Welcome to this year’s series of IGF finalists interviews. In previous years
, I have talked to dozens of developers from across the globe who have all shared a common achievement, being selected as a finalist for the Independent Games Festival. Getting this far in the IGF is quite a boon to these developers, many scrapping along as best they can to complete the game they’ve always dreamed of making. The support they receive as a result of being a finalist is far and beyond what any of them ever expect. These days, mere entry into the event is enough to spike page views. Two of the more notable things about this year’s IGF awards are the inclusion of well-known indie developers on the judging panel, and the release of the judge’s feedback to the entrants, which is something long requested by developers.
Unlike in previous years where I’ve posted up interviews individually, this year I’ll be compiling them into 4 parts of 5 interviews each. All the interviews share a core set of questions, several have additional follow-up questions to bring out more information on interesting topics.
If you’re attending GDC make sure you stop off at the IGF Pavilion to meet the developers and try out their games. Even if you’re not attending GDC, you can still vote for your favorite game
in the Audience Choice Award category.Invisible Handlebar, LLCWho are you and how are you involved with Audiosurf?
I'm the designer and programmer of Audiosurf
, Dylan Fitterer. I launched BestGameEver.com
a while back and released a new game every Friday. One of those 7-day games, Tune Racer
, has grown into Audiosurf
. What sparked your game development flame?Magic: the Gathering
first got me thinking like a game designer. It's a brilliant game and I spent months and months developing new cards and game variations. The first computer game I attempted was a stupidly ambitious FPS which included nearly all the depth of the collectible card game. It was a massive failure and I was completely hooked anyway. What set you on the indie path?
Mostly a lack of confidence - I didn't see anywhere I could fit in the main industry. Lucky for me it went that way. In this day and age, how would you define an independent game developer?
An independent game developer is one who can follow a game design wherever it leads. Every year the difficulty bar lowers on making small games. How do you view the landscape of game development when everyone can make a game?
A lot of things have become easy, but none of those things can make a game really interesting - because they're easy. Not that games need amazing technology to be interesting. It could be amazing design too, but both are hard. What’s one thing you value most about this industry as opposed to other forms of entertainment?
I love the frontier feeling of games. It just seems like there's so many surprises left. What made you decide to enter Audiosurf into the IGF?
I watched it go by a few times and it was finally the year! It's hard to let other people judge the game and especially hard to ask for it, but being an IGF finalist has brought a lot of attention to Audiosurf
. I just couldn't be happier. Where and when did the concept for Audiosurf originate?
It's hard to pin down an origin point since it went through many variations. The Tune Racer
prototype from BestGameEver was the first time it took a shape you could recognize as Audiosurf
. But even after that, it went in many directions.
It was Rez
that inspired me to try building music games. Rez
is such a perfect synthesis of gameplay and music. That and Acid Music
set me exploring game/music-authoring combinations. I did a prototype called Loop Hoops
in that direction. You scored baskets at separate music stations to bring loops into a live song.Audiosurf
is different since it's about getting into music that's already recorded, but I do think musicians will enjoy writing stuff to ride in. You could even think of that as level design. How did you settle on the visual design for Audiosurf?
Without a lot of direction - I tried everything that came to mind and then picked favorites. It had to be abstract to fit the mood of any music, primarily procedural to match the shape of any song, and colorful to display the traffic's synchronization with beat intensities. Inspiration came from lots of places like Darwinia, Rez, Drivey
, and F-Zero
. Over the course of development, what was Audiosurf’s most serious issue and how was it resolved?
Probably that the music synchronization was taking place out in front of the player's vehicle. Audiosurf
used to only react to music at the instant you heard it. The traffic/music patterns had to be created in a fog just ahead of the player.
That was solved by analyzing the entire song before play begins. Now the music reaction is synced exactly with the player's vehicle, yet they can still look off in the distance to see upcoming patterns. This had the added benefit of giving the player a graphical sense for anticipating their music. Enhanced anticipation is a pretty big part of what makes Audiosurf
a memorable experience. What’s one thing you did wrong that you feel could have been avoided?
