Coffee Powered Machine

Roque Rey (R) and Sebastian Gioseffi (S) are the guys running Coffee Powered Machine, an indie studio from Argentina making Okhlos (a game about an Ancient mob of ancient Greek in amazing pixel art?! Shut up and take ALL our money! ) And now they answer our questions.

Coffee Powered Machine by Aldeguer!

1. How long have you been making games?

R: I started doing freelance work like 7 years ago doing banners for early mobile games. Then I started working for a casual games company, and around 4 years ago, we started Coffee Powered Machine. I started with another partner, Diego, doing a mobile game, but the game flopped and we ran out of money. At that time, he was offered an important job in some US startup setting here in Buenos Aires, and the opportunity was too good to pass it out. I didn’t want to accept the idea of working for a salary again, so that’s when I contacted Sebastian to see if we could squeeze a dollar out of the defunct game (spoilers= we couldn’t).

S: Aside from some experiments with Basic, AGS and level editors during my childhood and teens, my first foray into the videogames industry was a bit over eight years ago, when I started working as a programmer in Gameloft. After that I went on to work as a game designer in the same company as Roque, and a few years later I went on to join him in Coffee Powered Machine.

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

S: We usually got lots of game ideas lying around so the problem is to narrow them down. We start by trying to find something we both want to make, which often means ruling out games we wouldn’t normally play (e.g.: we rarely play any mobile social games, so we rule them out). Then we start mixing in some more restrictions: “It would be great if there were X in the game”, “I would love a game where you could do this”, and so on. By this point get to a point where there are only a few ideas that fill all the requirements so we move on to prototyping.

When it comes to adding new features, game elements or trying to solve an issue in the game we first sit down to talk about what we need to do. We try to detail what want to accomplish, what the game needs or what is not turning out as we would’ve wanted. Then we think for a while, toss a some solutions and discuss them. After that we choose one to prototype and playtest, and we do that. Does it work? If it does, then great, if not, back to the drawing board. Some features take lots of iterations, others one or a few, but the process is always pretty much the same.

R: We don’t have a formal process, but is pretty much as Sebastian says. In Spanish, we have a proverb that goes “In the track, you see the horses” (literal translation) which implies that you can only see how good a thing is in the context that is supposed to be good at. In the last three years we’ve been mostly working in Okhlos, so I’m more used these days to the implementation of a feature than the prototyping of a new idea. When we are implementing new things, we usually try to break the game, doing drastic things, and explore something new with the mob, and the features we came up usually sounds amazing and that will fix all of our design problems. But when we implement the feature, it’s quite difficult to know if we fixed something or we broke it. Once you play sooo much your own game, you start losing objectivity about the fun in your game. In this process, usually determining what should we keep and what we should discard is the hardest.

3. Okhlos is “a roguelike action game in which you control an angry mob of ancient Greeks who have set out to overthrow the Olympian Gods and destroy everything and everyone that stands in their way! It blends 16-bit styled pixel art characters with fully interactive 3D environments and features procedurally generated cities to rampage through. ” (Wow, that was a great one-plus-one-plus-one-liner to describe your game). Where did Okhlos’ idea come from?

S: Once again, we started narrowing down possibilities. The premise in this case was to make a game with lots of different characters. Soon the idea of the mob came up, and it felt right. The ancient Greece setting soon followed. It was a good fit because we both loved Greek Mythology, and it also provided tons of characters and stories to draw upon. Right after that we started working on the prototype, with the rest of the mechanics coming afterwards, but with the core concept, the idea of the mob, of trying to control something chaotic and messy, as the guiding principle.

R: The secret part of that which we don’t say often is that the idea of an angry mob came while we were brainstorming about what should we do as our next project. I can’t really recall exactly why, but we ended quoting the Simpsons’ episode Bart After Dark, where Bart had to work at a burlesque house, and when Marge finds out, gathers an angry mob to close the burlesque house. The angry mob part must had really stick with us.
I can remember that the Greek setting was reached in the same brainstorming session, but I can’t recall how we ended there.

