Kevin Cancienne

Kevin Cancienne makes games. He loves dogs. Though he thinks its not a good habit, Kevin is a big fan of something he calls napstorming. And now he answers our questions!

Kevin by Aldeguer!

Kevin by Aldeguer!

1. How long have you been making games?

I’ve been making games for about 15 years now, depending on when you want to start counting.

Back in 1999, my friend Peter Ginsberg and I made a mod for Half-Life called Science & Industry, and I usually think of that as the point when I started getting serious about making games. Up to that point, I guess it had never occurred to me that making a game was a thing I could actually get away with doing. That feeling has never gone away, really, but I guess it’s improved over the years.

For a lot of my career making games, I had to make games in my spare time and in these strange margins where you might not expect to see games. It’s only in the past few years, with the emergence of the indie scene, that I’ve been starting to think: “Hey, maybe making games that people might play is what I do.”

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

This has been a big question for me over the past couple of years. Before striking out on my own, I worked with an amazing team of people at an independent studio in New York called Area/Code (our most popular game was an iPhone game called Drop7). It was an intensely creative environment, but also one that often approached game design as a form of problem solving. We did lots of work for hire, and clients would come to us with projects and we’d think of some crazy ideas for them, and it was great.

Now that I’m on my own, I’ve had to relearn a lot of how I make games. I don’t have a bunch of smart people to bounce ideas off of. I don’t have a client helpfully breathing down my neck, saying I need to get something done by the deadline. So I’ve frankly struggled a bit trying to find that motivation and that creative energy inside me. I’m still not sure I really have it, and I feel like a failure and a fraud on a regular basis. But I guess that’s part of my creative process.

Long pauses, procrastination, and the corresponding bad feelings about them are also a big part of my creative process, I guess. I’m a big fan of something I call napstorming. A napstorm is just what it sounds like — half napping, half brainstorming. I solve a lot of problems by doing that, but it’s dangerous, because if you do it too much, it’s just a bad habit. You’re just sleeping all the time.

3. Plus Gun is an interesting score-based first-person shooter in which players have to decide whether to generate points or purchase new and better guns. Where did its idea come from? Game is in alpha right now. Any feature you want to add to the game?

Plus Gun is an experimental game I made for the 7DFPS game jam in 2012. It’s the first game I released after striking out on my own, and I thought the 7-day game jam would be a good format to teach myself some new stuff. It’s basically a pretty silly and largely broken idea. It pulls together a few things I find pretty interesting — randomness, trying to do multiple things at once, the arbitrary nature of scores, and first person shooting.

I like first person shooters a lot, but I kind of hate what they’re about — so much glorification of militarization and hyper masculinity and elite carbon fiber and headshots and stuff. So I wanted to make a game about shooting stuff that wasn’t full of explicit violence, and is also kind of about not getting carried away with shooting stuff.

Plus Gun is a game where you earn resources by shooting enemies, who spawn continuously all around you, and then spending those resources to improve your guns, OR spending those resources to improve your score (like you said). So you can play the game for half an hour and blow up all kinds of stuff, but if you forgot to pull our your Point Gun and generate some points, you wind up with a score of 0 points, when you finally die. So next time you play and you do generate some points, but you maybe go overboard and don’t have enough resources to buy some better guns when more enemies show up, so you die really quickly.

I just kind of thought that was a funny idea. I like game mechanics that pull players in two directions at once. Of course in Plus Gun I also asked players to do all of that in real time; there’s no pause button so you’re opening menus and buying guns and trying to remember to generate some points all while tons of goofy polygonal enemies are closing in all around you and… it’s really too much and it’s definitely not for everyone, but it was a fun experiment.

And that’s where I think I’m going to leave it. Plus Gun will be in alpha forever, with all my silly broken ideas just where I left them.

4. You’ve described Dog Park as a fighting game without the fighting, a local multiplayer dog’em up. Just wow. Where did its idea come from? Do you like simulators? Which ones are your favourites?

I was lucky enough to get a commission for this year’s No Quarter show at NYU. It’s an amazing yearly event that presents new games in a gallery setting and has been a really great place to see new local multiplayer games. So I knew I had to make _something_, and I also kind of knew it should be a multiplayer game.

