If you really want to know about the indie gaming scene, you should check on this guy. Simon worked as a game designer from 1996 to 2003, then some really random stuff, then editor/EIC of Game Developer magazine and Gamasutra while helping with IGF, then doing management things for Game Developers Conference and Gamasutra while founding Indie Royale, plus lots of other random stuff… yeah, we know. Simon Carless has done everything! Add now answering our questions to the previous list! Enjoy!
1. As a Game Designer, do you remember any specific improvement, idea or minor tweak you came up with that make the game you were working on much better? (We love those Eureka moments!)
I only worked as a designer from 1996 to 2003, largely on console games for PlayStation 1 and Xbox 1, but also on PC games (back when hardware-based graphics cards were JUST starting up..) So I’m a little dinosaur-y nowadays -and a mile away from those super talented indies who can do it all themselves!
But probably my favorite project I worked on was Tank Racer on the PlayStation 1/PC (only came out in Europe on PS1) -which was a little 6-person game that I helped to project lead and lead design when working at Kuju in the UK. Although it’s kinda weird and a bit graphically primitive, the idea that you can pull up alongside a rival tank, rotate the turret parallel to you and then blow your opponent sideways -while still driving- thanks to the shoulder pad controls on the PS1, is a mini-Eureka moment. (Judging by YouTube comments, lots of small kids played on one controller with someone shooting and someone else steering, which is an excellent unintended game design effect).
Anyhow, Tank Racer is plain simple fun, and also has lots of silly deformation effects, 2D sheep you can run over (they baa plaintively!), and a soundtrack from my own net.music.label Monotonik (cos they were cheap and some other folks turned us down!). But a lot of the credit for that game goes to Adrian Hawkins (the amazing lead coder), Chris Williams (artist extraordinaire) and everyone else who worked so hard on it.
2. Among a long list of really awesome titles (EVP of UBM Tech’s Game Network and Black Hat and Chairman Emeritus of the yearly ‘Sundance Festival for games’, the Independent Games Festival) you are one of the co-founders of Indie Royale… where did this idea come from? What are the next steps for this initiative?
Originally, I had been talking a lot to Scott Reismanis, who founded Desura as well as ModDB/IndieDB, because I really liked Desura, and wanted to work with him more, but couldn’t work out a way. Looking at the success of Humble Bundle (and it had been way more than a year since it had debuted), I realized -why aren’t more people doing indie game bundles? There are plenty of folks out there who can’t easily convert to Mac and Linux, and plenty of less well-known games that wouldn’t have a chance to make it to Humble, but still could get a whole bunch of extra notice and distribution in bundles.
In today’s world of quite a LOT more bundles, it seems like an obvious thing. But I devised some twists on the formula, like the minimum price-change mechanic where a big purchase can make it cheaper for everyone else, and did a lot of the A&R/game picking for the first bundles. Scott – who’s the tech whiz and had the Desura back-end and payment mechanisms to work with – became a vital part of the puzzle too, especially with a lot of games already available on Desura.
In the end, Indie Royale -while awesome- was done under the auspices of UBM Tech, and just wasn’t quite big enough to scale for us as a v.large company. So after some sterling work from others at the firm on our end (Mike Rose, John Polson, Bethany Coambs, among others!) we ended up selling our half to Tenshi Ventures, a firm made up of some of the Kuju founders, semi-coincidentally! And then Desura got sold to Second Life maker Linden Lab, too.
I’m proud of how the project went – over 500,000 bundles and more than 2.5 million games sold, grossing millions of dollars for devs along the way -and I wrote up some personal lessons after we sold. I know the teams at Tenshi and Desura/Linden are cooking up some really cool stuff going forward.
3. What is your favourite story or anecdote concerning the Independent Games Festival?
Well, here’s a weird one that’s memorable for me, at least. At the IGF Awards in 2011 when Andy Schatz (Monaco) was guest presenting, I went into the Green Room (where all the presenters hang out) backstage part way through the ceremony. Danielle, Edmund McMillen‘s wife, was in there hanging out. I thought that was pretty weird, because I couldn’t see Edmund with her and besides, neither of them were presenters, so I asked her what was going on.
She said something about Ed and Tommy Refenes lurking elsewhere, about to don the stage to distract Andy during his award presentation spot. (This was something to do with the Andy vs. Ed/Tommy ‘joke feud’ which included Ed doing a shakycam ‘studio’ tour making fun of Andy’s - I have no idea :P) Anyhow, I sorta had to make a decision about whether I was going to do anything about unauthorized interlopers on stage in front of 4000 people.
