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Found 31 results

  1. How do you take a brilliant idea for a tabletop board game and make it a reality? Many people have some vague idea of what that process looks like for a video game, but it's quite a bit different for a board game. We sat down with Andrew Reiner, the executive editor at Game Informer magazine, and Chris Kluwe, a former punter for the Minnesota Vikings, to talk about their upcoming board game. Code named Project Grendel, the duo offered numerous details on the co-op (or competitive) adventure title while also offering insight into their process and advice for how others can successfully create and sell the game they've always dreamed of making. If all goes well, they hope to have the final version of Project Grendel (which will have a different name upon release) available in stores sometime late 2018 or early 2019. In the meantime, they have opened up about what it takes to make a new kind of tabletop experience. ~~~ How exactly do you two know each other? A former NFL punter and the executive editor of Game Informer seem to be a very unlikely pair for making a board game. Chris Kluwe: No, no, it's totally natural! [laughs] Andrew Reiner: You want to do this one Chris? Kluwe: Yeah, sure, I'll take that one. Basically, I was with the Minnesota Vikings for eight years, and the first year I was with the team one of the local radio people, Paul Charchian, he does Video Games Weekly on the local sports radio station, he invited me to go on the show with him. During that show he mentioned he did a board game night like once a month or so at his house and asked if I was interested in going. I said, “Sure that sounds great! I'm huge nerd; I love board games; this will be fantastic.” So I went to the board game night and Andy was there. I had no idea who he was, he had no idea who I was. I was playing Guitar Hero and we started talking. Andy mentions that he knows all this cool stuff about what's coming up for Guitar Hero and I was like, “hey, I know all this cool stuff about that too because I know people at Activision.” That had us both thinking “who is this guy?” We figured out later that, yeah, he was the executive editor of Game Informer and I was the punter for the Vikings! Then we learned we live about 10 minutes away from each other and figured we should hang out and play games because it seems like we both enjoy that. Reiner: It was funny, yeah. That night we were leaving at like 1:30-2AM. It was the dead of winter and Chris was putting on sandals at that point right? Total California mistake of wearing sandals in the Minnesota winter, but Paul Charchian is like, “Chris, you’ve got to wear shoes and socks! You’ve got to protect that leg of yours.” I had no idea what he was talking about. Chris had glasses and was wearing an anime shirt - he looks like a typical gamer, right? I thought maybe he had leg surgery or something like that. When I went to Video Games Weekly a few weeks later, Chris was there and I was confused. “Why is Chris here?” It wasn't until Charch started the show and introduced us that I realized he was of Minnesota Viking. It was super funny, but that's how we kind of met each other and learned who we were was through that radio show. Kluwe: It was pretty cool. Obviously we both love videos games, we both love board games, and, yeah, we decided to make one based on a dream Andy had! Wait what? I didn't know this! Reiner: I think we are driving to band practice or something like that. Chris and I would carpool because we live so close to each other. We would carpool the Minneapolis, and I told him, “Yeah, I had this weird dream that you and I were at a game convention sitting at a table signing autographs for a board game we made. And this board game, Project Grendel is the working title, it's about going crazy and stuff and people loved it.” Chris is like, “That sounds cool… We should make that!” [laughs] As we're driving in the car we started talking about what it would be. Chris immediately had a vision of what it could be, so that's how Project Grendel started. Just by saying, “That was a cool dream, let's do it.” Kluwe: And here we are. So from that dream until now, how long has it taken you to come up with the prototype of Project Grendel? Kluwe: Ouf, that'd be like seven years to get to this point, maybe eight years, something like that? Reiner: I mean, it has gone through a number of revisions and renditions. Yeah, up until this point, I think it has been something like seven and a half to eight years Kluwe: The idea we originally came up with - it was okay, but it felt a little overly complicated. It wasn't really striking us as cool as we wanted it to be, so we kind of just sat on it for two to three years. Something like that. Reiner: We got it worked up to the point where we had the art, the map, all of that done. It was map-based at that time, and we just realized there was something not quite right. So, yeah, we sat on it until I got a text from Chris which was, what, 2 years ago now? Kluwe: Yeah, yeah, two years ago now, I think. Reiner: I just got a text a random text from Chris and he says, “I figured it out I know what to do with Grendel!” I was like, “What?” and he was like, “I was in the shower and I figured it out!” Kluwe: [laughs] Yeah, just random shower thought. Reiner: He told me what it was and Chris, obviously you had a random thought in the shower, but I think that's because you were working on your card game at the time, too. Kluwe: Yeah, I think that helped crystallize a lot of game design stuff for me. [In addition to Project Grendel,] I also worked on a card game called Twilight of the Gods which just came out. One of the big philosophies on that game for me and my friends that were working on it was: Everyone gets to play with their toys and players always face meaningful choice. So I was thinking of that and for whatever reason Project Grendel popped into my head. How can we make players have meaningful choice? How can we make sure that everyone is doing something? I was sort of spitballing ideas to myself and all the sudden I was like, “Oh, I think I have it! I think this will actually work really well.” Then I kind of tested it out with my brother, Greg, and I was like, “I think we have something here now,” and I obviously called and told Andy. We had the discussion and it was starting to sound cool. What was that shower idea? Do you remember? Kluwe: Oh, yeah, so originally the idea for Project Grendel was your group is a team of adventures going around this map and as you all go deeper into the game your characters go more and more insane. That part is still in the game. Reiner: From the dream, that's the original inception, yeah. Kluwe: The core concept of the game is that you're this group of people, and there's this thing, this Grendel, you have to kill it before it drives you mad. Now the thing is in this game you accumulate madness which is represented by negative victory points. So, essentially, the more madness you accumulate, the more you're losing, but the more madness you accumulate the more powerful you become. You have to balance this fine line between, ‘okay, how can I be powerful enough to survive these and counters without someone else being able to beat me in the game?’ because you can play this both cooperatively and competitively, and if everyone wants to work together to beat the game, they can you can get a co-op victory. But if it turns out into a competitive victory, there's a bit of a betrayal element in there so someone can decide to screw the group over. If it turns into that, then whoever has the least madness at the end of the game is the winner. So now it really becomes important to watch your madness relative to everyone else's madness while at the same time making sure you're still powerful enough to defeat the various encounters. So that was the shower idea? Kluwe: No, that was the core idea that stayed consistent throughout development. In the original version, we had this map thing where you could go to various places on the map. It just felt kind of like there wasn't a lot of replayability to it in that once you knew the map you could path out an optimal route and that was it. The idea that came to me was why don't we do it more like a tile placement type game, like House on Haunted Hill? That way the players are determining the outcomes. For example, we're exploring out into this wilderness. There are various modifiers on the tiles and you're almost building this path as you're exploring away from the central hub and it's up to you how to forge the path. What kind of modifiers do we want to put on what path? Because some of them will make monsters stronger, some of them make the mini-bosses that you face stronger, some of them will give you more items, but you'll have to face more monsters - stuff like that. The tile system added a lot more variety and meaningful player choice to what was going on. Real quick: Why did you decide to go with Grendel as a name for the various boss monsters? Reiner: That's what the dream told us! [laughs] Kluwe: Yeah that's part of the original dream. Reiner: The name we're not giving you right now because it's not official yet - that is the name from the dream and we were both like, “Yeah that's a badass name for a game.” Basically, the moral of this story is pay attention to your dreams and don't waste your time in the shower it's productive time. Kluwe: Right, that's where you get the majority of your work done! In this case you very literally chased your dreams. Kluwe: [laughs] Dragged them down kicking and screaming until they made sense. Once you had those ideas, those core elements, in place how did you go about actually developing the game? I think lot of people have an idea of what it's like to develop a video game, but I don't think many have an idea of what it's like to develop a board game. Reiner: We talked about the board games the games we liked to play. One of the central things was that we wanted to keep it as simplistic as possible. That's, you know, kind of where the original idea fizzled out. It was a little too complex, a little clunky. That's where Chris really kind of streamlined it. With tweaking the rule set, we looked at things like Betrayal, Eldritch Horror, stuff like that. It wasn't looking at the rules of those games, but how they're constructed; the pieces we wanted and how we wanted the players to interact with the game. Those are things we about early on. I would say that we sat around for a couple hours over the course of three or four nights just kind of hashing out what it was. We started by building the rulebook before we even play tested it we had pieces or anything like that we kind of had a full rule book before we did anything else. Kluwe: From the game design perspective, what you really want to do is figure out what your mechanics are. Once you have your mechanics down, or at least an idea of what you want your mechanics to be, then you need to test those mechanics to see if they are actually fun because there's a difference between an interesting mechanic and an interesting and fun mechanic. [laughs] I've played a lot of games where I'm like, “oh, cool, that's a really interesting mechanic, but I'm never playing this game again because that was an awful experience,” so that's really the big thing. Anyone who wants to do game design just iterate, iterate, iterate. Always be asking yourself, “Is this a fun experience as well as the mechanical experience I want the players to have?” I’ve played some early builds of Project Grendel and you don't have to start your prototype with a fully constructed board game. Your prototype, for example, was drawn-out on pieces of paper. If you’re creating a tabletop from scratch, you don't have to go through the whole production process before you playtest your game. Kluwe: Right and I actually recommend that because it's the same thing I did with Twilight of the Gods. Before we printed out any cards whatsoever we were writing things down on pieces of paper and then sleeving them with Magic the Gathering cards to provide a backing. [laughs] That was literally how we built that game! The thing is you don't need fancy art. You don't need graphic design in order to test your mechanics and what the heart of your game is. That stuff is necessary, but it's kind of like the coat of paint on a car. Yeah, it's great if your car looks cool, but if the engine won't take it anywhere then it is kind of a useless car. When you're designing this stuff, don't worry about the outside coat of paint until you've got the engine humming the way you want it to hum. Reiner: When we playtested the game for the first time on the first day at 2D Con, the playtests were going really well, but we realized there wasn't a lot of variation in the weapons or style of play with that and some of the items. So, we started adding secondary effects to them. You know, just sitting at a table writing on the cards themselves, tweaking what they were to kind of enhance the play. The next day we play tested it again and we were like, “Yes, there's something here now.” It's very much something as you’re playtesting - paying attention to what's going on and how people are interacting with it and figuring out what you can do with it in that capacity. Kluwe: And also listen to feedback from your testers because there may be a mechanic where you love it to death and you think it's the greatest mechanic ever, but if each tester is saying, “Yeah, you know, I'm really not feeling this mechanic. This kind of slows the game down. It's not great and you should probably get rid of it.” Even if it's your personal baby, if it doesn't make the game fun then it doesn't belong in the game because you want players to have a good experience so that they'll come back and play it again and again. How valuable was it to take the prototype for Project Grendel to events like 2D Con to test it with people who aren't necessarily your close friends, neighbors, or family? Reiner: The first year was just seeing if there we had something there, and people seemed to really like it, but we knew something was still kind of missing. That’s where Chris really hit the homerun with making it tile-based. There's some really unique things going on with those cards that enhance the play, too. Then this year we challenged people to try and break the game, to really kind of push it to its limit. We realized that it held together; it was springing leaks, but it held together remarkably well. We realized this game is almost done now, right? Just through these playtests we know we’re super close. It's just a matter of tweaking a couple more things to get it there in a final state. Kluwe: And it's super valuable to have that kind of feedback from people who may not even necessarily know you or have any sort of relationship with you because they're really going to give you their honest opinion. They're going to tell you A. This sucks B. This was great C. I think there's something here, but you should probably do this and this and this. All of that is really super useful as a game designer because if you can get a consistent amount of feedback on certain aspects of the game then you know, okay, if five