Interview with IndieVault.it

Italian-language indie games site IndieVault.it just posted an interview with me! They asked a bunch of interesting questions, including one about my next game.

In case you (like me) don’t read Italian, I’ve included the original English questions and answers below. A warning, though: this is just copied from our correspondence, and hasn’t been edited by them, so any mistakes are mine and it may not match the Italian version perfectly.

First question: we know you are an indie game developer and a skillful video games journalist, but can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you start making games and writing articles?

I have always loved video games, and I’ve played with making them since I was young. I wrote about games on my blog and talked about them on my podcast. One day, I decided to make a career out of it, and at about the same time GameSetWatch approached me about writing for them, thanks to a piece I wrote about a game called “Phyta.” This is my full-time job now; I earn just enough to support myself through sponsorships and ad money.

Is there a particular leitmotiv in all your games though they are very different in style?

I think a common theme among my games is to really use interactivity while providing an interesting story. “The Majesty of Colors” and
“How to Raise a Dragon” lean more towards interaction, and “Exploit” and “Bars of Black and White” lean more toward story. But I enjoy
story and narrative in games, and I also think that the core of the artform is being able to interact with that story.

What exactly is “The Majesty of Colors?” Where did it come from?

I’ve written in detail on the process at GameSetWatch, but I’m still not quite sure how it happened myself. I think I came up with a very strong concept — the creature from the Stygian depths discovering the surface world — along with a good line, “I fell in love with the majesty of colors.” From there, I sketched out the simple look of the game, and tried to translate that as closely as possible. I owe a lot, of course, to H.P. Lovecraft. He wasn’t the best writer, but his ideas are amazing. He’s the first fiction writer I know of to focus on the idea that humans are not the most powerful beings in the world, and that there are things out there that we can’t understand. In “Majesty,” of course, this is a bit backwards: the humans are the strange and sometimes horrible creatures, and the beast from below just doesn’t quite understand them.

A lot of people played it. Is that because it’s free… or a total masterpiece?

If “Majesty” wasn’t free and made in Flash, it wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the number of plays it has. At the current count, it’s been played almost 1.5 million times. I owe much of that to the ease with which folks can find and play the game. The rest is because “Majesty” is special. It may or may not be a masterpiece, but it is different, and I think people realized that and found it interesting. That’s another thing I try to do with my games; if nothing else, I try to make them different than what’s currently out there.

Did you enjoy other H.P.-Lovecraft-inspired games such as Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth or Eternal Darkness? Do you think they suitably capture Lovecraft’s spirit?

I’ve played the beginning of Dark Corners of the Earth. It did a good job of portraying a base horror of Lovecraft’s ideas: that our
civilized exterior is a thin shell, and that barbarism lurks just underneath. Unfortunately, with Lovecraft that idea was tied in with
unpleasant racism and obsession with miscegenation, so you need to be careful about using those motifs.

Other good Lovecraftian works are the interactive fiction piece “Anchorhead” and many of thegames in TIGSource’s Commonplace Book Competition.

What’s your favourite (or kind of favourite) game of all time?

My favorite is probably Shadow of Colossus, Portal, Grim Fandango, or Planescape: Torment. All are excellent games with deep stories that reward thinking and investigation.

And the indie one?

Knytt. World of Goo and Noitu Love 2: Devolution are close in second place.

Now your last project: How to Rise a Dragon. We all enjoyed it a lot. Can you tell us something about it?

Dragons feature prominently in all sorts of fantasy literature and games, but very few of them think about the dragon’s side of things. Dragons are big, strong, and smart; they’re better than humans in just about every way. That’s got to give them an interesting perspective, and that’s what I tried to explore in the game. Of course, once you’ve seen through a dragon’s eyes, humans can look pretty little and insignificant. That’s why I made sure to make the player look at their dragon from the outside again at the end of the game.

Looking at it another way, “Dragon” is an exploration of interactivity, and how our choices shape who we are. I owe a lot to Spore’s approach to character creation, which I’ve written about in the past. “Dragon” is a lot less rigid than “Majesty.” Your choices don’t
change the game as much in “Dragon,” even though there are more of them; a lot of the game’s story comes from the mind of the player, and how they think their dragon is acting.

Would you like to find a real dragon’s egg?

I don’t know. That would be a lot of responsibility. I would have to encourage this alien creature to become a good person, while dealing with its mysterious needs and desires. It would be just like caring for a baby, except that it can breathe fire and grow larger than a building.

Your last column is about video game albums. You also speak about Cryptic Sea’s upcoming No Quarter. One of the most promoted games in it is Edmund McMillen’s “Hitlers Must Die.” What do you think about Edmund’s weird art?

Edmund’s an artist and a provocateur. His best work is “Aether,” which was just perfect and amazing. “Cunt” (or “The C Word” for prudes) falls totally flat with me; I don’t see anything in it but an attempt to be controversial. But McMillen’s one of the most talented and fiercely independent designers around.

To put it another way: I met Edmund and he said he liked my stuff, and that meant a whole lot to me.

Future projects?

Right now I’m working on a game about reading. It’s like a mix of Miner 2049er, Q*Bert, Gauntlet, and Wonderboy/Adventure Island, with graphics made entirely out of text and levels taken from public domain books, stories, and poems.

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