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IGF 08 Interviews Part 3

By Drew Sikora | Published Feb 13 2008 07:18 AM in Interviews

game development games it' what' thing been brian
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.


Crayon Physics Deluxe

Petri Purho - Kloonigames


Who are you and how are you involved with Crayon Physics Deluxe?

My name is Petri Purho and I'm the developer of Crayon Physics Deluxe.


What sparked your game development flame?

I played Super Mario Bros on NES as a kid and immediately wanted to create my own games.


What set you on the indie path?

I had two choices, like pretty much everybody else who wants to create their own games. And the choices are either create no games or create indie games... But the final nudge for me was when I saw CMU's Experimental Gameplay Project. That was when I decided to start doing games following their development principles and this lead to me starting the Kloonigames blog.


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

I think it's very difficult to define, but I'm sure the developers themselves know if they are doing stuff as "indie" or not.


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 don't think we are quite yet there, but I have to say I'm loving it. I really want everybody to be able to express themselves through the medium of games. If this would happen I'm sure we would see a lot more interesting and innovative games, both thematically and game mechanically.


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

The geekiness.


Where and when did the concept for Crayon Physics Deluxe originate?

It started out as a one-week prototype called Crayon Physics. The prototype got really popular so I thought I'd take it a bit further.


Over the course of development, what was Crayon Physics Deluxe's most serious issue and how was it resolved?

The most serious issue has to be my laziness and I resolved it by deciding to enter the game to the IGF. The deadline of the competition really boosted my productivity.


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

Because the game isn't out yet it's hard for me to evaluate what I've done wrongly and how could I have avoided it. But one thing that pops to mind was trying to work out my own physics engine. I could have saved a lot of work by doing a bit more research on the available 2D physics engines. Right now I'm using Erin Catto's Box2D.


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

I don't really have a team, I'm a solo developer, but doing a lot of testing has helped me keep my focus and productivity. The fact that you have to show your game to someone always seems to motivate me to work on it more.


How long was Crayon Physics Deluxe in development? How much development time remains?

It's been in development now for about six months. I don't know how many months are remaining. Probably a lot.


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

I've programmed the game (in C++, my IDE is MS VC++ 2005) using my game engine, which uses (now) DirectX as its graphics API. I'm using Erin Catto's Box2D as a physics engine.


Is there anything about Crayon Physics Deluxe that you would like to reveal to other developers?

Testing with real people all the time is the shit!


What's next for you?

Don't know yet. Probably more games.



Hammerfall


Who are you and how are you involved with Hammerfall?

I'll call myself Author for the simplicity sake.


What sparked your game development flame?

It's the same as asking a pencil how did it become one. It just was this way :)


What set you on the indie path?

A unique ability to make GAMES. Not just graphics, code or game levels.


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

A truly enthusiastic man, who, however, doesn't want to - and can't - exist in the mainstream.


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?

Anyone of us could pick up a pencil, but would it turn us into artists? In the end, accessibility of the tools doesn't nearly mean anything at all :)


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

Literature and the cinema could show us a life; in a video game you can create a life. In a certain sense, video games are way more honest with the audience.


Where and when did the concept for Hammerfall originate?

Once upon a time I've with a surprise found remarkable course of articles about computer physics by Olivier Renault. The idea of Hammerfall is, roughly, a response of a monkey who had found a rope tied to a stone and realized that it's quite fun to just spin the thing above its head :)


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

Since Hammerfall is the first game of mine, the most serious problems were to grasp the differences between the theory and practice of making a video game :) So here's my profound gratitude to those people on the net who graciously help newbies to get the hang of it!


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

Oh, I had done so many things the wrong way that, I think, the only way to avoid my mistakes was not to start a development of a video game at all. :)


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

Well, I've tried not to sleep for so long, not to eat way too much and get some open air at least once in a while.


How long was Hammerfall in development? How much development time remains?

Nearly a year and a half. I hope, it'll take another month, two at most.


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

I've used Haaf's Game Engine. It's handy, neat and, what is more, free. Quite a useful thing.


