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Nous IGF.pngAwesome Shark Volcano brings identity-challenged artificial intelligence to life in its top-down arcade arena experience and IGF Student Showcase finalist Nous.

With the team's creation, they aim to bridge the gap between art-games and traditional titles. Nous is filled with reactive narrative, as the AI sorts its identity. The game also offers active play, where players bounce around the screen while racking up massive smash combos, and passive play, where players dodge and lead enemies to converters to make them allies.

Here producer/programmer Pohung Chen and game designer Brett Cutler speak about their freely downloadable title Nous. In particular, Cutler speaks of partly identifying as a "self-centered artist, full of himself but doubting his worth," and how this was channeled into the neuroses of the Nous itself.

What does Nous mean?

Brett Cutler, Game Designer: Nous (pronounced 'noose' or 'now-s') refers to a philosophical (Greek) term representing the ability of the mind to order and rationalize the world. Nous, the AI embodied in the game, can't decide what it is, and this drives the narrative - in each level, the AI proposes a purpose for itself and then rejects it, sometimes violently. You interact with Nous through your play style (you don't ever have to kill anything) and through dialogue trees.

So you, the player, by working through the game, build a model of Nous with your interactions and how you interpret it. Your experience of the game is the only place 'Nous' the character is ever alive. So your interpretation and ordering of this character literally defines it.

Now, the letters n-o-u-s are also the French word for 'you and I', or 'we'. Which makes Nous a poor title for internet searchability. But it also has a nice reflection of the themes of the game - you and the AI work together to build an experience.

In an industry where the biggest games have such clear identities and genres (Drake, Kratos, Mario, Sonic), how does a game with an ambiguous identity compete?

Brett: Short answer: poorly. Longer answer: fairly poorly. Obviously we have no grounds to complain about the reception our game has gotten, but I think we intended it to be more approachable than it is. I heard a fair amount of "Yeah, I've heard of it but I haven't played it." I don't think there's enough concrete material for potential players to latch onto - it's not a complicated game, but it doesn't have an aspect that slots easily into something players recognize. It's basically a top-down shooter, but because that's not obvious from pictures or video, and the story hook is hard to sell, we scare players off. Those first impressions are important, and I think we definitely stumbled on them.

On the other hand, if a player commits, I think we can give them a pretty deep cut. Nous is the type of game (personal, artistic, at times surprising) that can foster memories.

As a character, Nous isn't easy to sell. The AI doesn't have a face. It doesn't have a voice. It does, and it spits words. But it's not even consistent in its personality. What works, though, is that at the end players feel like they've gotten a personal experience. And when the pretence is dropped and we say, look, Nous is the farthest thing from a character, it's just bunch of words -- well, then players become more attached to it because they're all it has. The character feels real, but the world says it isn't - so the natural response is to cling harder, and treasure it more.

What served as inspiration for Nous?

Brett: The Coen Brothers' Barton Fink and Kanye West's My Beautfiul Dark Twisted Fantasy both occupied a lot of mind space at the time I was writing Nous. Both are about the self-centered artist, full of himself but doubting his worth - I identified with that. It helped me to put those fears and neuroses into the game and the character. It's messy but honest, I think.

There's a scene in Barton Fink where John Goodman runs down a hallway (the hallway is on fire), blasting away on a shotgun, shouting, "I"ll show you the life of the mind! I'll show YOU the life of the mind! I'll SHOW YOU the life of the mind!" That's what I want Nous to be.

Could you tell me about the team who worked on the game? Any notable previous game projects?

Pohung Chen: There were four of us who worked on Nous. I was a technical producer in charge of schedules, helping with playtest sessions, and making sure we ship on-time. I also wrote code for the game (mostly physics). Treb was our technical director, wrote the core engine, serialization, script binding and misc coding tasks. Brett was our game designer and gameplay programmer. He wrote most of our scripts and is in charge of the overall player experience. Jason was our graphics programmer and he made things pretty. We are all students at DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA. Nous was our sophomore year project.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and tinkered with computers since I was a kid. Making games is cool because it is a product built by people from many different disciplines. There are so many unique challenges involved in shipping a game. I get to solve new and interesting problems everyday.

Brett: I grew up with a judgmental perspective and a desire to make things that were better than other things. I'm glad I'm making games, because it's almost as good as being an astronaut (Plan A). As a designer, I get to pretend I'm in charge. It's given me a great form of argument, the appeal to the game: "Guys, the game needs all these shaders. The game needs a completely different art style. The game is hungry, get me a sammich."

Pohung: And it is then my job to explain why we cannot do some of the crazy things Brett wants us to do, like getting him a sammich.

What development tools did you use? How long was the development cycle?

Pohung: We used Microsoft Visual Studio to manage and build our project. Most of our code is written in C++ with custom Lua binding as a scripting language to iterate on gameplay code. We're using DirectX 9 for graphics and FMOD for audio. Our engine is component-based and it deserializes composite game objects from XML files. We used Subversion for our source control. (We've gotten smarter since then and have all switched to Mercurial).

As for our production and development process, we had rigid milestones once a month as required by the DigiPen faculty. The instructors preached iteration for building great games. Unfortunately grades are due when they're due, so we are forced to build iterative processes within rigid, waterfall deadline structures. As much as we would like to go with the "we'll ship the game when it's done" approach, that option was not available to us.