out of six people are saying they didn't like this mechanic you should probably change that mechanic. If five out of six people are saying they thought a certain part was amazing, well, maybe expand on that part and build it out a bit. It's hard to get feedback like that from people who you're close to like family and friends because there's always that fear that they don't want to offend. Getting that testing at to 2D Con was amazing because they had no horse in the race and could care less who we were or sparing our feelings they found something not fun. Reiner: And a lot of them came back the second day this year which was kind of crazy. Kluwe: They were invested in it! Reiner: We gotta get this game out there! [laughs] Kluwe: They were champing at the bit to try and take down the hardest boss we have in there. That was great for testing purposes, too, because when coming up with the numbers and abilities for the bosses essentially we are just theory crafting. We think these are the right numbers, but we're not entirely sure. We need to see this live, we need to see what happens when people actually use the system. That's another thing that's really important for game designers: It doesn't matter what you think a system will do; you have to actually see it in practice. That's when you'll know what it can do and it might challenge your assumptions about what you thought was possible. If that's the case, you need to decide was that intended play or was that not intended. If it's not intended do we like the intended purpose? Or do we need to change that to make sure that that interaction doesn't happen? Reiner: We have a third person who's been working on this, Greg. He’s Chris' brother, and Greg is really amazing at breaking things and seeing where there might be something that needs work. He's been working tirelessly on making this thing as solid as can be, too. I think we're hitting all the right notes. Hopefully it turns out and we get this thing made. […] We're super close I feel like we're if we show it again it should be some kind of final version. Kluwe: There should be at least placeholder graphic design in place. The next part of game design after you have your prototype, you have to figure out how we relay information to the player in a manner that is understandable. I've also played games where it's like, “wow, this game is really cool, but I hate looking at it because it's a wall of text on a card.” [laughs] That’s an awful visual experience, so it needs to be intuitive for players when they look at a card or a tile or whatever it happens to be, it makes sense. It should be obvious where the elements are and a player should be able to learn what those elements are within hopefully two to three playthroughs. They should be able to just glance and say, “Okay, I know this card, I know what every part of this means.” You were talking about how you had recently released another game, Twilight of the Gods. For people who maybe out there wanting to make their own tabletop game, how exactly do you take it from a solid prototype to the box in the store for people to play? Kluwe: Find a publisher. Show them the game. They will probably sit down and play it through with you. Most likely they will also bring in a couple of their heads of design on their side, and if they like what you have, then they'll probably say, “Hey, we're interested in this game, and we would like to develop it.” And then you talk numbers for contracts or whatever and figure out how to make it a reality. Generally most publishers have published a lot of games, and so they'll be looking at it under the guise of is this a something that we think we can sell, will we make our money back on this? If you have interesting mechanics, if you have something that's new and unique that hasn't been done before, your odds are really, really good. It's okay to take elements of other games and incorporate them into your own, but you also want to kind of have your own thing that sets you apart because if you're just a clone of something, then odds are your publisher is probably going to pass because people who already invested in the original thing are probably not going to play your game, but if you have those unique elements… that's where their eyes light up and they're like, “Oh, yeah. We should do this.” I know you've both written a couple Sci-Fi books together. Is there a background setting to your game beyond the basic dream-Grendel concept? Reiner: I can tell you that we were originally going to go with a steampunk fantasy Cthulhu-esque setting with weird beasts you've never seen before trapped in a Myst-like valley. We ended up moving in a different direction now. We're taking it- We can say right, Chris? Kluwe: Right now we're looking at taking it in more of a Sci-Fi direction, so kind of like Event Horizon - you're trapped on this spaceship, things are going wrong, you have no idea what's happening. But the thing is that might change depending on what the publisher wants to do. So it's great to have an idea of what you want your universe, but also bear in mind that it might be something that your publisher might say, “Well, we love the mechanics, but we want to put a different coat of paint on the outside.” That's what ended up happening with Twilight of the Gods. Originally it was this original thing I had made up of four elements on this Island - it was essentially, you know in eighth grade when you drew on your graph paper notebook and you come up with your greatest RPG ever? That was pretty much what Twilight of the Gods was, and it wasn't great. So the publisher, Victory Point Games, they were like, “Yeah, we love the mechanics. Your mechanics are rock solid, we just need to figure out a different universe for this.” We eventually ended up with ancient mythology, you've got things that all sorts of people can relate to. So, with Project Grendel, I think we'll probably end up going in the Sci-Fi direction, but who knows? It might be a western game, you know? It might be set in ancient Egypt or something like that. You can do any coat of paint you want as long as your engine is good. Are those ideas – steampunk fantasy monsters trapped - are those things that might come up again in a future novel? Reiner: We've talked about maybe writing stories based on this, but now it has changed so much that I don't think we've ever really ever thought about that. We are still thinking about finishing off our trilogy, The Genesis series. We've done Prime, and Splice should come out before the end of the year. We have a third book that we want to finish there so that's probably the priority before you write any fiction based on this, but who knows if this thing takes off. Kluwe: Because you never know what's going to succeed and what's not if. All of a sudden something starts selling like gangbusters, then, well, we should probably write some books in that universe as well seems like a good idea I know it's probably kind of nebulous at this point, but you say you're pretty close to being done with the prototype of Project Grendel. How long do you think it might be until it actually releases? What kind of time line are you looking at? Kluwe: From a design standpoint we are near the end, in the polishing stages where all the mechanics are working well. The interactions are what we want them to be, now it's just balancing tiny little numbers to make sure that everything is perfect. Once that is done, then we'll take it to a publisher. The publisher will either say yay or nay - I highly suspect they'll say yay just because there's already interest in it and they know that we do good work. From that point it comes down to how long it takes their artist to do the art assets; how long it takes for the graphic design elements to come together; and how long it takes to write the rule book in a way that's readable and understandable and doesn't feel like wading through dictionary. For Twilight of the Gods, that part took about Five months, I think five to six months. Then you have to ship it to where you're getting it printed. Usually that's in China just because it's the cheapest place to make board games and card games. From there it's probably another four to five months for them to make it get it shipped over on a boat and then to get it to a distributor so I would say quickest timeline probably ten months from now, eleven months from now. Reiner: There's a chance it could be out next year. I would love to see it, but we'll see. Kluwe: A lot of that depends on whether the publisher loves the mechanics in the universe. And again, they might love the mechanics, but they might want to put it with a different type of universe. In that case, okay, we'll have to make some small changes in terms of what all the items are named, what's the equipment named, who are the characters now. If they're not these people on a spaceship, if they're in some other universe, what are their backstories in that universe? This game could be on store shelves next year? Kluwe: I would love for it to come out next year! That would be awesome. I will be pushing for it to come out next year because I do think we have a really cool game that, just based on the feedback from the people who have tested it, people are champing at the bit to play. Our playtesters want the game, so we want to give it to them. But I also want to make sure that when we do give it to them that it's a great experience for them to have it. I feel like that's one of the things that sets us apart. It's easy enough to rush something out, like, okay; I have my cheap Milton Bradley box of cardboard I've got some plastic pegs inside and some tiles that's it. Like, that doesn't really feel great. Okay, the mechanics are fantastic, the world's fantastic, but it just doesn't feel great. I want it to feel like you're opening up this box, you're playing this game - you are embarking on this adventure. You and your friends, you're going to have this challenge and it's up to you if you succeed or not. You've both touched on this a whole lot throughout this entire interview, but do you have any advice specifically for people who are looking to start from scratch making their own board game? Kluwe: I think the very best advice I can give would be to play a lot of games. That way you can identify which mechanics work best for you, which mechanics don't work for you, what situations you find are fun, and what situations you find that are unfun. For example, for Twilight of the Gods the inspiration for me behind that was that I love playing Magic the Gathering, but I hate getting mana screwed in Magic the Gathering. That was literally the reason I made that game! [laughs] I love this game but there are these problems with it and I think I can solve these problems. Then along the way it led to this other unique idea that I had never seen before in another game. I'm going to incorporate that and now to turn it into my own thing. The only reason I was able to do that was because I had played so many games throughout the course of my life that I could say, “Ok, I can grab this mechanic from here, this mechanic from here, tweak this mechanic here, build my own thing here, modified this other thing here, and put it all together, and boom! Now I have my own game.” The same thing happened with Project Grendel. Both Andy and I have been playing tons of games and saying “Okay. What are the kinds of things we like in these games? What are the things we don't like? How do we fix the situations that we don't like?” Reiner: Yeah and make sure you have the “It Factor” when you go into development. What kind of sets your game apart from the pack? Like Chris said, he didn't like getting mana screwed; that was kind of the “It” right there. That really made Twilight of the Gods different and he just kind of built on it from there and found more unique ideas. For us it was the madness. Even if you're having a game where all five members of the party want to just be cooperative and go for a cooperative victory, as you go mad you might turn on your friends whether you want to or not. I think that really makes our game something special and really kind of puts you on edge as you play. It makes it more exciting. So we knew right away that this was something special, we just needed to make it work. So don't just go into it thinking you're making a clone or like you don't have any ideas; you got to have that one spark that's really going to lead to something unique. Kluwe: And for us that madness thing – okay, we've played betrayal-type games. An issue with betrayal-type games is they’re generally very binary, right? You’re either the betrayer or you're not. So with our game, how do we make this more a player choice? How do we make it so a player can try to betray the others, but if they don't do it at the right time the others can try and pull it back into a cooperative game? Because usually most games you can't do that. Once someone betrays everyone, that's it. You have a betrayer and now it's a competitive game. We've built in ways where it's like, okay, you can try and betray the group, but if you're not doing it correctly, they're probably going to smash you down and force it back into a co-op victory. Then you have to decide if you want to try and do it again! Just clarify, the betrayal element was there from the beginning, right? Reiner: Oh yeah that was my favorite game of all time, Betrayal, so that was something we wanted to have. Kluwe: The other thing is, I love games with betrayal type because it adds that human element where it's not so much the group playing against the odds, you're also having to play against the other people at the table. You know there's always that one guy in the gaming group where you're like, “I know he wants to try and screw us over! [laughs] Will he screw us over or not?” And generally I am that guy. Reiner: It's pretty funny. As we are playtesting it, you know, we kind of set up the game; you're adventuring together. People started looking at the cards and what their characters could do and they started asking questions like, “So does this mean I can do this and go off on my own?” And we're like, “Yeah.” Then we started to see it where players were lying to each other! “Okay, I'll journey with you to take down the mid-boss…” and then then they didn't. They went somewhere else and let this guy go off to the boss on his own. We’re here like, holy cow, this is actually happening and we didn't prompt it. They're fully embracing these mechanics. Kluwe: Right and that's what's so important. Again, I mentioned it earlier on meaningful player choice. If players feel that they have a choice that affects the outcome of the game, it generally makes the game a lot more fun from their perspective because, again, they’ve been able to exercise their own agency. It's not always this card told me to go here and do this thing, essentially playing as an AI not as player. The more meaningful choice you can give to players, the better. Just make sure it's meaningful choice and not just choice for the sake of choice. I played some of those games where you realize it's like none of these choices really matter. I can pick A, B, C, or D and it won't really matter. That's not choice, that's just trying to overload the player with options. View full article