What's next for you?

I wish I knew. :) The future of the man isn't written anywhere down



Iron Dukes

Tynan Wales - One Ton Ghost


Who are you and how are you involved with Iron Dukes?

Tynan Wales. I co-hatched the plan, designed the game, wrote the jokes, and cranked out the art. I have been in and around the game industry since 1997 as an artist and game designer.


What sparked your game development flame?

I have played games ever since I have had fingers long enough to hold a controller or press multiple buttons on a keyboard. I loved them, and continue to love them. I think I was attracted to the industry simply because nothing else could bring together both my passionate hobby and my interest in art.


What set you on the indie path?

How can I say this without insulting an entire industry? I love many games that have come from the standard development process, but as an employee I have always felt constrained. I think I have a strange sense of things. I knew to get the opportunity to fully express myself in my favorite medium I would have to do it independently.


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

I personally feel that a truly independent developer is someone who makes a game under their own power. By that I mean vision, not necessarily finances. For me it's someone who strives to make something that they feel they need to make, instead of something that will sell well.


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 love it. Please, whoever is making it easier, keep doing that. As a developer I hope that the technology to develop games becomes so transparent that I could make a game in a few weeks instead of months. As a player I want to have a sea of choices instead of another space marine or dark elf.


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

I am drawn to the possible future of video games as a form. It is new and strange and has yet to show what it can do. Games have the potential to let players experience a story or write one themselves. I don't think it has happened yet, but I really want to be there when it does.


What made you decide to enter Iron Dukes into the IGF?

I suppose it was our unspoken plan from the start. I have been involved in a few other IGF entries and it amazes me how much the festival can do for a little game.


Where and when did the concept for Iron Dukes originate?

The core game design was pulled from various influences - Star Control II, Covert Action, Pirates, and other early PC games. We put our own spin on it, but our goal was to make a collection of small challenges that felt like they fit together. The fiction and art style fell into place later when we decided that there weren't enough games that had Thomas Edison as the villain.


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

This one is easy - money. We didn't have any. Early on we were fueled by pure berserker rage to make something for ourselves. As we progressed, the painful realities of life such as food, water, and shelter began to weigh us down. It also led to having a very limited team of full-time employees, which in turn limited how much we could accomplish. The best resolution to this problem would have been to throw money at it. Since we didn't have any, we threw our weakened bodies instead. Now there is a game.


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

Given that our initial vision was to create something with a small team, I think our problem was scope. While I have heard that term many times in standard game development meetings, I have never wanted to say it out loud. Now I think we should have. Iron Dukes was simply too large a game design for us to really polish it and do everything we wanted. Next time I want to pick a mechanic, a small one, and just shine it for months.


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

Piloting remote control helicopters, drinking coffee, killing virtual Nazis, eating balanced meals, doing pull-ups, and watching Judge Judy - not necessarily in that order.


How long was Iron Dukes in development? How much development time remains?

Iron Dukes has taken roughly a year, but there were starts and spurts. As for future development, we hope to finish it within six more months if we can secure some additional manpower.


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

For art and code we exclusively used Flash CS3. I used Excel to compile large sets of data for inventory items, which was exported into XML. I also used Windows Notepad, which is my favorite.


Is there anything about Iron Dukes that you would like to reveal to other developers?

Try to fund yourself. I have found incredible creative freedom in this process, but of course the trade off is that I've been broke and eating garbage.


What's the best thing that you can do to compensate for lack of funding?

Work a regular job with the highest salary you can get for as long as you can stand it. Then, live off your savings for a year and work full-time on your dream project. Or, have a rich uncle.


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

Ah, the fun question. I'm horrible with this one. Our game is different than most because of its self-deprecating sense of humor and flagrant M-rated jokes. I don't have a way to prove that people will find our game fun, but in what other game can you shoot a giant dolphin in the face? Is that fun? I have no idea. I hope so.


What's next for you?

