Monday, November 12, 2012

Jeff Gerstmann on the radio

Jeff Gerstmann on the phone to WCCO this Monday morning talking about Call of Duty Black Ops 2.

I think he does a great job of explaining what a first-person shooter is to those who might not be familiar with the term. It's interesting to hear Jeff discuss the game in these terms, facing out from the games industry.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Alex Peake of Primer Labs

Greetings all, and the indie game train makes another stop for this week's Sunday Sidebar. This week I spoke to Alex Peake, who is the leader of Primer Labs, a company working on frankly fascinating piece of software that is part-game, part-teacher, and full of potential. Alex is a vibrant member of the ethical hacking community, and even works on the game at a well-known hackerspace in San Francisco. If you've ever wanted to be inspired by hacktivism, and the hacker community at large, this might be the place to begin. If you're particularly fortunate, you'll decide to try out Code Hero, and be the next person to hack the planet!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sega Master System: Before Rosetta Stone...

In 1991, I received my first home console, the Sega Master System. It was a piece of technology that stupefied and enthralled me for a whole variety of different and banal reasons. However, it wasn’t the console proper that left an indelible mark upon me: it was the instruction manuals that came with its games.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Dan Tabár of Data Realms

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening depending on your particular location in time and space. Regardless, we do not discriminate here at the Sunday Sidebar. So: welcome! This week I bring to you a choice interview with none other than Dan Tabár of Data Realms, who finally released Cortex Command last month after over a decade of development. Despite that, the game is still not considered ‘finished’! Read on to find out more.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Tim Keenan of Misfits Attic

Good afternoon, world, and welcome to another stellar edition of the Sunday Sidebar. This week I spoke to Tim Keenan, of Misfits Attic. Tim has a particularly interesting background, having worked for DreamWorks before his foray into the world of independent games development. Read on to learn more about his team’s action-puzzler, A Virus Named TOM!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Andy Moore of Radial Games

Good news, everyone! This week’s Sunday Sidebar is alive and amazing as ever. I spoke to Andy Moore of Radial Games, a great company all the way out in the wind-swept climes of Vancouver Island. They’re currently working on a really interesting game called Monster Loves You. Read on to find out more!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On fear and death

Most experiences in life occur not with a bang, but a whimper. However, from time to time there are those which leave something of themselves before they pass on. In my particular case it is a darkness that I once saw which persists forever within me. The thin figure of horror is always at my window. Let me tell you about it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Ryan Baker of Pixelscopic

With a sudden flash and a few sparks of electricity, I was gone from Europe and found myself in the even less familiar environs of Purdy, MO, where I got to talking with Ryan Baker of Pixelscopic. They’re currently developing their first original project, an action-RPG named Delver’s Drop. There’s a whole heap of interesting things going on with the game and the team themselves. Read on to find out more!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Rami Ismail of Vlambeer

Ladies and gentlemen, it seems that Fall has well and truly fallen, and Summer has been relegated to but a flickering memory from a dream of eons past. Seasons change, people change, but the Sunday Sidebar still stands strong. This week I continued my whistle-stop tour of Europe by teleporting to Utrecht in The Netherlands, where I caught up with Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman of Vlambeer. These guys work tirelessly on a impossible number of projects at any one time. Read on to find out which of their current games appeals to you most!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Martin Pichlmair of Broken Rules

Avast ye, green sailor, and hunker your breetches as we set sail upon the seas of independent development. This week’s sidebar comes to you all the way from Vienna, Austria, a country that is in fact landlocked, rendering sea-faring impossible. However, that is one of its least interesting aspects, for this week I present to you an interview with Martin Pichlmair of indie team Broken Rules, who hail from this fair European city. You may have heard of them for their much-praised WiiWare (and one-time Humble Bundle) title And Yet It Moves. Right now, they’re working on a fascinating game based on flight, named Chasing Aurora. Read on to find out more!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Jon Chey of Blue Manchu

Australia. Land of kangaroos, dingoes, babies, and… videogames? The country has been garnering an ever-increasing reputation in recent years for its growing videogame development industry. So much so, in fact, that at this year’s PAX Prime event in Seattle, it was announced that a third PAX event shall be installing itself in the land down under. One of the companies sure to benefit from the reduced air miles are Blue Manchu, headed by Jonathan Chey. Jon is likely best known for his work on some of the biggest names in the industry:BioShockThief, and the huge cult favorite System Shock. It is safe to say that the man and his team have some serious credentials when it comes to designing game experiences. Their current project is Card Hunter, a boardgame/role-playing hybrid that turned more than a few heads while on display at the Indie Megabooth during PAX Prime.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Corey Rollins of Klei Entertainment

Wow! It’s been a crazy week, huh? What’s that? Oh, worry not, enthusiast, for I have your weekly Q&A session firmly primed and prepared for mainline deliverance unto thy veins. Thine veins? Hmm, not sure. Anyhow, this week I spent a select few cuts of my time with Corey Rollins, everyone’s favorite Community Manager at Klei Entertainment. Klei recently launched the excellent Mark of the Ninja for Xbox 360, and, wow, has it ever received rave reviews. Hmm? Umm, it has frequently received them, yeah. It’s currently at a Metacritic rating of something obscene that may or may not surpass 90. I know, right? Read on!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Young Horses