I had actually just seen this article about why game developers love cats and I thought — “Hey, what about dogs?” I’d had this idea for a game about a dog for a while, but I didn’t think it was going to work. Suddenly it all came together and I knew I had to make a multiplayer dog wrestling game for No Quarter.

I’ve spent a lot of time watching dogs playing and it’s been a source of fascination and happiness for years. So the subject matter felt really natural to me. But as a game designer, I find the dynamics of how dogs play together really interesting. Dogs are expert players. Dog play is made of all these ritualized moments of violence and dominance, but when it’s healthy play, it doesn’t cross the line into real violence. Dogs are really good at regulating their play. Playing and playing well is this really deep instinct for dogs, and I thought it would be interesting to try to pull some of that into a game for humans. Healthy dog play isn’t about defeating a bunch of opponents — it’s about having fun above all, while simulating all these really dark and dangerous real-life situations and working out social relationships.

So the pretentious idea at the heart of Dog Park is to make a game that has all kinds awesome “fighting” in it that’s not about defeating your enemies. It’s about how we work together, by pretending to fight each other, by competing with each other, to create enjoyment for each other. In other words, it’s about trying to turn my players into dogs, for a few minutes at a time.

I haven’t played Goat Simulator or any of the other “be an animal” kind of games that have come out recently. It’s interesting that there does seem to be this trend emerging. I hope that Dog Park can carve out its own unique spot within there.

5. Art direction in Dog Park is really great (low poly and amazingly fluid animations? Sign me in!) Do you recognise any influence from other artists? Which artists working on games do you like the most?

I’m glad you like it! Producing art is not something that comes very naturally for me. For most of my career as a game developer, I’ve been more of the programmer-guy, or the game-design-programmer-guy. As I was describing above, I’ve kind of been on this journey for self-sufficiency. When I started working by myself a couple of years ago, I was committed to figuring out how I could create games without any outside help. So I had to teach myself a bunch of new skills, and art and animation were part of that. The low poly style is something that appeals to me visually and is in the sweet spot of where my visual art skills and what looks good to me kind of overlap.

I think just about everyone working in a low poly style today owes a certain debt to Timothy Reynolds, who created a bunch of really beautiful and really influential low poly 3D illustrations a couple years ago. And going back quite a way, the style developed by the folks at NetBabyWorld was really far ahead of its time. And Devine Lu Linvega‘s cel shaded, low poly, frenetic spider tank third person shooter Waiting For Horus was also a big inspiration when I was trying to figure out an art style I could work in.

6. Dog Park got lots of attention from players and press around the world. I remember seeing those amazing vines everywhere. Why Vine? Any favourite dev to follow on Vine?

I’m afraid my use of Vine is completely pragmatic and self-serving. I was making slow but steady progress on my game, and as I started to see these little moments come together, I wanted to share them. At the time, getting animated gifs to embed and display nicely on Twitter seemed kind of hard, but Vine worked just fine. So I started pulling out my phone and shooting little animated bits right off my screen. I’m glad some people liked them, but I’m not a big Vine user otherwise, and I don’t really follow anybody on there.

7. Kill Screen Daily, Business Insider, Daily Mail… and the list goes on and on. How are you coping with all the hype Dog Park is generating? But more important, when can we play the game? (We have lots of chasing and running in our to-do list!)

I’ve been incredibly lucky and I’m happy so many people seem to like what I’m working on. It’s a strange time to be a person who makes video game things. Individuals and small teams don’t have the huge piles of money that it would take to buy tv commercials and put up billboards and things to get people to hear about their stuff. But for whatever reason, at this point in history, we have this huge hype machine ready to pick up stories and spread them around the internet for us. Most of the time that works out pretty well, and it’s a nice symbiotic relationship. I guess hype scares me a little bit, so I’m trying not to take any of it too seriously.

The first time anyone in the world will be able to play Dog Park is at No Quarter in New York City on September 19, 2014. After that, I’m going to try to take it to some other festivals and events, because I’m really designing it as a party game that’s best played in person with a bunch of other people around. Dog Park is actually only one piece of a larger, dog-related project, however, and when I’m done with this piece I’m going to start figuring out how to get all of it out to people who can’t come out to these events.

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 just an impossible question for me to answer. I’m lucky enough to live in New York City and be surrounded by many, many brilliant, talented game developers. I just can’t pick only three, even if I stuck only to people within a 10 mile radius, because I’d be sure to leave someone out, and then I’d have no one to drink beers with.