I chased many, many dead ends. That's not really an error - it's part of the process. However, some of them went way too far and should have been killed off earlier. I hate to think of the number of hours I spent trying to force Audiosurf's
boss battle variant to be fun. How long was Audiosurf in development? How much development time remains?Audiosurf
has been in development 3-4 years and the finish is close. I've promised February 2008 on the Audiosurf
website to create a new deadline now that the IGF deadline has passed. What was used to make the game and what tools aided in development?Audiosurf
is built in Quest3D and C++. It incorporates some great libraries such as BASS, MusicBrainz, Subversion, and the iTunes (Quicktime) SDK. What's the main thing you think makes your game fun?
Your music. You choose the mood, the pace, the challenge. To play a short ride - choose a short song. You can create a unique racetrack to match the experience you want and it's just one click. What’s next for you?
I haven't been to GDC since 2001 and am excited about going next year for the Independent Games Festival. After that, another music game or a whole new direction? We'll see. Wyrdysm GamesWho are you and how are you involved with Battleships Forever?
I’m Sean Chan and I created Battleships Forever
. I’m Singaporean and when I started making games I didn’t have any programming background. I’m rectifying that now but I started this project with just a Diploma in Communications (specializing in TV production). What sparked your game development flame?
I’ve always liked creating games. When I was younger I not only built and played with Lego, my friends and I had our own game system built around using Lego as units and the tiles on our floor as a movement grid. Instead of just playing Battleships during classes, I used to draw little maps of the Mario games that you played by tracing your way through. What set you on the indie path?
I think we’ve all played games which had so much potential but somehow or other the developer messed up something crucial. Well, I got tired of letting that happen and decided to do something about it.
I started off making custom maps for Warcraft III
; I made the original Tank Commanders
map over there. After awhile I realized that my game ideas were growing too large to be implemented in custom maps so I moved on to Game Maker. In this day and age, how would you define an independent game developer?
It’s the motivation behind your work that really sets you apart. If all you’re chasing is dollar signs, you’re going to end up with some pretty mainstream stuff. On the other hand if your only concern is making a great game, then you’ve got the indie spirit nailed. Every year the difficulty bar lowers on making small games. How do you view the landscape of game development when everyone can make a game?
This is a good thing. Consider what YouTube and cheap camcorders have done for films. Lowering the barrier to entry is pushing and expanding the medium at an incredible rate. Not only does that mean that we see more fresh ideas from more people, it also allows a wider audience to appreciate the subtleties of game design.
The gamer audience is still a little underdeveloped in this area. If you hear two buddies talking about a game, you’ll hear them rave about how “awesome” it is. They might quip about a couple of features but generally the only way they can describe a game is by using a superlative. We just don’t understand what makes a good game yet. What’s one thing you value most about this industry as opposed to other forms of entertainment?
Game development is like the wild west of new media (which is already pretty new territory). It’s exciting to be on the frontier of a new medium where anything goes and everyone has a right to stake a claim. On top of that, games are an active form of entertainment, that’s what really sets it apart from more sedentary pastimes. What made you decide to enter Battleships Forever into the IGF?
It seemed like a good way to get some publicity about the game. I didn't really think I would get nominated; just entering the game into the IGF got me a fair amount of attention. For example there is Jonathan Mak's quote about playing the game with umm, toilet paper by his side.
The US$95 entry was a little steep (especially when converted to local currency) but I figured that it was worth it for a game that I've spent more than two years on. Where and when did the concept for Battleships Forever originate?
I won’t mention names, but I was casting about for a good space ship game to play and the ones that I found had some pretty nasty flaws. Mostly they use too many menus and sub-menus, basically they struggle with presenting the player a usable interface for controlling their ships. I wanted a game about star ships duking it out and I didn’t want to have to wrestle with nested menus.Battleships Forever
is built on the concept of having as little abstraction as possible. If your ship is supposed to have a turret, it has a turret. That turret is actually represented there. If it is traversing to port, you will see it rotate. If it gets destroyed, you will see it getting blown up. If your ship is meant to be vulnerable from the rear, then there’s a connecting wing strut that takes the whole wing with it when blown off. There are no abstract “armour” values and definitely no “to-hit” chances. Over the course of development, what was Battleship Forever's most serious issue and how was it resolved?
