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!

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