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The Interactive Canvas

About a month ago I wrote about a project called The Interactive Canvas. At the time it was a Kickstarter hopeful, with author Matt Sainsbury (of Digitally Downloaded) hoping that people would pledge enough money for him to assemble the games industry interview collection of his dreams.

Typically Kickstarter success is measured in terms of funds: if you don’t meet your goal, you’ve failed. If you have met your goal, you’ve succeeded. If you’ve exceeded your goal, you turn cartwheels for several weeks straight.

In the case of The Interactive Canvas, however, success took quite a different form: Matt got the news that a traditional publisher was interested in his book, and he wouldn’t have to crowdfund it after all. The Kickstarter came down, and The Interactive Canvas was fast-tracked to becoming a reality. Hot on the heels of this good news, Matt Sainsbury sat down to graciously respond to my stream of nonsense.

1) In exactly 21 words, what is your intention with The Interactive Canvas?

To provide a definitive resource on the topic of art games, through interviews with some of the industry’s greatest creative minds.

(That was more restrictive than Twitter, you evil man!)

2) What’s the philosophy behind the book? What goes into selecting what you’ll cover, and how you’ll cover it?

The Interactive Canvas is taking my standard journalist process — interview, interview and interview some more — and building a book around it. It’s the people that make games that best know the creative process behind making games, so I do believe that letting them talk about themselves, their backgrounds and their approach to game design will be the best way to show the broader arts community that games are really no different to film or literature now.

As for how I select what to cover, I play dozens of games, sometimes in one week, so, while it would be impossible to cover every artistic game, I have played a very broad range of very artistic games. Securing interviews with the developers of those was my first priority.

3) If you could change one thing about the games industry, what would it be?

It needs greater input from women. The number of women who are game directors (ie: the top of the industry’s creativity) is small — certainly smaller than in any other creative industry. It would be truly great if this industry could move past the boy’s club, and the creative ideas of women could be given the same prominence as their male counterparts.

4) If you could change one thing about gaming community / fans, what would that be?

It would be really lovely of the gaming community could stop harassing game developers for their creative ideas. Mass Effect 3‘s ending and Dante’s “new look” in DMC are just two examples, but there are many more where, the moment a game developer does something that people don’t agree with or don’t understand, those same people take to Twitter, forums, Metacritic and more to harass and threaten harm to the developer. How can we have a creative industry for artists to work with when said artists have a good reason to be frightened to be creative?

5) You’ve referred to The Interactive Canvas as the first book in a series. In what ways would you like to see the series evolve as it progresses?

In my dreams this book will be an annual publication that will continue to track the development of the games industry as a creative medium through more interviews with more developers. I would be over the moon if, ten years down the track, people have access to ten editions of this book, and they can refer back to the first and second book to see the progress of the ideas and philosophy that drive game developers and the games they make.

6) You’ve traveled through time, and you’re handed a pre-release copy of Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s your job to change it in some way to make it better than the game we know today. What do you change? And don’t give me that “It’s already perfect” horsecrap.

I add Chocobos. Every game gets better with Chocobos.

7) What’s your favorite Bob Dylan song?

“One Headlight” by The Wallflowers. I’m the only person in the world that prefers Bob Dylan’s son’s music, but there you go.

8) You’ve got a lot of great interviewees lined up for The Interactive Canvas, but if you could rub a lamp and have any three people in the industry agree to an interview, who would you choose?

David Cage: I interviewed him once before and the guy thinks about games more deeply than anyone else I’ve ever met.

Shigeru Miyamoto: It’s impossible to discuss games on any meaningful level without considering the impact that this man has had on games.

Yuko Taro: People might not know this name, but this is the man that made Nier. Nier is pure art.

9) Discussions about video games seem to get heated rather more quickly than discussions about literature or even music. Why do you think that is?

Discussions about video games get heated quickly, but, more importantly, they get heated over the silliest of topics. “My console is better than your console,” or “I disagree with you so you’re stupid.” It’s quite childish really and I do think that the reason that literature and music have more interesting, civil conversations is because it’s possible to find places to have discussions on a mature level. With the games industry it’s impossible to avoid the immaturity.

10) What is the second best gaming system ever made?

The PlayStation 3. I like my consoles handheld so the fact that the PS3 isn’t portable is the only reason why the DS will always be the better console in my mind. Both consoles have a shedload of JRPGs on them, and this really is all I care about when determining the quality of a console.

11) Why Kickstarter? What sort of challenges did you face working with that platform?

Because Kickstarter was to be the only way I could raise the money to self-fund the publishing of the book. It’s a marketing nightmare to try and get people to support a Kickstarter campaign; I must have spent 15 hours a day working on that thing while it was live, but it worked — without the Kickstarter I would never have got the publisher.

12) Peach or Rosalina?

Peach is a hopeless character, so Rosalina.

13) While it’s debatable whether or not the Ouya failed, it’s obvious that it didn’t meet expectations. What do you think happened?

