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We haven't posted one of these in a while, have we? catering to birds is a 'not game' centered about a man so obsessed with birds, he attempts to become one. I'm not really sure where all this is going here but the overall package is attractive enough to waste, at the very least, a few minutes on.

Edit: If you're wondering why there's so very little to do in catering to birds right now, it's because it's still very much an unfinished. According to one of the devs, the full version of catering to birds will be released later this November as part of a 'pay-what-you-want' joint release entitled 'cutthroat EP.'

You can download the current build here.

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IGF mwegner.jpg[This article was written by Leigh Alexander and appeared originally on Gamasutra.]

The Indie Soapbox session at GDC is theoretically a "rant session," but "rant" is generally a misleading prompt for some, says host Matthew Wegner (pictured). Instead, he asked 10 indies to share what's on their mind and what their anxieties are.

The result was a fast-paced but fascinating session of condensed ideas on what indies need -- as creators, innovators and as a community -- to transcend current limitations and address common problems. From 10 speakers came 10 pieces of passionate advice.

Innovate Better

Lazy 8's Rob Jagnow made Extrasolar, a game about land rovers -- and is fatigued of being asked about "how rovers kill each other." We've built up assumptions about games over years that tend to box us in, constrain our thoughts and limit our ideas, he says: "We made this box; it's ours. So if we want to, we can think outside this box, we can reshape this box, we can destroy this box. That is our option."

That's not to say there's no innovation going on in the game space: they just aren't quite in the right spots. Innovations occur in promotion, but it focuses on putting applications into top ten lists in a fashion where quality becomes irrelevant. Cloning what works is a rampant strategy, and companies pay to out-promote one another.

"You innovate and you get cloned; you fail to innovate and you get ignored," he says.

So what can indies do? They can innovate in form, in ways that will be protected by copyright and set the games apart from competitors. Aesthetic, story and characters aren't steal-able and make games stand out. Another solution is to take giant risks -- high risk design behaviors tend to set products far apart from the idea-stealers and static market leaders.

Constraint is one way to help engender innovation, Jagnow asserts; for example, in an era with more console buttons than ever, the idea that you can make a game with one button created a hit like Canabalt. Even the idea that there must be a screen is an assumption that, when discarded, results in fascinatingly innovative games, such as IGF nominee Johann Sebastian Joust.

Think Like A Web Developer

Eliss and Faraway creator Steph Thirion has only been in game development for about three years; his background is in web development. He shared the story of 37signals, developer of the Ruby on Rails language whose roots were in the goal not only of productivity, but "to be happy and to enjoy programming." In other words, the co-founders placed their professional future in an obscure language for the sake of their own happiness -- which might seem like a "suicidal" move, but now Ruby on Rails is used by thousands of companies.

"Small shops have the ability to redefine the tools of their industry, because they still have the flexibility to think outside of the box," says Thirion. Tools from small houses have ended up remaking the landscape of web development -- why is this not happening in game development? Dozens of games use the Flash game library Flixel, for example, but Thirion wonders. "who's working on making Flixel better?"

If the indie community got out of the mindset of "solving our short term problems as they come" and instead toward the goal of creating better abstractions in tools, a wider array of simpler toolsets and scripts for the long term. Thinking like web developers -- creating and improving toolsets and generating a more active and open-source community -- can actually reinvigorate and empower the indie community, he argues.

"We should have tools that make us more productive; that make us happier... that we have control on, that we improve, and no one else knows better what these tools should look like than us. A movement like that must come from us, the people in this room," he concluded.

Can The Ego

Although he admits he might be liked less for speaking up, Time Donkey and Blurst developer Ben Ruiz says evolution in the indie community may need to come from honest self-evaluations of some of its personalities. Stressing that he doesn't intend to identify particular individuals -- rather "the independent games community as a whole" -- he urged everyone to "quit being so fucking egocentric. It's completely out of control," says Ben Ruiz.