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

I guess this is finally my chance to give the answer you always see game devs give to this question: When I’m working hard on a project I have trouble keeping up with new games. In general, though, I guess I tend to “go deep” on games and spend a lot of time playing the same game, trying (and usually failing) to get good at it. In the past, that’s typically been some kind of multiplayer first person shooter — until recently, I played lots and lots of TF2, and then I briefly got back into Counter-Strike a little while ago.

There are two games I currently play on a daily basis: Ascension for iOS and Vlambeer‘s Nuclear Throne. They’re both games that make me incredibly angry and I love them completely. Ascension gives me my multiplayer fix. I usually have a few games going with some other game dev types. My friend Noah Sasso, who made Bara Bari Ball, is my biggest rival. My wife will tell you that I regularly scream in anger about getting “Sasso’ed” again.

Steam tells me that I currently have 148 hours in Nuclear Throne. I use Nuclear Throne like some people use cigarettes. I play Nuclear Throne when I’m stressed out and need to relax. I play Nuclear Throne when I’m bored and need to feel excited. I very, very often play Nuclear Throne when I’m stuck on a hard problem with my work and need to shut my brain off for a little while. And then I play some more Nuclear Throne later as a reward for finishing a chunk of work.

10. One last random question. If you could have anything you like attached to your chin, what would it be and why?

This was a hard question, and the answer actually came to me during one of my napstorms, as described above. I was lying on my bed at an awkward angle and my chin kind of hurt and my mind was drifting and I was thinking about this ridiculous question. And it occurred to me that, since napstorming is such a big part of how I work, it would be nice to have a small, self-inflating pillow attached to my chin so that I could nap comfortably anywhere, at any time.

Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper is an artist/designer from Canada. His games and creations are beautiful and expressive. And now he answer our questions!

Tom Cooper by Aldeguer!

Tom Cooper by Aldeguer!

1. How long have you been making games?

I have been making games for about six years. I got started after high school when I began working as a game tester and learned 3D modelling while working at Silverback Games in Halifax. But I really feel like I got my start making games after entering local and on-line game jams.

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

I tend to set out making games without a solid idea. I mess around inside Unity for a while until I find something interesting. I like to not constrain myself and let the game go in the direction it wants. I’m drawn to things that have an emotional effect on me and I am constantly aware of how I feel while playing the game.

3. Emotion is really important in you approach to game design. Why? Which games come to your mind when thinking about “emotional depth”?

I am trying to express myself through my games so I make games that make you feel emotions that are real to me. In my game RTR I was trying to show how I sometimes feel disconnected and lonely and have a strange relationship with the shapes and sounds around me.

Emotion should be important to all game designers and to all artists. But most game designers only focus on making you feel a few emotions like feeling power or success. People crave these emotions and game designers have been cashing in.

This is part of the reason so many people feel alienated by games today. They are seen as a waste of time or childish. Games are important to me and I want to be a part of their future. A future where games are respected as a medium of powerful and true expression.

‘Journey’ is one game that really had me feeling strong emotions. It was beautiful and not just because of the aesthetics. It was a wholly satisfying experience.

4. Together is an interesting puzzle game where the player controls simultaneously a number of characters while thinking about human relations. Where did its idea come from? Do you like puzzle games? Which ones are your favourites?

‘Together’ was literally the first game I tried to program. I wanted the scope of the game to be really small. After making a script that would control a cube using the arrow keys, I realized I could just duplicate the cube a couple of times. If there were obstacles in the way it would lead to cubes getting out of sync, which I could work into some interesting puzzles. I wrote the quotes for the levels after playing through it a couple of times. The game seemed boring and unsatisfying. I played through Rod Humble’s “The Marriage” and I started thinking about the cubes as little people and how the movements and situations were a great metaphor for human relationships.

I loved Portal2 because It really satisfied my love for spatial reasoning puzzles. I was always the kid that would solve those hard wooden/metal puzzles you find on old people’s desks.

5. Road to Ruin is a game you’ve made for the Halifax Game Collective’s month long “Elder Technology” jam. Where did its idea come from? Was it your first idea when thinking on the jam theme or have you had others?

