Indie developer Tiffany Nickel

Tiffany Nickel

The first two boom periods for the video game industry referred to the games as a fad or trends. Today, entire generations have grown up in a world that never knew life without them. Among them is 21-year old Tiffany Nickel of Tinley Park, Illinois.

“I am a fan, a gamer and an indie developer,” Nickel said. “I’m pretty well entrenched in gaming to the point where it’s hobby, interest and career. It would be hard to describe myself outside of the gaming world as that seems to be my only world.”

Nickel recalls her passion for video gaming was sparked by a now-iconic game character.

“The first game I can recall playing on my own was Tomb Raider II for the PlayStation,” she recalled. “I know I played some Super Nintendo games before that but I was so young I can barely remember it. I was about five years old when I first played Tomb Raider II, the first level is so ingrained in my memory because I had to play it so many times to get past it…and I wasn’t savvy on the whole ‘saving your game’ yet. I played Crash Bandicoot and Resident Evil 2 around that time as well.”

While these early Sony titles are the ones Nickel recalls as introducing her to video gaming, she quickly recalled the single game title that later hooked her for good and made her think of games from a different point of view.

Final Fantasy X for the Playstation 2 was the game that hooked me. Not only was it the game that hooked me, it was the first game I started taking notes on,” she recalled. “These notes consisted of ideas that I thought would make the game better for whatever reason to questions such as ‘why do all the characters walk the same?’ I was only ten years old at the time and didn’t know much about 3D models and animation, so I’d sit and contemplate these things.”

Almost a decade later, Tiffany would be introduced to a person who she says helped her take her from contemplating about the inner workings of a video game and into the world of developing them herself.

“For me things really became more clear when I turned 18 and met Doc Mack and the people at Galloping Ghost Productions,” said Nickel. “A friend of his and my brothers talked and set up for Doc and I to meet so he could show me what it’s like to be an indie developer and develop your own game. Since meeting him over three years ago it has quite honestly changed the way I look at games and play them.”

Nickel’s new outlook on video gaming has lead her to begin development on Endless Mark III, a deep role playing game title.

“Even though I was thoroughly enjoying playing RPGs, I would often find myself thinking of other elements that I thought would make them better,” she said. “Even games that were so influential to me like Final Fantasy X still had things I would have wanted to see. After a while, the amount of ideas I had, left me thinking that it would be great to see all these ideas come together in an actual game.”

With the freedom of indie development, Nickel says she is taking her time to pay attention to the fine details of Endless Mark III, aiming to connect the players with the characters while keeping the game at a fun pace.

“We are still early in development, the story itself is still being written and developed. It’s a fairly large story and its seems every time we are working on one element of the game, we come up with new elements to incorporate to it,” Tiffany stated. “A lot of attention to detail is being put into the game and I really hope to develop characters people will connect with and grow attached to as they play through their journey. We’ve been especially working hard on creating a unique and innovative leveling system for players to get involved with. I feel in RPGs, most of the time you’re just grinding away trying to gain some levels. With that in mind we’re trying to make the battle system fresh and innovative so those ‘RPG grinds’ won’t feel old and boring. There really isn’t anything that’s not important to us during development.”

With indie game development at an all-time high, Nickel also offered some words of encouragement to others who might dream of taking their ideas into an on-screen gaming experience.

“You can’t just talk about making a game. Start writing out your ideas and drawing and just push forward no matter what,” she said. “I didn’t have much experience when I started and now I able to do graphic work, web design and have such a better understanding of just how a game is made. There are some great people out there with lots of knowledge who are looking to help with projects. Communicating and finding other people to help get you to your goal is key.”

Gamers can follow Tiffany Nickel’s progress on development of Endless Mark III on the game’s official website at www.EndlessMarkIII.com and on Facebook atwww.Facebook.com/EndlessMarkIII.

Versus: Games for the Ages

versus - A Compoetition for the ages
I know you know dear reader, but I simply had to blog this. I do love pretty screenshots, outrageous indie game mechanics and TIG Source competitions you see. Versus, the latest competition of the sort, the one cunningly subtitled Games for the Ages, is all about crafting games that pit at least one human player versus another human player. What’s more all the entries have been uploaded to the compo site and are freely available for you to download, enjoy and -should you feel so inclined- rate.
versus - A Compoetition for the ages
There are 81 wildly innovative (and plain wild) games available to try, including the incredible AGI Combat for the trigger happy adventure gamer, the rather unsettling A Cure for Friendship, the deeply spiritual Jesus vs. Dinosaurs and even the particularly silly Macig – The Gambling. Expect surreal genre mixes, visuals any indie gamer would love and some truly frightening sounds; all in glorious multiplayer!
versus - A Compoetition for the ages
Here are a few screenshots to spice things up:
versus - A Compoetition for the ages