"We end up not being able to metabolize the essence of others that contrast with us... how fast can we grow when we behave like this?" He pointed out the tendency to speak in absolutes, as well as the virulent distaste for the mainstream game industry.

The low-hanging fruit, like popular complaints about Zynga's soullessness or EA's laziness, is destructive and short-sighted, to say nothing of the personality conflicts among indies. "Look at the discussions that happen every time IGF happen each year... over and over and over again just because there are contrasting viewpoints, and it's so silly."

Adds Ruiz: "It becomes so much personal when we're all in the same space with one another... it's almost like an affront on one's very being." Indies have philosophies and core values in common, and can benefit from the removal of "walls that don't need to be there."

The IGF Is Not Going To Make You

On a similar theme, Mikengreg's Mike Boxleiter spoke up about some of the "drama" circulating the IGF -- he disputes the common idea that the IGF "makes" stars, in the wake of the narrative arc presented by Indie Game: The Movie. The idea that the festival makes an indie's life perfect is a myth, he insists: "The only reason that Fez is anything is because the [people on that project]... didn't give up for five fucking years. That is what makes you a superstar. It's giving everything that you have, every day."

For Boxleiter, his previous IGF win with Solipskier was hardly a blip on the radar of his career. "I gave my pitch document to Shigeru Miyamoto in the hallway; he signed it and politely bowed and walked away," he joked.

"The IGF shouldn't be as big a deal as it is... it gets you a lot of press, and it's cool to have your announcement be with the IGF because it shows you've got some big balls," he asserts. "But it's just an award show. And a lot of people are saying we have to preserve how the IGF 'brings up' small indies, but it totally doesn't do that."

He thought Jon Blow's simple advice -- "just make a great game" -- was elitist and exclusive, but he now agrees with the Braid creator. "If you have something you want to show other people, you're just going to have to work your ass off," Boxleiter concludes.

Explain Games In A Way That Even An Asshole Can Understand

Gunpoint developer Tom Francis comes from a writing background, and advises that explaining games is very difficult to get right. "I've been explaining other people's games for eight years," he says. One can't assume the reader is a "reasonable, intelligent human being," he jokes. "In the worst case scenario, your reader might be me, and I'm an asshole."

Many creators mistakenly assume that their games speak for themselves, and simply release screenshots and trailers. Or they assume that the description of artistic intent is enough -- but those elements don't have anything to do with how to play the game or what makes it interesting. Explaining the plot won't do, either, and nor will hyperbolic adjectives. Developers that describe their games as "innovative" don't sound innovative -- "they think, 'oh wow, they sound like a tool,'" says Francis.

Start instead with the type of game -- "summarize drastically," and get to the coolest unique thing about it. Provide context of who the player is and what he or she is trying to do. Describe a moment the player can experience that's typical of the game. "Most of your readers aren't assholes... but reasonable people still respond better to writing that doesn't waste their time... to gratify the writer's pretensions," says Francis.

Don't Be Afraid To Stick Your Neck Out

Antichamber creator Alex Bruce shared the story of a random day in Shibuya where he suddenly decided to chase a stranger down and introduce himself. He had bailed on his university work to go and speak at TGS about his Unreal Tournament mod, and recognized then-IGF chairman Simon Carless in a crowd.

After some hesitance, Bruce ran up to Carless and introduced himself, discussed Sense of Wonder Night and mentioned working outside of Australia; Carless advised him to meet The Behemoth and Q Games' Dylan Cuthbert at the event. In the event program, he noticed Epic president Mike Capps was speaking, and despite missing half the session, he decided to take a risk and try to talk to the man.

"I knew that if I didn't at least try to talk to him, I would regret that decision," says Bruce. Expecting to be brushed off, he instead got to talk to Capps about the then-unannounced Unreal Development Kit, and Capps promised to put him in touch with sales VP Mark Rein. He realized at that moment that "everyone is just another person;" he went on to meet Steve Swink and a number of other colleagues that encouraged him to go independent.

