Christina-Antoinette Neofotistou

Christina-Antoinette Neofotistou (a.k.a CastPixel) makes games and art for games. Now she answers our questions!

Christina by Aldeguer (Note: Joaquin's drawing got rejected!)

Christina by Aldeguer (Note: Joaquin’s drawing got rejected!)

1. How long have you been making games? What is it like being a female game dev in the indie scene? Anything you’d like to tell to fellow female game devs starting out?

I made my first game by copying a listing from the C64 manual (I was 6). It was supposed to be a joystick-controlled bat that chases flying bugs around the scr- wait a minute! <googles frantically> THIS ONE! I found it . Sadly it never worked for me. The print quality of the greek manual was appaling (printed on a faint dot matrix printer) and I probably got some PEEKs and POKEs wrong. I’m sure going to try it on an emulator now!

Anyway. I was always trying to make games myself, but coding resources were scarce when I was growing up, and I was way more interested in the animation and making the games look cool anyway. Plus I was too lazy to learn how to code. I mean, I spent days upon days of making character-art robots (like my then favorite C64 game “SideArms”), inside PRINT statements, and would make the code refresh the screen to make them move.
10 PRINT” (*) “
20 CLR * clear command in commodore basic
30 PRINT” )*( “
etc

It looked cool and it came naturally, so why would I want to enter strings of meaningless RAM addresses?

I never stopped planning games on paper since. Always huge, overachieving monstrosities based on my currently playing list. Quest for Glory 3 didn’t even run on my PC, didn’t matter, I used the info in the manual to make my own fantasy campaign.

My second brush with actually making games was when I was I was given a bootleg version of Klik and Play (later “The Game Factory”, later “Multimedia Fusion”). I was in awe! I could make games with drag and drop! I actually made a Ballistix clone back then (a Psygnosis game similar to the boardgame Crossfire) and quickly realized I had to step up my game graphics-wise. So when I got into medical school, I naturally ignored actual medicine and picked up the WACOM. I became a professional illustrator for a living, and in 2011 I picked up Construct 2, being familiar with the drag-and-drop interface from Klik And Play and began calling myself a gamedev, in the hope I can live up to that title…

***

My experience as a female gamedev and a female gamer is mixed. On one hand there’s very supportive people. On the other hand the vast majority of games are uninterested or openly hostile towards women players, and I get my gamer cred (and my general geek cred) belittled just because I’m a girl. You know, because, cooties.

It’s hard being in a line of work that you can’t see yourself in. I mean lately there’s all these *amazing* female gamedevs and game artists, musicians, you name it and I’m so giddy with excitement for the future. But it’s been like 28 years of games with only male player characters, games with CASUAL misogyny, games where I couldn’t see myself and was treated like that was normal. It isn’t. Having your bad guys punch and kidnap a woman might have made for ONE good game story, but it’s been the frigging norm. Having your bad guy call the male player character’s love interest a bitch and a whore to show you how edgy the game is, didn’t frankly make me think highly of women and myself. And for years in geek circles I would think less of myself for being female, thinking that was my place, and later I’d go on to say that no, other women are inferior weaklings, I’m not like other women, I’m one of the guys -you know. The usual signs of internalized misogyny. Thankfully, thanks in part to fantastic feminist geeks, I got over that.

So yeah. I play as femShep in Mass Effect and the female character is SO clearly slapped on in the second part of development that lots and lots of replies are the generic male one by mistake. That takes me SO quickly out of the zone, it’s not even funny. I won’t even dwell on the invisibility of non gender-binary characters in games, and how everything is cisgender and straight men and women, or at best (shock!) cis gay men and cis lesbian women.

And then there’s the fact that this is the norm. Men are considered people, with motivations and job descriptions. Women are just “girl”. It’s the same in most media, but as a gamer gamedev I notice it more in games.
Misogyny and the male gaze is rampant. When Samus was revealed to be female, people were freaking out, does that make male metroid players gay? Outrage! Nintendo deceived us! Duke Nukem, seriously? Male orcs in WoW being triple in size to their female counterparts? Shadow of The Colossus, an emotional masterpiece, one of my favorite games, and what does the character that looks like me do? Sleep in a magical coma for the duration! Even Snow White had more lines in her story! The list is endless.