You Shall Support An Indie Gaming Artist

jonas art
Between us, oh wise and generous reader, the truth is that Jonas Kyratzes is a truly rare breed of indie game developer and all around artistic type; the kind of breed that simply refuses to sell out or dumb down. And he’s prolific too, having already given us -and by given I do really mean given in the most selfless of freeware ways- seven excellent, incredibly written, beautiful, meaningfully innovative, deeply satisfying and actually unique games, while simultaneously providing us with more than a few (digital) pages of prose and theory, the Wikileaks Stories project and some most intriguing short films. Oh, and he’s even preparing, with the help of his wife Verena and composer Helen Trevillion, a beautiful and promising point-and-click adventure game: The Book of Living Magic. Here a making-of  video to inform you further on said project:

Thing is though, that Jonas, following a series of problems, really needs our help to keep being creative, as, quite obviously, money is still necessary for people to survive and properly indie art isn’t as edible as the mainstream sort. Then again it’s not as common either, but the few that support it have to be themselves supported. So, if you’ve enjoyed You Shall Know The Truth, Phenomenon 32, The Infinite Ocean or any other of Jonas’ creations you should really consider answering his call for help and donating some of your earth money to the cause of quality gaming and proper interactive art. Just click your way over to www.jonas-kyratzes.net and then click on that donate button. Just don’t forget to try some excellent games while you’re there.

Ten Questions: Pacian

Pacian’s cat has consulted his legal team and apparently allowed Pacian to go on and be interviewed. So, well, without further ado, here’s what Pacian, the man, programmer, writer, game designer, funny-guy, cat owner, pulp serial provider and creator of brilliant games like Gun Mute, Space Shot and Snowblind Aces, has to say…
poizoned
Poizoned Mind: A game tragically not mentioned in this interview.

1. Space-faring Pacian, how would you describe your game making activities? And, frankly, why do you make games?

I’d describe my game making activities as poorly focused, unproductive and easily interrupted.

Why do I keep making my little games? I guess for the same reason that I play them: escapism. I’m a hopeless day-dreamer, and I’d much rather be piloting a Zeppelin through the acrid clouds of a volcano than sitting at work writing boring software for boring people. And since, although there are plenty of games out there that grab me and draw me into their worlds, no-one’s yet made one where you specifically pilot a Zeppelin through a volcano, I end up trying to make that one myself.

2. How about your crafting of short and not particularly short stories? How? Why? Ugh…

‘Ugh’ is my take on it often enough as well. There are people who write and people who don’t write. The only difference between those two groups is whether they write or not. As simple as that.

But of the people who *do* write, there are those who write, and those who write and then re-draft and get a second opinion and a third opinion and scrap the whole middle section and re-write that and rinse and repeat until someone pays them for all the hard work they’ve done. That’s *not* me – at least, not at the moment. I only write for fun – to create worlds and characters that interest me. I just hope that a few like-minded people will come along, look at what I’ve done and say, “Hey that’d be pretty cool if it went through a few more drafts.”

One day I do mean to make a dedicated effort to write something ‘good’, but I’m such a scatter-brained procrastinator, that’s not likely to be any time soon.

3. Interactive fiction, text adventures, must have been quite a natural choice as a game making genre, right?

Yeah. Sometimes I worry that I’m focusing on this as an easy way out. I’m useless at making graphics, and I hate tedious coding, so working in ready-made environments for text games really appeals to me. In TADS and Inform it’s trivial to create a location with a character in it and some scenery and a cool gizmo – and when you push the button on the gizmo the prince dies and you have to feed dead apples to his ghost. Whereas working in C++ or even Game Maker there’s a lot of set-up to do just defining the basic rules of the universe you’re creating. How does the main character push that button? How do they pick up the apples?

This is why I keep persisting in making crappy non-text games like Space Shot. I kind of want to prove to the world that I’m not just an IF writer – and that when I do write IF it’s for a specific reason beyond it being easy for me to do.

4. Do you actually believe games can move beyond being merely games? Could they actually manage to be political, thought-provoking and interesting while embracing Dada?

Yes, of course. Creative minds can (and do) make moving and provocative experiences from any medium.

From the Dada angle, I immediately think of Cactus and games like Mondo Medicals and Psychomnium, in that they really seem to take a lot of the unquestioned assumptions about how games are ‘supposed’ to work and then slap them about a bit. Beyond that I’m afraid you’re merely dazzling me with your technical terms.