First off I would like to finish Iron Dukes. After that we have a keen interest in researching and making a depression-era hobo simulator that includes riding the rails, eating hot dog soup, writing and reading hobo code, and having all your belongings tied to a stick.



OokiBloks

Brian Flanagan, Matt Verran - Studio Work3 / Hermitgames


Who are you and how are you involved with OokiBloks?

Brian: I'm Brian Flanagan, I'm the designer, artist and musician, hello!

Matt: Matt Verran, I'm the programmer.


What sparked your game development flame?

Brian: The urge to do my own game without being dictated what's right, wrong, marketable or currently fashionable.

Matt: Programming the 48k Speccy and 80s arcades.


What set you on the indie path?

Brian: I realized that regardless of what your idea is, there's always someone else wanting to add their "vision" of what the game should be, I wanted that stumbling block removing from the equation.

Matt: Freedom to do what I want.


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

Brian: I feel there are 2 types, the ones that want to do something unrestricted, interesting and original, and then there are the developers that just copy other existing, successful commercial games.

Matt: Someone who's following their interest rather than a market?


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?

Brian: It's a great situation, if you have the motivation to do it, you should be able to regardless of the results – I want to see hardcore game maniacs making games for hardcore game maniacs with great mechanics.

I'd also like to see the independent scene get more like the independent music scene with tons of interesting non commercial projects aimed at particular niches.

The independent game scene, like the independent music scene, should consist of variance and inaccessibility (to some), untethered by corporate demand, and 100% creative freedom.

That's how you can listen to everything from the singer that's talented, but not pretty enough to be a chart success, Norwegian death metal bands, a couple of old men belting out political folk music, all the way through to abstract techno and experimental rock.

With that comparison in mind, it's sad to see that a lot of developers still have a mentality that seems like they aspire to be Vanilla Ice.

Matt: It'll be great. I think in the past programmers have been the gatekeepers to game dynamics. Now it's getting so game designers can properly create and manipulate mechanics directly.


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

Brian: I don't think I value it more to be honest, most other types of entertainment allows anyone with the equipment to get creative straight away, I mean you can make films with just a camera, or just pick up an instrument to try and make music... and then get it out there... for better or worse..., and on top of that, CD or video tape doesn't suddenly crash for no reason once you think you've finished it.

With game development, you might have an idea and the skills to create 1 element well but to be able to produce the whole thing requires a degree of technical skill before you can even get those ideas together.

I also think that other entertainment mediums get an easier ride with their content.

Games are a political and moral scapegoat right now, and why?? – All games are sold together as one huge category... Manhunt 2 might be sat next to My Little Pony in your local game store, but you don't get adult movies alongside the kids section in your local blockbuster!

The latest violent horror movie isn't to blame for social ills anymore. As far as politicians and parent groups are concerned, we have a new scapegoat in town.

Matt: The potential. There's so much that hasn't been done yet in games.


What made you decide to enter OokiBloks into the IGF?

Matt: We'd vaguely discussed it around about the time of the 2007 IGF, Brian lives in SF so had popped down to have a look at the Indie Games Pavilion on the public day. We just got on with the game until about a week before the submission deadline and I thought with a bit of a push the stuff we had stood a decent chance. Turned out to actually need quite a big push to get it done, it was a hectic week. Going to the festival should be a great laugh and it's a way of getting the word out on the game.

Brian: I always wanted to present Ooki at IGF but didn't think we'd be entering this year to be honest, as you might have guessed from Matt's response, but it's a great way to get the game in front of people.


Where and when did the concept for OokiBloks originate?

Brian: I came up with the idea about 3 years ago, I was just thinking about some kind of mechanic that changed the colour of blocks... I think the music I was listening to while scribbling notes and sketches gave me the rest of the mental imagery….


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

Brian: Probably designing the audio system. I designed a prototype, but it wasn't really gelling together as well as I wanted, although I knew what it needed to do, I couldn't do it with my limited programming skills.