Season’s greetings, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. Today’s guests are Young Horses, the people behind the hilarious Octodad, and its sibling-in-gestation: Dadliest Catch. They’re a group of ex-students from DePaul University in Chicago, and a great bunch of folks while they’re at it. While these interviews usually take place with a solitary member of staff, Young Horses teamed up together to tackle my lines of investigation as an eight-pronged attack force. There’s a tentacle joke in there somewhere. Be sure to add it in the comments!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Brendon Chung of Blendo Games

Today marks the final day of PAX Prime all the way over in Seattle, WA. If you’re there, and you haven’t already checked it out, make a beeline  this afternoon straight for the all-new Indie Megabooth. In the run up to the event, I made a quick stop with Brendon Chung of Blendo Games this week. Just like all the great teams working there this weekend, he was knee-deep in last-minute PAX preparation, but I still managed to get some information on his upcoming game, Quadrilateral Cowboy. Read on to find out more!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Runic gives 'Torchlight 2' release date at last

Co-op dungeon crawling, here we come!

For fans of the first game, today's news will come as a welcome relief. Runic Games have leaked the release date, ahead of their official announcement at PAX Prime, of their follow-up dungeon crawler Torchlight 2: September 20th 2012.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Kelly Wallick of Indie Megabooth

Good afternoon everyone, welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. I’m really excited to present to you an interview I conducted with Kelly Wallick, the superbrain behind the ever-wonderful Indie Megabooth. My pledge before was a sneaky one, you see. The PAX East interviews are now finished, but that leaves only one option: to go forward and progress onto PAX Prime’s sequel to the Indie Megabooth! At next week’s PAX in Seattle, attendees will be able to visit any of the 30 independent studios who will be showcasing their work as part of the Megabooth. It’s awesome to see it grow like this, but it made me wonder: just how does one go about organizing 30 developers? The cat-herding has been well documented in the series already, so this week I present the cat shepherd herself: Kelly Wallick: Organizer of the Indie Megabooth! /applause I know!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Taking a break

This week’s Sunday Sidebar is a quieter one. As you read this, I am otherwise indisposed and unable to use a computer. Everything ought to return to normal in the near future. As for now, there is nothing to see here.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Nathan Vella of Capy

Take a seat, youngling, and be welcomed unto this week’s Sunday Sidebar. Today marks a momentous occasion: the final instalment of the PAX East Indie Megabooth developer interview series. I’m surprised and pleased to say that I managed to get speaking to every team involved. It’s been a pleasure and a truly insightful few months. I’ve learned a whole lot about independent game development that I had never expected to glean from the series. I hope it was as valuable for you as it was for me. This week I got speaking to Nathan Vella, co-founder and president of Capy, an independent developer based in Toronto, Canada.
Nathan 1 218x300 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Capy
Meet Nathan Vella, as he stares off into the middle distance.
Who is Capy?
Capy is an independent studio from Toronto, Canada. We’re the team behind Critter Crunch,Might & Magic Clash of Heroes and most recently we collaborated on Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. Right now we’re working on Super TIME Forcefor XBLA.
You originally went by ‘Capybara Games’. What caused the reduction to ‘Capy’?
It’s sort of a long story: Way back at the inception of the studio we were a collective of a whole bunch of people and ‘Capybara’ was just one of a host of name suggestions. In the end, ‘Capybara Games’ was voted through because it was everyone’s second choice; nobody really loved it… and nobody really hated it. The meaning of the name was fitting, though: The Capybara is the world’s largest rodent, which, to us, felt like a fitting mascot at the time–the biggest of the small. We started off making small, cool mobile games and we never really set out to become a giant AAA developer. We just wanted to be a quality studio in the space we worked in, and we’re still following that philosophy. Over time, many of the original collective fell away, and we eventually starting making downloadable games and focusing on being more and more independent, so along with that change came a much needed update to our cumbersome studio name: CAPY is nice and simple.  Only our parents really call us Capybara anymore.
What led you to game design?
A few of us actually started in film and new media, and several of us actually met in film school. The common denominator was that we were all gamers. Eventually we all moved off to less-than-satisfying day jobs, but finally came to our senses and said “Let’s make games!” Most of the studio had no prior game development experience, but we came together, worked as a team and managed to make some pretty cool things together.
How is it to be an independent developer in 2012?
It’s an exciting time to be in videogames, and especially on the independent side. There’s so many opportunities for creating interesting games, and independent developers seem to be the ones really providing vastly different experiences – from JS Joust to SpelunkyBaraBariBallto Spelltower, and so on.
There are definitely still a great many challenges, but they vary a lot from project to project. Some projects have a tough time on promotion, competing against games with much larger budgets. Others have issues convincing distributors that their weird, crazy thing will find an audience. Perhaps the biggest challenge lies in sticking to your guns and finishing your project your way, despite all of the challenges throughout development.
 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Capy
The Capy offices further support my theory that indie game development takes place primarily in exposed brick offices the world over.
As a successful indie operation, how was the Indie Megabooth for you and your team? Did you take on more of a mentor role?
While we have definitely seen some success, up until PAX East 2012 our entire exhibiting experience was at other people’s booths – for example, showing Critter Crunch at E3 in Sony’s PSN area. Because of our limited experience, we’re definitely not the mentors. We just do our best to help all of our Megabooth friends and ensure the PAX attendees get a chance to play our stuff.
Will you be taking part in future Megabooths?
Our hope is that the Megabooth becomes a core component of PAX – something that gamers in Boston or Seattle can expect and rely on for quality independent gaming experiences at the show. In a perfect world, the megabooth would also grow in size, and encompass a huge portion of PAX. Fingers crossed!
Your current project is Super TIME Force. Tell us more about its origins.
The fact that we’re even making Super TIME Force I think speaks to the nimbleness of independent developers; how we have the freedom to switch course based on what we believe in. Super TIME Force started as a little prototype that a small team of the Capy guys banged out at a TOJam event one weekend. It was Ken Yeung , our Lead Programmer, and Mike and Vic Nguyen, twin brothers who also happen to be the raddest pixel artists this side of 1987. They brought the ‘prototype’ back to work on the Monday after the jam, showed it to the whole office, and we all just flipped for it. We asked them if they wanted to keep working on it and they were like “Hell yeah”. Capy designer Greg Georgiadis immediately started making amazing levels and now the game is on our slate as the next Capy title. It’s extremely exciting to have that freedom.
As for the creative drive behind it, the gameplay hook is just so compelling to us, and the chance to dress it up in jokes and hilarious pixel madness makes us smile.
Will the game be single-player only?
It’s too early to tell. There’s a great many things we want to try during development. Some will work, others will fall flat. If some flavor of multiplayer works perfectly, that would be great. If it breaks the design of the game or isn’t fun, we’ll swap it out for something better.
Right now we’re working on one of the more ‘ancient’ settings for the game, while simultaneously adding in a couple of very unique character classes.
What engine is being used to develop it?
We’re using our own completely home-grown 2D pixel game engine.  It’s got Mode 7 and blast processing, because we’re always trying to push the envelope… Or something. It also has pixel art ragdoll physics.
The game is coming to XBLA. Are there any other releases in the pipeline?
Right now we’re squarely focused on XBLA and making sure that Xbox 360 gamers are getting the best experience possible. Beyond that, who knows!
Are you anywhere closer to a release date?
We’re still exploring the game mechanic, adding crazy character classes and most of all, having fun. We’ll sort out a date in the coming months, but for now our focus is on seeing how far we can bend space and time in a run-and-gun platformer.
 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Capy
Finally, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
I still have a copy of the original Nintendo Power Final Fantasy strategy guide hiding somewhere at Capy. It’s a masterpiece.
Super TIME Force is currently in development for XBLA.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Ska Studios (again!)

