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IGF 08 Interviews Part 2

By Drew Sikora | Published Feb 11 2008 01:50 PM in Interviews

game games development it s goo time thing edmund snapshot
If you find this article contains errors or problems rendering it unreadable (missing images or files, mangled code, improper text formatting, etc) please contact the editor so corrections can be made. Thank you for helping us improve this resource

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.


Snapshot Adventures: Secret of Bird Island

Wade Tinney - Large Animal Games


Who are you and how are you involved with Snapshot Adventures?

I’m Wade Tinney, one of the founders of Large Animal Games and the producer and lead game designer on Snapshot.


What sparked your game development flame?

I came to game design and development from other types of interactive work, mainly web development projects and some installation-type stuff, with small browser game projects mixed in here and there. I quickly realized that the game projects posed the most challenging and interesting interactive design problems, so I gravitated toward those. Plus, I just love the dialogue between the creator/creation and the player that games afford. Also, it’s still a relatively untapped form, with limitless opportunities for innovation.


What set you on the indie path?

My business partner Josh and I started the company back in 2001, and we were really just working with what we had, trying to make a living making games. Neither of us had worked in the game industry per se. We came to it from the web development side of things, so we started off making smaller web games for various clients and gradually built the company. Because of our web experience, we were very accustomed to the idea of making stuff and putting it out in front of customers, so as the market for downloadable casual games emerged, that was a good fit for us. We moved away from building games for clients and were able to focus more and more on creating and owning original IP.


In this day and age, how would you define an independent game developer?

I think it’s a combination of factors. First, a passion for making great games. Second, a focus on creating and owning original IP. And third, not being beholden to one of the big, traditional game industry publishers.


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 think it’s tremendous that more people are able to explore game-making in some way. It will help cultivate talented game developers as well as more educated and discerning game consumers. Both are needed to elevate the craft.

Naturally, the accessibility of the creation tools also means that there is an incredible proliferation of content, both good and bad. Luckily, technology is also helping to alleviate that problem by giving us new and better ways of sifting through the crap and finding the good stuff.


What’s one thing you value most about this industry as opposed to other forms of entertainment?

Well, I can’t say that I’ve spent any time in the movie industry, or the traditional publishing industry, so this isn’t really a comment on folks doing that type of work, but I can say that I really appreciate the passion that I consistently find among my peers in the game industry. In general, it just seems that most people in the game industry are in it because they chose to be.


Returning to the IGF once more, how do you feel the event has evolved and matured over the years?

It’s great to see the increased involvement of sponsors; those brands help attract attention. I’m also really pleased that they brought in some real live independent game developers to help organize the IGF. This year was the first time (since we’ve been participating), that we received the judge’s feedback. It’s a seemingly small thing, but it really adds a lot of value for the developers.


Where and when did the concept for Snapshot Adventures originate?

We were looking around for interesting subject matter and specifically looking at hobbies and pastimes that are popular. Birding/birdwatching kept popping up and it immediately struck us as an interesting theme to explore - one that could appeal to both experienced casual gamers and could find new players who are interested in birds but don’t realize that they like playing games. We’re always looking to create new gamers, so we started brainstorming. Another one of the popular hobbies that turned up in our research – photography – ended up providing a mechanic for us. We wanted to give players a clear way of indicating that they’d spotted a particular bird, so taking a snapshot was ideal.


Over the course of development, what was Snapshot Adventures’s most serious issue and how was it resolved?

The trickiest issue was the photo evaluation. As you can imagine, it’s tough to algorithmically score a photo and expect that score to always match up with a player’s own evaluation. Not only do people’s tastes vary, but there are myriad factors that affect a person’s appreciation of any aesthetic. An okay photo of someone you love will nearly always hold greater emotional appeal than an outstanding photo of a random stranger, for example. Nonetheless, we spent a lot of time attempting to create a highly intelligent scoring system that would simulate a human evaluation. It got more and more sophisticated (read: complicated) as we tried to account for more and more scenarios, but in the end we knew there were always going to be exceptions and special cases where the game’s evaluation wouldn’t match the player’s.

In the end, we simplified the scoring pretty dramatically, and decided to be much more up front with the player about how we were evaluating the photo. Also, we framed the player choice differently; rather than asking, “Which of these photos do you think is better?” we asked, “Which of these photos will score higher based on these evaluation rules?” This is just much clearer for the player.


