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IGF 2010: Daniel Benmergui

By Drew Sikora, Oli Wilkinson | Published Feb 26 2010 12:27 PM in Interviews

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About the Independent Games Festival

The IGF Awards take place on the evening of the third day of Game Developers Conference, and are a major celebration of the best in indie gaming, with thousands watching the award presentation before the Game Developer's Choice Awards are presented. The 2009 IGF Awards, including custom interstitials from Mega64, are available for online viewing. All GDC visitors can attend the awards. [From IGF about page]


About Today I Die

A game poem about the prison of world views, and salvation in playfulness. [From IGF info page]


Interview with Daniel Benmergui


Who are you and how are you involved with Today I Die?

I am Daniel Benmergui, the maker of Today I Die. I did the design, programming, visuals and production of the game.


How did you become interested in game development?

Childhood nostalgia is a critical ingredient for a lot of people, including myself.

Games occupied a lot of my childhood, so it rubbed off on me. But I am trying to shake free from that childhood fantasy... face game development as a grownup instead of just dwelling in that nostalgia.


How and when did the concept for Today I Die originate?

The poem manipulation mechanic was something that I toyed with, when collaborating with Tembac, but I didn't know what to do with it. Someday, the impression of a girl sinking and swimming back to the surface struck me and then everything fit together.


Over the course of development, what was Today I Die’s most serious issue and how was it resolved?

The uncertainty of what I was doing.

I am not an expert game designer, so everyday issues were a problem: is this flow right? does it match the theme? the mechanic? the meaning of this and that? the music?

Also, the insecurity over whether I was making something relevant, or just a shallow game.


What are some things you did to help lessen your worries over the game?

I basically gave up my obsession with making it more of a system than just an experience because I was suffering too much. So yeah, giving up.


What’s one thing you did wrong (individually or as a team) that you feel could have been avoided? How?

I should have NOT asked for feedback early on. I showed the game to many people I hold the deepest respect for, but that put a lot of pressure on my already stressed development process.

My lack of self-confidence during development made me needlessly suffer a lot. If I went back in time, I would not care so much.


That’s interesting, since so many people tell you that you’re supposed to show your game as early as you can. At what point during development, looking back, do you think you should have shown your game to people?

The problem is not about showing the game to people, but showing it to people whose opinion is going to affect you strongly. Leave that for when you are satisfied with your work.


If there was one thing you could look back on during development and say “that was really cool” – what was it and why?

Integrating the soundtrack into the game. Hernán Rozenwasser made an astonishingly good track for Today I Die. It was very cool to discover that he understood what the game was about. And how much of a difference did the soundtrack make!


Which games, films, books, etc have influenced you most on the development of Today I Die?

Good question... none of that. I like swimming underwater, but I also fear drowning a lot. That gave me the visual impression I wanted to achieve with the game.

It is unusual that I was not very influenced by whatever I was reading/watching/playing at that time.


How long has Today I Die been in development?

The original Today I Die took six months of going back and forth, not in actual production. Mostly because I needed to try a lot of things.

Today I Die Again, the new revision of the game is going to take a little less than that.


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

Flex. Photoshop. Google.


What resources (eg: Websites/Books/etc) do you use to aid development on your games?

Google! It's wonderful that you can write: "flash losing mouse events when outside screen" and you can find someone with exactly your own problem.


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

I am not sure Today I Die could be called "fun". It's more like an "odd experience". I think it's the sum of the mechanic, audiovisuals, and what's going on in the head of many players. Some people are not receptive to the game, while others were struck by it.


I confess to watching the walkthrough video prior to trying out the game, but it still took me a bit of experimenting to grasp what to do. Given the abstract nature of the game, what elements do you feel gave players the most help in figuring it all out? How much of the game was affected by feedback you received?

I feel I made a mistake by making the initial screen so inaccessible. You had to learn at the same time that there are interactive objects and that you can manipulate the poem.

I am fixing that in the next version of the game, "Today I Die Again". We'll see how it goes.


What is your goal in designing these experimental types of games?

Learning how to be a game designer, and figuring out who am I as a game maker.


Besides the IGF, what else have you done to get your game before players? What’s worked the best?

Flash has worked the best by far. I made downloadables, applets, whatever. Right now, nothing beats how ubiquitous Flash is.


Were there any Flash portals (like Newgrounds) in particular that you took advantage of?

Well, not really. A patron gave me a chunk of money if I kept the game off portals and their ad-revenue, so I self-hosted Today I Die.


Is there anything about Today I Die that you would like to reveal to other developers?

Do not underestimate the power of tiny games!


How did you feel about the judge’s feedback for your game? (this year compared to ones past, if returning finalist)

Last year I submitted I Wish I Were the Moon and it was rejected. This year, the feedback was very thoughtful. I agreed with almost everything the judges said. I think the judging process has been much healthier this year.


What would you say about developing games in Argentina?

Sometimes I feel I am very far from where the important stuff is happening. But I can also live for 1/3 of the cost, and I love living here.

There's also a strong, incipient indie scene growing up regionally! Zeno Clash was made by a Chilean team, a neighboring country. Vox Populi Vox Dei was made by an Argentinean indie too.


What’s next for you?

In the immediate future, Today I Die Again, the iPhone revision of Today I Die. I am very curious to see what the reaction to this version is!


Based on your experiences to date, what advice would you give to other game developers who aspire to be in the IGF Finals?

Just do whatever you need to do, and do it right. And then the IGF doesn't really matter because your work is more important.





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