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Found 25 results

  1. The era of point-and-click adventure games is, for the most part, remembered fondly by the gaming community. The genre helped establish Lucasfilm Games (later renamed LucasArts) as a powerhouse game studio (to say nothing of film) during its time. Now, over 20 years later, the point-and-click (PAC) genre has sustained itself almost strictly through fan games or deliberately indie fare looking to tap into nostalgia, but the team behind Thimbleweed Park aims to change that. As point-and-click genre visionaries, game developers like Ron Gilbert, David Fox, and Gary Winnick are teaming up once again (along with a small team of younger developers) to give genre fans another grand adventure. We played an early demo with developers Ron Gilbert (creator of Monkey Island, co-creator of Maniac Mansion) and David Fox (Lucasfilm’s third employee and SCUMM scriptor for Maniac Mansion) and spoke about how it feels to come back to an adult point-and-click game after so long, and what they hope to achieve. --- Ron Gilbert: Gary Winnick and I, we did Maniac Mansion together. We kind of wanted to create a game that really captured the charm of those old games. And we really weren't sure what that charm was. It was very ethereal. We didn't really know. It's just like, well if we kind of make a game in the same way that we made a game back then, can we kind of capture what that was? [Thimbleweed Park] is really the story of these two detectives. This is agent Ray, and the other detective is agent Reyes. So it's these two detectives who show up in Thimbleweed Park because this dead body has been discovered out by the bridge. It's really the story of their investigation into the mystery of what killed this person in this really strange, bizarre town. You realize these two agents are really not partners. They don't actually know each other until they show up. They kind of randomly show up and the other one was there. So you're always very suspect of them. Like, why are they here? What are they doing? And it really plays into the bizarre-ness of Thimbleweed. I don't think I remember seeing any of the classic control layout of “interact,” “grab,” “combine,” etc (during gameplay) at the bottom, so it's interesting that you're still going with that. It's the most obvious callback. Ron: Yeah. I think it's also a bit of the charm of those games. You had all your options and you built the sentences and the verbs and stuff. So we really wanted to retain that as much as possible. We've done play testing with people who have not played classic adventure games before. There's probably this maybe 15-20 second period where they're kind of going oh my god there's all these things on the screen, and then they realize, if they want to look at something, you just click look at it. [At this point in the demo, Gilbert reveals that the character Dolores, a young programmer, is attempting to mail a job application to a studio called “Mucus Phlegm.”] Is Mucus Phlegm a play on LucasArts? Ron: It was Lucasfilm. We all used to joke. We called it Mucus Phlegm when we worked there. Anytime we wanted to make fun of who we were working for. Are you guys coming back to “adult” point-and-click games for any particular reason? Did it feel like a good time or were you thinking you should fill gap? Because there are a few other indie point-and-click games out there. Ron: Yeah, there’s other point-and-click stuff. I guess I haven't really designed a pure PAC adventure since those days. I did "The Cave," which is like an adventure game but more a platformer adventure. I haven't really done pure PAC adventure. I think that is interesting. When Gary and I first did the Kickstarter, that really came about because Gary and I were talking about the charm a game like Maniac Mansion had, or Monkey Island, and just talking about what seemed to be missing from modern adventure games. Because while they're fun and interesting, they're kind of missing that charm that old games had. This really became an experiment. What is that charm? Can we capture that charm? If we just go back and make this game just like we would have made a game when we were doing Maniac Mansion, can we recapture the charm of those games or not? It seems interesting. Even in just the short playthrough here, the style, and writing as well, seems to be much closer to that old school Maniac Mansion. It's goofy, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes very intentionally. [laughs] I've played my fair share of PAC games that were inspired by those that came before, but I would grow so frustrated with them because I was never amused. It was either a raw story or it didn't have a carrot on a stick to help push me through. So what would you say are the bigger changes, if any, in making a PAC game in modern times? Like you said, you play-tested with people who never played PAC games before. Are you changing the aesthetic or gameplay loop in any significant way? Ron: We are changing it, but I think what we're doing is changing it in very subtle ways. Because I think if you look at modern gamers who like modern adventure games like Kentucky Route Zero or Firewatch- I think modern gamers in general, they enjoy being challenged, but they don't enjoy being frustrated. I think when we were making games back in the 80's and 90's, being frustrated was almost a badge of honor for players back then. Players today just won't put up with that stuff. But they don't mind being challenged. They don't want to be led around. They don't want to be told "go here and do this," but they want to understand that yes I'm heading in the right direction. They need that comfort, that little bit of security to know that yes, you're doing the right thing. This is the right path for you to be going down. So those are some of the small changes we're making. Playing something like Broken Age, I think that was another game that really hit the nail on the head in certain ways, but there were a few instances where I had no idea if I was doing the right thing. I can appreciate that as someone who both appreciates more old school things like Maniac Mansion, but I'm a big Firewatch fan, too. The narrative is obviously very X-Files, Mulder and Scully inspired. Was there any particular reason you guys ran with a mystery, or what appears to be a mystery, with a lot of supernatural stuff? Does that stem from time with Maniac Mansion or Indiana Jones? Is it kind of just you had a story idea and wanted to go further with it? Ron: Maniac Mansion really came from the fact that Gary [Winnick] and I were fans of bad B-horror movies, so Maniac Mansion was sort of a send-up of B horror movies. In particular, I’m a big fan of David Lynch. I really like the the stuff he's done. So in some ways it's almost a send-up of Twin Peaks and really not the X-Files. We have this man, this woman, federal agents, and everybody thinks Mulder and Scully, but really that wasn't in our heads at all. David: This is set in 1987 which is before the X-Files [laughs]. Ron: Right, so it's impossible it would be Mulder and Scully [laughs]. Case closed. But I think a lot of it is more Twin Peaks and David Lynch. When Gary and I did the Kickstarter and came up with the story of the characters, we were not thinking of X-Files at all. I was not an X-Files fan. I've seen maybe five episodes. And the second we did the Kickstarter and that image went up, everybody went "oh my god, it's agent Mulder and Scully X-Files." And I kind of went "oh, shit." [laughs]. That was my first reaction, "oh, shit, this is not the X-Files." I hope nobody is disappointed when they play the game expecting an X-Files game. David: Having watched every episode of the X-Files, the story does not do X-Files in any way. It's very Twin Peaks. So aside from the certainly-not-X-Files, certainly-not-Mulder-and-Scully duo, what is the kind of narrative that you're wanting to tell? I remember that you're exploring this old American town. It’s very post-industrial. Was there anything you were trying to communicate there? Ron: Yeah, it is. I think adventure games in general, to me, I've always looked at the main character of an adventure game as the world. The main character in Maniac Mansion is that house. The main character in Monkey Island is that world [Guybrush Threepwood] inhabits. I think if you treat the adventure game world as if it's the main character, it can come alive. We treat the town like that. We built a real town. It connects like a real town would be. We expect you to navigate like a real town. So I think the town is kind of important. In terms of themes, this is 1987, but Uncle Chuck [Delores’ relative], he's this strange inventor. He has all these weird computers all over town, and so there's a little bit of hints of this modern world we live in where we're all connected in some way with computers everywhere. So you see this little thread of that running through the story, but kind of in this 1987 frame of mind. I guess even the humor too? PAC games feel like the first to really approach dry and sardonic humor. Ron: I think that's kind of my humor style in general. I love dry humor. I have a lot of respect for comedians that can deliver really dry lines. I never use smiley faces in my tweets or emails. Sometimes it throws people off, because I say something and "oooh, there's no smiley face. Is he mad at me?" No, no, it's just that I'm sarcastic. I think a lot of the humor in the game is that kind. That's just me. That's what I enjoy. And there's a lot of fourth wall. I love breaking the fourth wall. You've got to tell me about the damn clown. What's the deal there? Ron: The clown? [laughs]. Ransom the Clown. He's been cursed. He's an insult clown. He goes up on stage and he basically insults everybody. But he's really an asshole, so everybody really kind of hates him, but they laugh at him because people laugh in uncomfortable moments. And he insults the wrong person in the audience and he gets cursed. And he can no longer remove his makeup. So he's stuck with this clown makeup and he retires to live in this old run down circus, can't really ever leave because everyone hates him and he's stuck with the makeup. His story is how he got cursed to never lose his makeup. So now he's a has-been, no career, he's broke and living out of a circus.  That was one of the things that struck me most interesting. There's a few clown-based horror films out there. Ron: Some people find clowns terrifying. Not me. They've never bothered me. I've never had a clown phobia. But a lot of people really do hate clowns. It's always the older, washed-up clowns like Ransom. Like something CLEARLY went wrong in this guy's life. Not where they enjoy their career. Ron: If you look at the old advertisements from the 1950s or 60's where they had Ronald McDonald, he just looks creepy as hell. He just looks like a child molester clown. It's amazing that they got away with that, but it's weird. The rest of the team. Have they had any significant input, especially having people come back from Lucasfilm? Ron: Yeah, there's me, Gary, David, and [Lucasfilm background artist] Mark [Ferrari]. Coming back from something like that, 20 years later, has the group collaborated in any interesting ways that you didn't expect? Ron: I think the thing about working together again was how quickly we just fell into working. Dave and I worked on several projects together, plus Gary and I. And just how quickly we got into that mode where we're just anticipating each other's' thoughts about stuff. And that's been nice because we've really been able to work through issues and problems and all this stuff really quickly. David: I think there may also be like an ego-less part to it. Like each of us dealt with it the way we have to be, where one tries to take the lead on something. In this case I feel like Ron is the lead. And he's the one who's arbitrated choices. So if I say how about this, I try to see if he'll say he'll think about it. Ron: There's a respect, right? A respect for each other. David: It's safe for me to throw out ideas. And the same thing with people who aren't directly working with us, like playtesters. A lot of our ideas we get from playtesters. Ron: They'll start calling us on stuff that isn't good enough. I think that's one of the things that struck me the most. A lot of games in the AAA space, they tout that they're bringing back the creator of X, Y, or Z game, and he or she is serving as the project lead, but it's like subscribing to auteur theory. I like that there's a handful of the guys who helped build the genre and then you have younger devs to make those sorts of suggestions. Ron: I think what you need on any project is a vision. There has to be a vision. Sometimes that comes from one person. Sometimes it comes from a small group of people. But I think as long as you have that strong vision then everything is going to be OK. Where projects I see don't really work it's because there were five different visions. All these people had their own vision and it never really meshed together. So at the end you don't produce a cohesive piece of art at the end. Where if everybody has a shared vision, you're going to do that. David: It's broader than just the vision of the game. We worked together for years at this company where there was already a strong culture, even before we started. It kind of took on the culture of Lucasfilm as a film company and then right into our attention to detail and really wanted to make a way to do our own thing. So with the four of us who've worked together before, there was already this established sense of culture. So as we brought in other people who were new to it, they fell into that established culture, so in a way this is really is kind of the continuation of that original Lucasfilm culture. I don't know what happened 25 years later, for how much of that stuck. So you keep saying culture. You mean just the work environment or how you guys communicate or something deeper? Ron: I think it's when you're dealing with a creative medium, right? It's like how you deal with creative issues, input, and ideas. Because it's like anybody on the team should be able to contribute. It's not like "this is my vision, I will think of everything. I don't need you." A game like Monkey Island, everybody was suggesting ideas for that, from the testers to the artists, programmers. The whole vision. My job on Monkey Island wasn't to come up with the ideas, it was just to sift through all the ideas. It was to say "that works, that doesn't." Some project leads understand that, and there are others that do not, where everything they feel has to come from them. And we just try to create this culture that anybody on the team could just throw out an idea. Hey, if they have an idea for a puzzle or an animation, just throw it out there. That's the only criteria is it has to be good and fit the vision for the game. David: The art, our primary character animator Octavi [Navarro], is a really good example of that. We know he's brilliant at doing animation, we'll give him direction. We'll give him intent and what has to happen, and he'll go crazy building something we never would have thought of. This all means you're pulling creativity from all these different talents into the game. Kind of like the, computer animation where [Delores] is printing out the job application, that was a funny animation. You pointed it out, that reminded me that the best point and click adventure games do have those little nuggets of motion to them. David: I agree. With that printer animation, the original puzzle was a good example of something that was kind of tedious because you had to have the letter, put it in the envelope. You had to press the button on the computer, get it to print, had to combine the letter and envelope, and it was all busywork. To Ron's point, this wasn't working. We had the idea for hands on the computer and Octavi made the animation that combined all these steps. It's not really fun to stamp envelopes [laughs]. Ron: And it masks all the really fun animation. Did you guys think you’re taking anything from PAC adventure games that have come between then and now anyway, or do you think the medium/subgenre has reached a zenith. Are these games going to get stagnant again? Have you guys been inspired by anything, or some of the earliest stuff? Ron: I don't think there's anything in the PAC genre that necessarily has. I kind of feel the PAC genre is very stagnant in a lot of ways. There are interesting PAC games being made now, but they really feel like they are just 1990's PAC games, and I don't feel like they're moving anything forward with what they're doing. So more of the inspiration, especially with the narrative, has really come from games like Firewatch and Kentucky Route Zero, and the more modern games and how they deal with narrative, and how they deal with moving players through their worlds, and what modern gamers find compelling about that. I think PAC adventures fell off the face of the earth. I think there's something about them that very modern players don't quite get. How do we make them feel safe and comfortable playing this? If you're a Firewatch fan or Kentucky Route Zero fan, [Thimbleweed Park] isn't going to be this horrible, frustrating experience that you heard your parents talk about [when they mentioned] how much they hate PAC adventures. This is going to be an interesting kind of experience. I think that's our challenge in a way. David: There's a whole lot of stuff we've learned over the years about what you think is funny, what's good. I think back then, part of what was supposed to be fun was having a game that lasted a certain number of hours. You didn't kill people off. We did things that would extend gameplay, but they weren't especially that fun to do. So we want to make sure the gameplay is really fun and in-depth. There's a density, I think, to making progress. You're solving a lot of filler that you have to get through to make something happen. We talk a lot about puzzle design, which I don't think we thought about much back then. If you have a puzzle, it's really good to know what you're trying to solve before you start clicking on random objects and try to combine them randomly. So there's an intent. You're actively solving something. In researching, I reacquainted myself watching old videos of Maniac Mansion, and yeah that makes sense that you see somebody who knows the game saying "we're going to go here and here," click, click, click, picking up 50 items, but you would never have any idea what to use them for. So having that intent I think, especially as a younger gamer who certainly didn't grow up with these, that makes a lot of sense. You're being much more intentional. David: Yeah, we have a bunch of objects which have no use. They're there for atmosphere or backer objects [laughs]. Ron: If you backed at the $1,000 level you got to create an object in the game. There's the Ransom the Clown itch cream that's kind of fun. Octavi did a great animation of Ransom applying his itch cream [laughs]. You’ve said you’re aiming for an early 2017 release. I've noticed a lot of indie developers, old and new, seem to work on a timetable on three years. Have you guys been busting to get this done? Ron: We've been really focused. A lot of Kickstarter projects work off the rails. It's like five years later they haven't built a game. We were very intent to not have that happen. We were supposed to release in July [2016]. So we've kind of slipped by about six months, but we've stayed very focused. We've tried to say hey, we're going to build this game, we're going to scope correctly, we're going to do all of these things that we've learned about games and shipping games on time. David: There's also the work in making sure to do the wireframe art. We wireframed rough versions of every single room or area. Ron: We cut a lot of stuff. There's a lot of stuff we did with this quick wireframe art, that we had working, and then said, this room isn't needed, and decided to cut it because it was only half the work time. It's easy to cut that stuff. I think that keeps the world kind of lean. Everything is there for a reason. We've gone through this process of essentially storyboarding the game out and cutting the stuff that isn't needed before time is invested. David: There was a point where Ron had us each come up with a list of 10 or 15 rooms we could cut without killing the game. Some of our favorite rooms were in there, but I think one or two of them got back in the game[laughs]. It was a really good exercise to see what we needed, and if each room has a purpose, something happens there, do you need that room there? Ron: There's the bar that's just gone. Aside from the collaboration element, is that wireframe method, making drastic cuts, similar to what you did back when you were in the Maniac Mansion era? Ron: No, actually, not at all. When I was doing Monkey Island, it was like we would have a room, and the artist would draw the whole thing, and it would be done to completion, and we'd do it and move onto the next one. It was this really linear fashion. It really wasn't until - because I started the company Humongous Entertainment after Lucasfilm, and we made adventure games for kids - it was there that we started doing all this very hand-drawn animation. I say hand-drawn, it was literally drawn on paper with pencil. Not in Photoshop. It was a very time consuming and expensive process. The results were amazing, but we couldn't waste doing animation that wasn't needed. So we got in this habit of doing storyboards of the entire game, all this black and white stuff. And within a month or two, we could play our entire game from beginning to end. It was all this black and white art, but that was the point we started going through and cutting a bunch of stuff that didn't matter, because the actual production was so expensive. We needed the production to just happen, to just go. I've really adopted that philosophy ever since. So now I like to build games and get them up and completely playable very, very early, and then go through and cut stuff before it's expensive to actually develop. So obviously the value of budget and money has fluctuated in the decades that have passed. Does it feel like you're operating on a larger or stricter budget since those days? Because with Lucasfilm, I don't know what it was like in those days, especially in the gaming division. Ron: Well, we didn't spend a lot of money. I don't think there was a lot of money to be spent. We had money, obviously. We had billions of dollars from Star Wars flowing in. But I think games were so simple that we couldn't have spent that much. There wasn't any place to pour that kind of money into games. So it was a much easier to keep things scoped a bit more. Games now, there's so many places you can pour money into a game that I think you have to be really careful. Certainly, coming from Kickstarter, we only had a certain bucket full of money. We got $623,000. I think with Kickstarter, the most important thing for a Kickstarter is you need a hook. You can't just have an idea for a game. You need a hook that hooks people. People often ask me, "what's some advice for running a Kickstarter?" I always tell them "sell people your dream. Don't sell them your game." It's not a store. Because if all you're doing is trying to sell people your game and getting them to fund the game, it's like well, go to Steam and find 50 games just like that. Sell them your dream. Sell them your passion for making this thing because that's what people will give you money for- it’s that kind of stuff. So I think Kickstarters need some kind of hook. David: So the [original Kickstarter] art was Gary's and much closer to Maniac Mansion-style. [To Ron] Do you think if we had done the Kickstarter with Mark's art and actual scenes, do you think that would have gotten more or less? Ron: More.  David: Yeah?  Ron: Yeah, I think we would have raised a lot more money.  If it evoked the Maniac Mansion aesthetic? David: I'm stunned by [the game] now because when I go back and look at the Kickstarter art, or I see the Kickstarter art in some articles that still pull from the old stuff, it's like "whoa" because it's so different. Ron: Well we didn't know how much money we were going to raise. We asked for significantly less money than we got and we wanted to make sure that we had an art style that we could do for the money we wanted to raise so we kind of went with this more simplistic art that was more like Maniac Mansion. But then we raised almost twice the money; then we had the money to bring on Mark and Octavi and all these people and kind of raise the bar on the art. David: The characters look different, too. Totally redone. Ron: Which I think is just natural. Any game, you go through this natural process. At least you're not going backwards. Ron: [laughs] That's true. Is there anything else you guys want to add? David: You talk about other graphic adventure games that maybe don't have people doing it with as much experience. It's almost like most art forms where maybe some people think that it's really easy to do it because you consume it. "I can make a movie because I see movies," or "I can write a book because I read books. I can make games because I play games." The best games, I think, are not accidents. They're people who work really hard and have a lot of experience and draw on experience and keep polishing and polishing and polishing, and not take the first ideas that come up. In brainstorming we'd come up with ideas and say "that's not good enough. We can push a little further into it and not just use the first thing that comes up." And so I think that to do a really good one it helps to have that experience of which pitfalls to avoid, and to keep pushing on until it really feels like "yeah, that's a good puzzle." The old saying being innovation rather than emulation, but this time it’s iteration over emulation. Ron: I find with writing humor, I'll kind of write a line of dialogue and I just immediately say "well, how can I make this funnier?" And then I'll rewrite it and I'll go "how can I make this funnier?" Then I'll rewrite it again, and maybe after the third or fourth time I can go "that's a good line." It's like the writer's room on a TV show, right? It's just a group of writers, and somebody comes up with the core thing and then the group writers punch it up. Everybody just adds little things upon it to make it better and better. That's how you get really, really funny things. David: I've seen a few movies lately where I'm just totally caught up in it, and then there's some point where, maybe in the third act, it just kind of goes "wham!" and falls to the ground. Whether you have this great idea -- you polish the first part over and over again, then you get to the end and whoops, you fall back on the easy solutions or cliches. Or it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. David: I shouldn't be talking about this since we haven't done the end of our game yet. [laughs] I'll be looking for that. Ron: We see a lot of that in our game, because we get a lot of time on the beginning of the game. There isn't a lot of playtesting on the end of the game. The beginning of the game is going to be super tight. David: Earlier games at Lucas, there never was a budget that I was aware of. I don't know if that changed for Monkey Island. But basically, it was "here's the game, any idea of how big it's going to be?" You'd have to estimate how many discs it would be. Ron: That was our budget. Our budget wasn't "you can spend $200,000." It was "this game has to fit on five floppy disks. They can accord for the cost of goods for the box. So I just looked at everything as "I have to fit this game on five floppy disks. That constrains the budget right there, because there's only so much art that can fit on five floppy disks. --- As someone who appreciates not just where games are going, but where they’ve come from, Thimbleweed Park feels poised to remind us why the genre charmed a generation of players. With a cast of memorable (if freaky) characters and an accessibility that previous point-and-click games felt little need to include, Thimbleweed Park may reignite that enchantment, if only for another moment in history. Thimbleweed Park releases on March 30th on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Xbox One. View full article