Performance has always been a bugbear throughout the development process. Battleships Forever
is built using Game Maker. While I think Game Maker is a fantastic tool for creating games, there’s no denying that it’s slow. Slow like pants. I constantly revise code to optimize the game as much as possible. What’s one thing you did wrong that you feel could have been avoided?
Not designing the game architecture with multiplayer in mind. At the time I thought that it would be completely beyond me to do decent netcode. It still is, but if I had planned for it I could at least get someone to help me implement it now. Sadly the whole structure of the objects and the game really doesn’t lend itself to multiplayer implementation now. How did you design the game to allow custom units but still maintain proper balance?
Custom ships and the core game are kept separate. The Sandbox is its own game mode and you can't get custom ships in the campaign missions. You can choose to enable custom ships in the skirmish modes of the game, but that invalidates your highscore for that session. The customs ships are more of a way for players to use the game engine to play out their own fantasies. The Ship Maker has shown me just how much people like to create their own ships and it has really driven the popularity of the game up. When I see players posting on forums about Battleships Forever
, more often than not they use a screen shot of their own custom ship instead of a screen shot of the normal ships. This is what allows players to identify with the game and become invested in it. They're not just promoting the game, they're promoting their ships, on a very personal level.
I do have plans to do a game where customized ships are integral to game play, but that's for a future project. What was the most difficult part of implementing specific areas of damage on ships?
Having separate objects for every ship component has forced me to write very efficient code for these objects. I've gone back and revised the code for the ship components themselves countless times. The key was to keep as much shared data with the ship as possible. For example, each ship in the game has its own list of targets sorted by distance so when a turret needs to pick a target, it goes through the list of targets that the ship maintains instead of seeking a target on its own. In this way I minimized the amount of calculations required for each individual component.
Collision checking is hurdle and I fudge a lot of things just to keep things running smoothly. I avoid running precise collision checking as much as possible, which means that most game objects have simple collision rectangles so you get a few odd instances where a projectile hits something that isn't really there. The difficulty lies in deciding when it was acceptable to fudge something and to what degree I could simplify things without making it obvious. That meant lots and lots of play testing to weigh the amount of processing it cost to get a certain effect against the effect it had in game. When in doubt I just went with whichever option was cooler What’s something you do as a team that helps you to remain focused and productive?
Uhhh, I’m pretty much solo on this. But what really keeps me going is the encouragement from my players. It’s good to know that people are enjoying your game. Other than that I’m a pretty haphazard worker. I might get an idea at midnight and I’ll end up coding till 6am before crashing. How long was Battleships Forever in development? How much development time remains?
I started the project about June 2005 while waiting to be conscripted into the Singapore Armed Forces. Development wasn’t continuous; obviously there are constraints on your free time when you’re a soldier.
Once I was through with my basic and vocational training I got posted to the Navy and that’s when I had enough free time to get working on Battleships Forever
How much time remains? I don’t know. When I first started the project I expected to complete it in 3 months. Boy was I wrong. I’m aiming at completing it sometime early next year though. What was used to make the game and what tools aided in development?
Game Maker. I use Excel spreadsheets to aid in play balancing and Photoshop for some graphics. Did you try anything besides Game Maker in the past? What made you settle on Game Maker?