I think people had unrealistic expectations of Ouya. People saw that it raised a few million dollars via Kickstarter and overshot its target by a massive margin, but forgot to remember that a console like the Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo devices cost more than a few million dollars to make and support. Ouya was always going to be a “B-Grade” console. The fact people were disappointed by this just shows how little people understand about how the spreadsheet side of the industry works.

14) What classic novel deserves a video game adaptation?

The Big Sleep. But I worry that Activision would buy the rights and turn it into a linear FPS with a cover system and dog companion.

15) You describe The Interactive Canvas as a coffee table book. On a scale from 1 – 10, how offended would you be if somebody kept it on their kitchen table instead?

10. The Kitchen is where you put cook books. Does it look like I’m going to have a recipe for my world famous lemon tart in there? Actually, that’s not such a bad idea…

16) It’s a tired question. I don’t care. Are video games, today, as they currently stand, art?

Yes. But people don’t treat games like art. They say “oh, games are art because look at how pretty they are,” completely misunderstand that a game’s graphics are not what makes it a work of art, and then go back to their arguments about how Call of Duty is better than Battlefield.

If games are to be legitimised as works of art in culture, then people need to start having discussions about games as art. This means philosophy. This means sociology, and psychology. This means feminism — without the writer then being targeted by threats of rape. Games will only truly be “art” when the conversations around games grows the heck up.

17) Your tastes seem to gravitate toward games with a traditionally Japanese flair. Why do you think that resonates more strongly with you than what you see in Western games? Or does it?

Japanese games tend to have a stronger grasp on the idea of “fun.” I look at Western games and I see two things absolutely dominate: sports games, and extremely violent games. The former is fine if you’re a fan of the sport, the latter is visceral. But where’s the oddball humour? The variety of experiences? The silly sexuality? The surrealism? The abstraction?

I generalise, of course, but the western games industry tends to take itself very seriously, while the Japanese games industry has Hidetaka Suehiro and Goichi Suda. And, somewhat ironically, because the likes of Suda are so off-the-wall and weirdly creative, his work has far more artistic merit than the Western developers that seem to be more interested in competing with Michael Bay.

18) If you could have complete creative control over a new game in any franchise, which would you choose? What would the game be like?

Not so much a franchise, I’d say, but rather a license – the Warhammer franchise has been done dreadfully for 15 years, or however long it’s been since Warhammer: Dark Omen was released. I would take that license and build a slow-paced strategy RTS that focuses heavily on the strategy side of things. You know, like how the actual tabletop game is.

19) Most disappointing game purchase or rental ever. Go.

Any modern game that has the words “Star Trek” on the cover. Seriously, how can developers mess up that franchise when they literally have decades of lore and an entire universe to play with? Mass Effect proved galactic character-based narratives can work in games. Star Trek developers have no excuse.

20) You’re trapped forever in any video game. Which is it?

Atelier Meruru: The Alchemist of Arland. Because Meruru.

BONUS: Say anything to our readers that you would like to say that hasn’t been covered above.

The best way to enjoy a good game is with a six pack or ten of beer.

I’d like to thank Matt for taking the time to answer my moderately-relevant questions. I’m sure that as publication dates are set I’ll be talking about it again, so keep an eye out here and on Digitally Downloaded.

I’m honored to have the chance to speak here with Andrew Apanov, the brains behind the Dotted Music digital marketing agency. Andrew’s latest — and largest — project is a series of short, documentary-like videos called Stand Above the Noise. It’s this fascinating endeavor that we discuss mostly below, but we also find time to ponder alternate histories, desert island meal allowances, and, of course, the accordion.

1) What, in your opinion, separates Dotted Music from any other digital marketing agency?

I think there are two things to it. The first is how the agency came out and the second is how it is organised.

We didn’t start as a music business entity, or a business at all. And we didn’t create a blog to attract new clients as it usually happens. Instead, the blog has been the core of the brand. I launched Dotted Music with an aim to educate musicians around the world, not having a single idea what it would turn into three years later.

Then I just felt the need to participate in developing music careers on a deeper level, and so the agency and my consulting offers emerged, but education is still our highest priority.

The other thing is our “location independence.” We are all other the world: the company is registered in the States, I’m in Kaliningrad, Russia, just as our designers, my business partner is in Canada, our blog’s editor is between Scotland and Cyprus, marketing managers are in New York City, and so on. Yet, thanks to technology (and I know this sounds banal in 2012), it is possible to do a lot without a centralised physical office.

2) The big project for you right now seems to be your documentary, Stand Above the Noise. Roughly how much time have you invested in the film so far?

This is our biggest educational project by date, just as the most time-consuming one for sure! Well, we started filming it in Kaliningrad in June 2011, and have been conducting interviews in various cities across Europe since then (and continue to do so around each two months). Just to make it clear, it’s not a full-fledged documentary film, but a series of interviews run on our YouTube channel. And although this project is self-funded and we have been on a fairly tight budget, we’ve filmed a couple hundred gigabytes of Full HD footage by now and are not going to stop.

3) You certainly have a knack for great names, between Dotted Music and Stand Above the Noise. What is the story behind each of these names?