  2. How do you take a brilliant idea for a tabletop board game and make it a reality? Many people have some vague idea of what that process looks like for a video game, but it's quite a bit different for a board game. We sat down with Andrew Reiner, the executive editor at Game Informer magazine, and Chris Kluwe, a former punter for the Minnesota Vikings, to talk about their upcoming board game. Code named Project Grendel, the duo offered numerous details on the co-op (or competitive) adventure title while also offering insight into their process and advice for how others can successfully create and sell the game they've always dreamed of making. If all goes well, they hope to have the final version of Project Grendel (which will have a different name upon release) available in stores sometime late 2018 or early 2019. In the meantime, they have opened up about what it takes to make a new kind of tabletop experience. ~~~ How exactly do you two know each other? A former NFL punter and the executive editor of Game Informer seem to be a very unlikely pair for making a board game. Chris Kluwe: No, no, it's totally natural! [laughs] Andrew Reiner: You want to do this one Chris? Kluwe: Yeah, sure, I'll take that one. Basically, I was with the Minnesota Vikings for eight years, and the first year I was with the team one of the local radio people, Paul Charchian, he does Video Games Weekly on the local sports radio station, he invited me to go on the show with him. During that show he mentioned he did a board game night like once a month or so at his house and asked if I was interested in going. I said, “Sure that sounds great! I'm huge nerd; I love board games; this will be fantastic.” So I went to the board game night and Andy was there. I had no idea who he was, he had no idea who I was. I was playing Guitar Hero and we started talking. Andy mentions that he knows all this cool stuff about what's coming up for Guitar Hero and I was like, “hey, I know all this cool stuff about that too because I know people at Activision.” That had us both thinking “who is this guy?” We figured out later that, yeah, he was the executive editor of Game Informer and I was the punter for the Vikings! Then we learned we live about 10 minutes away from each other and figured we should hang out and play games because it seems like we both enjoy that. Reiner: It was funny, yeah. That night we were leaving at like 1:30-2AM. It was the dead of winter and Chris was putting on sandals at that point right? Total California mistake of wearing sandals in the Minnesota winter, but Paul Charchian is like, “Chris, you’ve got to wear shoes and socks! You’ve got to protect that leg of yours.” I had no idea what he was talking about. Chris had glasses and was wearing an anime shirt - he looks like a typical gamer, right? I thought maybe he had leg surgery or something like that. When I went to Video Games Weekly a few weeks later, Chris was there and I was confused. “Why is Chris here?” It wasn't until Charch started the show and introduced us that I realized he was of Minnesota Viking. It was super funny, but that's how we kind of met each other and learned who we were was through that radio show. Kluwe: It was pretty cool. Obviously we both love videos games, we both love board games, and, yeah, we decided to make one based on a dream Andy had! Wait what? I didn't know this! Reiner: I think we are driving to band practice or something like that. Chris and I would carpool because we live so close to each other. We would carpool the Minneapolis, and I told him, “Yeah, I had this weird dream that you and I were at a game convention sitting at a table signing autographs for a board game we made. And this board game, Project Grendel is the working title, it's about going crazy and stuff and people loved it.” Chris is like, “That sounds cool… We should make that!” [laughs] As we're driving in the car we started talking about what it would be. Chris immediately had a vision of what it could be, so that's how Project Grendel started. Just by saying, “That was a cool dream, let's do it.” Kluwe: And here we are. So from that dream until now, how long has it taken you to come up with the prototype of Project Grendel? Kluwe: Ouf, that'd be like seven years to get to this point, maybe eight years, something like that? Reiner: I mean, it has gone through a number of revisions and renditions. Yeah, up until this point, I think it has been something like seven and a half to eight years Kluwe: The idea we originally came up with - it was okay, but it felt a little overly complicated. It wasn't really striking us as cool as we wanted it to be, so we kind of just sat on it for two to three years. Something like that. Reiner: We got it worked up to the point where we had the art, the map, all of that done. It was map-based at that time, and we just realized there was something not quite right. So, yeah, we sat on it until I got a text from Chris which was, what, 2 years ago now? Kluwe: Yeah, yeah, two years ago now, I think. Reiner: I just got a text a random text from Chris and he says, “I figured it out I know what to do with Grendel!” I was like, “What?” and he was like, “I was in the shower and I figured it out!” Kluwe: [laughs] Yeah, just random shower thought. Reiner: He told me what it was and Chris, obviously you had a random thought in the shower, but I think that's because you were working on your card game at the time, too. Kluwe: Yeah, I think that helped crystallize a lot of game design stuff for me. [In addition to Project Grendel,] I also worked on a card game called Twilight of the Gods which just came out. One of the big philosophies on that game for me and my friends that were working on it was: Everyone gets to play with their toys and players always face meaningful choice. So I was thinking of that and for whatever reason Project Grendel popped into my head. How can we make players have meaningful choice? How can we make sure that everyone is doing something? I was sort of spitballing ideas to myself and all the sudden I was like, “Oh, I think I have it! I think this will actually work really well.” Then I kind of tested it out with my brother, Greg, and I was like, “I think we have something here now,” and I obviously called and told Andy. We had the discussion and it was starting to sound cool. What was that shower idea? Do you remember? Kluwe: Oh, yeah, so originally the idea for Project Grendel was your group is a team of adventures going around this map and as you all go deeper into the game your characters go more and more insane. That part is still in the game. Reiner: From the dream, that's the original inception, yeah. Kluwe: The core concept of the game is that you're this group of people, and there's this thing, this Grendel, you have to kill it before it drives you mad. Now the thing is in this game you accumulate madness which is represented by negative victory points. So, essentially, the more madness you accumulate, the more you're losing, but the more madness you accumulate the more powerful you become. You have to balance this fine line between, ‘okay, how can I be powerful enough to survive these and counters without someone else being able to beat me in the game?’ because you can play this both cooperatively and competitively, and if everyone wants to work together to beat the game, they can you can get a co-op victory. But if it turns out into a competitive victory, there's a bit of a betrayal element in there so someone can decide to screw the group over. If it turns into that, then whoever has the least madness at the end of the game is the winner. So now it really becomes important to watch your madness relative to everyone else's madness while at the same time making sure you're still powerful enough to defeat the various encounters. So that was the shower idea? Kluwe: No, that was the core idea that stayed consistent throughout development. In the original version, we had this map thing where you could go to various places on the map. It just felt kind of like there wasn't a lot of replayability to it in that once you knew the map you could path out an optimal route and that was it. The idea that came to me was why don't we do it more like a tile placement type game, like House on Haunted Hill? That way the players are determining the outcomes. For example, we're exploring out into this wilderness. There are various modifiers on the tiles and you're almost building this path as you're exploring away from the central hub and it's up to you how to forge the path. What kind of modifiers do we want to put on what path? Because some of them will make monsters stronger, some of them make the mini-bosses that you face stronger, some of them will give you more items, but you'll have to face more monsters - stuff like that. The tile system added a lot more variety and meaningful player choice to what was going on. Real quick: Why did you decide to go with Grendel as a name for the various boss monsters? Reiner: That's what the dream told us! [laughs] Kluwe: Yeah that's part of the original dream. Reiner: The name we're not giving you right now because it's not official yet - that is the name from the dream and we were both like, “Yeah that's a badass name for a game.” Basically, the moral of this story is pay attention to your dreams and don't waste your time in the shower it's productive time. Kluwe: Right, that's where you get the majority of your work done! In this case you very literally chased your dreams. Kluwe: [laughs] Dragged them down kicking and screaming until they made sense. Once you had those ideas, those core elements, in place how did you go about actually developing the game? I think lot of people have an idea of what it's like to develop a video game, but I don't think many have an idea of what it's like to develop a board game. Reiner: We talked about the board games the games we liked to play. One of the central things was that we wanted to keep it as simplistic as possible. That's, you know, kind of where the original idea fizzled out. It was a little too complex, a little clunky. That's where Chris really kind of streamlined it. With tweaking the rule set, we looked at things like Betrayal, Eldritch Horror, stuff like that. It wasn't looking at the rules of those games, but how they're constructed; the pieces we wanted and how we wanted the players to interact with the game. Those are things we about early on. I would say that we sat around for a couple hours over the course of three or four nights just kind of hashing out what it was. We started by building the rulebook before we even play tested it we had pieces or anything like that we kind of had a full rule book before we did anything else. Kluwe: From the game design perspective, what you really want to do is figure out what your mechanics are. Once you have your mechanics down, or at least an idea of what you want your mechanics to be, then you need to test those mechanics to see if they are actually fun because there's a difference between an interesting mechanic and an interesting and fun mechanic. [laughs] I've played a lot of games where I'm like, “oh, cool, that's a really interesting mechanic, but I'm never playing this game again because that was an awful experience,” so that's really the big thing. Anyone who wants to do game design just iterate, iterate, iterate. Always be asking yourself, “Is this a fun experience as well as the mechanical experience I want the players to have?” I’ve played some early builds of Project Grendel and you don't have to start your prototype with a fully constructed board game. Your prototype, for example, was drawn-out on pieces of paper. If you’re creating a tabletop from scratch, you don't have to go through the whole production process before you playtest your game. Kluwe: Right and I actually recommend that because it's the same thing I did with Twilight of the Gods. Before we printed out any cards whatsoever we were writing things down on pieces of paper and then sleeving them with Magic the Gathering cards to provide a backing. [laughs] That was literally how we built that game! The thing is you don't need fancy art. You don't need graphic design in order to test your mechanics and what the heart of your game is. That stuff is necessary, but it's kind of like the coat of paint on a car. Yeah, it's great if your car looks cool, but if the engine won't take it anywhere then it is kind of a useless car. When you're designing this stuff, don't worry about the outside coat of paint until you've got the engine humming the way you want it to hum. Reiner: When we playtested the game for the first time on the first day at 2D Con, the playtests were going really well, but we realized there wasn't a lot of variation in the weapons or style of play with that and some of the items. So, we started adding secondary effects to them. You know, just sitting at a table writing on the cards themselves, tweaking what they were to kind of enhance the play. The next day we play tested it again and we were like, “Yes, there's something here now.” It's very much something as you’re playtesting - paying attention to what's going on and how people are interacting with it and figuring out what you can do with it in that capacity. Kluwe: And also listen to feedback from your testers because there may be a mechanic where you love it to death and you think it's the greatest mechanic ever, but if each tester is saying, “Yeah, you know, I'm really not feeling this mechanic. This kind of slows the game down. It's not great and you should probably get rid of it.” Even if it's your personal baby, if it doesn't make the game fun then it doesn't belong in the game because you want players to have a good experience so that they'll come back and play it again and again. How valuable was it to take the prototype for Project Grendel to events like 2D Con to test it with people who aren't necessarily your close friends, neighbors, or family? Reiner: The first year was just seeing if there we had something there, and people seemed to really like it, but we knew something was still kind of missing. That’s where Chris really hit the homerun with making it tile-based. There's some really unique things going on with those cards that enhance the play, too. Then this year we challenged people to try and break the game, to really kind of push it to its limit. We realized that it held together; it was springing leaks, but it held together remarkably well. We realized this game is almost done now, right? Just through these playtests we know we’re super close. It's just a matter of tweaking a couple more things to get it there in a final state. Kluwe: And it's super valuable to have that kind of feedback from people who may not even necessarily know you or have any sort of relationship with you because they're really going to give you their honest opinion. They're going to tell you A. This sucks B. This was great C. I think there's something here, but you should probably do this and this and this. All of that is really super useful as a game designer because if you can get a consistent amount of feedback on certain aspects of the game then you know, okay, if five out of six people are saying