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ftl-small.jpgDevelopers who set out to create a game without a design document or template still must have a clear focus to test their ideas against. This was the advice of Matthew Davis and Justin Ma, co-founders of Subset Games and creators of FTL: Faster Than Light, the Kickstarter-funded space strategy game released to widespread critical and commercial success in 2012.

The pair began work on the game with only a target atmosphere - no genre, pacing or scope planned, thinking the development would be a three-month side-project for them.

"We started with a very vague idea for a concept and used that as a guiding light for the entire project," said Davis. "By having one singular focus we were able to abandon everything else that didn't fit in line with that vision."

The pair admitted that many features were dropped from the game that they had initially hoped to include. "We wanted multiplayer features that didn't fit the template," said Ma. "We kept ditching things to keep moving towards the goal."

Davis said that this focus can be various things to various different developers. "Technically that focus can be anything: a certain type of visual aesthetic a piece of audio; a story," he said. "By having one focus and letting that direct your entire experience you can approach your builds from a distance and find out what to keep in order to make that game into the experience you want it to be."

"Very often you get bogged down in a certain system and it just doesn't work out," said Ma. "We just had this one idea and it steered out path, allowing us to follow the fun and find what was interesting."

Finding this focus was especially useful for the team when their Kickstarter exceeded its goal twenty times over, generating $200,000 instead of the requested $10,000 from 10,000 backers. "You can't just throw money at a game and it gets better," said Davis. "It's a difficult balancing act - how to take advantage of clump of new resources, but also stick to release date and keep everyone happy. The focus helped us know where to expend energy and expand the game."

[Simon Parkin wrote this article originally for sister site Gamasutra]

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adelman.jpegIf you want to get your indie game onto Nintendo's platforms -- the Wii U and 3DS -- you'll want to talk to Dan Adelman, who works as the company's liaison with indies.

While his title is "business development manager," he's best known as the man who helped World of Goo and the Bit.Trip series, among many others, land on the WiiWare service for the original Wii. He joined Nintendo in 2005 to help build that service; Since then, the company has transitioned to new platforms, and offers a much better shop on them, called the eShop.

The abovementioned games were notable successes. Some other developers, however, later spoke out against Nintendo's policies and practices, and shared dismal sales numbers for WiiWare titles. The company has quietly been changing its policies, but has had a difficult time getting the word out.

As GDC begins, in this extensive interview, Adelman fills Gamasutra in on exactly what indie developers want to know about releasing a game on the Wii U and 3DS.

Let's state this simply, to start. Is it possible for an indie to get a game onto the eShop service right now?

Dan Adelman: You know, it's crazy that there are so many developers who don't realize this, but yes, it is not only possible for an indie to get a game onto the eShop service, we've tried to make it as frictionless as possible.

Developers have always been able to make their content available on our systems since the WiiWare days, without the need for an intermediary publisher between the developer and Nintendo. Nor do they need to mount a big PR campaign just to be allowed onto the service. Our philosophy is that if you believe enough in your game to build it, we want to do what we can to support you.

Do developers need to be registered Nintendo developers? What does that entail?

DA: Yes, they do need to become licensed Nintendo developers, since they will need access to our development tools. It's actually pretty easy to become a licensed developer. We really have only a few requirements to sign up as a licensed developer with Nintendo. The most notable ones are that you have to have some experience making games, you have to be able to keep any confidential materials like dev kits secure and you have to form a company. None of these should be prohibitive to any indie developer.

In the past, you've required developers to have an office, but many indies work from home or are individuals. Is this policy changing?

DA: So that second requirement -- the ability to keep confidential materials secure -- was originally defined in terms of an office that was separate from the home. Back when that rule was created, that seemed to be an appropriate way of defining things.

As you point out, more and more people are working from home, and we recognize that developers are forming virtual teams around the world. I know we've shied away from talking about these things publicly in the past, so I'm glad that I can officially confirm that the office requirement is a thing of the past.

I've heard from developers that to publish on your services, they need an address in the territory in question, for example a Japanese address. I've even heard that Canadian developers need a U.S. address to publish in the U.S. Can you explain what's going on here?

DA: That's actually not the case. Anyone from any country can make their games available on the eShop within the NOA and NOE region -- i.e., pretty much everywhere outside of Japan.

Steam is the obvious market leader here. Developers are used to Valve's functionality, like sales, preorders, preloads, and painless patching. Can you talk about your plans around these four aspects of your service?

DA: Developers set their own pricing for their Wii U and Nintendo 3DS content. As one example, Little Inferno launched at $14.99. They did a sale for $9.99, and it went so well, they decided to make that price change permanent. It's completely in their control.

Updating games is also fairly straightforward. If they find an issue they need to fix, they can. In terms of other Nintendo eShop functionality, there's a dedicated team working through a roadmap of new features. We'll be able to announce those as they get closer to release.

What kind of outreach are you doing on the tools side, since Nintendo platforms require custom dev kits?

DA: Dev kits are actually not all that expensive. They're about the price of a high-end PC. Nothing that should be a showstopper for anyone.

There are a number of really exciting things going on in this space right now. We recently announced that we're providing Unity Pro 4 for Wii U to licensed developers at no added cost. So if a developer is currently working on a game in Unity and has a Wii U dev kit, it should be super easy to bring that game over to the Wii U console -- and not just do a straight port but also take advantage of any features of the console they want, like motion controls, Miiverse or of course the second-screen GamePad controller. Or vice versa -- making a game for Wii U and then going to other platforms should also be seamless.

In addition, at GDC we're going to be talking about some new tools we're rolling out for developers to use HTML5 and JavaScript to make games. The thing I'm most excited about for this is how easy it is to prototype new game ideas to find the fun quickly and easily.

Is someone who's licensed to publish to the eShop for 3DS also capable of going to the Wii U and vice versa, or are these separate?

DA: The process and policies are virtually identical. If they're licensed developers for one, it's a fairly straightforward process to become a licensed developer on other systems.

What's your payment schedule like? Indies need quick and frequent payment. Have you changed your policy, which previously didn't pay out until a game crossed a 6000 unit threshold? What about frequency? Quarterly or monthly?

DA: We tend not to talk about business terms, since those are considered confidential. That said, the unit threshold is something that's been a problem for a lot of developers, so I'd like to address it head on.

Let me give you a sense of the thought process behind the threshold in the first place. Even as far back as the early WiiWare days, we allowed developers to forgo the need to hire an intermediary publisher to get their content on our system. We didn't believe that Nintendo should screen game concepts. That should be up to the developer who's making the investment. Instead, we wanted to have a mechanism that would encourage developers to self-police their own game quality.

The threshold was thought to be a convenient way to go about it. Unfortunately, some great games that just didn't find an audience wound up being penalized. So for all systems after WiiWare -- DSiWare, Nintendo 3DS eShop, and Wii U eShop, we decided to get rid of the thresholds altogether. Developers receive revenue from unit 1.

Has working with indies like Vblank, Nicalis, and Gaijin Games helped change your tune? Have you been taking feedback from your existing stable of developers on board?

DA: Absolutely. I like to think we've built up a relationship of trust with a lot of the developers on our system, so they know they can say whatever's on their mind. And not just when they have an issue that needs to be resolved, either. We try to take a proactive stance with developers and solicit feedback from time to time. How can our development tools be better? What kind of functionality do you want to see in the eShop? How can we improve our processes to make life easier? I kind of see a big part of my role as representing the indie community inside Nintendo to make sure that we can make our systems as friendly as possible.

How are you on responsiveness? Nintendo has a reputation for having a lot of corporate overhead -- how do you get indies the things they need quickly?

DA: A lot of our processes were originally created in an environment where there was a set number of large publishers who had employees on staff whose sole job was to interface with the different console platforms. Those people had to learn how we were organized and know who to call for what issue. That obviously doesn't work for smaller developers.