"Despite people in Australia telling me that I was wasting my time, in Japan I'd met someone... who was telling me I was onto something," he says, deciding to attend GDC and subsequently - after winning Make Something Unreal - deciding to make the leap into an indie career.

"The desire to always make the most of whatever situation I'm in and not talk myself out of whatever opportunities before I've even tried... is the reason I'm here today," he says. His success wasn't about lucky enough to have been in Japan -- it was about seizing and chasing down minor moments, and being willing to take risks big and small.

Your Tech Is More Than A Tool

Tool users tend to take the path of least resistance, says Metanet's Raigan Burns. For example, one only had a marble and a chisel, one would never make a painting -- games are heavily bound aesthetically by the limitations of their technology.

"There's a tendency to consider the computer to be a generic tool," he says. But thinking differently about it -- like a musical instrument -- helps tech become an integral part of the entire creative work. There are more ways to represent shapes than most developers use. "What if every musician only played guitar... ultimately you're all in the same parameter space," Burns says.

Seek Inspirational Visuals

Maquette's Hanford Lemoore says there isn't much in video games that looks like his favorite works of art. We avoid the uncanny valley in games, for example, but the Royal De Luxe theater company's eerie-eyed puppet dolls are beautiful and fascinating art objects because they embrace it. And games focus on rational architecture, but absurd, textured places are extremely compelling.

"I'm not just talking about visual inspiration for your art style... there's all sorts of things in real life that can do that for you," he says. Lemoore saves all kinds of Images that he finds creatively stimulating, but they only help if you find a way to proactively expose yourself to things that inspire you.

This is fairly simple to do, he says, explaining how he made a primitive screen saver tool that kept the images visible and fresh, and a dropbox account that could house all of his inspirations. Instead of using sketchbooks and tucking them away, he pins notecards and pictures to his wall so that they're always in his view.

It influences not only him, but his friends and coworkers, and has the effect of encouraging him to seek out further inspiration and things he can keep from his environment. Proactively seeking out inspirational visuals is a simple but potent creative tool.

Game Development Is For Everyone

Mike Meyer is the organizer of the all-inclusive IGF Pirate Kart talked about GloriousTrainwreck.com, founded in the philosophy of old-school train wrecks orchestrated simply so they could be compelling spaces to people. There are communities of people who make games, and it's important to continue including others. That was what Meyer most wanted to enforce -- that while many indies might seem like "unapproachable nerds... we'd love to have you."

Indies should do more to encourage new voices, he suggests. The "Pirate Rant" -- the manifesto of the Kart's contributors -- plead for everyone to stop fearing fun, to finish their games, and remove anything that's in the way of their development, among other nuggets of advice. "Don't just fucking sit there -- help or encourage someone to make a game," he concluded.

Think In Endless Dimensions

Fez developer Phil Fish recently had a conversation with comic book artist James Harvey, from which he took away a particularly interesting idea about comics: that they allow the viewer to see across time all at once -- what Harvey meant by that, says Fish, was that by breaking down a series of moments across a page, the viewer gets an almost godlike view of the action.

"I thought that was really interesting," he says, inspired to think about how this metaphysical take on comics applied to games.

Video games, by logic, is a 3D media object with many possible outcomes depending on inputs. "In games, engaging with the medium changes the medium -- different things happen in different times," Fish says. "You project yourself in time... you consider many different outcomes all at once."

"The media itself... becomes this fractal, and you consider all these different versions of that same piece of media," says Fish. "It's like a giant cloud of possibilities, of which you can only ever materialize a small slice."

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IGF JE.jpg[The article was written by Ben Abraham and appeared originally on Gamasutra.]

On the same day caucuses around the U.S. line up to vote for their preferred candidate in the 2012 presidential election, two candidates squared up to debate the best practice in game design and whether it's better to build or buy a middleware engine.