Mind you, I don’t think games have to pass the Bechdel test or have obligatory women in them. Stories about just men are fine. Sam’n’max, Roger Wilco. It’s just that when it’s always the same tired trope, and when women make an appearance they’re either prostitutes, your mom or your love interest, and worse, when there’s belittling of feminine traits, homophobia, transphobia, ridiculing of male characters who aren’t manly enough, and the one girl in the whole game dies in the end? And no people of color anywhere, even though it’s a fictional setting? Wtf.

Lately this has begun to right itself. Feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, and pro-social justice critique, invaluable in all other media, is being applied to games. At a great cost. Even the feminism 101 of Anita Sarkeesian is met with so much hostility. Female gamedevs and gamers are suspect. We use our body to gain favors, we “were asking for it” whenever someone threatens us. I’ve received threats as a female game dev, as a trans woman and as a lesbian. Friends have received threats. When we talk about our oppressions we are usually met with skepticism and “are you SURE you didn’t provoke him?” or hostility “you are just trying to create drama and get more famous”. Newsflash, I want to be working on games 100% of the time, yet I’m dragged into unwinnable arguments with people supporting sexist opinions constantly. No, women aren’t naturally worse at hand-eye coordination. No women shouldn’t be prevented from competing in the same gaming events as men. No, it’s not my time of the month. I’m not doing this for drama or fame. I’m talking back because if I don’t talk back, indie gamedev and gaming/geek spaces in general are going to stay hostile to me, and they feel like home to me, and I don’t want a hostile home.

Fellow female devs are rightly put-off by the recent display of overt misogyny, as am I. 4% female participation in the latest Ludum Dare. That says everything to me. But gaming and gamedev are passions. We learn to adopt, adapt and improve, thanks to role models, like Sarkeesian, Bell Hooks, Adam “Atomic” Saltsman, Will Wheaton, Elena Serova the first female cosmonaut on the ISS, who was asked how she’d wash her hair in space, and she replied to the double standard by reversing the question “why aren’t you interested in the hair of my male colleagues?”. The whole gaming and gamedev community is going to have to improve. It’s not just the female devs’ fight. To new female devs I say: keep strong and self-organize into groups.

2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.

I used to think I have no stories to tell. Apparently, I have lots. They just need coaxing. Gamejams are amazing for that reason, I’m suddenly on fire, bursting with ideas. My creative process so far, when not making games for other people, is this: enter Ludum Dare, get super-fired up, come up with an idea that seems amazing at the time and then botch up the execution in the course of three days :D I make pretty graphics and animations, get completely stumped on code, and discover how untrained and unskilled I am at proper, fun level design and game design. I end up with a pretty-looking tech demo that looks very promising and is not fun at all. So I promise myself I’ll finish it later. And I actually do work on those, as my confidence in my coding skills improves. This is where I’m at, for the time being. I can talk a lot about failure, but not a lot about a workable creative process :)

3. You’ve made lots of games for Ludum Dare game jams. Which one is your favourite and why? Any story or anecdote you like concerning Ludum Dare?

I love love love Ludum Dare! I have enough game ideas to last me a decade already, thanks to LD. My absolute favorite is Kumiho, the game I developed with Fedor Jutte. It was an amazing experience, we were both super-thrilled and on a roll, ideas exploded out of us. The final game is a cool combination of controlling a super-powerful spaceship, and game stages that test your power to the limit. When I play it, at no point do I feel the game is being unfair, it’s always my fault when I fail. That’s what’s awesome in good bullet-hells. We made the game via skype, and became friends :D
My favorite of the games I’ve made completely solo is Legend of Troll. It’s The Cave/ Lost Vikings type of game (because I was on my 5th playthrough of The Cave at the time, most probably), and I love that a lot of people quoted “all hail the Queen” from the game. It seems they connected to the characters. I want to finish this game SO bad. But my lack of skill in game design is still holding me back. Soon, though…

4. Unluckily, last Ludum Dare you didn’t make it… BUT WOW. World Tree sounds really interesting. A game with greek goblins “influenced by the great Dungeon Keeper and some Amiga nostalgia”? Sign us in! Are you fleshing it out? Also… what are your favourite Amiga games and why?

