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Interview With Christine Love

I had the pleasure of sitting down with the mind behind the acclaimed Digital: A Love Story and the controversial spiritual successor, don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story, Christine Love the other day. What follows is the exchange between us, where we talk about subjects such as her experience as a writer making games, what she thinks about some of the touchy scenarios and subjects in DTIPB, and more. Enjoy!

To start off with the generic questions first. Why do you make games?

Well… I’m a writer. So primarily, I just tell stories, and it’s happened to be that lately, a few of those have been in the form of games. People seeing me as a game maker just sort of came out of nowhere, although I’m hardly complaining.

Quite a few questions, then: Anything in particular about games that made you want to try telling stories in that medium? And, why don’t see yourself as a ‘game maker’? (I know you just said you’re a writer, but…you made a couple of games, no? Programmed them. Do you just see that aspect as a part of the writing process, something you have to do to tell your stories?

There’s just a lot you can do with interactive storytelling. A story like Digital, for instance, really wouldn’t work half as well in any other medium; the immersion gets you a lot more emotionally involved with the story than you might otherwise. I’m really only sort of learning how to do stories that are a little more interactive, but I think there’s a lot of power there.

Very true. How does your background inform the games you make?

That’s a really general question. How do you mean by that?

 Ah, didn’t want to frame it too much but I suppose, well…would you say that being primarily a writer influences the approach you have when it comes to making/structuring your games? I ask this, I suppose, because…most of the industry puts writing in the back burner.

It definitely does, and probably not in a great way. I’m very much used to writing strictly linear stories, so even DTIPB’s relatively few branching points were… definitely a learning experience, and a fairly difficult one. So figuring out how to deal with that is certainly a challenge.

Next question: What would you say are your biggest influences?

Right now, honestly, I’m not even sure. I’m sort of at a really big turning point in my writing career. That’s weird, normally that would be a really easy question to answer, but for some reason now, I don’t know who to cite at all. Huh.

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Interview with Andrew Spinks, Designer behind Terraria

If you haven’t heard, Terraria is the word. The game has only been in development since January of this year but that hasn’t stopped it from making waves in the Indie Game scene. I recently got the chance to speak with Andrew Spinks, the lead developer, about the new title. At the time of this interview, there wasn’t much material on just what Terraria was. There were a couple of videos but those only left more questions. Fortunately Andrew was willing to share some information that we have all been craving for.

Tell us about you.

My name is Andrew Spinks, I am the designer/programmer of an up and coming indie game called Terraria.

How would you describe Terraria as a game?

We feel Terraria is a game that calls out to many different types of gamers at once. The game itself offers more than just one play style. You can go adventure, or you can build yourself a home from nearby materials, or perhaps you simply want to battle other players in combat. Whatever the case, you’ll find it here!

Is there a story or a history to the world of Terraria?

At this time there is no real game Story or Lore. We felt that players would like to create their own home, town, city, or even alter an entire world. And on top of that, they would also create their own story to match it. So, if we had included a base story of our own, it could have interfered with their own imaginative creations.

What were your inspirations for Terraria? Did you try and emulate anything or is this a combination of many elements across many games?

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Amnesia a good memory for Frictional

I love indies, especially indies who put out super high quality, retail type experiences, but I can’t play horror games. This has made me something of a cheerleader for Frictional Games, whose Amnesia: The Dark Descent was, by many accounts, one of the best games released last year that I absolutely couldn’t play. This hasn’t stopped me from encouraging others to buy it, and enjoying fantastic videos like the one above. To quote one of my friends, who deals with horror so I don’t have to, Frictional make “the only genuinely frightening games available.” Trust him, he is a doctor, and has seen pretty much every horror film in the world. They make good games, those guys. I bet they’re even good guys.

So it does my heart good when I read things like this, which says that Amnesia has sold over 200,000 copies. While that doesn’t seem like a major success compared to console blockbusters, it’s quite a bit, as their blog post explains. Without a publisher collecting on an advance and then taking 75% of royalties from each sale, a developer can succeed quite comfortably selling 200K units, especially with a small team (whereas, if a game that required 50 people and had a publisher sold that many, they’d be up shit creek without a paddle).

No word on what sort of terrible horror that I will never, ever play they will release on the world, but I bet it’ll be a good one. And guys, one day, make something that won’t scare the pants off of me, so I can play your brilliant games. Thanks.

Team Meat: Games Today Provide Empty Happiness; Expansion Plans

In an excellent interview over at GameReactor (part 1 here, part 2 here ) Team Meat reveals their thoughts on modern game’s difficulty. Can you guess why they think that the industry is catering to a  larger audience?