In a GDC 2012 session moderated by thatgameocmpany's Kellee Santiago, Alexander Bruce of Antichamber fame and John Edwards from thatgamecompany debated whether game design is best served by licensed middleware or a custom made solution.

Alex Bruce began the debate with an opening statement aimed at those that create their own tech: "Building your own engine is like building your own Photoshop." His argument rested on the fact that developers need to balance an artist's needs with the practicality of engineering.

Instead, Bruce prefers to start with something (in his case, the Unreal engine) and then add, subtract, bend and twist it until it does what he wants. There are numerous precedents for this -- Team Fortress Classic, for instance, was built on Half-Life, which was itself built on top of the Quake engine.

The advantage, said Bruce is that "engines are about optimization" which means he can spend more time and energy worrying about other aspects of the design.

He was also realistic about his abilities -- sure, plenty of developers do well with homemade tech, but Bruce said, "I would not be where I am" without using a licensed engine.

He also learned about the dangers of internal engine development from one of his previous jobs: "I worked for a studio that burned itself to the ground thinking they could do everything cheaper, faster and better... but didn't allocate the resources to do it."

Bruce finished his statement by encouraging developers to prioritize how they want to invest their development time: "Technology is getting faster, but we are never getting any more hours in our day."

John Edwards then stepped forward to defend internal engine development, and conceded that he and Bruce "agree on all the points, but [not] on the conclusions." Edwards' conclusions were influenced by three problems that come with licensed engines: "Pay to pay," "leaky abstractions," and "avoiding the hard problems."

When developers and studios decide to buy a licensed engine, he said, they first pay for the engine before they even begin to make content for it. Once developers purchase this shiny new tech, "some interesting psychology takes place in the face of all these possibilities... with all its features unused, the engine is hungry... like a small child, starving for food," distracting developers from the core design of their game.

"Then you wake up months later... wondering what all these normal maps and bloom are doing in your text adventure."

The second point of trouble with licensed middleware is what Edwards called "leaky abstractions" -- when you use a licensed first person shooter engine, it becomes harder to make a game unlike a first person shooter, for instance.

The third and final problem is what Edwards called "avoiding the hard problem," noting that developers can often become distracted by fancy tech with exciting bells and whistles.

"If technology were the hard part, [games like Braid or Castle Crashers] wouldn't have taken three years to make!" said Edwards. "Engines can give you the illusion of progress."

Santiago later questioned both debaters, asking whether they had any regrets about their particular approaches -- suggesting that Bruce could have collaborated with an engineer.

"Yes and no." was Bruce's enigmatic reply. "Only once I got to knowing what my game actually was." The process of tinkering and twisting the engine was quite integral to his development process. "The game would not have ended up where it was if I had someone build an engine from scratch."

Edwards referenced the recently-debuted Indie Game: The Movie, which he felt exemplified how his company makes games, in that developers place themselves in the space where "there are a lot of unknowns" and a lot of creative uncertainty.

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The second highest-rated Vita game currently available, DrinkBox's physics-based Katamari-like puzzle platformer Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack!!!, is now coming to Windows and Mac (and Steam).

According to Joystiq, the PC port of the game trades touchscreen support for mouse control with the "telekinesis" ability. Those who don't have a Vita but at least have a PlayStation 3 can catch up by playing the awesome first PSN title in the series, Tales from Space: About a Blob.

At last night's Sony Pub Fund Pub Crawl, DrinkBox told me that lucha libre metroidvania game Guacamelee will be playable at the upcoming PAX East convention next month. I imagine that when (not if, I am predicting) Tales from Space succeeds on Windows and Mac, Guacamelee won't be far behind if it is not released on PC and consoles simultaneously.

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Futurlab's PlayStation Mini Velocity wants to add some teleportation to the shmup genre, and the trailer suggests it makes for an exciting experience. With so much of the thrill of modern shmups being dodging, fitting teleportation into the typical shmup design seems challenging.