4. Okhlos has an amazing art direction. Do you recognise any influence from other game artists? Which game artists do you like the most? And what about artists in general?

R: I love Paul Robertson and Simon Andersen. They are not particular influences for Okhlos, but I really enjoy following their works. As a direct influence in the Okhlos style, I really dug into the aesthetics of the Pokemon games, particularly the Black & White versions which merge 3D and pixel Art. Another early influence was Ragnarok, which also merged both styles (but I think it didn’t age well).

S: The art direction is really great indeed! And it’s all Roque’s fault. I told him this crazy pixelated thing wouldn’t work, that no one would like it, but we wouldn’t listen.

5. Okhlos is going to be published by the amazing guys at Devolver Digital. How did this happen? Did they reach out to you? Did you contact them? What is like to work with a publisher? Have you met Fork Parker?

S: We met Andrew from Devolver at the BIG Festival in São Paulo. He got a chance to play the game, we hanged out with him and got along very well. He then got back home he showed Okhlos to the rest of the folks. Soon after that they said they would be interested in working with us and after some deliberation (the word publisher was still scary for us) we hopped on board. From then on, everything went straight on. They are as cool as they seem and working with them is a breeze. It is very reassuring to be working with people who are great at what they do, and that lets us focus our efforts and worries on the thing we do the best, making the game itself.

And we did have a meeting scheduled with Mr. Parker but, he ended up being way too hungover from the previous’ day party so we had to settle with his underlings.

R: I think it’s very early to say how it’s been working with Devolver yet. So far, they were really cool, but we’ve been working with them for only two months now. The most comforting part is that they really know what they are doing, so we can relax a bit in issues that in other scenario we might had neglected or completely freaked out. We weren’t planning any kind of testing scheme or localization before talking to them, and they know how to deal with that kind of stuff. We had a very shitty experience with an Argentinian publisher in the past, so I’m trying to be very cautious.

6. There are tons of Okhlos Let’s Play videos… Which ones are your favorite and why?

R: I think my favorite ones where The Sparrow Journey and MegapiemanPHD, particularly because they seemed to enjoy very much the game, which is always very, very satisfactory, and they gave us a few very good ideas. I think it was Sparrow which thought that the mob gauge in the HUD changed the morale of the mob, which it didn’t at that point, and we ended up changing it that way thanks to the video. I don’t quite remember why I liked the MegapiemanPHD video so much, but I think he was pretty funny.

S: We get very excited every time someone uploads an Okhlos Let’s Play video. As Roque said, it is wonderful feeling watching someone enjoy the game. It is probably one of the best things about being a game developer. That’s way it is very hard to pick any favorites. The first one that comes into mind though, is the one that Price from Stumpt did. The video was great, and they are such nice folks, that it is hard not to love it.

7. You guys have won Best Gameplay at Brazil Independent Games Festival. Wow. Congratulations! How did it feel? Did you expect it? Also, what do you think of Game Festivals in general? Are they important for indies? Why?

S: Thanks! It was truly great! We didn’t really expected it. At least not after seeing the games we were up to. There had so many games submitted to the festival, and such good games, that we thought our chances were slim. So it was a surprise. An amazing surprise!

And speaking of festivals in general, they are definitely very important for indies. I’d even go as far as to say they are crucial.

First of all, they are a great way to show off your game. The press, the rest of the industry and players, all in different degrees, pay close attention to the festivals. Secondly, they help build up communities. Festivals are a great excuse for everyone to gather, mingle and forge beautiful friendships. We met a lot of really cool Brazilian developers at the BIG Festival, for instance, and, like we said, it was also there that we first met the Devolver folks.

And even if your games doesn’t get selected into a festival or you can attend it, you can still benefit from it. Not only it is a chance to show your game to some of the most knowledgeable and experienced people in the industry, as is often the case of the judges, but simply trying to reach a festival’s submission deadline can be a big help to the game’s production. Most of Okhlos’ largest milestones have been around festival’s deadlines.