What’s one thing you did wrong that you feel could have been avoided?

Taking so long to figure out the problem that I described in the previous answer!


You guys pull off some pretty neat tricks with the 3D bird models, creating a very believable depth to your 2D world. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being a complete overhaul, how much did you need to modify Torque Game Builder to get this effect?

The short answer to the question would be “seven”. We created several new systems for Snapshot, building on top of existing GarageGames code. In terms of the depth problem, TGB gave us a flexible rendering system that supported rendering 3D models in a 2D scene. What we added was: First, a system for parallax rendering, which was pretty straightforward for sprites but tricky for ground. We elaborated on this by having a system for scaling and tinting objects at deeper layers, and a system for skies and time of day effects. The result was that we had a lot of control over how each level felt. Our level designers could break the rules of perspective - making larger spaces smaller, or smaller spaces deeper based on the requirements of a given level. The overall effect is a mix between a hand drawn aesthetic and real time 3D. On top of these depth related systems, and more time consuming then them, was writing a system to support real time mesh modifications based on bone scaling; for creating composite textures prior to application to the model; and for building trees dynamically. In the end, the look we were going for was very specific, and I don’t think there is an engine around that would have given us that out of the box.


The way the title is laid out, it sounds like a franchise in the making. Any plans yet for future Snapshot games?

Yes! We’re definitely hoping to make more Snapshot games. One of our goals out at this year’s GDC is to find a publishing partner who is as excited about the potential in this franchise as we are.


As you’ve said, you guys do a lot of community-oriented outreach for your games. What’s one valuable lesson you’ve learned over the years in regards to dealing with a large community of players?

Yes, we’re huge fans of player-created content. In terms of advice, I’d say be careful not to underestimate the cost of moderating that content, and supporting it with server infrastructure and bandwidth. Also, be aware that for casual games, many of the portals are not comfortable with games that have internet-connected features. Talk to these portals early about their concerns, before you invest in the development of these types of features.


What’s something you do as a team that helps you to remain focused and productive?

Start each day at the same time and with a short (15-20 minute) meeting to discuss the previous day’s work and plan out the day ahead.


How long was Snapshot Adventures in development? How much development time remains?

It was in full development for about 10 months and was completed in April 2007.


What was used to make the game and what tools aided in development?

It was built in a pretty heavily modified version of the Torque Game Builder engine. 3D models were created in 3D Studio Max. Photoshop and Illustrator for GUI, character illustration, and environmental elements. Excel for data manipulation. Fogbugz for task and bug tracking.


What's the main thing you think makes your game fun?

I think it’s that the core mechanic is very simple and intuitive, but there is a clear range of success. Taking photos of birds in Snapshot is literally a matter of point-and-click, but getting good photos takes skill and a little bit of luck.

Also, players end up learning something about the real world by playing Snapshot. Many people have emailed us to say that after playing the game, they now pay more attention to the birds they see every day, and are able to identify many of them, sometimes only by hearing their song. We love that.


Is there anything about Snapshot Adventures that you would like to reveal to other developers?

After creating a bird editing tool for ourselves, we realized that it was a lot of fun to play with and decided to make a player-friendly version of it available in the game. Using this tool, players can create their own bird, name it, and upload it to the internet so that other players can download and photograph it in their copy of the game. Since we launched the game, we’ve seen players create over 300,000 custom birds.


What’s next for you?

We’re working on a few downloadable projects, some Facebook games (including Name That Friend), more PlayWidgets, and some games specifically for instant messenger clients. 2008 is going to be a big year for us! Please vote for Snapshot in the Audience Choice Awards! http://www.igf.com/audience.php



Tri-Achnid

Florian Himsl, Edmund McMillen - Tri-Achnid, Inc.


Who are you and how are you involved with Tri-Achnid?

Florian: I am Florian Himsl, I did the programming and design.

Edmund: I'm Edmund McMillen, I did graphics and design.


What sparked your game development flame?

Edmund: Florian and I had been talking on and off for a while about doing a game together, he would always show me his prototypes, I thought his physics work in flash was very impressive. He IMed me one day with a spider prototype and I thought its design was too good to pass up.

Florian: Basically I was trying to figure out new rag doll models for my physics engine. The 3-legged spider stood out, I had to make a game around it.