they didn't like this mechanic you should probably change that mechanic. If five out of six people are saying they thought a certain part was amazing, well, maybe expand on that part and build it out a bit. It's hard to get feedback like that from people who you're close to like family and friends because there's always that fear that they don't want to offend. Getting that testing at to 2D Con was amazing because they had no horse in the race and could care less who we were or sparing our feelings they found something not fun. Reiner: And a lot of them came back the second day this year which was kind of crazy. Kluwe: They were invested in it! Reiner: We gotta get this game out there! [laughs] Kluwe: They were champing at the bit to try and take down the hardest boss we have in there. That was great for testing purposes, too, because when coming up with the numbers and abilities for the bosses essentially we are just theory crafting. We think these are the right numbers, but we're not entirely sure. We need to see this live, we need to see what happens when people actually use the system. That's another thing that's really important for game designers: It doesn't matter what you think a system will do; you have to actually see it in practice. That's when you'll know what it can do and it might challenge your assumptions about what you thought was possible. If that's the case, you need to decide was that intended play or was that not intended. If it's not intended do we like the intended purpose? Or do we need to change that to make sure that that interaction doesn't happen? Reiner: We have a third person who's been working on this, Greg. He’s Chris' brother, and Greg is really amazing at breaking things and seeing where there might be something that needs work. He's been working tirelessly on making this thing as solid as can be, too. I think we're hitting all the right notes. Hopefully it turns out and we get this thing made. […] We're super close I feel like we're if we show it again it should be some kind of final version. Kluwe: There should be at least placeholder graphic design in place. The next part of game design after you have your prototype, you have to figure out how we relay information to the player in a manner that is understandable. I've also played games where it's like, “wow, this game is really cool, but I hate looking at it because it's a wall of text on a card.” [laughs] That’s an awful visual experience, so it needs to be intuitive for players when they look at a card or a tile or whatever it happens to be, it makes sense. It should be obvious where the elements are and a player should be able to learn what those elements are within hopefully two to three playthroughs. They should be able to just glance and say, “Okay, I know this card, I know what every part of this means.” You were talking about how you had recently released another game, Twilight of the Gods. For people who maybe out there wanting to make their own tabletop game, how exactly do you take it from a solid prototype to the box in the store for people to play? Kluwe: Find a publisher. Show them the game. They will probably sit down and play it through with you. Most likely they will also bring in a couple of their heads of design on their side, and if they like what you have, then they'll probably say, “Hey, we're interested in this game, and we would like to develop it.” And then you talk numbers for contracts or whatever and figure out how to make it a reality. Generally most publishers have published a lot of games, and so they'll be looking at it under the guise of is this a something that we think we can sell, will we make our money back on this? If you have interesting mechanics, if you have something that's new and unique that hasn't been done before, your odds are really, really good. It's okay to take elements of other games and incorporate them into your own, but you also want to kind of have your own thing that sets you apart because if you're just a clone of something, then odds are your publisher is probably going to pass because people who already invested in the original thing are probably not going to play your game, but if you have those unique elements… that's where their eyes light up and they're like, “Oh, yeah. We should do this.” I know you've both written a couple Sci-Fi books together. Is there a background setting to your game beyond the basic dream-Grendel concept? Reiner: I can tell you that we were originally going to go with a steampunk fantasy Cthulhu-esque setting with weird beasts you've never seen before trapped in a Myst-like valley. We ended up moving in a different direction now. We're taking it- We can say right, Chris? Kluwe: Right now we're looking at taking it in more of a Sci-Fi direction, so kind of like Event Horizon - you're trapped on this spaceship, things are going wrong, you have no idea what's happening. But the thing is that might change depending on what the publisher wants to do. So it's great to have an idea of what you want your universe, but also bear in mind that it might be something that your publisher might say, “Well, we love the mechanics, but we want to put a different coat of paint on the outside.” That's what ended up happening with Twilight of the Gods. Originally it was this original thing I had made up of four elements on this Island - it was essentially, you know in eighth grade when you drew on your graph paper notebook and you come up with your greatest RPG ever? That was pretty much what Twilight of the Gods was, and it wasn't great. So the publisher, Victory Point Games, they were like, “Yeah, we love the mechanics. Your mechanics are rock solid, we just need to figure out a different universe for this.” We eventually ended up with ancient mythology, you've got things that all sorts of people can relate to. So, with Project Grendel, I think we'll probably end up going in the Sci-Fi direction, but who knows? It might be a western game, you know? It might be set in ancient Egypt or something like that. You can do any coat of paint you want as long as your engine is good. Are those ideas – steampunk fantasy monsters trapped - are those things that might come up again in a future novel? Reiner: We've talked about maybe writing stories based on this, but now it has changed so much that I don't think we've ever really ever thought about that. We are still thinking about finishing off our trilogy, The Genesis series. We've done Prime, and Splice should come out before the end of the year. We have a third book that we want to finish there so that's probably the priority before you write any fiction based on this, but who knows if this thing takes off. Kluwe: Because you never know what's going to succeed and what's not if. All of a sudden something starts selling like gangbusters, then, well, we should probably write some books in that universe as well seems like a good idea I know it's probably kind of nebulous at this point, but you say you're pretty close to being done with the prototype of Project Grendel. How long do you think it might be until it actually releases? What kind of time line are you looking at? Kluwe: From a design standpoint we are near the end, in the polishing stages where all the mechanics are working well. The interactions are what we want them to be, now it's just balancing tiny little numbers to make sure that everything is perfect. Once that is done, then we'll take it to a publisher. The publisher will either say yay or nay - I highly suspect they'll say yay just because there's already interest in it and they know that we do good work. From that point it comes down to how long it takes their artist to do the art assets; how long it takes for the graphic design elements to come together; and how long it takes to write the rule book in a way that's readable and understandable and doesn't feel like wading through dictionary. For Twilight of the Gods, that part took about Five months, I think five to six months. Then you have to ship it to where you're getting it printed. Usually that's in China just because it's the cheapest place to make board games and card games. From there it's probably another four to five months for them to make it get it shipped over on a boat and then to get it to a distributor so I would say quickest timeline probably ten months from now, eleven months from now. Reiner: There's a chance it could be out next year. I would love to see it, but we'll see. Kluwe: A lot of that depends on whether the publisher loves the mechanics in the universe. And again, they might love the mechanics, but they might want to put it with a different type of universe. In that case, okay, we'll have to make some small changes in terms of what all the items are named, what's the equipment named, who are the characters now. If they're not these people on a spaceship, if they're in some other universe, what are their backstories in that universe? This game could be on store shelves next year? Kluwe: I would love for it to come out next year! That would be awesome. I will be pushing for it to come out next year because I do think we have a really cool game that, just based on the feedback from the people who have tested it, people are champing at the bit to play. Our playtesters want the game, so we want to give it to them. But I also want to make sure that when we do give it to them that it's a great experience for them to have it. I feel like that's one of the things that sets us apart. It's easy enough to rush something out, like, okay; I have my cheap Milton Bradley box of cardboard I've got some plastic pegs inside and some tiles that's it. Like, that doesn't really feel great. Okay, the mechanics are fantastic, the world's fantastic, but it just doesn't feel great. I want it to feel like you're opening up this box, you're playing this game - you are embarking on this adventure. You and your friends, you're going to have this challenge and it's up to you if you succeed or not. You've both touched on this a whole lot throughout this entire interview, but do you have any advice specifically for people who are looking to start from scratch making their own board game? Kluwe: I think the very best advice I can give would be to play a lot of games. That way you can identify which mechanics work best for you, which mechanics don't work for you, what situations you find are fun, and what situations you find that are unfun. For example, for Twilight of the Gods the inspiration for me behind that was that I love playing Magic the Gathering, but I hate getting mana screwed in Magic the Gathering. That was literally the reason I made that game! [laughs] I love this game but there are these problems with it and I think I can solve these problems. Then along the way it led to this other unique idea that I had never seen before in another game. I'm going to incorporate that and now to turn it into my own thing. The only reason I was able to do that was because I had played so many games throughout the course of my life that I could say, “Ok, I can grab this mechanic from here, this mechanic from here, tweak this mechanic here, build my own thing here, modified this other thing here, and put it all together, and boom! Now I have my own game.” The same thing happened with Project Grendel. Both Andy and I have been playing tons of games and saying “Okay. What are the kinds of things we like in these games? What are the things we don't like? How do we fix the situations that we don't like?” Reiner: Yeah and make sure you have the “It Factor” when you go into development. What kind of sets your game apart from the pack? Like Chris said, he didn't like getting mana screwed; that was kind of the “It” right there. That really made Twilight of the Gods different and he just kind of built on it from there and found more unique ideas. For us it was the madness. Even if you're having a game where all five members of the party want to just be cooperative and go for a cooperative victory, as you go mad you might turn on your friends whether you want to or not. I think that really makes our game something special and really kind of puts you on edge as you play. It makes it more exciting. So we knew right away that this was something special, we just needed to make it work. So don't just go into it thinking you're making a clone or like you don't have any ideas; you got to have that one spark that's really going to lead to something unique. Kluwe: And for us that madness thing – okay, we've played betrayal-type games. An issue with betrayal-type games is they’re generally very binary, right? You’re either the betrayer or you're not. So with our game, how do we make this more a player choice? How do we make it so a player can try to betray the others, but if they don't do it at the right time the others can try and pull it back into a cooperative game? Because usually most games you can't do that. Once someone betrays everyone, that's it. You have a betrayer and now it's a competitive game. We've built in ways where it's like, okay, you can try and betray the group, but if you're not doing it correctly, they're probably going to smash you down and force it back into a co-op victory. Then you have to decide if you want to try and do it again! Just clarify, the betrayal element was there from the beginning, right? Reiner: Oh yeah that was my favorite game of all time, Betrayal, so that was something we wanted to have. Kluwe: The other thing is, I love games with betrayal type because it adds that human element where it's not so much the group playing against the odds, you're also having to play against the other people at the table. You know there's always that one guy in the gaming group where you're like, “I know he wants to try and screw us over! [laughs] Will he screw us over or not?” And generally I am that guy. Reiner: It's pretty funny. As we are playtesting it, you know, we kind of set up the game; you're adventuring together. People started looking at the cards and what their characters could do and they started asking questions like, “So does this mean I can do this and go off on my own?” And we're like, “Yeah.” Then we started to see it where players were lying to each other! “Okay, I'll journey with you to take down the mid-boss…” and then then they didn't. They went somewhere else and let this guy go off to the boss on his own. We’re here like, holy cow, this is actually happening and we didn't prompt it. They're fully embracing these mechanics. Kluwe: Right and that's what's so important. Again, I mentioned it earlier on meaningful player choice. If players feel that they have a choice that affects the outcome of the game, it generally makes the game a lot more fun from their perspective because, again, they’ve been able to exercise their own agency. It's not always this card told me to go here and do this thing, essentially playing as an AI not as player. The more meaningful choice you can give to players, the better. Just make sure it's meaningful choice and not just choice for the sake of choice. I played some of those games where you realize it's like none of these choices really matter. I can pick A, B, C, or D and it won't really matter. That's not choice, that's just trying to overload the player with options.