R: We weren’t expecting it. The thing is that I was toying around with my cellphone when our category was announced, and when they were saying the nominees, a stage manager from the BIG came and told us “Guys, get ready, you are next”, so it was kind of a spoiler, but we were too happy to care.
As Sebastian pointed out, submitting your game is very important, no matter how alpha it is. When you are independant, you don’t have a boss, and you usually don’t have dates to fulfil, so trying to have something playable or something stable-ish is super useful for general progress.
Also, from the game festival point of view, it really helps attracting dev of the region that otherwise wouldn’t be attending at your show. When you award someone, that someone usually makes a lot of noise about winning in your event, so it’s pretty symbiotic in that regard. Right now, it’s like the IGF is the most important festival out there, but if we had more festivals in that vein (and in a variety of countries) we would all benefit from that.

8. Okhlos is set for a 2016 PC, Mac and Linux release. What are your plans for release day? Also, what are you working on right now (game-wise speaking)? Any scoop you can share with us?

R: I’m finishing content right now. I’m working in Okhlos last world, Olympus, and I have to do a few more bosses and heroes.
As for the game, we are constantly tweaking values, and making small changes to see which feels best. We have a few things that don’t feel quite well yet, and we are still experimenting a lot.
For the release day, we don’t have a particular plan yet, but as we said before, publishing with Devolver makes us relax a little bit about that, and let them handle that. I think Devolver wants to have a final trailer just a few months before launch (the trailer we have now is absurdly old), and when the trailer launches, they will get very aggressive PR wise. TL-DR, I have no idea how the release day will be like.

S: In terms of scoop, the first thing I can think of are some of the secrets and hidden things in Okhlos but I wouldn’t want to spoil them. What I can share is that there is an Okhlos card game that we playtested recently and it is really cool. I don’t know what will happen to the game, even if it will ever see the light of day, but I sure hope so.

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

S: Jonathan Blow, because he’s not only a brilliant game designer, he is also constantly challenging preconceptions in games, challenging the way games are made, what they are and what they can be. Jason Rohrer, who is another amazing designer trying to expand the borders of the videogame world. All of his games are wonderful experiments that can lead in any direction. That he manages all of that being a father of three, makes him all the more of a role model. Finally, Cactus, Jonatan Soderstrom, who is immensely creative and prolific, and whose games are always worth playing.

R: I love Edmund Mcmillen games. They are very visceral in a sense that all game design choices are driven by some kind of intuitive feeling of the overall game. There is something almost palpable in his style, and with very simple premises he can do something extremely rewarding and fun.
Derek Yu is another amazing developer which I love to follow. He always tweets about amazing arcane art stuff from old video games, and he really loves indie games. Also, Spelunky is one of my favorite games.
This might sound a little demagogic, but i will say it anyways, Daniel Benmergui. His early work is amazing (I wish I were the moon, Today I Die), but besides that, he really tries to analyze the game design process, and learn from it. Listening speak about game design is really illuminating.

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

R: Another spanish phrase I usually use a lot when talking about this is El que toca no baila (the one who plays music doesn’t dance, literal translation). For starters, I don’t have the time to play a lot, and I really enjoy developing, so I spend my free time doing exactly the same thing I do in my work hours. I love to play games but very briefly, and I almost never finish games. I try a game, I might like it or not, but then I pass on to other games.
Right now, I’m playing a lot of roguelike-like games, like Downwell. I really love the feeling of an infinite game. Obviously is not infinite, and you can get bored five minutes after you started (not the case with Downwell), but the idea of a game that might surprise you in every new run is what I love the most these days. I’m a fighting games enthusiast, but these days I don’t play them so often, mainly because I need a partner in crime available to really enjoy them.

S: Yeah, it gets harder and harder to find time to sit down and play games just for the fun of it. But the last time I did, I played The Talos Principle and 7 Grand Steps. Both great games I really enjoyed.

11. One last random question. If you could have a cup of tea with any God of any mythology/religion, which one would it be and why?