Damn, this question made my day. I have been waiting for a compliment on either of those for so long! Yet seriously, it will be difficult to remember how exactly the Dotted Music name came along. I was just looking for something original, and guess the inspiration came from dotted notes in sheet music (reminded me that years ago I actually knew that stuff). Then, I love minimal style pretty much in everything, and a dot& worked perfectly for a simplistic design of the logo and the website. And of course, going further, the music industry is in such a beautifully unstable form right now that naming a blog dedicated to this business “solid music” or something in the vein would be misleading.

Stand Above the Noise is a bit of an “in your face” type of title, but I wanted it to be the statement. Initially, due to my love for rather obscure names, the working title of the documentary was Ear-Pleasing Noise. My designer, who is behind the neat graphics used in the series by the way, told me that it didn’t seem to work that well, and so I started the brainstorming process again. I knew I wanted to keep the “noise” in the title, another friend of mind suggested that “above” or “beyond” could fit the title well and so here we are, with Stand Above The Noise.

4) What do you think was the most eye-opening interview you conducted for Stand Above the Noise?

I can think of few. Last year, when I was working with an artist from France and had to dig into the French music business, I was impressed how fundamentally everything seemed to be organised to support musicians. When I talked to an indie guitarist Chris Martins in Paris though, it turned out that everything was not that shiny for a lot of music acts in the country. A conversation with Corinna Poeszus from Universal Publishing Production in Berlin was also extremely insightful. There I realised the growing potential of music licensing, or B2B approach of selling music as I would call it. And it’s booming right now. Of course there was a lot of other great interviews and I feel that the most insightful ones are yet to happen.

5) Name the one person, living or dead, that you wish you could have interviewed for Stand Above the Noise.

There is a myriad of awesome people in the industry who I would love to (and will! ha) chat with, but besides, it would be interesting to interview those mainstream stars who do fantastic job with engaging audiences of astronomic scales, like Rihanna or Lady Gaga.

6) Describe the evolution of the film. From what I understand, it started off as a much smaller project.

It started as a slightly different project. We wanted to create a documentary film, but the more we worked on it the more I realised it should be more than a film that not too many artists will watch anyway. People don’t have time to watch long videos on YouTube nowadays. Plus, I wanted it to be a long-time project, so a transformation into the interview series was a decision I never regretted about. By the way, we are also airing each new episode live, with my commentary and special invited guests — will see how well it’ll go!

7) You mentioned your wife Katya as being invaluable to the film. With her experience in broadcast journalism, that’s understandable. What do you feel she brought to the project?

She brought the project to life. Although it’s always me setting up and conducting interviews, she’s been directing, filming, and editing everything. Katya has also been helping me with doing the interviews professionally. Another thing is being filmed on camera. I suck at it. And I feel really sorry for my wife who needs to take dozen takes of a one-minute video of me. But I’m improving, promise!

8) Describe what a version of Stand Above the Noise would look like without her involvement.

I must say, this project would never see the light without her involvement.

9) You used to play the accordion. Where would your life be now if you had stuck with that as your primary mode of expression?

Oh my, I have no idea what career I could have as an accordionist, or what a regular accordionist career is at all. The last two times I saw an accordion player on MTV were that Gusttavo Lima live recording and a music video of a Finnish folk hip hop band — and I’m so grateful I am not involved in those anyhow! With all respect to the instrument, of course. I had sincerely enjoyed playing Bach (this is where my love for deep bass was born I guess).

10) What is the seminal accordion recording that should represent the instrument to all of mankind?

Some compositions written for organ sound excellent on accordion, but I won’t name anything specific.

11) You have experience managing acts, which is a far trickier business than many people might realize. What is one band or musician that you feel has been severely mismanaged? How would you have managed them differently?

I’m glad to have this experience, and am even more glad to be able to focus on marketing aspects of artists’ careers instead of managing them. Being an old-fashioned, full-fledged manager is a tough job.

This year we worked with a fantastic UK guitarist and singer-songwriter Dave Sharman, helping him with web presence and designing his new website. He’s been around for over 20 years, but I had never heard about him until early 2012. This is a good example of a very talented musician being mismanaged back in the days, though hopefully everything will be developing way better with the release of his new album.

12) What is your favorite Bob Dylan song?

I would rather name tracks where Bob Dylan’s songs were sampled, since unfortunately I don’t have any favorites among his own.

13) What documentaries — music or otherwise — have influenced your work on Stand Above the Noise?

Surprisingly, the idea of doing our own documentary hit us while watching Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey sometime in 2011. Speaking of more relevant films, PressPausePlay is such a perfectly made one.

14) You have the chance to go back in your life and change one thing. Absolutely anything, but only one thing. What would it be?

I would start my own venture much, much earlier.

15) Apart from yourself and your wife, who do you think had the largest impact on Stand Above the Noise as a finished product?

We are surrounded by a great team of supporters, but I want to highlight what our graphic designer has done, as well as Sam Agini, our blog’s editor who’s been helping with the copy. Artists who have contributed their music (Fanu, PLAYMA just to name a few) to the project deserve a separate mention. We are very grateful to everyone who’s been involved.