  3. Everything is stories. We talk in stories, we learn from stories, we distill our experiences into stories. Our history is the culmination of a million different stories all thrust together, bound in books by people who sifted through those multitudes of stories. And from those histories we gather lessons and ideas; dreams of what might be. But what if some of those stories weren’t exactly true? What if some of them were, in fact, beautiful lies? That’s the idea behind Johnnemann Nordhagen’s Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. Nordhagen helped co-found The Fullbright Company and programmed Gone Home, however he left the company in 2014 to try new and wonderful things after the success of Gone Home. He went on to found Dim Bulb Games, a studio where he felt he could pursue a collaborative dream. That dream has finally manifested in the form of a trek across a Depression-era United States that mixes the countryside mysticism of tall tales with the stark realities of living. I had an opportunity to talk with Nordhagen about the creation and stories of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. Dim Bulb Games’ first title has brought together writers from across the game industry to tell stories; stories that might shed more light on the history of the United States; stories that might just help lift the veil of what Nordhagen refers to as “the shining lie.” So, can you tell me how the idea for Where the Water Tastes Like Wine came about? It seems really collaborative with all the writers you have, [gesturing toward a piece of paper covered in the names of contributors] I saw that list right there. Johnnemann Nordhagen: Yeah, so I got the idea for the game--I was travelling around a lot after finishing my last game, Gone Home. I traveled the world and I was encountering a lot of other travelers. Every time you do that, you swap stories with them. You say, 'Oh, you should definitely go here,' or, 'I got my pocket picked here; watch out!' Thought it would be cool to make a game about that. I also really like American roots; music, blues, bluegrass, jazz, things like that. And so, I wanted to pull it to America, set it during the Great Depression with all these songs. You're in this world of down-on-their-luck gamblers, and people are selling their souls to the devil at the crossroads. It's kind of like a folkloric world, right? But I also wanted to bring in a little bit of American history and the lives of people who have maybe been forgotten by modern history. You've got sharecroppers in the South, or Pullman porters, Navajo women during the Long Walk of the Navajo. I'm obviously not the right person to write all of those stories. So I went out looking for other writers to help me tell these tales and fill out this roster. This game spans the entirety of the United States from the East Coast to West Coast? JN: That's right. You can walk anywhere in the U.S., except for Hawaii and Alaska, of course. But yeah, you can walk anywhere you want. You can also hop trains, or hitch hike to get around faster. Each of the different regions of the game has its own set of stories, its own set of characters, its own music and also its own color palettes. They're all very distinct little regions. How did you manage to get an entire country into your game? That's a pretty big scope! JN: Yeah, well, it is a pretty big scope! It's obviously scaled down, it's not the real size of the U.S. I've done a lot of work to map it out and lay it out. I also tried to put characters that came from different areas of the country so I could tell stories about all these different places. Is there a goal to the game, or is it open exploration; choose a destination, go? JN: Right, it's an open world game, so you've go to choose your own direction. There is a framing story to the game, which is that, in the beginning of the game, you lose a hand of poker to the wrong person. Because of that, you're cursed to wander the U.S. carrying stories around, spreading them. You're kind of the Johnny Appleseed of folktales, basically. And part of your job is to also collect the true stories of these people's live and add those to the Big Story of America. Did you write the overall arching narrative, or did you have one of your-- JN: No, I came up with the overall story. Yeah, yeah. I did a lot of writing that fills the gaps in the story. And then the little adventures, we call vignettes, those are written by other people. Then each of the characters, of course, are written by someone else. You built an entire game based on telling stories to each other. I feel like that's a really outside of the box way of going about game design. How did you come up with the gameplay around that concept? JN: It took a little while and some bouncing around to get there, but…. I really like the idea of telling the stories is the way we share culture and idea among people. That's always been something that I've tried to get in there. Over time when I was working with the game, just various pieces fell in to place where it became the natural way to do it. I want it to be about folktales and the way they change and grow, how [people] spread them around, and how that works. I also, when I first started making the game, I thought it would be really interesting to try to avoid combat mechanics. I was wondering, ‘how would you do a game if you can't do that?’ The last game I worked on was Gone Home and that was a first person shooter without any shooting in it, right? And so when I started coming up with ideas for this game, I was thinking like well, what's another kind of genre of game that I could look at, taking the combat out of it? I actually thought about JRPGs and what you would do if you remove fighting from JRPGs. This has moved so far away from JRPGs it's not really there anymore, but you can see a little bit of where I was going with the overworld map and the interactions with the characters, the kinds of encounters you have. I guess all of those areas is where that came from. How exactly does the storytelling mechanic work? JN: So what happens is that you have these little adventures, these vignettes. They're like little text adventures where you have two choices, and you can feel your way through this adventure that happens to you. You get a story at the end of that. Then you have the story of whatever happened to you during that time. Because you're choosing from two different branches, you can sometimes choose what kind of story it is. ‘Is this a love story? Is this a tragedy? Is this about family? Is this about being trapped?’ And then you gather these stories into an inventory. You take them and you [encounter characters throughout the world], and when you tell these characters a story- You tell them a story about a family, for example, they'll tell you something about their family in return. They'll also ask for different moods of stories. So they might ask for a scary story, and if you tell them a scary story about family, whatever that would be, you'll not only hear what they have to say, but you'll also gain their trust and move forward in their story. So the next time you meet them, you might get the next chapter. When you get to the final chapter of their story, they'll also reveal their true self to you and you'll see an actual visual transformation take place and they'll be a really exciting piece of art you get to look at. And there’s another aspect of the storytelling mechanic, as well. As you tell these stories, they sometimes get told around behind your back and they'll grow and tell in the way that folktales do and "level up" as they do that--and come back to you the same story, but bigger, better, weirder. Part of my attraction to this game is just that there's nothing else like it? There aren't a whole lot of games that completely throw out combat mechanics and are about something other than violence. And maybe some of the stories involve violence to some degree, but that's not the focus of the game. JN: I think one of the interesting thing about the stories in the games there aren't a lot that are directly violent, but there is a lot of systemic violence that you see. We're trying to talk about the more of marginalized people in the United States. So you hear from a lot of people--sharecroppers whose union was busted by cops, by Southerners with guns. You hear about the Long Walk of the Navajo where the U.S. military uprooted an entire people and forced them to walk hundreds of miles across the desert where many of them died. So no, there's not combat in the game, but yeah, you are always immersed in this sort of systemic oppression and violence. It's lurking in the background, always. Often stories that delve into the past have a message about the present. Have the current social or political climates had any effects on this game? Does it have a message for modern times? JN: Aah, it's actually really weird, I didn't actually set out with that in mind, but reality has gotten closer and closer to this game, to be relevant to this game, as time goes on. It's very strange. I started this in 2014 and now it's like, wow, 'What the heck happened?' I think there's a lot that happened [during the Depression-era] of American history and a lot that happened to these characters that's very relevant to what's going on today. There're definitely political messages in this game put there both by me in designing the game and also by the individual writers as they're writing their characters that I think are very relevant to what's going on today. I'm really glad that I feel like I have something relevant to say about our current life, the way it is right now, with my art. At the same time, I wish things weren't the way they are. I wish I didn't feel like we were entering an era similar to the Great Depression. You mentioned traveling around, sharing stories—Where the Water Tastes Like Wine seems like a really good fit for that theme, but why the Depression-era? Was it the blues-y aspect of the time? The ridin' the rails culture of it? JN: It was all of that. I really like this sort of music, the blues, bluegrass. I love the world contained in the stories, as well as the music itself. Those songs are all about this era and this magical way of existing. It's also the heyday of travelling in America in a lot of ways. You know, more than two million people were displaced, or homeless, wandering the streets during the Great Depression. So that hobo era is a really powerful time [to draw upon]. You decided what kinds of characters would be in the game, and then the writers wrote the stories around those characters. So how did you decide which characters you wanted to include? JN: I think there were a lot of interesting stories from around this period. Stories neglected in American history that you don't often hear about, especially in video games. [For example, in doing background research for the game] I did not know the extent of the Mine Wars when the U.S. military was dropping bombs from planes on West Virginian miners. That’s a big deal! And you don't really hear about that at all, so I wanted to capture more of those stories. These characters represent events that you don't hear about as often. Maybe the rougher bits of history that get glossed over in textbooks? JN: Exactly, yeah, yeah. That's what this is supposed to be, exposing the truth of the American dream in some ways. There's a character at the beginning who tells you America is built on stories and all those stories add up to a ‘big, shining lie.’ That's the phrase he uses, a shining lie. And he asks you to go out and find these true story and add them to the Big Story and talks about a tarnished truth being better than a shining lie. That’s part of the idea for the game. I know you had a lot of contributions from other writers, but for the parts that you worked on, did you look back at media like Sullivan's Travels, media from or about the time? JN: Yeah, actually. The way the characters worked is that I did all the research for those characters. I found a bunch about these different people, gathered a bunch of factual information. Then, I would go to these writers and say ‘Hey, can you write a Pullman porter for me? Here's what a Pullman porter is. Here's all my research; here's some cool facts.’ And they took that and they made these into these real, three-dimensional people with wants and needs, and hopes and dreams, and families. All the good parts of writing, right? I did a ton of research. Both for the individual characters, and, of course, the era in general. For the research, if there are people--maybe this is getting a little too niche--who are interested in this time period, what were some really good resources you found? JN: Yeah! There's a great book about the dust book called The Worst Hard Time that is really, really a great read. There's also...I watched the Ken Burns Dust Bowl documentary. I watched, there's a fantastic John Sails movie called Matewan. It's like fictionalized history, but it's about the kind of Mine Wars of West Virginia, the turn of the century--that's really great. There's a book call Sister of the Road, it's supposed to be an autobiography of a woman hobo travelling during the era. There's also a number of books I read about the Great Depression that I'm blanking on names of. I drew a lot from fiction, too. Things like Huck Finn, On the Road, I pulled from all sorts of different places for the characters. They have their own stack of books that I worked from. You basically just took all that information, threw it at writers, and they gave you back gold? JN: Yes. It's amazing, amazing stuff. I'm super lucky to work with all these talented people, and they gave me back just amazing, amazing writing. This game is most spectacular on three fronts, I would say. It's my game, so take this with a grain of salt. The art is really amazing, the music really, really wonderful, and most of all, the writing is our strongest pull. I think that anyone could pick this up and enjoy the writing for its own sake. Did you handle the art style? It's very distinctive. JN: Thanks! No, I didn't. I'm not an artist at all. I'm kind of the programmer and creative director. I have a team, a company that's called Serenity Forge. They're doing the art for me and helping me with the design. How did you wind up linking with them? JN: Actually at IndieCade last year, we were at a party together and we were talking. I had just lost my art team for various reasons and needed a new one! So they were willing to do this co-development thing with me, and it’s worked out really well. I'm super happy to be working with them. The music is also really good. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine draws heavily from blues, bluegrass, folk. That's all original music that's been composed for the game. Each character has their own piece of music in addition to the overworld song that changes character as you go from region to region. There's like an Appalachian-bluegrass in the Northeast and it becomes a folk song in the Midwest, a little bit more blues-y in the South. How did you go about composing that music? To clarify: It's not based on older, pre-existing songs? JN: It's all original, but it is very much in that vein. I'm not the composer. My composer is Ryan Ike. He worked on Frog Factions 2, actually. […] He's fantastic, he's amazing. Everyone who has played the game has said the music is really good, so I'm very happy. Did he also play the music? JN: He performed some of it, but mostly we got live performers to do a lot of the stuff. People that sing and play banjo and guitar and violin. […] He's really, really good at this. So he just took the idea and ran with it? JN: Yeah, yeah. He was super, super excited to do this because this is unlike most game music. It's very different. Where did you get the title for the game? It seems kinda like that old song about the Big Rock Candy Mountain? JN: I'm really glad you asked that question, actually. It's a line from American folk culture. It pops up in a bunch of different folk songs, it shows up in stories. It's a folk saying, ‘the place where the water tastes like wine.’ It's always a place that's somewhere nearby, but inaccessible. It's maybe the next county over, there's a place where the water tastes like wine. And all of the stories in the game feed into this theme of people looking for something. They’re looking for… for their promised land, their Big Rock Candy Mountain, their place where the water tastes like wine. And of course, the sad truth at the heart of that is that there is nowhere where the water tastes like wine. The whole game is about the failure of the American dream to live up to what it has promised us. […] One thing I wanted to add, the whole game will be voice acted eventually. It's not in the demo now, but we're adding voice acting for all the characters. Have you run into any problems with the voice acting strike? Has that made casting any harder? JN: One of the things I--I don't know how much I can say about this--this game, a lot of the characters in this game are union members. There's a coal worker in the United Mine Workers; there's a farm worker from the United Farm Workers; we've got the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Sharecroppers’ Union and a bunch of other characters in there. I am personally a big fan of unions, and union labor, and I would really, really like to support SAG-AFTRA and get union actors to act this game. I don't want to make any promises, but that's what I'm trying to do. How has public reaction been to Where the Water Tastes Like Wine so far? JN: It's been really nice to have people check it out and play it [at events]. This is not the type of game I expect to resonate with everyone, right? This is very much a niche game. But, the people who have come by and have heard about it, and been interested in it have been really interested and really enthusiastic. I've gotten a lot of rave reactions from people. And it will be on PC, and then eventually PS4 and Xbox One, right? JN: Later this year or early next year. We're gonna try to figure out if we can avoid the horrible rush window of all the big stuff popping in the fall and Christmas season. We're also talking about a tablet version for iPad. Any plans to bring Where the Water Tastes Like Wine over to the Nintendo Switch at some point? JN: I would really love that, but I have not talked to Nintendo at all. I have development agreements with Sony and Microsoft so I'm going to say those have worn me out. I'd love to bring it to Switch, but I don't have any news on that front. So, Nintendo, call me! ~~~ A big thank you to Johnnemann Nordhagen for taking the time to answer questions! Look for Where the Water Tastes Like Wine to become available in early 2018 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. View full article