When I first heard the theme I knew I wanted to try making a simple game that had you engaging in a 3d space of some kind. That was the starting point. I messed around in Unity with render settings and lighting. Imported an animated model of weird gears spinning and some sound effects built from wave forms and filters. I just kept building it out from there with whatever “felt right”. “Elder technology” makes me think of old electrical equipment and steam engines so I wanted to create something in that vein. This familiar feeling emerged from the game as I was making it so I kept pushing it. I was trying to see how much could I make you feel using just the environment and sounds. The layer of a doom and gloom environmental message came after seeing what I had created and thinking about what it would be interpreted as. I reformed the game to pursue one of those interpretations.

6. What do you think of game jams? Are they important? Any particular story you remember from one of these jams (weird bug, crazy feedback, etc.)?

I find it hard to get motivated to make something if I don’t know if anyone ever gonna see it.
This is why I love game jams. I’ve been in about seven jams of different lengths and intensities. Ludum Dare and local halifax game jams and more recently the halifax game collective’s month long jams. I almost always collaborate with really talented people that share my passion for games. But I have realized that the games I make alone are very different from the games I make when I collaborate.

I have a lot of stories from game jams. But one sticks out as being memorable. The halifax game jam themed “Discovery” where I worked with about five other people to create a top down 4 player gamepad only co-op dungeon escape game titled “Cave”. In Cave each player was in charge of one of 4 different items. The items were pickaxe, shovel, rope and lantern. The player with the lantern had the only light in the scene and the camera was locked to them. The pickaxe player was in charge of smashing the obstructive boulders. The rope player was in charge of creating rope bridges. And the shovel player was responsible for digging up keys. You had to work together to solve puzzles and dig the 4 keys hidden in each level then get to the exit. Each player would feel controller rumble when standing over a key, all except the shovel player responsible for digging them up, so you had to communicate verbally about where the keys where hidden.

It was a really cool game that was only ever played one time in ernest because it requires 4 people all with rumble gamepads to sit at a computer.

7. Art direction in Road to Ruin is really impressive (we also love color palette in Forrest of Dreams). Do you recognise any influence from other artists? Which artists working on games do you like the most?

Thanks! I have been really influenced by modernist painters like Piet Mondrian for the simple colour pallets and I’ve always loved and drawn influence from architecture and sculpture. I’m currently attending NSCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) a school known for its history in conceptual art. Going there has had a huge influence on me as an artist and game designer. It let me put games in context among other artistic mediums and let me see with fresh eyes ways of creating more meaningful work.

Game designers like Increpare have also influenced me with games like “slave of god”. I draw a lot of influence from the people in the halifax game collective as well.

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

Jonathan BlowJenova Chen and Alec Holowka. All three are pretty different but have been people i look up to in game development. They are all part of a movement to make more meaningful games.

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

Despite all my talk about how games have a lot of problems and most aren’t really emotionally meaningful. I still play a ton of games. I’ve played games my whole life and love shooters and puzzle games and twitchy fighting games. Im still really big into n64 smash bros and play Hearthstone, League of Legends and Faster Than Light. But if thats all that games ever where, it would be a tragedy. If every movie was Star Wars I would cry.

10. One last random question. If you could rewrite any character’s back story from any video game you can think of, which one would it be and what changes would you make?

I don’t know if this counts as a rewrite but I would make sure people knew that Mario was just high out of his skull on magic mushrooms. Being a plumber was too boring so he got blasted on caps before work. The games actually makes more sense this way.

Folmer Kelly

Folmer Kelly is an indie game designer, pixel pusher and cat person. He is half of Sets and Settings (the other half being Andrew Nissen). He’s working on the amazing Trestle. And now he answers our questions!

Folmer Kelly by Aldeguer!

Folmer Kelly by Aldeguer!

1. How long have you been making games?

It feels like I’ve been doing it forever, but I’ve been making games since 2012.

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

I think that my ideas come from details, little things that stick with me for one reason or another. Some recent examples: A youtube thumbnail embedded on a forum (It was Future’s Coupe), a song I really disliked until the chorus kicked in, the way King Of Fighters R1 has idle animations for a couple of characters that show individual fingers moving… I was marching during the Pride parade in Stockholm this year and there was one person who made a point out of putting make-up and glitter on every cop they saw- it was non-threatening, the cops were good sports about it, and it would get big cheers every time. You can break that sequence of events and its context down into game loops in a hundred different ways.

