Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Locked Door Puzzle Games

Greetings everyone, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. I’ve had myself running to the ends of the earth these past two weeks, pursuing more indie developer interviews to satisfy your needs. This week I took some time to discuss the finer things in life with Richard Perrin, Design Lead and founder of Locked Door Puzzle. He is currently working on Kairo, a wonderful-looking first-person adventure mystery set amongst abstract architecture. Sounds neat, right? Read on to find out more!
RichardPerrinPhoto2 300x288 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Locked Door Puzzle Games
Are you sitting comfortably? Then Richard will begin...
Hey Richard! So, who are you?
I’m Richard Perrin, and I’m the lone developer on Kairo which I’ve been working on for the past two years. The only other person working on Kairo is the musician Wounds [Bartosz Szturgiewicz] who has been producing lots of great creepy ambience for the game world.
Why the name ‘Locked Door Puzzle’?
Locked Door Puzzle was originally the name of my blog before it became the new home for my game work. I’m a big fan of storytelling in games but ‘locked door puzzles’ are the bane of those types of games. A lot of the time you don’t feel like you’re advancing a narrative, just simply satisfying the arbitrary conditions to open a series of locked doors, however well-disguised they may be. My blog at the time was kind of game design critique and so the name made sense. Voila!
How did you get into game design, and when? Is your background more in programming, or storytelling?
They’ve always gone hand in hand for me. Since I was a kid I’ve wanted to make games and used to make all sorts of terrible stuff in BASIC back in my MS-DOS days. However, even then I was always trying to make worlds in order to explore and to have stories to tell rather than focusing on game mechanics.
I should declare I’m no great programmer. It has become my life long career but I still feel like I sort of muddle through. I’m always more interested in what I can make than the process it takes to get there.
You’re mostly working alone on Kairo. Do you ever think about teaming together with like-minded folk?
I actually prefer to collaborate, I just haven’t done it in a while. My first big game The White Chamber had me working with artists and a musician and I think it came out great. Kairo came about because I’d had a series of failed projects where the artists dropped out for various reasons. So I came up with a design I could do entirely on my own so if it failed, then I was to blame this time. After Kairo is finished I would like to work with other artists again.
“All the niches of gameplay that were being neglected are now being explored by people who are really into those type of games. We’re no longer limited to what will sell a million copies.”
Do you think it is an exciting time to be an indie developer? What sort of challenges do you face because of it?
The explosion of indie games has been really awesome from a creative perspective. We’ve got more and more people using games as a way to express themselves. So we’re seeing all sorts of amazing stuff we’d never have seen even five years ago. All the niches of gameplay that were being neglected are now being explored by people who are really into those type of games. We’re no longer limited to what will sell a million copies.
From a commercial perspective, though, that same explosion has been tough. There’s more competition than ever, meaning it’s getting harder to stand out and get noticed. It means I have to spend more time thinking about networking and marketing to make sure people know about my game. As a lone developer, I’d prefer to be spending that time working on the game. I can’t resent it though, and I’m glad all these games are out there now!
How was the Indie Megabooth experience for you?
It’s impossible to emphasise enough how great it is getting to watch people play and enjoy your game. When you’re sitting at home staring at a screen for years with only yourself to bounce ideas off, it’s a relief to see players actually connecting with what you’ve done. I had some truly great conversations with people who really seemed to get what I was doing.
However, the flip side is that it’s kind of an exhausting thing to do. I’m a reasonably social guy, but flying for ten hours across the ocean and repeating the same canned speech for my game over and over again all day for three days is not really my idea of a good weekend. I can see the advantage of having a publisher, replete with PR people who enjoy doing that, but to be fair a lot of the other devs seem to relish it. I’m still a designer at heart and would prefer to be sitting at home working on creating things, rather than talking about them.
That probably sounds like quite a petty complaint. Overall the Megabooth was incredible. I only mention all that so anyone interested in being a lone wolf indie dev realizes that you really have to do everything yourself – not just the bits you enjoy the most.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the moment?
Right now Kairo is in the final stages. The world is fully modelled and I’m getting the last couple of puzzles working, which I hope to have done within the next week or two. Then I’m going to be spending all of July polishing up the game to make it as slick and shiny as possible. I really wanted the content to be complete already but there always seems to be some unexpected technical problem or other that adds another few weeks. I feel like that’s been happening for a year now. Always so close to the goal but never in sight.
What inspired you to start Kairo and to imbue it with such an atmosphere?
There were a few specific inspirations for the game. The minimalist art style came from some images from abstract architects. I saw these photos of models and wondered about if I could make that a living breathing world to explore. I wanted the atmosphere of Ico - that sense of walking around an old forgotten place, with decaying stone walls everywhere. Finally, I wanted the sense of scale from a manga called Blame, that has a character moving through these immense structures. It kind of just mixed all that together into one thing.