16) Do you feel that the increased interest in digital music has changed the focus of fans? Are they more likely to cherrypick individual songs than listen to complete albums, or experience a musician’s entire career as a more long-form journey?

This may sound paradoxical, but although music matters more than ever (you won’t stand above the noise with shitty music, fans will simply not eat it), music becomes just one of many assets defining your success. Albums, singles, streams, free downloads — you mix it all with other content and offerings and you build a strategy, a story behind yourself and your music, and a long-form journey just as you put it. People need way more than just the music these days, they want to be a part of a tribe. They want to hear from a leader of the tribe all the time, and they want to be entertained. Too bad many musicians don’t realise that success comes with a lot more than writing and performing.

17) In one sentence, identify what you feel is the biggest issue in the music industry today. Then, in one more sentence, propose a solution.

The global music industry is too selfish. It needs to better listen to an artist and to the one who rules the market now: a music fan.

18) You traveled to many places to obtain your footage and interviews for Stand Above the Noise. Was there any one moment you had that stands out as bizarre? Describe the strangest experience you had while preparing the film.

The strangest and the most confusing experience we’ve been having so far is microphones not working properly. We’ve tried five by now. In Paris, for example, 80% of interviews were massively corrupted due to the gear issues. You can guess how we felt listening to the recordings back at home.

19) You’re on an island. You have no chance of escape. Would you rather have enough food to fill your belly every day but no music, or just enough food to keep you from starving in addition to a source of music?

My answer will be rational: it depends on what music I would have to listen and for how long I would be doomed to stay on the freaking island. If the music is bad I would agree to starve with less food just to not listen to it, and if the “vacation” wouldn’t be too long — it is useful to let ears rest a bit and enjoy the sounds of the nature. Or maybe I would stick to more food anyway, rather inventing my own music instruments and organising raving events for the most biased audience ever (me).

20) What’s next for Dotted Music?

We’ve got a lot in the works for this and next year! Watch out for the Stand Above The Noise series, new affordable marketing products for musicians, new services, and of course lots of new free content. We will release a social media iPhone app soon…yes, you hear it first!

BONUS: Say anything to my readers that you haven’t gotten the chance to say above!

If you are an artist, stick to your art no matter what you read on the interwebs. There is only one way to become successful at what you do — and it’s never to stop or give up.

Thanks again to Andrew for taking the time. It’s been an honor and I look forward to the series!

Two years ago, Goodbye Galaxy Games appeared on the scene with Flipper, a destructive puzzler that reveled in its artful simplicity. Then late last year it got a sequel, Flipper 2: Flush the Goldfish. This time there was a completely different play style, artistic approach and overall more action-oriented experience. Both games were fairly well received, and without a doubt are all the more impressive because of the size of Goodbye Galaxy Games: one man. That man is Hugo Smits.

July saw the release of Hugo’s third game, Ace Mathician. It’s an educational game which — in an unusual move for the genre — wants to provide just as much game as education. With three games under his belt and no two of them alike, I wanted to take some time to speak with Hugo, and get his opinion on his design philosophy.

Along the way he also discusses his candidate for perfect game, why he feels video games are not art, the trials and tribulations of playing Commander Keen in Dutch, and why indie developers working today have it both better and worse than they’ve ever had it before.

1) Describe the moment that first attracted you to game design.

I think it was before Mortal Kombat 3 came out. I was a huge Mortal Kombat fan, all the neighbor kids would come to my house and we would play our own tournaments and stuff. So naturally we were all looking forward to Mortal Kombat 3!

In that time we didn’t have access to internet, so there wasn’t really any way to check out new things about the game. If we were lucky an older brother of my friends would buy a gaming magazine and it would have really fuzzy looking screenshots in there, probably taken from the arcade cabinets.

So there was a lot of room to fantasize, especially since the Mortal Kombat universe had so many secrets and hidden characters.

It got to the point where I would spend most of my time in class drawing awesome new Mortal Kombat characters, and coming up with cool moves for them. I think this is where the game design bug bit me.

2) You’re a self described “guy in a little dark room with some Cheetos and cold, leftover pizza.” How do you feel that limits your output as a developer?

Well, I cannot make triple A games. And that’s about it. I think one of the best skills for a game designer is to know and pick his battles. It’s important to pick something you can do really well.

For example, I did not make any games with real 3D graphics in them. Instead I try to team up with the best pixel artists in the world and come up with a really awesome 2D style.

And it goes further than just assets. If you look at Flipper it uses amazing voxel technology that I think could be really fun in a FPS game. However, I don’t think the Xbox/PS3 crowd would be interested since the voxel world would be really blocky to look at.

Instead I went for the Nintendo DS. The target audience there was more interested in innovative concepts rather than graphics, so it fitted really well there.

On the whole business side of things, it means I don’t have the financial means to make a perfect game. And lately I don’t really know if that’s a good or bad thing. Personally I don’t like smooth games; I like them a bit raw around the edges. Just like a lot of old 8-bit games.