  2. The era of point-and-click adventure games is, for the most part, remembered fondly by the gaming community. The genre helped establish Lucasfilm Games (later renamed LucasArts) as a powerhouse game studio (to say nothing of film) during its time. Now, over 20 years later, the point-and-click (PAC) genre has sustained itself almost strictly through fan games or deliberately indie fare looking to tap into nostalgia, but the team behind Thimbleweed Park aims to change that. As point-and-click genre visionaries, game developers like Ron Gilbert, David Fox, and Gary Winnick are teaming up once again (along with a small team of younger developers) to give genre fans another grand adventure. We played an early demo with developers Ron Gilbert (creator of Monkey Island, co-creator of Maniac Mansion) and David Fox (Lucasfilm’s third employee and SCUMM scriptor for Maniac Mansion) and spoke about how it feels to come back to an adult point-and-click game after so long, and what they hope to achieve. --- Ron Gilbert: Gary Winnick and I, we did Maniac Mansion together. We kind of wanted to create a game that really captured the charm of those old games. And we really weren't sure what that charm was. It was very ethereal. We didn't really know. It's just like, well if we kind of make a game in the same way that we made a game back then, can we kind of capture what that was? [Thimbleweed Park] is really the story of these two detectives. This is agent Ray, and the other detective is agent Reyes. So it's these two detectives who show up in Thimbleweed Park because this dead body has been discovered out by the bridge. It's really the story of their investigation into the mystery of what killed this person in this really strange, bizarre town. You realize these two agents are really not partners. They don't actually know each other until they show up. They kind of randomly show up and the other one was there. So you're always very suspect of them. Like, why are they here? What are they doing? And it really plays into the bizarre-ness of Thimbleweed. I don't think I remember seeing any of the classic control layout of “interact,” “grab,” “combine,” etc (during gameplay) at the bottom, so it's interesting that you're still going with that. It's the most obvious callback. Ron: Yeah. I think it's also a bit of the charm of those games. You had all your options and you built the sentences and the verbs and stuff. So we really wanted to retain that as much as possible. We've done play testing with people who have not played classic adventure games before. There's probably this maybe 15-20 second period where they're kind of going oh my god there's all these things on the screen, and then they realize, if they want to look at something, you just click look at it. [At this point in the demo, Gilbert reveals that the character Dolores, a young programmer, is attempting to mail a job application to a studio called “Mucus Phlegm.”] Is Mucus Phlegm a play on LucasArts? Ron: It was Lucasfilm. We all used to joke. We called it Mucus Phlegm when we worked there. Anytime we wanted to make fun of who we were working for. Are you guys coming back to “adult” point-and-click games for any particular reason? Did it feel like a good time or were you thinking you should fill gap? Because there are a few other indie point-and-click games out there. Ron: Yeah, there’s other point-and-click stuff. I guess I haven't really designed a pure PAC adventure since those days. I did "The Cave," which is like an adventure game but more a platformer adventure. I haven't really done pure PAC adventure. I think that is interesting. When Gary and I first did the Kickstarter, that really came about because Gary and I were talking about the charm a game like Maniac Mansion had, or Monkey Island, and just talking about what seemed to be missing from modern adventure games. Because while they're fun and interesting, they're kind of missing that charm that old games had. This really became an experiment. What is that charm? Can we capture that charm? If we just go back and make this game just like we would have made a game when we were doing Maniac Mansion, can we recapture the charm of those games or not? It seems interesting. Even in just the short playthrough here, the style, and writing as well, seems to be much closer to that old school Maniac Mansion. It's goofy, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes very intentionally. [laughs] I've played my fair share of PAC games that were inspired by those that came before, but I would grow so frustrated with them because I was never amused. It was either a raw story or it didn't have a carrot on a stick to help push me through. So what would you say are the bigger changes, if any, in making a PAC game in modern times? Like you said, you play-tested with people who never played PAC games before. Are you changing the aesthetic or gameplay loop in any significant way? Ron: We are changing it, but I think what we're doing is changing it in very subtle ways. Because I think if you look at modern gamers who like modern adventure games like Kentucky Route Zero or Firewatch- I think modern gamers in general, they enjoy being challenged, but they don't enjoy being frustrated. I think when we were making games back in the 80's and 90's, being frustrated was almost a badge of honor for players back then. Players today just won't put up with that stuff. But they don't mind being challenged. They don't want to be led around. They don't want to be told "go here and do this," but they want to understand that yes I'm heading in the right direction. They need that comfort, that little bit of security to know that yes, you're doing the right thing. This is the right path for you to be going down. So those are some of the small changes we're making. Playing something like Broken Age, I think that was another game that really hit the nail on the head in certain ways, but there were a few instances where I had no idea if I was doing the right thing. I can appreciate that as someone who both appreciates more old school things like Maniac Mansion, but I'm a big Firewatch fan, too. The narrative is obviously very X-Files, Mulder and Scully inspired. Was there any particular reason you guys ran with a mystery, or what appears to be a mystery, with a lot of supernatural stuff? Does that stem from time with Maniac Mansion or Indiana Jones? Is it kind of just you had a story idea and wanted to go further with it? Ron: Maniac Mansion really came from the fact that Gary [Winnick] and I were fans of bad B-horror movies, so Maniac Mansion was sort of a send-up of B horror movies. In particular, I’m a big fan of David Lynch. I really like the the stuff he's done. So in some ways it's almost a send-up of Twin Peaks and really not the X-Files. We have this man, this woman, federal agents, and everybody thinks Mulder and Scully, but really that wasn't in our heads at all. David: This is set in 1987 which is before the X-Files [laughs]. Ron: Right, so it's impossible it would be Mulder and Scully [laughs]. Case closed. But I think a lot of it is more Twin Peaks and David Lynch. When Gary and I did the Kickstarter and came up with the story of the characters, we were not thinking of X-Files at all. I was not an X-Files fan. I've seen maybe five episodes. And the second we did the Kickstarter and that image went up, everybody went "oh my god, it's agent Mulder and Scully X-Files." And I kind of went "oh, shit." [laughs]. That was my first reaction, "oh, shit, this is not the X-Files." I hope nobody is disappointed when they play the game expecting an X-Files game. David: Having watched every episode of the X-Files, the story does not do X-Files in any way. It's very Twin Peaks. So aside from the certainly-not-X-Files, certainly-not-Mulder-and-Scully duo, what is the kind of narrative that you're wanting to tell? I remember that you're exploring this old American town. It’s very post-industrial. Was there anything you were trying to communicate there? Ron: Yeah, it is. I think adventure games in general, to me, I've always looked at the main character of an adventure game as the world. The main character in Maniac Mansion is that house. The main character in Monkey Island is that world [Guybrush Threepwood] inhabits. I think if you treat the adventure game world as if it's the main character, it can come alive. We treat the town like that. We built a real town. It connects like a real town would be. We expect you to navigate like a real town. So I think the town is kind of important. In terms of themes, this is 1987, but Uncle Chuck [Delores’ relative], he's this strange inventor. He has all these weird computers all over town, and so there's a little bit of hints of this modern world we live in where we're all connected in some way with computers everywhere. So you see this little thread of that running through the story, but kind of in this 1987 frame of mind. I guess even the humor too? PAC games feel like the first to really approach dry and sardonic humor. Ron: I think that's kind of my humor style in general. I love dry humor. I have a lot of respect for comedians that can deliver really dry lines. I never use smiley faces in my tweets or emails. Sometimes it throws people off, because I say something and "oooh, there's no smiley face. Is he mad at me?" No, no, it's just that I'm sarcastic. I think a lot of the humor in the game is that kind. That's just me. That's what I enjoy. And there's a lot of fourth wall. I love breaking the fourth wall. You've got to tell me about the damn clown. What's the deal there? Ron: The clown? [laughs]. Ransom the Clown. He's been cursed. He's an insult clown. He goes up on stage and he basically insults everybody. But he's really an asshole, so everybody really kind of hates him, but they laugh at him because people laugh in uncomfortable moments. And he insults the wrong person in the audience and he gets cursed. And he can no longer remove his makeup. So he's stuck with this clown makeup and he retires to live in this old run down circus, can't really ever leave because everyone hates him and he's stuck with the makeup. His story is how he got cursed to never lose his makeup. So now he's a has-been, no career, he's broke and living out of a circus.  That was one of the things that struck me most interesting. There's a few clown-based horror films out there. Ron: Some people find clowns terrifying. Not me. They've never bothered me. I've never had a clown phobia. But a lot of people really do hate clowns. It's always the older, washed-up clowns like Ransom. Like something CLEARLY went wrong in this guy's life. Not where they enjoy their career. Ron: If you look at the old advertisements from the 1950s or 60's where they had Ronald McDonald, he just looks creepy as hell. He just looks like a child molester clown. It's amazing that they got away with that, but it's weird. The rest of the team. Have they had any significant input, especially having people come back from Lucasfilm? Ron: Yeah, there's me, Gary, David, and [Lucasfilm background artist] Mark [Ferrari]. Coming back from something like that, 20 years later, has the group collaborated in any interesting ways that you didn't expect? Ron: I think the thing about working together again was how quickly we just fell into working. Dave and I worked on several projects together, plus Gary and I. And just how quickly we got into that mode where we're just anticipating each other's' thoughts about stuff. And that's been nice because we've really been able to work through issues and problems and all this stuff really quickly. David: I think there may also be like an ego-less part to it. Like each of us dealt with it the way we have to be, where one tries to take the lead on something. In this case I feel like Ron is the lead. And he's the one who's arbitrated choices. So if I say how about this, I try to see if he'll say he'll think about it. Ron: There's a respect, right? A respect for each other. David: It's safe for me to throw out ideas. And the same thing with people who aren't directly working with us, like playtesters. A lot of our ideas we get from playtesters. Ron: They'll start calling us on stuff that isn't good enough. I think that's one of the things that struck me the most. A lot of games in the AAA space, they tout that they're bringing back the creator of X, Y, or Z game, and he or she is serving as the project lead, but it's like subscribing to auteur theory. I like that there's a handful of the guys who helped build the genre and then you have younger devs to make those sorts of suggestions. Ron: I think what you need on any project is a vision. There has to be a vision. Sometimes that comes from one person. Sometimes it comes from a small group of people. But I think as long as you have that strong vision then everything is going to be OK. Where projects I see don't really work it's because there were five different visions. All these people had their own vision and it never really meshed together. So at the end you don't produce a cohesive piece of art at the end. Where if everybody has a shared vision, you're going to do that. David: It's broader than just the vision of the game. We worked together for years at this company where there was already a strong culture, even before we started. It kind of took on the culture of Lucasfilm as a film company and then right into our attention to detail and really wanted to make a way to do our own thing. So with the four of us who've worked together before, there was already this established sense of culture. So as we brought in other people who were new to it, they fell into that established culture, so in a way this is really is kind of the continuation of that original Lucasfilm culture. I don't know what happened 25 years later, for how much of that stuck. So you keep saying culture. You mean just the work environment or how you guys communicate or something deeper? Ron: I think it's when you're dealing with a creative medium, right? It's like how you deal with creative issues, input, and ideas. Because it's like anybody on the team should be able to contribute. It's not like "this is my vision, I will think of everything. I don't need you." A game like Monkey Island, everybody was suggesting ideas for that, from the testers to the artists, programmers. The whole vision. My job on Monkey Island wasn't to come up with the ideas, it was just to sift through all the ideas. It was to say "that works, that doesn't." Some project leads understand that, and there are others that do not, where everything they feel has to come from them. And we just try to create this culture that anybody on the team could just throw out an idea. Hey, if they have an idea for a puzzle or an animation, just throw it out there. That's the only criteria is it has to be good and fit the vision for the game. David: The art, our primary character animator Octavi [Navarro], is a really good example of that. We know he's brilliant at doing animation, we'll give him direction. We'll give him intent and what has to happen, and he'll go crazy building something we never would have thought of. This all means you're pulling creativity from all these different talents into the game. Kind of like the, computer animation where [Delores] is printing out the job application, that was a funny animation. You pointed it out, that reminded me that the best point and click adventure games do have those little nuggets of motion to them. David: I agree. With that printer animation, the original puzzle was a good example of something that was kind of tedious because you had to have the letter, put it in the envelope. You had to press the button on the computer, get it to print, had to combine the letter and envelope, and it was all busywork. To Ron's point, this wasn't working. We had the idea for hands on the computer and Octavi made the animation that combined all these steps. It's not really fun to stamp envelopes [laughs]. Ron: And it masks all the really fun animation. Did you guys think you’re taking anything from PAC adventure games that have come between then and now anyway, or do you think the medium/subgenre has reached a zenith. Are these games going to get stagnant again? Have you guys been inspired by anything, or some of the earliest stuff? Ron: I don't think there's anything in the PAC genre that necessarily has. I kind of feel the PAC genre is very stagnant in a lot of ways. There are interesting PAC games being made now, but they really feel like they are just 1990's PAC games, and I don't feel like they're moving anything forward with what they're doing. So more of the inspiration, especially with the narrative, has really come from games like Firewatch and Kentucky Route Zero, and the more modern games and how they deal with narrative, and how they deal with moving players through their worlds, and what modern gamers find compelling about that. I think PAC adventures fell off the face of the earth. I think there's something about them that very modern players don't quite get. How do we make them feel safe and comfortable playing this? If you're a Firewatch fan or Kentucky Route Zero fan, [Thimbleweed Park] isn't going to be this horrible, frustrating experience that you heard your parents talk about [when they mentioned] how much they hate PAC adventures. This is going to be an interesting kind of experience. I think that's our challenge in a way. David: There's a whole lot of stuff we've learned over the years about what you think is funny, what's good. I think back then, part of what was supposed to be fun was having a game that lasted a certain number of hours. You didn't kill people off. We did things that would extend gameplay, but they weren't especially that fun to do. So we want to make sure the gameplay is really fun and in-depth. There's a density, I think, to making progress. You're solving a lot of filler that you have to get through to make something happen. We talk a lot about puzzle design, which I don't think we thought about much back then. If you have a puzzle, it's really good to know what you're trying to solve before you start clicking on random objects and try to combine them randomly. So there's an intent. You're actively solving something. In researching, I reacquainted myself watching old videos of Maniac Mansion, and yeah that makes sense that you see somebody who knows the game saying "we're going to go here and here," click, click, click, picking up 50 items, but you would never have any idea what to use them for. So having that intent I think, especially as a younger gamer who certainly didn't grow up with these, that makes a lot of sense. You're being much more intentional. David: Yeah, we have a bunch of objects which have no use. They're there for atmosphere or backer objects [laughs]. Ron: If you backed at the $1,000 level you got to create an object in the game. There's the Ransom the Clown itch cream that's kind of fun. Octavi did a great animation of Ransom applying his itch cream [laughs]. You’ve said you’re aiming for an early 2017 release. I've noticed a lot of indie developers, old and new, seem to work on a timetable on three years. Have you guys been busting to get this done? Ron: We've been really focused. A lot of Kickstarter projects work off the rails. It's like five years later they haven't built a game. We were very intent to not have that happen. We were supposed to release in July [2016]. So we've kind of slipped by about six months, but we've stayed very focused. We've tried to say hey, we're going to build this game, we're going to scope correctly, we're going to do all of these things that we've learned about games and shipping games on time. David: There's also the work in making sure to do the wireframe art. We wireframed rough versions of every single room or area. Ron: We cut a lot of stuff. There's a lot of stuff we did with this quick wireframe art, that we had working, and then said, this room isn't needed, and decided to cut it because it was only half the work time. It's easy to cut that stuff. I think that keeps the world kind of lean. Everything is there for a reason. We've gone through this process of essentially storyboarding the game out and cutting the stuff that isn't needed before time is invested. David: There was a point where Ron had us each come up with a list of 10 or 15 rooms we could cut without killing the game. Some of our favorite rooms were in there, but I think one or two of them got back in the game[laughs]. It was a really good exercise to see what we needed, and if each room has a purpose, something happens there, do you need that room there? Ron: There's the bar that's just gone. Aside from the collaboration element, is that wireframe method, making drastic cuts, similar to what you did back when you were in the Maniac Mansion era? Ron: No, actually, not at all. When I was doing Monkey Island, it was like we would have a room, and the artist would draw the whole thing, and it would be done to completion, and we'd do it and move onto the next one. It was this really linear fashion. It really wasn't until - because I started the company Humongous Entertainment after Lucasfilm, and we made adventure games for kids - it was there that we started doing all this very hand-drawn animation. I say hand-drawn, it was literally drawn on paper with pencil. Not in Photoshop. It was a very time consuming and expensive process. The results were amazing, but we couldn't waste doing animation that wasn't needed. So we got in this habit of doing storyboards of the entire game, all this black and white stuff. And within a month or two, we could play our entire game from beginning to end. It was all this black and white art, but that was the point we started going through and cutting a bunch of stuff that didn't matter, because the actual production was so expensive. We needed the production to just happen, to just go. I've really adopted that philosophy ever since. So now I like to build games and get them up and completely playable very, very early, and then go through and cut stuff before it's expensive to actually develop. So obviously the value of budget and money has fluctuated in the decades that have passed. Does it feel like you're operating on a larger or stricter budget since those days? Because with Lucasfilm, I don't know what it was like in those days, especially in the gaming division. Ron: Well, we didn't spend a lot of money. I don't think there was a lot of money to be spent. We had money, obviously. We had billions of dollars from Star Wars flowing in. But I think games were so simple that we couldn't have spent that much. There wasn't any place to pour that kind of money into games. So it was a much easier to keep things scoped a bit more. Games now, there's so many places you can pour money into a game that I think you have to be really careful. Certainly, coming from Kickstarter, we only had a certain bucket full of money. We got $623,000. I think with Kickstarter, the most important thing for a Kickstarter is you need a hook. You can't just have an idea for a game. You need a hook that hooks people. People often ask me, "what's some advice for running a Kickstarter?" I always tell them "sell people your dream. Don't sell them your game." It's not a store. Because if all you're doing is trying to sell people your game and getting them to fund the game, it's like well, go to Steam and find 50 games just like that. Sell them your dream. Sell them your passion for making this thing because that's what people will give you money for- it’s that kind of stuff. So I think Kickstarters need some kind of hook. David: So the [original Kickstarter] art was Gary's and much closer to Maniac Mansion-style. [To Ron] Do you think if we had done the Kickstarter with Mark's art and actual scenes, do you think that would have gotten more or less? Ron: More.  David: Yeah?  Ron: Yeah, I think we would have raised a lot more money.  If it evoked the Maniac Mansion aesthetic? David: I'm stunned by [the game] now because when I go back and look at the Kickstarter art, or I see the Kickstarter art in some articles that still pull from the old stuff, it's like "whoa" because it's so different. Ron: Well we didn't know how much money we were going to raise. We asked for significantly less money than we got and we wanted to make sure that we had an art style that we could do for the money we wanted to raise so we kind of went with this more simplistic art that was more like Maniac Mansion. But then we raised almost twice the money; then we had the money to bring on Mark and Octavi and all these people and kind of raise the bar on the art. David: The characters look different, too. Totally redone. Ron: Which I think is just natural. Any game, you go through this natural process. At least you're not going backwards. Ron: [laughs] That's true. Is there anything else you guys want to add? David: You talk about other graphic adventure games that maybe don't have people doing it with as much experience. It's almost like most art forms where maybe some people think that it's really easy to do it because you consume it. "I can make a movie because I see movies," or "I can write a book because I read books. I can make games because I play games." The best games, I think, are not accidents. They're people who work really hard and have a lot of experience and draw on experience and keep polishing and polishing and polishing, and not take the first ideas that come up. In brainstorming we'd come up with ideas and say "that's not good enough. We can push a little further into it and not just use the first thing that comes up." And so I think that to do a really good one it helps to have that experience of which pitfalls to avoid, and to keep pushing on until it really feels like "yeah, that's a good puzzle." The old saying being innovation rather than emulation, but this time it’s iteration over emulation. Ron: I find with writing humor, I'll kind of write a line of dialogue and I just immediately say "well, how can I make this funnier?" And then I'll rewrite it and I'll go "how can I make this funnier?" Then I'll rewrite it again, and maybe after the third or fourth time I can go "that's a good line." It's like the writer's room on a TV show, right? It's just a group of writers, and somebody comes up with the core thing and then the group writers punch it up. Everybody just adds little things upon it to make it better and better. That's how you get really, really funny things. David: I've seen a few movies lately where I'm just totally caught up in it, and then there's some point where, maybe in the third act, it just kind of goes "wham!" and falls to the ground. Whether you have this great idea -- you polish the first part over and over again, then you get to the end and whoops, you fall back on the easy solutions or cliches. Or it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. David: I shouldn't be talking about this since we haven't done the end of our game yet. [laughs] I'll be looking for that. Ron: We see a lot of that in our game, because we get a lot of time on the beginning of the game. There isn't a lot of playtesting on the end of the game. The beginning of the game is going to be super tight. David: Earlier games at Lucas, there never was a budget that I was aware of. I don't know if that changed for Monkey Island. But basically, it was "here's the game, any idea of how big it's going to be?" You'd have to estimate how many discs it would be. Ron: That was our budget. Our budget wasn't "you can spend $200,000." It was "this game has to fit on five floppy disks. They can accord for the cost of goods for the box. So I just looked at everything as "I have to fit this game on five floppy disks. That constrains the budget right there, because there's only so much art that can fit on five floppy disks. --- As someone who appreciates not just where games are going, but where they’ve come from, Thimbleweed Park feels poised to remind us why the genre charmed a generation of players. With a cast of memorable (if freaky) characters and an accessibility that previous point-and-click games felt little need to include, Thimbleweed Park may reignite that enchantment, if only for another moment in history. Thimbleweed Park releases on March 30th on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Xbox One.
  3. Many of you might not know that, in addition to writing for Extra Life, I record a video game podcast called The JIM Show with two dashing gentlemen. Most of the time it is just discussion of the latest video game news, sharing our thoughts on the games we're playing, and embarrassing ourselves in front of microphones. However, sometimes we have interesting guests on the show. We've had indie studios like Tangentlemen or Brain & Nerd on to talk about the trials of going independent. We've had talented writers like Harold Goldberd, Nathan Meunier, and Walt Williams on to discuss their work. Heck, we even had a filmmaker, and one of the co-founders of Naughty Dog on our show. What I'm trying to get at here is that while we are mostly goofballs, sometimes we do actually have insightful and interesting talks about video games. This week our podcast was graced with the presence of Eric Trowbridge, the founder of indie studio Apixal and who is currently going through a Kickstarter campaign for Phoenix Dawn. We invited him on because he was clearly very passionate about making games; he quit a job of eight years to try and make his dreams a reality. At the time we interviewed him, his Kickstarter was $10,000 short of its goal with five days left. The day after we recorded with him he'd met his funding goal and there are still two days left in his campaign. All this is leading up to me saying that we had a great time talking with Eric and it was really inspiring how determined and dedicated he is to his project. Our conversation with him provided a window into the stressful lives of developers who turn to Kickstarter for funding. If that sounds interesting to you, you can listen to the podcast embedded below, download it from our hosting site, iTunes, or get our podcast app through the Amazon app store. Music for this episode is a remix of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, 'Forever Yours' by the fantastic Tim Sheehy. More great music like this can be found over on OCRemix.org (FOR FREE). Head over there and check out a place flowing with musical talent! Let us know what you think of the show and if you like seeing this kind of thing in the comments.