It looks and sounds a lot like Myst to me. How close am I?
I was never really aiming for Myst but that’s where I’ve ended up. I loved Myst as a kid but I think back to a lot of confused frustration and that’s not what I wanted to create. However, the first person puzzle solving and exploration quickly brings you back to Myst and I won’t deny there’s a lot in common there at this stage. To be honest, at PAX I wound up focusing on Ico and Mystbecause they were simpler and more straightforward than explaining where all the deeper inspiration comes from.
How about the unique approach to storytelling. There is no textual narrative at all, right?
The lack of text and dialogue is very unusual for me. Storytelling is what I love most in video games. However when I started Kairo it wasn’t meant to be some huge two-year project. So I decided I would challenge myself to tell the story through the world itself. The things you find in the environment and the machines you repair should tell the story of what’s really happening. I guess it will be up for players to decide if that actually worked or not.
About a year ago I was having a crisis of faith with the direction of the game and started to reconsider every one of the restrictions I’d placed upon myself. This led to me considering how I could work in a narrated story into the world. However, once I went through this process I came out with a clearer idea of what I was trying to do and decided the environment storytelling path I was already on was what fit Kairo the best.
kairo 630x390 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Locked Door Puzzle Games
The world of Kairo is simply steeped in mystery
Which platforms are you looking to release on? Is release still set for July?
Kairo is initially going to come out for PC and Mac. Then I’m planning to spend a month or two porting it over to iOS. I’ve already had a proof of concept working quite nicely on my iPad. Also, since Unity, the engine I use, has just announced Linux support later in the year, I’ll hopefully being releasing a Linux build once that becomes available.
I’m still hoping for a late July release for PC and Mac but who knows to be honest. I’ve missed a lot of deadlines making this game. Even if I miss July, it won’t be much later. There really isn’t much left to do; mostly polish. I don’t want to put it out until I’m really happy with everything.
lucasarts adventures 300x300 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Locked Door Puzzle Games
Warning: Looking up Lucasarts Adventures can induce a dangerous level of nostalgia.
Finally, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
I try not to collect too much merchandise, and most of the stuff I had when I was young is long gone. Instead I have a very extensive games collection that i have put far too much time and money into. So, out of all that, my most prized thing is probably my collection of all the original LucasArts adventure games in their original big box editions. Most of them I got as a kid and played them with my dad. Those games are probably the thing that made me fall in love with gaming the most.
Thanks for your time, Richard!
Thank you!

Kairo is currently scheduled for release in July 2012 on PC and Mac, with Linux and iOS releases to follow thereafter.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Get into Game Design

Due to the wake of madness trailing behind E3, this week we’re taking a brief pause from meeting developers. I’m flipping it over to you, dear reader. You are the developer of the future. This week I read independent game developer Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, a call to arms for would-be developers the world over. Anthropy’s mission statement goes thus: the world of game design needs more diversity, and she wants to show you how easy it is to get started. And I am here to urge you to get started today.
assembly language 188x300 Sunday Sidebar: Get into Game Design
Assembly is brutal.
There are a multitude of tools out there for budding designers that are free (or low-cost) and easy to use. In her book, Anthropy highlights a few personal favorites, while also comparing them to the overly-complex programming tools that were used to code the earliest games, such as those that were compiled in Assembly language (pictured right).
The book struck a nerve with me, as I have often considered game design as something other - not for the likes of lowly norms such as I. The idea that anyone could sit down for a few hours and find themselves with a functional design was never one that I had given much time to entertain. And so it begins. I have spent the week looking at a couple of different avenues for game design, and I see this as a great opportunity to see if I can’t share the inspiration with a few of you out there.
Really, the first step is to accept that you’re not going to make the next Gears of War. The second step is to understand that that’s perfectly okay. In fact it is preferable, if we follow Anthropy’s attitude that the world needs less games about shooting people, and more games about everything else in human experience. Once you accept that the first game you ever make is – shock horror – likely to be rudimentary, you’re on the road to creativity.
So, what next? Now you’re going to sit down and think about what you want to make your game about. For my first ever design project, I made a quick text-adventure world set in upstate New York. For my second project, I set the protagonist against an abandoned deep-sea vessel, waking to a dead body in front of them. Sure, they are barely functional, but they are entirely mine. The greatest satisfaction of this process is carving a piece of your own creation. The skills and expertise are welcome by-products that will accompany you with time.