Then I hooked up with Matt, who created a great tool that I could work with and implement the sounds. Problem solved


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

Brian: I've iterated a lot of the audio features countless times, but I feel it had to be done as what we were doing was pretty new and undocumented by any other developers – you simply have to hear it working to see if it feels right, so experimentation is necessary... it's something that has to be done, and luckily developing the game without a deadline allows this.


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

Brian: For me it's to see the game finished, and to get people playing it!


How long was OokiBloks in development? How much development time remains?

Brian: The prototype was developed over about 2 years, then when I teamed up with matt, and it's been a year redoing everything from scratch, I think the time remaining depends on Matt!!

Matt: Hopefully it'll be finished in 2008, although it depends what platform we end up landing on.


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

Brian: 3dsmax, cubase VST Photoshop, matt's awesome audio tool, Adobe Illustrator.

Matt: C++, DirectX, tea, and random bits of code I've written over the last 5 years.


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

Brian: All the animated graphics are rendered as huge images and then scaled down after the glitches and unnecessary lines from the toonshader have been removed frame by frame in Photoshop.

There's a huge bank of sound effects for the melodies for the bananas and blocks, there's 25 possible variations of note that can be played for one sound effect, the rest is secret!!


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

Matt: The amount of feedback to the player; everything you do shapes the dynamic audio and has a visual flourish. If I was allowed to mention more than one thing I'd say the way it blends puzzle with action gameplay is particularly pleasing.

Brian: I like the fact that you can play it leisurely to play it safe, or play at a frenzied pace for more points, hopefully with practice the slower players will pick up the pace. It's a secret plan I have to covertly change casual players into hardcore twitch gamers.


What's next for you?

Brian: Some time away from the computer once it's done, and then... hmm... I've got a lot of ideas I'd like to try!!

Matt: Finishing OOki is the top priority, after that I'd like to clear out some of the half finished freeware games I've been doing and then maybe another game with Brian?



World of Goo

Kyle Gabler, Ron Carmel - 2D Boy, LLC


Who are you and how are you involved with World of Goo?

Kyle: I'm Kyle Gabler, the right brain of 2D Boy, doing stuff like the art, music, design, and trying to make it the most emotional game about goo balls anyone ever played.

Ron: My name is Ron Carmel, I'm the left brain. I mostly deal with the programming and business development end of things.


What sparked your game development flame?

Ron: The Commodore 64! It was the first computer I programmed (can you say peek and poke?) and the first thing I wanted to program was a game. The games I made then were not much to look at but I was so inspired by playing games that I didn't really care. I was totally addicted to Beach Head II, Paradroid, and Impossible Mission ("Stay a while... staaaaay, FOREVAH!")

Kyle: I thought I was going to be an electrical engineer and design chips to go into humans and help them do things like survive. It was either that, or make games with absolutely zero social responsibility.


What set you on the indie path?

Ron: I wanted Full Creative Control, and as a game developer I think you pretty much have to start your own game studio in order to have it.

Kyle: I'd prefer to own a giant international corporation and do things like play golf and worry about stock options and which cufflinks to wear. Until my dreams come true, we're indie, and it's not half bad.


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

Kyle: An independent game developer, or independent music, or film, or journalism, or medicine, or transportation, or independent whatever developer, is a brave, possibly crazy, anti-hero who looks at what's currently out there, knows the odds are gonna be rough, and says, "I can do better!" and then does it anyway. I hope that's us.

Ron: I'd add to that the idea of, surprise surprise, independence! That usually means not taking any money upfront, or if you do, working with a publisher/investor that is truly hands off and fully supportive of the developer's vision.


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?

Ron: For those of us who make their living making games it means competition is getting fierce. With the ever lowering barriers to entry it's getting harder to stand out in the crowd, and I think that pushes many people to do their best work. I think it's great!

Kyle: We don't have to wait. Everyone can make a game now, it's really easy. Just like everyone can make music, but most people don't. As the technical bar lowers, I think we're finding there's another human bar that stops all but the most determined. I'm sure those on GameDev.net are doing just fine!