After making a bunch of custom maps for Warcraft III
I began to feel the need for something with which I could make more extensive games but still be simple enough for me to be able to produce something quickly (and working alone). I'd done a basic course on Java by that time so I knew that writing games on a full-size language like that was more than I could handle. I looked at Blitz, DarkBasic and even Torque. I chose Game Maker for two reasons. First of all it had a drag and drop interface which I thought was interesting (I was familiar with the concept because of Mind Rover
, does anyone even remember that game?), turns out that I didn't like the drag and drop interface in the end (I write my games in GML script) but that was one of the pull factors. The second reason is that Game Maker is more focused on doing what I want to do; Easy and fast creation of 2D games. I didn't need flashy 3D stuff, I just needed an easy way to make and publish games. Game Maker gave me exactly what I was looking for. Is there anything about Battleships Forever that you would like to reveal to other developers?
Don’t look down on the little guys that use Game Maker! What's the main thing you think makes your game fun?
It's the combination of tactical challenge and pretty explosions. Blowing stuff up is disturbingly fun; I made sure that you have plenty of things to blow up at all times. I'm sure many players have had a ball simply by spawning ships and immediately blowing them up in the Sandbox. On the other hand the game also offers a deep tactical challenge that will test your RTS skills to its limits. In that way, I think the game appeals to a really wide range of players. Did you attend Games Convention Asia? If so what were your thoughts? If not was it for some reason other than cost?
I wanted to. Badly. But yeap, didn't have the cash (still don't!). I did go to the exhibition though. Is Singapore part of the MMO craze that defines Asian game culture these days? Would you ever want to work on an MMO? Why or why not?
I'll answer the second part first. I'd like to work on a MMO at some time because there is so much unexplored potential in MMOs. There are gameplay mechanics and situations that would only work in MMOs. To date, the only FPS game that I've played that really made me feel like I was on the front line of a planet-wide war was Planetside. Other FPS games, even titles from the Battlefield or Tribes series, don't quite produce conflicts of the same kind of scale as Planetside. Also, there is beauty in the player-run organizations that are born in MMO games. The kind of corporate intrigue and backstabbing that can arise in EVE Online is absolutely mind boggling.
That said though, MMO games suffer from a lot of issues that need to be addressed. I tried World of Warcraft when it was in the open beta stage. I gained an intense dislike for the game when I was forced to travel between multiple towns simply because the designers saw fit to deny players access to certain services (crafting merchants, bank access) in the outlying towns. In some places you simply can't get what you need and as a result you're forced to trudge to another town that does. Was I enjoying that? No. I hate games that force the player to perform a series of "make-busy" tasks that have no value on their own. It's a very heavy handed way to stretch your content to get maximum play time. I believe that game play should reward a player with access to even more interesting game play and the process of getting that reward should be rewarding in itself.
I believe that a lot of these issues are rooted in the fact that early MMORPGs had to keep things simple in order for their server to handle the load. Technology has moved on from there but game design has not. Too many MMO games out there try to copy established game mechanics without realizing that the game mechanic itself is flawed because it was designed for technology that is a decade old. Games like Tabula Rasa or Planetside really push the limits of interactivity in an MMORPG and it's a real shame that not many other developers have the same kind of vision.
Is Singapore crazy about MMOs? I don't know really. I know some people who play various MMORPGs but I'm not really in touch with the whole scene. What’s next for you?
I’m not sure really. The state of the game industry in Singapore leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a strong possibility that I might have to migrate to another country in order to make a living making games. I guess I’ll see what opportunities present themselves at GDC and roll with it.
In terms of what’s my next game, well I have a fairly sized stockpile of game ideas. I’ll probably pull something out of that and make that. Sometime in the future I’ll come back and do a multiplayer sequel for Battleships Forever
.Cactus GamesWho are you and how are you involved with Clean Asia!?
My name is Jonatan Söderström, and I'm a student living in Sweden. I'm the creator of the game Clean Asia!
(aside from the excellent music composed by John Marwin). What sparked your game development flame?
Failure in making music, movies and comics. Although I've definitely enjoyed games since I was merely a kid. I just didn't think I'd be able to learn how to program them. What set you on the indie path?
To be honest, I haven't seen any other options. I felt good about making small game experiments, and the feedback was great so I've just kept at it. In this day and age, how would you define an independent game developer?