You’ve certainly done your homework <3
I am indeed fleshing World Tree out. Learning about finite state machines. Also, the game I made for SpeccyJam later that week helped me solve some problems with pathfinding. So yeah. With each game I make, I’m closer to finishing up the unfinished ones. It might not be an efficient system, but it makes me happy!

My favorite amiga games, wow. I didn’t actually own an Amiga, I had friends who did. During the reign of the amiga I played on C64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, gameboy DMG and an IBM PS/2. Sometimes I played ports of the same game on different systems. My favorite games at the time were Gods, Prehistorik 2 and Ugh! (the prehistoric flying cab) the PC port of Xenon 2 as well, Bubble bobble, Rainbow Islands – everything Taito made. Too many to mention! Solomon’s Key, Agony. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark – she was probably my first crush. Rick Dangerous, Bombjack, Tetris, Defender of the Crown – hundreds of hours on that one. The Bitmap Brothers and Psygnosis were my idols at the time, because of the graphics that were so full of style. Lemmings. Cadaver. Zool, Gobliins, Beneath a Steel Sky, Indy and the Fate of Atlantis, Monkey Island, Space Quest – everything by LucasArts and Sierra really, Ultima Underworld, Wing Commander Privateer, Captain Blood, Space Crusade, the Last Samurai, Civilization, Speedball, Saboteur, Eye of the Beholder – oh that captured my imagination for months. I played *everything* I could get my hands on. I’ll stop now :D What I’ve taken away from the Amiga is the immaculate – for the time- presentation and the mysterious otherworldly realms. But that’s probably just Psygnosis and the Bitmap Brothers. Pinball Dreams and Diggers 2- Extractors, and Mandy, the sort-of-interactive sex movie. Now I’m done.

5. Your pixel art is amazing. Do you recognise any influence from other artists? Which artists working on games do you like the most? And working outside games?

Thank you, I’m glad you like it, and do I ever! All I do I owe to other pixel artists! Snake, Helm, Fool, Cocefi (chickysprout), Syosa and Paul Robertson ( see the curious lack of women in my list? :/ I’m taking suggestions! ) and Marina (making Octopus Blues) are modern artists that come readily to mind. And of course all the breathtaking talent that’s gone into making all those console games for all the years that 2D games were AAA titles. Unknown Nintendo or Sega or Capcom men and women that have created masterpieces and whose elegant solutions to pixel-placement problems are awe-inspiring even to this day. And Susan Kare, the woman who created the first ever icons for Mac, is totally my hero and should be everyone’s as we probably owe her the look of modern operating systems.

6. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?

Eric Chahi, because of Another World and From Dust.
Double Fine because of everything, and because Psychonauts still ranks as one of my faves, and because Tim of Legend is making an effort to include women and hear what we have to say.
Jane Jensen because of Gabriel Knight, but since she’s not super-super active, I get another one (my rules)
and Kim Swift for Portal.

7. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?

I’m the heaviest gamer I’ve met yet, which is sad, where is my geek circle of friends? Try to keep up please, you don’t need sleep. At the moment I’m replaying Wizorb (damn you adorable slimes), first playthrough of Shovel Knight, Lego Marvel Supeheroes (kinda meh so far), Dungeon Keeper II for the 10th time, the Cave again, Child of Light, Costume Quest, Fez, Spiral Knights and XCOM Enemy Unknown. Also Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit (I wish the obstacle course had a million levels, seriously!), Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Grim Grimoire, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, Windwaker, Katamari Damacy when I want to feel all-powerful and free, World of Goo, and Candy Crush. Incidental, art or super-casual games I’ve played this week, like Mainichi by Mattie Brice, Faster than Light, Desktop Dungeons, Indiana Jones Desktop Adventures, Rabbids Go Home and Mario Party 9 might also count. And Mass Effect 3 is sitting on my desktop, but I’ve left it half finished for too long…

8. One last random question. If you could have any ability from a metroidvania game in real life, which one would it be and why?