  4. I have the pleasure of being involved in Extra Life both as a writer on this website and in a local capacity with the Minneapolis Extra Life Guild. Through my involvement in the guild I managed to connect with Dylan Zellmer who provides the social face for MurWare, an independent development studio that released their first game, titled Oley Poley, a little over two weeks ago. MurWare has decided that charity is a core part of their business and will be donating 5% of the profits from Oley Poley to Extra Life! That is just so great that I decided to have a chat with Dylan about the studio and what it is like to be a relatively unknown game developer. --- Jack Gardner: I'm going to be honest, I don't know much about MurWare. Could you tell me a bit about how MurWare came into existence and what it is all about? Dylan Zellmer: There's good reason for your unfamiliarity; we're brand new! Myself and two skilled programmers (Aaron and Ryan) decided to formulate MurWare about 60 days ago. Most of us have either been directly involved in the games industry, or have been toying with games creation for a long time. At its heart, MurWare is the quintessential independent development company. We want to keep our operations relatively small, and will likely hold onto our day jobs while creating and self-publishing fun games. It's likely we'll stick to the mobile games as we hone our skills, and set out to the PC and console space later-on. JG: What is your role in the company and the development process? DZ: I'm the artist. So far, I've been tasked with taking the overarching game ideas and bringing them to life visually. Being a three-man team, we collaborate on just about everything. I've also taken the helm on the social aspects of MurWare, and our outreach. We're hoping to find someone (FREE) to manage that piece as it's rather taxing on top of the rest of our work. JG: As a developer, what are your priorities for the games you make? DZ: Well, as an indie we aren't concerned with creating the next Call of Duty. Essentially, we're making games for ourselves, and are really stoked when other people enjoy them. From a design standpoint, I'm concerned with creating clean visuals that compliment our gameplay; gameplay being the most important aspect of our creative process. If we don't think something is fun to play, we won't let it past the early prototype phase. JG: Could you describe some of the challenges in being a game developer working on that company's first game and getting it onto the Android and iOS app stores? DZ: There are several, very real obstacles for us to overcome. It's amazing when you think of a studio like Supercell hitting the jackpot with their first outing (Clash of Clans). First off, staying organized and having any semblance of a plan to work with is problematic when we aren't devoted to the process full-time. Another large undertaking is discoverability. Even after making plenty of connections within the industry, it's not easy to get your app in front of key people. In the end, whatever success, or lack thereof, Oley Poley garners is an important step in the evolution of our studio. JG: On July 18, MurWare released Oley Poley for Android and (soon) iOS, could you tell me a bit about that game? DZ: Well, I describe Oley Poley as "The Dark Souls of cute and cuddly reverse-platformers"; whatever that means. A more general description of the game would sound something like an informercial, but I'll take a stab at it. It's inspired by the Coin-Op arcade games all of us used to shove our allowances into. It's fast-paced, extremely challenging, and wonderfully satisfying. The object of Oley Poley is to help him survive a never-ending stream of obstacles, and while doing so, earn points for your hard work. JG: You are personally involved in the Minneapolis Extra Life Guild. What is your story with Extra Life?' DZ: In 2013 I was introduced to Extra-Life by a long-time family friend. He thought it was a great opportunity for me to get involved in charitable giving while doing something I truly love; gaming. I thought it sounded like a perfect fit, formed a team (House Nerd), and raised more money than I'd ever hoped to. I was honored to donate to an institute that holds a very personal connection to another life-long friend whose son has received life-changing treatment therein; Gillette Children's Hospital. JG: MurWare is a relatively new studio, but you have already announced that 5% of the money earned from your games will go to charity and that this year's charity will be Extra Life! Not many devs, to my knowledge, give direct cuts of their game revenue. What led to the decision to make charity a priority for MurWare. DZ: To my knowledge (not extremely extensive, haven't dug for hours or anything) we're at least the only MN-based development team, possibly US-based development team, to give a direct cut of our profits to charity. (Editor’s note: MurWare is currently the only developer giving a direct cut of profits to Extra Life.) As I stated earlier, we all have day jobs, at the same company even, so our game dev career isn't ONLY about money; it's about doing something we love. The decision to give to charity was one that was made very early-on; it was important to all of us to do so. My hope is that we are able to receive enough exposure to start donating large amounts of financial support to great organizations like Extra-Life. As I mentioned earlier, discoverability is the hardest hurdle to overcome, so help us spread the word! --- It is absolutely amazing to be supported by a developer in this way! Thank you to the MurWare team for their support! Also, an update for the game was released today that includes new background music, art, and an updated logo. Oley Poley is currently available on the Google Play store for Android devices for $1.
  5. In the midst of all the E3 craziness, I had an appointment with the digital distribution company Green Man Gaming. Due to scheduling mishaps that appointment never occurred, but we managed to track down Green Man's EVP of marketing Darren Cairns for a pleasant (and very green) post-E3 interview. ---- How did Green Man Gaming (GMG) begin? Green Man Gaming launched on 10th May 2010 after Paul Sulyok (CEO & Founder) and Lee Packham (EVP Engineering and Co-Founder) wanted to create a digital store loosely based on an eBay and iTunes model, but for gaming - letting people sell the games in their library. As digital game downloads are becoming the dominant and preferred way for people to get their games, Green Man Gaming began leading millions of gamers through the transition from traditional retail purchases into a new digital era. What does GMG offer that sets it apart from competitors like Steam or GOG.com? We know that modern core gamers care about their games, no matter what platform that they play them on. Our service allows gamers to buy games and content across a range of platforms which makes us very different to retailers like Steam and GOG. Green Man Gaming also collects and uses a level of gameplay data that no other commercial retailer has. Valve has data about Steam, Sony has data about PlayStation, Microsoft has data about Xbox; Green Man Gaming has data about all of them. We then use this behavioural data (based on tracked in-game activity, rather than just purchasing or browsing history) to accurately target core gamers with offers and tailored messages that they need and want. Our strength that sets us apart from other retailers, is that we sell what gamers want, how they want (allowing game access and activation across a range of platforms including Steam, Uplay, Origin, other first party platforms, or by our own Capsule client). Combined with our strong Playfire Community, that becomes a larger offer for gamers that is more than just a sale. GMG Acquired Playfire in 2012. Have you seen a boost in users with the inclusion of more social elements into your platform (i.e. achievements, stat tracking)? Being a member of the Playfire community means gamers can track their gameplay and what their friends are playing, join leaderboards, see what other members are excited about on Playfire Buzz, and create Want lists that we can then make great offers on when those games go on sale. The strength of our community comes from their engagement and we've seen a huge boost in users as gamers are signing up to our Playfire Rewards BETA. By linking their Steam account (with other platforms coming very soon), Playfire Members are eligible to earn Green Man Gaming Credit by playing games! Users don’t have to originally buy their games from Green Man Gaming; they simply have to play those games that Playfire attaches rewards to for the chance to earn up to £5 (Edit: About $8.55 US) Green Man Gaming credit (which is converted into local currency depending on a user’s location). This credit can then be spent towards anything on the Green Man Gaming site. Have you found that offering store credit for social participation on GMG uniquely benefits your business? How does that work? We reward people with Green Man Gaming Credit that can only be used on our service, which we know successfully reduces the cost of gaming for those involved. We feel there is a value exchange that benefits both the user and Green Man Gaming. Our users benefits from earning GMG Credit by simply playing the games they love, and we benefit from learning more about their gaming habits and style as they play. We can use this knowledge to target users with more relevant offers based on the way they play games, and help them to discover more games to love. It works! GMG is the number two digital platform in the world. Are there any plans in the work to dethrone Steam to reach number one? I guess this also harkens back to my second question. How do you compete with something like Steam when they seemingly hold such a significant market share? Steam has well over 75 million users, and as we have an official API from Valve, we think of Steam as one of our allies. We understand that many gamers feel comfortable accessing their games through Steam. However, our offering is quite different to Steam, and we are seeing the number of people using Green Man Gaming to access non-Steam games rapidly increasing, as they prefer our range of download options and opportunities to earn Green Man Gaming Credit. We are going to keep focusing on creating something very special here at Green Man Gaming. We are using billions of game data points and user behaviour knowledge to continually improve the user experience for all our customers, and this will never change. We currently sell over 4500 titles across 185 territories, and are working with over 350 official publishing partners to offer even more than just a sale in the future - bringing more great titles, more great deals, and coming soon, very special Playfire Rewards to millions of gamers around the world. ---- A big thank you to Darren Cairns for taking the time to talk with us and to Tracy McGarrigan for being patient and helping to facilitate this interview!
  6. During the month of May, Extra Life’s current top fundraiser, Aureylian, worked with Twitch to set up the event Mining for Charity. Four teams totaling forty-eight Twitch broadcasters competed in ten different Mineplex minigames. Each team represented a different charity organization: AbleGamers, Child’s Play, Extra Life, and Stand for the Silent. The team that racked up the most points over the course of the month of Mineplex games won a $5,000 prize for their charity. Unfortunately, Extra Life came in third place, but even third place received a pretty nice chunk of change courtesy of some Twitch auctions. I had the opportunity to ask Aureylian some questions regarding Mining for Charity and her own involvement in Extra Life. --- How did you first get involved in Extra Life? I was invited to go along to the Celebration last year in Orlando along with some other gamers and Twitch employees to learn more about Extra Life. After meeting all of the kids, and being a gamer and mom myself, it seems like I was meant to be there. I have become so passionate about Extra Life, because it literally hits every major aspect of my life. What is your goal for this year and what are you going to try differently to achieve it (besides Minecraft charity tournaments)? My goal for this year is $25k. I've done a few shorter livestreams already this year and am planning at least two more (including the National Game Day). I've started integrating incentives in my game play (like renaming missions in Minecraft to donators of certain levels) and stopping livestreams to sing karaoke when someone donates $25. It's a continued effort throughout the year and a big part of my daily life, not just something I do once a year. You are currently our top fundraiser (which is so flippin' amazing). How have you gone about raising money and what do you think other people do to emulate your success on that particular front? Or, to put it another way, how can other people be as fantastic as yourself? Haha, well, not sure I'm THAT fantastic. Like I said before, Extra Life is something I am so passionate about that I speak about it and involve it on an almost daily basis. I work in my local office to donate my time, as well as raise funds and involve as many people I can. I don't know that anyone [could exactly] emulate my success, but I did help write a pretty cool tips piece on the blog for Extra Life last year that seemed to help a few people. You work at Twitch, so can you speak to how Twitch has gotten involved with Extra Life on a company-wide level? Twitch supports many charities. As an organization, we donate many resources to help promote and ensure the success of streamers who choose to stream for charity. Specifically for events like Mining For Charity, we leverage our user base to help nonprofits get exposure and involve content creators in the promotion of great causes. Okay, I pay follow eSports a fair amount and I've played many more hours of Minecraft than I'd care to admit in polite company, but I've never really heard about a Minecraft tournament. Could you explain how that works, where did the idea come from, etc.? I came up with the idea and Mineplex made it come to life. For Mining for Charity, we had four teams of 12 players (8 full time and 4 alternates). They competed each week in a series of Minecraft minigames for four weeks. Depending on their placement in each round, they received points, and at the end of the day, the place of their points determined the daily points they received. At the end of the tournament, two teams tied for first, so they went into a tiebreaker round. The goal was not only to have our content creators collaborate and help grow their audiences, but to help support charities we are passionate about in the process. Prior to the start of the tournament, each team was allowed to pick their own charity to play on behalf of, and we of course were thrilled when one of our teams chose to play on behalf of Extra Life. Twitch donated a designated amount to first place and funds were also raised by auctioning off a rare White Twitch hoodie and limited edition Twitch Minecraft shirt, both signed by Minecraft content creator. Those proceeds were all divided among 2nd, 3rd and 4th place teams. As Mike said in that introductory email, who were the casters that got involved so we can shower them with praise? AnikiDomo - Bashurverse - BlameTheController - ChaosChunk - Fyrflies - RubenDelight - Darkmalmine - Siyliss - tehneyrzomb - TerasHD - thejarren - wyld --- A huge thanks to Aureylian, he co-workers at Twitch, and all of the amazing people who participated in Mining for Charity!
  7. During E3 I had the pleasure of meeting with Martin Brouard from Frima Studios to discuss the indie platforming title Chariot. Afterward, I was able to go hands-on for nearly a half-hour. Spoiler: I couldn't stop smiling. --- Martin Brouard: I’m the Executive Producer for Chariot. It’s a platformer, a couch co-op platformer that’s coming out on Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, and PC this fall. Jack Gardner: Awesome! And we can see it right behind you there. From what I understand the general premise is that a king or emperor has died and you're taking him to his final resting place? MB: Right, you play as a princess and you are accompanied by your very trusty fiancé and before going on with your life, you have to, you know, put your dead father to rest in a really nice sepulcher. But the king is actually back as a ghost and the chariot that you are bringing around everywhere; it’s a coffin on wheels. The king is there and he keeps complaining that you are leaving treasure behind or that you cannot possibly think of burying him here because it is not a proper, kingly place. He always wants more treasure and more interesting places, so that’s how you progress through different levels. [There are] five different environments, 25 levels of exploration. And it is couch co-op so you play both characters. You can play solo, but it is really made for having fun with a friend at home. JG: What different mechanics can we expect to see out of Chariot? MB: The big difference between Chariot and other platformers that we know and love is that it’s a physics-based platformer with a chariot is at the center of it. You need the chariot because that’s what picks up all the loot; that’s what is at the center of the game. So, you’ll push it; you’ll pull it; you’ll use this rope mechanic to pull the chariot, to give some rope to your friend to dangle over a precipice. To try to jump into hard to reach areas. There is lots of exploration. You use the chariot to jump on it, to roll down slopes. [You will have] one special item that you choose for every level, one per character, you use these items to do special moves. There is an attractor, a repulsor, a peg so you can attach your rope to a little escalation peg. There’s something that slows down time and speed boots. By combining these items, one on each character, you can pull off some really fantastic moves and that’s where the fun is. JG: And there is no online co-op or just couch co-op? MB: It’s too… it just wouldn’t make sense for us. It’s really a game where you want to have fun with the person sitting next to you. And be arguing over, “We should be going over there,” “No! Let’s go over there. There is probably something hidden there,” “Alright, alright.” It just wouldn’t be the same over the internet. JG: What is your favorite part of Chariot? MB: My favorite part is definitely when you see some hard to reach area and you’re like, “Okay, we’ve got to get over there,” and you need to figure out a way, but there are different ways to achieve that. Sometimes you’ll try to pull out some really crazy move, and you will try and try again. When after fifteen minutes of trying you finally pull off that move, this is just so satisfying. High-fives all over the place and it is a great satisfaction. Also, the humor. Right now this is an alpha-build. It’s not finished. JG: Wow, that looks great for an alpha-build! MB: Thank you! But the voice overs aren’t implemented yet. There is a lot of humor coming from the king who is interacting with you. He is kinda acting as a chaperone, you know, his daughter with this guy. He’s there to keep an eye on you and make sure you don’t leave any loot on the table. JG: And collecting the loot is how you unlock the gadgets and get the different abilities? MB: You actually get the gadgets by finding the blueprints and special collectibles. Between every level you’ll be meeting with a merchant on the surface. He’s a skeleton dude, I don’t think he even realizes that he’s a skeleton, but he’s improving your stuff in exchange for your loot. For example, if you want to go to the lava levels, you’ll need to make sure that your chariot becomes fireproof. For that you’ll need to find blueprints that are hidden somewhere in the game, but then you also need to give the blueprints to the merchant along with some of your loot, which the king doesn’t like too much. When you part with the blueprint and [pay the merchant], he’ll upgrade the chariot and it will be able to float in lava. Same thing with the ice caverns and other levels. You can also improve your gadgets up to three levels. For example, the repulsor which is basically something that throws the chariot super hard with physics, when you are at level three it really shoots the chariot very far. So, if your friend is standing on it and then you’re shooting it, it’s pretty awesome. JG: Are there enemies in the game? So far I haven’t seen any. MB: Well, it’s not a fighting game, but there are enemies. They're called looters. They will not attack you. They will only attack the chariot, try to grab your loot, and run away with it. So your job is basically to dispatch them as quickly as possible or run away before they steal too much of your loot, because that’s also your score. The princess has a sword, so she’s a close-range character and the fiancé has a little slingshot so he is a ranged character. A lot of times, one player will try to get out while the other will defend, so that leads to some fun little combat scenes, but it’s not at the heart of the game. There are four different enemies. Some of them are even trying to steal the chariot! [laughs] JG: Is it an open-world, Metroid-style game? MB: No, no. The way it works is there are 25 different levels scattered over five different environments. These environments are unlocked when you upgrade the chariot, but there are different entrances and exits in certain levels that sometimes unlock speed runs you can complete for special rewards and leaderboards. JG: So how does that work, is there a hub where you access each level? MB: Yes, there is a map that is currently very placeholder, but every time you find an exit it opens up the path to a new level. Sometimes you find different exits in different levels. There is a lot of exploration there. JG: Well it looks incredible. I can’t wait to play it! MB: Thank you very much, you can play it right now! [laughs] --- And play it I did. Even in early alpha Chariot is almost overwhelmingly charming. The art design is great and does a great job conveying humor and lightheartedness even without dialogue. Levels are cleverly constructed to interact with the chariot and the players in interesting ways. For example, there are certain surfaces that will be solid for the player, but not the chariot and vice versa. The rope mechanics and physics feel statisfying and it feels really rewarding to overcome obstacles with a co-op partner. Recently there have been people expressing a desire for non-violent games to play with family or just as an alternative to the omni-present shooter genre. Though Brouard said that there were looters in Chariot, in nearly a half hour, I never saw a single one and still enjoyed myself immensely. I would feel very comfortable sitting down with my young nephews and playing this along with them. Brouard was right, Chariot can be played alone, but it is meant to embody cooperation and going it alone seems miss a bit of the magic that Chariot has to offer. Keep your eye on Chariot. It releases this fall on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, and PC.
  8. While at E3, I had a chance to sit down with a few of the people from Gaijin Games, the developer behind the Bit.Trip series to talk with them about the challenges of porting Runner2 to Vita and what it is like to be an indie developer in this day and age. The three members of the team that I had the pleasure of talking with during the interview were Danny Johnson – Designer Extraordinaire, Dant Rambo – Associate Producer (with the coolest name ever), and Chris Meyer – 3D Artist and Dream Maker. (Note: Gaijin's official job titles probably do not include “extraordinaire,” “(with the coolest name ever),” or “dream maker,” but that doesn’t mean they don’t apply) --- Danny Johnson: With the Vita Version, we heard the feedback from a lot of fans that there was a desire to get the game on Vita. We’ve heard from other independent developers that their games had done really well on the Vita and stuff like that, so it was a market that we really wanted to go after. It is just that we hadn’t scheduled to do it at the beginning of the project, so we finished the main game up on consoles and then have been doing the Vita version amongst other things. So, basically what we have to show is Runner2. It’s all of Runner2. It’s, you know, the same game, but on handheld. We’ve retained everything from the console version, so I think that’s pretty impressive. Jack Gardner: So, you heard from other people that it would be good to have it on the Vita. What specifically makes Runner2 good to have on Vita? DJ: I think part of it is that we heard there was a bit of a different audience on Vita versus even on the PS3. People just, you know, want to play it [on the go] or just as their main device or they don’t like playing consoles, I don’t know. I think the big thing was that people wanted access to the game without having to sit at home, [laughs] which, you know, is understandable these days. Dant Rambo: I guess I’d also add that it is cool to be a part of the big indie push on Vita, which is nuts. Chris Meyer: Sony in general, not just Vita, is really embracing the indies. JG: Did Sony approach you guys about putting it on the Vita? DJ: I’m sure they kinda nudged us and said, ‘so you’re gonna put it on the Vita, right?’ You know? So we’ve kept in contact with them all throughout development, just making sure things were going all right. They definitely like to see stuff on the Vita. We kind of had that idea that we wanted to do it and it was a little bit of seeing how it goes and when can we fit it in and now is the time. JG: Are there a lot of challenges involved in taking a game that was made with consoles in mind and putting it on a handheld? Artistically, programming-wise, etc.? DJ: I think the ideal is that we could bring the same exact game and put it on handhelds. I mean, at this point we’ve only been working on it for about a month or so, but we’ve got it running. We just need a lot of the little optimization stuff and to work out the kinks. But it seems like it has been pretty good, pretty easy. You know, always bringing a game to a new platform brings a new set of challenges, but the whole thing is that we are looking to retain the main game and keep it at a solid frame rate. CM: We just don’t want to trim it down. We don’t want to give handheld users a lesser experience. DR: And it is also cool that it is level-based, so it already lends itself well to being on a mobile device, so you can pick it up and play it for five minute or for hours. JG: With the PS4 coming out soon, will Runner2 be available on the PS4? DR: That’s not out of the question. DJ: Yeah, I think part of it was we were waiting to see how their backwards compatibility was going to work and if you could still play it on PS4. I think they’ve said they have some streaming capabilities, but I think it is possible that we would port it up to PS4. Who knows if we would add stuff or what, but the whole thing about Runner2 was we didn’t want to leave it out of the hands of anyone. We wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to play the game could play the game. So, we put it on whatever we could. JG: Alright, makes sense. Are there plans to create a follow-up or branch out into different explorations of the concept? DJ: Um… There is still stuff yet to be done on Runner2. We’re not going to go into that quite yet, but we are not done with Runner2, but definitely at this point we are looking into other avenues, other games, future projects, a couple of exciting possibilities, but that stuff is still probably a little ways out. But we have been toying with smaller stuff and bigger stuff, so… yeah. JG: Has the reception of the game been pretty good today? DR: Yeah, I would say so. I haven’t heard anything negative. Even people who had never played it on console seemed to really enjoy playing it. CM: There are also a lot of fans who have already played it, beaten it, one-hundred percent-ed it that want to play it again on their Vita. [Laughs] DJ: The console version was so well rated, that we hope it would bring out the people who are interested on Vita. JG: Yeah, that’s always the mark of a- [clattering noise] Always the mark of a great game when someone throws their pen in the middle of an interview. [laughter] When people like the game so much that they want to buy it again so that they can play it again. DJ: We certainly love how the fans have accepted the game and gone far beyond what we would expect. Like, one-hundred percent-ing the whole game and posting videos on YouTube. DR: One related anecdote to that, is that someone on Twitter said that they one-hundred percent-ed it and then deleted their save file so that they could start again. That was nuts. JG: Wow, I don’t know of anyone that actually deletes their save file… DR: At least not intentionally. [Laughs] JG: So, about how big is your team at Gaijin? DR: It is nine, I can confirm. DJ: Nine full-time, I think we have two or three contractors. JG: And how involved is Sony in the process of creating a game like Runner2? DJ: I’m not the person that they deal with, but I think that they just sort of make sure that things are going well for us, that we have the stuff we need. I think the PS4 dev kit came before we even ordered it or anything, so we were like, ‘Oh, awesome! We’ll have to check this out!’ JG: They are kind of hands off when it comes to- DJ: Yeah, I mean they’ll talk to us when we need to. I mean we have some people over there that we know pretty well and will answer our questions if we need them. JG: But it is a pretty good relationship? DJ: Yeah, we definitely like them. We make them happy and they make us happy. Everyone wins. DR: It is a good relationship. JG: I’m just wondering with the whole indie push coming out of Sony and the implosion of Microsoft’s indie stuff, people have been kind of wondering about indie development on consoles and for big companies like Microsoft and Sony. They’ve hear a lot about how terrible Microsoft has been for developers, but I haven’t heard a lot of people talking about Sony. DJ: Part of it was, you know with all the console makers, they have a lot of guidelines that you need to go through. Some of them make it easier or harder for you, which is a bit rough. We kind of like the Steam model where they are very hands off and they let you do what you need to do to make it work. It is a different approach from the consoles, but they are a little more nimble than these big corporations. I don’t know, it is tough to say. DR: I guess there is a little bit more of a hurdle with Microsoft because they don’t allow you to self-publish. JG: Is it hard to find a publisher for indie developers on consoles? CM: If I am not mistaken, we were able to establish Gaijin Games itself as a publisher. I think we can take that route if we want to. We worked with Aksys in the past because we wanted someone to help fund our game and get it through, because that is always really beneficial to a small team to see if they can get a game out there. But we’ve allowed ourselves the ability to self-publish on some of the platforms. Whenever that option is available we like to do it, but whenever there is publisher assistance then that is also pretty helpful. DR: This isn’t even related to us, but I met someone in the Sony booth today who had an idea for a game and they said Sony and Nintendo wanted to play ball right away, but he was here trying to find a publisher for Microsoft. Which isn’t to say that it is harder or easier. DJ: And I mean, we’ve talked with Microsoft, and they do support developers. It is just that they have a different approach to who they want on their system. It’s not a terrible approach or anything like that, it is just that they have their own mindset. Sony seems to be more, ‘we’ll take any cool games we can get,’ whereas Microsoft is a bit more exclusive with their stuff. DR: One last thing: The intended launch window for the Vita version of Runner2 is between mid-July and mid-August. JG: If you loved Runner2, you’ll love Runner2 on Vita. DR: You’ll love playing it on the toilet! CM: That’s the new feature. [Laughter] Runner2, fully titled Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, is a side-scrolling platformer currently available for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, PC, and Mac. The Vita version, as stated in the interview, will release sometime between mid-July and mid-August.