3) How would you say operating as a one-man team benefits you as a developer?

I always hate it when people say games are “art,” because I see them as entertainment and I think art is stupid. But I do believe a creator can leave a stamp on a game, something you cannot really see as player but which you will experience. Because I’m mostly working on this myself, I get to put a really big personal stamp on the games.

I think this is also why I get away with non-polished games. Because people feel the love and hard work shine through the cracks. A good example of a personal stamp is the bonus level in Flipper 2. It has the Hungarian March as background music. My girlfriend is originally from Hungary and we visit the country every two months or so. That’s a typical thing you won’t see anytime soon in a triple A title.

4) What would you say are the most important aspects of your game design philsophy?

Make something innovative and unique. My games are not perfect, but they are enjoyable. If you can make a gamer have fun and let him experience something new, all the little faults don’t seem to matter.

5) You’ve spoken out before about a game’s length being used unfairly as a measure of its quality. Are there any other aspects of a game that you feel receive an undue amount of weight when determining that game’s worth?

The price is also one of those things. I always wonder what gamers use to determine the worth of a certain game. And maybe that goes hand in hand with the game’s length. If the game lets you do boring stuff for 15 hours, is that worth 30 bucks? is that really better than four hours of fun?

I know so many DS games that have something like this. After you complete a level, “OMG! Evil dude took over the world, everything is dark and stuff…go find the crystal.”

And then they let you play the exact same level you just played, but now they changed the lighting and everything is a bit more grim and the level is mirrored.

It’s just there because publishers want an 8-hour game that fits on a small cartridge. So the developer doesn’t have space/money/time to add extra content so they reuse old content. And ultimately they do this because the gamer wants 8 hours of gameplay for his 30 bucks.

More is not equal to better. Imagine if this would happen with movies. They have to be six hours long, so they stretch out the dialogue from a three hour movie. That would be really tedious.

And the same thing goes for games. Most players don’t reach the end of a game. I wonder how many quit because it was too hard, and how many quit because they are bored.

6) Where do you think this obsession with game length comes from? And do you feel it’s a destructive expectation on behalf of the consumer?

Well, I just think that consumers in general think more is better. In the end I think they steal from themselves, because this means developers have to spend time on those “extra” levels instead of purely focusing on the part that is really fun, and lose their chance to make it even more fun.

7) Given infinite financial resources and free reign over any licenses you could choose, what would be your dream project?

Crash Bandicoot…totally! The first three games where amazing. I like them even better than Mario 64 (please forgive me!). I don’t know, for some weird reason I can never plan my jumps correctly in 3D Mario games. It’s even worse in the Galaxy games when you’re upside-down.

Crash handles this perfectly with its linear straight path. Because of that they can have a steeper camera angle which makes jumping easier — after all, you don’t need to be able to see into the distance very far, since it’s so clear which way to go. They are also able to create better graphics because they know exactly where the camera will be looking at on object. (For example, in Mario 64 you can walk around a rock, seeing it from all sides. In Crash you can see only the front. So they can spend more polygons on the front and only a few on the back making the rock appear nicer).

Imagine the above and put it on a 3DS. It would fit so perfectly with the 3D screen since the levels run into the depth. It would be awesome!

9) Name one game that you would say has perfect (or as near to perfect as possible) design. Explain why.

Mortal Kombat 2.

I probably get flamed for this by Street Fighter fans. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Mortal Kombat isn’t perfectly balanced. But it was really a lot of fun. And one of the things that I think is genius is all of the hidden stuff.

It made the game so much bigger than it really is. Seeing new characters hiding behind trees in the background, not knowing how to unlock them or fight them until finally somebody in the neighborhood figures it out.

Every month or so we would discover something new and the game felt like it had endless possibilities. Especially if you included all the fake stories that surfaced.

I really like that in games. I have a big capacity for fantasy and I can really lose myself in a game universe.

10) Name one game that you feel could have been far better, if its own design hadn’t worked against it. Explain why.

Duke Nukem Forever. This one might seem easy, but I don’t mean it in that way. I love Duke Nukem, and I loved the old skool vibe of Forever. I even loved the graphics and sound. What made me not enjoy it was the fact that gameplay was stuck between oldskool and new.

I don’t know if they just picked the wrong parts from each generation or that the mix in general doesn’t work. But it made the game annoying.

For example, there are so many unique cool weapons, but you could only hold two. I would have preferred it more like Duke 3D, where you could just carry all the weapons at once.

If they would have just done a remake of Duke 3D instead I would still be playing it right now, and probably still be playing it for the next 10 years.

11) Apart from game design, what are some of your other hobbies?

I like to play games. I have an old SNES in my office. But lately I’m really enjoying the PS Vita!

Not really a hobby but…my girlfriend tends to force me to take long walks with her in the forest.

12) The name of your company refers to the old Commander Keen PC games. Would you consider that to have been the golden age of PC gaming?

I played a lot of PC games all through the 90s. Commander Keen did influence me in a huge way, mainly because I didn’t own any consoles (thanks parents!) so couldn’t really experience Mario on the NES.