Double jump EASILY! Imagine what that would mean for modern physics.

Daniel Linssen

Daniel Linssen (a.k.a Managore) is a prolific game dev who loves game jams (he’s won several!) and make really interesting titles. And now he answers our questions!

Daniel Linssen by Aldeguer!

1. How long have you been making games?

I’ve only been releasing things for about the last twelve months but I’ve dabbled around with game concepts and level design for a very long time. I remember coming up with Sonic 2 levels on graph paper when I was 7 or 8! I think that was my first experience with level design and it’s fascinated me ever since.

2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.

I was originally going to say: Everywhere. Books, movies, dreams, random thoughts, I think I grab ideas from everything I interact with. I feel like I have ideas swirling ’round the back of my mind a lot of the time.

But then I thought a bit more about it, and most of the main ideas for my games have come to me on the spot, under the pressure of game jams. Having to work within the confines of a particular theme is a great way to come up with innovative ideas. If I can, I try to go for a walk or talk about the theme with a friend, anything that might lead to an interesting interpretation of the theme.

Once I have an idea I’m happy with, I like to explore the idea as much as possible. If it’s a game mechanic, which it often is, I try to work out all the ways the mechanic can be used or exploited by the player and then build levels or challenges that send the player down a similar road of discovery. I feel like most of my games end up being pretty simple but with a (hopefully) interesting idea for the player to explore.

3. HopSlide came 3rd overall in Ludum Dare #30 Compo. Wow… 2 games in 1? Where did its idea come from?

Originally HopSlide was a lot more about obvious interactions between multiple games. You pressed a button in one game, and it did something straightforward in another game, that sort of thing. In fact I started with the idea of having four games in one: a platformer, a sliding puzzle, a top down shooter and some undecided genre. I quickly realized this was an insane idea, given the time constraint, and settled instead on just two games.

Once I had the main mechanic working (the blocks in the sliding puzzle representing the worlds in the platformer) I decided that what I really wanted to do was make the two games connect to each other in every way I could imagine. Really take Connected Worlds to the utter extreme. And that’s what led to the different puzzles in the game.

4. Speaking of Ludum Dare… You’ve won Ludum Dare #29 Compo with The Sun and Moon! How did you come up with this concept?

My Saturday was spent at a friend’s wedding so I only started brainstorming that evening. I had come up with two or three terrible game concepts already when I had this image of the player diving into water and buoyancy pushing them back out. Like releasing a beach ball underwater. The idea just popped into my head and I have no idea where it came from.

From there I started thinking about all the different types of motion the mechanic allowed for, and how these could be explored through level design. At this point I still didn’t have access to a computer so all of this was either in my head or scribbled down on paper. By the time I got home I had many of my decisions already made and half a dozen levels planned out!

5. You’ve fleshed out The Sun and Moon with new features and more content… how was it like working on the post-compo version of the game? Also, the game is going to be available on Steam on November 14… What are your plans for release day?

It felt great to be able to spend as much time as I wanted coming up with levels and new features, but progress also became much, much slower. With game jams there are much lower expectations; bugs are fine, no one minds if certain features and options are missing. When you start working on a full game there’s this expectation – real or imagined, it doesn’t matter – that every detail has to be perfect, because you have all the time in the world to change and fix things. Game jams force you to make tough gameplay decisions and it doesn’t matter too much if you make the wrong choice. It would be nice if making critical decisions post-compo were as easy.

As for my plans for release day, I think I’ll drive somewhere remote and give myself a little holiday!