I good you bid evening, fellow traveler, and welcome to this week’s edition of Sunday Sidebar. The Indie Megabooth interviews continue unabated! This week I made some time to catch up all over again with James and Michelle from Ska Studios. It’s been around nine months since we last spoke, and it felt like the right time to hear about how the development process forCharlie Murder has been coming along. If you’re curious to read the first instalment, you can find it all here. It hasn’t all been development, though, as you shall soon find out. Read on to find out more!
Charlie2012 07 29 04 300x168 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Ska Studios (Again!)
O’Rly’s sounds like a wonderful place for a pint. Rough area of town, though.
It’s been a fair few months since we last spoke. How is Charlie Murdercoming along?
JamesCharlie Murder is coming along great!  It keeps getting bigger and better, but there’s still much to do. I’ve joked about it becoming “Scope Creep:The Game” because every week or so I’ll be trying out some random new gameplay mechanic to see how it can make the general flow more interesting (the latest is beercrafting!)
And I don’t think there’s any shame in scope creep (for the uninitiated, ‘scope creep’ refers to a project’s ambitions expanding beyond the initial design — if a project’s ambitions expand faster than the developer can address them, the project is never finished!). The organic development process is a big part of why it’s great to be indie: we get to implement exactly what we want whenever we want, and there’s no red tape, scheduling, or contracting to sort out, we just do it.
“The Megabooth gave us strength in numbers.”
How was the Indie Megabooth for Ska Studios?
J: Megabooth was fun! It was nice to offset a bit of the scariness of exhibiting at a convention by being part of a like-minded community.
We got some great exposure and met a bunch of cool people! For the PAX prior to this, we were totally in the shadow of Firefall – their sheer size, lighting, and audio totally dominated the area and our booth felt like one of those little noodle shops that Deckard visits in Blade Runner. The Megabooth gave us strength in numbers.
Were there any difficulties?
J: Planning was maybe a little frustrating; a bit of creative collaboration was required. What indie dev doesn’t view him or herself as the absolute bottom line in creative vision? Indie collaboration is a little bit oxymoronic, right? But it couldn’t have been that bad, because at the end of the day, we pulled it off! (well, the Megabooth’s PR guru Kelly Wallick pulled it off, and for that we are all forever in her debt).
Despite the cat-herding, will you be taking part in future Megabooths, if they happen?