We started on early ideas for our sophomore project and building our core engine technology early summer of 2010. We went through a bunch of vastly different ideas and mechanics hoping to stumble into something awesome. We didn't come up with the framing and theme of Nous until February of 2011. Once we did, we built early iterations of the game and the technology needed for it until the end of April. From there, three of us started moving onto new projects for our junior year. Brett continued to work on Nous and re-doing the writing and content for it until about October of 2011.

Brett: Caffeine. Sleep. Bravado.

Were there any notable advisors or external sources of help for the project?

Pohung: The environment at DigiPen is truly unique. We definitely could not have built Nous in isolation.

Playtesting was a big part of our process and we have a student-run organization that manages weekly playtesting for games being developed here at DigiPen. It was a really good avenue for seeing what people liked, what was stupid about what we built, and a conclusive decider on which ideas worked and which didn't. Playtesting is good for picking out ideas that work when the team is in conflict about which direction to go. You learn about implementation and execution as you build the game, but you have to watch real players interact with what you've built in order to have any validation that your game is engaging.

Our peers were also a great resource while building this game. Seeing other great games being built alongside us was incredibly energizing and encouraging. Watching some of the upperclassmen games being developed at the same time as Nous gave me a lot of insight on how other teams and games worked.

We have three instructors (Benjamin Ellinger, Chris Peters, Rachel Rutherford) that run all of the game projects classes at the sophomore and junior level. All three of them work tirelessly to make the structure of game class better and are often times helping out student teams late into the evenings. All three of them had a huge impact on the way we think about game design, technology, and team dynamics.

Brett: I'd like to thank everyone who sat down to play our game and told us it wasn't good enough. Because that's what drove us - it wasn't great, we were doing it wrong, we had to work harder. Eventually we exerted our way right into something kind of neat.

And don't stop telling us it's not good enough.

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

Brett: Nous is clear and focused in its confusing messiness. It's an ultimatum to the player: Play Me, Or Maybe Don't, But I'd Prefer You Do. It's fun and sad. It asks the deep questions: do you like all these flashing lights?

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

Brett: Nous is an arty game, right, but it's not pretentious, and it tries to be a satisfying experience even to the player who skips past every piece of dialogue in the game (and there's a button to do that!). I don't want to see games with literary themes get shunted into their own ghetto - I want to see these messages get brought into a broader context. Nous is an experiment in bringing the goods while keeping the brains. A game is a game, in the end, and Nous works to keep that.

Play it. Marvel at the awesome graphics, make a lot of stuff blow up - it's pretty great! And when the screen goes dark, and you've got that time to think about what just happened, well, remember what Nous is.

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

Brett: So the music in the game, the ambient rumbles and strings, were added literally the day we shipped. We had written several tracks in different styles across the iterations of the game, from when it was Dr. Gravity and the Invention of Gravity onwards, and the tracks weren't fitting completely with the Nous environment.

Then we remembered a program we had fiddled with months before, designed to get extremely slowed-down versions of sound files. Basically, the tool to make the music for Inception. It hadn't worked with our earlier concept but for Nous it was perfect - the menace, the fragments of almost-recognizable melody, the implication that time is slower within the world of the computer. We ran several classical music recordings through it and fragments of our old score and amazingly had found our soundtrack.

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dust1.pngIGF Student Showcase finalist Dust takes the trimming of a traditional side scrolling game and makes it magical. Players assume the roll of a moth that must escape from an old attic, collect its fallen moth brethren, and find its way to the ultimate source of light and its greatest attraction: the moon.

Visual attractiveness was important to Team Dust's eight members, who all wanted their game have a storybook feel. Through Dust's development, the team actually derived more inspiration from Trine than classic Disney movies. Even after Team Dust found its inspiration, the game never became a laborious nor mechanical for its members. Dust remained their "art".

Here Dust's environment and world building artist Patrick Sullivan explains how the game was intended and remained to be a tool to better the developers who worked on it. He also discusses how Dust's enormous environments come to life and even how the team avoided having a moth, who possesses the power of light, be attracted to itself.

What development tools did you use? How long was the development cycle?

Our engine was Unity, we all used 3Ds max as our modelling program, and Photoshop. As a school project, Dust was technically done after 6 months, but since then the team has been making minor adjustments here and there.

What inspired you to create Dust?

From the beginning we decided to go with a storybook feel and I think we pulled that off. Our earliest inspirations were from Old Disney references like Lady and the Tramp, and colorful and exaggerated art styles like Matt Gaser's work, but I think our implementation of those styles was pretty off.

Where I think we succeeded was when we started looking at Trine for inspiration. The environments were vibrant and had a lot of contrast in the lighting. We did our best to make the game feel like a child's fantasy world, and for the most part I think we pulled it off.

Why a game of dust and moths? Where are the moth balls?

The initial idea for Dust came from our concept artist, Alexis Boyer. We wanted to focus on the game as an art piece, and her idea was the best fit. We wanted to make a unique game with an unusual perspective, and building the world around a small bug meant we could make a new and interesting environment. Down at a tiny moth's perspective, chairs and tables became like massive buildings, and small objects like books, balls, and teddy bears became enormous obstacles.

The base mechanic for the game was pushing, and we wanted to give the main moth the ability to move progressively larger and larger objects. So we gave him a little zombie moth army (or marmy) to do all the grunt work. We called the game Dust because it was such an appropriate fit. The player is in a dusty old attic, resurrecting dusty mini moths, and is guided by bright particles of dust.

Unfortunately, moth balls didn't make it in the game because of time and resource constraints. There's a lot of stuff we had to cut out. We wanted enemies and interactive NPCs, and we wanted to be able to light your little mini moths on fire as they flew through candles. At one point we wanted essentially a Super Saiyan (Dragon Ball Z) moth, but the scope and scale would have gotten out of hand... Plus we were afraid that the game might have exploded from too much awesome.