But I think the golden age was more the later part of the 90s. In the early 90s they were mainly playing catch up with the consoles (Keen released a few years later than Mario) and games never really looked as good as on the console (I’m looking at you Castlevania for MS-DOS!). While after the first 3D graphics cards hit the scene it was the other way around.

I also never bought games in that time. I didn’t even know you had to! My older cousin would show up with new floppies and that’s how I got games. It didn’t even occur to me that you could buy them!

So I wouldn’t call it a golden age from a technology or financial point of view. But boy do I remember all the hours playing Golden Axe, Ninja Turtles, Keen, Secret Agent (and all other Apogee games), Mortal Kombat 1, Street Fighter 2, Prince of Persia and all the other games! They are still definitely in my heart.

13) Do you feel indie developers have it easier now than they would have had it 20 years ago?

It’s just really different I think. Both answers can apply.

No; there is no way that an indie can make and compete with a triple A console game. Something that was easily possible 20 years ago.

Yes; 20 years ago there was no internet, and learning to program (in other languages than BASIC) was really difficult. It was harder to get in touch with people from the game development scene.

14) What do you like about working with Nintendo’s DSiWare service. Presumably it’s been a positive experience if you keep coming back.

Well, I grew up with Nintendo handhelds and I love them. So making games for them is really cool. I would have liked it more to make retail/boxed games, but that’s only because I love game boxes! The DSiWare service is really nice in providing unique game ideas a platform and audience that cannot be reach trough retail (well you could, but a publisher has to take a big gamble on it which they don’t like to make).

15) What do you think Nintendo could improve about its download services?

Hmm…I think the eShop made a lot of things better. What I would like to see, but what we probably won’t see, is to be able to browse on my PC for games and buy them from my web browser.

Right now I can just click “buy now” for an iPhone game and it will open up a window for iTunes and that’s it.

The PC screen is bigger so it’s just easier to browse and check out info about a game.

But, again, I think the eShop is doing a really fantastic job. And I don’t really know how they can make it better on the machine itself.

16) What’s your favorite Bob Dylan song?

I’ll let you know when he makes some chiptunes.

17) Provide some words of advice for young people who may be interested in pursuing a future in game design.

First off, don’t go to school and follow one of those lame “game development” courses. They are total bullshit, all of them. I always get in a lot of trouble saying this (multiple schools actually called me!) but it’s the truth.

Instead follow a normal computer or programming education, or drop out (like I did) and just spend every minute on game development. Because if you cannot (or you realize you don’t want to) get a job in the game industry, you can always work at a regular IT company.

Here’s the catch: to be successful you need to love it so much, that this is going to be the only thing you are going to do. Period. It’s not a job where you just do your work for 40 hours and that’s it. It will become your life.

Not many people realize this. Most people don’t want this.

I mean, most young kids think of the cool things they are going to do…like. “hey I’m going to make the next Call of Duty and all my friends are going to love it!.” But the truth is more about the things you’re not going to do.

You’re not going swimming with your friends. Instead you will sit in a dark room, coding. You will not go out with this cute girl on Saturday night. Instead you will be sitting in a dark room, coding.

I cannot remember the last time I actually had a weekend.

Not many people like to give up their entire live to make video games.

However, when you finish a game…it’s really the best feeling in the world. I’m always very happy and proud to see others play my games or talk about them.

The best tip anybody could give is this: just start! You can download all kinds of programs that will let you make games (there’s even a BASIC compiler for DSiWare called Petit Computer, so you can even make DS games). Just work on it in your free time.

In the best case you will get addicted to it, just like me! In the worst case you will stop after a few weeks but you at least learned something new about math/computers, and that’s always handy!

You can’t lose!

18) You’ve just traveled back in time 20 years. Provide some words of advice to your younger self.

ARGH! FOR GODSAKE! SAVE MEANS ‘OPSLAAN’ AND LOAD MEANS ‘LADEN’ IN DUTCH. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PLAY THROUGH COMMANDER KEEN LIKE MARIO…YOU CAN SAVE!!

Just a few weeks ago, I wanted to play Keen 4 again. And I found out it had a save/load option… As a kid I didn’t know what it was or did. I thought you needed to play through the game in one sitting like Mario on the NES.

I can still feel the “plop” in my head and the blood rushing away from my fingers trying to fight every nerve in my body not to smash the computer into a million little pieces every time I saw the game over screen…

Aah…the memories!

19) You’ve said that as much as you like to develop interesting and unique titles, you keep getting asked to create clones of already popular games. Is there much of a temptation to do so, in order to create some quick income?

No, but I’m forced by Nintendo. One of the reasons I’m not making any new Nintendo handheld games anymore is because they aren’t open and transparent. They don’t show or share any numbers, so every time I do a project it is an all-or-nothing bet.

If I bet on the wrong horse, I have to worry how to pay the rent, and thus I will work on some DS retail games of Bejeweled clones.