  4. Everything is stories. We talk in stories, we learn from stories, we distill our experiences into stories. Our history is the culmination of a million different stories all thrust together, bound in books by people who sifted through those multitudes of stories. And from those histories we gather lessons and ideas; dreams of what might be. But what if some of those stories weren’t exactly true? What if some of them were, in fact, beautiful lies? That’s the idea behind Johnnemann Nordhagen’s Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. Nordhagen helped co-found The Fullbright Company and programmed Gone Home, however he left the company in 2014 to try new and wonderful things after the success of Gone Home. He went on to found Dim Bulb Games, a studio where he felt he could pursue a collaborative dream. That dream has finally manifested in the form of a trek across a Depression-era United States that mixes the countryside mysticism of tall tales with the stark realities of living. I had an opportunity to talk with Nordhagen about the creation and stories of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. Dim Bulb Games’ first title has brought together writers from across the game industry to tell stories; stories that might shed more light on the history of the United States; stories that might just help lift the veil of what Nordhagen refers to as “the shining lie.” So, can you tell me how the idea for Where the Water Tastes Like Wine came about? It seems really collaborative with all the writers you have, [gesturing toward a piece of paper covered in the names of contributors] I saw that list right there. Johnnemann Nordhagen: Yeah, so I got the idea for the game--I was travelling around a lot after finishing my last game, Gone Home. I traveled the world and I was encountering a lot of other travelers. Every time you do that, you swap stories with them. You say, 'Oh, you should definitely go here,' or, 'I got my pocket picked here; watch out!' Thought it would be cool to make a game about that. I also really like American roots; music, blues, bluegrass, jazz, things like that. And so, I wanted to pull it to America, set it during the Great Depression with all these songs. You're in this world of down-on-their-luck gamblers, and people are selling their souls to the devil at the crossroads. It's kind of like a folkloric world, right? But I also wanted to bring in a little bit of American history and the lives of people who have maybe been forgotten by modern history. You've got sharecroppers in the South, or Pullman porters, Navajo women during the Long Walk of the Navajo. I'm obviously not the right person to write all of those stories. So I went out looking for other writers to help me tell these tales and fill out this roster. This game spans the entirety of the United States from the East Coast to West Coast? JN: That's right. You can walk anywhere in the U.S., except for Hawaii and Alaska, of course. But yeah, you can walk anywhere you want. You can also hop trains, or hitch hike to get around faster. Each of the different regions of the game has its own set of stories, its own set of characters, its own music and also its own color palettes. They're all very distinct little regions. How did you manage to get an entire country into your game? That's a pretty big scope! JN: Yeah, well, it is a pretty big scope! It's obviously scaled down, it's not the real size of the U.S. I've done a lot of work to map it out and lay it out. I also tried to put characters that came from different areas of the country so I could tell stories about all these different places. Is there a goal to the game, or is it open exploration; choose a destination, go? JN: Right, it's an open world game, so you've go to choose your own direction. There is a framing story to the game, which is that, in the beginning of the game, you lose a hand of poker to the wrong person. Because of that, you're cursed to wander the U.S. carrying stories around, spreading them. You're kind of the Johnny Appleseed of folktales, basically. And part of your job is to also collect the true stories of these people's live and add those to the Big Story of America. Did you write the overall arching narrative, or did you have one of your-- JN: No, I came up with the overall story. Yeah, yeah. I did a lot of writing that fills the gaps in the story. And then the little adventures, we call vignettes, those are written by other people. Then each of the characters, of course, are written by someone else. You built an entire game based on telling stories to each other. I feel like that's a really outside of the box way of going about game design. How did you come up with the gameplay around that concept? JN: It took a little while and some bouncing around to get there, but…. I really like the idea of telling the stories is the way we share culture and idea among people. That's always been something that I've tried to get in there. Over time when I was working with the game, just various pieces fell in to place where it became the natural way to do it. I want it to be about folktales and the way they change and grow, how [people] spread them around, and how that works. I also, when I first started making the game, I thought it would be really interesting to try to avoid combat mechanics. I was wondering, ‘how would you do a game if you can't do that?’ The last game I worked on was Gone Home and that was a first person shooter without any shooting in it, right? And so when I started coming up with ideas for this game, I was thinking like well, what's another kind of genre of game that I could look at, taking the combat out of it? I actually thought about JRPGs and what you would do if you remove fighting from JRPGs. This has moved so far away from JRPGs it's not really there anymore, but you can see a little bit of where I was going with the overworld map and the interactions with the characters, the kinds of encounters you have. I guess all of those areas is where that came from. How exactly does the storytelling mechanic work? JN: So what happens is that you have these little adventures, these vignettes. They're like little text adventures where you have two choices, and you can feel your way through this adventure that happens to you. You get a story at the end of that. Then you have the story of whatever happened to you during that time. Because you're choosing from two different branches, you can sometimes choose what kind of story it is. ‘Is this a love story? Is this a tragedy? Is this about family? Is this about being trapped?’ And then you gather these stories into an inventory. You take them and you [encounter characters throughout the world], and when you tell these characters a story- You tell them a story about a family, for example, they'll tell you something about their family in return. They'll also ask for different moods of stories. So they might ask for a scary story, and if you tell them a scary story about family, whatever that would be, you'll not only hear what they have to say, but you'll also gain their trust and move forward in their story. So the next time you meet them, you might get the next chapter. When you get to the final chapter of their story, they'll also reveal their true self to you and you'll see an actual visual transformation take place and they'll be a really exciting piece of art you get to look at. And there’s another aspect of the storytelling mechanic, as well. As you tell these stories, they sometimes get told around behind your back and they'll grow and tell in the way that folktales do and "level up" as they do that--and come back to you the same story, but bigger, better, weirder. Part of my attraction to this game is just that there's nothing else like it? There aren't a whole lot of games that completely throw out combat mechanics and are about something other than violence. And maybe some of the stories involve violence to some degree, but that's not the focus of the game. JN: I think one of the interesting thing about the stories in the games there aren't a lot that are directly violent, but there is a lot of systemic violence that you see. We're trying to talk about the more of marginalized people in the United States. So you hear from a lot of people--sharecroppers whose union was busted by cops, by Southerners with guns. You hear about the Long Walk of the Navajo where the U.S. military uprooted an entire people and forced them to walk hundreds of miles across the desert where many of them died. So no, there's not combat in the game, but yeah, you are always immersed in this sort of systemic oppression and violence. It's lurking in the background, always. Often stories that delve into the past have a message about the present. Have the current social or political climates had any effects on this game? Does it have a message for modern times? JN: Aah, it's actually really weird, I didn't actually set out with that in mind, but reality has gotten closer and closer to this game, to be relevant to this game, as time goes on. It's very strange. I started this in 2014 and now it's like, wow, 'What the heck happened?' I think there's a lot that happened [during the Depression-era] of American history and a lot that happened to these characters that's very relevant to what's going on today. There're definitely political messages in this game put there both by me in designing the game and also by the individual writers as they're writing their characters that I think are very relevant to what's going on today. I'm really glad that I feel like I have something relevant to say about our current life, the way it is right now, with my art. At the same time, I wish things weren't the way they are. I wish I didn't feel like we were entering an era similar to the Great Depression. You mentioned traveling around, sharing stories—Where the Water Tastes Like Wine seems like a really good fit for that theme, but why the Depression-era? Was it the blues-y aspect of the time? The ridin' the rails culture of it? JN: It was all of that. I really like this sort of music, the blues, bluegrass. I love the world contained in the stories, as well as the music itself. Those songs are all about this era and this magical way of existing. It's also the heyday of travelling in America in a lot of ways. You know, more than two million people were displaced, or homeless, wandering the streets during the Great Depression. So that hobo era is a really powerful time [to draw upon]. You decided what kinds of characters would be in the game, and then the writers wrote the stories around those characters. So how did you decide which characters you wanted to include? JN: I think there were a lot of interesting stories from around this period. Stories neglected in American history that you don't often hear about, especially in video games. [For example, in doing background research for the game] I did not know the extent of the Mine Wars when the U.S. military was dropping bombs from planes on West Virginian miners. That’s a big deal! And you don't really hear about that at all, so I wanted to capture more of those stories. These characters represent events that you don't hear about as often. Maybe the rougher bits of history that get glossed over in textbooks? JN: Exactly, yeah, yeah. That's what this is supposed to be, exposing the truth of the American dream in some ways. There's a character at the beginning who tells you America is built on stories and all those stories add up to a ‘big, shining lie.’ That's the phrase he uses, a shining lie. And he asks you to go out and find these true story and add them to the Big Story and talks about a tarnished truth being better than a shining lie. That’s part of the idea for the game. I know you had a lot of contributions from other writers, but for the parts that you worked on, did you look back at media like Sullivan's Travels, media from or about the time? JN: Yeah, actually. The way the characters worked is that I did all the research for those characters. I found a bunch about these different people, gathered a bunch of factual information. Then, I would go to these writers and say ‘Hey, can you write a Pullman porter for me? Here's what a Pullman porter is. Here's all my research; here's some cool facts.’ And they took that and they made these into these real, three-dimensional people with wants and needs, and hopes and dreams, and families. All the good parts of writing, right? I did a ton of research. Both for the individual characters, and, of course, the era in general. For the research, if there are people--maybe this is getting a little too niche--who are interested in this time period, what were some really good resources you found? JN: Yeah! There's a great book about the dust book called The Worst Hard Time that is really, really a great read. There's also...I watched the Ken Burns Dust Bowl documentary. I watched, there's a fantastic John Sails movie called Matewan. It's like fictionalized history, but it's about the kind of Mine Wars of West Virginia, the turn of the century--that's really great. There's a book call Sister of the Road, it's supposed to be an autobiography of a woman hobo travelling during the era. There's also a number of books I read about the Great Depression that I'm blanking on names of. I drew a lot from fiction, too. Things like Huck Finn, On the Road, I pulled from all sorts of different places for the characters. They have their own stack of books that I worked from. You basically just took all that information, threw it at writers, and they gave you back gold? JN: Yes. It's amazing, amazing stuff. I'm super lucky to work with all these talented people, and they gave me back just amazing, amazing writing. This game is most spectacular on three fronts, I would say. It's my game, so take this with a grain of salt. The art is really amazing, the music really, really wonderful, and most of all, the writing is our strongest pull. I think that anyone could pick this up and enjoy the writing for its own sake. Did you handle the art style? It's very distinctive. JN: Thanks! No, I didn't. I'm not an artist at all. I'm kind of the programmer and creative director. I have a team, a company that's called Serenity Forge. They're doing the art for me and helping me with the design. How did you wind up linking with them? JN: Actually at IndieCade last year, we were at a party together and we were talking. I had just lost my art team for various reasons and needed a new one! So they were willing to do this co-development thing with me, and it’s worked out really well. I'm super happy to be working with them. The music is also really good. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine draws heavily from blues, bluegrass, folk. That's all original music that's been composed for the game. Each character has their own piece of music in addition to the overworld song that changes character as you go from region to region. There's like an Appalachian-bluegrass in the Northeast and it becomes a folk song in the Midwest, a little bit more blues-y in the South. How did you go about composing that music? To clarify: It's not based on older, pre-existing songs? JN: It's all original, but it is very much in that vein. I'm not the composer. My composer is Ryan Ike. He worked on Frog Factions 2, actually. […] He's fantastic, he's amazing. Everyone who has played the game has said the music is really good, so I'm very happy. Did he also play the music? JN: He performed some of it, but mostly we got live performers to do a lot of the stuff. People that sing and play banjo and guitar and violin. […] He's really, really good at this. So he just took the idea and ran with it? JN: Yeah, yeah. He was super, super excited to do this because this is unlike most game music. It's very different. Where did you get the title for the game? It seems kinda like that old song about the Big Rock Candy Mountain? JN: I'm really glad you asked that question, actually. It's a line from American folk culture. It pops up in a bunch of different folk songs, it shows up in stories. It's a folk saying, ‘the place where the water tastes like wine.’ It's always a place that's somewhere nearby, but inaccessible. It's maybe the next county over, there's a place where the water tastes like wine. And all of the stories in the game feed into this theme of people looking for something. They’re looking for… for their promised land, their Big Rock Candy Mountain, their place where the water tastes like wine. And of course, the sad truth at the heart of that is that there is nowhere where the water tastes like wine. The whole game is about the failure of the American dream to live up to what it has promised us. […] One thing I wanted to add, the whole game will be voice acted eventually. It's not in the demo now, but we're adding voice acting for all the characters. Have you run into any problems with the voice acting strike? Has that made casting any harder? JN: One of the things I--I don't know how much I can say about this--this game, a lot of the characters in this game are union members. There's a coal worker in the United Mine Workers; there's a farm worker from the United Farm Workers; we've got the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Sharecroppers’ Union and a bunch of other characters in there. I am personally a big fan of unions, and union labor, and I would really, really like to support SAG-AFTRA and get union actors to act this game. I don't want to make any promises, but that's what I'm trying to do. How has public reaction been to Where the Water Tastes Like Wine so far? JN: It's been really nice to have people check it out and play it [at events]. This is not the type of game I expect to resonate with everyone, right? This is very much a niche game. But, the people who have come by and have heard about it, and been interested in it have been really interested and really enthusiastic. I've gotten a lot of rave reactions from people. And it will be on PC, and then eventually PS4 and Xbox One, right? JN: Later this year or early next year. We're gonna try to figure out if we can avoid the horrible rush window of all the big stuff popping in the fall and Christmas season. We're also talking about a tablet version for iPad. Any plans to bring Where the Water Tastes Like Wine over to the Nintendo Switch at some point? JN: I would really love that, but I have not talked to Nintendo at all. I have development agreements with Sony and Microsoft so I'm going to say those have worn me out. I'd love to bring it to Switch, but I don't have any news on that front. So, Nintendo, call me! ~~~ A big thank you to Johnnemann Nordhagen for taking the time to answer questions! Look for Where the Water Tastes Like Wine to become available in early 2018 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
  5. For years, I’ve curiously eyed Farming Simulator as an intriguing oddity. Unlike more whimsical takes on farming like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, this series presents the profession in a realistic light. I used to wonder “Who wants spend hours cutting grass and driving a slow tractor in a boring, real world?” I doubt I’m alone in that thinking, and while outsiders may laugh at Farming Simulator, the series boasts a strong and dedicated following of players more than happy to sow and reap the digital fruits of their labor. What about these games appeals to the fanbase? I had an opportunity to unleash some of my long-burning questions to Martin Ravo, PR representative at developer Giants Software. In turn, I gained some insight about the staff’s cultivating background and the franchise’s unique fansbase of actual farmers. We also touched on how real-world agricultural advances could affect the series’ future. So I've always wondered. How do you guys go about choosing what new crops to add? What separates one crop from another in terms of which is more interesting to grow? Is it the type of location where it needs to be grown or the method that goes into growing it? Martin Ravo: There are various factors, actually. Of course, we get feedback from our community. We also see where people are playing. We usually add new maps to the game with expansions over the new game, and then it might make sense to have the crops in there that fit with the new environment. Of course, it's also the amount of time we need to implement it. Because let's say you put a completely different new crop in there, and we don't have the equipment for it. Then you also need to add the equipment, which makes things a bit more complicated. So let's say for the sunflowers. We put them in and you use similar equipment for what we already had, but you have different headers for the harvesters, so we had to add these too. So it's not just the crops. It's other things that are coming with the crops, so we have to consider this. On the other hand, if you wanted to include new equipment, [then] that could also be one of the factors. Like, "hey, this thing looks cool, let's put it in the game," but then let's say it's a harvester for some other crop that we don't have in the game yet - then we would need to add the crop. So it kind of goes hand in hand. It's location [and] community. We could think that maybe we want to focus on a different community for a different area because the game is, by now, like a worldwide phenomenon. So we have Eastern Europe and Scandinavia [with] Europe our strongest market. United States, South America, Australia; people are playing it everywhere. Also Asia, we're also there. Eventually, we would like to get something in the game for everyone. But one step after another. And speaking about that phenomenon. What do you think it is about Farming Simulator that grabs people? Because I always feel like from the outside looking in you kind of look at it and you're like "Well why would I want to do that?" But I hear so many people say that when you pick it up and you start playing, there's something about it that just grabs you. What do you think that is about the series? Ravo: Again, I think there are various things. You feel rewarded very quickly. You start playing it and then [maybe] you realize how you have to do something, then instantly you're like "oh cool, now I know how to do it so now I'm going to go on and maybe do the whole field." And then you sell your crops; you get money; and then you go, "what am I going to do with this money now?" You spend it or you think about how to spend it. It's kind of a constant flow, and you also don't have a lot of negative emotions. It's not like as in some other games where you feel frustrated because you lost or something like that. There's kind of almost a relaxation factor to a degree of like "Oh, I just got my farm. I can just plant these things..." Ravo: You're going with the flow. Yeah. It’s rewarding but you can just kind of chill out. Ravo: Yeah. There's actually one example that I had here at E3 where some guy said he wouldn't ever really consider himself as a gamer that much. He's here at E3, but still. He said "you know, I don't play that much. I'm not really like the typical gamer." Then he told me he played the game [for] 400 hours. So you don't consider yourself a gamer? And I think there's kind of a group that are not really seen as gamers by other companies or maybe by the media, but they do like to play video games now. It's [a different kind of] video games. Not the games that have been known for years, but they also like to play games. And they enjoy [Farming Simulator]. They don't want to mess with other players, play online, and get defeated or beaten by the computer. Kill things. Ravo: Yeah. They do enjoy video games, but a different style of game. And of course the third group [that loves Farming Simulator] are the farmers. We have a lot of farmers who play, people who grew up on a farm, and they love the tractors and all the other machines. That's also why we work closely with all the manufacturers [of farming equipment]. We have over 80 brands licensed so far, and we try to recreate them as authentically as possible with good graphics and parts that are moving so that everyone who knows these tractors can be proud of them. "oh, this is a tractor I always wanted on my farm and I can now play it in game, I really don't have the money for it," it's like in the racing games when you buy a big sports car, and then you go on the racetrack. You couldn't do that in real life. But here in Farming Simulator, as a farmer, you can also try out different tractors and kind of find your favorite tractor. Are the manufacturers of the equipment super involved? Do you have to always go back to them to make sure the tractor feels the way its supposed to and they go, "okay, that's right," or, "you need to fix this, this isn't quite right?” Ravo: It's more about the visuals. I’m not so much involved with it... but when it comes to how they look like, we're really in a constant dialogue with them. For example, I work for PR marketing, so when we do screenshots in early versions and suddenly someone notices that there's a sticker or a logo missing where it should be on the machine or there's one part that is sticking out a bit or maybe even they've changed the machine. That also happened. We put the machine in the game, and then the manufacturer changed the machine afterwards and we're like, "oh we can't release it like that because it doesn't look like that anymore." So we got feedback from them and then we removed that part and changed it so it looks like the machine when it actually came out. So it's more about the visuals. When it comes to the handling, I would say the only way they could give feedback is when playing the game. Do they ever come in to playtest and see how it feels? Ravo: Yeah because to be honest, we're kind of tuning the machines up to the launch because it's a long process. So if you would play them [a] month before the game comes out, they would feel sluggish anyways. So it's like just right before launch basically when the machines get tuned and we fix them. But in general, I think they are quite happy with how the machines feel in the game. It's more about the visual aspect and we really need to work closely with them. Does anyone on the team get to drive any of the real machines? For research purposes? Ravo: Yeah, of course. And not just for research. I mean, a lot of our employees were actually farmers or they come from a farming background. Some were modders before; farmers that modded their favorite tractor into the game. Sometimes we reach out to them and [get them to] work for us. So we have several people with a farming background. Not just a handful- it's actually probably more than 50% that do know a lot about farming and they've been on a farm or their parents were farmers. So that's where we also get some feedback. That's an interesting little scene that I don't think a lot of people aware about: gaming farmers. I don’t think many people would put those two together even though why not? Why wouldn't a farmer want to play video games? Especially now in this modern generation, younger farmers grow up with video games. That's interesting to me. Ravo: To be honest, I think there are a lot of farmers out there, let's say all of them, generally, [that] love their job. Or I would hope that people love their job, not just farmers but everyone. They love farming, they are farmers because they love it, and that's also how we want to treat them with the game. I think when the game came out, a lot of people were kind of smiling and laughing like “what? A game about farmers?" But farmers do take their jobs seriously, and we also take the game seriously. They know that when they play the game. It's something they can be proud of because the machines are recreated in authentic way. Also, the workflow itself: cultivating, harvesting, all these kinds of things; they treat the genre with respect. It's the same with other games too. I always say football players play football games, soldiers play combat games, soccer players play soccer games. It's their job, why would they [want to] play in the evening? Because the game [is] fun, and they know something about it. It's the same with the farming game. If you put a farmer in front of Farming Simulator, he knows what he has to do. Someone else has to kind of work his way through it first. So they just sit down and they can relax and it doesn't feel like work for them. It's the best case of, "oh, I can actually do this work without actually having to physically go out there and bust my butt trying to get the job done." And it's cool for newcomers, people who have never been on a farm. Do you guys have a big fanbase of people saying, "hey, I don't know what that's like at all and this is my only real window into that world because I don't have a farm or I've never seen one?" Because I feel like farming’s become less and less in the public perception a little bit. And this kind of brings that to the forefront, at least in video games, for younger players. Ravo: I think you mean there's a lot of players who learn a lot about farming who play our game. We do simulate things. Even I learned a lot about the processes and the workflow. Like how to make silage, when to make it, and get told off when I use a plow on the wrong side when I [make] a screenshot. Then I'll ask them, my co-workers, “okay, why would we use it like that?" and then I understand it better. And I think [there's] a lot of things you can learn about, and it's quite an interesting topic, actually: how the farming industry is changing at the moment. There's a lot more technology getting into the machines. Tractors are almost robots by now, to be honest with you. I imagine this robotic alien, we place so much technology in there. But then again, it's not just about pressing a few buttons. You have to know a lot [about] how to optimize your yield or which height you actually have to harvest. Weather, for example, is also something [along with] GPS-controlled tractors. There's so much going on in the genre. It's going to be interesting for the next few years even with our game because of course we also keep track of all these things. Is that something you keep in mind? You're always having to pay attention to the industry as it evolves to try with every new entry to have it as relevant as possible. And with things becoming more mechanized, do you think it's an issue of players not being able to hop into a tractor and drive it around anymore because eventually you just hit a button and just kind of program it to do its thing? If manual labor in general becomes less of a thing? Ravo: It could be. I don't know, I would have to talk to the guys who know more about the industry itself, but that's kind of what I see right now. Technology [is] being used more and more in all these machines and we have to see where it goes. I mean generally, it's assisting a lot, it also increases productivity usually. But what I just saw recently, we also have like farm days where we also get to try out these tractors for example... You go to a farm? Ravo: Yeah. And it's not that easy. It's easy in our game to drive a tractor than it is in real life. And what I'll say is I still have a lot of respect–”still” is the wrong word–I would say I have even more respect for farmers now after playing the game and then reading up on what they actually have to know. And the thing is, to them, it's not a game. It's their life, and their income depends on what they do. If you do something wrong, you get less harvest and you get less income. So it is really vital for them to know all of these kind of things. It's just insane what you have to know as a farmer, to be honest. So what would you say to someone that's never played Farming Simulator and has always been curious? What would you describe as the hook to get them interested? Ravo: I would just say if you want to have a good time and relax, give it a try. Because the one thing I really like about the game is that it doesn't tell you what you have to do. You make the decisions. You decide what you want to do next. You decide the pace you want to go with. Nothing really stresses you out, and that's like something I would say like you would give it a try and then you will feel like instantly getting pulled in. A memory that I always have is when I wanted to catch up with an old friend of mine, an ex-colleague from another company. I said, "hey, let's have a Skype chat!" and he said, "well, you work [on] Farming Simulator now, right?" and I was like, "yeah, I do. We can do Skype but we can also do Farming Simulator at the same time.” Turns out he had already played it like 80 hours and that evening his plan was to mow some grass for the cows and I could help him with that. So we ended up doing a chat on Skype and mowing grass at the same time. He mowed the grass, I picked it up, and we fed his cows and suddenly three hours were gone. So you can have a good time with friends in the evening. You can have 16-player multiplayer and you don't have to beat each other all the time. You just have fun together. If you want to flex your green thumb and till the fields, you can pick up Farming Simulator 18 now for Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita, iOS, and Android. Farming Simulator 17 is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac. This interview has been edited for clarity. View full article