J: Quite possibly!
Charlie2012 07 29 02 610x343 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Ska Studios (Again!)
The art style of Charlie Murder looks to have subtly improved over the last few months.
Are you any closer to a release date for Charlie Murder, beyond the Ska Studios classic ‘next April’?
J: Also possible. But for several reasons, I can’t promise anything.
With Michelle making up half of the team, how has the development process changed for you, James?
J: I have a lot more developer accountability! For several years I’ve been making game development tools for just me, and now I have to make sure they work for other people.  You don’t know how many times Michelle’s had an issue with an editor or something where my response has been an embarrassed “Oh, right, that button doesn’t work. Don’t press that button.”
It has been awesome to put Michelle to work with those editors! She’s been making new clothes (using my sprite sheet editor and clothes metadata editor), and has made a few animated characters (character editor) and maps (map editor). Everything looks perfect. I think our styles were a tiny bit disparate at first, but now everything just looks like it fits. Probably a consequence of tying the knot.
ska studios wedding 200x300 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Ska Studios (Again!)
‘Well if you love working together so much, why don’t you just get married!!’ ‘Okay, sure.’
Yes, congratulations on that, you two. How has it been for you, Michelle, to get used to working in a small team, and to move from your previous work at AreaNet to just you and James?
Michelle: I’ve had a year and a half to get used to it now and I do still miss the larger environment where you could just stop by the coffee machines and shoot the shat with coworkers. Here, I just have James, the cats, and the occasional delivery person. The delivery guys sure do get freaked out when you want to chat about how the latest build is going. You’d think I would get sick of working and living next to the same person every hour of the day but it’s honestly been great. Lack of socializing aside, I have much more freedom as well as a lot more responsibility. We’re pretty much always working and always busy. That also, I do not mind. I am starting to feel I am leaving my mark, which to me, is the meaning of life!
Thanks for your time. You two make a lovely couple!
Thanks. You’re welcome!
Charlie Murder is still in development for XBLA.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Marc ten Bosch

Greetings one and all, and welcome to today’s Sunday Sidebar. This week I had a stop-and-chat with Marc ten Bosch, who is currently developing Miegakure, a game predicated on the manipulation of a theoretical fourth dimension. Ready to have your tiny human mind bent out of shape? Come join us on a journey through time and space!
 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Marc ten Bosch
Marc ten Bosch demonstrating Miegakure at IndieCade.
Please introduce yourself, Marc, and anyone else working on Miegakure.
My name is Marc ten Bosch, and I’m designer and programmer of Miegakure. Also working on the game is Jeff Weber, who is doing all the modeling and animation.
Why did you decide to design the game with your own name attached, instead of ‘Miegakure Ltd’, for example?
Hiding behind a company name for just one person and a contractor didn’t make sense. And I wouldn’t want to name a company based on a game.
What got you started into game design?
I feel like I was always into game design… As a kid I was drawing Mario levels with crayons before I could even write. I kept filling notebooks with game ideas throughout my childhood. Each notebook was a strategy guide for an imaginary game. Of course most of the ideas were bad but somehow they slowly got better. Then I decided to study computer science so I could make all these ideas on my own; that felt like the most important thing. I wish I could have gotten more into the art side as well. Maybe later!
How does it feel to be an independent developer right now?
Chris Hecker (ex-Maxis indie developer currently working on SpyParty) calls this time the “Golden Age” of indie. There are so many great game ideas just lying around waiting to be picked up. Later on it will be much harder to find obviously exciting new mechanics, and good games will have to become much more subtle and refined.
And of course digital distribution means small teams can release games alongside large companies. The tools have become frictionless enough that we can express ideas quickly, and computer are crazy fast and can run complex simulations in real-time. The challenge is to really take advantage of all that and explore what games can be and solve all these new game design and technical problems.
How was the Indie Megabooth for you?
It was great. Setting up a booth is a lot of hard work but having everyone help out made things a lot easier. Trade shows for me used to be these intense three-day playtest sessions, but the game is far enough along now that I can relax and talk to the fans, etc.
You are originally from France, right? Are you living in Europe or USA whilst designing the game?
Yeah, I was born in Nice and grew up there until I moved to the US for college. My mom is from the US and I am bilingual so it was always very likely that I would end up there. It’s where most of the interesting things are happening after all.
 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Marc ten Bosch
Explaining a world of four dimensions to creatures in three dimensions can’t be easy.
When did Randall Munroe of XKCD play Miegakure? How did you feel when he posted the comic about it?
He played the game at PAX East 2010. I was demoing there as part of the PAX Indie Showcase. I didn’t know what he looked like and he didn’t introduce himself or anything. He just played it and was impressed by it enough to make a comic about it a few days later. When I saw the comic I was very happy because at the time I was worried that the game was not being recognized enough. The comic resulted in this flood of goodwill and support and it became obvious that I had been worrying for no reason.
‘Miegakure’ means ‘appearing and disappearing’ in Japanese. Where did you meet this word? Why did you choose it for your game?
I was looking for Japanese mythological names on this website that also had a database of Japanese architecture & garden terms. It felt like such a perfect description of the gameplay, given that in the game the player can never see all the dimensions, and hence the whole world at once.
Japanese gardens intentionally use this technique where you cannot see the whole garden as you walk around it. You see different parts of it but then after a few steps they disappear behind a hill or a tree. There’s always the suggestion that there’s more stuff than you have access to, that you cannot hold it all in your head, and your mind fills in the gaps with your imagination, and the garden feels larger than it actually is.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the moment with Miegakure?
I’m working on making the graphics crazy awesome. I feel like this game has two promises to the players: 1) To have proper 4D gameplay in such a way that players really are thinking in four dimensions when they solve the puzzles. 2) To show what a 4D world would look like to a 3D being. I feel like I have pretty much covered the first one so I am focusing on the second one for a while: things like procedural 4D trees and other good stuff I won’t spoil.
“I think it’s important to explore the medium.”
What drove you to create Miegakure?
I was looking for a project that would stimulate both my technical and design abilities. Something experimental so that people would get excited about it. But I don’t think I was expecting it to be so much fun to make. It’s somehow exactly the kind of math, computer graphics and design work I enjoy. Also, like I said before, I think it’s important to explore the medium. People have been making art about the fourth dimension for about 100 years now, with books like Flatland or even the Cubism movement, but computer games can explore this concept in a much deeper way. The works that are the most interesting are the ones that take such great advantage of the strengths of their medium that they couldn’t possibly have equivalents in other media.
Which engine have you used to develop the game? It looks a little like Unity.
It’s my own engine. It’s just this large code base I built over the years. A lot of the graphics would need to be custom anyway so I don’t see much point in using Unity. I like that it’s a very simple codebase that is exactly as simple as it needs to be instead of this huge uncontrollable blackbox that’s trying to do everything.
You have stated that the game will come to PC and console. Which consoles are you hoping to release on? Are any deals confirmed yet?
The question of which console is still up in the air. It makes no sense for me to commit this early to a console when the situation might be completely different by the time the game is close to release.
Finally, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
I have an official Chrono Trigger promotional poster that I got in Japan when the game was re-released for PS1. I went into a game store and pointed at the poster and asked for it in broken Japanese. I really don’t know why they just gave this random white kid their promo poster!
Perhaps it was your willingness to ask in Japanese! Thanks for your time, Marc.
Perhaps! Thank you!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Retro Affect