So from there my creative process is, I make mock-ups. Everything I design always starts with the graphics. Even if I have a game mechanic in mind, I just find it impossible to start with placeholder art; I need to see the finished artwork in action to be able to determine whether or not a game concept works.

3. We love Set and Settings myth of origin. Can you tell us more about it? What was like receiving that email from Andrew? What were you doing at the moment? Why did you guys choose the name Sets and Settings?

So the backstory to this is that Andrew had started a thread on a forum challenging people to make a game based on a theme he picked every week, and I participated in that a couple of times. At some point Andrew was working on a game of his own that he thought had potential but he needed graphics, and since he knew me from that thread he contacted me. To be honest, I didn’t think too much of it at the time. I was basically like “yeah why not!”

That collabo, Cargo Breach, was cool, but the moment we realised our chemistry was special was when I was playing some of his older work- he had this game featured on RPS or PCgamer or somewhere, this minimalist platformer about switching gravity, and it gave me the idea for GRAVNAV. I remember I pitched that concept “it’s like Canabalt but with the gravity switching of your game!” to him on a friday, and we finished it on sunday. That’s when we decided to form Sets and Settings.

I always love it when people ask what Sets and Settings means because it’s usually not what they’re thinking of at all. ‘Set and setting’ was a concept in psychotherapy where they’d use hallucinogenic drugs on mental patients. The idea was that Set refers to the mental state or mood of the user, and Setting was their physical and social surrounding. To me that idea translates really well to games; the players bring their Sets to our Settings.

4. I remember playing lots of Irrupt on my iPhone. I mean, lots. Where did its idea come from? Irrupt has been our for a while now, any favourite feedback you remember?

Irrupt was somewhat of an accident. I was mocking up this weird little platformer and for some reason I rotated the image. So the floor and the ceiling became walls, the player sprite looked like it was flying, and the single tile platforms turned into falling blocks. As soon as I saw it I knew it would work on iOS. And at the same time, Andrew was getting into Matt Rix’s Futile framework so he was really excited about it. It ended up being the first commercial game made with Futile, something we’re still proud of.

My favourite feedback on Irrupt? I remember someone recording themselves for hours trying to beat their own high score. To not only play the game that much but also get it on video just to show to the creators of the game, that’s amazing.

5. Trestle is “a hectic arcade game about standing your ground, testing your skill, and grabbing as much weaponry as you can”. Where did its idea come from? It’s also a grid base game. What are your favourite grid-based games out there?

Trestle basically exists because I was looking at Mega Man Battle Network LP’s, loving the art and animations, and then getting SUPER FRUSTRATED to see the “paused” screen come up every couple of seconds. So I started thinking “what if this was action-based instead?” and it just flowed immediately.

Grid-based action games is a concept I fell in love with, I think most grid-based games aren’t really about action though. If pressed for a favourite I’d probably have to say Mega Man Star Force, which was the successor of the Battle Network series. It’s just weird and silly and looks fucking awful in screenshots. I love that.

6. Trestle is looking really good. Do you recognise any influence from other artists? Which artists working on games do you like the most?

Thanks! Trestle’s character design owes a lot to Peter Queckenstedt aka Scut, who does these great organic-looking robots and cyborgs.

As far as game artists go, I’m more into projects than individual artists. That said, I adore the work of Annabelle Kennedy who had this very distinct, intricate-yet-cute style of pixel art.

7. Trestle was selected by the Indie MEGABOOTH to be shown at the first ever megabooth to be at GDC. Wow, so many good games there. What do you think of this kind of initiatives? And what about festivals in general? Do you think they are important? Why? Any favourite anecdote concerning one?

Yeah, that was quite an honour! Sadly I couldn’t be there myself, so I asked Andrew what his thoughts were and he said “I think it’s important because it gets developers together that might not otherwise get together. Like, I would never have hung out with the barkley crew, or koop mode, or the lovers in a dangerous space-time people.”

We really appreciate that the Indie MEGABOOTH gave us that opportunity, there’s no way we would’ve been able to afford a booth otherwise. In general I think festivals and expos are great, although I haven’t been to any of the big names myself and some of the things I hear seem iffy. Like, I don’t know if I would do PAX. But then I was at A.MAZE in Berlin earlier this year, which felt more like an art gallery than a game expo to me, and it was amazing. I was looking at this game called Keyboard Mandala and someone came up to me excitedly telling me about the game. I assumed it was the creator but it turned out it was a fan of the game. That’s just the best thing ever.