6. Roguelight: “The deeper you travel the darker it gets”… Where did its idea come from? Any favourite feedback from players you remember?

Well I’d recently finished a game called Haemo where you use your blood trail to find your way around in a pure white world, so the idea of traversing an area with limited vision was something I was really excited about exploring further.

It began as a top down rogue-lite (or rogue-like-like) game where there was a small light radius around the player and everything else was in the dark. The original idea was that getting hurt would reduce your light radius until you ran out of light and died, but this wasn’t particularly new and meant that after you were hurt a few times the decreased vision led to a quick and inevitable death. A game that gets significantly harder when you’re close to death isn’t very fun, I feel.

So instead I went with a limited supply of arrows that lit up the area they landed in, which after a few iterations became arrows that lit up as you nocked them. Like all rogue-like and rogue-lite games, the player needed to have lots of meaningful decisions to make, so I added in lanterns, fireflies and enemies so that the player always had to decide on the best use of their precious arrows.

For the shading, the half-light in the game started off as a 50% dither (a checkerboard effect) but at some point I wanted the half-light to look more realistic. In real life, if an object is almost completely in shadow you tend to only be able to make out hints at what the object’s shape is, and most of the object’s colour is washed away. I wanted the half-light to reflect this.

As for favourite feedback, one of the first reviews I read was titled Roguelight (Down, Down, Down I Go…) and it was an incredible read. I was absolutely honoured to have something so detailed and thoughtful written about something I had made!

7. Art direction in your games feels great. Do you recognise any influence from other artists? Which artists working on games do you like the most?

When I was working on my Ludum Dare #28 game Javel-ein, Fez by Phil Fish was still fresh in my mind and I know it definitely influenced how I approached the art in that game. VVVVVV by Terry Cavanagh is another strong influence. In general, I’m always really interested to see what people can achieve with a very limited colour palette and low resolution.

There are too many incredible pixel artists for me to list, and there’s no way I’d be able to pick just a few favourites based on skill alone, but since I’m partial to artists who try to take things in new directions I suppose I can name a handful of people who I feel are trying to do something a bit different.

Takorii used 2D sprites stacked on top of each other to fake a 3D effect for STEP and Rubna used a similar effect for Lisa. Both games are gorgeous, and everything else made by either of them feels pumped full of style. Lucas Pope is working on an amazing looking game called Return of the Obra Dinn, and has released lots of great stuff including of course Papers, Please.

8. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?

This is really, really hard to answer. I’d need to list at least twenty people to even feel okay about my answer. If I have to choose only three, though, then I would have to pick Matt Thorson, who has been making incredible game after incredible game for years. Towerfall, MoneySeize, Jumper and especially An Untitled Story are exemplary. Secondly I’d choose Droqen, who seems to have a magic touch when it comes to game design. He has made too many good games to list, but Fishbane is a personal favourite. Thirdly I’d choose Terry Cavanagh, for pretty much the same reasons.

9. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?

I used to be, but recently I’ve pretty much substituted making games for playing them. I play Kerbal Space Program to relax. There’s something about exploring the depths of space which is really peaceful. I also try to play through as many Ludum Dare games as I can, and similarly for other game jams I participate in.

10. One last random question. If you could turn any pop singer into a character in one of your games… Which one would it be and why?

Haha, by pure coincidence I’ve already sort of done this! The main character in one of my games, Busy Busy Beaver, was officially named Justin. Justin Beaver. There was also a dog named Snoop.

Teemu Väisänen

Teemu Väisänen (a.k.a Pixelmind) is a young game dev from Finland. And hey, he’s the winner of the Ludum Dare 30 compo! Now he answers our questions! 

Teemu by Aldeguer!

Teemu by Aldeguer!

1. How long have you been making games?

Its hard to say when exactly I started. It’s been a hobby of mine for years. I guess my first serious project was a mod for Battlefield 2 which was about 8 years ago.

2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.

Usually they come from other games and movies. I also like to ”gamify” everyday things in my head. I’m not sure why but I regularly see dreams of games too.