Who are you guys?
Dave: I’m David Carrigg, Software Neurosurgeon for Retro Affect. I handle all the programming and technical aspects of creating our games.
Kyle: Yo! I’m Kyle Pulver, Master Gentleman of Design. I’ve done a lot of different stuff for Retro Affect including level design, environment art, web development, and some game scripting.
kylework3 300x225 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Retro Affect
Kyle Pulver designing art for Snapshot.
Why did you choose the name ‘Retro Affect’?
D: When we were first creating the studio, a lot of different names were being thrown around. In the end, we wanted something that said we would be making modern games that have an old school feel to them.
K: Yeah, and then some people ask why its ‘Affect’ with an A and not ‘Effect’ and somewhere there’s a really long and detailed explanation about that, but for now I’ll just say it’s because the domain name was taken at the time.
How did the two of you get into game development?
D: My background is pretty much entirely in programming. I started coding while I was in high school, and decided to pursue it as a career. It didn’t really hit me that I could do professional video game development until I was a few years into getting my degree in Computer Science. I started working on random video game side projects for fun, some of them being with Kyle. After I graduated, I did gameplay programming for a couple different MMO studios before leaving to be one of the co-founders of Retro Affect.
K: I’ve been into game design for pretty much my entire life. Since the very first day I held a Nintendo controller in my hand I always wanted to be able to create my own games. As a kid I would often draw out entire games on paper and pretend to play through them. I actually got into game development when I was 11 or 12 years old and I had a copy of Klik & Play. Things kind of snowballed from there and now I’m actually making games for a living, crazy!
Is now a good time to be an independent developer?
D: It’s a really exciting time to be an indie developer. A lot of the channels that are available to us now never were in the past. It’s much easier to develop a game with a small team and a low budget and still make it available to a massive amount of people. Most of that is thanks to distributors like Steam, social networks, and easy to use technology.
As far as challenges go, with a bootstrapped studio like Retro Affect, finances would be on the top of the list. Aside from that, interacting with some of the larger companies in the industry can sometimes be a bit of a pain. They’re used to dealing with large studios with lots of employees, and sometimes that doesn’t align well when they try to deal with a small team like ours.
K: Dave pretty much said everything I was going to say. It’s awesome to be indie. That’s all I got.
Is there much of a developer community in your area? Do you interact much with other teams?
D: Here in New Hampshire? No. Fortunately, I’m not too far away from Boston, which has a great community. There’s a ton of fantastic developers in that area, both indie and not. There’s regular game developer meetings happening all the time, and it’s even home to PAX East. I definitely encourage anyone in the Boston area to reach out to some of the devs in the area if they’re interested in what indie game development is all about.
K: I’m actually located in Phoenix, AZ, and I work remotely with Dave right now. Phoenix actually has a small community of indie and hobby developers that all meet up every once and awhile. It’s nothing huge, but enough people to prevent one from going insane.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the moment?
D: At this very moment I’m working on fixing some bugs in a script that handles projectiles from one of the enemies in Snapshot. We’re very close to being done, and practically everything we’re doing now are bug fixes and very minor additions and tweaks.
K: At this very exact moment I am answering an interview question. After this I’m going to work my way down a list of bugs that are fixable by me so that the game can be that much closer to completion. We’re so damn close to being done with this game that it physically pains me.
What drove you to create Snapshot?
D: The idea originally came from one of the former members of Retro Affect, and a good friend of ours, Pete Jones. One night he dreamt he was being chased by a monster and when he took a photo of it with a disposable camera, the creature was captured inside it. The next day he talked with Kyle about developing a game based on the idea, and from there the core mechanics in Snapshot were born. Kyle and Pete then developed a prototype of the game, which Kyle could tell you more about. When the prototype was nominated for the Excellence in Design award at the Independent Games Festival, they asked me to come on board to create a full version of the game.
K: As far as the art goes, I can speak a little bit about the environment art in the game. I wanted to try and take some of my pixel art style and apply it to a high res game. I am trying to use the same rules and guidelines that I learned doing pixel art games and apply it to a game with high definition resolutions. I don’t know if it ended up working out in the end, but hopefully it resonates well with our players!
You developed a proprietary engine, Retro Affect Engine. What drove you to forge such an independent development path, instead of going with something like Unity?
D: When we first started, we didn’t know what platforms we’d want to launch the game on. We knew it was going to be PC as well as some consoles, but no idea which ones. I don’t think Unity supported any type of console development at the time, and most other engines were far too expensive or limited you to specific platforms (like XNA for Xbox 360, for instance).
There’s definitely been some downsides to rolling our own tech. I’d estimate that it’s added at least a year to the development schedule, and there are things the engine just doesn’t support that are standard in most other engines. However, it’s given us the freedom to choose the platforms we want. Had we made another choice there’s a really good chance that the game wouldn’t be launching for any of the Sony platforms. In the end, I think we made the right choice by developing our own tech, and I’d probably make the same decision if I had to do it again today.
K: Making our own engine was indeed a really tough decision, but like Dave said it boiled down to the fact that everything that was out there either had certain hard limitations that we couldn’t get around, or didn’t look like it would support the kinds of things that we wanted to do.
You just recently announced that Snapshot will be coming to Vita and PS3 via the PlayStation Network. How did the deal come around with Sony?
D: Sony contacted us back in 2009 when the game was in the IGF. They expressed interest in seeing the game on the PS3 back then.
K: Yeah it’s been a long conversation with Sony. I feel like Snapshot has gone down so many potential paths as far as distribution and platforms go that it was really crazy to actually officially announce that it was coming to the Playstation platforms. It’s rad to see all those months of talking back and forth finally come to fruition!
How is Jim Buck (Twitchy Thumbs Entertainment) contributing to development?
D: Jim Buck is helping us out with the programming for both the PS3 and PS Vita. Once we decided to launch on both systems, we wanted to bring in someone with familiarity to working on multiple platforms and who could really do a lot of the low-level programming work without breaking a sweat. Jim’s been a great asset so far, and his expertise is a big reason in why we’re able to bring Snapshot to both systems.
K: Aside from that, Jim is providing therapy sessions for the team members to make sure that we don’t all kill each other.
Finally, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
D: I’m slowly trying to fill the walls of my office with more current game development memorabilia. I have signs from the IGF, huge pixel art of Mario and Zelda on the walls, as well as a big signs from when Snapshot was in the PAX 10 and Boston Indie Showcase.
K: Oh man I should totally have an awesome answer for this… ummm… I have a still shrink wrapped copy of A Link to the Past for SNES! I have a cool Japanese Pokémon Diamond & Pearl Special Edition Nintendo DS. A Super Famicom [the Japanese SNES, fact fans] cartridge of Chrono Trigger… and that’s all I can think of right now. Oh, also I have a Super Pretendo cartridge for Offspring Fling!
Thanks for your time, guys.
D: Thanks, we had a blast!
K: Yeah, thanks!
Snapshot will be released soon on PC and on PlayStation Network for Vita and PS3.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Alexander Bruce