S: I’d go for a cup of “tea” with Dionysus. That sounds like fun, with a brutal mortal morning after, but fun.

R: With Greek gods, the chances of that meeting going particularly bad and end up transformed in a cow are incredible big, so I should stay out of it. I think having a cup of tea with Buddha could be fun. He will grasp the tea irony.

Bruno Moraes

Bruno Moraes is one of our favourite pixel artists out there. And now he answers our questions!

Bruno Moraes

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

I think I can say some of my first ever digital art attempts were little sprites, that I could animate by passing the image files really fast on windows photo viewer. Say, 5 years ago? Something like that.

When I started learning programming, I could see them run and jump and do things as I wanted them to, and the first time is a crazy magical experience, really. But for years it had only been a hobby, a couple of assets for a friend, some sprites for a game jam, nothing more. I only took a step further and started taking the time to learn and do it more seriously, and well, professionally, by the beginning of the year.

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

I don’t mean to sound generic, but I can easily be inspired by anything, really. And often what I end up making doesn’t have anything to do with what ispired me in the first place, it’s hard to explain. But let me try.

If I’m walking down the street and see a beautiful house, it doesn’t necessarily inspire me to draw a house, but instead, if an architectural detail catches my eye, it leads me to a string of endless associations and when I get home I have this crazy need to draw something as random as a space firefighter dog. This summarizes inspiration for me. My most creative material comes from those times when I have literally nothing else to do but think about all things. Like when I’m stuck for hours in a bus (which happens more often than not in Rio), or the nights it seems humanly impossible for me to fall asleep. Yep, definitely the times when I am most productive (aren’t we all?)

3. We really like your pixel art. Do you recognise any influence from other pixel artists? Which pixel artists you like the most? And what about artists working on other styles?

(Thank you!) I try really hard to absorb different aspects in other people’s art. Sometimes I don’t think it works, sometimes I just think it happens so slowly and gradually I can’t notice any changes.

I’m deeply in love with toyoi yuuta’s work, his pixel scenes give me a whole lot of feelings I wish I could show through my own. Gustavo Viselner, for his amazing movie-inspired scenes. Len Stuart, for his work on Pixel Noir, a gorgeous looking super clever game (that is on kickstarter right now so make sure to take a look).

I had long been waiting for Rival of Aether‘s release, but only recently I found out some of its character animation was made by brazilian hands! Midio‘s, specifically, now I look up to him, too.

Paul Robertson, Fool, and Simon Anderson are also worth mentioning but all they do is make me hate myself, so their names come last.

As for other Styles, I’m a big fan of Ian Worren (the art director of Gravity Falls), Patrick McHale (creator of Over the Garden Wall) , Rebecca Sugar (creator of Steven Universe) and Drew Green (storyboard artist at Cartoon Network).

4. You’ve made art (sprite animations) for Xintana’s Legends‘ alpha version (by Double Ring Studios and Radical Graphics). How did they contact you? Was it a remote work? How was your experience working in the game? Any favourite anecdote you remember?

I’m in a pixel art group on facebook, called (guess what) “Pixel Art”, and it’s a really good place for receiving feedback and sharing what I’ve been doing. So, the “boss” was there and found out we had a friend in common working on it; so we easily worked things out. But they invited me in such a hurry to have the alpha version ready in time, it was a little bit stressful to me, since I still take a whole lot of time to do animation. To sum it up, I made a bunch of animations for the main character and one of the bosses; and it made me really glad to see them move through the amazingly drawn sceneries the team was coming up with. Oh, and they’re from Colombia, so, yeah, completely remote work.

We had a bunch of miscommunication issues, language related, and the one that comes to my mind is how I was initially supposed to do a “slicing through walls” animation and I would come up with all kinds of ideas for that, but none of them had anything to do with what they had in mind. It was only after a couple of days I finally figured out they wanted a “sliDing through walls” animation, and suddenly everything made sense.

5. You have some really interesting pieces on your Tumblr (Some with more than 30k notes!) What do you think of the platform? Does it help to make your work known out there? Any other platform or tool you use to market your stuff?