  9. Recently, I was given the opportunity to ask Sundance DiGiovanni, the CEO and founder of North America’s largest eSports organization, Major League Gaming (MLG), a few questions regarding console eSports and the future of gaming. Jack Gardner: If console manufacturers had their hearts set on getting in on the growing eSports industry, what more could they do than the features the PS4 was announced to have (i.e. accessible streaming options, partnership with a streaming service, increasing the amount of competitive titles available, integrating social media, etc.)? Sundance DiGiovanni: In addition to all of the great technology and features planned for PS4, in order to have a strong eSports presence it really comes down to the games themselves. Titles need to have competitive settings built in and a strong community following to be successful in the eSports landscape. He’s not wrong. Many recent games billing themselves as the next big thing in eSports have failed or been only marginally successful. Tribes: Ascend and Heroes of Newerth are perfect examples. Both games are free-to-play, relying on microtransactions to make money for the developer, which would seem to guarantee a large user base because who doesn’t love a free game? However, despite holding tournaments with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, neither have found anywhere near as big a following as Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, StarCraft 2, or League of Legends. The bottom line is that not many people are interested in watching professional gamers play a game that isn’t popular and that lack of interest kills eSports potential. Jack: What can developers do to create games better geared toward eSports (in terms of casting, recording, content distribution, etc.)? Call of Duty: Black Ops 2’s eSports features seem to be the best consoles offer. Can developers do better or are those what we can expect from future console releases? Sundance: Activision and Treyarch did an incredible job of developing Black Ops 2 with eSports in mind; that is why we are featuring it on our MLG Pro Circuit this year. They connected with the eSports community, attended our events, listened to what players wanted out of a game and even brought on Pro Players to consult on the feature set. They were dedicated to making the game work and they should be a model for other game publishers looking to create a successful eSports title. Now that we have seen just what is possible when you create a video game from the ground up with eSports in mind, we can reasonably expect to see other titles aping the features in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Being able to stream while in-game with no additional set up is an incredible boon to gamers looking to go pro, as they can look over their matches and see where they need improvement and also make names for themselves online. The functionality brought to viewing and shoutcasting these matches is nothing short of incredible: Players can commentate the action, switching between an overview mode, map, first-person perspective, and listen in to team chatter. Jack: How will having built-in streaming and viewing features in the PS4 and possibly the next Xbox affect eSports and do you believe that this is at least partly a response to the massive growth we’ve seen in the competitive gaming scene over the last few years? Sundance: In the last two years, online viewership of eSports competition has increased dramatically largely in part to streaming technology. It has become easy and seamless to stream on a regular basis, whether you are an individual player or an eSports organization like us. Having built-in features will make eSports even more accessible for aspiring competitive gamers looking to make a name for themselves as the barrier to entry will be even lower. Throwing some statistics out there: From 2010 to 2012, MLG saw its audience grow from 1.8 million to 11.7 million, a growth of about 636%. In 2012, more than 15 million hours of MLG eSports content was streamed to viewers. None of this growth would have been remotely possible without the ability to stream via services like Twitch and Ustream. As Sundance said, having the ability to stream built into the console will allow more people to enter the streaming arena and make a name for themselves. This isn’t limited to professional gamers, more people could popularize themselves as game commentators, also known as shoutcasters, as well as broaden the audience of eSports viewers. It also eliminates many of the difficulties inherent in streaming today. It is expensive to stream. You need a high-quality internet connection, a powerful computer, a subscription to a streaming program, and (if you are streaming games on consoles) a capture card. None of that comes cheap, either. Having these all built-in will be a huge boon to future streamers and hopeful next-gen competitive gamers. Jack: MLG has a history of making gaming partnerships with companies like Microsoft. Do you think we could expect to see MLG or other eSports content making its way onto consoles in the form of apps or built-in functionality? Sundance: MLG has a long standing relationship with both Microsoft for Xbox LIVE in the form of pic packs and video, as well as PSN. I think we will definitely see eSports content increasing its footprint within the console world. That’s a good sign. Currently to watch eSports content of any kind on consoles you either need to use an internet browser or watch big tournaments after the fact using apps like YouTube. Neither of those alternatives are very appealing to most people, who opt for the much simpler alternative of viewing on a computer. The biggest ray of hope for those who were hoping to easily watch eSports on their televisions was a Twitch streaming app exclusive to the Xbox 360. It was announced last year, but since then it seems to have disappeared from the public light. What could have happened to it? Jack: Do you see Sony’s partnership with the streaming service Ustream as significant to eSports on consoles? Why do you think they didn’t partner with the more gaming oriented Twitch streaming service? Sundance: It's great to see Sony embracing streaming. Hopefully we will see it crossover into eSports efforts on the console, but for now it seems to be a broader initiative. As far as why they picked Ustream over Twitch - I really can't speak to that. I wasn't involved in the decision making process. The fact that Sony partnered with Ustream over Twitch certainly seems to indicate that they are aiming for a wider array of people interested in streaming for various reasons. However, it does seem like an odd decision, given that Twitch has made a name for itself (literally made a name for itself, changing from Justin.tv to Twitch.tv to cater to the gaming crowd) by focusing on streamed game content. Our theory: It could be that Twitch was already partnered with another company. Remember that Xbox 360 exclusive streaming app from Twitch? Remember that after the announcement that it existed, it promptly went completely dark, but the company insisted it was still being worked on? Remember that both the PS4 and the next Microsoft console are both expected to launch this holiday season? It is highly likely that the reason Sony wasn’t able to get Twitch on-board as their streaming service is because Twitch was busy creating services for the next-gen Xbox, which would certainly explain why not much has been heard about it recently. What do you think of eSports or the next-gen? Let us know in the comments! Also, enjoy one of our favorite MLG StarCraft 2 moments below:
  10. Linelight, like its creator, has a uniquely “Brett Taylor” charm about it. His enthusiasm for the heart and soul of Linelight infects those around him. Despite a retail release being delayed until late January 2017, Linelight's strong showing has generated buzz around the game that has had a number of people in professional development and media circles asking one another, “Have you played Linelight yet?” Often indie games represent the most unique ends of the game industry and the people who make them are no different. I had the opportunity to talk with Brett Taylor earlier this year about his upcoming solo title, Linelight. For over a year, Taylor has been grinding out his personal passion project, a game staring a rectangle locked into a series of over 250 line-based puzzles. Though incredibly simple on the surface, Taylor has managed to leverage that core conceit into a dizzying array of clever puzzles with a surprisingly emotional core. It’s the kind of game where all the elements click together, leaving most who play it with a smile on their face. Talking with him, it was clear just how much effort and zeal Taylor had for Linelight. He’s focused, intent, and bending all of his energy toward finishing it, a colossal task for a single developer. How does someone function as the sole coder, animator, composer, director, marketer, and producer? What does it take to finish a game alone, let alone a game that seems to charm everyone in who plays it? Jack Gardner: What inspired you to make something like this? Why, out of all of the things that you could make, why Linelight? Brett Taylor: Linelight actually started as a programming challenge. I was like, "Okay, what if everything takes place in line? What if you're a line and everything takes place on lines? What would that be like? Is there a game there?" My question to myself was how I would program that. And I was like, "You know, I've never done anything like this before. It's very visual, and I'm a very visual person. I'll take a crack at it." I tried it out and [it was] way harder than I thought that it would be. There's linear algebra [in Linelight], but I initially thought it would be very visual. It's super heavy, data-based stuff; way more than I could have ever anticipated - way more than I'm comfortable with. The game's like [a person, saying,] "I'm belligerent, I'm going to be hard to work with!" I'm like, "I can beat you." So I stayed with it, I was persevering. Each of the mechanics in the game, each of the puzzles- there's no redundancy. There's no filler, it's basically as streamlined as possible with as few barriers between the player and the solution as possible. My goal was to remove all the noise from all the puzzles until I basically can't simplify it anymore. It does feel like a relationship, so I speak of it often as if it is one. It was very hard for me to understand and come to terms and speak the same language as Linelight in the beginning, but eventually we saw eye-to-eye; now we have a great relationship. I'm completely serious about this. [laughs] But yeah, I have a fantastic relationship with this game, and I'm so glad that I pushed through. It's been so rich and generous with its mechanics, and the types of puzzles that have come out, emergence. A lot of people ask me, "Where do you come up with all these ideas for the puzzles?" and honestly, most of the time I don't. The puzzles happen naturally. Jack: You're just discovering this game, rather than creating it? Brett: Exactly, I'm discovering [various aspects of the game]. I'm the one unearthing these gems, basically. So I guess my job is to go to patches of dirt where, using instincts or whatever experience that I have, I believe there's a lot of really great stuff beneath the surface and then [dig to] find those things. I never know exactly what I'm going to find; and in Linelight, I found some really cool stuff. I didn't know there would be this much gameplay in this one mechanic. I have so many more ideas, some small things I prototyped, and I had to stop myself from getting too invested in those because I have to finish the game. I could keep working on this forever, but I'm like no, this is my first independent solo release. Jack: So it's solo? It's all by yourself? Brett: 100% me, from code, music, art, design, to sound. Jack: [The visuals] look very Tron-esque. Brett: What's actually funny is that there's not nearly as much consistency in what people saying that it reminds them of, or what it's like so far. I've been getting a lot of different stuff so far. Jack: Which is really interesting because you have a very minimalist design. Brett: Yeah, actually I feel like it's like if you look at a stick figure, a face, it's like "Oh, this looks like that person" or whatever. It's like you can see it, interpret it, in your own way. I literally had my friend's wife say, "Oh, I don't want to hurt the character. He's so cute." I'm like, "First off, how is it a he? Second, it's a rectangle." Jack: It's a cute rectangle, though. Brett: Yes, it's a cute rectangle. The rectangle does more than just exist. It does move and behave. I programmed it and have given it the minimal amount of life it has, so it still feels like a plain rectangle, but it actually is a character and does emote so subtly in tiny ways. Just the way it moves and bends around corners and stuff gives it [a very light] sense of personality. Jack: Which [step of development] been the hardest for you to embrace? Music, coding, sound...? Brett: Production. Being the producer. Jack: Producer? Brett: I actually didn't think I would have an answer for that, but yes. Being the producer of the game is a role I did not think I was going to have to fill, but when you spend a few months telling people its 2-3 months away and you don't… I'm a very punctual person. I don't like being late, but flexibility is important too. But after having done that for a while, I was like I feel like I'm falling into a pattern that I've seen other developers fall into and that's unacceptable. [Delays are] not sustainable, I have to finish the game at some point. So being the producer was super hard because, months and months ago, I, as a producer, was very agreeable to myself. Imagine working on a project and having a producer who, if you asked for an extension or whatever for a deadline, would always say yes. You get nothing finished. I've asked people that before, and they say that sounds great – it’s not. You need someone to hold accountability and have deadlines and boundaries. It's challenging because there's Artist Brett who's - and all of this is happening in one head, which is difficult because I'm arguing with myself - previously, Artist Brett used to win most of the arguments, now it's Producer Brett saying, "Nope, good. Ship it." and Artist Brett's like, "Yeah, alright. Fine, ship it." Jack: So is Linelight done or is this still a couple months out? Brett: It's very close to done. [Editor’s Note: Brett and I talked for a bit about potential release dates and when work on the game would be done, but Linelight is now on track for a release on January 31, 2017, a bit later than he speculated] It’s difficult to estimate because I'm not just making the game, I'm also self-publishing. Jack: Which is its own headache, I'm sure. Brett: It's a lot of nouns. All the adjectives. There's a lot of stuff that I'm doing. So my goal is that if this does really well, my next project I can hire people. I'm not the best person to be doing marketing or PR. I like going into my silo and working and working, sealing myself away. I put my phone away, it's on airplane mode every day, all the time. I don't check Facebook, I don't do any of that stuff. My friends are like, "Did you check out my Snapchat?" I'm like, "Don't take it personally, I don't check anybody's Snapchat." Because I'm super zoned in on that, which is not conducive to somebody who's trying to get Twitter following and stuff and interact with people on Twitter. So [hopefully I’ll be] getting other people to help me with that. Jack: You're mentioning your next project. Where do you go from here? Do you stay with the minimalist stuff or do you go with something completely different? Brett: I don't know, I don't know…. Honestly, this is…. Jack: This is your life right now, your baby? Brett: Well, people have said it's my baby, and I get a little bit like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, this is a baby. And I am the parent of this baby, but saying "this is my baby" - my self-esteem is not tied to the success of this game, financial or critical, at least to the best of my abilities. Ideally, there would be like- there's got to be some ties there, but not too much. I don't want to get too... it's just a slippery slope. As far as next project goes, I'm assuming a similar process to how this started. I'm going to see what's interesting and then see where that takes me. If it doesn't go anywhere then I'll find something else. Actually last year I had an idea for this game but my goal was to have 10 prototypes done by, I think it was October. So I had a few months of just prototype stuff, and then I would decide which project I wanted to work on. But Linelight kept coming back. I was working on it on the side, and eventually I added some mechanics and I was like, "Whoa! Whoa! This is really cool." and then [the game and I] sort of fell into the relationship with each other I guess. Jack: How long have you been working on it? Brett: It's been a full year. Jack: Full year? Brett: Yeah. So I worked for a casual gaming company in New York City for three years, and I left at the end of May last year. Took a month off or so just to relax and not work for a little while, a month and a half, but I have to be doing something, so I was still working a little bit. But then mid-June, mid-July or whatever, I picked Linelight back up and I was full-time into development. It's pretty much been my full-time thing since. Now I'm doing seven days a week, but it's not all development work. A lot of it's housekeeping stuff because I'm also a business owner at the same time. There are a lot of tasks no one wants to do, and [it’s difficult to find people] to hire to do those tasks because generally nobody wants to, they're not particularly rewarding. Jack: Gotta live. Brett: Exactly. Jack: So I was going to ask, you worked at a casual gaming company. Where did you come from? What's your background? Brett: I've always been indie at heart. I was actually afraid of working at a casual game [company]. I got the job, and I worried that if I started working there I’d get the indie beaten out of me. It was an actual fear, I'm thinking questions like, "Will I start thinking in free-to-play terms?" And actually to a degree, yeah, I've changed what I thought my ethics were out of necessity just to work at the company and survive. It was also kind of fun and interesting seeing what overlap there could be between my interests and a viable product for a casual audience. So yeah, that's my only professional experience in the game industry, but I've been making games since freshman year of college. So it's been about 8 years, since 2008. Once I discovered how to program it was like everything I wanted to do, but couldn't put into words. But I've always been a musician. I was primarily musician, that's where it started. Jack: What did you play? Brett: Played piano and composer as well. I grew up really wanting to write the music for video games, and then I discovered how to program and I was like, "This is super cool!” It enabled me to get the ideas in my head out, and I have a lot of design ideas and all sorts of other stuff. I also like to do music so everything just sort of falls together. Jack: I can compose my own video games! Brett: Exactly! It would be very strange for me to hire somebody else to write the music for my own video games. Though there are some artists in mind that can write in the style that I can't that I really like. Jack: Like who? Brett: Nigel Good. Nobody knows about this guy, but Nigel Good is sort of, I don't want to say like Deadmau5. It's like electronic music, super upbeat, but it's not obnoxiously so. It's hard for me to describe it, but I really like his work. I never interact with anybody else about him. I've never found anybody else that knows about him, and literally his SoundCloud profile says "Canadian school teacher by day, music producer when I have time for it." [Laughs] Grant Kirkhope also has a place in my heart. His work hugely influenced me when I was younger. I started composing in 2003. I've been playing piano since I was 3 or 4, so I was late to the game for composing. But video game music, I was super into that. The musical style of Linelight is very much a juxtaposition of flowy and natural with the inorganic. There's piano music and strings with this glitchy, driving percussion track. If you play the game, you'll notice it, when the enemies come in they sort of represent that soundtrack. And there's no metaphor specifically behind it. I just like the sound of it. There's been no style guide for Linelight. People ask me questions that sort of imply that there would be and there's not. Everything's made to taste, which is not useful advice if someone's looking and asks, "Hey, how do I get into this?" and [I can only say], "Well, does it feel right?" It's not useful, but that is how I've been developing it. Jack: Is there a thematic or concrete story for Linelight, or is it a series of flowing puzzles? Brett: There are story elements. I had much more specific ideas for the story, but I ended up scaling it back dramatically because I realized what makes the game so great is the puzzles. That's the bread and butter of Linelight. That is the core of the game. I'm going to focus on that and, unfortunately, story had to take a backseat. Jack: Well it sounds kind of like the story fell on the same lines as your [minimalist] game design philosophy?' Brett: Yeah, it's definitely a minimalist story. There are bits and pieces of the story that- What's the best way to put it? It's not one big story, it's a lot of little stories and a lot of smaller moments. There's a lot of metaphors in the game just because it's so minimalist it's actually pretty easy to [put them in.] I could probably shoehorn whatever metaphor I wanted into it, but it did come from a deliberate place. There's an ending to the game that is probably the most specific piece of story that's like a very clear metaphor to me. It's all without text, so I'm not asking people to pick up on that, but that's for me at least. Jack: As the creator that's the only important thing, really. Brett: And that people play the game and enjoy it. But it all comes down to "Do I enjoy it?" My least good design decisions happen when I'm like "How are people going to react this? How can I make this communicate to other people? What would be cool for other people to experience?" It's not all about other people. I think of it in terms of like "What would be cool? Does this make sense to me?" I understand that, yeah, I have biases, but for the most part, when I ask the question "What do I think is cool?" that's where the best material comes from. I find that's true for a lot of other people's games as well. I feel like you can really tell when a game, or any sort of creative outlet or media, has come from a place of, the creator made it because they wanted it to exist or that it came from a place that they were excited about. I think most of my favorite games all come from that place, from a creator who had the idea and they just did what they wanted with it. And the game is almost saying, “I'm this way, and you can like me or not like me.” I'm not trying to appeal to anybody in any particular way, which is, casual gaming-wise, sort of the opposite. You want to appeal to as large an audience as you can. If I'd gone about that mission for Linelight it would be a very different game, and, ironically, it would not have appealed to nearly as many people. I swear that's totally true. Jack: You know yourself better than you know other people. Brett: Exactly, yeah, and I know what I like, and, generally speaking, I don't think that my tastes are crazy off the mark from [the tastes of the] majority of people out there. I have a very specific niches, things that I especially like or favorites, preferences. But on the whole, yeah. A big thank you to Brett Taylor for taking the time to talk with me at length about his life as a solo indie game developer and his personal journey creating Linelight. As of right now Linelight will release for PC and PlayStation 4 on January 31, 2017.