I try to write down any useful idea so my phone is now full of short descriptions of game ideas and mechanics. Usually these are quite loose, like ”Super Meat Boy but blind folded”. I often don’t even remember what the original idea was. For some reason I get most of my ideas before I go to bed, in a dream or right after waking up.

3. You’ve won Ludum Dare #30 Compo with Superdimensional. How did you came up with this concept?

It actually came up from a discussion we had with my girlfriend. I had read from an exam book that young babies have not yet developed a clear concept of their surrounding world. Basically they think that the visible world is all there is. If something is hidden then it ceases to exists. We later develop the skill to understand that a person in the next room is not gone forever and that there is a world beyond our vision. So we happened to have a short discussion about this with my girlfriend so it was still fresh in my mind.

When the ”connected worlds” theme was announced it quickly reminded me of the discussion. I wanted the player to be confused by what he or she saw and what was real. Only the current visible portion would be relevant and has its own set of rules. From there on I just had to figure out a game mechanic how to show and hide worlds.

I first intended to make a level based puzzle game using the mechanic but I decided to ditch the idea. I guess it felt too much like a puzzle game with a gimmick. I ended up with an endless runner with a gimmick instead! Much better!

4. Tom Francis (creator of amazing Gunpoint among other things) described Superdimensional “like the most stylish possible Flappy Bird (Compliment!)”. What do you think of this one-liner? Have you played Flappy Bird? What do you think of it?

It’s great to read such an awesome developer comment your game! It’s almost like you were playing a gig with your garage band and have James Hetfield compliment your band afterwards.

I think the comment actually describes the game quite well. I wasn’t thinking of Flappy Bird when I made the game but they do have similarities. One of my inspiration for the art and even some of it’s game mechanisms from an iOS game called “Badland”. It also has similaraties to Flappy Bird so it’s not that far off really.

I’ve played Flappy Bird for about 15 minutes until it made me want to destroy something. I’d still say it is a great game though. I like how it’s purely based on a simple but effective game mechanic. It also has that love/hate relationship that you often have for games like VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy. Those too can be really frustrating but the reward of finally beating your score or level feels so much better than what you get from a game that holds your hand all the time.

5. What was it like winning Ludum Dare #30 compo? Do you remember where you were when you found out? How did you react?

The rankings are not the point of Ludum Dare but it’s still interesting to see what your fellow developers think of your game. So the night before I was really exited to hear the results. It was late and I tried to get few more games rated before the deadline. I think the staff had to postpone the results a bit and I was going to have an early wake up next day so I just went to bed.

I woke up few hours later and checked the results. I was still so sleepy so I had to ask my girlfriend if I read it correctly. I had to check couple of times if I really was looking at the correct list. It really felt unreal and hard to believe.

After that I went kind of nuts and started singing and dancing in the kitchen! Of course I was really proud but there were so many absolutely fantastic entries that deserved the top spot. I really didn’t expect to win at all. I was hoping to be in the top 100 based on the positive comments it got.

6. What are your plans with Superdimensional after winning Ludum Dare #30? Are you fleshing it out?

I’m not sure yet. I’m currently really busy with trying to get my degree out. That’s going to take few more months. After that I’d really love to concentrate on game development. It could be Superdimensional or some other project.

It’s been quite an agony to do some silly school stuff when there are so many game ideas revolving in my head. LD was a great way to get some of that out.

7. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?

I don’t like to rank devs so I’ll choose 3 very different type of developers: Vlambeer, Wargaming and Cactus. Vlambeer is a prime example of a great indie game dev. It would be interesting to see how they work. Wargaming would be interesting because they started relatively small but are now the industry ”big boys”. Cactus‘ games are so different than anything else out there that he’d definitely be worth following.

8. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?

I used to play a lot but these days its hard to find the time. I managed to finish Walking Dead Episode 2 recently. Now I’ve been playing Metro 2033. World of Tanks has also been a regular thing for years now. We always play it in a platoon with friends so it’s more of a social thing these days though.