Tumblr has its ups and downs, many of each. And it takes a lot of time and effort to really start being seen. But when one of your posts first goes BOOM, it’s an undescribable feeling, maybe one of the most exciting things in this sedentary and kind of futile internet world.

On the other hand, there’ll always be posts receiving way less love and attention as you expected them to, but it used to make me way more frustrated than it does now. We all have hits and misses, and I’m still young and can always try again, right?

But I guess I owe a great part of all this momentum I have going on right now to tumblr, my dear followers gave me enough courage, over the time, to keep doing what I do and showing it everywhere I could. So yeah, thumbs up to tumblr and tumblr people.

I use instagram, too, and deviantart. But to me they’re not nearly as useful and worthwhile as Tumblr and Facebook. It’s probably me doing something wrong, I don’t know.

6. How is the indie scene in Brazil? Note: We’ve already asked this question to Amora B. and Midio! And yes, you can check their answers ;)

It’s growing! Ask anyone and they’ll tell you the same. Making games is super cool. From time to time a great game comes up and I’m amazed with what people are doing. But it’s a slow process, and I can’t help but think some of these games are *kind of* misjudged for being Brazilian. I think we tend to expect less from what is made here, in general, and when a new game, different from what we’ve been seeing around, emerges, we tend to be biased and shine too many spotlights over it. Maybe they really are all that! But recognition is far from being fair, and sometimes we value things for wrong reasons and we’re not even aware of that.

But I’m proud to mention some awesome, recent examples of big achievements by some fellow Brazilian game developers:

Satellite Rush by Kimeric Labs, Project Tilt by BitCake Studio, and RacketBoy (which has an ongoing campaign on IndieGoGo), by Double Dash Studios. Go Brazil!

7. What are you working on now? Any scoop or exclusive for us?

I’ve been making a lot of commision work! They’re usually nice, interesting ideas and, whenever I can, I take them a tiny bit further as a “bonus”. As my personal projects, well, if I finished everything I started, I’d probably have made twice the content I have right now. I’m writing/doodling for a webcomic project of mine, and it’s been in my mind for months now. Expect a lot of exciting, real characters with unpleasant relatable stories as they dwell in these wild decayed space environments. It’s gonna be fun. I’m also thinking about my next “Pokemon+Disney princess” kind of series, people seem to like it a lot, and I have a great time coming up with the most diverse Pokemon teams.

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

Is this Sophie’s Choice all over again? LET’S DO IT:

Len Stuart from SWDTech Games, I mentioned him already, but really, Pixel Noir is mesmerizing, whimsical; and that coming from a person who’s only played the demo version. Glorious pixel art.

Reverge Labs mainly because of Skullgirls, the amount of detail on those thoroughly animated beautifully appealing sprites makes me cry (often), I watched a bunch of the making of videos, and I advise you to do the same. It’s almost hard to believe for a mere mortal such as myself.

And the guys from WayForward, since I had so much fun with so many of their titles, such as A Boy and His Blob, Mighty Switch Force 1 and 2, and Adventure Time games. It’s a gold mine!

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

I am not, believe it or not. Very few games captivated me enough to have me playing hours and hours, days and days straight. I’m not very proud to say that i’m part of the population that has dozens and dozens of games they’ve never played on Steam. In my defense, I’m more thorough nowadays, and when I do buy a game, I’m most definitely gonna play it. Recently I’ve been playing Rivals of Aether, Pokemon Sage (Demo version), Picross DS, The Dream Machine, and Kirby: Triple Deluxe.

I frequently come back to Binding of Isaac and Pokemon (Alpha Sapphire, that is), so I guess I’m always “playing them now”. Hell yeah I’m a casual.

10. One last random question. If you could mash an animal and an electronic device together into some kind of cyborg thingie… Which would you choose? Why? And how would you call it?

This question instantly reminded me of The Flintstones and how they’d always use actual animals as appliances (those bastards). But let’s see, how about a chameleon and a laptop charger; and whenever your laptop is running out of battery and it’s really important that you plug it in; it hides somewhere, camouflages and disappears. I’ll call it “My laptop charger”.