What set you on the indie path?

Florian: I started playing around with online game design nearly a decade ago. Being a student allowed me to put as much time into it as I wanted, without having to care about money and stuff. I always tried to create a unique experience rather than quick entertainment. My goal is to try to stay on this path, while making a living doing games.

Edmund: I’ve been doing indie games now for about 4 years, starting with Gish then going on to do a hand full of small flash games and other pc games. I’ve always wanted to do design and graphics for a living and being independent gives me the freedom to make games that I’d like to play.


In this day and age, how would you define an independent game developer?

Edmund: I see an independent game developer as someone who has the freedom to do exactly what they want with their game and not answer to anyone. They would also have to fund their own project.


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?

Edmund: I think there's a big difference between just making a game, and making a good game. I still believe if you make a good game, it will easily stick out from the crowd.


What’s one thing you value most about this industry as opposed to other forms of entertainment?

Edmund: the fact that this is an extremely new art form that people are just now realizing is an art form.

Florian: I like that online games are free and open to everybody. Designers can publish their work with a few clicks and users can view it without having to download something for hours or paying money.


Where and when did the concept for Tri-Achnid originate?

Edmund: After Florian showed me the spider prototype I started to design a world around this small fragile spider. my goal was to push the player into a very low and depressing atmosphere with muted colors and music, then get them attached emotionally to the spider with hands on movement and the fact that they need to take care of the spider’s young as well as the spider itself.


How did the control scheme evolve? Through simple iteration or did you have an idea of how you wanted Tri-Achnid to be controlled?

Edmund: we played around with keyboard controls a bit, we tried out a few modifications with the controls but just settled into what we had gotten used to, it’s probably something we could have worked more on.


What are the physical properties being used for the movement of Tri-Achnid?

Florian: At first there was just that rag doll which could be dragged with the mouse. Then I added a force which would make the legs push up the head. With that in Tri-Achnid could already walk. Later on I decided to make the legs stick to walls and make it possible to grab onto objects. That's how I turned the rag-doll simulation more and more into a game. It basically evolved by itself.


What were the challenges in designing levels to take advantage of Tri-Achnid’s wide range of capabilities?

Edmund: In a lot of ways the levels were designed around the abilities we discovered as we play tested some of the early beta levels. A good example of this was when we added the "blue birds". I was playing around in a level that was a series of suspended rocks that Florian had just added these birds into, the birds were objects so you could grab them if you were quick enough. I accidentally fell off of a rock, and almost to my death, but as I was falling I was quick enough to grab and hold onto one of the blue birds. My fall slowed to a stop and I gradually started to fly upwards. This was something that was unintentional but worked so well we designed a few secrets around it.


Over the course of development, what was Tri-Achnid's most serious issue and how was it resolved?

Florian: The physics engine took too much time/effort. It's way too complex for what it is and what is needed in the game. This issue was never resolved.


What’s one thing you did wrong that you feel could have been avoided?

Florian: A lot of people can't complete level 2 because they don't understand what they have to do. This game could use a smoother learning curve and more tutorials and tips.


What’s something you do as a team that helps you to remain focused and productive?

Edmund: work as fast as possible. Florian and I work best when we keep an idea fresh. Tri-Achnid only took 6 weeks to make so it was easy to keep the momentum going through its development.


How long was Tri-Achnid in development? How much development time remains?

Edmund: 6 weeks. We actually submitted this same game last year but it was rejected... actually it was bashed into the ground last year by the IGF judges... 2 of the judges said it wasn't even a game... go figure.


From rejected to finalist – what changes do you think made the game a success in the judge’s eyes this year?

Edmund: The only thing we changed was how the game was presented to the judges. Last year there wasn't much of a description and we trusted the judges would just play the game and come to their own conclusions on why the game was special and innovative. This year I wrote an in depth description telling the judges what our goal was with Tri-Achnid and what made it special and innovative. That's the only thing we did differently.


What was used to make the game and what tools aided in development?

Edmund: Flash


Is there anything about Tri-Achnid that you would like to reveal to other developers?

Edmund: The game’s extremely maternal.


What’s next for you?

Edmund: Florian and I are currently working on 2 new projects that should release next year, both are as experimental as Tri-Achnid and should turn a few heads when they are finally finished. I’m also working on a game called Gish 2.