  6. For years, I’ve curiously eyed Farming Simulator as an intriguing oddity. Unlike more whimsical takes on farming like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, this series presents the profession in a realistic light. I used to wonder “Who wants spend hours cutting grass and driving a slow tractor in a boring, real world?” I doubt I’m alone in that thinking, and while outsiders may laugh at Farming Simulator, the series boasts a strong and dedicated following of players more than happy to sow and reap the digital fruits of their labor. What about these games appeals to the fanbase? I had an opportunity to unleash some of my long-burning questions to Martin Ravo, PR representative at developer Giants Software. In turn, I gained some insight about the staff’s cultivating background and the franchise’s unique fansbase of actual farmers. We also touched on how real-world agricultural advances could affect the series’ future. So I've always wondered. How do you guys go about choosing what new crops to add? What separates one crop from another in terms of which is more interesting to grow? Is it the type of location where it needs to be grown or the method that goes into growing it? Martin Ravo: There are various factors, actually. Of course, we get feedback from our community. We also see where people are playing. We usually add new maps to the game with expansions over the new game, and then it might make sense to have the crops in there that fit with the new environment. Of course, it's also the amount of time we need to implement it. Because let's say you put a completely different new crop in there, and we don't have the equipment for it. Then you also need to add the equipment, which makes things a bit more complicated. So let's say for the sunflowers. We put them in and you use similar equipment for what we already had, but you have different headers for the harvesters, so we had to add these too. So it's not just the crops. It's other things that are coming with the crops, so we have to consider this. On the other hand, if you wanted to include new equipment, [then] that could also be one of the factors. Like, "hey, this thing looks cool, let's put it in the game," but then let's say it's a harvester for some other crop that we don't have in the game yet - then we would need to add the crop. So it kind of goes hand in hand. It's location [and] community. We could think that maybe we want to focus on a different community for a different area because the game is, by now, like a worldwide phenomenon. So we have Eastern Europe and Scandinavia [with] Europe our strongest market. United States, South America, Australia; people are playing it everywhere. Also Asia, we're also there. Eventually, we would like to get something in the game for everyone. But one step after another. And speaking about that phenomenon. What do you think it is about Farming Simulator that grabs people? Because I always feel like from the outside looking in you kind of look at it and you're like "Well why would I want to do that?" But I hear so many people say that when you pick it up and you start playing, there's something about it that just grabs you. What do you think that is about the series? Ravo: Again, I think there are various things. You feel rewarded very quickly. You start playing it and then [maybe] you realize how you have to do something, then instantly you're like "oh cool, now I know how to do it so now I'm going to go on and maybe do the whole field." And then you sell your crops; you get money; and then you go, "what am I going to do with this money now?" You spend it or you think about how to spend it. It's kind of a constant flow, and you also don't have a lot of negative emotions. It's not like as in some other games where you feel frustrated because you lost or something like that. There's kind of almost a relaxation factor to a degree of like "Oh, I just got my farm. I can just plant these things..." Ravo: You're going with the flow. Yeah. It’s rewarding but you can just kind of chill out. Ravo: Yeah. There's actually one example that I had here at E3 where some guy said he wouldn't ever really consider himself as a gamer that much. He's here at E3, but still. He said "you know, I don't play that much. I'm not really like the typical gamer." Then he told me he played the game [for] 400 hours. So you don't consider yourself a gamer? And I think there's kind of a group that are not really seen as gamers by other companies or maybe by the media, but they do like to play video games now. It's [a different kind of] video games. Not the games that have been known for years, but they also like to play games. And they enjoy [Farming Simulator]. They don't want to mess with other players, play online, and get defeated or beaten by the computer. Kill things. Ravo: Yeah. They do enjoy video games, but a different style of game. And of course the third group [that loves Farming Simulator] are the farmers. We have a lot of farmers who play, people who grew up on a farm, and they love the tractors and all the other machines. That's also why we work closely with all the manufacturers [of farming equipment]. We have over 80 brands licensed so far, and we try to recreate them as authentically as possible with good graphics and parts that are moving so that everyone who knows these tractors can be proud of them. "oh, this is a tractor I always wanted on my farm and I can now play it in game, I really don't have the money for it," it's like in the racing games when you buy a big sports car, and then you go on the racetrack. You couldn't do that in real life. But here in Farming Simulator, as a farmer, you can also try out different tractors and kind of find your favorite tractor. Are the manufacturers of the equipment super involved? Do you have to always go back to them to make sure the tractor feels the way its supposed to and they go, "okay, that's right," or, "you need to fix this, this isn't quite right?” Ravo: It's more about the visuals. I’m not so much involved with it... but when it comes to how they look like, we're really in a constant dialogue with them. For example, I work for PR marketing, so when we do screenshots in early versions and suddenly someone notices that there's a sticker or a logo missing where it should be on the machine or there's one part that is sticking out a bit or maybe even they've changed the machine. That also happened. We put the machine in the game, and then the manufacturer changed the machine afterwards and we're like, "oh we can't release it like that because it doesn't look like that anymore." So we got feedback from them and then we removed that part and changed it so it looks like the machine when it actually came out. So it's more about the visuals. When it comes to the handling, I would say the only way they could give feedback is when playing the game. Do they ever come in to playtest and see how it feels? Ravo: Yeah because to be honest, we're kind of tuning the machines up to the launch because it's a long process. So if you would play them [a] month before the game comes out, they would feel sluggish anyways. So it's like just right before launch basically when the machines get tuned and we fix them. But in general, I think they are quite happy with how the machines feel in the game. It's more about the visual aspect and we really need to work closely with them. Does anyone on the team get to drive any of the real machines? For research purposes? Ravo: Yeah, of course. And not just for research. I mean, a lot of our employees were actually farmers or they come from a farming background. Some were modders before; farmers that modded their favorite tractor into the game. Sometimes we reach out to them and [get them to] work for us. So we have several people with a farming background. Not just a handful- it's actually probably more than 50% that do know a lot about farming and they've been on a farm or their parents were farmers. So that's where we also get some feedback. That's an interesting little scene that I don't think a lot of people aware about: gaming farmers. I don’t think many people would put those two together even though why not? Why wouldn't a farmer want to play video games? Especially now in this modern generation, younger farmers grow up with video games. That's interesting to me. Ravo: To be honest, I think there are a lot of farmers out there, let's say all of them, generally, [that] love their job. Or I would hope that people love their job, not just farmers but everyone. They love farming, they are farmers because they love it, and that's also how we want to treat them with the game. I think when the game came out, a lot of people were kind of smiling and laughing like “what? A game about farmers?" But farmers do take their jobs seriously, and we also take the game seriously. They know that when they play the game. It's something they can be proud of because the machines are recreated in authentic way. Also, the workflow itself: cultivating, harvesting, all these kinds of things; they treat the genre with respect. It's the same with other games too. I always say football players play football games, soldiers play combat games, soccer players play soccer games. It's their job, why would they [want to] play in the evening? Because the game [is] fun, and they know something about it. It's the same with the farming game. If you put a farmer in front of Farming Simulator, he knows what he has to do. Someone else has to kind of work his way through it first. So they just sit down and they can relax and it doesn't feel like work for them. It's the best case of, "oh, I can actually do this work without actually having to physically go out there and bust my butt trying to get the job done." And it's cool for newcomers, people who have never been on a farm. Do you guys have a big fanbase of people saying, "hey, I don't know what that's like at all and this is my only real window into that world because I don't have a farm or I've never seen one?" Because I feel like farming’s become less and less in the public perception a little bit. And this kind of brings that to the forefront, at least in video games, for younger players. Ravo: I think you mean there's a lot of players who learn a lot about farming who play our game. We do simulate things. Even I learned a lot about the processes and the workflow. Like how to make silage, when to make it, and get told off when I use a plow on the wrong side when I [make] a screenshot. Then I'll ask them, my co-workers, “okay, why would we use it like that?" and then I understand it better. And I think [there's] a lot of things you can learn about, and it's quite an interesting topic, actually: how the farming industry is changing at the moment. There's a lot more technology getting into the machines. Tractors are almost robots by now, to be honest with you. I imagine this robotic alien, we place so much technology in there. But then again, it's not just about pressing a few buttons. You have to know a lot [about] how to optimize your yield or which height you actually have to harvest. Weather, for example, is also something [along with] GPS-controlled tractors. There's so much going on in the genre. It's going to be interesting for the next few years even with our game because of course we also keep track of all these things. Is that something you keep in mind? You're always having to pay attention to the industry as it evolves to try with every new entry to have it as relevant as possible. And with things becoming more mechanized, do you think it's an issue of players not being able to hop into a tractor and drive it around anymore because eventually you just hit a button and just kind of program it to do its thing? If manual labor in general becomes less of a thing? Ravo: It could be. I don't know, I would have to talk to the guys who know more about the industry itself, but that's kind of what I see right now. Technology [is] being used more and more in all these machines and we have to see where it goes. I mean generally, it's assisting a lot, it also increases productivity usually. But what I just saw recently, we also have like farm days where we also get to try out these tractors for example... You go to a farm? Ravo: Yeah. And it's not that easy. It's easy in our game to drive a tractor than it is in real life. And what I'll say is I still have a lot of respect–”still” is the wrong word–I would say I have even more respect for farmers now after playing the game and then reading up on what they actually have to know. And the thing is, to them, it's not a game. It's their life, and their income depends on what they do. If you do something wrong, you get less harvest and you get less income. So it is really vital for them to know all of these kind of things. It's just insane what you have to know as a farmer, to be honest. So what would you say to someone that's never played Farming Simulator and has always been curious? What would you describe as the hook to get them interested? Ravo: I would just say if you want to have a good time and relax, give it a try. Because the one thing I really like about the game is that it doesn't tell you what you have to do. You make the decisions. You decide what you want to do next. You decide the pace you want to go with. Nothing really stresses you out, and that's like something I would say like you would give it a try and then you will feel like instantly getting pulled in. A memory that I always have is when I wanted to catch up with an old friend of mine, an ex-colleague from another company. I said, "hey, let's have a Skype chat!" and he said, "well, you work [on] Farming Simulator now, right?" and I was like, "yeah, I do. We can do Skype but we can also do Farming Simulator at the same time.” Turns out he had already played it like 80 hours and that evening his plan was to mow some grass for the cows and I could help him with that. So we ended up doing a chat on Skype and mowing grass at the same time. He mowed the grass, I picked it up, and we fed his cows and suddenly three hours were gone. So you can have a good time with friends in the evening. You can have 16-player multiplayer and you don't have to beat each other all the time. You just have fun together. If you want to flex your green thumb and till the fields, you can pick up Farming Simulator 18 now for Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita, iOS, and Android. Farming Simulator 17 is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac. This interview has been edited for clarity.
  7. 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
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  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. View full article
  11. 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
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. Listen to the Thank You For Playing Interview

    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
  17. 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!
  18. 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
  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.
  20. An Interview with Indie Developer MurWare

    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.
  21. 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
  22. A Q&A With Green Man Gaming's Darren Cairns

    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!
  23. 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
  24. 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!
  25. 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