9. One last random question. If you could sing any song in front of a trouserless crowd… which one would it be and why?

Guns N’ Roses – ”Welcome to the Jungle” but I’d sing it with that deep sexy Elvis Presley voice. Why? Because I always sing that in front of a trouserless crowd.

Jérôme Morin-Drouin

Jérôme Morin-Drouin is the guy behind The Incredible Company, creators of Alcazar and Manifold. Both games are amazing, so you should check’em out. And now Jérôme answers our questions!

Jérôme by Aldeguer!

Jérôme by Aldeguer!

1. How long have you been making games?

I made several tabletop game prototypes since high school. Some of them work quite well, but none of them is published yet. I started experimenting with solo puzzles about 3 years ago, and Alcazar is my first video game, which I started developing last year.

2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.

I’m not actively looking for ideas. They just seem to pop into my head all the time. It’s not always a good thing. Idea n+1 is always more exciting than idea n, and I find it very hard to continue working on an idea when so many new ones have arrived.

Last year, I started writing down one new idea every day. Not only games: it can be anything. I write one idea per page, with text and pictures. When the new idea is on paper, I can stop thinking about it and focus on what I was previously working on.

So it’s a good tool for me. Not only to find new ideas, but also to organize them and stay focused.

3. Alcazar is a sudoku without numbers. Where did its idea come from? (Also, the game is already available both as a book and an Android app. Are you planning to release it on iOS?)

When I tried Sudoku, I liked the theory behind it, but as a player, I was bored. Looking for small numbers in a grid felt more like filling my tax report than playing a game. So I started thinking about a pencil-and-paper puzzle that would be like Sudoku, but faster, more visual and more intuitive. It’s often a starting point for me: a game is popular but I don’t like it, so I want to make my own version of it.

Years after, I started experimenting with different puzzles about tracing lines, but my concepts were all too easy or complicated. During a cycling trip in Andalusia, I visited the amazing Mezquita in Cordoba. It’s mainly a large room with few obstacles, which made me wonder: how can enter, see everything, and exit, without seeing the same thing twice. That was it. A few weeks later, I had the exact blend of simplicity and depth that I was looking for.

About iOS: that’s what I’m currently working on. I’m new to all of this, so it takes a bit longer than expected, but it should be ready very soon.

4. There seems to be a growing Alcazar community both making and sharing new puzzles. Which one of these puzzles made by the community do you like the most? Why?

It’s a very small community, and I only shared two puzzles that I didn’t do myself yet. The first one is here. To prove that the solution is unique, you just need a couple of simple and unusual ideas. That’s what I like about Alcazar: it rewards creative shortcuts.

This is the second one. Basically, I like it because it’s difficult. But I don’t have real favorite. My favorite Alcazar is simply the next one, and that’s the beauty of it.

5. You seem to enjoy creating puzzles. Do you also like solving them? Which puzzle games are your favourites and why?

I’m still looking for a puzzle to fall in love with. When I play a game, it’s important for me to feel like I’m following my own path. In most of puzzles, the path leading to the solution already exists, and the player just has to find it.

6. Manifold combines origami with Rubik’s Cube resulting in something new and clever. Do you like mashing up game mechanics? What are your favourite mashup games?

With Manifold, I wanted to turn a non-game (origami) into a game. Using colors and squares (instead of numbers or pictures for example) simplified the game by linking it to something people know: the Rubik’s cube. For me, mashing up is just a way to integrate an external element into a game. It’s a design tool.

Two mashup games that I like are Nimble Quest and Super Puzzle Platformer.

7. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?

Oh. I don’t have a good answer to that. Actually, I’m fairly new to the world of video games. Can you ask me that question again in a couple of years?

8. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?

No, I’m not a heavy gamer. I spend too much time in front of a screen: work, communication, news… So I prefer tabletop games. For example: Seven Wonders, The Resistance and Animal upon Animal (it’s for kids… but it’s great). However, at different points in my life, I did have unhealthy addiction to the game Civilization.