“It’s 100% business. It’s a logical business plan. If you want to be able to make as many people as happy as possible, even if it means an empty happiness. So that’s why every single game has super in-depth tutorials that teach the player so they can’t make any mistakes. Everyone’s trying to make sure no-one gets discouraged in any way possible and they make their way through to the end. Because videogames right now are treated like movies. In order to get the whole experience you need to finish every aspect of the game so they want to make it so everyone can do that. And that’s business. It makes business sense.”

This viewpoint comes  to no surprise  for SMB players, I’m sure. Still, it’s great to see that some people in the industry get it, you know? After all, as Edmund states, “not every game in the world should be easily beaten.”

And now, with a hit game on their hands, money, fame, fortune (except not…they haven’t been paid in years), Team Meat will probably look to expand, right? Wrong. On the subject of expansion, Team Meat said the following: “NEVER! Never ever. The very idea of paying someone a salary and insurance and making sure…the idea of someone’s livelihood relying on me is fearful. I don’t like it. I couldn’t raise a child right now.

Whenever any independent gets any sort of money they feel like they have to expand. And in order to make new games they have to expand. This isn’t not every independent, obviously there are always exceptions. But a lot of them do. They got to get these fourteen artists, they got to get this and that but when you get to that point you’re not so much creating games anymore as more you’re trying to find work to pay your employees. And I’ve done that. I’ve been there, in a situation where I’ve looked for contract work and that was a miserable time in my life. I had a shitload of money but that’s not fun. It wasn’t working on what I wanted to. If we hire people we have to find work, find them work, find money and have to make the next ‘whatever’ game. I don’t want to do that but I have to because I’ve five people to pay. It’s scary.”

Of course we all know the real reason they’re not expanding is because they want to keep their sexual friendship intact. Anyway, make sure to read the interview in full–there’s a lot of meaty stuff in there, including how Team Meat got together, a very expensive Coke Zero bottle, and what Team Meat thinks about the new-fangled motion controllers.



Super Meat Boy Review

For the past couple of days, my reality has consisted of nothing but blood curdling shrieks. You see, I’m currently trapped in a nightmare. This terrible nightmare has a name–Super Meat Boy. Fun fact: Super Meat Boy is the devil. Hell, Super Meat Boy is perhaps the most infuriating title I’ve played all year. I can’t recall the last time I was this angry at a video game.

Yes, Super Meat Boy is the devil…but I can’t stop playing it.

The premise of the little monster is simple: Dr. Fetus is a dick. And true to form, he’s stolen your love interest, Bandage Girl. I’m sure this sounds familiar to some of you (incidentally the acronym is the same as Super Mario Bros). And, like Mario, I sincerely believe that Meat Boy deserves to be considered for a spot under “generation classic.” A bold claim which will need to be revisited at a later date, but one currently held with real conviction.

I can spend a long time detailing the aspects of SMB which exude the feeling of a classic title–from the retro chiptune soundtrack, to the inclusion of warp zones that teleport Meat Boy to homages to classic gaming consoles. Meat Boy himself oozes charm, thanks to the wonderfully gooey sound effects, his expressions, and his dashing animations. Even the “supporting cast” of Dr. Fetus and Bandage girl are precocious, in their own way (and isn’t the idea of a fetus as a villain amazing in of itself?), but none of this is what makes SMB stand out. Sure, it’s a love letter to old-school platformers, but what really makes SMB superb is the incredibly deliberate design. SMB stands strong on its core design without any of the “features” bloating modern titles. And it’s all the more bold, outstanding of a title for it. Team Meat knows, well, where the meat of the gameplay is.

Meat Boy must run, dash, jump and wall jump at high speeds–nothing new, as far as platforming mechanics go–across worlds designed to be microcosms for your own personal hell. These actions are all governed by simple controls which follow the ‘simple to pick up, difficult to master’ paradigm. The thing about the game is, Team Meat knows where you want to hide your family heirlooms, your children, and your dignity. But I will tell you right now: there is no escape. The only way to come out alive is to have the precision of a madman. Have I mentioned there are no checkpoints in any of the levels? Because there aren’t. Hence, the need for near perfection. Don’t take this to mean that SMB requires specific precision–levels aren’t (always) linear, and can often be approached in a number of ways. Some of the more creative approaches require nerves and reflexes of steel, though. In my current playthrough, I’ve died over two thousand times. Normally, that sort of death count would cause me to give up playing a game, but while each death brings me a little closer to heart attack, it strengthens my resolve to beat the level.

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Stand on a Rubix Cube, and rotate ninety degrees

And where will that get you? Well, somewhere an awful lot like Nudo, a charmingly inventive little platformer imagining how cool it would be if levels worked kind of like Rubik’s Cubes. You may have seen it other places, but this is the first time you’ve seen it here, so it’s got a kind of rubbish novelty. Like finding a scuffed up table at a flea market.