Good morning everyone, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. This week I had a great discussion with Alexander Bruce, developer of Antichamber. This is a game that has whipped up plenty of people in the games industry into a frenzy with its use of non-euclidean puzzles and a whacked-out visual style. If you’re a fan of games that try something new, Antichamber might just be your new best friend. Read on to find out more.
alexander bruce 200x300 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Alexander Bruce
Meet Alexander Bruce, Australian and creator of Antichamber.
Hi there, Alex. Go ahead and introduce yourself to readers who might not know you.
Sure. I’m Alexander Bruce, and I’m responsible for all of the design, coding, business and creative direction ofAntichamber. For the first few years of development I was the only person working on the game, but as the quality kept rising I ended up bringing on board a couple of other people to help out in areas that I didn’t have as much experience with.
Robin Arnott now does the sound design and Siddhartha Barnhoorn is the composer. I also have a friend helping out with some modeling, and my brother does a bunch of illustration for the game.
Was there a decision behind publishing the game with your personal name attached to it, rather than something like ‘Non-Euclidean Ltd’?
I think it’s pretty lame to try and pretend that you’re a whole company when you’re really just a guy sitting at a desk in his bedroom. Maybe that made sense back in the days of Epic Megagames when all you really had was companies, but I think one of the strengths of where we are today is that there’s a much greater focus on the individual creators themselves.
As a developer, I’m way more interested in the personal stories behind the development of these games than just imagining them as being these things that occasionally pop out of a black box once in a while. Antichamber is way too personal for a company to have created it and there’s a whole lot of me in there, so I don’t know why I’d try to hide that.
Why is it ‘Antichamber’ and not ‘Antechamber’? Is it wordplay, or no relation?
That’s a good question… and still a secret for now.
How did you get into game design, and when? Is your background more in programming, or storytelling?
I only started making games once I got to university. I did a Computer Science degree and worked in the industry as a programmer, but had to teach myself game design. I used to tell people that I wasn’t a level designer at all, yet Antichamber is more about level design than anything else.
How does it feel to be an independent developer right now?
I don’t think things are really that much different today than they ever have been. Yeah, the internet exists and sharing content is easier, but that also brings in a whole lot more competition with other developers as a result. You still need good ideas and great execution if you want to stand out in that.
People who are driven to create things are going to do it no matter what their circumstances are. Eric Chahi, Jordan Mechner and Tim Sweeney were all doing this stuff twenty years ago. I’m sure that under different circumstances I wouldn’t have made the same game as I’ve created now, but I’d have still been trying to make my mark some other way.
How did you wind up working with composer Siddhartha Barnhoorn?
I was introduced to Sid by my sound designer Robin. We made a very conscious decision to make the sound design more of a focus than the music in this game. Both are still important, but the sound design came first.
Because the visuals are so minimal, having rich lifelike soundscapes was a really nice contrast, and the combination of both lets players fill in a lot of the details about the world in their mind. They also help with navigation as the world keeps changing. The music, however, was used to change the tone of the game as the player progresses through it.
It’s all so compelling. Can you reveal what you’re currently working on with the game?
Unfortunately, no. Not at this stage. No-one wants to know how something ends before they’ve even started it!
“I didn’t want this to be a game that was kind of like something else, but not really… I wanted to go all in.”
What drove you to create Antichamber? Both visually, and in terms of gameplay?
I decided that if I was going to make games, I didn’t want to make something that people had seen before. There are enough other people out there who are driven to do that that I thought I’d take the opportunity to explore in a completely different direction and see what happened. I’ve always worked like this, in whatever I was making.
Antichamber is as different as I could make it on every level, from the high-level concept to the low-level mechanics, to the art direction and sound design. I didn’t want this to be a game that was kind of like something else, but not really… I wanted to go all in. I knew going into it that that was either going to absolutely work or absolutely fail, and the only way to know which way it was going to go was to dive in and see what happened.
You’ve mentioned before that you went into this game with little to no coding knowledge. How did that work out? Are you now well-versed in code-fu?
Ah, I know enough of everything to get by. I always feel like all of the knowledge and experience I’ve gained is only useful for creating Antichamber, but I know that that’s not true at all. I’m just so focused on it right now that I lose sight of how much I really know about things.
Beyond Windows and OSX, is there any possibility of Antichamber making it to any consoles?
Certainly not until the game has launched on PC first. I’m really not making any plans for what’s happening after this game is launched, because it’s a pretty big unknown that we’re dealing with here. I’ve had good pre-release success, but whether or not that translates into sales we’ll just have to wait and see.
Can we still hold out hope for a 2012 release?
I’d like to think so! I’m still not giving a set date, though.
Finally, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
You know… I don’t actually own that much stuff. I don’t tend to buy things unless I need them most of the time, and I’m not really much of a collector, either.
Nothing wrong with a spartan outlook. Thanks again for the opportunity to speak with you, Alex!
Thanks to you!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Pocketwatch Games