  11. Linelight, like its creator, has a uniquely “Brett Taylor” charm about it. His enthusiasm for the heart and soul of Linelight infects those around him. Despite a retail release being delayed until late January 2017, Linelight's strong showing has generated buzz around the game that has had a number of people in professional development and media circles asking one another, “Have you played Linelight yet?” Often indie games represent the most unique ends of the game industry and the people who make them are no different. I had the opportunity to talk with Brett Taylor earlier this year about his upcoming solo title, Linelight. For over a year, Taylor has been grinding out his personal passion project, a game staring a rectangle locked into a series of over 250 line-based puzzles. Though incredibly simple on the surface, Taylor has managed to leverage that core conceit into a dizzying array of clever puzzles with a surprisingly emotional core. It’s the kind of game where all the elements click together, leaving most who play it with a smile on their face. Talking with him, it was clear just how much effort and zeal Taylor had for Linelight. He’s focused, intent, and bending all of his energy toward finishing it, a colossal task for a single developer. How does someone function as the sole coder, animator, composer, director, marketer, and producer? What does it take to finish a game alone, let alone a game that seems to charm everyone in who plays it? Jack Gardner: What inspired you to make something like this? Why, out of all of the things that you could make, why Linelight? Brett Taylor: Linelight actually started as a programming challenge. I was like, "Okay, what if everything takes place in line? What if you're a line and everything takes place on lines? What would that be like? Is there a game there?" My question to myself was how I would program that. And I was like, "You know, I've never done anything like this before. It's very visual, and I'm a very visual person. I'll take a crack at it." I tried it out and [it was] way harder than I thought that it would be. There's linear algebra [in Linelight], but I initially thought it would be very visual. It's super heavy, data-based stuff; way more than I could have ever anticipated - way more than I'm comfortable with. The game's like [a person, saying,] "I'm belligerent, I'm going to be hard to work with!" I'm like, "I can beat you." So I stayed with it, I was persevering. Each of the mechanics in the game, each of the puzzles- there's no redundancy. There's no filler, it's basically as streamlined as possible with as few barriers between the player and the solution as possible. My goal was to remove all the noise from all the puzzles until I basically can't simplify it anymore. It does feel like a relationship, so I speak of it often as if it is one. It was very hard for me to understand and come to terms and speak the same language as Linelight in the beginning, but eventually we saw eye-to-eye; now we have a great relationship. I'm completely serious about this. [laughs] But yeah, I have a fantastic relationship with this game, and I'm so glad that I pushed through. It's been so rich and generous with its mechanics, and the types of puzzles that have come out, emergence. A lot of people ask me, "Where do you come up with all these ideas for the puzzles?" and honestly, most of the time I don't. The puzzles happen naturally. Jack: You're just discovering this game, rather than creating it? Brett: Exactly, I'm discovering [various aspects of the game]. I'm the one unearthing these gems, basically. So I guess my job is to go to patches of dirt where, using instincts or whatever experience that I have, I believe there's a lot of really great stuff beneath the surface and then [dig to] find those things. I never know exactly what I'm going to find; and in Linelight, I found some really cool stuff. I didn't know there would be this much gameplay in this one mechanic. I have so many more ideas, some small things I prototyped, and I had to stop myself from getting too invested in those because I have to finish the game. I could keep working on this forever, but I'm like no, this is my first independent solo release. Jack: So it's solo? It's all by yourself? Brett: 100% me, from code, music, art, design, to sound. Jack: [The visuals] look very Tron-esque. Brett: What's actually funny is that there's not nearly as much consistency in what people saying that it reminds them of, or what it's like so far. I've been getting a lot of different stuff so far. Jack: Which is really interesting because you have a very minimalist design. Brett: Yeah, actually I feel like it's like if you look at a stick figure, a face, it's like "Oh, this looks like that person" or whatever. It's like you can see it, interpret it, in your own way. I literally had my friend's wife say, "Oh, I don't want to hurt the character. He's so cute." I'm like, "First off, how is it a he? Second, it's a rectangle." Jack: It's a cute rectangle, though. Brett: Yes, it's a cute rectangle. The rectangle does more than just exist. It does move and behave. I programmed it and have given it the minimal amount of life it has, so it still feels like a plain rectangle, but it actually is a character and does emote so subtly in tiny ways. Just the way it moves and bends around corners and stuff gives it [a very light] sense of personality. Jack: Which [step of development] been the hardest for you to embrace? Music, coding, sound...? Brett: Production. Being the producer. Jack: Producer? Brett: I actually didn't think I would have an answer for that, but yes. Being the producer of the game is a role I did not think I was going to have to fill, but when you spend a few months telling people its 2-3 months away and you don't… I'm a very punctual person. I don't like being late, but flexibility is important too. But after having done that for a while, I was like I feel like I'm falling into a pattern that I've seen other developers fall into and that's unacceptable. [Delays are] not sustainable, I have to finish the game at some point. So being the producer was super hard because, months and months ago, I, as a producer, was very agreeable to myself. Imagine working on a project and having a producer who, if you asked for an extension or whatever for a deadline, would always say yes. You get nothing finished. I've asked people that before, and they say that sounds great – it’s not. You need someone to hold accountability and have deadlines and boundaries. It's challenging because there's Artist Brett who's - and all of this is happening in one head, which is difficult because I'm arguing with myself - previously, Artist Brett used to win most of the arguments, now it's Producer Brett saying, "Nope, good. Ship it." and Artist Brett's like, "Yeah, alright. Fine, ship it." Jack: So is Linelight done or is this still a couple months out? Brett: It's very close to done. [Editor’s Note: Brett and I talked for a bit about potential release dates and when work on the game would be done, but Linelight is now on track for a release on January 31, 2017, a bit later than he speculated] It’s difficult to estimate because I'm not just making the game, I'm also self-publishing. Jack: Which is its own headache, I'm sure. Brett: It's a lot of nouns. All the adjectives. There's a lot of stuff that I'm doing. So my goal is that if this does really well, my next project I can hire people. I'm not the best person to be doing marketing or PR. I like going into my silo and working and working, sealing myself away. I put my phone away, it's on airplane mode every day, all the time. I don't check Facebook, I don't do any of that stuff. My friends are like, "Did you check out my Snapchat?" I'm like, "Don't take it personally, I don't check anybody's Snapchat." Because I'm super zoned in on that, which is not conducive to somebody who's trying to get Twitter following and stuff and interact with people on Twitter. So [hopefully I’ll be] getting other people to help me with that. Jack: You're mentioning your next project. Where do you go from here? Do you stay with the minimalist stuff or do you go with something completely different? Brett: I don't know, I don't know…. Honestly, this is…. Jack: This is your life right now, your baby? Brett: Well, people have said it's my baby, and I get a little bit like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, this is a baby. And I am the parent of this baby, but saying "this is my baby" - my self-esteem is not tied to the success of this game, financial or critical, at least to the best of my abilities. Ideally, there would be like- there's got to be some ties there, but not too much. I don't want to get too... it's just a slippery slope. As far as next project goes, I'm assuming a similar process to how this started. I'm going to see what's interesting and then see where that takes me. If it doesn't go anywhere then I'll find something else. Actually last year I had an idea for this game but my goal was to have 10 prototypes done by, I think it was October. So I had a few months of just prototype stuff, and then I would decide which project I wanted to work on. But Linelight kept coming back. I was working on it on the side, and eventually I added some mechanics and I was like, "Whoa! Whoa! This is really cool." and then [the game and I] sort of fell into the relationship with each other I guess. Jack: How long have you been working on it? Brett: It's been a full year. Jack: Full year? Brett: Yeah. So I worked for a casual gaming company in New York City for three years, and I left at the end of May last year. Took a month off or so just to relax and not work for a little while, a month and a half, but I have to be doing something, so I was still working a little bit. But then mid-June, mid-July or whatever, I picked Linelight back up and I was full-time into development. It's pretty much been my full-time thing since. Now I'm doing seven days a week, but it's not all development work. A lot of it's housekeeping stuff because I'm also a business owner at the same time. There are a lot of tasks no one wants to do, and [it’s difficult to find people] to hire to do those tasks because generally nobody wants to, they're not particularly rewarding. Jack: Gotta live. Brett: Exactly. Jack: So I was going to ask, you worked at a casual gaming company. Where did you come from? What's your background? Brett: I've always been indie at heart. I was actually afraid of working at a casual game [company]. I got the job, and I worried that if I started working there I’d get the indie beaten out of me. It was an actual fear, I'm thinking questions like, "Will I start thinking in free-to-play terms?" And actually to a degree, yeah, I've changed what I thought my ethics were out of necessity just to work at the company and survive. It was also kind of fun and interesting seeing what overlap there could be between my interests and a viable product for a casual audience. So yeah, that's my only professional experience in the game industry, but I've been making games since freshman year of college. So it's been about 8 years, since 2008. Once I discovered how to program it was like everything I wanted to do, but couldn't put into words. But I've always been a musician. I was primarily musician, that's where it started. Jack: What did you play? Brett: Played piano and composer as well. I grew up really wanting to write the music for video games, and then I discovered how to program and I was like, "This is super cool!” It enabled me to get the ideas in my head out, and I have a lot of design ideas and all sorts of other stuff. I also like to do music so everything just sort of falls together. Jack: I can compose my own video games! Brett: Exactly! It would be very strange for me to hire somebody else to write the music for my own video games. Though there are some artists in mind that can write in the style that I can't that I really like. Jack: Like who? Brett: Nigel Good. Nobody knows about this guy, but Nigel Good is sort of, I don't want to say like Deadmau5. It's like electronic music, super upbeat, but it's not obnoxiously so. It's hard for me to describe it, but I really like his work. I never interact with anybody else about him. I've never found anybody else that knows about him, and literally his SoundCloud profile says "Canadian school teacher by day, music producer when I have time for it." [Laughs] Grant Kirkhope also has a place in my heart. His work hugely influenced me when I was younger. I started composing in 2003. I've been playing piano since I was 3 or 4, so I was late to the game for composing. But video game music, I was super into that. The musical style of Linelight is very much a juxtaposition of flowy and natural with the inorganic. There's piano music and strings with this glitchy, driving percussion track. If you play the game, you'll notice it, when the enemies come in they sort of represent that soundtrack. And there's no metaphor specifically behind it. I just like the sound of it. There's been no style guide for Linelight. People ask me questions that sort of imply that there would be and there's not. Everything's made to taste, which is not useful advice if someone's looking and asks, "Hey, how do I get into this?" and [I can only say], "Well, does it feel right?" It's not useful, but that is how I've been developing it. Jack: Is there a thematic or concrete story for Linelight, or is it a series of flowing puzzles? Brett: There are story elements. I had much more specific ideas for the story, but I ended up scaling it back dramatically because I realized what makes the game so great is the puzzles. That's the bread and butter of Linelight. That is the core of the game. I'm going to focus on that and, unfortunately, story had to take a backseat. Jack: Well it sounds kind of like the story fell on the same lines as your [minimalist] game design philosophy?' Brett: Yeah, it's definitely a minimalist story. There are bits and pieces of the story that- What's the best way to put it? It's not one big story, it's a lot of little stories and a lot of smaller moments. There's a lot of metaphors in the game just because it's so minimalist it's actually pretty easy to [put them in.] I could probably shoehorn whatever metaphor I wanted into it, but it did come from a deliberate place. There's an ending to the game that is probably the most specific piece of story that's like a very clear metaphor to me. It's all without text, so I'm not asking people to pick up on that, but that's for me at least. Jack: As the creator that's the only important thing, really. Brett: And that people play the game and enjoy it. But it all comes down to "Do I enjoy it?" My least good design decisions happen when I'm like "How are people going to react this? How can I make this communicate to other people? What would be cool for other people to experience?" It's not all about other people. I think of it in terms of like "What would be cool? Does this make sense to me?" I understand that, yeah, I have biases, but for the most part, when I ask the question "What do I think is cool?" that's where the best material comes from. I find that's true for a lot of other people's games as well. I feel like you can really tell when a game, or any sort of creative outlet or media, has come from a place of, the creator made it because they wanted it to exist or that it came from a place that they were excited about. I think most of my favorite games all come from that place, from a creator who had the idea and they just did what they wanted with it. And the game is almost saying, “I'm this way, and you can like me or not like me.” I'm not trying to appeal to anybody in any particular way, which is, casual gaming-wise, sort of the opposite. You want to appeal to as large an audience as you can. If I'd gone about that mission for Linelight it would be a very different game, and, ironically, it would not have appealed to nearly as many people. I swear that's totally true. Jack: You know yourself better than you know other people. Brett: Exactly, yeah, and I know what I like, and, generally speaking, I don't think that my tastes are crazy off the mark from [the tastes of the] majority of people out there. I have a very specific niches, things that I especially like or favorites, preferences. But on the whole, yeah. A big thank you to Brett Taylor for taking the time to talk with me at length about his life as a solo indie game developer and his personal journey creating Linelight. As of right now Linelight will release for PC and PlayStation 4 on January 31, 2017. View full article
  12. Hello friends! I have the pleasure of writing for an up and coming blog, www.bigheartedgamers.com. We are looking for gamers who make a difference through charity and action. What better place than Extra Life to find such folks, right? If you are a guild leader, member who wants to shine the spotlight on a fellow Extra Lifer, I want to hear from you! I am hoping for semi-regular spotlights from the Extra Life faithful. I look forward to hearing from you!
  13. Making games is pretty awesome. Making games that help kids in hospitals is even more awesome. This past April, Trion Worlds put together a digital bundle of original creations for their game, Trove, to raise money for Extra Life. The Extra Life Bundle was released on the Trove in-game store for $20 with 50% of the proceeds going to Extra Life. In total, the bundle wound up raising $40,000 for Extra Life and Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. The robust bundle of digital animals, items, and dragons was designed with the help of the Trove community. The in-game collection included six allies (a griffon, corgi, panda, tree frog, dragonfly, and paper crane), four mounts (a platypus, a corgi named Guinness, a bulldog named Rowdy, and a centaur), twelve new styles of equipment, and two dragon eggs that unlock Yorinn the Dusk Shadow and Erel the Ironbolt. I don't know about anyone else, but dragons are pretty freaking cool. How exactly was this all thrown together into an awesome package? What kind of work goes into making a digital bundle for a game like Trove? I sat down with Andrew Krausnick, Trove’s executive producer, and Jordan Rosenbaum, Trion Worlds’ associate brand director, to learn how they brought Extra Life into Trove. “We’ve done Extra Life for a number of years here [at Trion Worlds]," said Andrew Krausnick as we began our conversation. 2016 will be Trove's second year raising money for Extra Life. Last year the team sprinkled Extra Life-inspired creations throughout the world for players to interact with as a promotional event during Game Day. This year has been a bit different. The Trove team decided to try something new for 2016. They approached Kumar "Atronos" Daryanani, their lead content designer and huge proponent of Extra Life, with a suggestion to present the Trove community a chance to help design new creatures and stuff for the Extra Life Bundle. Daryanani took that idea and ran with it, streaming his work as he got busy creating rough versions of the assets that would become the bundle. As he streamed, community members watching could donate to the team and the size of their donations would determine the size of the things Daryanani created. Obviously, the process to create usable assets for Trove took longer than one stream from the lead content designer. “We can’t do it all in a day, even though [our designers are] pretty quick. We spent about a couple weeks adding VFX, additional polish, additional audio, all that good stuff, before we launched the bundle. And just the sheer volume of stuff is… it was huge,” explained Krausnick. “That’s two weeks we don’t spend making other things. Everything we put in the game officially, we want to make it worth it, right?” For those who have never played Trove, it’s a free-to-play, open world crafting game, similar to Minecraft, but based on voxel rendering as opposed to pixel rendering. The voxel visuals lead to a distinct visual style and allow for a greater degree of flexibility in designing new in-game content. “For a lot of video games it can take a very long time to make content and put it in [the game world]. There is this super long pipeline.” Krausnick elaborated, “But we are a creative voxel game […], the whole game engine is built around the creation of new creative assets for Trove, and our community often contributes to that process. We just designed the game so that it can be expanded in interesting ways. We love finding reasons to go deep on [collaborative creation] and Extra Life is one of those reasons.” When I asked what the most popular kinds of things the team has created in Trove, Krausnick and Rosenbaum laughed, “I would say there are two things our players really love. One is dragons. They always love dragons. I cannot explain or stress enough how much that is true,” Krausnick chuckled. The other thing Trove players love: Pets. Trove's pets are adorable or cool looking creatures that sometimes confer additional powers on their masters. For the bundle this year, a hefty amount of time was spent crafting entirely new animations for the pets the development team created for Trove. “People wanted like a bulldog or [a platypus,] different kinds of these pets,” Krausnick stated. “We actually ended up making new animation rigs for those. That was fun because we get to use them on other things that we can add to the game in the future. It was a chance to get some input there, make some new stuff, and let the animators stretch their legs.” Trion Worlds' participation in Extra Life has largely been driven by awesome members of the Extra Life community within the company pushing for bigger and cooler partnership opportunities. “The impetus to do Extra Life came from individuals working at Trion and that’s how we choose to do a lot of our projects,” said Krausnick, “People have a passion for something, and they get the opportunity. They make a pitch and get the chance to promote it, push it, and make it an official event.” However, the Extra Life Bundle isn’t the end of Trion Worlds’ fundraising efforts for Extra Life. Game Day is still coming on November 5th and their team has a goal of $100,000. For the company, Extra Life has become something on everyone’s radar for at least one day a year. “It has gotten to the point where each development team puts together their own promotion for 24-hours of fun to support Extra Life,” stated Krausnick. Each game, Rift, ArcheAge, Trove, has their own audience and now have their own, day-long community events when it comes time for Extra Life’s 24-hour gaming marathon. Trove specifically has learned from past years of streaming and their next step will be applying that experience to craft bigger and better events. “We are actually going to try this year to build up more hype towards the big day. We are starting this process of taking community feedback, creating assets, building up our team, and then making an even bigger event on Game Day itself.” Concluding our time together, Krausnick shared some words to which I think we can all relate to our own Extra Life experiences: We want to make the Extra Life event the biggest thing we possibly can. We want people to be excited for a variety of reasons. Supporting a good cause, getting cool stuff into the game, and hanging out with friends; the whole thing. We want to make sure that we keep growing that hype every year and figuring out how to dial that up to the next level. Let's all figure out how to do better and make helping children the biggest thing we possibly can! A huge thank you to Trion Worlds for taking the time to chat and for the amazing fundraising campaign they ran with the Extra Life Bundle in Trove. Here is hoping the Trion Worlds' team can reach their $100,000 goal for this year! Trove is currently available on PC and will be coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One later this year.
  14. Making games is pretty awesome. Making games that help kids in hospitals is even more awesome. This past April, Trion Worlds put together a digital bundle of original creations for their game, Trove, to raise money for Extra Life. The Extra Life Bundle was released on the Trove in-game store for $20 with 50% of the proceeds going to Extra Life. In total, the bundle wound up raising $40,000 for Extra Life and Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. The robust bundle of digital animals, items, and dragons was designed with the help of the Trove community. The in-game collection included six allies (a griffon, corgi, panda, tree frog, dragonfly, and paper crane), four mounts (a platypus, a corgi named Guinness, a bulldog named Rowdy, and a centaur), twelve new styles of equipment, and two dragon eggs that unlock Yorinn the Dusk Shadow and Erel the Ironbolt. I don't know about anyone else, but dragons are pretty freaking cool. How exactly was this all thrown together into an awesome package? What kind of work goes into making a digital bundle for a game like Trove? I sat down with Andrew Krausnick, Trove’s executive producer, and Jordan Rosenbaum, Trion Worlds’ associate brand director, to learn how they brought Extra Life into Trove. “We’ve done Extra Life for a number of years here [at Trion Worlds]," said Andrew Krausnick as we began our conversation. 2016 will be Trove's second year raising money for Extra Life. Last year the team sprinkled Extra Life-inspired creations throughout the world for players to interact with as a promotional event during Game Day. This year has been a bit different. The Trove team decided to try something new for 2016. They approached Kumar "Atronos" Daryanani, their lead content designer and huge proponent of Extra Life, with a suggestion to present the Trove community a chance to help design new creatures and stuff for the Extra Life Bundle. Daryanani took that idea and ran with it, streaming his work as he got busy creating rough versions of the assets that would become the bundle. As he streamed, community members watching could donate to the team and the size of their donations would determine the size of the things Daryanani created. Obviously, the process to create usable assets for Trove took longer than one stream from the lead content designer. “We can’t do it all in a day, even though [our designers are] pretty quick. We spent about a couple weeks adding VFX, additional polish, additional audio, all that good stuff, before we launched the bundle. And just the sheer volume of stuff is… it was huge,” explained Krausnick. “That’s two weeks we don’t spend making other things. Everything we put in the game officially, we want to make it worth it, right?” For those who have never played Trove, it’s a free-to-play, open world crafting game, similar to Minecraft, but based on voxel rendering as opposed to pixel rendering. The voxel visuals lead to a distinct visual style and allow for a greater degree of flexibility in designing new in-game content. “For a lot of video games it can take a very long time to make content and put it in [the game world]. There is this super long pipeline.” Krausnick elaborated, “But we are a creative voxel game […], the whole game engine is built around the creation of new creative assets for Trove, and our community often contributes to that process. We just designed the game so that it can be expanded in interesting ways. We love finding reasons to go deep on [collaborative creation] and Extra Life is one of those reasons.” When I asked what the most popular kinds of things the team has created in Trove, Krausnick and Rosenbaum laughed, “I would say there are two things our players really love. One is dragons. They always love dragons. I cannot explain or stress enough how much that is true,” Krausnick chuckled. The other thing Trove players love: Pets. Trove's pets are adorable or cool looking creatures that sometimes confer additional powers on their masters. For the bundle this year, a hefty amount of time was spent crafting entirely new animations for the pets the development team created for Trove. “People wanted like a bulldog or [a platypus,] different kinds of these pets,” Krausnick stated. “We actually ended up making new animation rigs for those. That was fun because we get to use them on other things that we can add to the game in the future. It was a chance to get some input there, make some new stuff, and let the animators stretch their legs.” Trion Worlds' participation in Extra Life has largely been driven by awesome members of the Extra Life community within the company pushing for bigger and cooler partnership opportunities. “The impetus to do Extra Life came from individuals working at Trion and that’s how we choose to do a lot of our projects,” said Krausnick, “People have a passion for something, and they get the opportunity. They make a pitch and get the chance to promote it, push it, and make it an official event.” However, the Extra Life Bundle isn’t the end of Trion Worlds’ fundraising efforts for Extra Life. Game Day is still coming on November 5th and their team has a goal of $100,000. For the company, Extra Life has become something on everyone’s radar for at least one day a year. “It has gotten to the point where each development team puts together their own promotion for 24-hours of fun to support Extra Life,” stated Krausnick. Each game, Rift, ArcheAge, Trove, has their own audience and now have their own, day-long community events when it comes time for Extra Life’s 24-hour gaming marathon. Trove specifically has learned from past years of streaming and their next step will be applying that experience to craft bigger and better events. “We are actually going to try this year to build up more hype towards the big day. We are starting this process of taking community feedback, creating assets, building up our team, and then making an even bigger event on Game Day itself.” Concluding our time together, Krausnick shared some words to which I think we can all relate to our own Extra Life experiences: We want to make the Extra Life event the biggest thing we possibly can. We want people to be excited for a variety of reasons. Supporting a good cause, getting cool stuff into the game, and hanging out with friends; the whole thing. We want to make sure that we keep growing that hype every year and figuring out how to dial that up to the next level. Let's all figure out how to do better and make helping children the biggest thing we possibly can! A huge thank you to Trion Worlds for taking the time to chat and for the amazing fundraising campaign they ran with the Extra Life Bundle in Trove. Here is hoping the Trion Worlds' team can reach their $100,000 goal for this year! Trove is currently available on PC and will be coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One later this year. View full article
