ideas. When I look at my website statistics I see that I'm getting tons of hits of people downloading my contest entries. A lot of people coming from French and German sites grabbing the Tarzan game I did for a Gamedev contest, it gets tons of downloads. I'd say ahead and participate in those contests to get hits on your website, just release that stuff for free and it might pay off later.

DIY : A lot of developers seem to be concerned with what publisher they can get to release their game, you seem to have done things independent of publishers pretty much the whole time.

SAR : I think that's the way to go because you can get the respect, people associate your name and your company name with the product. I've dabbled a little bit with online publishers, but honestly most of my games don't work for them. Teenage Lawnmower is not appropriate for family portals, but Dungeon Scroll is. Dungeon Scroll does pretty good on Real and BigFish, so I think for that type of game it's great. However, it's very valuable to have people checking your site, not BigFish or Real. I don't care if they check those places, they make us take out our links and you have to put in their logo. So it's great if you can cultivate your own customers.

DIY : Where do you see yourself in five years, after the 'epic RPG' is finished?

SAR : I guess that depends on how good the RPG is. I’m actually really comfortable right now so I’d like to keep running RTsoft with Akiko at home. Maybe move back to the US, I really miss the pizza.

DIY : Through the years have you kept your dream game in your mind, a game you would love to make some day.

SAR : I think that's always the super-ultra-mega RPG that I want to do. But unfortunately those types of games have the lowest ROI (return on investment), they take forever, and there's 5% chance you'll actually finish it. I just can't afford the artwork, but maybe someday.

DIY : Are there any final words you'd like to share?

SAR : I’d just tell developers to network. I hang out with a lot of guys on IRC that are doing what I'm doing and we compare sales numbers, royalty rates with publishers. People don't like to post this stuff out in the open, understandably, but privately in little groups you can get all kinds of info and advice. Nobody I know would refuse helping out a new guy. Guys like me will talk all day, it may not be good advice, but we'll tell you what to do! Just talk to a lot of people, and listen to what people have to say about your game because it's probably not that good in the beginning. I see that a lot, where a persons first game release especially is a little rough, and really, the most helpful thing they could do would be to take the criticism to heart and keep working on it. Heck, that’s been true of most of my V1.00’s now that I think about it.
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We would like to thank Seth Robinson of Robinson Technologies for taking the time to answer our questions.

By: Gregory Micek

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