I'm not very familiar with traditional definitions of the word, so I'd say that as long as you don't have a myriad of people working in positions below or above you, you're probably an independent developer. I don't particularly care much for if you're independent or the counterpart, as long as you have an interesting vision and make intriguing games. Every year the difficulty bar lowers on making small games. How do you view the landscape of game development when everyone can make a game?
It's a good thing, since it hopefully will set apart those who make interesting games from those who make the usual standard fair. Right now, pioneering in design seems like a risky business. I hope that will change. What’s one thing you value most about this industry as opposed to other forms of entertainment?
I love how games are a middle point between all forms of entertainment and then adds its own unique features to the mix. There are text based games, games that incorporate music into the gameplay, movie and comic-like storybased games etc. It just seems that digital games haven’t been around for long enough to have reached anywhere close to their limits, as opposed to most other forms of entertainment, where it seems a lot more complex to create a new genre or subgenre. What made you decide to enter Clean Asia! into the IGF?
Someone told me that I should. I was originally planning to create a better game to enter with, but somehow I ended up creating a lot of smaller games that weren't really suitable for submission. I didn't think I'd have much of a chance at getting to the finals so that was a very nice surprise, and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what'll happen next. Where and when did the concept for Clean Asia! originate?
It pretty much originated from playing another game, a Space Invaders
clone with big enemies that you could destroy piece by piece. I was very inspired by the feel of it, but I took a different approach to the visuals and tweaked and added gameplay mechanics to make it play the way I wanted it too. Where does the visual style of your games come from?
Primarily it comes from my own taste in visual experiences. I've enjoyed a lot of visually interesting films, from David Lynch's movies, experiments and TV shows, to Chris Cunningham's music videos and various other interesting visionaries. Then there's also the more immediate influences from Kenta Cho's wonderful games and classics such as Warning Forever and just plain retro games in general.
But the real key to what I do is lack of skill. If I could draw as well as fellow IGF nominee Konjak or any of the thousands of other extremely talented spriters out there, I would probably have gone for that look instead. As it is, my skills in the graphics department are very average or even low. Which is why I've decided to go for a more stylized and simplistic look for most of my games. Fortunately you can create a visual impact with only a sense for what looks good and what looks bad. At times you can even draw something that looks so bad that it gets a unique and interesting style. The trick I do is to take a shortcut and go for visual styles that I am somewhat easily able to generate content in. Over the course of development, what was Clean Asia!'s most serious issue and how was it resolved?
There were a few issues. I had to come up with enemies and levels that felt different from one another. It's a bit hard when you work with outlined graphics, and when you want the game to feel like something complete rather than different parts pieced together. I solved this by a lot of experimentations and attempts at adding different mechanics and vague differences to each level. What’s one thing you did wrong that you feel could have been avoided?
I would've liked to make the game more approachable for people who aren't experts at this kind of game. Difficulty options and a tutorial could've been added, but I felt that it wasn't a priority, since the game was created for a competition held by seasoned players of the shoot 'em up genre. What’s something you do as a team that helps you to remain focused and productive?
Actually, I don't work in any team. But I usually take breaks when I hit a dead end or else I'll force something out that might not be an ideal component of the game. Creativity flows best when you're under restraints but not too much pressure. How long was Clean Asia! in development? How much development time remains?
I developed the game during two or three months. It was actually a replacement for a failed entry to said competition, but I'm glad I picked this over the other game. What was used to make the game and what tools aided in development?
I used Game Maker, Sound Recorder, MS Paint and a DLL to play the music (which was made by John Marwin in Fasttracker2 or some other tracker). What made you decide to use Game Maker? Did you consider anything else?
I never really considered anything else. I could write some HTML and knew I was out of my league when I looked for tools that allowed you to create your own games. When I saw this software called Game Maker advertise that you didn't even need to write a single line of code to be able to create your own games, it immediately caught my interest. And since then I haven't really felt a need to look elsewhere.