  15. During Extra Life United, I had the opportunity to sit down with Elijah Powell, the president of the Anchorage Guild, and Cameron Cowles, the vice president of the Guild and creator of the 907 Gamers team. I talked with them about the story of their Guild and their meteoric rise to become one of the most successful fundraising teams in North America with over $200,000 raised for 2015 - a sum which won them and the Providence Children's Hospital the ESA Per Capita check for an additional $30,000. Wondering how they managed to pull off that feat of fundraising and how you can do it, too? Read on! ~~~ Jack Gardner: You guys kind of built up this guild up out of nothing and became one of the biggest fundraisers in the United States. You were just holding the comically large $30,000 ESA check for your hospital. How did that happen? Cameron Cowles: Well, Elijah knew about Extra Life way before I did. He had been following since Sarcastic Gamer- Elijah Powell: Yeah, back in the Sarcastic Gamer days. So I have been following since ‘06 or ’07 - whenever the first one was, I followed it. And 2014 I just said, “You know, I need to do this. It is something- I’ve got 2 months to raise money I am going to raise $100.” I sat down on my computer and spammed Facebook for a couple months. I had $100 in less than 24 hours and it blew my mind. My goal just kinda went up from there. Before that, I had no interaction with 907 Gamers. I knew they were a thing, but I didn’t really know anything about them. I just went on the Extra Life page and searched for a group and found 907 Gamers and kinda attached to them to see where they were going. I found out we had a mutual friend, Charlie Sears, and that’s how our relationship grew out of that. Cameron can tell you the rest of the story for 907 Gamers and Extra Life. CC: For 907 Gamers [in 2014], I saw a picture that went around the internet that a lot of different people have seen. It was from Portland, PDXLAN, a very big gaming event that happens every year. They had posted on Reddit a picture of this room full of dried rice and all this donated stuff, like food – they had something like 22 tons of donated food. At the bottom it was almost like a meme, “but the local press didn’t post the story anywhere.” It was kind of highlighting that gamers don’t get attention for this stuff like they should. And I thought, Well, what can I do about that? I want to do something good – it doesn’t really matter to me what it is, but something local, something good, with the chair that I’m in. Our group at the time had something like 1,400 people in it. I thought if I could steer this in a direction that’s good, maybe that will get gaming and the community and gamers in Alaska into the press. Maybe get good feedback from the community and let people know that gaming can be a positive thing. I was searching for what would fit for that; what would be the right charity. There are a lot of charities out there, but Extra Life seemed really good for three reasons. It fit because it’s local and there’s not really any charities that I have seen that we can say, “We want the money to go to this hospital right where we live.” That was tenet one: It’s local. Tenet two: You can make your own team and organize your own people into it, but retain who you are. Then tenet three: It was very easy to sign up and do an event. We went on the website and without talking with anybody made a team. We were able to use the tools on there to send people messages and stuff. We just threw together an event, no expectations. We ended up having to raise our bar, raise our bar, raise our bar because we were raising so much money- EP: It was funny, I think your original goal was $500 or something. $500 and then I joined, that’s another $100. Then we hit the $500 and I think I messaged you and asked, “Are we going to raise the bar or are we going to be stuck going positive on the $500?” About 20 minutes later we bumped it up to $1,000 and it was two days later that we hit $1,000. It blew my mind how we could escalate so quickly. And then from there you had your event. CC: It’s so exciting to keep pushing that bar. Cuz it was like, Oh, man, we actually have something here. Like we’re ranking up. We are actually a contender here. And then I’m like, I’m going to spend a few hours on this and dump a few hours into it. Every hour I dumped was exponential. It was like I dumped 8 hours into this now and it has gone up to $3,000 I just keep dumping time into that and we are just going to keep going up and up and up. JG: What were you doing, exactly? Were you messaging people? CC: Private messaging people directly with a little copy-paste with some of the Extra Life promo material: Hey, it’s Cameron here. You know me I just wanted to let you know there is this Extra Life thing we are doing. If you have any questions I’d be glad to explain it. Here is a short video,” and I shared some of the Extra Life promo material, “if you think this is something cool that you might be excited to do, it is going to make money for a good cause, and you aren’t going to have more fun than a 24 hour gaming thing. I’d like you to jump in with us. We are going to throw a free little get-together; come join us! It all goes through this webpage and it all goes to local Providence Children’s Hospital. Every three people someone would be like, “This is amazing! I am so on board.” Maybe the other two people don’t view it or whatever, but I would message 800, 900 people. When it pops up on their phone it isn’t an event invite, it isn’t some spam. The think, This guy knows me from the gamer group; this is a personal invite. Can I join this? It got a lot of attention. We had the open doors lot of people could – Elijah heard about it himself, I didn’t private message him myself, he just heard about it, but a lot of it was private messaging and just getting people together and networking people together. JG: Putting in the time to make it personal. EP: Right. Someone thinks you are taking the time to talk specifically to them instead of: “HEY THIS IS WHAT I’M DOING COME JOIN US AND MAYBE YOU WILL SIGN UP AND MAYBE YOU WON’T!” CC: When a cashier or something asks you at the mall if you want to donate to breast cancer, it is easy to say, “no thanks,” and move on. But when your personal friend asks, “Will you do this thing with me for a good cause?” They are more likely to say, “Oh yeah, sure! It sounds fun.” JG: It is kind of the difference between going out and shouting “I’M DOING THIS THIIIING!!!” and approaching someone and taking the time to explain it, “I am doing this thing.” EP: Right, exactly. JG: So, your guild kind of exploded. CC: Well [the 2014] event happened without a guild. So for our first event, we, as 907 Gamers, went to this space, it is called the Maker Space. It is like this crowdfunded, non-profit tool shed where people can donate their tools and share time. They pay dues like $40-$100 a year to come and use printers and all these things and they have this back space. So we told them, “We would love to host this event where all these people come with laptops and Xboxes and TVs and play here.” They were like, “Yeah, it sounds like a great thing for us to do, get some publicity for the Maker Space from a bunch of likeminded people and the right demographic. Let’s do it. Let’s throw it together.” So, we were able to grease the wheels with the idea that this is a good cause and we all should do it. It didn’t cost anyone any money and we just kind of organized it and we did about a month of promotion for it. JG: And how did you promote it? CC: Just Facebook messages, a Facebook event, some Twittering, tagging, I mean we had a Facebook group at the time of 1,400 people that are all locals, so they would take it from there and share it on their timeline. We had some local viral effects; made YouTube videos from the b-roll from our previous events that we had done. Just putting signs on the road, we did as much stuff as we could. We weren’t working with the hospital yet. It was just our team as a community going and doing this. That night, I remember we were just rolling and rolling our bar up higher and higher during that 24 hour period. We went $5-$6-$7-$8-$9,000 and there weren’t that many people there! EP: I think at one time he went from $7,500 to $10,000 or something. There was a huge jump and I was just like, Alright, he is setting his bar high! CC: It didn’t make sense to us because we had maybe 86 people on our team, but maybe only 50 people attending. But we were making thousands of dollars an hour you know and it was just like, Man, this event is a game changer. The fact that we are holding this local gathering is just like- people all have their computers there so they are taking breaks from gaming saying, “Well, I have been playing games for five hours so I am going to sit and put a little time in, an hour of messaging.” And it wasn’t just me anymore and Elijah had gone through a bunch of family and friends, but when we get these random people in there that just come to our events, we show them what we are doing and they say things like, “Well, I have a computer here, too. I brought mine.” Basically we had a giant typestudio. We had a studio of everyone writing out messages. It was like a little sweat factory for getting the word out! It was really cool. I think I spent 9 hours of that 24 hour thing writing messages. I had at the time about 1,000 friends and I went through all of them from A-Z messaging every single one. A lot of them would come back with questions and I’d answer those, keeping a conversation going, giving them links. When multiple people are doing that it’s just crazy. The people at that event definitely donated a lot, but people are shaving their heads on Twitch for donations from outside. We did little auctions where people brought paintings or old gaming gear. One person was like, “I don’t have the money; I am living paycheck to paycheck. I can’t donate to Extra Life, but I do have an old Sega Genesis with a lot of games that I don’t play anymore and I am sure some gamer here would love to have it.” What better way to give than to give them this in return for a donation? They can get something right now from another gamer that is thanking them for donating. It’s the extra step. Just having a lot of that stuff happening. It was infectious. EP: I didn’t get the opportunity to go to the [2014 event]. My first Extra Life was very, very personal to me. I just stayed at home with a couple of friends and we kinda just did our own thing. They had a video editor on site and every hour and a half he was pumping out a new video of some new crazy thing that was going on down at the event. It would have been nice to have been there, but when you start seeing those numbers, they just keep coming. It was amazing. I think then from there you had your check presentation. CC: Yeah, so then we finished at $11,000 and our event was done and we were like holy moley. This was way beyond- we didn’t know what we were getting into with Extra Life, but this was a shock. Holy crap, you know? We all had fun everyone loved it, so we decided to do it again next year. So we were thinking, how are we going to get $11,000 again? That was a lot of work. Writing all those messages, getting all those people together, getting the space and everything, so we thought maybe we should look for some help outside of us and a Facebook group. We all did 24 hours of work that day, space, gear, I don’t know how many hours leading up to it was spent on getting people involved, added, and joining. But it was more effective than we ever thought it would be. We wanted to do it again, but we knew we had to work smarter and get help from the right people, bigger organizations than just our Facebook group involved. JG: How did you go about doing that? CC: [We had someone talk with Rick Heaton and Doc at Extra Life] and heard about the Guilds. We said, man we need a Guild. We need a connection to something that can work directly with the hospital, spread awareness through all sorts of things, just pull all these pieces together. We need a Guild. Elijah, through the 2014 event, he did it personally, I did it with a group – I was the second ranked fundraiser, but he beat me personally by himself. EP: Yeah and that’s one of the biggest – when you tell people that you are doing this Extra Life thing they ask, “Where am I supposed to find the money?” I’m answer, “I don’t want you to give me the money. That’s not what I am asking. Just ask other people for money.” That’s all I did. I signed up almost exactly two months before the event and it was twice a day I would spam Facebook saying, “Guys, the only way to get me to shut up is by donating so either donate or block me, but it isn’t going to stop coming.” So friends and family and coworkers some cash donations- CC: He broke $2,000 in a very personal way, not taking any shortcuts at all. The legitimate-connection-to-friends-and-family-way and that was hardcore. I was really impressed because I have all these people that I’m not really personally attached to in any way- they are in my facebook group and maybe we talk about games here or there, but I don’t know their life and I’ve never met some of them. I spammed out ten times as many messages, but he still beat me and that was incredible. It was really awesome that he was able to do that. We did a big check thing and that was a big turning point. We talked to a local company to do a big, fake check to symbolize that we went and raised $11,000 because, although we did it and it was online- the people that were there knew about it, but no one else knew about it. And we want everyone to know what happened. The fact that it happened was great, but we should ride off of that so that next year it is even bigger when people know about it and they can get ready to be there and be part of it. We took the check, took about five of us and scheduled a meeting with our rep at CMNH here in Anchorage. We went over there with the big check and they had never met us before. We wanted to symbolically give this to them and maybe shake hands. Maybe have the press come and takes a picture and let people know this happened. Because a lot of gamers out there weren’t a part of this. They didn’t know and they could have been. So we showed up and I think it sent a really serious vibe that we were committed to this and wanted to do it again. We weren’t just a fly-by-night operation. […] It was like February 2015 that we officially became an Anchorage guild. We were super stoked about that. EP: What’s shocking is how easy they make it to become a guild. I think it is 100 participants donate $100. For us, I think we had well over that. CC: Our first year we had 88 participants, but our average- I don’t know about statewide EP: Statewide was a little bit more, $200 or $300 maybe. We ended with $31,000 at the end of 2014 which was coming from 2013 when I think we raised $500 in our entire state. What that tells me is that somebody was participating in Extra Life, but nobody knew about Extra Life, nobody was getting the word out. We went into the Guild thing not knowing what the hell it was, then going into 2015 having all these different people showing up. JG: The hospital can be such a huge resource. EP: Yeah, absolutely. 907 Gamers, since they are the biggest Facebook group in Alaska, Cameron is able to reach out to every one of those people and it is kinda cool that we get to see new faces every time we meet as a Guild so we can share our message; share what we are doing because I am sure there are half a dozen people in between now and last year that say, “Man, what the hell is this Extra Life thing? Maybe I’ll go to the Guild meeting and figure out what it is all about.” CC: We had lots of people come that we didn’t know about coming to say, “Hey, I work for this bottling company and I can bring Rockstar for you guys.” Cool! And another said, “I have a snowboard to give away.” Oh, wow! I didn’t know we had that. We just all these people just come out of the woodwork. By the time we had our event we had a 24 hour schedule of DJs willing to donate their time to DJ for sets. We had something like 20 sets from 18 artists. JG: These are just people who showed up to your guild meetings? CC: Yeah and I reached out to some people that organized the EDM scene in Alaska, which is a very tightknit community and said, “We are doing this gamer thing and we would like DJs to come,” and then those people would go through their network. EP: I think Extra Life really brought everyone together to let everyone know that we are all pushing toward the same goal. It’s not 907 Gamers vs Magic: The Gathering vs the boardgamers. We are all Extra Life. This is what we are doing and this is what we are doing it for. CC: [Our meetings] are just an open hub that happens every month that’s in the hospital. Anyone should feel welcome to come to the local hospital and come to the Guild meeting and talk. They don’t have to be invited or know someone. This is a public event seeking public help from anyone. They can walk in. Not only that, having our hospital connection from the Guild, we know how to say, “Hey, you want to donate as Rockstar? Here is the person to talk to from the hospital and you can become a sponsor. Just go through them, we don’t deal with that.” Then they do it. It’s super easy and then they are at the event. Rockstar is at the event. That’s so cool. As 907 Gamers that would never be possible. EP: Or as Joe Shmo down the road trying to organize his own thing that wouldn’t be possible, but because we have Extra Life to bring us all together that’s opened up huge avenues for us. CC: Yeah, what has ended up happening is this hybrid machine that you have the big grass roots group pushing into and then you have anyone else that’s a corporation or other group or whatever going through the Guild and we all show up at the same thing and put on this huge show. In 2015 we went from fundraising around $30,000 to $200,000. We had a huge 24 hour event. We had to turn people away we had two generators- EP: We probably had 300-400 people show up to our event. And we had to turn away half of those because we couldn’t provide the power. CC: Our Facebook event invite was just growing and growing as the months went by. It was going to be like a stampede. We started promoting the event about three months prior. Oh man, we have 200 people now, this is getting pretty crazy. Last year was 86, so I hope not all of these people come. More and more piled up; 300, 400, 500 going. JG: Was this in the same space as the previous year, the studio? EP: No, no, no, this time we took over an entire stadium. [Laughs] The Children’s Hospital Providence has close ties to Alaska Airlines and Alaska Airlines just built this gigantic arena for the college and we were actually able to take over half the entire thing. CC: They had an auxiliary gym and that was a big step from our last event. Our last event was a long, industrial car garage and now we are in a full gym. Even with that huge jump in square feet by maybe a factor of fifteen or twenty in size we still sent hundreds of people away. We didn’t have the power for that. They dropped a 750 kilowatt generator, which is equivalent to the hospital that I was working at the time; they had a backup that kicks in if the power goes out. We had a hospital-sized generator there plus another smaller one, a 250, and the building and it wasn’t enough power. So we had an absolute slam, a tidal wave of people show up. And we can grow this. In this same event space- in the main area we have upper seating and lower seating and a giant basketball court for volleyball, basketball, college sports, a jumbotron sitting up top. That’s where we need to be next year. EP: Alaska is kind of unique because there are no conventions. There is no place for people to go to experience something like this. For us to provide that to people, that helps to boost the participation with Extra Life. If people have that thing to come to then maybe they are more willing to help out with our cause. CC: Extra Life is a new charity. A lot of people have no conception of what it is when you ask them to join. If you ask someone to donate to breast awareness, they have no affiliation with that. But when we put on this huge event and you see a video of it, you are like, Holy crap! How did I miss this? I am going to this next year, you know what I mean? People came from Fairbanks. That’s a six hour drive that people were making to come to this. And now every year that we put out a video that shows what we did it just grows. This year we started our team January 10, right at the beginning of the year. We set up automated posts for our Facebook to once a week say, “hey we are doing Extra Life this year please take the time to join.” Took a lot of extra steps compared to three months of promotion we have a full year now. Hopefully we can get a bigger space and do an even bigger event and continue to push that. I think it gives us a step up on the every other charity in Alaska because nothing is going on with those. Everyone wants to be a part of Extra Life. JG: With this last event, did you also have another space for people just to send out emails? CC: People set up their computers, so we had a huge row of probably 150 desktop computers set up for gaming, but any time when they are bored of their game or their tournament bracket is over, we’d be on the mic asking for people to please tweet, share, use their phone, take a video, post it anywhere, post a donation link to your profile. It was just incredible. Leading up to that event- as we got closer and closer, we were getting thousands of dollars every ten hours or something. We weren’t even at the event yet. By the time we got to the event we were already at $50,000 plus. The event was so big that our local ISP showed up and said, “This is so cool that this is all running on our network and all these computers are playing and all these Xboxes are connecting to GCI. Man, this is so cool!” And the VP of the ISP says, “We are going to match it up to $50,000.” So suddenly our $50,000 starts blowing out last years. We just doubled it in an instant by talking to one guy. Oh my god. Now we are in the running for the ESA check now we can win $30,000 because we are the per capita winners right now. It just attracted a lot of attention. It was unreal. JG: What do you think makes the difference between the Alaska program you have going on here and other places that have been struggling to blow up like this? CC: I can go through a list of them. One, 907 Gamers as a Facebook group is just like other Facebook groups with members and people who play, but there is a very talented team behind it that puts these events on. So, we have experience putting the events on far before we ever got involved in Extra Life. There is a huge almost-free employee network that exists for Extra Life now where we come and put these on. We have a union electrician. We have like five networking IT pros that have worked in the State government and banks – they are very professional. We have me with the social media stuff; I’m like a local celebrity now from 907 Gamers. Now we have a guild now which a lot of places don’t have. Alaska is a place where there is not a lot of competition. There is no one else doing this. If we stopped doing it, no one would do it. If 907 Gamers stopped doing LAN events completely, they would just cease to exist because there really isn’t another network team that’s doing that. There isn’t anyone who has teamed up like that before. So there are those things from 907 gamers. On top of that, Alaska is a place that’s extremely dark during the winter. It’s very cold. It’s hostile outside. People don’t want to be out in that -20 degree wind, so a lot of people want to be gamers. That’s also compounded by the fact that in Alaska there isn’t really a way to socialize that well in the winter. You can go to movies… and you can stay home. EP: We aren’t really the hey-let’s-go-to-the-mall-type people. CC: It’s too much work to go to the mall! You have to scrape the ice off your car. It is nice to stay home. But here this is something where, yeah, you have to bring your equipment and stuff so there is a bit of a time investment there, but once you get there if it is 24 hours. It’s like this is going to be a totally awesome weekend. JG: It was worth it. CC: Right. It was worth the investment for all that fun and I think a lot of people, because it is a small community, see people they know involved in it and feel drawn into it through that personal connection. EP: I’ve been doing it, this is my third year now, and I finally got my brother talked into it. I think he just recently got a PlayStation. Maybe I never reached out to him, but he was like “what is this Extra Life thing you keep posting about? Why do you keep doing that?” A little five minute conversation and we got him signed up in under fifteen minutes. It’s just taking the time to explain it to other people. Like I said before, people don’t know what it is. JG: One last question: What advice would you give to other places that maybe don’t have the same climate or have more diverse groups? EP: Just have the conversation. Extra Life doesn’t work by itself. It strictly relies on you going out to your friends, your family, encouraging them to get involved and then encouraging them to tell other people. Or even just going to complete strangers! You have to have the conversation because without the conversation you really aren’t going to go anywhere. You have to talk. CC: I think my advice would be: There already is an organization out there, generally, whether people know about it or not. Like, 907 Gamers was there, we just didn’t know about Extra Life. So you just need to connect. When the connection happened we found our cause. I guarantee there are other people out there that have not found their cause. Gamers, in general, they get in communities. You see gamer communities all over the internet, whether it is Destiny clans or World of Warcraft guilds, they just are there. It is just a matter of connecting them to Extra Life. They are already an organization that recruits; you already pretty much have what you need right there. You just need to inject Extra Life and ask “Would you like to do that with us?” Twitch streamers already recruit followers, you know what I mean? Gamers do that already. With other charities- you might have a runner. Runners don’t recruit, not really. Gaming already has organizations that you can use. I guess I would say try to unify those and connect them to Extra Life locally. I think every local community wants to help a local cause. ~~~ A huge thank you to Elijah and Cameron for taking the time to sit down with me in the middle of all the United craziness. If you are in Alaska, be sure to check out the 907 Gamers site or Facebook group.
  16. During Extra Life United, I had the opportunity to sit down with Elijah Powell, the president of the Anchorage Guild, and Cameron Cowles, the vice president of the Guild and creator of the 907 Gamers team. I talked with them about the story of their Guild and their meteoric rise to become one of the most successful fundraising teams in North America with over $200,000 raised for 2015 - a sum which won them and the Providence Children's Hospital the ESA Per Capita check for an additional $30,000. Wondering how they managed to pull off that feat of fundraising and how you can do it, too? Read on! ~~~ Jack Gardner: You guys kind of built up this guild up out of nothing and became one of the biggest fundraisers in the United States. You were just holding the comically large $30,000 ESA check for your hospital. How did that happen? Cameron Cowles: Well, Elijah knew about Extra Life way before I did. He had been following since Sarcastic Gamer- Elijah Powell: Yeah, back in the Sarcastic Gamer days. So I have been following since ‘06 or ’07 - whenever the first one was, I followed it. And 2014 I just said, “You know, I need to do this. It is something- I’ve got 2 months to raise money I am going to raise $100.” I sat down on my computer and spammed Facebook for a couple months. I had $100 in less than 24 hours and it blew my mind. My goal just kinda went up from there. Before that, I had no interaction with 907 Gamers. I knew they were a thing, but I didn’t really know anything about them. I just went on the Extra Life page and searched for a group and found 907 Gamers and kinda attached to them to see where they were going. I found out we had a mutual friend, Charlie Sears, and that’s how our relationship grew out of that. Cameron can tell you the rest of the story for 907 Gamers and Extra Life. CC: For 907 Gamers [in 2014], I saw a picture that went around the internet that a lot of different people have seen. It was from Portland, PDXLAN, a very big gaming event that happens every year. They had posted on Reddit a picture of this room full of dried rice and all this donated stuff, like food – they had something like 22 tons of donated food. At the bottom it was almost like a meme, “but the local press didn’t post the story anywhere.” It was kind of highlighting that gamers don’t get attention for this stuff like they should. And I thought, Well, what can I do about that? I want to do something good – it doesn’t really matter to me what it is, but something local, something good, with the chair that I’m in. Our group at the time had something like 1,400 people in it. I thought if I could steer this in a direction that’s good, maybe that will get gaming and the community and gamers in Alaska into the press. Maybe get good feedback from the community and let people know that gaming can be a positive thing. I was searching for what would fit for that; what would be the right charity. There are a lot of charities out there, but Extra Life seemed really good for three reasons. It fit because it’s local and there’s not really any charities that I have seen that we can say, “We want the money to go to this hospital right where we live.” That was tenet one: It’s local. Tenet two: You can make your own team and organize your own people into it, but retain who you are. Then tenet three: It was very easy to sign up and do an event. We went on the website and without talking with anybody made a team. We were able to use the tools on there to send people messages and stuff. We just threw together an event, no expectations. We ended up having to raise our bar, raise our bar, raise our bar because we were raising so much money- EP: It was funny, I think your original goal was $500 or something. $500 and then I joined, that’s another $100. Then we hit the $500 and I think I messaged you and asked, “Are we going to raise the bar or are we going to be stuck going positive on the $500?” About 20 minutes later we bumped it up to $1,000 and it was two days later that we hit $1,000. It blew my mind how we could escalate so quickly. And then from there you had your event. CC: It’s so exciting to keep pushing that bar. Cuz it was like, Oh, man, we actually have something here. Like we’re ranking up. We are actually a contender here. And then I’m like, I’m going to spend a few hours on this and dump a few hours into it. Every hour I dumped was exponential. It was like I dumped 8 hours into this now and it has gone up to $3,000 I just keep dumping time into that and we are just going to keep going up and up and up. JG: What were you doing, exactly? Were you messaging people? CC: Private messaging people directly with a little copy-paste with some of the Extra Life promo material: Hey, it’s Cameron here. You know me I just wanted to let you know there is this Extra Life thing we are doing. If you have any questions I’d be glad to explain it. Here is a short video,” and I shared some of the Extra Life promo material, “if you think this is something cool that you might be excited to do, it is going to make money for a good cause, and you aren’t going to have more fun than a 24 hour gaming thing. I’d like you to jump in with us. We are going to throw a free little get-together; come join us! It all goes through this webpage and it all goes to local Providence Children’s Hospital. Every three people someone would be like, “This is amazing! I am so on board.” Maybe the other two people don’t view it or whatever, but I would message 800, 900 people. When it pops up on their phone it isn’t an event invite, it isn’t some spam. The think, This guy knows me from the gamer group; this is a personal invite. Can I join this? It got a lot of attention. We had the open doors lot of people could – Elijah heard about it himself, I didn’t private message him myself, he just heard about it, but a lot of it was private messaging and just getting people together and networking people together. JG: Putting in the time to make it personal. EP: Right. Someone thinks you are taking the time to talk specifically to them instead of: “HEY THIS IS WHAT I’M DOING COME JOIN US AND MAYBE YOU WILL SIGN UP AND MAYBE YOU WON’T!” CC: When a cashier or something asks you at the mall if you want to donate to breast cancer, it is easy to say, “no thanks,” and move on. But when your personal friend asks, “Will you do this thing with me for a good cause?” They are more likely to say, “Oh yeah, sure! It sounds fun.” JG: It is kind of the difference between going out and shouting “I’M DOING THIS THIIIING!!!” and approaching someone and taking the time to explain it, “I am doing this thing.” EP: Right, exactly. JG: So, your guild kind of exploded. CC: Well [the 2014] event happened without a guild. So for our first event, we, as 907 Gamers, went to this space, it is called the Maker Space. It is like this crowdfunded, non-profit tool shed where people can donate their tools and share time. They pay dues like $40-$100 a year to come and use printers and all these things and they have this back space. So we told them, “We