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Interview with Chiselbrain Software

The Independent Games Festival was established in 1998 as a forum for independent developers to exhibit their work, receive recognition, and meet with commercial publishers. Finalists to this event attend the GDC and compete for several awards and cash prizes. This year's Seumas McNally grand prize is $15,000 (up from $10,000 last year).

Chiselbrain Software, based in Minnesota, is the company that made Pencil Whipped, an FPS with a visual style all it's own. I contacted Lonnie Flickinger to ask him a few questions about his game. What's that? Read on.

Who are you and what do you do?
I'm Lonnie Flickinger. My regular Job is as a Mechanical Designer/Mechanical Drafter for a local company in my area. I help design mechanical portions of electric motors and electronic controllers using 3D solid modeling/design tools.

Describe the members that make up the rest of your team
Just me. Currently I'm doing level design, artwork, music, sounds, web page and marketing.

When did you decide to form Chiselbrain Software?
I decided to start making games under the name Chiselbrain Software in 2000.

Is there anything significant about the name Chiselbrain?
LOL. It signifies using your brain to chisel out a creation. At one time I drew up a guy hitting himself in the back of his head with a hammer with his head ricocheting off of a keyboard repeatedly churning out work on the monitor but as your probably thinking right now er, that was probably a bad example….

What was the inspiration behind Pencil Whipped's visual style?
It's based on a dream I had one night. The dream wasn't the game itself but involved me drawing on a piece of white paper with a pencil. When I picked up the drawing and turned it I could see around stuff in the drawing like it had 3d depth. The next day I realized that I could actually make a game like that. Where at any time you weren't moving, the scene looked like a drawing on a piece of paper but when moving you could go deeper into it and around things. A first person shooter is the perfect genre for the experience. After doing some art and level tests it came to me that it was actually the irony of all the technical and beautiful masterpiece FPS games that are out now. So I decided to do the majority of the sound effects with my mouth to keep it raw like the drawings that it is. All my life I've made cartoons with my own characters. All the cartoons I used to draw contained dark offbeat humor and were mainly for making my friends laugh. Also I sketch lots of abstract art with lots of shadows and depth. I decided to make Pencil Whipped an avenue for expressing both of these at the same time.

Has the visual style of the game affected the game play itself? In what other respects is it different from other FPSs?
As far as an FPS its pretty standard...weapons, ammo, inventory, doors. What makes it different in my eyes is that is completely unrealistic and that each level has its own theme totally unrelated to the next or prior levels. However there are a few related things throughout the levels just for surprises.

What problems did you have during development? How did you overcome them?
Learning to make animated models, original music and sounds was quite a learning experience and one hell of a quest. I had lots of undesirable results at first. But after I found the right software and got enough practice its going smooth now.

Was this your first project? What past efforts helped you most?
I made a game called The Tickle People© . Which was my learning project I guess you could say. I learned all of what I mentioned previously doing this project. I decided not to complete it though. By the time I almost finished it the old saying "if I knew then what I know now..." came into play and it could have been much much better. I still plan on making The Tickle People© but much better with a different engine or maybe even a different genre than FPS.

What tools did you use to develop Pencil Whipped?
The game engine I'm using is called the GCS (Game Creation System) by Pie In The Sky Software. www.pieskysoft.org This engine is unique in that it requires no coding. All aspects of the engine and its abilities are in place. You control the features of the game engine with txt files, which in most cases are controlled by wizards. These txt files contain handle numbers that act as variables for whatever feature your controlling. FPS is the only type of game you can create with this engine. However it's so open, you can create any first person adventure you can dream up. With it being just me doing Pencil Whipped, this was perfect. With the GCS being so easy to construct the game world, I could focus on character design, artwork, sound and music. The tool I use for Artwork is Corel and my scanner. For 3D character modeling and animation I use Hash's Animation Master. I export my animation actions as individual frames and re-construct them in a program called Quake Model Editor. My characters are MD2 models. This is the format the GCS accepts for 3D objects. For the new non-midi based music I'm incorporating, I use Sonic Foundry's ACID and I record Loop samples and re-construct them at the pitches I need. ACID is such a versatile sound manipulation tool I also use this to create sound effects and enemy voices. It allows you to really control and time your wave effects nicely.

How long was Pencil Whipped in development?
I started real development around October/November 2000 and had a demo out by December 2000

Developing a game by yourself is tough, even with the tools you used. What kept you motivated?
Just the fact I was creating something that was my own. Also its fun! I continually make myself laugh. There's been times I've incorporated some wav dialog and matched it up with the character, did the A.I. scripting and such and just completely lost it once I see it in game. I've even had to leave my computer a few times I was laughing so hard.

When did you decide to enter Pencil Whipped into the IGF? What influenced this decision?
Actually I was contacted by the IGF. Certain Individuals thought Pencil Whipped was a good example of what should be competing in an independent games festival. I'm about as independent as you can get.

This year's IGF is so varied it's hard to compare one game to another. How do you view yourself going in?
Now that I couldn't tell you. I've played several of the other games and they are very fun. It's hard to judge myself so I'll just have to see what happens. All in all I see going to this as an honor in itself and a great experience. Just this aspect is an award in itself.

What's Chiselbrain looking towards in the future?
Making games of course. I'm not much of a coder. But I'm an idea person with a big imagination and have a knack for being creative. I'd like to form a real team of people including a creative coder, and an excellent artist and create something really special. I have some different game concepts in mind but no way of reaching at this time. I know it's not easy especially financially. We'll just have to see what happens.

Lonnie, thanks a lot for doing the interview
No problem at all. And thank you!

Interview conducted by Drew "Gaiiden" Sikora.

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