Florian: www.komix-games.com



Goo!

Tommy Refenes - PillowFort


Who are you and how are you involved with Goo!?

My name is Tommy Refenes. I’m the owner of PillowFort, developer of Goo!. I take care of all the programming needs and have recently taken on the role of game designer. I have self funded the entire process and will continue to do so until American Express comes and takes my credit cards away.


What sparked your game development flame?

I’ve been coding since I was 11 and have been a professional software engineer since 18. I’ve always loved programming and I’ve always loved video games. I was pretty well established in Charlotte, NC when I read an article about a programmer on Twilight Princess doing a fishing mini-game for the game in his spare time (he was the same programmer that did the fishing code in Ocarina of Time). I thought to myself, “What do I do in my spare time” to which the voice in my head replied “In your spare time you wish you were a game developer”. So…a friend of mine got me in at a company he was working. I sold my house, car, and left everything behind to be a network programmer and thus it began. I have that article framed sitting on my desk.


What set you on the indie path?

I’ve always wanted to do something for myself without a boss taking advantage of my “I’ll work until I start hallucinating” attitude.


In this day and age, how would you define an independent game developer?

I think of someone, sitting in a garage / office / bedroom / library / wherever they have their computer working themselves to death. I used to have a low opinion of independent developers in general (it’s nothing against indie developers, I have a low opinion of everyone by default)…but after meeting and talking to numerous individuals from the indie community, mainly TIGSource…I really feel indies, for the most part, are the hardest working people in the game development industry. It’s one thing to work your ass off for a sure thing (paycheck, promotion, etc), but it’s a totally different thing to work your ass off just because you want to.


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 think it’s great anyone can sit down and make a game. Even if it’s crappy, I think the ability for anyone to make a game makes the field much more competitive and pushes developers of all skill levels to really step up and work to make their game stand out.


What’s one thing you value most about this industry as opposed to other forms of entertainment?

As a paranoid, self loathing, computer programmer…the video game industry gives me the ability stay in my house and be productive instead of rocking back and forth in the corner screaming “YOU THINK YOU’RE BETTER THAN ME” at pictures of Matt Lauer.


What made you decide to enter Goo! into the IGF?

I wanted to create and enter a game into IGF since I heard about it back in the early 2000’s. I mean…just being nominated is a huge, huge honor. I got really serious back in 2005 before I moved to take my first game development job and then had to scrap what I was working on (which was a totally different unrelated game). Now, 2 years later…here I am! That’s how it works with me, everything I want, I always get 2 years after I want it. For example, when I was living in Raleigh back in 1999 flunking out of NC State, I went to a Best Buy and saw a fancy shmancy 2.4Ghz phone…and I was like “DUDE, I want that” Then 2 years later…I got it! Yes…getting that phone was the highlight of that year if I remember correctly….


Where and when did the concept for Goo! originate?

The original concept of Goo! comes from a friend of mine, Aubrey Hesselgren. He came up with the idea of a game where you control globs of Goo a few years ago. We decided to work together and get the game out there. Aubrey worked on Goo! in the beginning, but moved on a while ago. Right now I’m in the process of redesigning his original concept to speed the gameplay and make the movement of the Goos feel more natural.


It looks like the game is targeted towards Xbox (or perhaps the Windows Live! platform?). Is there a PC version and if so how does it handle multi-core processing to aid in the liquid physics?

The game has always been targeted towards the 360. From previous experience, I really wanted to make a game that would truly utilize the all of the 360’s processing power. Though nothing is official on it yet, that has always been the platform I’ve aimed for, though I haven’t ruled out PC or PS3. If it ends up on the 360 or PS3, that version will probably have at least double the detail of the current PC version. If there were to be a PC version, the detail would have to be dulled down a bit for single core machines, but on any Core2 Duo or equivalent it runs really nice at really high frame rates. Plus, I just recently revamped the collision system so I can pack in about the same amount of detail that it currently runs at half the cost. I will be releasing a free demo for PCs in mid-January.


What kind of liquid physics model is behind the Goo and what research led to its development?

