Indie Developers Showcase 2010
Indie Developer Showcase, Day One: Captain Forever

Greg Tito | 25 Jan 2010 21:00
Indie Developers Showcase 2010 - RSS 2.0

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TE: Captain Forever won GDC China's IGF award for Best Game. What did the award mean to you?

JW: It meant validation and a brick of cash! Seriously, though, IGF China gave me a lot of confidence in what I was doing. Going full-time indie was always an experiment, and this was my first sign that it might be a success.

China was nuts. I had a week's notification, so I wasn't at all prepared. I had no guidebooks or maps, so I sought navigational help by miming modes of transportation and drawing pictures of landmarks. Weirdest of all was seeing the GDC branding so far from its usual home in the Moscone center.

TE: ROM CHECK FAIL reminds me of music from bands like Girl Talk in that it's fun just to recognize where the elements came from. Was the mash-up genre an inspiration for the game?

JW: Sort of, but only in so far as I lump mash-ups and remixes and sampling and cover songs together in my head as "cool music credited to people who didn't do all the work." I'm both time-poor and lazy, so this concept appeals to me. I liked the idea of creating something new by recombining existing media, and I figured there was enough videogame content to make this happen. The problem was in designing an appropriate structure. My initial idea was to have a C64 emulator run multiple games, frequently saving the entire machine state and swapping to another game in progress. Unfortunately, this meant the games wouldn't relate to each other, so although you'd play all these cool game fragments, they wouldn't form any kind of coherent whole.

This led to my second idea, which was to create a game made up of several game archetypes. You'd play a simple Zelda clone with monsters, swords, trees, etc., then suddenly the game would switch to a scrolling shooter with spaceships and asteroids. When TIGSource ran the Video Game Name Generator contest, I spent some time with the Video Game Name Generator, watching it create game ideas by matching different components of the title. This gave me the idea to make a "Video Game Generator" by swapping and matching different game components, and this idea became ROM CHECK FAIL.

TE: How does the experience of indie development compare to your time in the studio system? What have you learned in the last year?

JW: Indie development has been very different. When you look past the superficial differences (nobody to talk to, nobody to play games with, nobody to catch me slacking off), it's all about direction and duties.

It's both exciting and overwhelming setting my own work direction. I don't have a publisher or any external deadlines, so I can release whatever I want whenever it's ready. The hard part is deciding what and when these things should be. I do have some financial obligations, so I have to ensure my work appeals to at least a few people. I can't just pull a brilliant concept out of the air, so I spent hours listing all my unimplemented ideas and deliberating over which to work on first. I'll never know if Captain Forever was the right choice, but I figured any decision was better than no decision at all.

My duties are obviously very different, but not in the way I expected. I thought I'd spend all my time on business administration. Wrong! Let's look at today for example. Today's tasks are: two media interviews (including this one), write abstract for presentation at a museum, write abstract for presentation at GDC and arrange promotional music for someone else's side project. I enjoy these things, and I doubt my business would survive without them, but it's weird to work whole days without any actual game development.

TE: Do you have any other projects you're working on right now besides Captain Successor?

JW: Oh hell yes! For years I've made stupid, fun projects outside work hours, and I couldn't stay sane without them. My current side project is my third attempt to build a system for collaborative game-world development. My first attempt (Little Shit Planet - not a dig at Media Molecule) failed when I got caught up in making my own contributions, and the second (Ticky Tacky) failed because publishing to the game-world was utterly, infeasibly difficult. I'm not yet ready to discuss this new attempt, but I think this time I've cracked it. Maybe. I think.

I'm also working on the third Captain Forever episode, Captain Impostor, and a number of prototypes for the episode that follows. Captain Impostor demonstrates that Captain Forever is not a linear series, and I think it might surprise a few people ... there's a huge design space around this game, and I'm having a blast exploring it.

Tune in tomorrow, when we speak with Terry Cavanagh, the creator of the mind-bending 8-bit platformer VVVVVV.

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