Futurlab's James Marsden tells IndieGames that it was tough to balance the gameplay around the teleport mechanic. "I don't think it's hype to say we've had to redesign what a shootemup is. We've changed the emphasis from being able to get through a level at all, to being able to perfect a level, and the inclusion of the scroll-speed control acts like a Flow-State pedal."

The game becomes more challenging when moving faster, so players can learn a level without using much of their scroll boost, and then the better they get at it, and the closer they get to the perfect medal, the more they use the scroll boost. "The game at its most impressive sees a player masterfully pumping the gas at the right times to fling bombs at targets at just the right moment, teleporting into the middle of alien waves to get the best bullet coverage and bomb fling accuracy," Marsden shares.

He adds that he finds dodging in a typical shooter to be dull. He says Velocity is a much richer gameplay experience "because a player has to keep their attention on more interesting gameplay challenges - like how fast they managed to take the last corner and how accurately they teleported /into/ a group of enemies to take them out with well aimed bomb flings in each direction." Once players can rescue all survivors and kill everything in a level, and do it quickly, they get a perfect gold medal.

Velocity is developed as a PSP-mini and runs on PS3 and PS Vita in an emulator. "In the case of the Vita, it is a perfect 1 to 4 pixel ratio, so Velocity looks great on Vita, and not quite so great on PS3," describes Marsden.

The release date is up to Sony, says Marsden. "We do know that it's likely to be in middle of March in EU, and most likely May 1st in US. We tried very hard to syncronise the release dates across territories but it has been difficult to manage with just the two of us!"

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Got four friends who fancy wearing jet packs and placing dinosaurs back on the extinction list? Spiral Game Studios' ORION: Dino Beatdown is an open world, class-based cooperative survival sci-fi FPS. In ORION, five players explore huge, endless environments in which everyone must work together to survive the Dinosaur Horde. ORION: Dino Beatdown comes to PC on Steam and OnLive in March for $9.99. Their other game, ORION: Prelude, is aimed for XBLA and PSN.

CEO David Prassel tells IndieGames that Sprial Game Studios is "very much an indie development team. We are self-financed and a self-publishing studio that started only with an idea and a shared goal." The team is currently 22-members strong.

Equally strong was their support for their Kickstarter project, which reached 175% of its funding goal. In a very charitable move, going beyond the promised KickStarter perks, every backer will get a Steam key. Elaborated on the team's blog, "Whether you donated $1 or $1,000 we will see you on the battlefield and be fighting alongside you on day 1."

Nice move!

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Fresh off the back of the release of Shank 2, Klei Entertainment have dropped an initial trailer for their next release. Mark Of The Ninja is a "Stealth Ninja" game. It looks to me kind of like a sidescrolling Tenchu, with Klei Entertainment's trademark flair for high quality presentation, gorgeous 2D animation, and sprinkles of a bit of the old ultra-violence.

Revealed not with a boring press release, Klei released a free piece of interactive fiction which appears to set the tone of the game, and you get a look at this first trailer for finishing it. It's playable over here.

As is the way of the Ninja, Mark Of The Ninja seems to not focus on a direct assault, but using your Ninja skills, the environment and your equipment in clever ways to outfox your enemies without even being seen.

The trailer has an Xbox logo on it, no other platforms mentioned yet. It's due for a release in Summer of this year.

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the floor is jelly.jpgWhat if everything players touched in their game world was made of jelly? That is the question Ian Snyder's IGF Student Showcase finalist The Floor is Jelly seeks to answer, in the form of a colorful but atypical 2D platformer.

Snyder has explored this question since July 2011, while continuing his studies at the Kansas City Art Institute. He's been exploring the boundaries of games in a larger context since he began honing his craft in 2005, his freshman year of high school. His unconventional maze game Feign even earned him an honorable mention for the Nuovo Award at IGF in 2011.