* (I like how for you, reader, this question seems to have taken me 3 minutes to casually answer when it actually took a whole day of background thinking.)

Johan Gjestland

Johan Gjestland is making the amazing Fugl. Now he answers our questions!


1. How long have you been making games?

Not long, just a few years. I’m actually a film maker by trade, so gamedev is just a hobby for me, although I hope to do it full-time in the future. I love the interactivity of computer games, and the the creative process making them is so hands on and fun. I feel the medium is in it’s infancy if you compare it with an established medium like the novel or even films, so there is so much to try out and experiement with.

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

I don’t really find ideas for games, I just have some games I want to play and I can’t seem to find them anywhere. It’s very frustrating as I download a lot of games, but I usually don’t like them very much, or at least lose interest very quickly. So I try to make them myself. I spend a lot of time just experimenting and tinkering. Sometimes I take a break and an idea suddenly just forms in my head. It’s hard to explain, but my creative process is very much about just being hands on and iterating again and again until it clicks.

3. Fugl is a flying game in 60 fps featuring procedural voxel terrain… Where did its idea come from?

Since I saw the first Microsoft Flight Simulator as a kid in the 80’s, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of simulating flight. But it’s been very frustrating also, as most flight games focus on technical simulation and shiny graphics, and not on a good feeling of flight. So I’ve been trying to make my dream game and I’ve done a lot of research in the process: What I figured out is that a sense of scale is very important for perceived speed and a rock steady, buttery smooth 60 fps is a must for a proper immersion.

To get a great sense of flight you also need a lot of stuff zipping close past you in theee dimensions. Voxels are great that way, as they are not restricted by an height-field, so you can have caves and overhangs and in general much more interesting terrain.

The procedural aspects is just something I’ve always been into and it’s a lot of fun to play with. It also makes the level-design much easier as I don’t have to place the individual blocks, just come up with some nice rules for it. It’s so much fun tweeking procedural graphics and coming up with new functions and rules. An added bonus is that you’ll get a lot of replayability as each level can be regenerated very easily with another seed. It keeps the levels fresh and interesting much longer.

4. Fugl’s art direction is really great… Do you recognise any influence from other artists? Which gamedevs/artists working with voxels do you like the most?

Thank you, but a lot of is not really art direction in a strict sense, but born out of a necessity of what’s works best to enhance the feeling of flight. As I’m targeting iOS, there is a lot of restrictions with the CPU & GPU. I need to keep things as light-weight as possible. So, I figured out that dropping textures actually doubled my triangle budget for the graphics.

Instead of using textures, I’m trying to texturize with the coloring of the indivudual voxels. Triangles define space much better than textures anyways, so it was an easy choice. I also needed to bake the lighting, and here I took a big deal of inspiration from Minecraft.

So a lot of the artistic choices is really more about cramming as much triangles onto the screen as possible. But of course I want it to look good, and I’m very happy when people tell me they think it do, but it wasn’t really about that, that’s just something that kind of happened along the way.

But I’m also lucky to work with a really talented artist, Marco Peschiera, that popped up in the Fugl thread at TouchArcade one day and started doing art for me. He has a great sense of color and has helped be tuning the palettes a lot. So we started working together as I needed someone to make voxel art. He had never done it before, but he rose to the challange like I’ve never seen. It was amazing. I knew I wanted voxel animation that was like pixel art, only in 3D. So no bones or traditional key-framing, just pure voxels. It’s very hard to do, but before long he was cranking out work like this.

In addition to Marco, there is a lot of talented voxel artists out there, but just to name a few:

Sir Carma. He got some amazing scenery.

Ben Weatherall, the artist behind Crossy Road has this great, condensed cartoony style that is hard not to admire.

Zach Soares has a distinct hi-res style and is really good at making traditional animations with voxels.

@ephtracy, who makes the excellent voxel editor MagicaVoxel. It’s such a great tool and the feature list just keeps growing and growing, it’s a tool as art in my book.