would love to host this event where all these people come with laptops and Xboxes and TVs and play here.” They were like, “Yeah, it sounds like a great thing for us to do, get some publicity for the Maker Space from a bunch of likeminded people and the right demographic. Let’s do it. Let’s throw it together.” So, we were able to grease the wheels with the idea that this is a good cause and we all should do it. It didn’t cost anyone any money and we just kind of organized it and we did about a month of promotion for it. JG: And how did you promote it? CC: Just Facebook messages, a Facebook event, some Twittering, tagging, I mean we had a Facebook group at the time of 1,400 people that are all locals, so they would take it from there and share it on their timeline. We had some local viral effects; made YouTube videos from the b-roll from our previous events that we had done. Just putting signs on the road, we did as much stuff as we could. We weren’t working with the hospital yet. It was just our team as a community going and doing this. That night, I remember we were just rolling and rolling our bar up higher and higher during that 24 hour period. We went $5-$6-$7-$8-$9,000 and there weren’t that many people there! EP: I think at one time he went from $7,500 to $10,000 or something. There was a huge jump and I was just like, Alright, he is setting his bar high! CC: It didn’t make sense to us because we had maybe 86 people on our team, but maybe only 50 people attending. But we were making thousands of dollars an hour you know and it was just like, Man, this event is a game changer. The fact that we are holding this local gathering is just like- people all have their computers there so they are taking breaks from gaming saying, “Well, I have been playing games for five hours so I am going to sit and put a little time in, an hour of messaging.” And it wasn’t just me anymore and Elijah had gone through a bunch of family and friends, but when we get these random people in there that just come to our events, we show them what we are doing and they say things like, “Well, I have a computer here, too. I brought mine.” Basically we had a giant typestudio. We had a studio of everyone writing out messages. It was like a little sweat factory for getting the word out! It was really cool. I think I spent 9 hours of that 24 hour thing writing messages. I had at the time about 1,000 friends and I went through all of them from A-Z messaging every single one. A lot of them would come back with questions and I’d answer those, keeping a conversation going, giving them links. When multiple people are doing that it’s just crazy. The people at that event definitely donated a lot, but people are shaving their heads on Twitch for donations from outside. We did little auctions where people brought paintings or old gaming gear. One person was like, “I don’t have the money; I am living paycheck to paycheck. I can’t donate to Extra Life, but I do have an old Sega Genesis with a lot of games that I don’t play anymore and I am sure some gamer here would love to have it.” What better way to give than to give them this in return for a donation? They can get something right now from another gamer that is thanking them for donating. It’s the extra step. Just having a lot of that stuff happening. It was infectious. EP: I didn’t get the opportunity to go to the [2014 event]. My first Extra Life was very, very personal to me. I just stayed at home with a couple of friends and we kinda just did our own thing. They had a video editor on site and every hour and a half he was pumping out a new video of some new crazy thing that was going on down at the event. It would have been nice to have been there, but when you start seeing those numbers, they just keep coming. It was amazing. I think then from there you had your check presentation. CC: Yeah, so then we finished at $11,000 and our event was done and we were like holy moley. This was way beyond- we didn’t know what we were getting into with Extra Life, but this was a shock. Holy crap, you know? We all had fun everyone loved it, so we decided to do it again next year. So we were thinking, how are we going to get $11,000 again? That was a lot of work. Writing all those messages, getting all those people together, getting the space and everything, so we thought maybe we should look for some help outside of us and a Facebook group. We all did 24 hours of work that day, space, gear, I don’t know how many hours leading up to it was spent on getting people involved, added, and joining. But it was more effective than we ever thought it would be. We wanted to do it again, but we knew we had to work smarter and get help from the right people, bigger organizations than just our Facebook group involved. JG: How did you go about doing that? CC: [We had someone talk with Rick Heaton and Doc at Extra Life] and heard about the Guilds. We said, man we need a Guild. We need a connection to something that can work directly with the hospital, spread awareness through all sorts of things, just pull all these pieces together. We need a Guild. Elijah, through the 2014 event, he did it personally, I did it with a group – I was the second ranked fundraiser, but he beat me personally by himself. EP: Yeah and that’s one of the biggest – when you tell people that you are doing this Extra Life thing they ask, “Where am I supposed to find the money?” I’m answer, “I don’t want you to give me the money. That’s not what I am asking. Just ask other people for money.” That’s all I did. I signed up almost exactly two months before the event and it was twice a day I would spam Facebook saying, “Guys, the only way to get me to shut up is by donating so either donate or block me, but it isn’t going to stop coming.” So friends and family and coworkers some cash donations- CC: He broke $2,000 in a very personal way, not taking any shortcuts at all. The legitimate-connection-to-friends-and-family-way and that was hardcore. I was really impressed because I have all these people that I’m not really personally attached to in any way- they are in my facebook group and maybe we talk about games here or there, but I don’t know their life and I’ve never met some of them. I spammed out ten times as many messages, but he still beat me and that was incredible. It was really awesome that he was able to do that. We did a big check thing and that was a big turning point. We talked to a local company to do a big, fake check to symbolize that we went and raised $11,000 because, although we did it and it was online- the people that were there knew about it, but no one else knew about it. And we want everyone to know what happened. The fact that it happened was great, but we should ride off of that so that next year it is even bigger when people know about it and they can get ready to be there and be part of it. We took the check, took about five of us and scheduled a meeting with our rep at CMNH here in Anchorage. We went over there with the big check and they had never met us before. We wanted to symbolically give this to them and maybe shake hands. Maybe have the press come and takes a picture and let people know this happened. Because a lot of gamers out there weren’t a part of this. They didn’t know and they could have been. So we showed up and I think it sent a really serious vibe that we were committed to this and wanted to do it again. We weren’t just a fly-by-night operation. […] It was like February 2015 that we officially became an Anchorage guild. We were super stoked about that. EP: What’s shocking is how easy they make it to become a guild. I think it is 100 participants donate $100. For us, I think we had well over that. CC: Our first year we had 88 participants, but our average- I don’t know about statewide EP: Statewide was a little bit more, $200 or $300 maybe. We ended with $31,000 at the end of 2014 which was coming from 2013 when I think we raised $500 in our entire state. What that tells me is that somebody was participating in Extra Life, but nobody knew about Extra Life, nobody was getting the word out. We went into the Guild thing not knowing what the hell it was, then going into 2015 having all these different people showing up. JG: The hospital can be such a huge resource. EP: Yeah, absolutely. 907 Gamers, since they are the biggest Facebook group in Alaska, Cameron is able to reach out to every one of those people and it is kinda cool that we get to see new faces every time we meet as a Guild so we can share our message; share what we are doing because I am sure there are half a dozen people in between now and last year that say, “Man, what the hell is this Extra Life thing? Maybe I’ll go to the Guild meeting and figure out what it is all about.” CC: We had lots of people come that we didn’t know about coming to say, “Hey, I work for this bottling company and I can bring Rockstar for you guys.” Cool! And another said, “I have a snowboard to give away.” Oh, wow! I didn’t know we had that. We just all these people just come out of the woodwork. By the time we had our event we had a 24 hour schedule of DJs willing to donate their time to DJ for sets. We had something like 20 sets from 18 artists. JG: These are just people who showed up to your guild meetings? CC: Yeah and I reached out to some people that organized the EDM scene in Alaska, which is a very tightknit community and said, “We are doing this gamer thing and we would like DJs to come,” and then those people would go through their network. EP: I think Extra Life really brought everyone together to let everyone know that we are all pushing toward the same goal. It’s not 907 Gamers vs Magic: The Gathering vs the boardgamers. We are all Extra Life. This is what we are doing and this is what we are doing it for. CC: [Our meetings] are just an open hub that happens every month that’s in the hospital. Anyone should feel welcome to come to the local hospital and come to the Guild meeting and talk. They don’t have to be invited or know someone. This is a public event seeking public help from anyone. They can walk in. Not only that, having our hospital connection from the Guild, we know how to say, “Hey, you want to donate as Rockstar? Here is the person to talk to from the hospital and you can become a sponsor. Just go through them, we don’t deal with that.” Then they do it. It’s super easy and then they are at the event. Rockstar is at the event. That’s so cool. As 907 Gamers that would never be possible. EP: Or as Joe Shmo down the road trying to organize his own thing that wouldn’t be possible, but because we have Extra Life to bring us all together that’s opened up huge avenues for us. CC: Yeah, what has ended up happening is this hybrid machine that you have the big grass roots group pushing into and then you have anyone else that’s a corporation or other group or whatever going through the Guild and we all show up at the same thing and put on this huge show. In 2015 we went from fundraising around $30,000 to $200,000. We had a huge 24 hour event. We had to turn people away we had two generators- EP: We probably had 300-400 people show up to our event. And we had to turn away half of those because we couldn’t provide the power. CC: Our Facebook event invite was just growing and growing as the months went by. It was going to be like a stampede. We started promoting the event about three months prior. Oh man, we have 200 people now, this is getting pretty crazy. Last year was 86, so I hope not all of these people come. More and more piled up; 300, 400, 500 going. JG: Was this in the same space as the previous year, the studio? EP: No, no, no, this time we took over an entire stadium. [Laughs] The Children’s Hospital Providence has close ties to Alaska Airlines and Alaska Airlines just built this gigantic arena for the college and we were actually able to take over half the entire thing. CC: They had an auxiliary gym and that was a big step from our last event. Our last event was a long, industrial car garage and now we are in a full gym. Even with that huge jump in square feet by maybe a factor of fifteen or twenty in size we still sent hundreds of people away. We didn’t have the power for that. They dropped a 750 kilowatt generator, which is equivalent to the hospital that I was working at the time; they had a backup that kicks in if the power goes out. We had a hospital-sized generator there plus another smaller one, a 250, and the building and it wasn’t enough power. So we had an absolute slam, a tidal wave of people show up. And we can grow this. In this same event space- in the main area we have upper seating and lower seating and a giant basketball court for volleyball, basketball, college sports, a jumbotron sitting up top. That’s where we need to be next year. EP: Alaska is kind of unique because there are no conventions. There is no place for people to go to experience something like this. For us to provide that to people, that helps to boost the participation with Extra Life. If people have that thing to come to then maybe they are more willing to help out with our cause. CC: Extra Life is a new charity. A lot of people have no conception of what it is when you ask them to join. If you ask someone to donate to breast awareness, they have no affiliation with that. But when we put on this huge event and you see a video of it, you are like, Holy crap! How did I miss this? I am going to this next year, you know what I mean? People came from Fairbanks. That’s a six hour drive that people were making to come to this. And now every year that we put out a video that shows what we did it just grows. This year we started our team January 10, right at the beginning of the year. We set up automated posts for our Facebook to once a week say, “hey we are doing Extra Life this year please take the time to join.” Took a lot of extra steps compared to three months of promotion we have a full year now. Hopefully we can get a bigger space and do an even bigger event and continue to push that. I think it gives us a step up on the every other charity in Alaska because nothing is going on with those. Everyone wants to be a part of Extra Life. JG: With this last event, did you also have another space for people just to send out emails? CC: People set up their computers, so we had a huge row of probably 150 desktop computers set up for gaming, but any time when they are bored of their game or their tournament bracket is over, we’d be on the mic asking for people to please tweet, share, use their phone, take a video, post it anywhere, post a donation link to your profile. It was just incredible. Leading up to that event- as we got closer and closer, we were getting thousands of dollars every ten hours or something. We weren’t even at the event yet. By the time we got to the event we were already at $50,000 plus. The event was so big that our local ISP showed up and said, “This is so cool that this is all running on our network and all these computers are playing and all these Xboxes are connecting to GCI. Man, this is so cool!” And the VP of the ISP says, “We are going to match it up to $50,000.” So suddenly our $50,000 starts blowing out last years. We just doubled it in an instant by talking to one guy. Oh my god. Now we are in the running for the ESA check now we can win $30,000 because we are the per capita winners right now. It just attracted a lot of attention. It was unreal. JG: What do you think makes the difference between the Alaska program you have going on here and other places that have been struggling to blow up like this? CC: I can go through a list of them. One, 907 Gamers as a Facebook group is just like other Facebook groups with members and people who play, but there is a very talented team behind it that puts these events on. So, we have experience putting the events on far before we ever got involved in Extra Life. There is a huge almost-free employee network that exists for Extra Life now where we come and put these on. We have a union electrician. We have like five networking IT pros that have worked in the State government and banks – they are very professional. We have me with the social media stuff; I’m like a local celebrity now from 907 Gamers. Now we have a guild now which a lot of places don’t have. Alaska is a place where there is not a lot of competition. There is no one else doing this. If we stopped doing it, no one would do it. If 907 Gamers stopped doing LAN events completely, they would just cease to exist because there really isn’t another network team that’s doing that. There isn’t anyone who has teamed up like that before. So there are those things from 907 gamers. On top of that, Alaska is a place that’s extremely dark during the winter. It’s very cold. It’s hostile outside. People don’t want to be out in that -20 degree wind, so a lot of people want to be gamers. That’s also compounded by the fact that in Alaska there isn’t really a way to socialize that well in the winter. You can go to movies… and you can stay home. EP: We aren’t really the hey-let’s-go-to-the-mall-type people. CC: It’s too much work to go to the mall! You have to scrape the ice off your car. It is nice to stay home. But here this is something where, yeah, you have to bring your equipment and stuff so there is a bit of a time investment there, but once you get there if it is 24 hours. It’s like this is going to be a totally awesome weekend. JG: It was worth it. CC: Right. It was worth the investment for all that fun and I think a lot of people, because it is a small community, see people they know involved in it and feel drawn into it through that personal connection. EP: I’ve been doing it, this is my third year now, and I finally got my brother talked into it. I think he just recently got a PlayStation. Maybe I never reached out to him, but he was like “what is this Extra Life thing you keep posting about? Why do you keep doing that?” A little five minute conversation and we got him signed up in under fifteen minutes. It’s just taking the time to explain it to other people. Like I said before, people don’t know what it is. JG: One last question: What advice would you give to other places that maybe don’t have the same climate or have more diverse groups? EP: Just have the conversation. Extra Life doesn’t work by itself. It strictly relies on you going out to your friends, your family, encouraging them to get involved and then encouraging them to tell other people. Or even just going to complete strangers! You have to have the conversation because without the conversation you really aren’t going to go anywhere. You have to talk. CC: I think my advice would be: There already is an organization out there, generally, whether people know about it or not. Like, 907 Gamers was there, we just didn’t know about Extra Life. So you just need to connect. When the connection happened we found our cause. I guarantee there are other people out there that have not found their cause. Gamers, in general, they get in communities. You see gamer communities all over the internet, whether it is Destiny clans or World of Warcraft guilds, they just are there. It is just a matter of connecting them to Extra Life. They are already an organization that recruits; you already pretty much have what you need right there. You just need to inject Extra Life and ask “Would you like to do that with us?” Twitch streamers already recruit followers, you know what I mean? Gamers do that already. With other charities- you might have a runner. Runners don’t recruit, not really. Gaming already has organizations that you can use. I guess I would say try to unify those and connect them to Extra Life locally. I think every local community wants to help a local cause. ~~~ A huge thank you to Elijah and Cameron for taking the time to sit down with me in the middle of all the United craziness. If you are in Alaska, be sure to check out the 907 Gamers site or Facebook group. View full article
  17. I had the pleasure recently of sitting down with documentary filmmakers David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall to talk about Thank You for Playing, a film about the Green family and their struggle to make a game (That Dragon, Cancer) about their terminally ill son, Joel, while also caring for him as his condition worsens. It's a powerful, moving piece of film making. Right now Osit and Zouhali-Worrall are in the final hours of a Kickstarter campaign to fund national distribution of their film. Earlier this week, I published the written version of the interview. However, that thing is a massive bit of writing, so I asked David and Malika if it would be alright to publish the audio of our talk and they have graciously allowed me to put it out into the world for your listening pleasure. Outro music: Super Mario Bros. 'Me and Mario down by the Schoolyard' by FFmusic Dj and Geoffrey Taucer (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03100) You can check out their Kickstarter here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1372561818/bring-thank-you-for-playing-to-theaters-screens-wo?ref=project_tweet
  18. I had the pleasure recently of sitting down with documentary filmmakers David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall to talk about Thank You for Playing, a film about the Green family and their struggle to make a game (That Dragon, Cancer) about their terminally ill son, Joel, while also caring for him as his condition worsens. It's a powerful, moving piece of film making. Right now Osit and Zouhali-Worrall are in the final hours of a Kickstarter campaign to fund national distribution of their film. Earlier this week, I published the written version of the interview. However, that thing is a massive bit of writing, so I asked David and Malika if it would be alright to publish the audio of our talk and they have graciously allowed me to put it out into the world for your listening pleasure. Outro music: Super Mario Bros. 'Me and Mario down by the Schoolyard' by FFmusic Dj and Geoffrey Taucer (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03100) You can check out their Kickstarter here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1372561818/bring-thank-you-for-playing-to-theaters-screens-wo?ref=project_tweet View full article
  19. Many of you might not know that, in addition to writing for Extra Life, I record a video game podcast called The JIM Show with two dashing gentlemen. Most of the time it is just discussion of the latest video game news, sharing our thoughts on the games we're playing, and embarrassing ourselves in front of microphones. However, sometimes we have interesting guests on the show. We've had indie studios like Tangentlemen or Brain & Nerd on to talk about the trials of going independent. We've had talented writers like Harold Goldberd, Nathan Meunier, and Walt Williams on to discuss their work. Heck, we even had a filmmaker, and one of the co-founders of Naughty Dog on our show. What I'm trying to get at here is that while we are mostly goofballs, sometimes we do actually have insightful and interesting talks about video games. This week our podcast was graced with the presence of Eric Trowbridge, the founder of indie studio Apixal and who is currently going through a Kickstarter campaign for Phoenix Dawn. We invited him on because he was clearly very passionate about making games; he quit a job of eight years to try and make his dreams a reality. At the time we interviewed him, his Kickstarter was $10,000 short of its goal with five days left. The day after we recorded with him he'd met his funding goal and there are still two days left in his campaign. All this is leading up to me saying that we had a great time talking with Eric and it was really inspiring how determined and dedicated he is to his project. Our conversation with him provided a window into the stressful lives of developers who turn to Kickstarter for funding. If that sounds interesting to you, you can listen to the podcast embedded below, download it from our hosting site, iTunes, or get our podcast app through the Amazon app store. Music for this episode is a remix of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, 'Forever Yours' by the fantastic Tim Sheehy. More great music like this can be found over on OCRemix.org (FOR FREE). Head over there and check out a place flowing with musical talent! Let us know what you think of the show and if you like seeing this kind of thing in the comments. View full article
  20. I have the pleasure of being involved in Extra Life both as a writer on this website and in a local capacity with the Minneapolis Extra Life Guild. Through my involvement in the guild I managed to connect with Dylan Zellmer who provides the social face for MurWare, an independent development studio that released their first game, titled Oley Poley, a little over two weeks ago. MurWare has decided that charity is a core part of their business and will be donating 5% of the profits from Oley Poley to Extra Life! That is just so great that I decided to have a chat with Dylan about the studio and what it is like to be a relatively unknown game developer. --- Jack Gardner: I'm going to be honest, I don't know much about MurWare. Could you tell me a bit about how MurWare came into existence and what it is all about? Dylan Zellmer: There's good reason for your unfamiliarity; we're brand new! Myself and two skilled programmers (Aaron and Ryan) decided to formulate MurWare about 60 days ago. Most of us have either been directly involved in the games industry, or have been toying with games creation for a long time. At its heart, MurWare is the quintessential independent development company. We want to keep our operations relatively small, and will likely hold onto our day jobs while creating and self-publishing fun games. It's likely we'll stick to the mobile games as we hone our skills, and set out to the PC and console space later-on. JG: What is your role in the company and the development process? DZ: I'm the artist. So far, I've been tasked with taking the overarching game ideas and bringing them to life visually. Being a three-man team, we collaborate on just about everything. I've also taken the helm on the social aspects of MurWare, and our outreach. We're hoping to find someone (FREE) to manage that piece as it's rather taxing on top of the rest of our work. JG: As a developer, what are your priorities for the games you make? DZ: Well, as an indie we aren't concerned with creating the next Call of Duty. Essentially, we're making games for ourselves, and are really stoked when other people enjoy them. From a design standpoint, I'm concerned with creating clean visuals that compliment our gameplay; gameplay being the most important aspect of our creative process. If we don't think something is fun to play, we won't let it past the early prototype phase. JG: Could you describe some of the challenges in being a game developer working on that company's first game and getting it onto the Android and iOS app stores? DZ: There are several, very real obstacles for us to overcome. It's amazing when you think of a studio like Supercell hitting the jackpot with their first outing (Clash of Clans). First off, staying organized and having any semblance of a plan to work with is problematic when we aren't devoted to the process full-time. Another large undertaking is discoverability. Even after making plenty of connections within the industry, it's not easy to get your app in front of key people. In the end, whatever success, or lack thereof, Oley Poley garners is an important step in the evolution of our studio. JG: On July 18, MurWare released Oley Poley for Android and (soon) iOS, could you tell me a bit about that game? DZ: Well, I describe Oley Poley as "The Dark Souls of cute and cuddly reverse-platformers"; whatever that means. A more general description of the game would sound something like an informercial, but I'll take a stab at it. It's inspired by the Coin-Op arcade games all of us used to shove our allowances into. It's fast-paced, extremely challenging, and wonderfully satisfying. The object of Oley Poley is to help him survive a never-ending stream of obstacles, and while doing so, earn points for your hard work. JG: You are personally involved in the Minneapolis Extra Life Guild. What is your story with Extra Life?' DZ: In 2013 I was introduced to Extra-Life by a long-time family friend. He thought it was a great opportunity for me to get involved in charitable giving while doing something I truly love; gaming. I thought it sounded like a perfect fit, formed a team (House Nerd), and raised more money than I'd ever hoped to. I was honored to donate to an institute that holds a very personal connection to another life-long friend whose son has received life-changing treatment therein; Gillette Children's Hospital. JG: MurWare is a relatively new studio, but you have already announced that 5% of the money earned from your games will go to charity and that this year's charity will be Extra Life! Not many devs, to my knowledge, give direct cuts of their game revenue. What led to the decision to make charity a priority for MurWare. DZ: To my knowledge (not extremely extensive, haven't dug for hours or anything) we're at least the only MN-based development team, possibly US-based development team, to give a direct cut of our profits to charity. (Editor’s note: MurWare is currently the only developer giving a direct cut of profits to Extra Life.) As I stated earlier, we all have day jobs, at the same company even, so our game dev career isn't ONLY about money; it's about doing something we love. The decision to give to charity was one that was made very early-on; it was important to all of us to do so. My hope is that we are able to receive enough exposure to start donating large amounts of financial support to great organizations like Extra-Life. As I mentioned earlier, discoverability is the hardest hurdle to overcome, so help us spread the word! --- It is absolutely amazing to be supported by a developer in this way! Thank you to the MurWare team for their support! Also, an update for the game was released today that includes new background music, art, and an updated logo. Oley Poley is currently available on the Google Play store for Android devices for $1. View full article