5. Am I? Well, let me blush here for a moment. […] Done. Lovely. But, really, Mondo Medicals and co, even though surreal and innovative in style and mechanics, don’t actually offend the gaming, let alone the societal, status quo. They really aren’t political or progressive in a meaningful sense. And frankly, besides Molleindustria’s games, I think nobody has even attempted such a thing. Are you sure it’s not the short-comings of the medium?

My gut instinct is that the mere act of player participation creates a whole range of possibilities for messing about with people’s prejudices and received wisdom – but for all we know, you may be right. We never truly know if something is possible until someone actually goes and does it.

snowblind aces

Interactive fiction with cover-art? Look no further than Snowblind Aces!

6. On a more light-hearted note, any truly favourite games? And I am asking for something that could stand next to a book or a film for example.

So what, I’m not allowed to say Resident Evil 2? When it comes to what I look for in a game – imaginative worlds and strong characters – I think Chrono Trigger is the one that immediately springs to mind. In many ways, it just chimes really well with my personality, but I’d also argue that objectively it’s a very well put together game in terms of tone and motivation.

I’m also a big fan of Emily Short’s Galatea. It’s pretty much the only IF game that I unreservedly find enjoyable to mess with, just in idle moments, and I think it has plenty of interesting things to say about the nature of interactive characters. I know a lot of people only like it as an experiment or a piece of dry academia, but I don’t really enjoy that kind of thing by itself. I like Galatea because I like the characters, the tone and the little stories you end up experiencing.

And also, Resident Evil 2, damn it.

7. Any favourites among your ludic creations?

Well there’s only about four or five to choose from. I am very pleased with Gun Mute. I think I created a nice set of characters in an accessible package, in some ways purely by chance. To be honest, I don’t expect to be able to create a better game in the future, but I hope the stories I want to tell will still interest a few people.

8. Oh, and how would you describe the general game making process you follow?

I’d say the most notable thing about my game making process is the distinct lack of process to it. It usually starts out with scrappy notes in my diary, and then graduates to a grid of tasks to tick off. And then beneath the grid are a load of scribbles supposed to remind me of other things I’ve suddenly thought of.

Honestly, it’s a wonder that I have the wherewithal to get out of bed in the morning, let alone write semi-functional code.

9. Would you ever attempt to sell a game? Live off your creativity?

That’s an interesting question. If a company offered to pay me to do interesting, creative work on a game, I’d take the offer. But I don’t think I’d ever want to charge for games that I’ve created all by myself. Going back to what I said about writing, I’d want to put a lot more time and effort into these things before I thought they were actually worth paying money for – but I have so many ideas and such a short attention span that I’m not really interested in doing that.

10. Any particular plans for the future per chance?

Over the next couple of months I’m going to try and squeeze out a small IF game for David Fisher’s EnvComp – an IF competition for unusual settings and locations. In the longer term, I’m working on a larger IF game – and of course I have plenty of ill-considered ideas for action and strategy games as well.

I’m also engaged on a super-secret collaborative project with this short, bearded fellow in a pointed hat. I last saw him standing over by the garden pond with a fishing rod…

A Guide to the world of the Indie Adventure Game

Indy Adventure Game
It must have been back in the day when Terry Pratchett’s Discworld II was released that I first noticed PC Zone proclaiming the adventure gaming genre dead and most probably buried too, even though quite a few classics like Gabriel Knight III or Sanitarium would still follow. Yet, it was indeed more than obvious that the glory days of Monkey Island, Space Quest and Day of the Tentaclewere definitely coming to their end. Games went mainstream, quality dropped, the thinking gamer became a ridiculously small minority, good taste went tits up and magazines kept telling everyone just how very dead adventures were.

Heck, even now, after the obviously lucrative niche market The Adventure Company has carved itself, a variety of quirky Nintendo DS adventures and the amazing success of Sam and Max Series 1, nobody is convinced that adventures are truly back and people are still talking about redefining the genre, dropping costs, appealing to the mainstream, going 3D, whatever. What they are very obviously forgetting is that game crafting isn’t a power bestowed solely to big studios by the gods of gaming. It’s an art and craft everyone can have a try at, by either producing a freeware game or going for the more life-sustaining indy commercial development model. This exactly is the case with independent and/or freeware adventure games, a creative scene that’s been thriving for over a decade and going from strength to strength.