Sales figures would help a lot. How many games can you sell on average? Does it matter in sales figures if a game is localized? Do 200 point games sell more than 500 point games?

I mean, take the top 20 for example. That doesn’t tell you anything! Let’s say you have a 500 point game on spot 3, and a 200 point game on spot 2. What does this tell you? That the 200 point game sold more! But how much more?

It could be twice as much as the 500 point game, or maybe three times as much.

This is critical to determine if something will be better for profit. Because two times 200 points is 400 points so that’s still below 500 points. You need to sell at least three times more copies to make more profit than a 500 point game! Argh!

20) Is there any particular aspect of your previous games that you feel has been unfairly criticized or misinterpreted by the majority (or a large number) of reviewers?

Not really. Maybe the length of Flipper 2. A lot of people thought the game was short because the story mode was short. Yet the story mode only served as a long tutorial. The real meat was in the random castle mode (300+ levels).

Most reviews I’m actually really happy with.

BONUS: Say anything to our readers that you would like to say that hasn’t been covered above.

Some people think because I don’t want to develop for the Nintendo 3DS, it means I don’t like the system. But that’s not true at all. I think it’s a great system. But unfortunately it’s too much work for a single person like me, to make a complete game that utilize all the features.

I have some cool ideas for 3DS games, and If I ever get the a good team and budget I would love to develop them!

Also, there are some complaints in the above interview, but overall I really enjoy and love my work! A big part of why it is so great is because of all the people that play and supported my games! Thanks so much for that! I also try to read everything you guys write about my games (even criticism).

So feel free to email me! Thanks!

Our appreciation to Hugo for taking the time out of his busy day of sitting in a dark room, coding. Be sure to check out his games; they’re a lot of fun.

You may recognize the name Adam Lore, as he comments here pretty regularly. I’ve known Adam for several years now, and he’s always been a fascinating — and compulsively creative — person that I enjoy checking in with now and again. Recently he offered me a copy of Abyssian Squelch, his latest album, and I was happy to receive it. In return, I told him that I would write a review on this blog.

Fast forward to me actually listening to the album, and realizing that it was, more or less entirely, beyond the scope of any words I could possibly find. It’s a fantastic and involving listen…but it wasn’t something, I felt, I could adequately discuss. So I figured I’d turn to the man in charge, and use his words instead. Hence, the below interview, which I hope you enjoy. If you have any questions for Adam, feel free to leave them below.

And Abyssian Squelch is brilliant. Just putting that out there.

1) How many songs have you recorded as of today? Have you lost count?

It’s difficult to put an exact number on it.. I have written 48 albums but only about 10 of them have decent presentable finished recordings currently. So somewhere between 100 and 600 songs, depending on what you want to count.

There are a few more albums I have worked on in collaboration with others, too.

2) Is there something particular about your creative process that causes you to be more prolific?

I think it has a lot to do with saving most of the stuff I work on regardless of how good it is and organizing it all into albums after the fact. And most of the music I write is pretty simple and repetitive, so it’s not a lot of work to come up with material.

For music, it’s easy to create an album in separate pieces and then assemble them together after the fact. Comic strips work that way, too. For other things, like writing a book or making a graphic novel or a musical or something, you really can’t do that, so I tend to not finish those types of projects as much as writing individual songs.

3) Describe the journey from your initial inspiration to your final edit.

I’ll use a particular song for an example. I was watching the movie Jack, starring Robin Williams, for those of you who don’t remember it, in the movie Jack has some kind of disorder that makes him age much faster than normal children, so he is in elementary school but he looks 40 years old or something.

There is a scene where Jack is on the playground sitting alone and a basketball rolls toward him. And there’s that moment where he is on the spot, and he picks up the ball, and everyone is staring at him, expecting him to throw the ball to them. And it’s just such a simple task to just throw the ball back, but it’s like this huge celebrated achievement that you are thanked for so graciously for just returning a ball.

Something about that really resonated with me, and I could relate to it on a very deep level for some reason.

I was also reading a lot about fairy tales at the time.

The next day I was walking to my friend’s house and these kids where playing with a ball, and it almost rolled into the street, and it landed at my feet! I thought “I’m Jack!” which was immediately followed by the thought “and you’re the beanstalk”. After tossing the ball back I had a pretty solid idea for a song.

There’s really not much to it after that. Write the lyrics down, add a bridge or something. Find the chords that fit with the tune in your head. Record a demo.

That’s not a good example of the journey to a final edit, though, because I still haven’t recorded a final version of that song.

If I’m collaborating with someone it is a lot more interactive. If I am working with Mr. Door we usually focus on writing out more of a full song with multiple verses, which I tend to just rush through when I’m working alone. Collaborating with other people, like working with Mitch Guss, for example, it can be a lot more spontaneous and experimental. We may just hit record and start screaming.

4) When listening to Abyssian Squelch, I hear a lot of influence from They Might be Giants and The Flaming Lips. Who would you say your primary influences are?