As a result, we've narrowed everything down to a single point of contact -- one alias that developers can write to for any issue. There's a core team at Nintendo who then tracks down the information and follows up. We have an internal goal of getting every question a response within 24 hours. And if we can't get an answer in 24 hours, we at least will let them know when we expect to be able to get them what they need.

What kind of editorial staff do you have working on the eShop (both platforms), to make sure good games get featured prominently? I've noticed changes there, but can you outline how that works to some extent?

DA: We really try to make sure that we're not setting Nintendo up as the arbiter of what is a good game. That's for the market to decide. We try to give visibility to every new game when they launch. The nice thing about the Nintendo eShop is that we have a lot of flexibility on this point. We can make adjustments without much lead time. Beyond that, we look to things like user ratings, review scores, and in the case of Wii U, Miiverse activity to see how people are responding to certain games.

That said, there are a few times when we do take a little editorial license. Sometimes there's a game that we recognize is a great game for a niche audience or is trying something so new that people may not get it right away. In those cases, even if a game doesn't have big numbers right away, we want to make sure that we give it time to find its audience.

To me, one of the best things about the indie scene is its willingness to try out new ideas and take risks. If someone is attempting something that has never been tried before, I want to do everything I can to support that. Little Inferno is a great example of that -- a game about buying things and burning them! When Kyle Gabler from Tomorrow Corporation told me about the idea a few years ago, my response was that I loved the fact that I could not imagine what that game would turn into. As an industry, we need more of that!

And let's not forget about Unkle Dill, the dancing pickle in Runner 2. So very, very awesome.

Any stats or comment on what portion of your audience has downloaded an independently-developed game from the eShop, on both platforms?

DA: I can't give out any specific numbers, but developers seem to be pretty happy with the sales numbers they're seeing for their games.

Nintendo platforms are unique. If a game is going to feature very Nintendo-specific functionality (e.g. 3DS dual-screen play, GamePad play on Wii U) will you consider working more closely with a developer on their vision?

DA: It's great when developers see the features of our platform and decide to build around those as pillars for their game. Mutant Mudds by Renegade Kid did this brilliantly. In many respects, it was a traditional 2D platformer, but it was designed around the 3D functionality of the Nintendo 3DS. It was one of the first games that used depth of view as a game mechanic.

Fractured Soul by Endgame Studios is another great example. That whole game was designed around the dual-screen functionality of Nintendo 3DS. One of the core mechanics is to switch back and forth between the two screens, keeping an eye on both at the same time.

That said, it's really important that developers see these platforms features as opening up new design options for them. They should never feel obligated to tack on a feature if it doesn't make sense. It's completely up to the designer to figure out what's best for the game. Because making great games is what it's all about.

For sister site Gamasutra's full GDC 2013 event coverage this week, check out the official GDC 2013 event page.

[Christian Nutt wrote this article originally for Gamasutra]

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We came across this Tumblr via it’s sister site New York Past after we had scrolled happily, drooling, through its reams of pages of old, enormous photographs of the Big Apple. The thing is, you see, that photos of old Manhattan on the internet all the time, which is why we were overjoyed to find Chicago Past: an enormous treasure trove of old images of the underdog city of Chicago from the days of yore. I don’t know about you, but I’m big into yore. Like old photos of people who are dead now mixed with architectural gems that aren’t there any more? This Tumblr is for you also. Enjoy!

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There have been numerous commercial attempts at "games" that are controlled with biometrics, particularly brain waves. There's Mattel's Mindflex, for example, as well as the Star Wars Force Trainer. They're almost purely novelty items, and don't particularly work that well.

Crooked Tree Studios founder Lat Ware (who's programmed games at studios including Realtime Worlds and Crytpic) wants to add some real competitive gameplay to the novelty of brainwave-controlled applications. He's using Kickstarter to try to fund Throw Trucks with Your Mind, a competitive multiplayer game in which players put on a commercially-available brainwave sensor and essentially focus their thoughts to toss vehicles and pieces of the environment at other players to win. Movement is done via mouse and keyboard but attacks are pure thought.

We caught up with Ware to talk about Throw Trucks and pick his brain about the future of biometrics-controlled games.

How does it work?

The headset is an EEG, which is basically a really sensitive volt-meter. It looks at surface voltages in the brain, which decades of research have mapped to specific thought patterns. NeuroSky's MindWave is processing the data for me to extract how calm and focused you are. I do not know the details of the algorithm that they're using, but it does work.

You don't have to think a specific thought to raise your focus, though it is different for different people. In my case, I stare at the dot in the center of the screen and tune out everything else. Some people focus on a specific word on the screen. Some people listen to a specific sound, like the laptop fan. I have one friend who computes prime numbers in his head. The headset doesn't care what you focus on, only that you are focused. Calm is more subject and interesting.

In my case, I have to believe in myself and if I doubt myself, I can't do it. I have one friend that imagines the effect that he wants and trusts that it will happen, and that raises his calm. Focusing on your breathing helps. Thinking about something that makes you happy helps. People in happy, committed relationships often have their calm jump by 30 percent when they think about their significant other. It's fundamentally about mental relaxation, but what makes you relaxed is a complex beast.

What's the difference between this and other biometrics-controlled games? Why is it more responsive?

The biggest difference between this and other biometric games is that this is a fully fleshed out game. Levitating a ball with your focus is not a game. Unlocking doors with your calm is not a game. Filling up a meter is not a game. Those are elaborate meters. Throw Trucks With Your Mind is an actual game, as competitive as the Modern Warfare games, but with a completely new style of play that uses the features of the headset. I have a general rule about games: If you can't win and you can't lose, it's not a game. There are a couple exceptions, but it has served me well.

Where do you see biometrics-controlled games going in the future?

Well, in the next 15 years, a game like Throw Trucks With Your Mind will come out. If my Kickstarter succeeds, it will happen right now. If that is a success, then we can expect a wave of EEG-based games about 10 years afterwards. That would drive not so much innovation, but a reduction in price. Right now, purely brain-controlled interfaces just aren't there yet. We're getting better, and I feel like we might have a good, affordable brain-controlled interface in 15 years, depending on how much is invested in this technology. That said, I don't see the controller going away from mainstream gaming.

Why Kickstarter? Are venture capitalists unconvinced?

I actually spoke to eight venture capitalists and a number of investors about the game and the feedback I kept getting was to prove user traction, then come back. So, I had a conundrum because I needed user traction to get funding, I needed a product to get user traction, and I need funding to get a product. The minimum viable product doesn't work so well when it requires an $80 piece of hardware. Kickstarter broke me out of that loop.

What happens to the game if the Kickstarter fails?

If Kickstarter fails, I don't know. Maybe the project will be salvageable as I will have shown that I was able to raise $27,000 (at the time of this writing), even though I didn't get it because of Kickstarter's rules. Maybe that would still show solid demand for the product, since it was raised entirely from customers. Maybe that would be enough to convince an incubator or investor to pick me up. I am unsure. I haven't given it any thought, because all of my energy and time has gone to campaigning for the Kickstarter as hard as I possibly can. I haven't given myself any time off.

[Kris Graft wrote this article originally on sister site Gamasutra.]

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trailers.jpgAsk IndieGames is a new monthly feature that takes a range of topics relating to indie gaming and development and poses them as a question to the editorial staff.

Whereas our sister site Gamasutra explored last month (in)effective press releases, we narrow our focus on what makes an effective game trailer.

We understand indies generally do not have big budgets for internal press teams, outsourced public relations or marketing outlets. That's why, as we curate the finest indie news for our readers, we view practically every trailer (at least in part) and appreciate when it's not embedded in a lot of marketing-speak.