While wrapped in the shell of a 2D platformer, The Mac- and PC-bound The Floor is Jelly will be unconventional in many ways. However, Snyder aims to make it extremely fun and rewarding, especially for the players who like to "poke at the holes in the corners of their universe until it unravels." Here Snyder begins to unravel his mysterious, gelatinous universe in-the-making.

Could you tell me about yourself and the development tools you've used?

I've been making games in general for about 7 years now. I also made the game Feign, which you may have heard of before.

I'm using flash to build this. It's the program I've worked with since I began making games, so it's just easiest for me to use that. Someday I will teach myself a real programming language, really! I've been making the game off and on since July, and it is still in development.

What bits of games served as your inspiration?

Videos of games like Loco Roco, Patapon, Pixeljunk Eden/Shooter, and Hohokum have all had an influence visually, I think. I haven't actually gotten the change to play most of these... That vectored style is something that stuck with me though.

I keep returning to Everyday Shooter when I feel like I'm out of ideas. There is a synthesis of graphics, sound, and play in that game I find particularly inspiring.

Proteus got me thinking about games as a place the player exists in. Somewhere you are rather than something you do, which is important to the kinds of aesthetic decisions I'm making in the game.

How are you making the jelly be gelatinous in technical programming terms?

The jelly works a bit like cellular automata. If you take Conway's Game of Life, for example, one way to understand the rules is in terms of neighbors (each cell has nine) and their relationships (depending on their neighbors, a cell expresses either an "on": or "off" state). The jelly is made up a of a series of points surrounding each island like a band. The line these points make defines the shape of the island. Each point has two neighbors, one counterclockwise and one clockwise. Where something like the Game of Life might express relationships between these in boolean values, each point's relationship to its neighbors is expressed and defined by their x/y position.

In more concrete terms, when one point gets far enough from its neighbors, it pulls the neighbors toward itself (and simultaneously, its neighbors are pulling it back toward them). Once these neighbors have been dislodged from their position, they will pull their neighbors, and those neighbors in turn will pull away theirs and so on creating the rippling effect of the jelly. There is also a force acting on the points to make sure that they return to their original position instead of ending up a crumpled heap somewhere in the infinite void beyond the screen's edges.

It's actually quite a simple simulation.

How would you label your game?

Well, jumping is something that happens a lot... My hope with the game is simply to present a space where players can interact with these weird physics. A platformer is a pretty efficient way to accomplish that. I'm working to make the environment just a nice place to be in. The game will have a good amount of hidden things for those who want to look. So there's looking for things, there's being somewhere, and there's jumping on things. I guess I'd say it has a focus on the kinetic or sensory experience of the player - it's an experiential platformer.

Why do you think your game deserves to win the Student Showcase?

I never said anything about thinking I deserved to win. Talk to the judges about that...

I've been looking over the other Student Showcase [finalists], and I'm honored to be counted among them. All the games look great this year, and I'm excited to meet them all and play their games in person.

What feedback from IGF Nuovo Award Honorable Mention Feign and other games helped in making Jelly

Wow, I can't think of two more disparate games!

They do share certain characteristics, though. The central focus of both games is less about how awesome the protagonist/player is and more about the supernatural nature of the environment around them.

Games are basically magic. Want to walk around in a non-Euclidean maze? No problem! Want to run around wildly on a floor made of jello? Go for it!

One big lesson I took away from Feign is how patient the player can be. Maybe I had to abuse that relationship a little bit to understand that it was there. I felt for a while after Feign that I had to make these 'apology' games that were much kinder to the player.

There's a certain threshold a gamer crosses when they really commit to a game though. There's this point between where they're only trying it out and where they're actively trying to reach the end. Once the player steps over it, you can basically take them anywhere you want to. That's one of the key differences to me between games and other mediums, suspension of disbelief is a built in feature. When something happens in a game, no matter how fantastical that thing is, it is actually happening.

Water cooler talk: why should the average gamer play your game?

Ok, here's the deal, Average Gamer. We have our separate tastes, I know that. I stopped playing those shooters a long time ago because they just weren't my cup of tea. You still like them, and I respect and appreciate that. My game won't be following many of the conventions you're used to, let me warn you.