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

Kyle: Game development has, for funny looking nerds, all the glamour and romance of Hollywood without the name dropping and incest. Not as much anyway. Yet.


What made you decide to enter World of Goo in the IGF?

Ron: I don't think I'm the first to say that IGF is the game industry's equivalent of the Sundance film festival. It's where low budget and no budget hopefuls show their creations, hoping for critical acclaim from judges who really know what they're talking about. There was nowhere else to go BUT the IGF. Okay, fine, we didn't get enough attention as children and we were looking for approval from authority figures.


Where and when did the concept for World of Goo originate?

Kyle: I made a small game prototype called Tower of Goo as a part of the Experimental Gameplay Project. It was kind of fun but there wasn't much to it. If Tower of Goo was a physics experiment, World of Goo is the whole physics laboratory with a vending machine in the corner and internet access.


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

Kyle: For game design, it took us months to discover embarrassingly fundamental things about our game - like that it would be a series of levels arranged in chapters, and that each chapter would be physically represented as an island with a sweet and slightly devious sub plot. What is a level? What is the goal for a level? What are the Goo Balls' motivation? Does their motivation matter? Is there a meta game? What is it? How does it tie into levels? Much thanks to IGF for finally forcing us to answer all these questions.


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

Kyle: On the creative side, every failure has been ugly but hopefully necessary. We fully fleshed out 3 or 4 different abysmal stories, but we never would have made it to the final story if they hadn't existed to build off of, and tangibly identify what sucks. For every 1 level we use in the game, I discard about 2 others. To be completely scientific, overall, there's been an efficiency of about 33%, but realistically, the missing 67% had to be sacrificed so the best most tasty goo could rise to the top. We are lucky to have this freedom.


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

Ron: Nagging. The left brain has to nag the right brain. It is the way of things. The way of the Force. We also have an automatic email sent every time we check in changes to our repository that describes the changes. It creates kind of a collective knowledge of who's doing what exactly. And probably the most important thing is a Skype video call a few times a week to coordinate work, brainstorm, and make decisions that need making.

Kyle: Everything has to be perfect, says the right brain.


How long was World of Goo in development? How much development time remains?

Ron: We've been working on it for over a year but it really kicked into high gear around August last year when we realized there's a ton of work we need to do if we want to submit it to the IGF. It might take as much as 6 months more before the game comes out, but that's mostly a factor of timing the release with a publisher's schedule. Nothing is set yet.


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

Ron: We're using a lot of open source tools and libraries. Subversion for revision control, Mantis for bug tracking, ODE for physics, TinyXML for all our config and animation stuff, SDL for window creation/threading/input, and Audacity for sound editing. There might be a few more I'm forgetting. This game wouldn't exist without this foundation and that's the main reason we're making a Linux version. A salute to open source.


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

Kyle: We hope you like it. Don't hack our binary.

Ron: Line 1265 of LevelModel.cpp reads: void LevelModel::suckBalls()


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

Kyle: In World of Goo, you drag around squirmy talking Goo Balls to construct contraptions. But the game goes deeper. There is a mysterious Sign Painter who leaves you helpful notes, and who becomes increasingly "friendly". And there's an ongoing relationship with the questionably benevolent World of Goo Corporation, perched on top of the globe, eerily watching everything you do, that has become the embodiment of some of the absurd interactions we've had with publishers and large game companies so far. We're pouring our little hearts out, and the intangible love is what makes it have that extra secret taste of fun with a dash of paranoia.


What's next for you?

Ron: Some time off! I've been working insane hours and even though I'm enjoying it immensely I need a break. After that we want to take a month or two and just prototype stuff, EGP style. Over the course of development I've built up a list of ideas I'm eager to play with.

Kyle: I keep preceding sentences with "After World of Goo...", like "After World of Goo, I'll write an indie pop album", or "After World of Goo, I'll go visit my parents", or "After World of Goo, I'll call that guy back", or "After World of Goo, I'll take her to the vet". Who knows really, there's a whole bouquet of neglected opportunity!





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