What would compel us to watch a trailer in its entirety? When can a dubstep actually help a game? We attempt to address all this and more in this month's topic: what makes an effective indie game trailer?

mike rose.jpgMike Rose: I have a very specific formula that I've devised over the last several years for what makes an effective game trailer. While I'd say it's my own personal preference, whenever I've discussed it with other journalists they always seem to agree, so I must be on to something of a winner. So here it is: how to make the perfect indie game trailer:

Length: Preferably nothing longer than 90 seconds, and definitely not longer than two minutes, or else you risk losing the attention of the viewer and, in turn, their interest in your game. If you can't convey how great your game is in 90 seconds, you're doing it wrong! Which leads me to...

Show the gameplay: Game trailers are not movie trailers. We don't want to see the words "IN A WORLD..." appear against a black background, nor do we want to spend the first 20 seconds of your trailer viewing the various logos of your game and development team. Fill the trailer with what you're trying to sell - your gameplay! Find lots of interesting parts of your game, set a video recording program like Fraps running, and then bang them all together.

Music: If you're about to add heavy metal, techno or dubstep music to your game trailer, stop and think: does this even match my content? The answer is most likely going to be no. The music in your trailer is far more important than you believe, and in some cases, is one of the main draws - I mean, check this trailer for Fez to see what I mean. Give it huge consideration, and maybe explore free samples and tracks that you can use from the old interwebs.

KD.pngKonstantinos Dimopoulos (Gnome): I'll have to be brutally honest here and admit that even the very best trailer for an indie FPS or another tower defense variant would have to be more than exceptional to actually intrigue me. Other than that, I will also have to admit that screenshots and a game's description are usually more than important, but, well, let's focus on the subject at hand here: trailers.

On a rather more technical yet very important level developers should first of all make sure their trailers are readily available both on an easily embedded form (YouTube should do fine) and as downloadable files. More than a few journalists and bloggers do after all seem to prefer uploading videos themselves, most sites demand specific widths for their media and, admittedly, more options never hurt anyone.

Another important point, one that does actually determine whether I at least actually go on to watch a trailer or not, is its running time. Anything over four or five minutes, unless it's something I've been waiting for since the early 90s or has been designed by Tim Shafer, will most probably remain unwatched.

Assuming the above criteria have been met, I'd say that an effective and thus memorable trailer is a rare and difficult to analyze beast.

Yes, aesthetics are definitely important, as is a great soundtrack and enough information to actually describe the game on offer, but I'm pretty much convinced a good trailer needs to tell some sort of story. You know, have a beginning, middle and an ending; feel coherent and informative. Check out the latest Star Command trailer: one of the few recent ones I actually fondly remember and a trailer that provides enough gameplay footage to intrigue (but not answer everything), looks stunning and is akin to a very short movie.

Oh, and do keep in mind that any trailer mentioning the words ground-breaking, unique and innovative more than once doesn't make itself any favors. And, no, pre-rendered videos showing off cutscenes aren't a great idea either. Not unless you're preparing the next Starcraft of Dishonored.

Danny Cowan.pngDanny Cowan: Here's how I typically view a trailer:

1. Before it even starts, I skip to the middle, bypassing the company logos and that storyline you've put so much work into (sorry).
2. If it starts to drag, I skip toward the end (sorry again).
3. If I haven't seen any gameplay footage after about 30 seconds of
skipping around, I close the tab (super sorry about this).

Basically, I'm a jerk, and I'm sorry. Trailers are key to attracting interest in your game, though, and you should focus on making them concise and impactful, regardless of how dumb I am.

In skimming a trailer, I'm looking for a brief explanation of the game's mechanics and an idea of why your game is fun, interesting, or unique. Everything else is secondary. A length of one minute is ideal; thirty seconds is even better. Sound doesn't matter at all -- I reflexively mute most videos before they start playing.

Good stuff to include for people who want to talk about your game: a link to your site, a release date, and a list of supported platforms.

If your trailer is for a mobile or tablet game, I consider whether the genre is underrepresented on the platform and whether its controls are a good fit for touch screens. If I so much as catch a whiff of Angry Birds, I'm out.

steve cook.jpgSteve Cook: An effective trailer for me isn't too long; around 1 - 2 minutes length is perfect. If it is longer, I tend to lose interest after the 2nd minute, unless the game is complex enough to really justify it.

I prefer to watch snippets of gameplay footage cut together with a soundtrack that matches the mood from the game rather than explanatory voice-overs or bits of writing. I don't want so much footage as to show me every single mechanic in the game (I enjoy discovering some things on my own) but enough so that I understand how the basics will work.

A title or 'introductory' screen is a good way to begin so that I know the name of the project I am looking at. A fade out to an 'ending' screen is also acceptable - possibly announcing when the game will be released and for what platforms.

Humor can be a good thing to, if injected into the trailer properly. Making me genuinely laugh out loud definitely makes it that little bit more likely that I'll stick with a trailer to the end.

cass_colour.pngCassandra Khaw: I'm embarrassingly easy when it comes to game trailers. If it shows gameplay for something that I'm interested, I'll sit down and watch it, regardless of how crappy the music/sub-titles/introduction/video quality is.

That said, I'm probably not going to watch it till the end. Once I've assessed the game, I'm going to shut it down and move on to my next piece of work. OF course, that's only applicable if you're operating without a sense of humor. If you want an example of what works wonderfully, you should check out Magicka. Seriously. Check out the trailers for Magicka. They're one of the few that I would rewatch just for the pleasure of it.

As for what doesn't work, well, that's also pretty simple. Trailers that don't show anything. Those don't work for me. I'm talking about the ones that don't do anything but show two pieces of concept art for two minutes. I'm talking about the ones that linger lovingly on the logo. I understand there is a need to do teasers from time to time but there's a reason they're called 'teasers'. They're supposed to titillate, to entice, to make me desperately curious as to what is going to happen next.

johnpolson2.jpgJohn Polson: A trailer is effective for me if it educates and entertains.

I want to learn about the gameplay. Edited, short bursts of the game can be effective, but sometimes clips need a few extra frames to complete a certain mechanic. Words and transitions aren't cop outs if needed to explain what makes certain clips so special. At the very least, an educational trailer teaches me a game's pitch or message. A more educational, and effective, trailer demonstrates this game pitch to the point that I can explain paraphrase it to my readers.

I wouldn't mind learning about the game more, too. Aside from gameplay mechanics, inject the game's narrative, music, sound effects and even its personality. Learning if a game will be fun, sad, serious, fictional, dense, intense, or methodical helps me frame the game in a context as both an editor and a gamer. Release and platform information should either be in the trailer or in an accompanied website; otherwise, we can't help couple the game with its target audience.

I also wouldn't mind learning about developers in the trailer. Developers are vulnerable in exposing their work to judgment in under two minutes (a sensible length for trailers), so this is no time to feel shy. That said, not every person performs well in front of a camera or microphone, so I consider this an added bonus. If a trailer becomes slightly viral, though, the developer also becomes more widely known and has effectively already broken the ice at events like conventions and conferences.

Entertainment is entwined with a lot of what I feel should educate the viewer. While not revealing everything that makes a game special, clever snippets of dialogue, menus, cut scenes, in-game action, world maps, boss fights, or even customize or option screens can add flavor to a trailer. Stringing these elements together carefully in two minutes conveys that there's not just a bunch ideas, but a game, behind the trailer.

Audio and visual stimulation add to effectively entertaining. Unlike screen shots, I am looking at something in motion, hopefully with sound. I won't stop watching a trailer if the sound is poorly orchestrated, but rich audio (be it chiptune, 16- or 32-bit synth, or other instruments) adds heavily to my entertainment. Since the game is in motion, the importance of a cohesive art direction-- foreground, background, and everything between-- can't be understated, either.

Once developers cut a trailer, they should show it to someone who's never played or heard of the game before. If this new person can't describe the key mechanics or quirks, then the trailer needs to do a better job at educating the viewer. If this person is part of some targeted audience and doesn't want to play the game after watching, the trailer (or the game) may need to be made more entertaining.