Looking around, I realized that they were basically onstage already and there was nothing I could do about it. You can see the footage here -if you flick to ‘Welcome Andy Schatz’. I think some people thought this was staged, but it absolutely wasn’t -it was a genuine Kanye-style gatecrash situation. Andy was a trouper, and I believe the duo apologized to him afterwards. But that’s what can happen when we don’t hire enough security and there’s indies with an odd sense of humor around?
4. As a Video Game Journalist, what do you seek in video games? What draws your attention?
I’m not really a game journalist any more -and was certainly never an all-caps one I’m just a guy who helps to organize events and hangs out with the Gamasutra crew. As a person, I’m attracted to interesting, shorter-play titles that make personal statements and do things differently. That’s why helping to oversee the IGF and IndieGames.com through the period that ‘indie’ was exploding has been a really wonderful experience for me.
Many of my other projects -including things like Monotonik, the GameSetWatch weblog and even Indie Royale, have been around curating, finding and explaining creative works to other people who might not otherwise know about them. That -alongside bringing communities together in person- is what I’m truly passionate about.
5. As indie devs ourselves, we know that in order to do PR sometimes there are no limits or boundaries. Do you remember any crazy stuff a studio or dev pulled off to make them (or their game) noticed?
The best example of this -and it’s not really such a crazy thing- is that the folks from Hello Games, who made Joe Danger, wrote me a really sweet, personal note around getting GameSetWatch coverage for their title, back when I was still running GSW. And their game hadn’t actually even been announced, and I didn’t know anything about it, but they targeted me genuinely -not just ‘I really love INSERT OUTLET NAME HERE’- and they understood what would make me excited.
And it turned out their game was great and did really well for them, too. That’s probably not an accident. Mike Rose has given some really good talks on this subject -which are definitely worth checking out. (And I’m sure he’d say, as I would, that your game speaks for yourself, so anyone who does outlandishly CRAZY promotion generally has overpaid PR people. Or is PETA. Hi, PETA!)
6. Who are your favourites video game journalists out there?
I care about people who write well -and eloquently- about games, and some of the people who immediately come to mind would be Simon Parkin, Tim Rogers, & Colin Campbell. And obviously, EVERYBODY who writes for Gamasutra (Mssrs Alexander, Rose, Graft, Nutt & co), but since I hang out in editor chat with them a lot, I tend to read a lot of their work But on the Internet, anyone can play guitar, or at least write cogent thoughts. So I enjoy the contributions of everyone who writes on blogs (on Gamasutra and elsewhere!), no matter whether they’re called a ‘journalist’ or not. It’s about the quality of the dialog, not the label of the person who writes it.
7. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?
Oh, boy. These are just off the top of my head, and in terms of ‘I’m going to be interested in what he puts out next’ for individuals:
- Terry Cavanagh -I have a real soft spot for VVVVVV and I tend to find his updated ”80s UK bedroom programmer’ aesthetic hits the right nostalgic notes for me. It’s the intangible that really works sometimes.
- Michael Brough -he makes conceptual gems like 868-HACK- and because we featured the cunning Vertex Dispenser in an early Indie Royale (that had a popular FPS in it and therefore sold loads and spread the word)!
- Konjak -someone else I’ve had some contact with, since we were working on a Gamasutra video series with him for a while that never quite ended up working out- and we had the magisterial Noitu Love 2 in IR. I feel like he’s ‘the next Cactus‘ in the sense that, if someone can just get him pointed in the right direction (possibly himself!), he’s a breakthrough artist waiting to happen. LET’S DO IT.
8. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?
I enjoy short repetitive games and pastoral titles. So right now, that would be Spelunky and Animal Crossing, about as much of a contrast as you can get. (One’s a violent poke with a sharp stick, the other’s a delicate caress from an adorable puppy.) In the past, I’ve been a bit hopelessly addicted to the Trials series (RedLynx are geniuses). And I like playing the latest indie titles, obviously -not so much the head-shoot-y things, although I did buy GTA V to cruise around the city with the radio on. But I return to the rinse-repeat masters like Trials: Evolution- even if hopelessly outclassed by Jason Killingsworth.
9. And one last random question. If you could respawn in any period of human history… which one would it be and why?
San Dimas, 1989. But I wouldn’t ditch Napoleon.