Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cave Story - A love that spans continents

The story of this games development is pretty well known by now but is such an inspirational one, and with the Wiiware version due soon I wanted to give it some props.

Daisuke Amaya (AKA Pixel) created the game, on his own, over a period of 5 years. A PC version released in 2004 (download here) . There is an interview with Pixel here, that gives you the background.

I also found this beautiful little interview piece on on youtube, about how Tyrone Rodriguez and Daisuke Amaya worked across continents to bring the game to Wiiware. (thanks to for the link).

Check it out! Be Inspired!

The Wiiware version comes out next week (March 22nd). For more info you can check the official website.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

GDC Inspiration Pt 1 - The Indies

Last week was GDC and a great time to take the pulse of the industry.

The previous year, all the heat was around casual and iPhone. This year the big buzz was the incredible growth of casual/social games, with a certain amount of fear as to a perceived threat of facebook games to the wider medium.

My take is different. I think this was the most inspirational, exciting GDC I have been to. One that represented the diversity of our industry, from the amazingly consistent quality of big budget games last year, to the increasing prominence and growth of the amazing beautiful indie games scene, to the explosion of social games that show that gaming is something for everyone.

I feel that our industry is on the cusp of a major evolutionary step.

In fact Will Wright spoke of this in his ‘secret’ keynote. Describing us as poised at the beginning of our own Cambrian Explosion.

I have a lot of notes from various talks I went to so I'll be breaking them up over a series of posts over the next week or so.

Here is my Indie update from GDC.


I went to the Ron Carmel talk about IndieFund. You can find an excellent writeup of the talk here.

Everything he said was inline with what I had expected the fund to be about, but this is an exciting development for the industry. If they can be successful it may start attracting more capital to our industry. It's also great to see the successful Indies coming together to provide a channel for the next wave. This is one of the most amazing aspects of the Indie scene, there is a sense of togetherness and community that comes from everyone pushing out and trying to make it on there own.

One part of the talk that puzzled me was Ron's claim that Publishers are investing too much into indie games. He says that Braid & World of Goo cost in the $120k to $180K range and that Publisher investments of $500k-$1M were risky and destined to lose money.

I do believe that a lot of Publishers have been burnt with their early experiments in XBLA but I don’t believe it’s related to budget but rather quality of product. Braid would have made money even at $1M dev cost. It sold because it was a great game. To pick 2 other XBLA hits, I don’t believe that Castle Crashers or Shadow Complex could have been developed for $200K and they have been commercial and critical successes.

I believe whether you are developing a $200K game, a $2M game or a $20M game we are living in a time when only best is good enough. Regardless of cost, you need to be best in your class.

It’s possible to develop a great game for $200K, as both Ron & Jonathon Blow have shown, but there are other game experiences that are going to require bigger teams to deliver. The market on XBLA is going to continue to grow and will ultimately support games with bigger budgets.

Moving on, the IGF booth is one of the highlights of GDC for me. Each year the games are getting more and more polished. What’s really clear too, is the rebirth of 2D. It feels like perhaps we’ve explored 3D gaming as much as we can and now we are in this process of rediscovering old gameplay that had been lost a little bit. There are 2 games I want to talk about, very different and yet I believe, there are universal elements that tie them together...


Wow. What a beautiful game. We had looked at the early concept video for this as an inspiration when we were in pre-production on Lucidity. Then no new information came to light but at GDC I got to play it. Check out some footage from the GDC build here. It’s coming on XBLA in the summer and is a Day One purchase for me.

What really blew me away, however, was that it’s been developed over a period of 3 years, with a team of 8-16 people! Wow! I don’t know what the man month costs are like in Denmark but that would run about $2-3M to develop here in the States.

Could this be the most expensive ‘Indie’ game ever?

Joe Danger

Fantastic game. Absolutely polished and just reeks of FUN at every level. Check out the trailer here. Amazing to know this has been developed by 4 people. 3 programmers and one artist. Met Sean Murray and he was a super nice guy. It’s been announced as coming to PSN in the summer.

I think this is going to be huge. It’s like Trials HD, crossed with Sonic, crossed with Little Big Planet, made by Pixar. Sean himself is way more humble about its chances. I really admire what they have done in staying true to their vision and not letting anyone come in and knock them off course.

Both Joe Danger and Limbo were stand-out games for me. They were both amazingly well polished and brilliantly executed. They were also very very different, showcasing the diversity of game experiences that the indie space is delivering.

This got me thinking, what makes a game truly 'Indie'?

  1. Is it Self-Funded? Joe Danger is self-funded. Flower is funded by Sony and wins IGF GOTY.
  2. Is it budget? Limbo clearly has a budget that even Publisher funded XBLA games aren't spending.
  3. Is it the Conceptual Premise? The indie 'feel'? Joe Danger is a nakedly commercial, fun game whereas Limbo reeks of 'indie' emotion and artistry.

I can imagine there will be fierce debates on this to come, much like the 'Are Games Art' debates of previous years.

Joe Danger may not 'fit' the notion of an indie game because of its bright sense of fun and mainstream sensibility, but these guys made a game they WANTED to make and they completely self-funded it. (Interestingly, I've heard that Limbo has benefited from some significant Arts Funding from the Danish Government)

Personally, I subscribe to the belief that Kellee Santiago eloquently vocalized at GDC, that Indie Developers don't have to suffer for their art. Developers need to eat, need to pay mortgages and support families and there is nothing wrong with the support for that coming from a Publisher or private investor.

It is the intrinsic motivation to create an interactive experience that comes from the heart, one that reflects the creators personal passions and voice that, to me, makes a game 'Indie'.

For the Hello Games guys, that's Joe Danger, for PlayDead that's Limbo. I'll be celebrating that diversity with my $$ when both games release.

More GDC updates to come soon!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

LucasArts - A Fond Farewell

After 3 years at LucasArts the time has come for me to move on. It's been a fantastic experience for me. If I could go back and tell my 10 year old self this was in my adult future maybe high school would have been a lot more tolerable!

I worked with an amazing group of talented people. Some of the most talented, passionate developers I have ever known. Together we had a great team culture that allowed us to weather every storm. We never gave up and kept meeting each new challenge head on. The team carried me on their backs as often as I carried them.

We got to build a team culture built around the concept of togetherness, empowering everyones creativity and the idea that no one person is bigger or better than the team.

I got to spend hours with George Lucas, sharing my creative ideas with him, and enjoying his own enthusiastic ideas (the part that would have made my 10 year old self's head explode).

And we had success! Our team relaunched the companies interest in its Heritage, with the development of Monkey Island: SE, which has led to the recent announcement of its sequel, Monkey Island 2, led by my good friend Craig Derrick.

We also got to create Lucidity. For me, this was a deeply personal game. Creating a game around a little girl who's is on a 'metaphorical journey of dealing with the death of her beloved grandmother' is not exactly an established gaming premise but the company stood behind our creative muse and let us take it all the way through. It was a great experience and I'm proud of the game we delivered in such a crazy short development time.

As to what I will be doing next, as an independent I have some great ideas and a post GDC inspirational tailwind to carry me forward. Hopefully I will be able to announce something soon. In the meantime, to all my great friends and colleagues at LucasArts, thanks for the great memories!