I've spent too many words already, but I'd suggest checking out Kert Gartner's epic trailers or Tim Rogers's fourth-wall-breaking ZiGGURAT trailer. Gartner's also posted a lot of helpful, technical tips on making trailers, which were taken from his Indie Game Summit talk during GDC 2012.

Do you have a question that you'd like the IndieGames editors to tackle? Email EIC John Polson at johnpolsonfl at gmail dot com. Feel free to also check out our sister site's Ask Gamasutra, which inspired this new feature. [image source]

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A recent Thursday at 10:23 a.m.: In the basement of Arion Press, where they still print books the old-fashioned way, Lewis Mitchell slid open a box of parts used to change the font size on the Monotype casting machines he has maintained for 62 years.

“I thoroughly enjoy the sound of the machines turning, and seeing the type come out is a joy,” Mitchell said.

He can tell by the sound of the moving springs and levers if something is awry with his machines — a skill he said all good technicians should have. Four different owners have run the business since Mitchell walked through the doors at age 18, and he has had several opportunities to leave, including a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that he declined. Now 80, Mitchell can’t imagine retiring from the job he loves so much.

When Mitchell started making this kind of type, it was really the only way to print things, and now he doesn’t know how many books he’s helped print over the decades. There were once type-casting operations in most major U.S. cities, but now the practice is almost extinct. There are only two companies left in the world that cast type for printing presses, and Arion is by far the largest.

Mitchell has four grown children and nine grandchildren, but he calls the 20 type-casting machines his “babies.” “I treat them with kindness. I don’t use a hammer on them or an oversized screwdriver.” The first machine, which started the company during 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, is still its best machine — proof that Mitchell’s methods work. “My dad taught me from square one if you going to do something, you’re going to do it right or you don’t do it.”

By San Francisco Chronicle.

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molydeux gama.jpg[An offhand tweet from a Double Fine programmer snowballed into one of the largest global game jams ever. Jam co-organizer and Game Developer EIC Brandon Sheffield looks at how it all went down.]

Well, it happened. What began as an offhand tweet from Double Fine gameplay programmer Anna Kipnis has snowballed into one of the largest global game jams, and I can safely say it was a resounding success.

Not three weeks ago, Kipnis wondered publicly on Twitter why there hadn't been a game jam based on the tweets of Peter Molyneux (Fable, Populous, Black & White) parody account @petermolydeux. This came after Molyneux himself responded to one of Molydeux's tweets, causing a bit of an internet meta-explosion. The singularity was upon us!

But Kipnis took it a step further - if Molyneux can take this seriously, why shouldn't the rest of the world? Responding to Kipnis' original tweet were Patrick Klepek, Chris Remo and I. We four became the defacto organizers of this movement, which we imagined would happen in the Bay area, with a few close game developer friends.

I made a Google document to sign up potential developers, and we tweeted it out. Within an hour, we had over 70 responses, and realized at least 20 of those were from the U.K., and several were in the U.S., but outside the Bay area.

We realized quickly that a single spreadsheet couldn't contain this jam - it was bigger than us. We moved to an "organizers thread" on Facebook, and the rest is history. Over 900 developers signed up to take part in jams in almost 35 cities across the world, from the original U.S. site in California's Bay Area, to the U.K., to Israel, to Mexico, to Finland, to Australia, and beyond. More developers jammed on their own in solidarity from their homes.

How the heck did this happen? Why was it so successful? What can we do better next time (as it seems certain there will be a next time)? To get at a chunk of it, I'll write an abridged postmortem of the event, followed by my thoughts about the jam I ran in Oakland; the first #Molyjam to get a location, and the last to present its demos.

What went right

1: Organized like a jam

Everything came together organically, just like in a game jam itself. A few people started out with no concrete idea of what the end result would be, and people stepped up when they needed to. Jake Rodkin of Telltale came up with great t-shirt designs, as well as the "What Would Molydeux" jam name. Zane Pickett stepped up and created our web site, and organized our game submission form. Justin Ignacio of came in to help with our livestreams. The list goes on. When something was needed, someone stepped up to help.

We also had a number of generous sponsors. Unity, Game Maker, Gamesalad, and Construct 2 offered temp licenses of their engines during the jam (coordinated by Kipnis, among others). Individual cities got sponsors for food, locations, and more. The event had to happen, no matter what - and people made it so.

One of the smarter things we did was set a date early on. Not only did April 1 fit with our Molydeux theme, it happened to fall on a Sunday, meaning we could have the entire weekend to make these games. From the start, we had a date to work toward, and it was a hard deadline. This helped us get everything ready, and I have to say, it went off surprisingly well considering the accelerated timeline.

Everyone's overwhelming goodwill was very much in keeping with the theme of the jam, and there was positivity throughout. Every organizer sacrificed their time and energy for the greater cause, and I think I can speak on behalf of everyone when I say it felt amazing to be involved in such a crackling ball of positive energy!

2: Molydeux/Molyneux

"Peter Molydeux" signed on to the project immediately, which lent the jam legitimacy. The jam was based on his tweets, so participants had an instant idea of what the theme was, and the ability to think about what they might like to do. Molydeux curated some of his best tweets for those who didn't want to sift through everything, and we also got a Google doc of every one of his original tweets.

We had a solid vision from start to finish, and this really helped get things set up. There was no confusion about goals, no back and forth about theme, and no dissent - the reason new cities joined up was because they had already bought in!

The day of the jam, Molydeux even made us an introductory video, with closing words from Molyneux himself. And amazingly, Molyneux showed up at the London jam, giving an opening speech, and participating in the first day.

Who could have predicted that this would come full circle? Molyneux showed up to a jam based on a Twitter account making fun of his grandiose ideas. Why would he do such a thing? Because he correctly recognized that while this was based on a joke account, the participants actually do care about emotion in games. They care about making silly projects that might make us think differently about games.

In essence, this game jam encapsulates everything Molyneux himself has actually tried to accomplish over the years. Perusing the livestreams, every event seemed in keeping with the spirit of whimsy and emotional game making.

3: Popularity

My goodness, we got a lot of press about this thing. People were astounded that it was happening at all, and our success in making it happen was a self-perpetuating hype machine. Almost every day the core team of organizers would get a new email from a new city somewhere in the world that wanted to join in.

We fielded dozens of press requests. Friends outside of the industry heard about it. The massive popularity of the jam showed what power individuals and indies have in this industry now. It truly feels as though we have the power to make the games we want. So many amazing games came out of this jam, that people would absolutely willingly pay for.

Molyjam was in the global spotlight, especially since almost every part of the world had a jam going, inspiring local press to get involved. This means our message of emotion (and silliness!) in games, was actually spreading throughout the world. We weren't toiling in isolation, patting each other on the back and only seeing our own games.

Over 250 games have been uploaded so far, with more to come. Our results are bare, here for all to play and see. It really feels like this jam could have a lasting impact. Teams and friendships were formed, and those who couldn't join could hear about the process, or play the results. That's success.

What went wrong

1: Organized like a jam

Not one of the original four organizers had ever organized a jam. None of us had even been to one (though Anna had participated in Double Fine's internal jams). So the fact that we were suddenly at the helm of an international event was a bit of a surprise. We did the best we could, but there was confusion at times. We fielded questions as best we could, but sometimes there simply were no answers.

That's when others stepped up to help, which was amazing - but we'll have a lot more experience doing this when we head into the next jam, and a lot more of the systems and processes should be in place.

Also, we all had our own jobs to do, on top of organizing this event. Anna Kipnis in particular put in long hours, and at one point became ill. As the event exploded, I was driving to Phoenix, and could only communicate via smartphone. Since we couldn't anticipate the event's popularity, we couldn't plan for it, and had to scramble to put things together. San Francisco didn't have a venue until three days before the event, for instance. Next time around we'll have it planned for scale from the start. We learned a lot through this process.

2: Fragmented information

We started out asking folks on Twitter. We graduated to a Google doc, but that grew unwieldy. We moved the event to Facebook, which worked for the most part, but not everyone has a Facebook account, so we also had an Eventbright signup.