There’s really no real “model” behind the physics, like a Navier Stokes or something. Each particle acts like liquid meaning it transfers momentum to other particles to get a kind of flowing behavior going, but mainly it’s all about massive amounts of collision calculations and slight springiness to keep everything stuck together. All of the research leading up to what was submitted to IGF was really all about a really fast, really effective collision detection system that can handle tons of particles on the screen at the same time. Just a few weeks ago I finished the final version of the collision detection system…so it’s even still going on to this day. [For references] Actually, really don’t have many links… though I’ve read through this book and it was helpful for general game physics stuff. Here’s a link to some Newtonian Liquid stuff off Wikipedia… gives an idea of how liquid moves and interacts… conservation of momentum and whatnot. The rest is about multi-threading and stuff which I don’t really have links to... I kind of just went to MSDN and found out how to create a thread in Windows and sort of went from there.


How difficult was it to tweak the model so that the Goo actually performed as the gameplay required?

Actually that’s still going on! Due to recent feedback, I have decided to go a totally different direction with the controls of Goo. I want to get away from the slow, clench and grab method and go for something much more responsive that will make players really feel like they have total control over the goo. I want it to basically be dual stick control...like picture having a glob of Goo on the table in front of you. You would move it with both hands, circle your opponent, push out of the way quickly, etc. I’m hoping to have that ready for the final build due to the IGF Judges on Dec. 18th…time for another crunch definitely. Physics has always been a huge pain...like, tweaking friction would mean that when throwing Goo, it would break up quicker, which would mean I would have to put more force into the throws which would then mess up the attraction between particles, etc. It really is a huge pain in the ass.


How does the AI system combine its properties to form different types of enemy Goo?

It’s pretty much all force-based. Red Goos know how to spread out, Blue ones know how to stick together, and Green ones know how to charge into and circle around you. So, when little Goos of different colors mix, their behaviors mix according to their color ratio. So if you had 5 red goos hit one blue goo, the resulting reddish-purpley goo would know how to spread out, but would still slightly gravitate towards other goos. The new AI for the new Versus and a different type of survival mode (think Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max survival mode) is a virtual AI controller. Basically the computer grabs a virtual joystick and plays the game by pushing buttons that feed back into the game as if someone were using an actual physical controller playing the game. I’m real happy with it thus far but it needs much more tweaking.


What was the reason for bothering to implement a background run off beat detection?

Originally the game was supposed to react to the beat…like if you did an attack on a beat you would get a little extra power...but since it’s real-time beat detection, and not preprocessed or scripted...it got inconsistent at times. So...instead of ripping it out, and since it really didn’t impact performance on the main CPU with the collision running on other threads...it might as well not go to waste! At this point it’s more about flexing some nerd muscle and saying “Yea, it does all that collision detection, crazy normal mapping, liquidy physics, while doing real time beat visualization at high resolutions at 60FPS”…it’s more of a nerd vanity thing now! Plus…it just looks really cool. That isn’t the final background either, there’s so much more I can and will do with it, but it’s an extra visual thing that is on the end of my list of things to implement.


Over the course of development, what was Goo!’s most serious issue and how was it resolved?

Interactive liquid comes at a pretty hefty price, both on the CPU and GPU. I am a real jerk when it comes to efficient code. Basically, if it isn’t running at a minimum of 60FPS at 1920 x 1080 I am not a happy camper. On the CPU side, the biggest problem was having interactive liquid while maintaining a high frame rate. I accomplished this by multithreading the hell out of the collision system. This freed up the main thread to do stuff like beat detection, game logic, and physics without having to worry about collision detection calculations on thousands of objects. On the GPU side, a huge hurdle was actually getting the liquid to look like liquid...meaning light refraction, reflection, etc. When doing a height map in photoshop this is pretty easy, just throw some Gaussian on it, and run it through a normal map generator and boom you have something that’ll look like liquid when passed through the proper shader. For dynamic height maps, it isn’t that easy. Graphics cards can only blend certain types of textures, and that usually means lower precision when combining several height maps which leads to quicker capping causing them to plateau and look incorrect as well as having inconsistencies with precision that makes everything look very grainy. The solution to this is a technique I call Orange Mapping. Orange Mapping prevents dynamic height maps from capping at 1.0f and allows for higher precision in dynamic normal map generation with barely any performance hit.


What’s one thing you did wrong that you feel could have been avoided?