A moth with the power of light: does that mean it is attracted to itself?

We had to make the moth blind so he didn't just fly around in circles trying to catch himself. His little zombie marmy is also his seeing eye marmy.

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

Dust, as a project, was intended to be a tool to better the people that worked on it. Each team member was very passionate about making a fun and beautiful product, and getting a meaningful experience out of the process. It was never just some task to be completed. Dust is our art, made just because we wanted to create something awesome and unique. Dust deserves to win because it's an accurate representation of why we all wanted to be in the game industry to begin with. We just wanted to make something cool.

Why should the average gamer play your game?

Part of Dust's appeal is its simplicity. All that you're doing essentially is collecting enough resources to make yourself awesome enough to knock over big items and dominate the environment. It's fun for the average player because you get to explore a familiar world through an unusual perspective. It's also not that bad of a game to look at. It's very shiny.

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

If you take the time to look for this, one of our Environment artists, Brian McClain, made caricatures of the original 6 team members, and we placed the portraits all over the level. Along with the portraits are little notes to the team that Brian left around the attic. Also, one thing that we're proud of is the music. Our composer, Blake Allen, joined the team after last year's GDC and wrote the music specifically for Dust. His contribution tied the game together perfectly. It's pretty cool that our game has its very own music.

Could you tell me about the team who worked on the game?

Team Dust was a group of artists that wanted to paint a pretty picture and evoke a sense of wonder. Even our lonestar programmer, Alex Burley, was engaged in the art process to make sure the mood was set exactly how we envisioned it. The majority of our artists label themselves as Environment Artists, but during the whole process we filled the roles that needed to be filled.

Chris Wilson and Paul Poff were our prop artists. Chris also filled a project manager role, and Poff tried his hand at Dust's animations. Alexis Boyer, Brian McClain, and I were the environment guys. Alexis also did character work and props, Brian established the environment concepts and in-game 2D illustrations, and Pat did a lot of world building and technical implementation (spearheaded by Mr. Burley).

Later on we added Blake Allen for our audio and Jessica Burg for our graphic and web design needs. This is Team Dust's first project, and at the moment we don't have plans for any others. We've all moved on to new and exciting prospects, but who knows where the members of our team will go next.

Were there any notable advisors or external sources of help for the project?

We had four advisors working with the team to make sure it stayed on track. Our academic director at the Art Institute [of Phoenix], Jim Haldy, acted like our producer, and made sure we didn't veer off course or undertake too much. RC Torres and Thomas DiCosola were our art advisors. They critiqued our work all the way through development and helped us nail down the mood. In fact it was Mr. DiCosola that came up with Dust as our title.

Helping out our programmer was David Koontz. He really helped to get us acquainted with unity. All together they were there to give us as much of a professional experience as they could. They were all amazingly helpful, and Team Dust's appreciation can't be overstated.

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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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BotaniculaIGF.jpgHailing from the Czech Republic, Amanita Design has made a distinct impression on the indie game scene with its visually striking, imaginative adventure games such as Machinarium and Samorost 1 and 2.

Now, the studio is working on Botanicula, a new point and click adventure game that continues the team's legacy of lovingly-crafted visuals and minimalistic storytelling techniques. The game's unique aesthetic has earned it a nomination for an Excellence in Visual Art award at this year's IGF.

As part of our ongoing series of Road to the IGF interviews, Gamasutra spoke with animator Jara Plachy and Amanita Design co-founder Jakub Dvorsky to learn more about Botanicula, and how the studio's previous titles have informed the team's approach to adventure game design.

How did you get your start making games?

Jara Plachy: I started to work on games when I was hired by friends from Amanita Design to create some animations for Machinarium, and I really enjoyed working on the project. It was Amanita that actually showed me how to create a game. Until this collaboration, I worked mostly on animated movies, and I realized it's possible to create original and unique computer games that have narrative and expression equal to animated movies or graphic novels.

How long have you worked on Botanicula?

JP: Botanicula has been in development for two and a half years already. It has gone from preliminary sketches and visual style experiments to now, when the game is nearly finished.

How did you come up with the concept for the game?

JP: At the beginning, I just had an indefinite plan to create a game and follow my previous experiments, such as the small game Shy Dwarf. In the beginning, Botanicula was like an interactive animated movie -- like a huge maze, where the viewer -- or rather, the player -- can determine the future turn of events, just by choosing between A or B. This plan came about because I thought about the project mainly as a designer or an animator. Finally, after some close cooperation with Amanita and Jakub, Botanicula began to evolve into a point-and-click adventure game with gameplay similar to previous Amanita's games.

As for the thematic inspiration, I was fascinated with an old garden full of aged trees in South Bohemia, where I was on holiday and I immediately started to think about making a game based on similar setting. Soon, I came up with a simple story about a little seed and plant-like characters and started to design all the small details inspired by this real garden.

Botanicula-1.jpg
What drives Amanita Design to the adventure game genre? What about it do you find most appealing?

Jakub Dvorsky: Adventure games are perfect genre if you are looking for a slow paced game where the narrative and atmosphere are essential. We also love animated films, and adventure games are somewhere between films and games; they are like interactive animated movies, which is perfect -- there's something from both.

What lessons are you taking from Amanita Design's previous adventure games, like Machinarium or Samorost?