You’re right on the money. They Might Be Giants are a major influence for my music. My main influence, for sure. The Flaming Lips have been very influential, too. I draw a lot of inspiration from Daniel Johnston and James Kochalka as well. I won’t go into a huge list or anything, but I have also been influenced by stuff like TV theme songs, movie soundtracks, and music from Nintendo games.

5) You recorded a soundtrack for Dino Golf, an NES game that never existed. If you could conjure the perfect video game out of thin air, what would it be like?

I always want to play Dino Golf. It’s too bad it’s not a real game.

I don’t know about the perfect video game, but I think there are a lot of great things you could do with geometry and topology in a video game that aren’t being taken advantage of.

I’d love to see a game where you could explore extra dimensions, or see time as part of space or something like that. Maybe controlling and manipulating the laws of physics within the game.

6) What game (or games) have the best soundtracks in your opinion?

I love the music from all the Mario games (including Yoshi’s Island), Zelda, and Mega Man (especially Mega Man 3 and X), Final Fantasy has great music. The Moon level on Ducktales for NES is one of the best for sure. Bubble Bobble and Kirby have really fun soundtracks. Dr. Mario, too. I’m envious of the music from Rygar, Metroid, Dragon Warrior, Punch Out, Castlevania. Too many to list.

7) If you could sit down with any musician, alive or dead, and write one single song with them who would it be and why?

Believe it or not, I would love to collaborate with Justin Bieber. I think it would be so fun and interesting to combine our different styles and approaches to music. And I think seeing Justin Bieber dancing around and singing passionately about marrying an invisible dinosaur from the future or something would just be hilarious and wonderful.

8) What is your favorite musical moment in any film?

If I can pick three, I’d go with:
1) Will Ferrel’s “Whole Wide World” scene in Stranger than Fiction
2) the “Let My Love Open the Door” scene from Dan in Real Life
3) The Squid and the Whale, when Walt performs “Hey You”, claiming he wrote it

If I had to choose the best musical moment, though, I’d probably go with The “Wise Up” scene in Magnolia. So good!

9) You also draw comic strips. Do you see any overlap between creating visual art and music?

I think in theory it always seems like a really great idea to combine the two. But I don’t see them as being easily compatible. I do think a lot of the creative energy comes from the same place, though. With animation, on the other hand, you can do it well. I think animation would be the perfect medium if it weren’t so difficult and expensive to produce.

I love the montage scenes of comic book art in the Crumb documentary, though. Maybe it’s just a matter of finding the right music.

10) What single album has spoken more deeply to you than any other?

Probably Apollo 18 by They Might Be Giants.

11) What instruments can you play?

Pretty much anything that’s based on a keyboard. And basic chords on the guitar. Though I tend to avoid electric guitars entirely. I can play the accordion to a limited extent.

12) What single instrument that you can’t play would you most like to learn?

It would be fun to learn how to play a theremin.

13) You’re on a desert island with your iPod. There’s no hope of rescue and you’ll only be able to listen to three more songs before the battery dies. What’s on this short playlist?

1. “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid
2. “Si Me Dejas Ahora” by Camilo Sesto
3. “The End of the Tour” by They Might Be Giants

14) If you could be remembered for one thing — anything, whether or
not you actually did it — what would it be?

To have formulated a unified theory of quantum gravity.

5) Favorite Bob Dylan song?

I’m not really a big Bob Dylan fan. At least not yet. “The Man in Me” from The Big Lebowski soundtrack is a good one, though.

16) Describe the Adam Lore of 2022.

The Adam Lore of 2022 is a big Bob Dylan fan.

He has written over 100 albums and has recorded 14 of them.
He has published two best selling graphic novels and lives
with his beautiful wife Jessica Alba.

17) Describe the Adam Lore of 2002.

In 2002 I was finishing up high school. Had very long hair.
I was in a band called Trojan Horse which was good fun.
Working on issue #2 of a mini-comic called Munky Monkey.

18) What’s your next — or current — project?

I’m always working on a bunch of different stuff at the same time, but most noteworthy is probably the upcoming album Ordovician Brainstation. I’m also re-recording my third album Columbis and working on some more Toad Road comics. Chipping away at a lot of other ongoing projects here and there.

19) If you had to choose between being blind or deaf, which would you choose? Why?

It would be horrible to be deaf, but I’d definitely rather be deaf than blind. Just doing everyday tasks and even walking would be far more difficult. Being deaf wouldn’t be nearly as debilitating.

20) Due to an accident, you can no longer write or record music. How do you cope?

I’m not particularly devoted exclusively to music over anything else. I think of myself as a visual artist first and an amateur musician second or third. As long as I could express myself in other ways I would be alright.

It is having an idea and not being able to get it down that really drives me nuts. So if I came up with songs in my head, but couldn’t write them or record them, that would be torture.

BONUS: Say anything to the readers that you haven’t gotten to say yet.

If you are interested in seeing what I am working on check out my YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/adamlore

And you can see my comics and other artwork at http://adamlore.blogspot.com

And some of my music is available for free on http://last.fm/music/Adam+Lore

Thank you for your time. As Allen Ginsberg said, follow your inner moonlight and don’t hide the madness.

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