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

Hm. That’s a toughie! Probably I’d say Robin Hunicke, who is one of the few people in games to not only do great things creatively, but also looks at the bigger picture, AND just loves life. Most game developers I follow tweet about their projects, some talk about the scene, Hunnicke is the only person I know who can instagram a dang sunset and make it feel like game design. Then Scattle, who needs to make more of everything. Then Phil Fish.

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

I’m not much of a gamer at all, and these days I mostly play stuff that people around me are working on. I’m very much looking forward to Hohokum, that’s going to get played to death.

10. One last random question. If you could turn any movie/book into a gameboy game, which one would it be and why? And what tagline/one-liner would you use to sell it?

Oh dang. Huh. Hmmmm. I, Fatty by Nick Stahl. I like the idea of taking something dark and involved and making people play it on a tiny handheld screen. Seems like it would be weirdly immersive and intimate. I don’t even know what kind of tagline you could possibly put on that one, maybe be all slick like “This is heavy.”

Amora B.

Amora B. “creates characters and animates them using lots of purple.” Together with Pedro Medeiros, Amora founded Studio Miniboss. She’s smart, talented, and crazy productive. And now she answers our questions!

Amora B. by Aldeguer!

1. How long have you been making games and/or art for games?

It’s been four years now! Before that, I used to work with traditional animation.

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

Maybe it sounds silly, but it’s from everything. Sometimes it’s a movie, or an article, or a dream, ideas come from everywhere. But for me, a good idea is an idea that works. If I think of something for a game, but don’t have the means to actually make it, it immediately becomes a bad idea. I try not to get too attached so I can move on to the next idea more quickly. I also skip making a GDD and try to have a prototype as soon as possible. I’m pretty bad at just imagining if a game feels good or not, I need to see it and play it, even if it’s just with a bunch of placeholder squares.

3. Pedro and you founded Studio Miniboss, an independent game studio “currently in São Paulo”. How is the indie scene in Brazil? What about gaming event hosted there or game jams? (Note: If you guys ever visit Argentina, drop us a line so as we could grab some drinks or something with other local devs and cool people from here!)

It’s hard to say, it’s such a big country, but I have this impression that the scene is only growing and the games are getting better every year. When we travel, we try to show around some games made by “our people”, but sadly no one seems to care much, haha. Jams are awesome in Brazil, people take them really seriously. The Global Game Jam is kind of huge here, especially the one in Curitiba. As for events, they’re still kind of boring and really expensive, but that’s also getting better, I think. BIG Festival was pretty cool this year.
Man, I would absolutely love to visit Argentina and meet the local devs! Please let’s try to make that happen soon.

4. You’ve made art for Towerfall, an amazing game by Matt Thorson (with great music by Alec Holowka!) How did you meet these guys? What was it like to work in this project? Any favourite anecdote regarding Towerfall development?

When we made Out There Somewhere, we sent it to a lot of indie developers we admired, but only a very few replied, and Chevy Ray was one of them. That’s how we started talking to him. An year later, when Bossa released Deep Dungeons of Doom, Chevy showed it to Matt (they’ve lived together for years) and he thought that style of pixel art would be cool for TowerFall, so Chevy introduced him to Pedro in an email. Working on TowerFall was amazing, everyone on the team was so talented and so passionate about the game. It got even better when we moved in with the guys at IndieHouse Vancouver for three months, we had this awesome connection, it really didn’t feel like a job at all. I think my favourite anecdote would be the one of how I got into the team, the same one I always tell: Pedro showed me the game, it featured four chubby archers, each of a different color. He told me he would have to come up with new designs for them, and I said “You should make at least one of them female”, to which he replied “Oh, there’s going to be two girls”. I got excited and said something like “Cool, a pink archer, then?”, and he said “No no no! I mean, there IS going to be a pink archer, but that’s a boy. Girls will be green and blue.” and I just went NUTS, I begged him to let me draw the characters even if he had to sign their designs himself.

5. Out there somewhere is a game you’ve made in 2012 but somewhat reworked and re-release it on Steam earlier this year. What has changed between these two versions? How was it like publishing it on Steam? Any favourite feedback from players?