JP: Both Samorost and Machinarium were huge source of inspiration for me. From these games I learned how to actively connect a viewer with the picture, how to create a puzzle, and more. I like the visual aspect and playfulness of both games, but I always wanted Samorost to be longer game and Machinarium to be less difficult, so I can continue to the next location quickly. With Botanicula, I wanted to create a game that will be faster and have more locations to explore.

What can players expect to see in Botanicula that they haven't seen in the team's other games?

JP: Botanicula is more casual and not as challenging as Machinarium, but on the other hand, it plays faster and more fluidly. There's plenty of funny animations, places to explore, weird characters to meet, and hidden Easter eggs to find. There's also a collectible cards feature -- every time the player meets a character, solves a puzzle or finds a little hidden surprise, he gets a card with a small animation, and it's stored in an inventory so he can watch all his cards anytime he wants.

JD: Botanicula is also much brighter, more cheerful and full of Jara's typical humor. The same is true for the sounds and music, which fit perfectly with the overall tone.

Botanicula-2.jpg
Can you take a moment to describe how you designed and created the puzzles in the game?

JP: The process of creating the puzzles was fairly complicated. In fact, at the beginning there weren't any puzzles in the game. At first, the game was based only on going through the environment and watching interesting animations and scenes. But then Jakub came and said it would be a shame just to run through the game in a hurry without any challenge, and there should be some places to stop the player for a moment and let him work on the solution. It was also problematic to determine the level of skills of each player and make it well balanced. In any case, lots of trial and error was involved in puzzle creation.

What would you say was the most difficult part of developing Botanicula?

JP: I would say the most difficult thing is to finish such a big project. I'm working fast, so it's exhausting to go back to rework or adjust some parts, and we are doing that a lot. The whole game feels like living creature, that's changing all the time; nothing is definite.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?

JP: Unfortunately I haven't played any of this year IGF finalists games yet. Wonderputt looks very creative, also Fez, Mirage, The Floor is Jelly and The Bridge look cool, and I'm looking forward to playing them all.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene? What is it like in the Czech Republic, specifically?

JD: I think the indie scene is the most interesting segment of the game industry in general, and it's thriving obviously. Among the many smaller games created every year are always a few really innovative, clever, beautiful or just pretty weird examples, and that's good!

On the other hand, it could be better; indies should experiment much more, and especially young developers should be more bold. Maybe I'm naive, but I believe the game medium is still waiting for it's golden era that will show us a wider range of possibilities of what a "game" could be.

As for the Czech Republic, the scene here is small but quite healthy and quickly growing, as our country is full of creative people.

[This interview was written by Tom Curtis and originally appeared on Gamasutra.]

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pugs IGF.jpg[In the latest in our "Road to the IGF" series of interviews with 2012 IGF finalists, Gamasutra speaks with Lucky Frame's Yann Seznec about his team's 2012 IGF Excellence in Audio nominee Pugs Luv Beats.]

In the tradition of music composition games like SimTunes, Lucky Frame's Pugs Luv Beats is an addictive iOS title that has you creating songs as you guide creatures around a map, making increasingly complex melodies as you progress and are introduced to new mechanics.

The creatures in this game naturally are pugs, or colorful capsule-shaped versions of the puppies at least, and you need to help them recover Beats scattered around the universe. Each world you visit offers new opportunities for different kinds of musical patterns you can compose.

As you collect beats, you trade them in for outfits to help your pugs better traverse the varying environments on each world. Each movement from the pugs, depending on the terrain, makes a different sound that adds to the unique symphony you've created for the world.

Gamasutra spoke with the Scottish developer's founder and director Yann Seznec to learn more about Pugs Luv Beats, Lucky Frame's design decisions creating its musical mechanics, and what he believes are the most interesting audio developments for indies lately.

What background do you have making games?

Yann Seznec: Pugs Luv Beats is actually Lucky Frame's first game, in the strictest sense of the word. We'd been wanting to get into making games for a while -- Jon Brodsky (Lucky Frame's programmer) had been doing Ludum Dare and other game jams for a year or two, but most of our previous work had more to do with music, which is part of the core of our identity.

For one thing, I was able to found the company in 2008 based on the success of the Wii Loop Machine, a hack that turned Wii remotes into musical instruments. After that, our main mobile release was Mujik for iPhone, a surrealist music toy. It got a lot of wonderful attention, mostly because it was a music app that did not fall into the cliches of nearly every other music app in the store!

That showed us that there was really some space in the creative world for new approaches to music. It was a logical step from there to start making games, particularly since the "music game" genre was really starting to feel tired. So that's how we started getting into making games!

What development tools did you use?

At the moment, we are pretty much entirely developing for iOS, so we have to use the standard Apple stuff of course. In addition to that, we are using openFrameworks, Lua, and our own game engine on top of that called Blud, which is inspired by Love2d and Flixel.

The audio is all done using Pure Data through libpd and ofxPd. This let us do really rapid high quality audio and music, and it let me handle all of the audio development, which is great since I'm not a coder! For a music game like Pugs Luv Beats it was super important to design a really flexible and strong generative music system, and Pure Data was perfect for the job.

How long had your team been working on the game?

We starting our early thinking in March 2011, and began prototyping in May. We released in December 2011, so nearly seven months!

How did you come up with the concept for Pugs Luv Beats?

Our original concept was we wanted to blur the lines between music composition and gameplay. I'm really interested in the relationships between those two things -- in many ways composition and game design share a lot of concepts and theory.