The Noid, he ruins pizzas…and the menu. The menu took up too much of the development time and is being scrapped anyway. It was a cool idea, but it’s a crappy interface. You shouldn’t have to have a tutorial for a menu.


What’s something you do as a team that helps you to remain focused and productive?

I listen to a TON of 80’s music…mainly stuff from Rocky movies and a few tracks from the 80’s Transformers movie. There’s nothing like coming downstairs and firing up “Hearts on Fire” to really get you pumped to meet a deadline or to do a montage.


How long was Goo! in development? How much development time remains?

Goo! has been in development since May 2006 and will continue into 2008. I am hoping to get it out to the public before the end of 2008. There will be a playable demo ready for the Audience Award and at GDC in the IGF Pavilion.


What was used to make the game and what tools aided in development?

Visual Studio for development, Render Monkey for shader prototyping, Milkshape 3D for model exporting and VTune / Thread Profiler for performance tweaking.


Is there anything about Goo! that you would like to reveal to other developers?

I black out all the time and when I come to code is completed, compiled and documented…but I guess this happens to all developers… right??


What’s next for you?

Going to finish up Goo!, marry Scarlett Johansson, and then start on the next game!



Fret Nice

Mårten Brüggemann - Bits & Pieces Interactive


Who are you and how are you involved with Fret Nice?

My name is Mårten Brüggemann and I'm the creator of Fret Nice. I did the design, programming and sound for the version of Fret Nice that is now entered in the IGF.


What sparked your game development flame?

I started drawing my own games as soon as I had played my first videogame in the '80s. Even then it was an expressional media that spoke to me. I remember designing board games with my parents before that too, so I guess I had a pretty creative upbringing.


What set you on the indie path?

Fresh out of university as I am, I felt that I have some own ideas for games I want to explore that just wouldn't be possible for a completely new and untested game designer in a corporate development company. I guess that's a common choice for people in my position.


In this day and age, how would you define an independent game developer?

I'd define it as a developer that at the end of the day answers only to itself. Come to think of it, I guess this is hardly ever the case.


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 think it's great that people can realize and share their ideas into small games. I think there are many small indie games that have really unique presentations and ways of expression, which makes them small pieces of art. It's very hard to keep an alternative style coherent throughout larger game projects with more people included and longer development times.


What’s one thing you value most about this industry as opposed to other forms of entertainment?

The interactivity and how all different components of a game; its graphics, sound etc., work together towards promoting this interactivity.


What made you decide to enter Fret Nice into the IGF?

We actually got contacted by one of the organizers of the IGF suggesting that we should enter. Before that, the IGF wasn't really on our radar, although we realize now that it should have been seeing all the attention the contestants earn, and rightfully so, in media etc.


Where and when did the concept for Fret Nice originate?

I started working on Fret Nice about a year ago. I wanted to make a game using the guitar controllers [from Guitar Hero] since I'm interested in alternative types of controlling games.


Over the course of development, what was Fret Nice's most serious issue and how was it resolved?

I'd have to say getting the guitar to work with every aspect of the game, both as a responsive controller for the platform movement and as a musical instrument when using it as a guitar. This was the main challenge with making the game and it was something I worked with from day one and all the way through development, but I guess the challenge was also one of the reasons I decided to make the game using a guitar controller.


What’s one thing you did wrong that you feel could have been avoided?

The way you defeat enemies in the game is based on how and what you play on the guitar. This is a core mechanic of the game and defines a lot of things of the overall feeling of Fret Nice. This mechanic however, although very forgiving and not very hard to master, has proved difficult to explain to the player and this often results in the player just mashing on the buttons of the guitar instead of actually playing riffs as intended. The difficulties in explaining this system resulted in the addition of some instructive elements that in hindsight may have been redundant. This includes the notation of the riffs played in the HUD which isn't really visually connected to the actual use of the riffs. This system was also the main reason a separate tutorial was included in the game. I personally feel it's easier to get a feeling of the controls of a game if they are presented in an actual level, not removing the game from its context, so the tutorial was something that actually went against what I believe in as a game designer.

So, although I personally thought the riff system was easy to understand, and I actually still feel it's not really that hard, the fact that it was so tricky to explain should have been a huge warning sign that this may have been something that should have been worked a bit extra on. This is in fact one of the main changes done to Fret Nice in the version currently being worked on. The riffs have now gotten a more emergent visualization that actually shows how the riff can be used. This lets the player visually compare what he/she is playing to what he/she should be playing and may therefore easier define what and if something isn't done right. This progress was not discernable with the old system.