In San Francisco, since they needed names in advance for security, Eventbright became the only signup that mattered. Also due to the crazy size of the event, San Francisco and East Bay had to split up. Oakland was originally the home of the whole jam, as we had gotten The MADE to agree to host us, but they can only reasonably hold 50 people.

Once signups ballooned to 225, San Francisco had to get its own event - but since this happened late in the game, it was hard to let everyone know about the shift, and many folks from the East Bay went to San Francisco, and many folks from San Francisco had to come to the East Bay due to the Eventbright scenario.

Again, in the future we'll be able to streamline this process, and get our venues set up far in advance. Under three weeks it was a pretty tough sell to begin with, but we also needed projectors, good internet, public transportation access, and late-night access. That we got venues at all is amazing.

3: Upload system

This one we're still working on. We haven't quite solved the problem of how to get so many games out to the public. As I mentioned before, hundreds of games are already available, but some were simply too large for our uploader, and the thing broke very early on in the process.

On top of that, it was getting flooded with requests, since people wanted to play the games. Popularity is a great problem to have, but it killed our web volunteers. As we figure out how to package up all the larger games, we'll be tweeting out how folks can find them, but it's unfortunate that not all games could be uploaded at the same time, to ride the wave of popularity. Again, this is something to fix for next time.

A word from San Francisco

San Francisco had the largest Molyjam jam in the world, with around 150 developers participating. So many games came out of the jam that the closing presentation lasted three hours. "We had a guy that came by and made a game during the presentation, that's how long the presentation was," Anna Kipnis told me.

The major success in San Francisco was the livestream. There were lots of antics, as Kipnis says, but the teams also did walkthroughs in the space, updating the stream about various developers' progress, and keeping the audience engaged, which is somewhat unusual for a jam. That caught on to other locations, which started doing similar things. "The internet was very supportive of the game developers as they were working," said Kipnis. "That I did not expect at all."

The team panned the camera a lot, and folks started to notice a guy with an orange hat. His name was Bill Kiley, and he was a musician - once the San Francisco jam showed some of his music, he became a mini-celebrity, with folks sharing his soundcloud in the chat. The team also interviewed some of the more famous folks in the crowd, and really created a sense of community.

The sunny side of the Bay

I was the organizer of the Oakland/East Bay jam, and I felt like we had a somewhat unique event. We had around 40 people across the whole weekend, though some folks filtered in and out. We managed to produce around 10 games, and everyone finished something, including one participant who made a fantastic game entirely on the last day, after showing up at 3 p.m.

What was really striking about the Oakland jam though, was the diversity. We had straight folks and gay folks. We had Black people, White people, Asian people, and Hispanic people. We had a very healthy distribution of men and women, including transgendered folks. The ages ranged from under 20 to over 40.

It may sound odd to point all this out so specifically, but I'll remind you that this was all happening within a group of 40. The diversity of the crowd was astounding to me, and if the Oakland jam were a microcosm of the industry, discussions of gender, race, and orientation in games discussions would be far fewer and further between.

What was it about this event that brought so many people together? Oakland is a very diverse place, which could explain some of it. But more than that, we all cared about making games, and we all cared about the content of these games. The ideas in these tweets were silly, but laden with good ideas and the potential for real emotional involvement.

And that appeals to people across all walks of life. To look at our jam, the problems of diversity in game development would appear to be solved. I can only hope to one day walk into any given game development studio and have it look like Oakland.

Thanks to every organizer and participant across the globe. This has been an amazing experience for all of us. We love you all, and I know we'll see you again.

Individual city organizers are welcome to add their local impressions in the comments below!

[This article was written by Brandon Sheffield on sister site Gamasutra.]

Your rating: None

Zack Gage, maker of iOS gem Bit Pilot and 2011 IGF Mobile award finalist Halcyon, has a new game coming to iPad: Spell Tower, a word strategy game that tasks you with finding the biggest words you can on a 10x15 tile grid of letters.

As you clear out words on the grid, the tiles drop to the bottom of the screen. In the game's "no pressure" Tower Mode, all you have to worry about is trying to get the highest score possible -- seems like great practice for the other three more difficult options.

In Puzzle Mode an Extreme Puzzle Mode (increased minimum word length), every word you form creates a new row of letters, and like a lot of puzzlers, you have to manage the height of your columns so they don't eventually hit the ceiling.

And in Rush Mode, you have to find words as fast as you can while the game continuously pushes up all the tiles with new letters. Spell Tower features Game Center integration and should be hitting the App Store soon.

[Originally posted on sister site GameSetWatch.]

Your rating: None

[In this extensive interview, conducted at this year's GDC Europe, Belgium-based art game duo Tale of Tales discusses how they first got into making games and the extreme frustration that they feel with the state of the medium.]

Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn met in person for the first time in 1999. Two digital artists who had used the web as a medium decided, once they became a couple, to dive headfirst into the world of games. In 2005, the two launched their first game: The Endless Forest, "a multiplayer online game and social screensaver."

This week, The Graveyard, previously available on PC and Mac, was released for Android.

Since then -- with the help of collaborators -- the duo has released games such as The Graveyard and The Path (links open up Gamasutra postmortems). These games have provoked much interest and controversy; many gamers say they simply aren't games, while supporters say that their unusualness is what makes them refreshing.

In this extensive interview, conducted at this year's GDC Europe, the Belgium-based duo discusses how they first got into making games, the extreme frustration that they feel with the state of the medium -- both in terms of creativity, and how it might be digging itself its own grave commercially, too.

What appeals to you working in Europe, rather than in the U.S.?

Auriea Harvey: I'm married to him.

Is that the only reason?

AH: I'm actually from the internet. I'm not from the United States anyway. It doesn't matter to me where I'm from or where I'm living. I could live anywhere. But I'm working here because we're married.

Now that I think about your question, I couldn't say that there's anything that appeals to me about working in Europe, but there's definitely something that appeals to me about working in Belgium.

And that's there is no game industry, and you sort of just make it up yourself. You make it up as you go along. Everyone who makes games in Belgium is doing it in a different way. And there's very little common ground amongst us. There's like 10 of us.

You have to make your own community, and the community that we make ends up being this international thing. It doesn't become this local situation -- which I always dislike because it starts to seem homogenous. The community that we make isn't made up with people with our same cultural background, or our same idea about what's fun, or what's not fun, or what's beautiful or interesting or meaningful. We are always reaching out to people in Spain, in Italy, in Austria...

Michaël Samyn: Almost by necessity.

AH: Almost by necessity, to find common ground. But even that common ground... You find where you overlap, like with us and the guy who makes Amnesia, there are places where we overlap, and there are places where we're completely different. And that's in part cultural, and that's part in taste. So, it's interesting where you find that common ground.

MS: You mean, as opposed to the U.S.?

AH: I wouldn't start there. I wouldn't start down that road, but I'm just saying that because you end up making your own community so much in Europe, you end up with an interesting diversity of opinion, and a diversity of game making.

The Graveyard

It sounds like because you're more isolated from the commercial industry...

AH: Perhaps.

MS: I think not just the game industry. I think, in general, media, too.

AH: Yeah, I was going to say, it's not trendy. The lack of trendiness in our local situation makes us reach out to people who we normally... If there were a whole bunch of people around us making games, we might just go, "Oh, let's get together," and we all end up sort of, I don't know...

MS: Working for each other? [laughs]

Where there would be a mode of approach -- like a movement.

AH: Yeah.

But there's a lack of a movement.

AH: So we created our own movement, you know what I mean? [laughs] And this movement is, like, people from all over...

MS: No, that's true. We meet each other in this movement on the level of what we stand for and what we do, and not just because we have to live in each other's street [laughs]. Which is a big difference.

AH: Which I find appealing, but that, again, may be because I come from the internet.

You were very direct in saying with The Path that you created characters that were pieces of you. Most games are not like that.