We wanted to make a game where the gameplay generated music, rather than followed an established musical direction. That was our main philosophy, and we spent a long time just deciding what kind of game to make. We eventually made a prototype that had characters moving around a grid generating sound, which satisfied our desire to make something that was both fun and generated cool music.

From there we needed strong characters to make the game more wonderful, and pugs in costumes seemed like something that hadn't been properly addressed in the game world. Once you have pugs in costumes, it's a pretty small jump to give them their own universe and civilization, whilst keeping them really cute and dumb.

I presume you've seen similar games with user-created music like SimTunes and Isle of Tune? I wonder what kind of lessons or ideas you took from those titles?

Of course! Well, to start with SimTunes, that was made by Toshio Iwai, who is a massive influence on virtually all of our projects. He is completely amazing.

Both Mujik and to a certain extent Pugs Luv Beats are heavily indebted to his work both in terms of aesthetic (Elektroplankton) as well as music generation mechanics (Tenori-on). Similar to the Tenori-on and also deserving of a respectful nod is the Monome, a brilliant minimalist grid based music generation system.

Isle of Tune is also fantastic. It's particularly impressive how they are able to hide a fully functional music system in such adorable graphics. It ends up appealing to both hard core music producers, who recognize the depth it has, as well as casual players, who just like watching the cars.

That's something we also wanted to achieve, though the layer we wanted to add was that of a game, one that is constantly evolving and a unique experience for every player. In order to do that we needed to insert many more unknowns, so that players need to explore the planets bit by bit to hear what they sound like, for example.

I also need to mention Bebot, which is such a brilliant music app, and one that we are obviously referencing with our synth.

The concept might seem very new or different to most players who've never seen anything like this before, I imagine. What steps did you take to try to immediately keep their attention and convince them this is something they want to try?

The first five minutes of gameplay are the hardest, for a game like this. We probably worked on that for a month, once everything else was finished. We tried a number of different approaches, and the best one we found was to guide the player through the first few worlds with a helper: Mr Puggles! He's pretty funny. He wears a sombrero and talks with a synthesizer.

But apart from that, the main things that we needed to make sure people experienced right away were:

  1. The pugs running around. They are adorable.
  2. The creation of sound by the pugs running around. These makes the player aware of their agency, that they made that sound by making the pug run there.
  3. Giving the pugs costumes. They are hilarious.
  4. Showing the effect that the costumes has on the speed and sound generation of the pugs. This is another example of player agency.

So the tutorial makes sure to show all of those things. Once people grasp those concepts they tend to get interested. Then, when they discover the synth, which we don't explicitly tell them about, they are hooked. It's quite funny to watch.

In my experience at least, there can be long stretches when you're waiting for your pugs to collect enough beets before you can progress to the next stage or build the next house. Was that intentional, extending gameplay or forcing players to listen to their creation?

This is a really interesting question. The first thing to say is that our next update is going to allow people to purchase Beats in the game. We actually wanted to include that in the first release but we didn't have time.

However, the more direct answer to your question is that the music is designed to be something that you can do whilst you're collecting beats. You can constantly be working on your tunes, playing around and remixing and trying new things.

Most collection games have some sort of mechanic like this, things that you can do while you wait for stuff to happen, and we want the music generation to take that place. We're going to make this even more fun in some coming updates by making the synth playing and other things more rewarding within the game itself.

What's next for Lucky Frame?

[We just released] a super fun spinoff of Pugs Luv Beats -- a free version of just the synth part of the game, which lets you dress up pugs and make them sing. It's hilarious!

After that, we are going to work on some updates for Pugs Luv Beats, and then it's on to a totally different music composition game, with a targeted release in the spring. Should be awesome!

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?

A lot of them aren't out yet, but I'm really excited to play them! Realm of the Mad God is obviously awesome and hilarious. And I haven't played English Country Tune yet, but it looks amazing.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

I think it's super exciting, and it's really awesome to be playing a tiny part in it. For many reasons (platforms, prices, etc), it's probably bigger than it's ever been, which means there are loads of amazing games coming out, and they are easier to find and play than ever.

I think the scene is probably going to have some growing pains -- maybe the (generally silly) complaining about the IGF awards is indicative of that, but to me that illustrates that it is becoming much more mainstream, which is a generally good thing.

Maybe, if we are comparing it to music, the indie game scene now is kind of like alternative music in early 1992, and Minecraft is Nirvana's Nevermind. So my hope is that it will lead to the equivalent of OK Computer in six years (though there will probably be a lot of Creed and Nickelback too).

And the real question is whether there will be a totally different scene emerging kind of like Hip Hop! Who will be the Tribe Called Quest of indie games? Maybe my metaphor is getting a bit stretched.

What are the most interesting developments you're seeing in the audio space, in terms of tech or ideas, for indies?

libPD! I already mentioned it, but man it's awesome. I think it opens up really deep audio programming and generative and algorithmic music techniques to a much wider audience. Also the work that RjDj are doing in terms of reactive audio is super interesting, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Otherwise the most exciting music game on the horizon looks like Beat Sneak Bandit, it seems like it's going to be taking a really different approach to a rhythm game, which is a genre that is desperately in need of a facelift!

[This interview originally appeared on Gamasutra, written by Eric Caoili.]

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demruth IGF.jpg[In the latest in our "Road to the IGF" series of interviews with 2012 IGF finalists, Gamasutra speaks with Alexander Bruce about his 2012 IGF Technical Excellence Award nominee Antichamber.]

Alexander "Demruth" Bruce's Antichamber is a game about discovery, set inside a vibrant, minimal, Escher-like world, where geometry and space follow unfamiliar rules, and obstacles are a matter of perception.