Did you encounter any legal troubles with using the Guitar Hero controllers for Fret Nice?

As we haven't launched the game commercially no such situations have arised. When we started making Fret Nice it was very much a hobby project with the intentions of just experimenting with what joys the guitar controller could bring to the game, and as that we didn't think of the complications referencing to the Guitar Hero controllers would mean. In a later stage of the production we did take some steps towards making the game less associable with that specific controller, such as making small adjustments to the pictures of the in-game guitar to make it look less like the SG model the Guitar Hero controller is modeled after.


What’s something you do as a team that helps you to remain focused and productive?

We have regular meetings every day where we get up to speed on where different team members currently are working on. This helps planning and prioritizing and helps iron out problems that may occur during the work day.


How long was Fret Nice in development? How much development time remains?

The current version of Fret Nice took about 4 months to create. We have initialized the process of getting the game more up-to-date on the technical side, making the style more stylish and riffs more rifftacular in the process. When this version gets into a serious production phase we estimate a development time of 5-6 months.


What was used to make the game and what tools aided in development?

I used a game making program called Multimedia Fusion 2.


What technology are you looking at to bring the game to consoles?

We're using an in-house multi-platform game engine as a base for our games in order to make them as easily modifiable for the different structures of the different consoles. At this point, while developing the core of the game, we focus on PC and XBox360 versions of the game and as that we use Direct3D for graphics. We use Fmod for sound.


What's the main thing you think makes your game fun?

I'd say the guitar controller, although that might be cheating as it brings so many things to the game; the musical touch of the game and the physical interaction this new way of playing the genre brings. But to name one thing I'd have to say the interactivity between these things - the actual physical activity of playing out the moves on the guitar and feeling what consequences these actions have in the game.


What’s next for you?

We, (as in our company, Pieces Interactive), are currently trying to get Fret Nice and our other game Puzzlegeddon out on consoles.



Cinnamon Beats

Jani Kahrama, Jetro Lauha - Secret Exit


Who are you and how are you involved with Cinnamon Beats?

Jani: My name is Jani Kahrama, I'm head of studio at Secret Exit, and mostly involved with the game design of Cinnamon Beats.

Jetro: I'm Jetro Lauha, technical lead at Secret Exit. I'm programming the game and I'm also behind the concept of the game


What sparked your game development flame?

Jetro: I have been doing some small games since I was a kid and sold some of them as shareware in the 90's. It was somehow quite natural to continue and eventually enter the industry professionally as well.

Jani: To be honest, an accident: I met a friend at a party who said the company he was working for was looking for a game designer. I wasn't really serious about getting the job, and even told them at the job interview that I was lazy, incompetent and always late. They hired me half an hour later (must've thought I was lying), and ever since I figured there's no way I could leave an industry that welcomes such a person.


What set you on the indie path?

Jani: It was the only option that made sense; I was always interested in the big picture and became very disappointed after seeing how VC money drives companies to maximize their perceived value at the expense of sustainable growth or even a sane strategy. I wanted to work in a company that believed in organic growth through humble work, run by a management who could be whipped and publicly humiliated if necessary, so starting a business of our own was the most tempting option.

Jetro: I'm mostly on the same lines with Jani. I have also suffered from having too many projects cancelled, or worse, not published after finishing them. That's one of the worst things a company can do to the people who actually work on the projects. I have also had some widespread recognition for some of my hobby game projects, such as Dismount™ series. That has been very encouraging.


In this day and age, how would you define an independent game developer?

Jani: A tragic hero willing to eat noodles and make sacrifices to fulfill a childish goal of enjoying one's work. I see one in the mirror and doubt my sanity up until I ask myself if I'd rather be doing account management for an IT consultant company specializing in custom solutions for enterprises. Then I smile and enjoy my noodles.

Jetro: By following the community, many have noticed there are different types. First, there's just lone indies, and then there's independent developers which can fit even to some bigger companies. I think we're now talking about indies or small independent developers. Those come in two flavors: The ones who are doing it trying to enter the industry, trying to land a job at some big company; and then there are the ones who are doing it because they wanted to get out from the big companies.