MS: But I think the question of content in games -- often games seem to be either about other games, or about other media. I mean, I would say the large majority of games are either about games, or other media, in terms of content.

Maybe sometimes there's a root of an idea that comes from personal experience, but that is often very much expressed in the conventions of media as we know them. There's not a lot of invention of expression in the medium, I find, it seems so far.

AH: It seems to me that often game designers are dependent on their fantasy. I kind of like that, but on the other hand, the content usually comes out better if that fantasy is tempered also by life experience. I guess that's the success of BioShock. In a way, it's like, "Yeah, you couldn't have been in Rapture, under the sea," but the writer tries to inject, I don't know, a bit of their own philosophy, or whatever.

A cultural perspective.

AH: Cultural perspective, yeah, we'll call it that. And that helps. And so in that sense, Ken Levine, his experience affected that.

MS: Yes, but actually it's a good example... My remark to that is, basically, what you do in BioShock is, you run around shooting crazy people. So, the expression has nothing to do with this content, as far as I can tell.

AH: Right. That's the problem.

MS: That's where they fall into the conventions. Instead of thinking, "What is our game about? And how can we express that in interaction, in everything else?"

AH: In something that's not a voiceover, not a cutscene.

MS: Line one of the bullet list of when BioShock was being created was "first person shooter". There was no way around it. It had to be...

And if you start there, how can you possibly hope to even express your theme? You make it hard for yourself, actually, as an artist, putting such restrictions on your form.

When I talked to Ken Levine about one of the inspirations for BioShock, it was during the financial meltdown in America, when Alan Greenspan, who was an Objectivist, said, "I thought this was going to work."

AH: But I was wrong.

But I was wrong.

MS: That's nice. [laughs]

AH: After all those years being the brainiac.

MS: Yeah, but, exactly! That's interesting, isn't it?

AH: That's more interesting than running around shooting things -- that's all we're saying.

MS: Yeah. Can't we express that in a game? That kind of realization, that his ideology failed? Isn't that beautiful? Isn't that more beautiful...

AH: Or more tragic? Than the 10,000 deaths of BioShock? Somehow that is the most tragic aspect of things. And to not get a full expression of that in the game -- in the game. Not just as the project as a whole -- because you get that -- but in what you do most of the time, or what the main joy of that experience is supposed to be. Right now, it's bullet porn.

I have a background in being very much a gamer, and of course I have aspirations of making games. I think most people, at least in their head, do, who play games.

On one hand, I can see the cultural relevance, but on the other hand, I might be another Ken Levine -- not to compare myself to him -- in the sense that I would want to stick with the conventions that I've enjoyed in games in the past.

AH: That's all right, too. But let's just realize that there are two different things that could happen. One is this, and one is that.

It goes back to the industry, right?

AH: Yeah.

People have something... Whether it's a stake in the industry from a commercial perspective, or just a stake in what they've creatively enjoyed for years.

AH: Yeah. I mean, one of the hardest lessons I've had to learn as a female in the games industry is all these guys really like what they make. I did not understand that for years. It was only until I talked to the maker of Alan Wake, and we were talking about it...

MS: Also a typical example of a game that we think could have been a lot more.

AH: Yeah, and I was expressing to him what I was saying about, well, "Yeah, would it have been more interesting without the shooting." And suddenly it dawned to me as I was talking to him, "Wait, he wanted to make the action game where the main thing is killing the zombies," or whatever the hell that was. He made exactly what he wanted.

And suddenly it clicked. "Oh, so, those guys who make Call of Duty want to make a 'sailing down the side of a mountain shooting shit' game." It was like, "Oh, okay. I get it now. This is why everybody seems so happy and creatively satisfied."

I took it seriously when they said "I'm making a game based on Objectivism that is talking about the financial crisis." I was like, "Okay. Let's do that!"

MS: Hey, but maybe they do. Maybe they succeed for gamers that are like them, that are used to the conventions.

AH: I know. I'm just saying my misunderstanding of the games industry, as a non-gamer, coming in making games -- I was taking the subject matter and the content in the cutscenes seriously. I was honestly looking for the stories that are on the back of the box, or the media, the propaganda, that they put out about the game.

I was thinking, "Oh, all this content is in there somewhere, and I just have to find it and I'm missing it," whatever. When in actuality, no, they really want to make another fucking first-person shooter. That's amazing to me. Still, to this day, I'm amazed by that.

I mean, they're always talking about creative frustration, and I'm just like, "Why don't you just make that thing you're talking about? I don't understand. Why are you making this other thing?"

It's money, right? And a developed audience.

AH: Well, that was kind of what I thought, but it's more than that. I think people really like it. I mean, they really like these things. So, all these guys get together and go, "You know what would be fucking cool? What would be awesome?" And they really do think it would be fucking awesome to make Duke Nukem Forever. I mean, okay. Now, I get that.

The Path

You talked about people pushing against certain constraints, while still wanting to create games like this. I think that's actually true. I think people who talk about that do feel they're constrained. But at the same time they do have this drive and desire...

AH: To make the thing that they love, from their childhood or whatever. But then I feel like they're just making excuses, often. You know, make a copy of Another World because you loved that game, and you thought it was genius. Go ahead and do that, but don't try to claim, "Oh, but I put this other level on top of it, that smeared some art content on top of it, so therefore I've made something of artistic worth."

MS: You feel that duality in a lot of games, I think, on several levels. That duality between sort of, yeah, like a more mature artistic experience, aesthetic experience, and a more playful, childlike interactive experience. And yeah, the tension is there, just because it seems like the creators don't choose. They want both things to be there, but both things are fighting with each other, and don't want to be in the same game.

Or, at least, expressed as a game. Narrative versus gameplay -- that's another level in which you see this kind of contrast.

MS: Yes, but that's a dangerous path, because then you slide very quickly into linear versus nonlinear, and that's really not what it's about. It's about expressiveness, about aesthetics. It doesn't have to be story. It could be a painting, too, or a cathedral, or a poem.

I think all of those things can be expressed with things that are very much unique to the medium, and all that. And I would actually argue that gameplay is one of the strange components that is not unique to the medium, that comes from that old age-old history of playful interaction between humans, with sports. It, in and of itself, is an alien factor. I'm not against alien factors. I really think we should embrace as much as we can, and mix it all up.

You mentioned a cathedral. Sometimes the visual communication in games is less about communicating meaning, and more about communicating aesthetics, or information. Even though it's such a visual medium. Do you have any thoughts on why?

AH: That's interesting.

MS: I think one of the problems when addressing this issue is that we're dealing with a lot of engineers in this industry, or people with an engineering -- or sort of a more scientific -- mindset.

And when you talk about expressing meaning, they often take that a little bit too literal. [laughs] As in language -- I have an idea, and I tell this idea to you. That's not really what happens in a lot of art. It's often a lot more intuitive, and artists play with the aesthetics. They don't know exactly what this message is.

AH: There's a lot more ambiguity.

MS: Maybe they're making the painting because they want to find out what this feeling is that they have. And I do see that happening in games. There's a bunch of artists working in games, and they're not talking to the game designer or to the programmer, and they're just doing their own thing.

AH: But I think also the deal with games is it's not a visual medium. I mean, it's multimedia, to use a '90s word for it. So the visuals are not really the most important thing. And sometimes you see games that are an overweight of visual sensation to the detriment of, perhaps, the sound design, or the dialogue. I mean, how much bad voice acting have you seen in a really beautifully visually crafted game? So, you need all these things to work together, and to be brought up to the same level, and to support each other, I think.

MS: This is where the cathedral is a good example, because it's architecture, but also painting and sculpture.

AH: And sound and atmosphere.

MS: Theatre also. All these things come together.

AH: And I think that it helps if game developers think about all of these elements together, and don't sacrifice on the words that are being said. It's like you've got these characters that look great, but when they open their mouths, they sound like California surfers in armor or something. [laughs] You're just like, "Why did they write this? What are they saying?" Or the type of atmosphere that is created by the words or the music -- it's like, all these things support the visuals, and the visuals support the rest of it.