Another Sunday, another remarkably erudite conversation about independent game development with one of the leading figures in the industry. Look, you’re welcome to it, really. I get just as much pleasure out of these features as you do. This week I spoke to Andy Schatz, founder of Pocketwatch Games, previously known for developing ecologically-minded releases such as 2005′s Wildlife Tycoon: Venture Africa. Its current project is decidedly less ecological, however. Andy is adding the finishing touches to co-op action stealth title Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine. The game has been drawing a lot of attention, so if you haven’t heard of it yet, it’s time to get acquainted.
pocketwatch andy 207x300 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Pocketwatch Games
Andy Schatz, founder of Pocketwatch, and owner of a pair of steely blue eyes.
Introduce yourself, Andy!
Sure. Hi! My name is Andy Schatz, and I’m the designer and programmer for Monaco. I’m also responsible for the art direction and some of the in-game art. Andy Nguyen is the project’s Level Designer and general handyman. Austin Wintory, most famous for being the composer behind Thatgamecompany’s Journey, is writing the musical score. Adam deGrandis has contributed the bulk of the art of the project, and the fine fellows at Empty Clip Studios have ported the game from C# to C++ and have contributed a huge amount of cross-platform technology to the project.
“I think in a sense, we are all storytellers, it’s our mouths and our hands that are the real impediments between our stories and the world.”
How did you come up with the name ‘Pocketwatch Games’?
I always pictured myself making games that were small and with simple interactivity, but with very complex underlying mechanisms. I like to imagine that game designers are like an unseen force that brings these creations to life, like in the watchmaker’s analogy. Sort of funny for an atheist like me to have a company whose name has intelligent design origins, but there you have it.
How did you wind up in game design?
I’d like to think that I have a cross-disciplinary background for it. I was a Fine Arts and Computer Science double major in college, but my programming background is certainly lengthier than my art background. I think in a sense, we are all storytellers, it’s our mouths and our hands that are the real impediments between our stories and the world.
You mostly work alone on your titles, outsourcing aspects to other people, but retaining core creative control. Do you feel deeply protective over your creations? How difficult is it to let someone like Austin Wintory come in to work on music?
Austin is a dream come true. My ideal working partners are ones that come on with a talent beyond my abilities, where I can give them the core of my vision and then they can own it from there. Austin and I have had an incredible working arrangement. He is as passionate, driven, and naturally talented as anyone I’ve ever worked with in my career.
My relationship with Andy Nguyen, Monaco‘s level designer is different, because our skills overlap. I should preface this next statement with the fact that we get along like peas in a pod. We do somtimes argue, but from that fire a much stronger steel is forged. Monaco wouldnt be the expansive multiplayer game it is and certainly the design wouldn’t be as refined as it is without him.
The game is being developed on an Origin PC. How did the sponsorship come around for you?
Kevin Wasielewski from Origin PC (not to be confused with EA’s Origin distribution service) emailed me, having heard of Monaco, and offered to help out in any way possible. The guy is incredibly enthusiastic about games and has built a very successful hardware company on the strength of their beastly gaming PCs.
What’s going on in the studio at present?
At this very moment, I’m working on the Steam matchmaking implementation of Monaco’snetwork code.
The game is eye-catching for a number of reasons. For instance, what inspired you to choose the principality of Monaco as your game’s setting?
I always felt that Monaco sounded like a place where you could steal from people and not feel bad. Everyone there is rich and everyone is willing to throw their money away at the roulette wheel or on the racetrack. And given that the setting is in a place most Americans will never visit, that fantasy can be as real as I want to pretend it is.
 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Pocketwatch Games
One of the lesser known influences for Monaco.
What inspired and informed Monaco? Artistically, and in terms of gameplay?
Gameplay-wise, the game is inspired by Hitman, Pacman, and Gauntlet. Artistically, I drew inspiration from a ton of sources, but not from other games. A series of Honda Crosstour ads, and the posters for the movie Confidence were two of my major inspirations.
Besides Steam, then, which other platforms are you looking to release on? Are you any closer to a release date?
There’s no announcement on platforms yet, aside from that it will be on PC/Mac, and at least one console. I’m also no further towards announcing a release date, but I’m hoping for this year.
Finally, Andy, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
I actually just got the box of all my old game manuals from when I was a kid from my parents’ attic.  M.U.L.E., Ultima III, etc.  All my old graph paper dungeon maps were still in there.
Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine is still in development. You can follow Andy’s updates on the Monaco website.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Drinkbox Studios

