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.

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