You won't be killing anything, there will be lots of colors, it occurs on a 2D plane, you can sit still to enjoy the environment and nothing will kill you, and it's made by me alone, meaning it's probably a great deal shorter than what you're used to.

I'm trying to make something that's just a nice place to be in. Maybe you like to be in nice places sometimes? I know I do.

What are some interesting things about your game that you haven't talked about before?

I'm always fascinated by areas in games which you are not supposed to enter. Maybe they're secret rooms, or they're a place where you can stand behind the scenery, or a room where you can fall through the floor into a black void if you stand in the right place and press the right buttons.

As I am making The Floor is Jelly, I'm trying to find those little places the player is not supposed to go and putting secrets there. I want the game to be really rewarding to the kind of player who pokes at the holes in the corners of their universe until it unravels.

Why jelly, and why not pudding? Are there talks with Bill Cosby for celebrity endorsement?

When it comes to jelly vs. pudding -- and believe me, it is a quandary I have spent long nights losing sleep over -- it is ultimately a question of movement. Jelly, and specifically its slightly trademarked cousin Jell-O, has a lively quality of movement that pudding just doesn't have. Pudding just sits there. Even the word "pudding" has a way of falling dollop-shaped from your mouth.

Initially Mr. Cosby seemed to like the idea of a world made of jelly, but in a voice recording session someone let it slip that this was all for a video game. It was at this point he barged into my office screaming something about how "videogames are ruining the childrens of today," and proceeded to meander out of the studio in a vague rage. We did try to appease Mr. Cosby with food, but he would have none of it.

However, I haven't given up hope for his involvement in the project, and we are trying to peaceably work things out between us.

Unfounded Rumor: You are working on a theme park made out of jelly. Discuss.

Ian Snyder does not comment on rumor or speculation. I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a theme park and series of corresponding residential areas made of jelly.

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russiansubwaydogs.jpg
Russian Subway Dogs is one of the many delightful games that is being assembled for Pirate Kart V: The 2012-in-one Glorious Developers Konference Kollection. Created by Miguel Sternberg, it's an arcade-y little title that works on a very simple premise. You're a dog. You're hungry. You're totally okay with scaring people into dropping their food - they don't need it as much as you, after all. You also fight rival dogs by causing vodka bottles to explode in their general vicinity. No, don't ask me how that works.

There is not much to the game itself. You have a stamina bar that gets drained with every bark. Your goal is to ensure that it doesn't deplete. Your real objective is to compose a score higher than the one you had before. For what it is, Russian Subway Dogs is pretty darn awesome. If you have a little bit of free time and nothing to do, you should download this one. Heck, even if you have something to do, take a break and download it anyway.

Get the game here.

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sidescroller-albumtn.jpgIn development since 2009, Journey by Thatgamecompany is due out the week of March 13.

In this interview, composer Austin Wintory and sound designer Steve Johnson join us to discuss the use of audio on the PlayStation 3-exclusive online game.

In what ways is Journey attempting to make interactions with other players a novel experience?

Sound Designer Steve Johnson: ThatGameCompany's vision with the multiplayer is out-of-the-ordinary. You start off alone, and then cross paths with other players as you walk to the mountain. Jenova's analogy is that if you've been hiking a trail by yourself, you're naturally a little more inclined to wave or say hello when you see someone walking towards you. They are more interesting in contrast to your own isolation and "smallness."

Composer Austin Wintory: If we've done our job right, only half of the enjoyment will be due to the novelty of encountering another player for the first time. It's not simply that you're playing with someone else, but that the experience is meaningful.

Even though you don't know who they are or where they are in the world, and you're not looking up their profile on PSN or hearing them over voice chat, it's a meaningful connection. There have been playtests where we have asked people what they thought of the other player. The range of responses is really fascinating. When you remove dialog, PSN handles or an image of someone's face on a webcam, you're judging purely by the "body language" of their actions within the game.