The game was a finalist for the Nuovo Award at the 2011 Independent Games Festival, back when it was still called Hazard: The Journey of Life and "only a couple of months away from release."

Twelve months later and with some work still to be done, Bruce's game is back in the competition, with a new name and new recognition as a finalist in the Technical Excellence category.

What background do you have making games?

Does this work like a resume, where if over a certain amount of time has passed since some of the work that you did, you don't have to list it anymore? I sure would like to forget about those cancelled titles that I mentioned in my Road To the IGF from last year!

On a more serious note, I started making games when I was 20, went through a university degree and worked in the industry for a year. Throughout that entire time, I felt like I didn't have enough experience at anything that I was doing, because I was always surrounded by people who had been doing this stuff for years. So in 2009 I came to the conclusion that if I was going to stand out at all, I'd have to do things differently.

I think I've succeeded at that, because G4TV tried to describe the game at PAX by saying "it's like an Escher painting meets Bastion, then someone did some heroin and threw paint on a wall." That's both one of the best descriptions and one of the most ridiculous descriptions I've ever heard.

This mindset of continuously pushing things to be different was something I addressed when I spoke at the Nuovo Sessions at GDC 2010. I'm sure that a lot of what I said at the time probably sounded naive and idealistic, but that mindset drove me through two years of hell trying to make everything work cohesively. It's also why the game has done a pretty decent job of standing out the further it has progressed. When people responded to earlier versions with "oh this is like Portal. You should make these things like this though, because in Portal...", I didn't want to embrace that. I wanted to get the hell away from that, because Portal already exists and is fantastic.

All of that is a very long winded way of saying that I think the important insights into my background are a relentless desire to explore in new directions, and being completely driven in trying to make what I'm doing work. The trailer for an upcoming documentary titled Ctrl+Alt+Compete had an amazing quote in it related to that kind of determination mindset, where someone said "If I didn't get paid to do this, I'd probably figure out how to get paid to do this. I want to be an entrepreneur."

How long has your team been working on the game?

For a whole year longer than the couple of months I said I had remaining last year! Making games sure is hard.

Since last IGF, I ended up practically redoing half the game, implemented the entire soundscape, changed the name, and was exploring concrete plans regarding distribution. In my mind, polish is the process of refining or removing all of the reasons that someone who is within your audience would have reason to stop playing, and when you view things that way, even small changes can have a huge difference for the feel of the game. I'd say that things are paying off, looking at the honorable mention I got for the Grand Prize.

At the end of the day, I'm not trying to make a good game. I'm trying to make an exceptional game, because this has my name on it. With that said, though, the risk of changing anything else too radically anymore is outweighing the potential benefits, and I'm reaching that point where I just have to stop and release it into the world. I said at PAX last year that I wanted the finished game at PAX East, and I'm still aiming to do that. Maybe not the release candidate, but it'll be close.

Antichamber's development been extremely iterative, and it has gone through a number of substantial changes (at one point it was even an arena combat game!). How can you afford to change the design so rapidly?

Nothing that led to here has happened rapidly, make no mistake about that. I've been messing around with the ideas that spawned it since 2006. All of the changes that happened were very calculated, and I'd probably been thinking about them in the back of my mind for months before I finally decided to actually execute upon them.

I think the difference between how I work versus how Stephen Lavelle or Terry Cavanagh work, is that I keep all of my focus centered around a single thing. We're all going through the process of throwing ideas at a wall, but I'm just more interested in working out why one particular thing didn't stick before I move onto the next one.

This is the second time that Antichamber has been nominated in the IGF. How do you feel about previous finalists that re-entered their games?

This will be the last time that this is ever an issue, given that the rules are disallowing it next year onwards. But I actually don't think that games that re-enter after being nominated previously have any advantage at all over games that are new to the IGF. If something is good, and it's new, I think it's way easier to respond positively to that than it is to something that is great, but that you've seen before.

None of the games that were renominated (I know of Gish, Miegakure, Fez, Faraway and Antichamber) were nominated in the same categories, which means that they had to stand out even more without relying on what they'd been selected for previously. I'm actually really happy that Fez was nominated again this year, despite the fact that I'm competing directly against it!

I know that there are a lot of people who are vocal about what the IGF is or should be, and I know that Brandon [Boyer, IGF chairman] gives a lot of thought to this issue, but at the same time there are other competitions that exist as well. Sure, they don't all have the reptutation that the IGF has, but if your reasoning for entering the IGF is to try to get your big break and have the world know about your game, I really don't see why you wouldn't take other competitions seriously as well. If you can get through a couple of those, who knows, maybe you'll also work out all of the things that need to be fixed in order to improve your chances of getting into the IGF. That's what I did.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?

I've played several, though I think the ones that stuck with me the most were when I played At a Distance and Way at IndieCade with Chris Hecker.

When we were playing At a Distance, we were constantly speaking back and forth about what we were doing and where the other player had to go, and conquering the game was really easy because of that. When we were playing Way, though, our inability to communicate directly like this left us pretty screwed on a particular puzzle.

Way is all about puppetry, and if you're really expressive with your character, you can say quite a lot just by waving your arms around, shaking your head, etc. But I don't think Chris or I solve problems socially like that. When something didn't work, both of us would just sit back and stare off into the distance and think "what is the other person not understanding about what I'm doing, and what is the most effective way that I can purposefully animate my character to express that?" As a result, a lot of the time our characters just stood around on screen doing nothing. Other people found it hilarious and pretty painful to watch.