Well, actually, right now I'm looking to learn some basics in object oriented programming languages. But I'm still very happy with Game Maker, and feel that it's a very useful tool when you want to create games or prototypes that aren't incredibly complex or uses the latest technology. Is there anything about Clean Asia! that you would like to reveal to other developers?
I haven't beaten the game myself without using cheats. What's the main thing you think makes your game fun?
The explosions. Well, maybe not. I try to experiment a lot and create something that has some kind of unique quality, whether it be a slight modification to an already existing gameplay mechanic or something more radical. At times I settle for just creating a visual style that I think warrants a little game of its own. That little "unique" factor might be what makes my games interesting for some.
The music I choose to use in my games is also something that I think makes the players' experiences more interesting. There are a lot of cool musicians out there who make great music that really fits perfectly in weird little games. Have you been to any game development events in Sweden? What’s the development landscape like over there?
Nope, I haven't. I know that there is an event called Swedish Game Awards for developers, where you can win quite a bit of money and I think a few entrants last year got publishing deals afterwards. However, they require that you're a student currently studying game design, which I'm not really interested in. Aside from that, I haven't heard of any real market for independent developers. We do have quite a few commercial development studios here, but I haven't done much research on that, since I'm only really interested in creating my own games, not other people's. What’s next for you?
I'm hoping to work on something to bring in a few bucks so that I can survive. I also want to keep making free games.KonjakWho are you and how are you involved with Noitu Love 2: Devolution?
I am Joakim Sandberg and I am the sole developer of the game, so I do everything that has to do with it. What sparked your game development flame?
I suppose it was just the thorough enjoyment of playing other games all through my life, starting at a very young age. It's always been in my mind to create my own adventures. What set you on the indie path?
Not having a choice, I guess? I wanted to make games and that's what I do, with the means that are given or available to me. I never walked around calling myself "indie", specifically. In this day and age, how would you define an independent game developer?
A developer who has no outside influence on his or her ideas. The creation becomes what the original intention was; it's pure. There's not that much more complexity to it. It's just having the freedom to express your imagination, freely. Every year the difficulty bar lowers on making small games. How do you view the landscape of game development when everyone can make a game?
I haven't given it much thought, but I guess it's great that everyone who has an interest in games can try to have their own ideas come to life in some form! What’s one thing you value most about this industry as opposed to other forms of entertainment?
It's the interaction and sense of thrill. I think video games marry all the other mediums and becomes the pinnacle of media, and then adds the fantastic interactivity. You don't quite get the same thrill watching someone else sock it to someone compared to if you can do it yourself! It's pretty easy to say it's interactivity, but it's not more complex than that. It's what games give you. What made you decide to enter Noitu Love 2: Devolution into the IGF?
I don't know, really. I was just made aware of the competition and a friend asked if I was going to enter. He suggested I should enter Chalk
but I wanted Noitu
more because it's a project I like more personally. The fee didn't really bother me so I decided to enter despite feeling the game might be a bit different than what usually wins at IGF. Where and when did the concept for Noitu Love 2: Devolution originate?
I wanted to try to make the idea I had for the gameplay engine and assign it to a world concept. Since I liked the world Noitu Love 1
took place in (but not necessarily the game itself anymore) I decided to make a spiritual sequel. Because making a sequel would be fun as well. The idea for the engine itself I don't remember how I thought of. Basically all my ideas come from almost nowhere; often in the shower. Over the course of development, what was Noitu Love 2: Devolution's most serious issue and how was it resolved?
The game is not finished yet, so I might have something worse coming. Biggest issue, since I'm no mathematician, was just to get the air-dashing working well and being able to hit walls and stuff. Might be simple to actual programmers, but there were annoyances for me with detection and not going inside of things. I BELIEVE it is working now. It could be more fine-tuned I bet, but I don't hear people tell stories of suddenly walking on top of the level anymore. What’s one thing you did wrong that you feel could have been avoided?
I don't see how I'd leave such a thing in. Also, it would have to be some time after the game's completion that I might be able to point out such a flaw, when my skills as a designer might have evolved. So I have no answer yet. What’s something you do as a team that helps you to remain focused and productive?
