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Interview with Digital Eel

The CMP Game Group (producer of Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra.com, and the Game Developers Conference) established the Independent Games Festival in 1998 to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize the best independent game developers. They saw how the Sundance Film Festival benefited the independent film community, and wanted to create a similar event for independent game developers as well as the student population of game developers.

I got the chance to talk via email to the Digital Eel team once again about their game Weird Worlds, nominated for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and Innovation in Audio. This is the second time a game has appeared twice consecutively in an IGF competition, along with Gish from Chronic Logic which was a finalist in 2004 and 2005.

Who are you and what was your role on Weird Worlds?

Iikka: Iikka Keränen, I co-designed and programmed the game and made some graphics too.

Phosphorous: I'm an earth human and I think that my primary goal was creative imagery and dim illuminations.

Rich: Rich Carlson. I co-designed Weird Worlds. I made sound effects, music, and some graphics for the game as well.

Wow, four consecutive IGF nominations! Welcome back and congrats on taking the lead for consecutive nominations. Has it gotten boring yet? :)

P: Of course not. It's too much fun.

R: No way. It's the only time they let me out.

I: It never gets boring, it's always fun to go down there and mingle with other indie game people. Unfortunately I'm going to miss it myself this year.

So what's got you guys stuck on Weird Worlds? What made you decide to enter Weird Worlds for a second time?

P: It's better and weirder now.

I: WW needed a lot more work and we spent another year on it. I think it really shows; the game is much more than it was. (Besides, we didn't work on anything else that we could submit to IGF! :) )

R: There were lots of things missing and not yet implemented in that older beta. Now it's shipshape, and it will be nice to not have to play "fill in the blanks" this time. ;)

What additions to Weird Worlds do you think brought you back to the finals again this year?

P: It's weird and it's new with new weird things.

R: It's just nice to have the opportunity to be able to show everyone the finished game.

We talked about mods in our last interview. How has that helped the game since then?

I: The modifiability of the game makes it easier for us to fix errors and add content. For example, one of the races in the game was added rather late in the development but it only took a few days, mainly for artwork, and didn't cause any problems with the rest of the game because of the modular design.

P: It's a very important way to play with this game and the fact that the users can make their own mods appeals on a whole different level. Ultimately, it gives the gamer a bigger value.

Have any user-created mods influenced your design and development of the game?

P: All of them, every one, because we like them.

R: Overall, modders are really inspiring because they often come up with ideas you never thought of, so if there's a sequel, like Weird Worlds, you have to worry about topping them. ;) Of course, then they will mod Weird Worlds and top us again. ;)

What was your most challenging production obstacle during development? How'd you overcome it?

P: Staying away from the dream snake.

R: I can't think of any obstacles but it is always a challenge to create a whole bunch of new music for a project. I deal with it by barreling through it, laying down everything I can think of that seems appropriate for the game. Later on I'll figure out what goes where. ;)

How about from the technical side?

I: Sound is always difficult to get right on all the different computers people use. We've had and still have some issues with OpenAL on some hardware. Sound is one of the least standardized things going on in a PC.

And the design side?

P: Infinite Space was already real so the design part was easy.

R: What Phosphorous said. Much of Weird Worlds had already been designed; it is the direct descendant of Strange Adventures in Infinite Space . Also, additional features that make Weird Worlds special were either things we had originally intended to include in Strange Adventures or new things that we'd been talking about since SAIS was released four years ago.

Highlight a problem during development that you could have avoided. What would you have done differently or what can you do differently to avoid the problem in the future?

R: Life intervened and delayed development progress a couple of times but these things could not have been avoided. Our families, "real jobs," and so forth, have to come first.

P: The time continuum bothers me.

R: You too? ;)

What's changed in the way you guys have been developing games over the last year?

P: Nothing.

R: Really nothing... other than that we're on hiatus for six months or so while Iikka does his mandatory military service in the Finnish army.

What's one thing that's stayed the same in the way you guys have been developing games in the last year that you feel has helped you most in doing your job?

P: The ability to immediately have fun.

R: Simpatico. We like, trust and respect each other and agree about 99% of the time.

You guys mentioned a bunch of ideas for future games last year - still thinking of any of them?

P: Yes.

R: Basilisks & Biplanes. It MUST be made!

What else is in store for Digital Eel's future?

P: More free content for the Digital Eel site. Waiting for reaction from the mod community. Waiting to see what they make!

R: Phosphorous for President in 2008!

Interview conducted by Drew "Gaiiden" Sikora

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