Chris Bell (the designer) ended up taking over Hecker's computer and started waiving his characters arms all around the place, shaking his characters head furiously whenever I did anything wrong, etc. and I could instantly understand what he wanted to say. Within about 30 seconds, the level was solved, and I felt incredibly stupid. But... that's the beauty of a good puzzle!

This is a game that seems to demand more from the player than most. What should an Antichamber player gain from playing the game?

I wouldn't say that Antichamber is more demanding than other games. Often times the puzzles require you to do a lot less than puzzles in other games. They're just a very different kind of puzzle than what people are used to. People who are naturally really good at thinking outside the box end up blasting through the game relatively quickly, while people who are used to games that more directly tell them how everything works and expect them to just execute upon that knowledge are the ones that end up finding it more difficult. In any case, it's introducing some new concepts into games, and forcing players to think differently.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

I don't think there's much point in labeling everything as "the indie scene". Personally, I just have the work that I do, a group of friends who all make stuff that I find interesting, and then a whole lot of other people that I'd really like to meet.

[This article was originally posted on Gamasutra, written by Frank Cifaldi.]

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gunpoint gama.jpg[As part of Gamasutra's Road to the IGF series, developer Tom Francis explains the concept behind Gunpoint and how his game journalist background has helped mold the game's shape.]

It's always interesting to watch games journalists forging a path into the world of game development. You have to wonder whether their knowledge of what makes games entertaining and enjoyable can give them an edge over your average developer.

Tom Francis is one such developer -- a British journalist who currently writes for PC Gamer magazine, and is developing one of the most talked-about upcoming indie titles of 2011.

Gunpoint is "a stealth puzzle game", in which players are invited to break into various buildings by rewiring anything and everything to trick the NPC characters who are guarding the valuables.

The game has now been nominated for the Excellence In Design award at this year's Independent Games Festival. As part of Gamasutra's Road to the IGF series, Francis explains the concept behind Gunpoint and how his journalist background has helped mold the game's shape.

What is your background in making games?

I don't have one! As a journalist and an asshole, I'd sometimes catch myself wasting review space with ideas for how to improve a game, which isn't that much use to the reader. So I'd cut that out, but wonder if I was right or just, as I say, an asshole.

The smartest designers I've interviewed are also the humblest, so guys like Robin Walker at Valve are the first to tell you that you don't know anything about an idea until players have tried it. So I decided to try it.

What development tools are you using to develop Gunpoint?

I didn't actually start making a game until I discovered my favourite platformer ever, Spelunky, was made in Game Maker, which I'd heard was noob-friendly. It is, and in less than a month I had a movement prototype I could send to testers.

That feedback loop has been going ever since, and the public interest in it has been enough that I've been able to bring on some collaborators: John Roberts and Fabian van Dommelen to handle the art, and Ryan Ike, Francisco Cerda and John Robert Matz doing the music. I believe they're using paint brushes and bongos respectively.

How did you come up with the concept?

I feel like a lot of games are designed on the assumption that the player is stupid: a tester doesn't have the intended experience, so I guess we've gotta force him to look at that spaceship crash, lock him in the room until the enemies are dead.

I wanted to make a game with the idea that the player might be smarter than me. Let him think of solutions that never occurred to me in hours of playtesting, and give him the tools to be more creative than I was when I designed this level.

I don't think that testers are being stupid, I think they're being defiant. And they're defiant because the game isn't letting them be creative or smart or funny, it's trying to make them have a packaged experience.

So the Crosslink gadget, which lets you rewire any of the electrical things in a level, is my way of giving you some of the designer's power. It's almost like a level editor: I restrict some things to make sure it's a challenge to complete, then I let you design how you want the level to work to achieve your objective. You can be clever, efficient, complicated, funny or cruel.

You're developing Gunpoint in your spare time while writing full-time for PC Gamer magazine. Have you found that your background in games journalism has helped or hindered your ideas of what a game should be?

Definitely helped. But the really helpful stuff is stuff anyone could do. The job just forces you to, which saves you the trouble of having any common sense.

The big one is having an overview of what's out there, and what's notable amongst that. Keeping up to date with everything interesting that comes out, and having a few gaming friends who get you into stuff you might not have tried otherwise.

It's useful for judging whether your idea is unusual enough to be interesting. I didn't know if Gunpoint's main mechanic would work in practice, but I knew if it did, it would at least be unusual.

That's led to a lot of interest in it, which let me put out a call for artists, which made it look better, which led to more interest, which let me put out a call for musicians, and here we are.

The game has a very sandbox approach, in that you can wire any electrical item to any other electrical item. Has it been difficult balancing this with the stealth element, or do these go hand-in-hand?

I didn't think about it like that ahead of time, but they seem to be a natural fit. Stealth is just a cool word for 'maybe don't get shot in the face?' It means avoiding enemies and getting into position to ambush them, and rewiring stuff gives you a wide set of options to manipulate the environment to do that.

Since the guards also interact with the environment and move around it, the ability to change the way it works lets you set up traps for them. Often you don't even need to be in the same room to arrange their death, which is among the best ways to not get shot in the face.

What are the next steps in the development of the game? What is your vision of the final product?

I have a vision of all the awesome art John and Fabian have sent me being in the game, instead of in a series of zip files in my Downloads folder. There's more to be done on both the art and music sides, but at the moment I'm usually the bottleneck, because I'm doing so many things at once. That should be my job title: Bottleneck.