We released OTS in 2012 as a test, we just really wanted to know what it was like to have a game released. How to send it to press, how to charge for it, how to deal with bugs, all of that. But it was made on an old version of GameMaker and it only ran on Windows, also it had a lot of bugs we had no idea how to fix.
We sent it to Valve and it was approved for Steam, but then they stopped answering our emails because of internal reasons. Greenlight was launched right after that, so we just assumed they wanted us to go through that new system. We submitted the game, but we didn’t have the energy and time to keep asking all our friends, fans, and family to vote for it, so it was just there.
A few months later, we were in London working on Deep Dungeons of Doom with Bossa, and coincidentally there was going to be a Valve dinner for developers, so our friend Rodrigo signed us in. Pedro went, met someone from Valve and told him about OTS, and he replied that if the game was approved once, then it was approved, we didn’t have to go through Greenlight. He gave us his contact and the game was finally in. But we were embarrassed to put that first version so we remade everything on Flashpunk 2, to have more control over bugs and to have it running on Mac. We also added some graphics (like animated portraits for every character) and changed the last battle dramatically. Funny thing, OTS was also Greenlit a few months ago. My favorite feedback is from this guy who took his time to write us an email only to thank us for the game. He said he played it a bunch of times and got all the achievements, and he also asked for a sequel. The guy who made a whole screenshot map of the game is a close second.

6. You seem to be doing amazing stuff non-stop. What are you working on now? Any super secret project you wanna share with us? We love scoops!

We start too much stuff, and I always feel guilty when we have to stop any of them, but that’s how it is for us. We “sketch” games like crazy and often have to put them on hold to do other stuff that actually pay our bills.
Right now, our main projects are [ARMADA] and SkyTorn. The first is an awesome arcade RTS by PocketWatch Games, meant to be played with a controller, and we’re doing all the art. The second is a sandbox platformer inspired by Terraria, Pedro is doing all the graphics and Noel Berry is programming, the other guys at IndieHouse Vancouver also help.
When I’m not doing [ARMADA] I try to work on my own little game, it’s a silly experiment in GameMaker Studio so I can learn some coding. After I’m done with that I want to go back to Tapestry, a game we started last year. It’s a platformer based on intuition, kind of like a sandbox within plot limitations. I also started a game called Deicide, with friends Midio and Rodrigo, a co-op multiplayer based on Smash TV, about four girls on their quest to kill God.

7. We really dig your illustration and character design skills. Do you recognise any influence from other artists? Which artists working on games do you like the most? And what about artists working on comics?

Thank you! I’ve always been greatly influenced by manga, I think Rumiko Takahashi is fantastic. Lately I’ve been using Loish as a reference for colors and process, she has such a unique style. As for game art, I absolutely love Wakfu’s, both its backgrounds and characters. The animations are incredible! Don’t know the name of the artists, though. Also, can I say Pedro? He’s so versatile and teaches me so much, and he’s so incredibly fast too (our jam games look amazing mostly because of him). And Elisa Kwon, always. From comics, I like Ryot and Quadrinhos A2! I also love Milo Manara.

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

I won’t say Pedro because that would be cheesy. I think I would choose Locomalito, Noel Berry, and Joakim Sandberg (konjak). They’re so ridiculously creative and have been inspiring us for so long. I know I wouldn’t be disappointed following only those three forever because they are always coming up with awesome new stuff, they’re all like crazy game-making machines, and it’s always something really fresh and fun. 

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

No, I used to be, but making games kind of ruined that for me. Whenever I play now, I feel like I’m studying. Sometimes though, I get extremely hooked on something. Last games that I played like that were Mario Kart 8, Path of Exile, and Ace Attorney Dual Destinies. I’ve also been trying to learn some Dota 2.

10. One last random question. (Take a breath, Amora. This is going to be a long one, and probably poorly written! Sorry about that!) If you could change the complete name of any actor/actress in the world for whatever you think fits his/her face or just for the sake of a good laugh… who would it be, what would you call him/her and why?

Hmmm I guess I would change Javier Bardem’s name to Jeffrey Dean Morgan, or Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s name to Javier Bardem so they would be the same person. Because they look exactly the same to me and it’s disturbing.

Tom Kail & Jon Tree

Tom Kail & Jon Tree are the guys behind Biome, a gorgeous game that is receiving a lot of well-deserved press and player’s attention (Biome is really something, and it’s painfully beautiful.) And now they answer our questions!

Biome devs!