If you have a free afternoon, it is time to roll up your jeans and dip your feet into the world of digital game creation. If I can do it, so can you. Here are a few different development engines that will have you creating in no time at all:
Inform – Inform is where I started. With it you will create the text adventures you always dreamed of. It uses a natural programming language. This means that if you write ‘The walrus is here. It is a thing.’, then guess what will exist in your text world? That’s right, a walrus. The ‘coding’, if you can even call it that, is so straightforward that you can build a world in an afternoon or less. And better still, it’s completely free. PS You’re welcome to copy my walrus code. Consider it a freebie.
Game Maker – Game Maker seems to be Anthropy’s favorite. While it’s less functional on Mac than on PC, you can get started in both pretty quickly. Game Maker is more focused on helping you create functional 2D worlds. This is where you’ll make your Mario clone. It’s also possible to develop for iOS, too, though this comes with a price-tag attached.
Ren’Py – This is where I am going to be experimenting next. Ren’Py facilitates the creation of ‘Visual Novels’. If you’re familiar with Digital: A Love Story, or its sequel, Analogue: A Hate Story, both of these were created using Ren’Py. If you happen to love dating sims, this is where I would suggest that you get started. Ren’Py has a massive following among developers of dating sims. I was curious about more subversive uses for it, and had a diverting experience with the horror novel Painted Walls, created using this very tool.
There is a world of resources out there, waiting to be exploited. I have thrown down my gauntlet. Now show me something excellent in the weeks to come.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet 24 Caret Games

Greetings earthlings, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. This week I caught up with Matt Gilgenbach, co-founder and gameplay lead at 24 Caret Games, creators of the chrono-illogical rhythm spaceship-shooter Retro/Grade. Why so illogical? Why ‘Caret’ and not ‘Carat’? Read on and find out!
24 caret matt gilgenbach Sunday Sidebar: Meet 24 Caret Games
Matt Gilgenback is serious business.
Hi Matt! So, who are you guys?
Hi! We’re 24 Caret Games and are three people – myself, Justin Wilder, and Joe Grabowski.
Why the name ’24 Caret’?
We wanted a name that represented our commitment to quality but one that shows that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. 24 Carat references 24 carat gold, but as a nerdy joke, we decided to call our company 24 ^ (caret) games.
How did you get into game design, and when?
I started making text-based adventure games in QuickBASIC when I was just nine years old. It has all spiralled out of control from there.
Is your background more in programming, or storytelling?
Although I love storytelling, I have a much stronger background in programming.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the moment?
We are getting ready to release Retro/Grade, a reverse rhythm shooter. It will be released as a downloadable PSN game for PlayStation 3.
What inspired you to design a game that would make use of plastic guitars? Can you play it with drums?
We came up with the game design first, and it seemed well-suited to the guitar controller, so we gave it a try and were pleased with the results. We did experiments with drum controllers, but we couldn’t come up with a control system that was fun, so we don’t support them.
Retro/Grade looks tough. How difficult is it to pick up?
It’s actually pretty easy. It definitely takes a few minutes for the whole concept of reverse play to click, but we’ve found that it is actually pretty intuitive after that. We have six difficulty levels which range from something your parents could play to a challenge for even plastic-instrument-wielding Guitar Hero pros.
Your team formed in 2008, just shortly after High Impact Games, your old studio, had shipped its second game. What happened?
We shipped two games at High Impact Games: Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters and Secret Agent Clank. We talked to management about our desire to make indie games, worked out a good time to leave, and left amicably. It’s as straightforward as that!
Let’s come back to Retro/Grade. It has been in the works for four years now. How much has the title changed since work began?
Pretty much everything has been redone at least once since the original prototype. We’ve added a ton of new features from the original design as well as removed a number of features that weren’t working well.
Are there plans to release the game outside of the PlayStation Network?
We are focusing all of our energy into making the best game for the PS3, so we don’t have any plans beyond that at this time.
24 caret samba maracas 300x225 Sunday Sidebar: Meet 24 Caret Games
Who wouldn't want six Samba de Amigo maracas?
What is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
I have a ton, so it’s hard to narrow it down, but my very favorites would probably be my two copies of Panzer Dragoon Saga for the Sega Saturn and my 3 sets of official Samba de Amigo maracas.
Two excellent game choices, Matt. Thanks for your time!
Thanks, and thank you!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Fire Hose Games

Hello videogame afficionados, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. With next week being Electronic Entertainment Expo 2012, VGW towers are set to be a veritable hive of activity. This could be your last chance for a quiet break to soak up some longer-form journalism. If you feel tense, that’s okay. Take this opportunity to treat yourself, and to learn about yetanother indie developer from Boston. This time it is the turn of Fire Hose Games, and more specifically their founder Eitan Glinert. Fire Hose Games, among other things, are responsible for the wonderfully unique Slam Bolt Scrappers on PlayStation Network. Read on!
fire hose eitan 200x300 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Fire Hose Games
Eitan Glinert, ringleader of Fire Hose.