Aesthetics needs to be looked at as a larger area -- not just visuals. Personally, we think that aesthetics extend to the interactions that you do, like the way that you interact with the world, and the way the characters interact with you.


Do you think they need to look at it more holistically -- is what you're saying?

AH: Yeah. That's what I'm saying. Exactly what I'm saying.

When you talk about the aesthetics of gameplay, it's not an immediately comfortable concept. People don't think of gameplay as having an aesthetic.

AH: In fact, control schemes are taken for granted. I mean, most games are AWSD with the mouse, or something like that.

MS: They're taken for granted, but within very strict limitations. Like, you can't really experiment with that. So, if you deviate from the convention, players will respond, "Oh, that's bad!" Try doing AWSD, and change it to AZWD or something. People would freak out! And I would call that an aesthetic assessment, actually. Aesthetic appreciation is also about recognition...

AH: In a sense, that's what's kind of cool about new control schemes like the Wii or Kinect, or something like that, or the Move. You get to start over. There's not this convention in your way, so you can think about how the characters interact with you, how you interact with the environment, in a different way, finally. So, it's not all this weight of convention. And so then that's when your interactivity can become aesthetic, when you make the interactivity suit your world, suit the thing that you're making, and can make that, also, part of the expression of what you're working on.

MS: I really think game designers put a lot of effort in making the controls feel nice. Feeling nice is aesthetics. But I think they do it just for that purpose, and I think that's where, sort of, there's something lacking for me, where you could use these aesthetics to put other types of emotions than just "it feels nice."

AH: I guess that's what they were trying to do with games like Heavy Rain. This is kind of what we're talking about, when we mean aesthetics of interaction.

MS: That's definitely an experiment in that direction. I'm not exactly sure if it's a successful one...

AH: But I enjoy the effort. That it's an attempt at an aesthetic in interactivity.

As someone who's an outsider, what attracted you to getting involved in games?

AH: I just thought I could do it. We thought we could do it. We were making digital art anyway, and then we were playing games just for relaxation. For kicks. We could rent games. We were renting games and movies at the same time. I don't know why. We just did it, because we thought it was like, "Okay. Well, there's this thing in the video store. Let's do this."

It's not that I never played video games. I played Mario as a child once or twice. We had a Game Boy -- somebody had a Game Boy. I played Tomb Raider 1. I wasn't a gamer, but a friend of mine had a PlayStation 1, and I ended up going, "What's that?" And I played that. But it sort of stopped there.

And I moved to CD-ROM games, playing Myst and loving that and loving games like that, that sort of genre of full-motion video CD-ROM games that was happening in the '90s. I played several of those, without really thinking they were video games. So, I still didn't "play video games."

MS: And I think when we started working on the web, those kinds of things influenced us.

AH: Yeah, I specifically wanted to remake games like Myst on the web, but that was impossible at the time, because it was so slow. You couldn't have big images. You could make image maps, I remember.

I experimented with early web 3D stuff, just because I was like, "I could make this environment where you're walking through this..." But then all that sort of disappeared for a long time. When we met, we were working on the internet. And when we started playing games again, after I moved in...

MS: Doom II has been on my mind with every web site I made. Doom II, specifically -- that experience of being in that space, not the shooting and all that -- has always been on my mind with any interactive project I have made.

AH: But I think we still thought of games almost subliminally like, "Well, this is just this thing that people do." Like, it wasn't one of those things where we were really passionate about games, as such. It was just another thing, like, "We're renting a movie. Let's rent a game." Okay. They're sitting right next to each other.

MS: Yeah, exactly. And we also didn't want to make movies.

AH: And we would just look at the back of the box and go, "Well, that sounds kind of interesting!" Like you read a video. And it was interactive. Since we were already interested in interactive things, we're like, "Well, this is interactive."

So, when we were playing all these games, it suddenly dawned on us, "Well, this is interactive, and this is art. Why don't we make a video game?" It was such an innocent and naive thought that I laugh about it now, but it was really like that.

We were like, "Well, you know, how hard can this be, to get Sony to put this on a disc?" We literally thought that if you make something nice, you just go talk to Sony, and they go put it on the PlayStation. You know what I mean? It's, like, so mind-blowingly naive. [laughs]

MS: The transition happened when sort of the early signs of Web 2.0 started to appear, and suddenly this web was changing as a medium, and it suddenly felt a lot less comfortable to us, to make these kinds of artworks we liked to make.

AH: But we also just felt like we wanted to level up -- doing something more formal. I mean, the internet is a very casual thing. Anyone can make a website. We were like, "It's like making a movie, and then you have somebody distribute it, and it's on a disc, and people can go to the store and they buy it." We wanted it on store shelves. And we thought that this could just be something you could do, like, "Start a company, we make a game."

MS: That's true. And that's, actually, sort of personal. Because at that point, we were sort of done with talking about ourselves, only. [laughs] So we wanted to make something for other people.

AH: So, we started thinking, "Well, what kind of game can we make?" We had this little moment where we were doing design research at a postgraduate thing, so we had two years that we could use to learn how to make video games that were basically free years. So we were like, "We can learn how to make this." We already knew a bit about programming, a bit about 3D. We knew we wanted to make 3D games, so we just did it.

But the first thing we did was all the research, of going to GDC, meeting other developers. Because it's like, "Who makes these things? And how do they make them? And why are they made like this?" And reading all kinds of things online.

And sort of, then, that's when my first misunderstanding happened, because the first question I asked is, "Why do games all seem so similar? Why are there these genres? Why is it, like, RPGs and FPS? Why are these genres there?" There's no way to understand that as an outsider.

So, all I saw was that there were really delightful things in video games, and lots of opportunities, but people weren't taking them. So, I really thought all game developers were stupid. I literally thought, like, "Were they just really geeky, and into shooting stuff, so that's why it's always like that?" It didn't occur to me that this is what they wanted to make, yet. I still thought that they were trying to tell stories. Because there was so much story in it.

MS: And in all these conferences, people are always talking about that, too -- about wanting that. About wanting more.

AH: Yeah, I mean, we're strictly... I'm not talking about puzzle games, like Tetris and stuff. We really wanted to make this sort of immersive, narrative, 3D thing happen. So, all those immersive, narrative, 3D things were usually about shooting stuff, or fighting, or blowing shit up. I was like, "Why is it always like that?" I can see you want that to exist, but why is it almost exclusively that? Or even in RPGs, why is it always this battle arena, with a random battle?

And I thought they were just dumb. You can not do that, too, you know! It's like, I just want to go up and shake somebody -- "You know, you can not do that!" They kept doing it. Or an adventure game, where it's always like some pre-rendered background point-and-click. It's like, "Why is it always like that?" For years. [laughs]

And so, that's why our games turned out the way they did. Because we immediately decided we were not going to do any of that -- because we don't like that stuff. We're going to do all these other things that we do like.

Things like in Ico, where you hold hands. Like, Ico was one of those perfect games for us. Because it was just like... Yeah, you have to battle shadow monsters, but that's so minor, to everything else.

MS: I couldn't do it. [laughs]

AH: You couldn't do it. I did those parts! But it was still like, that's so minor compared to everything, and you were so overwhelmed with the beauty of it, and everything. I said, "That's where he put the emphasis." I was like, "That's what I'm talking about. You put this emphasis on these things that you're really talking about, that you really want."

Or in Silent Hill 2, I gave it a pass because you don't have to fight at all. Well, except for the boss rounds. But it's like, for the most part, you just run away. I was like, "That's brilliant." Or you get the knife, but you never use it. I'm like, "Fuck! Mind blown. That's beautiful."

And those are the things I'm thinking about. The fact that that happens so rarely, I couldn't understand it until years later, when I realized that they like first person shooters. And then that's it. So they make another one.