Tom Kail and Jon Tree by Aldeguer!

1. How long have you been making games?

Tom: I started making games seriously as soon when I discovered the indie scene in my first year of University. I’ve only recently graduated, so I guess that means just over 4 years. Me and Jon have been working together for nearly a year now.

Jon: Not long at all! I’ve been making small things in Flash for a few years but nothing major.

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

Tom: I tend to be inspired by sound and visuals rather than gameplay. While we feel that gameplay is often the most important part of a game, because a good game design is gestalt by nature it can be hard to borrow ideas without just ruining or ripping off the design, which isn’t what we’re about. By taking inspiration from a visual side, you can work out the gameplay afterwards. It doesn’t always work, but it sure as hell leads to some good looking games; and when it works, what you end up with often plays in a totally unique way. It’s probably the reason so many of our projects end up as toys, rather than games.

Jon: I think it’s different every time. Currently I’ve been looking at the natural world, specifically animals. I try to go hiking fairly often and my favourite spot is frequented by a herd of wild goats. I guess just watching things and thinking about them, running through all the ‘what ifs’.

3. Before starting Biome development you were working on Vectagon. Why did you decide to put it on hold? Are you going to resume working on it? (We love infinite runners, and wow, Vectagon looks really cool).

Love that you asked this. We’re currently taking a short break from Biome to remake Vectagon from scratch. It’s going to be so much cooler. We’re really hoping that we can use it to raise the funds for Biome, but we’ll see how that goes. It’s so much more fun to release things for free.

4. You describe Biome as “a minimalist digital zen garden for everyone”. Where did its idea come from?

It actually started a lot more bloated and ‘gamey’ than it is now. We took the art style and instinctively started piling on things like goals and win states, but they all felt really forced. A long design conversation helped us find Biome’s core. It’s a relaxing experience about exploration designed for everyone, regardless of interest or skill with games or technology. To that end, we’re keeping interactions simple, tactile and intuitive. It’s those features that make a great toy.

5. Biome art direction is really impressive. (Low poly world? We’ve said it before and we’ll do it again: SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!). Why low poly? Any low poly favourite artist or game out there?

Thanks! We’ve found that working with procedurally generated geometry (as we do in both Vectagon and Biome) allows us non-artists to create some really pretty games. Which is great, because we both really like pretty games. Tom actually has a blog dedicated to them. Timothy Reynolds is the king of low poly. Biome first originated as Tom’s attempt to imitate him using code! As for games, Skipping Stones looks beautiful.

6. We’ve been playing Biome development version and we are already hyped! It looks really amazing. What can we expect on the final version of the game? Any scoop you can share with us?

Jon: Wild goats.

Tom: Evil deer.

7. Biome has been shown at 3 festivals to date (love those tips on your tumblr devlog). Do you think festivals are important? Why? Any favourite anecdote on one of these festivals you attended?

From a developer point of view, they are the single most important thing for networking, improving and marketing your game. We’re trying to do as many as we possibly can. You get some great stories too – we had a player who really enjoyed our demo, but had to leave because his daughter caught chicken pox. We sent him a build so he could play from home, and he sent us back a photo of them both playing it. That was really sweet!

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

Tom: Man, that’s hard. Koop Mode make some unique beautiful stuff. I like Aliceffekt’s work too, although I don’t claim to understand much of it. I’d like to see Phil Fish start developing again too, he’s a great graphic designer.

Jon: Yeah that’s a tough one. Hideo Kojima is a must. I keep coming back to the Metal Gear games and they always have something new to show me. Ed Key would make my list as well. I really dig the way he thinks about games. Lastly, @takorii. Every one of his games is filled with absurd amounts of character and charm. I’m huge fans of all of these people and their work and thoughts inspire me daily.

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

Tom: I wish! Between my job and personal work I don’t get much time to play games. That said, I’ve been playing a tonne of Minecraft with my girlfriend lately.

Jon: Far from it. I used to, but development is taking up a pretty big chunk of my time. If I get a spare moment I’ll pick something nice from Warpdoor and see what it has to offer.

10. One last random question. If you could change any movie ending, which one would it be and why?

Jon: Okay, it took me ages to think of one but I’ve finally got it. The Matrix! The ending was fucking terrible!

Tom: I would probably have changed Apocalypse Now so that it never ended. I could watch that movie forever.