I look myself in the mirror, take a breath, and say "we're a team". Then I put my shirt back on. What made you decide to develop this game (and others?) alone rather than with support?
Just by not knowing many other game designer people. But mostly because I'm a control freak, obviously. I still have beta testers of course that throw their opinions at me and come with suggestions. How long was Noitu Love 2: Devolution in development? How much development time remains?
Currently (as of December 8, 2007) it's been in development since August or so. I don't keep a schedule but it's a little, little faster than a level a month. I foresee having maybe three months to go, if I'm lucky. That's counting extra content and tweaking BESIDES number of levels. Does anything replace a schedule? Or do you simply have the goal of finishing the project and work towards it a bit each day until it's done?
I work at it as much as possible and sometimes when I don't even feel like it because I know how great it feels when you've finished a game, which I rarely do. So I don't keep a schedule, it's mostly motivation and feeling like it. What was used to make the game and what tools aided in development?
I used a program called Multimedia Fusion 2. Terribly limited, but I still haven't bothered to learn how to program. Did you try any other programs besides Multimedia Fusion 2? If so what made you settle on MMF2?
I have always used Clickteam programs as a way to make games, because I never learned to program. I wish I did learn, before I lost all patience for learning it. MMF2 is very limiting and slowly evolving. So I "settled" for it because it was all I cared to learn way back then. I have ideas far beyond the program which is getting frustrating. When you finally do get fed up with the limits of the game creation technology, do you have any ideas yet on how you're going to go about learning to program?
I am more likely to try to make a programmer friend before I learn to program. If universes collide where one is ours and the other is one where I am the very definition of patience I'd want to learn C and it is very feasible from one's homestead for free, basically. It's great what Internet can give you now. Is there anything about Noitu Love 2: Devolution that you would like to reveal to other developers?
I think other developers can program it just fine. I think other developers can make such graphics just fine. Imagination and design ability varies from each designer. I don't think there is much for me to tell other developers, because my game is very much retro, or just not very deviant as some indie games. I might just be missing the point of the question, too! I guess I could tell them to hire me. What's the main thing you think makes your game fun?
I am in no way a boaster... I think you will have to ask the players because I make the games the way I think they should work, and what I think make games good (to the extent of my patience when I implement it). I guess I could say it's varied and has unexpected enemies. That's what I want, anyway! What’s next for you?
I have ideas, certainly. I have a specific idea that I don't think I could create on my own, because of my lack of programming skill. Still a 2D perspective and all, but it has some special input. I'm very secretive, though.Tale of TalesWho are you and how are you involved with The Path?
We are Auriea Harvey & Michaël Samyn. We are the designers and directors of The Path
. But we have also modeled and programmed most of it. The character animations are by Laura Raines Smith, the music by Jarboe and the sound design by Kris Force. What sparked your game development flame?
We had been developing web sites and internet art projects before – as Entropy8Zuper! - and we needed a technology that would help us achieve our artistic goals better than web technologies could. So, you could say that the flame was already there. We just chose to develop games because they burn better. What set you on the indie path?
The simple fact that we make artistic game for small budgets. We never chose to be indie. We became indie because we failed at being anything else. In this day and age, how would you define an independent game developer?
Very loosely as somebody who thinks of making games first and making money second (or later, or not at all). I don't think the old distinction of whether or not a game's production is supported by a publisher or other third party still applies, if only because we are seeing more and more of this happening. Being independent has become an attitude. It's a matter of priorities more than of facts. Every year the difficulty bar lowers on making small games. How do you view the landscape of game development when everyone can make a game?
We are looking forward to the day when games will be made by more artists! Let's hope that the engineers can soon start concentrating on what they are good at and leave the artistic work to the artists. What’s one thing you value most about this industry as opposed to other forms of entertainment?