I also want to give a shout-out to the voxel dabblers over at reddit /r/voxelgamedev/, they are a friendly, small knit community that have you always can come to with all your voxel woes.

5. As you’ve stated in TA’s forums: “Fugl is going to be premium without any IAP whatsoever!”… As a developer, how do you feel about current mobile market?

Oooh, it’s hard for sure. The golden age of the early days is long gone, there is no easy way to success any more. 95% of the market is free to play where the cost of aquiring a new player and their retention is the only two metrics that matter. It’s a big boys game. As i see it, you have four possibilites to make it the App Store as an indie:

1) Make a simple free-to-play twitch game that goes viral (Flappy bird)
2) Make a simple, quick to make free-to play game that is featured by Apple (Wrassling)
3) Make a free-to-play game that is featured by Apple again and again (Smash Hit/Crossy Road)
4) Make a premium game, unique and amazing, that is featured by Apple again and again (Monument Valley/Prune)

I’m aiming for 4), as I don’t like ads in games and I don’t like in-app purchases. As I’m an hobbyist, I’m not totally dependant on any income from Fugl, I can afford to make games just for the fun of it. Of course I can make the dream come true and start making games for a living if Fugl makes it in the App Store, but it’s not make or brake for me, I’m still learning and evolving.

The most important thing for me is making games with my heart. I feel to many games are designed from a viewpoint of “what sells”. That’s not how you make truly great games. Personally, I would rather make art than money, a rather stuffy thing to say, I realize, haha. But I don’t really see myself as a game developer in a traditional sense: I’m trying to create mind-blowing experiences, the game aspect is not that important to me.

6. Any favourite feedback you remember at TA’s forums? And also, any scoop you could share with us about Fugl?

There has been so much great feedback, it’s hard to single out any specific statements. I’m making Fugl with a core group of very dedicated testers and their enthusiasm has been so motivating for me. It’s important for me to feel that my game connects with people and what I’m trying to achieve is understood and appreciated. So I’ve had a really good time developing Fugl in the open, it’s something I would really recommend to other gamedevs.

7. Melodive, your previous game, was also about flying… Do you like flying? And what about flying games? Which ones are your favourite?

I love flying, always been fascinated by it. When I was little, my biggest dream was flying, I really thought I could do it, if I just believed it enough! Later I got paragliding license and flew for a while, but it’s no big mountains where I live now, close to Oslo, so I haven’t been doing that lately.

I rarely play any flight games, as most of them either wants me to pay attention to instruments or going though hoops. The only flying game I play nowadays is Volo, an early access base-jump simulation. It’s pretty cool and have the same ambition as me in my flying games: Nailing that special feeling of flying close to the terrain at breakneck speeds.

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

That’s a difficult one. I follow a lot of game developers, so it’s hard to pick just three, but I would say:

1) Tom Betts who made Sir, you’re being hunted. He has a done a lot of extremely cool work with procedural and generative art, really inspiring stuff!
2) Sean Murray, for the trailblazing work he’s doing with No Man’s Sky. His team at Hello games is making incredible breakthroughs in the field of procedural generation with that game.
3) thatgamecompany, for their drive to push the medium of video games into unknown territory. Journey was a stunning piece of art and I’m really looking forward to see what they can come up with next.

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

I rarely play other games. I don’t have the time and I can’t seem to get into most games at all, even the critically acclaimed ones. The last game I really digged was Kerbal Space Program. The sense of accomplishment it that game is amazing, like docking in orbit for the first time, or landing on a far away planet.

10. One last random question. If you had to sing a duet with any other gamedev in the world… Which one would you choose and why?

Haha, that’s crazy! I do like to sing when I’m happy, but I sing really poorly. I imagine most gamedevs to be like that, so I think it would be extremely awkward. Since Phil Fish (I would love to see him sing) quit games, I think I will have to go with Notch. We’ll have an enormous crowd, but he’ll draw all the attention away from me… ;)

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” )*( “

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.