I'm writing the between-mission branching dialogue at the moment, which is really fun. There are also more levels to design, and I want to redesign a lot of the ones that are done to include the more interesting puzzles and possibilities the mechanics now allow.

Are there any elements that you've experimented with that just flat out haven't worked with your vision?

The last thing I cut was a gadget called the Cold Call, which let you spend some energy to remotely activate a device on any circuit you'd tapped into. It basically let you turn resources into trivial solutions to puzzles. I do want players to be able to spend a limited resource to bypass something they don't like or can't do, but I already have more interesting ways to do that, and the Cold Call was undermining them by being so straightforward.

If you could start the project over again, what would you do differently?

I wouldn't spend a fucking week on the elevators. For some reason I had it in my head that you needed to see an outline of the lift as you travel between floors, which changed it from a simple afternoon job to one of the most mammoth programming, bug fixing and polishing tasks in the game. I'm usually pretty good at stepping back from what I'm doing and making sure it's not a waste of time, but I always felt like I was on the cusp of finishing the goddamn elevators, and I really wasn't.

They're good elevators though.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you particularly enjoyed?

Yep, I've played everything in my category. Predictably, my favourite is Spelunky - though I'm also a big fan of Frozen Synapse.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

Those guys? Ugh, can't stand them. Some of those games don't even have unlockable concept art.

[This interview was originally posted on Gamasutra by Mike Rose.]

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ridiculousfishing.jpgTwo-person Dutch indie developer Vlambeer may be getting headlines lately for its surprise iOS hit Super Crate Box, but it's another game -- one about the the sacred art of fishing -- that landed the team a nomination for Best Mobile Game at this year's IGF.

The upcoming Ridiculous Fishing might not satisfy traditional fly fishers, but that's what makes it unique. The game's protagonist is more interested in destroying the lake's inhabitants than he is in reeling in the biggest catch.

Ahead of the IGF show in March, Vlambeer speaks to Gamasutra about the inspiration behind the game, the other IGF finalists, and finally reveals the protagonist's true inspiration for slaughtering wildlife.

What background do you have making games?

The two of us at Vlambeer are complete opposites. On one end, there's the business and programming guy, Rami - he does the programming and the marketing and the business. He's a guy that drinks Coca Cola and likes Mass Effect and Assassin's Creed. On the other half, you have Jan Willem, who is the game designer - he likes games like Nikujin, 0Space & Flywrench.

Rami started programming in QBASIC when he was six - the only way to play a game was by compiling GORILLAS.BAS - he messed around the code a bit and never stopped doing that. He moved on to help out with some project doing marketing & business aspects.

Jan Willem basically learnt everything he knows at thepoppenkast.com, a group of super talented and inspiring people who never finish anything. Most of his time was spent jamming games in only a few hours but he also did a few proper games, slowly making a name in the indie indie scene.

We met up at our school, hated each other's guts, slowly reached the common conclusion that school wasn't for us and started Vlambeer.

What development tools did you use?

We use a lot of development tools and never seem to stick to anything but Game Maker for prototyping. Game Maker is Jan Willems prototype tool of choice, because as he likes to put it, it's intended for kids, so it allows him to write horrible code that still works. This allows us to whip up anything in under an hour or so. Fuck design documents, we prototype!

For Ridiculous Fishing, we used Game Maker to create the basic prototype in the form of Radical Fishing, then ported that to Flash for the sponsored version we used to gain a starting capital for Vlambeer. Now we're using the Flash code as a basis for Ridiculous Fishing's XCode with OpenFrameworks version.

How long has your team been working on the game?

At this point, Ridiculous Fishing has been under development for almost a year. Working with Zach Gage (of Bit Pilot, Halcyon & Spelltower) and Greg Wohlwend (Solipskier, Puzzlejuice) has been super fun - but all of us have rather busy schedules so it means we need to match up schedules to work for a while.

How did you come up with the game's concept?

We were watching a documentary about the tuna fishing industry and it had beautiful slow-motion shots of line fishing; tuna flying in the air and doing flips in the sunset. JW figured combining that with Duck Hunt would make for a pretty interesting game. We worked hard on the basics of the Radical Fishing, with the 3-stage gameplay and tons of upgrades and somehow everything just made complete sense. We are basically taking that to the next level with Ridiculous Fishing.

What was the inspiration behind the game's art style?

Triangles and 45 degree angles, says Greg.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?

Definitely! We are big fans of Spelunky - but we also like Fez, SpaceChem, Joust, Atom Zombie Smashers, Faraway, WAY, GIRP and Fingle. As far as we can see, the quality this year is super high. We're especially happy to see Blendo Games in there - we have never played something he made we didn't love.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

The bar for polish is increasing and indie is increasingly capable of releasing high-quality, polished games. We're a bit scared there might be sort of an identity crisis kicking in, though, where indies find themselves conflicted between the heightened public expectations and creating simpler, rough experiments. We think that we should reach some equilibrium somewhere, but for now this situation is pretty new and exciting.

Have you ever actually been fishing?

JW did - once when he was 8, in a tiny pond behind someone's house. It was pretty boring, he says.

Okay but have you shot a gun?

Rami shot a rifle once. The instructor mentioned to not lock up to prevent the kickback from dislocating your shoulder. Of course, Rami being Rami, he ended up falling and dislocated his shoulder.

What motivates the protagonist of Ridiculous Fishing? Does he even eat fish?

He told his wife he was going out fishing, but he earned money to keep going. By now, he's been gone for so long by now that he's kind of scared to return home.

[The article was originally posted on Gamasutra by Frank Cifaldi.]

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