Hey Eitan! So, who are you guys?
Hi! I’m the founder and ringleader of the Fire Hose circus. We’re a small Boston-based indie studio, and are behind the games Slam Bolt Scrappers and the upcoming Go Home Dinosaurs. Sweet! We’ve also worked on a bunch of other games you may know and love, including Dance CentralMs. Splosion Man, and the upcoming Rock Band Blitz.
What led you to come up with the name ‘Fire Hose Games’?
There’s a saying at MIT that ‘learning at MIT is like drinking from a fire hose’. When we started working onSlam Bolt Scrappers it was just me and two other MIT guys. We wanted a name that would identify us as a MIT start-up to people familiar with the school, and would just sound like a cool name otherwise. That’s why we chose it! Also it lets us wear fire chief hats around the office.
How did you personally get into game design, and when?
I got into game development by accident back in 2005. I was doing biotech at the time and was applying to different jobs, one of which turned out to be a programmer for an educational game about immunology. They wanted someone with a strong bio background that could help with content as well, so that was me! Within a few months the team got shuffled around and suddenly instead of coding I was doing project management and design. Awesome! I loved it so much that I switched careers and have been making video games ever since.
Is your background more in programming, or storytelling?
I love the false dichotomy. Either you’re a programmer or someone who does narrative. Hilarious!
Now that I’ve made fun of your totally reasonable question, I’ll answer that my background is in programming (and biology!). Nowadays I don’t code much at all. There are much smarter people on the team than me who do that. I tend to focus more on design, production, and business type stuff.
“It rarely feels like you’re alone while making games on your own in Boston.”
Boston seems to have a thriving independent developer community. Do you have any idea why that is?
Yeah! It’s really awesome how big and well-integrated our indie dev scene is. I think that if you want to make indie games this may be the best city in the world to do it in! (except for maybe Toronto, they have a great scene too).
And why? It’s because we have so many awesome universities around. The greater Boston area has half a million college students in it. It’s only natural that a lot of them will want to make games, and that some of them will actually go and do it. Plus we have a lot of meet-ups where we help each other on a regular basis. It rarely feels like you’re alone while making games on your own in Boston.
Do you think it is an exciting time to be an indie developer? What sort of challenges do you face because of it?
I think it’s always an exciting time to do what you love and make a living off it. It’s exciting to be an indie dev because there’s such a great awareness of these games now, there are fans out there who are actively looking for this stuff and huge online communities supporting these types of games. The biggest challenges are actually making a complete game that people will want, and obscurity. It’s tough to get everything done and get noticed when you’re only a one or two person shop!
fire hose team Sunday Sidebar: Meet Fire Hose Games
The Fire Hose team busy cranking out soon-to-be classics.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on at the moment?
Sure, thanks for the softball pitch! Our latest game is Go Home Dinosaurs, the most realistic BBQ defense simulator ever designed. You take the role of a card-collecting gopher who is trying to defend his BBQ from a group of invading dinos. It’s fun, colorful, and very easy to jump in to – we can’t wait until it comes out! We’ll be doing an alpha launch this summer of the game on Chrome, so keep an eye out for it!
Why would anyone say ‘Go Home Dinosaurs! ‘ Surely we want to keep them around?!
You might feel differently if that dinosaur was coming straight for your burger!
Perhaps I might! This is your second title after Slam Bolt Scrappers, which I was sad to see not show up on XBLA. Is GHD set to be a PSN exclusive also?
Nope, Go Home Dinosaurs is not coming out on PSN. In fact, we may be skipping consoles all together with this title. The alpha launch will be on Chrome this summer, though we don’t have a definitive launch date yet.
How did Fire Hose Games wind up landing their mercenary work on Dance Central? What was like for you guys?
We’re friends with the Harmonix guys and they’re just up the street from us, so we talk to them a bunch. Back in early 2009, long before Kinect or Dance Central, we chatted with Eran (Egozy, co-founder) and Eric (Brosius,  one of the technical leads) about an idea they had for a dancing game. They wanted some help coming up with a prototype and were wondering if we were interested in helping out! The project was a ton of fun, and working with Harmonix was great. In fact it was so much fun that we wound up working with them again on Rock Band Blitz, coming out later this summer.
One last thing, Eitan: What is your prized geek possession? I’m on a quest to find out what developers get sentimental over…
Hmm, well I have a copy of Earthbound and a still-working SNES that I bought with money from my paper route when I was younger, and a copy of Final Fantasy 12 signed by the creative director. I treasure these more than my kneecaps.
Yikes! Thanks for your time Eitan.
Thank you!