There are many things we value in games as a form of entertainment. But for us, the most important one is probably the intimacy that is involved in the experience of games. The situation of one game and one player in the privacy of their own home, allows for experiences that cannot be found in any other medium. What made you decide to enter The Path into the IGF?
We had entered our multiplayer game The Endless Forest
last year, in the IGF as well as in Ars Electronica. It got rejected in both. This year we decided to skip Ars Electronica but we did our best to finish a demo in time for the IGF. The deadline coincided with our schedule and we thought entering could only help spreading the word. And it did: it's cheaper advertising than Google Adwords!
We didn't think The Path
had any chance of being selected, especially after seeing the list of judges which contains very few women and mostly people who are really into pure gaming. And we're still amazed to see The Path
among the other games in the selection. Where and when did the concept for The Path originate?
The basic concept of a horror game based on Little Red Riding Hood came from when we were making a dreamy game about Sleeping Beauty. It was simply a variation on that concept.
We have always liked working with old texts (mythologies, legends, religious texts, folklore, etc), even before we were making games. Fairy tales are fascinating in particular because they come from an oral history. We like to think that digital connectedness is very similar to that pre-print society. It's not so much about the truth of story but about the way it is being told and experienced by every person differently. Over the course of development, what was The Path's most serious issue and how was it resolved?
In the first prototype, the player had a lot of control over the avatar. But it felt wrong. It was not compatible with our story. It was too much fun. So we removed all the buttons from the screen and added a sense of insecurity about what the characters were going to do. It was too much fun? That’s not something people normally fuss about. Was it to make the game more frightening to play?
Not so much frightening as serious. We're dealing with very deep subject matter in The Path
. And we felt that the more playful types of interaction were distracting from that content. The gameplay made it possible to just surf through the game without having to contemplate the issues or taste the atmosphere. We didn't want to allow that. We wanted the player to be focused on the story. And the fun gameplay was not supporting the story. It wasn't expressing anything that contributed to the emotional experience that we want people to have. What’s one thing you did wrong that you feel could have been avoided?
So far, everything has been going well. We've done lots of things wrong but we don't think they could have been avoided. One thing that was rather stupid, in retrospect, was to completely trust that we were going to find modelers that were simply going to make interpretations of the characters that fit the game perfectly. That didn't work out at all.
We lost a lot of time looking for the right person and ended up doing the modeling ourselves.
But the game is far from finished, so there's lots more opportunity for doing things wrong. What’s something you do as a team that helps you to remain focused and productive?
Well, the team is mostly just us two, so we'd say: Love helps. Love for the project, love for each other. How long was The Path in development? How much development time remains?The Path
started rather slowly. From concept to the current demo, it took about a year. And we need another year to finish it. Not fulltime, though. We reserve time to work on other projects and take care of marketing during production. We have found that it's better for the quality of the project when we don't obsess over it all the time. What was used to make the game and what tools aided in development?
We made the game with Quest3D. Blender was used for modeling, 3D Studio Max for animation, instruments (both analog and digital) + one very real voice for the music; Photoshop, Painter and ZBrush for textures. We shared code via a Subversion repository and Tortoise clients. Is there anything about The Path that you would like to reveal to other developers?
It was very good for us to have Jarboe's music quite early in the process. That really helped fine tune the design to match the atmosphere created by the sound. What's the main thing you think makes your game fun?
We hope playing The Path
will be fun the way in which reading a poem, looking at a painting or walking through interesting architecture can be fun. So it's more about deep joy than frivolous fun for us.
It's about navigating through the narrative environment and finding elements that help you construct the story. Feeling how everything fits together so well and how it really says something about your own life, about human existence, and your place in the cosmos.The Path
is not candy, not fast food. You won't want to play it all the time. It's too deep. Too heavy. It's a special thing. We want our games to become part of people's lives, and not to replace them. To continue inspiring thoughts even when they are not playing. We want them to be precious. What’s next for you?
Next, we're going to finish The Path
and launch it. But while we are working on that, we'll make another game, a small but deep one. And continue playing with The Endless Forest
, of course.