Nudo, unlike a scuffed up table with questionable stains on it, has some really brilliant ideas. Sure, it doesn’t have the aesthetic trappings of a game like Braid or VVVVVV, but the general concept is the same: take one really brilliant idea and slowly add complexity to it, until it is the most brilliant thing you’ve ever seen. Braid had time (and relativity, but that’s another show). V6 had gravity. And Nudo has the humble Rubik’s Cube, the ability to move parts of the level around to make a path to the goal. Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Nowhere near.

It’s a little gem of a game with novel ideas. Nudo is the kind of game that makes you glad you play video games, and you can play it here.

Take a look at an ACTUAL Murder Simulator: Serial Killer Roguelike

Ho boy, just wait until the press gets a load of this. ‘Serial Killer Roguelike’ is a murder simulator–literally, a murder simulator–by indie developer Crimson Kings, which started out as a fan-project for Showtime’s Dexter. You can play as a character of your own creation, or you can opt to play as famous serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy–which, in of itself, is rather unsettling.

The video below showcases the progress that Crimson has made thus far, as well as some actual gameplay. Don’t expect anything graphic, though. The game doesn’t strive for visual realism, instead it seems to be grounded in RPG/text adventure-like mechanics.

“Keep in mind that this is a GAME, and that I am not advocating or condoning murder or any of the crimes that take place in it. I feel that the subject of serial killers, specifically the psychological conditions that drive them to do what they do, is one of interest and will hopefully translate into a unique game that has a vast number of potential options for play,” says the developer in regards to the game.

After watching the video, what do you think? Is it really so simple to call it a game and nothing else? Is it okay for me to enjoy watching Dexter, which follows exactly the same concept, but feel slightly uneasy about choosing to slash someone’s throat while they’re sleeping as Ted Bundy? Why can I watch this but have hypothetical problems “reenacting” it via a game? Should it be a game at all?

Regardless of whether you think this is in good taste or not, you’ve got to admit it raises some interesting questions regarding why some subjects seem to be “off limits” for video games but not other entertainment mediums. For example, a show like Dexter can be critically acclaimed–but a game like this is likely to raise media ire. Why is that, exactly?

Immortal Defense now ‘pay what you want’

When it comes to Tower Defense, there are three games in my mind: Defense Grid, Comet Crash, and Immortal Defense. The former is the best by the numbers approach to the genre. Comet Crash makes a lot of interesting innovations, which add a lot of depth to the proceedings.

And then there’s Immortal Defense, which is one of the most haunting, atmospheric games ever made. Not to mention one of the prettiest. It plays like pretty traditional tower defense, sure, but it comes with the graphics, music, and just flat out storytelling balls of a triple A title.

And now, for the rest of forever, it’s pay what you want. Assuming what you want is higher than $1.75. I bought it the last time it went PWYW, and definitely didn’t regret it. And unless you absolutely, 100% hate tower defense games, I assure you, you’ll have fun with this one.

If you’d like to try out the demo beforehand, though, make sure to head on over here.

Buy Machinarium for 5 Dollars Through ‘Pirate Amnesty’

Yes, pirates are the ones to thank for this fantastic sale.

“Everybody who downloaded our game illegally (for free) has now a chance to redeem himself and get the latest version of the game (Win+Mac+Linux)  and it’s fantastic Soundtrack only for $5 (instead of $20)” says the Machinarium site, “We released the game DRM free which means it doesn’t include any anti-piracy protection, therefore the game doesn’t bother players with any serial codes or online authentication, but it’s also very easy to copy it. Our estimate from the feedback is that only 5-15% of Machinarium players actually paid for the game. If you decide to buy the game, you can be sure you’ll support directly the developers, not any big publisher or distributor.”

Only 15 percent, at best? That’s just sad, people. But now that it’s just 5 bucks, no one has an excuse for not purchasing the point and click adventure with an amazing art style. Those of you who’ve never heard or seen the game, just take a look at the picture above to see the art-style in question.

The sale will go on until August 12th, at which point it will return to its normal 20 dollar pricepoint. If you’re going to be picky about those five dollars, though, you can try out the demo here, which lets you play through 10% of the game. And, remember, once you purchase? You’ve got 3 versions of the download links (Windows, Mac, 32bit Linux) as well as the soundtrack bundled in.

The MMO and Risk Versus Reward

It’s been an interesting span of weeks for those of us interested in game design as a thing, not just as a process. We’ve been given access to not only Guild Wars 2’s design manifesto, which lays out the many ideas ArenaNet are following in their development process, but also a pair of articles from Edmund McMillan about some design aspects of Super Meat Boy.

All three of these articles are pretty profound, even though I wish Edmund went into a little more depth. What I find interesting, though, as a fan of MMORPGs like the original Guild Wars, is in comparing them. Quite simply, there’s no point of comparison between these two genres, platformers and MMO’s, and this leads me to wonder why. You’d think the concept of risk versus reward, of difficulty would exist, and coexist, between the two mediums, but you’d be sorely mistaken.
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