As with flOw and Flower, the game is another example of stressing non-verbal forms of storytelling. How does the lack of dialog reflect on your roles?

AW: Speaking for myself, I've loved this project more than just about anything I've worked on. More than usual, we are having a hand in telling the story, and I want the music to mirror the player's experience in a very adaptive way. As with the previous two TGC titles, different players will play the game in different ways. The music needs to reflect that. We're telling a story, but at the same time the players are able to tell their own story.

SJ: As a sound designer it's exciting to work on a game without dialog because I get to be that much more of a storyteller. Without dialog, I find I'm constantly thinking not just about sound coverage, but what I'm trying to say with the sound. It's more about the adjectives than the nouns. "Is this friendly or spiritual?" "Somber or intimidating?" "Strong or delicate?" "Soothing or unsettling?" Those are the kinds of ways I can help tell the story. And seeing as this time around there are actual characters, unlike Flower, that makes those decisions a little easier.

In Journey, you can communicate by having your character sing. How did this form of interaction evolve over the course of development?

SJ: We've tried to make the singing as expressive as we can, while using only one button. It's mostly based on how hard you press the button and how long you hold it. I really liked how in Shadow of the Collossus, you speak to your horse using only one button and it changes depending on the context. You might be softly speaking, shouting across a distance, or screaming bloody murder if you're up against a boss.

AW: The idea is not to create some alternate language, but there are a lot of different uses for the singing in the game.

If you find yourself frustrated with the other player the network has paired you with while playing, can you choose to be swap out for someone else?

AW: Journey is an online game, but there is no lobby or way to choose who you play with. If you wander off from another player, you'll be disconnected. Eventually you may get connected to somebody else. In this way, even though many people are playing, you'll only ever see one person at a time. You can choose to play with others, but you can also finish the game alone.

Japanese language trailer

flOw had its aquatic environment, while Journey is set within expanses of sand. How will the sound of the game reflect the visual theme?

SJ: The last game was all about wind and grass. This one is all about sand and cloth. On the player alone, there's the body foley, a cape whose sound is tied to length, wind speed, and player velocity, footsteps for the all surfaces, surfing on sand.

In my room at Sony I've got a cardboard box filled with dirty Venice Beach sand that's become my ghetto foley pit. All of the sand waterfalls, rolling sand dunes, and player-sand interactions were recorded there. Having a variety of desert ambiences has been an interesting task too. For instance, one level is a super hot, still desert. What's the sound of that? I finally made something mostly out of processed and panned roomtone.

AW: The music and sound design are very interwoven. Steve is doing a lot of foley work with sand and cloth, which is directly impacting the music I write. Just like the thesis version of FlOw was almost named "Darwin's Island," this game had working titles that were cloth-themed. "Woven" was a name that came up. That's why I retitled the eight-minute suite that I performed at the Golden State Pops to be "Woven Variations."

How would you characterize the instrumentation for the music score?

AW: The music in the game utilizes orchestra, but I wouldn't call it "orchestral." It has a heavily electronic aspect to it, but it features a lot of cello solos, as you can hear in the trailer. The cello is played by one of my dear friends and collaborators, Tina Guo. I thought it would be fun to write what is in effect a cello concerto for her, based on the Journey music. It abstractly tells the story of the game, but in purely musical terms.

Is there a straightforward goal to Journey? Or is it, as Jenova Chen has said, not about the destination but all about the journey?

AW: The macro goal is to head toward the mountain in the distance. But as much as the game is about this overall goal, it's equally about a series of characteristic moments and emotional experiences along the way.

SJ: I agree. Jenova and TGC deliberately planned the game as a string of distinct moments and impressions. If we do our job right, then hopefully people will find those impressions memorable and meaningful.


Images courtesy of Thatgamecompany. Sign up for Austin Wintory's Fanbridge page for an exclusive Journey music download.

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