An Independent Adventure Game, you see, is a game created outside the stuffy world of uneducated managers who think they actually know what people like and believe there’s no value besides the exchange one. Indy Adventure Games, just like any medieval artisan’s product, only have to be true to the creator’s vision. They can be wildly innovative, copyright infringing, in full pixelated 2D, remakes of classic games, political, silly, absolutely shite, pop, over 500MB, excellent, boring, free or very cheap; anything at all. And, unlike commercial games, especially the ridiculously expensive ones which we’ve been living with for quite some time, they just can’t be proclaimed dead. As long as people -ordinary people- care for them, they’ll be around.

To play an Independent Adventure Game…

For the time being though, the indy adventure game is far from a dying species. One could even speak of an apex, if it weren’t for the ever increasing volume, variety and quality of productions. There are happily dozens of extremely talented developers and groups that keep churning out game after lovely game. To find out about -and of course play- said games, well, you’re spoiled for choice. For starters, this very blog will keep on covering those that catch my eye, Tim’s brilliant Independent Gaming will let you know about 99% of the newest releases, the Adventure Gamers Underground section, the AGS games pages, Adventure Developers, Erin’s blog and the the Adventuress will go on discovering and reviewing them, and then there are the developers’ websites like those of xii games, Herculean Effort, Wadjet Eye and Radical Poesis to search and savor.

<Intermission: In the unlikely case you’ve never played an adventure game and are thinking of having a try now that you ‘ve just discovered the world of freeware, please, do not expect frantic action. Expect interesting stories, mainly 2D graphics, lots of puzzles, inventory manipulation and lots and lots of pointing and clicking at things. The mouse and a capacity for lateral thinking are your friends./>

Now, to get you started and playing the latest and probably the best, I can’t help but suggest having a look at the linking epic that is my AGS Awards Winners 2006 post and the TOP 20 indy Adventures of 2006 as selected by Independent Gaming. Then, there’s this short ‘n’ random selection of games, merely for illustration purposes:

What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed

LB

Could you ever imagine EA coming up with a title like that? Or with a game simultaneously featuring two distinct stories? How about a hard brain twister? The most innovative adventure game of the past decade then? Of course not, and that’s the beauty of it. Download Linus here.

Space Quest 0: Replicated

Space Quest 0 - Replicated

Not a huge admirer of fan creations based on existing games, but this one is a glowing exception. SQ 0 is an excellent, original and funny little game, complete with 16-colour EGA graphics and old-fashioned parser interface, in which -you know- you type stuff. Could have easily been a proper part of the SQ saga methinks. Download it here.

Missing

missing

Now, for some adult-oriented entertainment. Missing is a gritty and beautifully illustrated adventure utilizing a simple ICOM-like point-and-click interface, that puts the players in the (probably) authoritarian shoes of a cop searching for his vanished wife and kid. Download it here.

Soviet Unterzoegersdorf

Soviet Unterzoegersdorf

Quasi-political satire with photorealistic graphics and absurdist humor, this one features a socialist cop in an almost socialist fictional state surrounded by Fortress Europe. Also looks quite a bit like Gabriel Knight II. Download it here.

Nearly Departed

Nearly Departed

A game by John Green, a Disney illustrator, no less. Fantastic graphics, impressive cartoon quality animation, simple interface and a still unfinished but very playable and highly enjoyable adventure. Besides, it’s the story of a reluctant zombie. Download it here.

Crafting, it’s so easy.

Well, provided you can come up with some decent graphics, game design, animation and music, it is. Programming could come in handy too, but as creating your very own engine can be both difficult and time consuming, there are many -mostly freeware- tools/engines that only require a minimum of effort and programming skill. The list that follows will hopefully help you. As for Interactive Fiction (text-adventures) it will be covered some other time. For now have a look at this interesting i-f writing bit.

AGS, the hallowed Adventure Games Studio, is by far the most popular scripting and adventure game creation environment to date. Pretty easy to use, freeware, geared towards classic 2D point-and-click retro adventures and backed up by a huge vibrant community, it’s probably where you should begin. Have a look.

LASSIE Adventure Studio, another free game creator, provides with the tools to create adventures in the classic Lucasarts style in Macromedia, Flash and Shockwave. Why not visit the LASSIE official site then?

The Wintermute Engine is slightly less easy to use a development environment, but with obvious 3D capabilities, impressive built-in graphical effects and high-tech tendencies. Quite the beast, really. Download it here.

Finally, and in a very blog-post ending way, you can also give the pretty excellent SLUDGE and Adventure Maker (also does PSP software, mind you!) tools a go. They are definitely worth your time. And mine.