  21. In the midst of all the E3 craziness, I had an appointment with the digital distribution company Green Man Gaming. Due to scheduling mishaps that appointment never occurred, but we managed to track down Green Man's EVP of marketing Darren Cairns for a pleasant (and very green) post-E3 interview. ---- How did Green Man Gaming (GMG) begin? Green Man Gaming launched on 10th May 2010 after Paul Sulyok (CEO & Founder) and Lee Packham (EVP Engineering and Co-Founder) wanted to create a digital store loosely based on an eBay and iTunes model, but for gaming - letting people sell the games in their library. As digital game downloads are becoming the dominant and preferred way for people to get their games, Green Man Gaming began leading millions of gamers through the transition from traditional retail purchases into a new digital era. What does GMG offer that sets it apart from competitors like Steam or GOG.com? We know that modern core gamers care about their games, no matter what platform that they play them on. Our service allows gamers to buy games and content across a range of platforms which makes us very different to retailers like Steam and GOG. Green Man Gaming also collects and uses a level of gameplay data that no other commercial retailer has. Valve has data about Steam, Sony has data about PlayStation, Microsoft has data about Xbox; Green Man Gaming has data about all of them. We then use this behavioural data (based on tracked in-game activity, rather than just purchasing or browsing history) to accurately target core gamers with offers and tailored messages that they need and want. Our strength that sets us apart from other retailers, is that we sell what gamers want, how they want (allowing game access and activation across a range of platforms including Steam, Uplay, Origin, other first party platforms, or by our own Capsule client). Combined with our strong Playfire Community, that becomes a larger offer for gamers that is more than just a sale. GMG Acquired Playfire in 2012. Have you seen a boost in users with the inclusion of more social elements into your platform (i.e. achievements, stat tracking)? Being a member of the Playfire community means gamers can track their gameplay and what their friends are playing, join leaderboards, see what other members are excited about on Playfire Buzz, and create Want lists that we can then make great offers on when those games go on sale. The strength of our community comes from their engagement and we've seen a huge boost in users as gamers are signing up to our Playfire Rewards BETA. By linking their Steam account (with other platforms coming very soon), Playfire Members are eligible to earn Green Man Gaming Credit by playing games! Users don’t have to originally buy their games from Green Man Gaming; they simply have to play those games that Playfire attaches rewards to for the chance to earn up to £5 (Edit: About $8.55 US) Green Man Gaming credit (which is converted into local currency depending on a user’s location). This credit can then be spent towards anything on the Green Man Gaming site. Have you found that offering store credit for social participation on GMG uniquely benefits your business? How does that work? We reward people with Green Man Gaming Credit that can only be used on our service, which we know successfully reduces the cost of gaming for those involved. We feel there is a value exchange that benefits both the user and Green Man Gaming. Our users benefits from earning GMG Credit by simply playing the games they love, and we benefit from learning more about their gaming habits and style as they play. We can use this knowledge to target users with more relevant offers based on the way they play games, and help them to discover more games to love. It works! GMG is the number two digital platform in the world. Are there any plans in the work to dethrone Steam to reach number one? I guess this also harkens back to my second question. How do you compete with something like Steam when they seemingly hold such a significant market share? Steam has well over 75 million users, and as we have an official API from Valve, we think of Steam as one of our allies. We understand that many gamers feel comfortable accessing their games through Steam. However, our offering is quite different to Steam, and we are seeing the number of people using Green Man Gaming to access non-Steam games rapidly increasing, as they prefer our range of download options and opportunities to earn Green Man Gaming Credit. We are going to keep focusing on creating something very special here at Green Man Gaming. We are using billions of game data points and user behaviour knowledge to continually improve the user experience for all our customers, and this will never change. We currently sell over 4500 titles across 185 territories, and are working with over 350 official publishing partners to offer even more than just a sale in the future - bringing more great titles, more great deals, and coming soon, very special Playfire Rewards to millions of gamers around the world. ---- A big thank you to Darren Cairns for taking the time to talk with us and to Tracy McGarrigan for being patient and helping to facilitate this interview! View full article
  22. During the month of May, Extra Life’s current top fundraiser, Aureylian, worked with Twitch to set up the event Mining for Charity. Four teams totaling forty-eight Twitch broadcasters competed in ten different Mineplex minigames. Each team represented a different charity organization: AbleGamers, Child’s Play, Extra Life, and Stand for the Silent. The team that racked up the most points over the course of the month of Mineplex games won a $5,000 prize for their charity. Unfortunately, Extra Life came in third place, but even third place received a pretty nice chunk of change courtesy of some Twitch auctions. I had the opportunity to ask Aureylian some questions regarding Mining for Charity and her own involvement in Extra Life. --- How did you first get involved in Extra Life? I was invited to go along to the Celebration last year in Orlando along with some other gamers and Twitch employees to learn more about Extra Life. After meeting all of the kids, and being a gamer and mom myself, it seems like I was meant to be there. I have become so passionate about Extra Life, because it literally hits every major aspect of my life. What is your goal for this year and what are you going to try differently to achieve it (besides Minecraft charity tournaments)? My goal for this year is $25k. I've done a few shorter livestreams already this year and am planning at least two more (including the National Game Day). I've started integrating incentives in my game play (like renaming missions in Minecraft to donators of certain levels) and stopping livestreams to sing karaoke when someone donates $25. It's a continued effort throughout the year and a big part of my daily life, not just something I do once a year. You are currently our top fundraiser (which is so flippin' amazing). How have you gone about raising money and what do you think other people do to emulate your success on that particular front? Or, to put it another way, how can other people be as fantastic as yourself? Haha, well, not sure I'm THAT fantastic. Like I said before, Extra Life is something I am so passionate about that I speak about it and involve it on an almost daily basis. I work in my local office to donate my time, as well as raise funds and involve as many people I can. I don't know that anyone [could exactly] emulate my success, but I did help write a pretty cool tips piece on the blog for Extra Life last year that seemed to help a few people. You work at Twitch, so can you speak to how Twitch has gotten involved with Extra Life on a company-wide level? Twitch supports many charities. As an organization, we donate many resources to help promote and ensure the success of streamers who choose to stream for charity. Specifically for events like Mining For Charity, we leverage our user base to help nonprofits get exposure and involve content creators in the promotion of great causes. Okay, I pay follow eSports a fair amount and I've played many more hours of Minecraft than I'd care to admit in polite company, but I've never really heard about a Minecraft tournament. Could you explain how that works, where did the idea come from, etc.? I came up with the idea and Mineplex made it come to life. For Mining for Charity, we had four teams of 12 players (8 full time and 4 alternates). They competed each week in a series of Minecraft minigames for four weeks. Depending on their placement in each round, they received points, and at the end of the day, the place of their points determined the daily points they received. At the end of the tournament, two teams tied for first, so they went into a tiebreaker round. The goal was not only to have our content creators collaborate and help grow their audiences, but to help support charities we are passionate about in the process. Prior to the start of the tournament, each team was allowed to pick their own charity to play on behalf of, and we of course were thrilled when one of our teams chose to play on behalf of Extra Life. Twitch donated a designated amount to first place and funds were also raised by auctioning off a rare White Twitch hoodie and limited edition Twitch Minecraft shirt, both signed by Minecraft content creator. Those proceeds were all divided among 2nd, 3rd and 4th place teams. As Mike said in that introductory email, who were the casters that got involved so we can shower them with praise? AnikiDomo - Bashurverse - BlameTheController - ChaosChunk - Fyrflies - RubenDelight - Darkmalmine - Siyliss - tehneyrzomb - TerasHD - thejarren - wyld --- A huge thanks to Aureylian, he co-workers at Twitch, and all of the amazing people who participated in Mining for Charity! View full article
  23. During E3 I had the pleasure of meeting with Martin Brouard from Frima Studios to discuss the indie platforming title Chariot. Afterward, I was able to go hands-on for nearly a half-hour. Spoiler: I couldn't stop smiling. --- Martin Brouard: I’m the Executive Producer for Chariot. It’s a platformer, a couch co-op platformer that’s coming out on Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, and PC this fall. Jack Gardner: Awesome! And we can see it right behind you there. From what I understand the general premise is that a king or emperor has died and you're taking him to his final resting place? MB: Right, you play as a princess and you are accompanied by your very trusty fiancé and before going on with your life, you have to, you know, put your dead father to rest in a really nice sepulcher. But the king is actually back as a ghost and the chariot that you are bringing around everywhere; it’s a coffin on wheels. The king is there and he keeps complaining that you are leaving treasure behind or that you cannot possibly think of burying him here because it is not a proper, kingly place. He always wants more treasure and more interesting places, so that’s how you progress through different levels. [There are] five different environments, 25 levels of exploration. And it is couch co-op so you play both characters. You can play solo, but it is really made for having fun with a friend at home. JG: What different mechanics can we expect to see out of Chariot? MB: The big difference between Chariot and other platformers that we know and love is that it’s a physics-based platformer with a chariot is at the center of it. You need the chariot because that’s what picks up all the loot; that’s what is at the center of the game. So, you’ll push it; you’ll pull it; you’ll use this rope mechanic to pull the chariot, to give some rope to your friend to dangle over a precipice. To try to jump into hard to reach areas. There is lots of exploration. You use the chariot to jump on it, to roll down slopes. [You will have] one special item that you choose for every level, one per character, you use these items to do special moves. There is an attractor, a repulsor, a peg so you can attach your rope to a little escalation peg. There’s something that slows down time and speed boots. By combining these items, one on each character, you can pull off some really fantastic moves and that’s where the fun is. JG: And there is no online co-op or just couch co-op? MB: It’s too… it just wouldn’t make sense for us. It’s really a game where you want to have fun with the person sitting next to you. And be arguing over, “We should be going over there,” “No! Let’s go over there. There is probably something hidden there,” “Alright, alright.” It just wouldn’t be the same over the internet. JG: What is your favorite part of Chariot? MB: My favorite part is definitely when you see some hard to reach area and you’re like, “Okay, we’ve got to get over there,” and you need to figure out a way, but there are different ways to achieve that. Sometimes you’ll try to pull out some really crazy move, and you will try and try again. When after fifteen minutes of trying you finally pull off that move, this is just so satisfying. High-fives all over the place and it is a great satisfaction. Also, the humor. Right now this is an alpha-build. It’s not finished. JG: Wow, that looks great for an alpha-build! MB: Thank you! But the voice overs aren’t implemented yet. There is a lot of humor coming from the king who is interacting with you. He is kinda acting as a chaperone, you know, his daughter with this guy. He’s there to keep an eye on you and make sure you don’t leave any loot on the table. JG: And collecting the loot is how you unlock the gadgets and get the different abilities? MB: You actually get the gadgets by finding the blueprints and special collectibles. Between every level you’ll be meeting with a merchant on the surface. He’s a skeleton dude, I don’t think he even realizes that he’s a skeleton, but he’s improving your stuff in exchange for your loot. For example, if you want to go to the lava levels, you’ll need to make sure that your chariot becomes fireproof. For that you’ll need to find blueprints that are hidden somewhere in the game, but then you also need to give the blueprints to the merchant along with some of your loot, which the king doesn’t like too much. When you part with the blueprint and [pay the merchant], he’ll upgrade the chariot and it will be able to float in lava. Same thing with the ice caverns and other levels. You can also improve your gadgets up to three levels. For example, the repulsor which is basically something that throws the chariot super hard with physics, when you are at level three it really shoots the chariot very far. So, if your friend is standing on it and then you’re shooting it, it’s pretty awesome. JG: Are there enemies in the game? So far I haven’t seen any. MB: Well, it’s not a fighting game, but there are enemies. They're called looters. They will not attack you. They will only attack the chariot, try to grab your loot, and run away with it. So your job is basically to dispatch them as quickly as possible or run away before they steal too much of your loot, because that’s also your score. The princess has a sword, so she’s a close-range character and the fiancé has a little slingshot so he is a ranged character. A lot of times, one player will try to get out while the other will defend, so that leads to some fun little combat scenes, but it’s not at the heart of the game. There are four different enemies. Some of them are even trying to steal the chariot! [laughs] JG: Is it an open-world, Metroid-style game? MB: No, no. The way it works is there are 25 different levels scattered over five different environments. These environments are unlocked when you upgrade the chariot, but there are different entrances and exits in certain levels that sometimes unlock speed runs you can complete for special rewards and leaderboards. JG: So how does that work, is there a hub where you access each level? MB: Yes, there is a map that is currently very placeholder, but every time you find an exit it opens up the path to a new level. Sometimes you find different exits in different levels. There is a lot of exploration there. JG: Well it looks incredible. I can’t wait to play it! MB: Thank you very much, you can play it right now! [laughs] --- And play it I did. Even in early alpha Chariot is almost overwhelmingly charming. The art design is great and does a great job conveying humor and lightheartedness even without dialogue. Levels are cleverly constructed to interact with the chariot and the players in interesting ways. For example, there are certain surfaces that will be solid for the player, but not the chariot and vice versa. The rope mechanics and physics feel statisfying and it feels really rewarding to overcome obstacles with a co-op partner. Recently there have been people expressing a desire for non-violent games to play with family or just as an alternative to the omni-present shooter genre. Though Brouard said that there were looters in Chariot, in nearly a half hour, I never saw a single one and still enjoyed myself immensely. I would feel very comfortable sitting down with my young nephews and playing this along with them. Brouard was right, Chariot can be played alone, but it is meant to embody cooperation and going it alone seems miss a bit of the magic that Chariot has to offer. Keep your eye on Chariot. It releases this fall on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, and PC. View full article
  24. While at E3, I had a chance to sit down with a few of the people from Gaijin Games, the developer behind the Bit.Trip series to talk with them about the challenges of porting Runner2 to Vita and what it is like to be an indie developer in this day and age. The three members of the team that I had the pleasure of talking with during the interview were Danny Johnson – Designer Extraordinaire, Dant Rambo – Associate Producer (with the coolest name ever), and Chris Meyer – 3D Artist and Dream Maker. (Note: Gaijin's official job titles probably do not include “extraordinaire,” “(with the coolest name ever),” or “dream maker,” but that doesn’t mean they don’t apply) --- Danny Johnson: With the Vita Version, we heard the feedback from a lot of fans that there was a desire to get the game on Vita. We’ve heard from other independent developers that their games had done really well on the Vita and stuff like that, so it was a market that we really wanted to go after. It is just that we hadn’t scheduled to do it at the beginning of the project, so we finished the main game up on consoles and then have been doing the Vita version amongst other things. So, basically what we have to show is Runner2. It’s all of Runner2. It’s, you know, the same game, but on handheld. We’ve retained everything from the console version, so I think that’s pretty impressive. Jack Gardner: So, you heard from other people that it would be good to have it on the Vita. What specifically makes Runner2 good to have on Vita? DJ: I think part of it is that we heard there was a bit of a different audience on Vita versus even on the PS3. People just, you know, want to play it [on the go] or just as their main device or they don’t like playing consoles, I don’t know. I think the big thing was that people wanted access to the game without having to sit at home, [laughs] which, you know, is understandable these days. Dant Rambo: I guess I’d also add that it is cool to be a part of the big indie push on Vita, which is nuts. Chris Meyer: Sony in general, not just Vita, is really embracing the indies. JG: Did Sony approach you guys about putting it on the Vita? DJ: I’m sure they kinda nudged us and said, ‘so you’re gonna put it on the Vita, right?’ You know? So we’ve kept in contact with them all throughout development, just making sure things were going all right. They definitely like to see stuff on the Vita. We kind of had that idea that we wanted to do it and it was a little bit of seeing how it goes and when can we fit it in and now is the time. JG: Are there a lot of challenges involved in taking a game that was made with consoles in mind and putting it on a handheld? Artistically, programming-wise, etc.? DJ: I think the ideal is that we could bring the same exact game and put it on handhelds. I mean, at this point we’ve only been working on it for about a month or so, but we’ve got it running. We just need a lot of the little optimization stuff and to work out the kinks. But it seems like it has been pretty good, pretty easy. You know, always bringing a game to a new platform brings a new set of challenges, but the whole thing is that we are looking to retain the main game and keep it at a solid frame rate. CM: We just don’t want to trim it down. We don’t want to give handheld users a lesser experience. DR: And it is also cool that it is level-based, so it already lends itself well to being on a mobile device, so you can pick it up and play it for five minute or for hours. JG: With the PS4 coming out soon, will Runner2 be available on the PS4? DR: That’s not out of the question. DJ: Yeah, I think part of it was we were waiting to see how their backwards compatibility was going to work and if you could still play it on PS4. I think they’ve said they have some streaming capabilities, but I think it is possible that we would port it up to PS4. Who knows if we would add stuff or what, but the whole thing about Runner2 was we didn’t want to leave it out of the hands of anyone. We wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to play the game could play the game. So, we put it on whatever we could. JG: Alright, makes sense. Are there plans to create a follow-up or branch out into different explorations of the concept? DJ: Um… There is still stuff yet to be done on Runner2. We’re not going to go into that quite yet, but we are not done with Runner2, but definitely at this point we are looking into other avenues, other games, future projects, a couple of exciting possibilities, but that stuff is still probably a little ways out. But we have been toying with smaller stuff and bigger stuff, so… yeah. JG: Has the reception of the game been pretty good today? DR: Yeah, I would say so. I haven’t heard anything negative. Even people who had never played it on console seemed to really enjoy playing it. CM: There are also a lot of fans who have already played it, beaten it, one-hundred percent-ed it that want to play it again on their Vita. [Laughs] DJ: The console version was so well rated, that we hope it would bring out the people who are interested on Vita. JG: Yeah, that’s always the mark of a- [clattering noise] Always the mark of a great game when someone throws their pen in the middle of an interview. [laughter] When people like the game so much that they want to buy it again so that they can play it again. DJ: We certainly love how the fans have accepted the game and gone far beyond what we would expect. Like, one-hundred percent-ing the whole game and posting videos on YouTube. DR: One related anecdote to that, is that someone on Twitter said that they one-hundred percent-ed it and then deleted their save file so that they could start again. That was nuts. JG: Wow, I don’t know of anyone that actually deletes their save file… DR: At least not intentionally. [Laughs] JG: So, about how big is your team at Gaijin? DR: It is nine, I can confirm. DJ: Nine full-time, I think we have two or three contractors. JG: And how involved is Sony in the process of creating a game like Runner2? DJ: I’m not the person that they deal with, but I think that they just sort of make sure that things are going well for us, that we have the stuff we need. I think the PS4 dev kit came before we even ordered it or anything, so we were like, ‘Oh, awesome! We’ll have to check this out!’ JG: They are kind of hands off when it comes to- DJ: Yeah, I mean they’ll talk to us when we need to. I mean we have some people over there that we know pretty well and will answer our questions if we need them. JG: But it is a pretty good relationship? DJ: Yeah, we definitely like them. We make them happy and they make us happy. Everyone wins. DR: It is a good relationship. JG: I’m just wondering with the whole indie push coming out of Sony and the implosion of Microsoft’s indie stuff, people have been kind of wondering about indie development on consoles and for big companies like Microsoft and Sony. They’ve hear a lot about how terrible Microsoft has been for developers, but I haven’t heard a lot of people talking about Sony. DJ: Part of it was, you know with all the console makers, they have a lot of guidelines that you need to go through. Some of them make it easier or harder for you, which is a bit rough. We kind of like the Steam model where they are very hands off and they let you do what you need to do to make it work. It is a different approach from the consoles, but they are a little more nimble than these big corporations. I don’t know, it is tough to say. DR: I guess there is a little bit more of a hurdle with Microsoft because they don’t allow you to self-publish. JG: Is it hard to find a publisher for indie developers on consoles? CM: If I am not mistaken, we were able to establish Gaijin Games itself as a publisher. I think we can take that route if we want to. We worked with Aksys in the past because we wanted someone to help fund our game and get it through, because that is always really beneficial to a small team to see if they can get a game out there. But we’ve allowed ourselves the ability to self-publish on some of the platforms. Whenever that option is available we like to do it, but whenever there is publisher assistance then that is also pretty helpful. DR: This isn’t even related to us, but I met someone in the Sony booth today who had an idea for a game and they said Sony and Nintendo wanted to play ball right away, but he was here trying to find a publisher for Microsoft. Which isn’t to say that it is harder or easier. DJ: And I mean, we’ve talked with Microsoft, and they do support developers. It is just that they have a different approach to who they want on their system. It’s not a terrible approach or anything like that, it is just that they have their own mindset. Sony seems to be more, ‘we’ll take any cool games we can get,’ whereas Microsoft is a bit more exclusive with their stuff. DR: One last thing: The intended launch window for the Vita version of Runner2 is between mid-July and mid-August. JG: If you loved Runner2, you’ll love Runner2 on Vita. DR: You’ll love playing it on the toilet! CM: That’s the new feature. [Laughter] Runner2, fully titled Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, is a side-scrolling platformer currently available for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, PC, and Mac. The Vita version, as stated in the interview, will release sometime between mid-July and mid-August. View full article
  25. Recently, I was given the opportunity to ask Sundance DiGiovanni, the CEO and founder of North America’s largest eSports organization, Major League Gaming (MLG), a few questions regarding console eSports and the future of gaming. Jack Gardner: If console manufacturers had their hearts set on getting in on the growing eSports industry, what more could they do than the features the PS4 was announced to have (i.e. accessible streaming options, partnership with a streaming service, increasing the amount of competitive titles available, integrating social media, etc.)? Sundance DiGiovanni: In addition to all of the great technology and features planned for PS4, in order to have a strong eSports presence it really comes down to the games themselves. Titles need to have competitive settings built in and a strong community following to be successful in the eSports landscape. He’s not wrong. Many recent games billing themselves as the next big thing in eSports have failed or been only marginally successful. Tribes: Ascend and Heroes of Newerth are perfect examples. Both games are free-to-play, relying on microtransactions to make money for the developer, which would seem to guarantee a large user base because who doesn’t love a free game? However, despite holding tournaments with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, neither have found anywhere near as big a following as Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, StarCraft 2, or League of Legends. The bottom line is that not many people are interested in watching professional gamers play a game that isn’t popular and that lack of interest kills eSports potential. Jack: What can developers do to create games better geared toward eSports (in terms of casting, recording, content distribution, etc.)? Call of Duty: Black Ops 2’s eSports features seem to be the best consoles offer. Can developers do better or are those what we can expect from future console releases? Sundance: Activision and Treyarch did an incredible job of developing Black Ops 2 with eSports in mind; that is why we are featuring it on our MLG Pro Circuit this year. They connected with the eSports community, attended our events, listened to what players wanted out of a game and even brought on Pro Players to consult on the feature set. They were dedicated to making the game work and they should be a model for other game publishers looking to create a successful eSports title. Now that we have seen just what is possible when you create a video game from the ground up with eSports in mind, we can reasonably expect to see other titles aping the features in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Being able to stream while in-game with no additional set up is an incredible boon to gamers looking to go pro, as they can look over their matches and see where they need improvement and also make names for themselves online. The functionality brought to viewing and shoutcasting these matches is nothing short of incredible: Players can commentate the action, switching between an overview mode, map, first-person perspective, and listen in to team chatter. Jack: How will having built-in streaming and viewing features in the PS4 and possibly the next Xbox affect eSports and do you believe that this is at least partly a response to the massive growth we’ve seen in the competitive gaming scene over the last few years? Sundance: In the last two years, online viewership of eSports competition has increased dramatically largely in part to streaming technology. It has become easy and seamless to stream on a regular basis, whether you are an individual player or an eSports organization like us. Having built-in features will make eSports even more accessible for aspiring competitive gamers looking to make a name for themselves as the barrier to entry will be even lower. Throwing some statistics out there: From 2010 to 2012, MLG saw its audience grow from 1.8 million to 11.7 million, a growth of about 636%. In 2012, more than 15 million hours of MLG eSports content was streamed to viewers. None of this growth would have been remotely possible without the ability to stream via services like Twitch and Ustream. As Sundance said, having the ability to stream built into the console will allow more people to enter the streaming arena and make a name for themselves. This isn’t limited to professional gamers, more people could popularize themselves as game commentators, also known as shoutcasters, as well as broaden the audience of eSports viewers. It also eliminates many of the difficulties inherent in streaming today. It is expensive to stream. You need a high-quality internet connection, a powerful computer, a subscription to a streaming program, and (if you are streaming games on consoles) a capture card. None of that comes cheap, either. Having these all built-in will be a huge boon to future streamers and hopeful next-gen competitive gamers. Jack: MLG has a history of making gaming partnerships with companies like Microsoft. Do you think we could expect to see MLG or other eSports content making its way onto consoles in the form of apps or built-in functionality? Sundance: MLG has a long standing relationship with both Microsoft for Xbox LIVE in the form of pic packs and video, as well as PSN. I think we will definitely see eSports content increasing its footprint within the console world. That’s a good sign. Currently to watch eSports content of any kind on consoles you either need to use an internet browser or watch big tournaments after the fact using apps like YouTube. Neither of those alternatives are very appealing to most people, who opt for the much simpler alternative of viewing on a computer. The biggest ray of hope for those who were hoping to easily watch eSports on their televisions was a Twitch streaming app exclusive to the Xbox 360. It was announced last year, but since then it seems to have disappeared from the public light. What could have happened to it? Jack: Do you see Sony’s partnership with the streaming service Ustream as significant to eSports on consoles? Why do you think they didn’t partner with the more gaming oriented Twitch streaming service? Sundance: It's great to see Sony embracing streaming. Hopefully we will see it crossover into eSports efforts on the console, but for now it seems to be a broader initiative. As far as why they picked Ustream over Twitch - I really can't speak to that. I wasn't involved in the decision making process. The fact that Sony partnered with Ustream over Twitch certainly seems to indicate that they are aiming for a wider array of people interested in streaming for various reasons. However, it does seem like an odd decision, given that Twitch has made a name for itself (literally made a name for itself, changing from Justin.tv to Twitch.tv to cater to the gaming crowd) by focusing on streamed game content. Our theory: It could be that Twitch was already partnered with another company. Remember that Xbox 360 exclusive streaming app from Twitch? Remember that after the announcement that it existed, it promptly went completely dark, but the company insisted it was still being worked on? Remember that both the PS4 and the next Microsoft console are both expected to launch this holiday season? It is highly likely that the reason Sony wasn’t able to get Twitch on-board as their streaming service is because Twitch was busy creating services for the next-gen Xbox, which would certainly explain why not much has been heard about it recently. What do you think of eSports or the next-gen? Let us know in the comments! Also, enjoy one of our favorite MLG StarCraft 2 moments below: View full article