9. One last random question. If you could turn any building in the world into a person to watch a movie with… which building would it be and what movie would you watch together? Why?

On a date? I’d choose the Alhambra (in Granada), because it’s incredibly beautiful, complex and colorful. For the movie, let’s see. Humans like movies about fictional humans with extraordinary lives, so buildings probably like movies about fictional buildings with extraordinary lives… The Grand Budapest Hotel would be a good choice, I think.

Ben Esposito

Ben Esposito is an independent digital game maker in Los Angeles. He makes lots of cool stuff. His next game is Donut County. Now he answers our questions!

ben_esposito

1. How long have you been making games?

I started modding seriously in 2007 I think… It didn’t really amount to much for a while. I made a handful of mods and freeware games until 2011 when I got the opportunity to work on The Unfinished Swan.

2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.

On top of a mountain? Inside of a fish? I wish I knew… I know I can always find ideas inside other games, though. It’s usually a tiny little thing. The way something moves, maybe. Timing, weight. It’s almost always kinetic. It will sit in my head like a little snippet of music, playing over and over.

I like art and novels and films and poetry and stuff but I always think about games in terms of music. They’re kinetic, they have rules, rhythm, dynamics. They can repeat and change over time procedurally. At least the types of games I’m drawn to.

3. LA game collective “Arcane Kids” is one of our favourite game collectives out there. You are making Perfect Stride, “a first person skateboarding game for Windows & OSX based on old school FPS movement exploits (Quake jumping, Tribes skiing, CS surfing)”. Love that one-liner and hey, we’ve played last IGF version and the game (music and mechanics above all) is really amazing. Where does its idea come from? Also, what are your favourite titles on the Dreamcast?

Wow thanks! The idea came from when I was modding in the source engine. If you simply turn the friction off and try to move around, you’ll get some version of Perfect Stride. We put out a mod based around that, like there were no code changes at all, just a bunch of maps and a tweaked settings.

Perfect Stride is just a more approachable version of that I think it’s a really fun to skate in and I want to introduce it to people who haven’t tried anything like it before.

My fav Dreamcast games: The Chao garden from Sonic Adventure, Seaman, Phantasy Star Online.

4. You’ve just revealed your new game: Donut County, “a whimsical physics toy that gives players control of a mysterious hole that gets bigger each time they swallow something”. Where does its idea come from?

Looney Tunes? Monty Python? Yellow Submarine? The idea of a portable hole is all over the place. A fake Peter Molyneux (Molydeux) tweet inspired the game itself though. He suggested playing as the hole itself! Gotta give credit.

5. The pits (Molyjam), Kachina (post-Molyjam), Donut County (now). What did it change in this whole process? Why did you decide to go from Kachina to Donut County?

I thought the idea behind Kachina religion was really interesting, Kachina designs themselves are gorgeous and ever-changing. During the first year of development I learned a lot about cultural appropriation and its damaging effects. For a while I tried to address it in the game, but I ultimately learned that I have no place representing other people’s beliefs and cultures. I decided I could tell a similar story using the things around me, hence Donut County.

6. You’ve said that “Bruce Springsteen is the boss” and that he was a big influence on Donut County. Why is that? 

I was listening to him a lot when I first started the project, but I’m inspired by the way his music talks about places, not just people. I also grew up on the East Coast of the U.S. where he is THE BOSS.

7. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?

Vectorpark. His work is like music in the way I described earlier. They’re about play without being games in the traditional sense.

Porpentine. Porp is a top notch designer and writer, and suuuuper funny. She has done a lot for the interactive fiction scene!

Zak AylesZak is young and full of raw power. Zak once described to me his desire to make games that cause physical pain.

9. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?

I try to play games but they’re sooooo much work!! Even turning them on takes too long. That’s why I love mobile games. Some games I’m playing now: Hohokum, Desert Golfing, Skate 3.

10. One last random question. If you could only watch a gif for the whole eternity, which one would it be and why?

Easy one.