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?

Jani: I simply disagree with the above. Anyone can point and shoot with a camera, but that doesn't make them photographers. There's more to game development than throwing assets into an open source engine.

Jetro: It's true that the technical barrier lowers, as more and more different kind of frameworks or even game authoring software is available, be it commercial or free. However, games are like other entertainment and art – making something good usually requires skill. It's a good thing that it is easier for people to make simple games. The easy tools can sometimes double as prototyping platforms. And sometimes a rare gem appears.


What’s one thing you value most about this industry as opposed to other forms of entertainment?

Jani: The remote glimmer of hope for indie success through digital distribution.

Jetro: Exactly.


Yet the music and film industry isn't doing so bad in that area either, giving rise to many indie bands, musicians and film makers. Do you feel games are ahead of the curve in this respect? How?

Jani: While we lack the Radioheads that can publish albums and attract people to their own websites, I think we're better off with the channels available to Joe Developer for distribution. Although I must say I have no idea how difficult it may be for an indie band to get their songs on iTunes. PC portals for downloadable games are pretty fragmented, and consoles involve steep QA costs. But in the end our choice is made out for us - we're not handsome and we can't sing, so we make games.


Where and when did the concept for Cinnamon Beats originate?

Jani: This question is best answered by Jetro Lauha, the co-founder of Secret Exit and the one who I arm wrestle every week for the Crackpot Idea award.

Jetro: It's one of these things which have just popped into my mind at some point. Maybe when taking a shower, or right after waking up, or... I had thought of the concept already in early 2006, but at that time I was already making the experimental Racing Pitch, so I had to wait to another time to try out the concept.


What made you decide to enter Cinnamon Beats in the IGF at such an early stage?

Jani: Don't look at me, it was his idea! A year back it was Racing Pitch, now this... Seriously though, the one thing that has gone right so far with Cinnamon Beats is that we weren't overprotective about the idea before coming out with it. From the Assembly event in Finland we were already able to get much feedback from the audience, and being recognized by IGF is another strong indication that the idea has merit.

Big publishers have their greenlight meetings where a dozen guys sit at a table deciding which pitches to go with. Going public with our prototype was our version of it, and it's given us confidence to put our limited resources into developing the project.

Jetro: As Jani pointed out, being more open about ideas and protos has been beneficial. As long as one can get past the sort of embarrassment for showing stuff which isn't yet finished. We feel the game-play has still much to improve on. But the idea is still fresh enough I thought it wouldn't hurt us to show it around!


Over the course of development, what was Cinnamon Beats' most serious issue and how was it resolved?

Jetro: Playing the game is a bit harder than originally anticipated, which is why we're still iterating it and making more prototype work.

Jani: Please ask this again when the game itself is finished. We're still at an early phase of development, and while we're excited with the response the submitted version has received, it's a far cry from our intentions with the final product.


What’s one thing you did wrong that you feel could have been avoided?

Jani: I prefer to keep my skeletons in the closet, thank you.

Jetro: I can probably pin-point one of these issues better when the game is actually finished and not just in the current early shape.


What’s something you do as a team that helps you to remain focused and productive?

Jani: We argue a lot. In a good way.

Jetro: We also try to identify our strengths and do things we're good at. Or at least that's what I like to think we're doing!


How long was Cinnamon Beats in development? How much development time remains?

Jani: Cinnamon Beats should be available in Q4 2008.


What was used to make the game and what tools aided in development?

Jani: The tools we use are not of great significance as the technology is quite straightforward and the game relies heavily on the design and content as opposed to elegant tools or technology. The big secret is simply iteration and persistence.


Is there anything about Cinnamon Beats that you would like to reveal to other developers?

Jani: "If we can do it, you have no excuse."


What's the main thing you think makes your game fun?

Jani: Those little moments where rhythm patterns emerge from the simulation, and the relationship of tweaking little things and noticing how it affects the beat loop.

Jetro: For now I think it's a bit more fun to find some unexpected rhythms appear from the game mechanics, and also get the feeling of "I made this!" We're on the right track now and just need to refine it a bit more.


What’s next for you?

Jani: A cup of noodles, the daily argument, and arm wrestling a few more features into the new Dismount game.

Jetro: Excuse me for stopping short, I need to go and wrestle away a few features from this project I'm doing...





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