Greetings traveller, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. This week, pull up a pew and learn from the wisdom of Chris McQuinn, game designer at Drinkbox Studios. They’re currently wrapping up work on Guacamelee, a luchador-themed metroid-vania platformer with added dimension swapping. What? Yep, you heard right. This game is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Read on to learn more about the studio behind it!
chris mcquinn Sunday Sidebar: Meet Drinkbox Studios
Meet Chris McQuinn, designer extraordinaire
Who are you guys?
My name is Chris McQuinn. As for Drinkbox… Officially? We’re a bunch of goofs who just want to make distinct gaming experiences.
Why did a bunch of goofs call themselves ‘Drinkbox’?
The name came about after the whittling down from a list of a hundred. Essentially there were two camps for names – neither being Drinkbox, as it happens. After a week of fierce debate, mostly involving styrofoam swords, Drinkbox was chosen out of spite. Luckily, we’ve come to love the name.
How did you get into game design, and when? Is your background more in programming, or storytelling?
For me, game design started as an art internship that took place during high school for a kid’s game – I modeled the best circus trains you could ever imagine. My design background is a random combination of experiences that seemed to fit well together. This was a combination of programming, creating mods for Doom2, and reading way too many high fantasy novels.
You all came from a previous studio, Pseudo Interactive, which specialized in car combat games. How did your design aspirations change when you started Drinkbox?
When Pseudo closed, the team had been making car combat games fairly intensely for a long time, so there was a real desire to switch gears (get it?) for the next project, both in terms of game type and scope. Coming up with an idea and then publishing it within a year is a wonderful way to make games.
How did the Sony Pub Fund come around for you?
We had originally been in the Pub Fund program for our original title on PSN, Tales from Space: About a Blob, so there was already an existing relationship with Sony when it came to receiving Pub Fund for Guacamelee. It all started by demonstrating to Sony our drive to make original, engaging games, and this just seemed to mesh well with what they were hoping Pub Fund would achieve.
At E3 just passed, Guacamelee bathed in a wealth of praise, including prime focus from Sony themselves. Do you feel as if you might be on the cusp of something great?
The reception at E3 was really unexpectedly awesome. How I see it is that as a studio we’re never satisfied with the state of our game, and constantly see it as something to be improved. This makes it kind of tough to ever say, “This is going to be something great!”. All we strive to do is give players a unique experience that feels worth the hard-earned money that they paid for it.
drinkbox studios 630x470 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Drinkbox Studios
Drinkbox pushing to include a subtle Dia De Los Muertos reference.
Do you think it is an exciting time to be an indie developer? What sort of challenges do you face because of it?
Being an indie developer has probably never been better. Although people have said this before, I’ll say it again, that the surge in games being available digitally on a large scale has really been a life force for indies. Despite this though, getting your game noticed among other games that have massive marketing machines propelling them will always be a tough challenge.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the moment?
The studio is busily working on a few projects, one being our PC release of Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack available on Steam, which you can expect to see later this summer. Of course, the majority of our time is being directed into Guacamelee, getting it to a playable alpha state and generating as much user feedback as possible.
What inspired and informed Guacamelee? Artistically, and in terms of gameplay?
The whole of Guacamelee is really a melting pot of ideas from the entire team. For example, the underlying Mexican theme was put forward by our animator, who himself is Mexican, and immediately was recognized as a wealth of brilliant material that hasn’t much been touched on in current games. Similarly, our director had always wanted to make a brawler where the attack moves were also used as a way to platform, so, we tossed that in too!
Finally, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
Lego. I don’t know how geeky Lego is, but I have a giant Lego city in my parent’s basement. My mom absolutely hates it, but it has nowhere to go.
Wonderful! Thanks for your time, Chris!
Thanks again for opportunity to chat!
Guacamelee will be a PlayStation exclusive, releasing on both PlayStation Network, and Vita.