We're at a point where industry dollars are going to go to more similar, high-budget games, and fewer games in the middle get budgets. And then indie. I think we're seeing a stratification happening.

MS: I think we're seeing a slow suicide. [laughs] I mean, isn't that like attrition? To always put more and more money on a more and more narrow path? Where will this end? At one point, right? Where there's nothing anymore. Death. Suicide. I mean, I'm not an economist, but that seems to be where it's going, no? Or is it just a console/PC thing, and well, after that, it's all going to be Facebook?

AH: Or is there always a strong undercurrent of things that aren't?

Activision is very specifically doubling down on things like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, and sort of saying, "We don't need anything else, because we can make these things so titanic that they'll dominate." Whereas a company like EA, its closest competitor, is saying, "We're going to send tendrils out into the different market segments."

And I wouldn't say they're necessarily going to send them out to creative avenues. That's not how it's thought about from the corporate side. So, there are definitely different approaches in the commercial games industry, but it's still about market share, or market targeting.

MS: Yeah, well, the companies you mentioned are publishers. I think in any medium, the publisher's concern will be commercial. There are always, like, small record labels and small book publishers; those exist. But the ones you mentioned are not the small ones. [laughs] So, that's normal.

What's more surprising is, actually, there's not more pushing coming from developers to diversify, to work with other themes, to try and reach other audiences, for instance. Which is just getting harder, and harder, and harder, as things remain restricted to these few formulas.

So hard now that, indeed, if you want to reach a broad audience now, you have to make some FarmVille or something. You can't really make this kind of media game that the games industry has been hoping to make for so long, and trying to get very close to, as well. Now you can only make that for a hardcore audience, anymore. I think that's suicide. [laughs]

There are definitely people saying similar things, that we're going to niche-ify. But I think that's the expectation now, in a way -- that the console space will become a niche.

AH: It already is.

MS: But isn't that stupid? They're already connected to the TV. Build them into the TV! I mean, there's so much opportunity there. That's where I agree with Auriea. You know, a lot of publishers and developers say, "This is commercial. We're doing this for commercial reasons." Bullshit. Commercial would be expanding, and trying to reach everybody. They're doing this because they really love shooting shit up. [laughs] They really love that. It's an artistic choice.

AH: That's good that you love what you do, but don't expect that to get you anywhere.

MS: I think they're happy with it becoming a niche, totally happy with that. That's sort of strange, as a commercial company.

AH: The fun of being me is I get to just look at this and not care too much about it. We're just going to make what we make. I insist that I am not in the games industry, even though I come to things like this, sometimes, to my utter folly.

My point being just that more people need to make this stuff for itself, for the love of the medium, perhaps. And not care so much about where the industry is going as a whole. Because that's sort of like, "Oh, they have a big meeting, and they decide that this is how things are going to be," which is how it always felt about genres, to me.

MS: I think this is sort of something that happens because commerce is similar to games. Winning a game is a little bit like selling a million copies. Maybe this kind of mindset of making games, liking games, is similar to being successful?

I find that a lot of developers that I've spoken to over the years, to some greater or lesser extent that I cannot obviously say, but I perceive, have been co-opted by the marketing departments of the companies they work for.

MS: How do they get co-opted?

I think they get enticed by the idea that if they listen to these people, they will make a game that people like better.

AH: Rather than listening to the people themselves, or listening to themselves, listening to their own hearts, their own minds and desires, beyond mechanics. It just seems like, in no other medium is it so focused on this. I mean, yeah, there's really commercial writers, but there are tons! Most writers, it's coming from someplace else for them, and that's what this medium needs more of.

MS: Yeah. What he is saying is, the paper and pen is much easier, and accessible as a tool for creating in this medium, than computer stuff.

AH: So what? I mean, that's part of the passion.

MS: That's true. That's true. You have to want it even more.

AH: But a writer's craft, it's like -- don't undersell that. I mean, to be a good writer is a lifetime of suffering, in a way. Yeah, there's the technology, but perhaps their technical hurdle is honing your mind, to be able to express something universal for people, that is going to be timeless, in a sense. That's not necessarily easy. I mean, I've known a lot of writers, a lot of musicians. There's a larger history to both of those media, but...

What I'm saying, actually, is I don't think the major hurdle to making video games is technical. I think that is what everybody will tell you. Even though I know it's damn hard to make a video game, the harder part is being able to get to the essence of what we're trying to make for people.

MS: Yeah, but doesn't it go hand-in-hand? That if you're more comfortable with your tool, it will be easier to shape yourself?

AH: I don't know. Perhaps we all make it too complicated for ourselves. I know that, essentially, I'm still naive about everything to do with video games, and I like that about it. But I do think that sometimes -- and we've known this for ourselves -- that game developers make it harder for themselves than is necessary.

Certainly the games that we're talking about, the BioShocks and the Alan Wakes, the technical hurdles there are tremendous.

MS: It's enormous.

AH: But they've created that shit for themselves. They created the technical hurdle. They're the ones saying that it has to be ultra realistic lighting and normal maps and all this shit, you know? You don't need that. That's something you want! Yeah, okay. You want to see technology go further. But it's not necessary.

To the detriment of the content! That's what I'm saying. They see the technical hurdle as being all-important, to the detriment of the meaning, and the content, that they're trying to express, in my opinion. So, all the money goes toward that, rather than going to good voice actors, or a writer who can write something other than Star Wars, or some copy of some Stephen King novel.

To the detriment of seeing that as your art form -- all of those aesthetic practices as part of the art form, and not just CryEngine 3, or whatever the fuck. That's my naive perspective, actually, is that it's a poor medium, because they pour all the money into all the wrong things, or they see it as about being pouring money into it at all.

What I find very interesting is that I can sense your passion for a medium that you're also tremendously frustrated with.

AH: I do this for a living. What I mean is, I do this full time. We make our projects, we spend months and months iterating, and prototyping, and whatever. I mean, there's been plenty of times where I've said, "I don't want to fucking work with this stuff anymore. I don't want to do it!" [laughs]

But I think all independent developers have those moments because, you know, you don't have that much money, you're spending all your time on something, and seeing little incremental rewards every day. The only real payoff, and the only reward, is at the end, when it's done, and that's when all the joy happens for you. Maybe I'm just moody today. I think I'm just moody today. [laughs]

MS: A lot of passion also comes from, I think, just being an artist. Being an artist is not something that you do. It's something that you are. Whatever we do, is what we are. So, hurt my game, and you're hurting me. [laughs]

AH: I just want to be able to make what we make, and not get the sort of criticism we often get. I want the criticism to be based on things other than "Oh, what you make is not a game," I guess. Or "What you make shouldn't be made. You shouldn't make things like that."

Isn't that easy to blow off that kind of criticism?

MS: No. [laughs]

AH: Not for me. It should be, perhaps. But I think that it's not, because I see it as being a failing of this as a creative medium... to not be able to have deeper criticism, or see a larger picture...

MS: It pains me, not so much personally -- I mean, yeah, it does. But it's an expression of a very deeply ingrained conservatism within gamers.

AH: Right. We've always called it conservatism, and people are like, "How can you say that?" We're like, "Well, because, you..." [laughs]

MS: I mean, it's always like whenever somebody tries to change something, it's like, "You're wrong!" It's like "Violence!" And that is supported by, indeed, narrowing down the niche and making everything more the same. But we also know that this is probably just a bunch of kids anyway, and maybe they don't mean it as extremely as they express it. Actually, we recently received an email apologizing!

AH: An apology. [laughs]

MS: A kid who grew up, and a few years later read his comments, and said, "Oh no. I'm sorry that I said that back then."

AH: Wow, the trolls grow up! How does this happen? [laughs] "I reread what I wrote in 2006 on your blog" -- or whatever it is -- "and I'm really sorry that I said it that way. I've changed my mind since." I'm like, "Whoa."

[Originally posted on sister site Gamasutra.]

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