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Interview with Jeff Evertt

Global Defense NetworkThe 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.

Jeff Evertt, developer behind the rhythm action game Global Defense Network, was kind enough to chat with me online about his game and himself. GDN takes the rhythm genre to places it's never been before, creating a gameplay that is certainly unique, and an IGF entry that is certainly notable. Let's get down to the questions.

Who are you and what was your role in developing GDN?

Jeff: Well, my name is Jeff Evertt. I've been making indie games for a few years now - GDN is the second one that I've released. I'm basically the sole developer for the project. I had some help with the music, but I'm the designer, programmer and artist

Congrats on your first year in the IGF finals - have you entered into the competition before?

Jeff: No, this is the first time I've entered. I'm very excited about going there and meeting with the other finalists. I'm really honored to be included in the competition. And since I have the chance, I want to thank all the people involved with the competition. There are a lot of entries and judging them must be a lot of work. It's really a great thing for Indie developers and gamers

How long have you known about the IGF? What made you enter this year?

Jeff: You know, I really don't remember the first time I heard about the IGF. The first GDC I attended was back in 1999, I think. It wasn't until about three years ago that I really started paying attention to what was going on in the indie world. I meet up with a bunch of other indie developers located up here in the Seattle area on a fairly regular basis, and while showing an early version to one of them, they suggested I enter in the IGF. That is probably the first time I considered entering

Before you began "paying attention" to the indie world, what did you consider yourself to be as a developer?

Jeff: I've worked in the mainstream game industry for many years now, so a retail game developer

What made you go indie from retail?

Jeff: There are probably a few factors, but primarily it was the growing team sizes. Working on a team of ten is a very different experience from working on a team of fifty. In a large team, each person needs to do their specific parts and stay in that box. I'm a programmer, but I like to do design. Working in a really large team, you can't scratch that itch. It is really a joy to be able to come up with an idea and develop it all the way to a full game

When did you start programming? What got you into game development?

Jeff: I think I wrote my first "game" when I was about twelve years old. But, it sucked. To me, programming is a lot of fun. For a long time I didn't think it was something that I could depend on to earn a living. I actually started out doing chip design - really low level, at the transistor level. After doing that for a few years, I decided to just go for it

So in learning to program you've always wanted to use that knowledge to make games?

Jeff: Mostly. One of the great things about games is they involve a bit of everything - physics, graphics, AI - and the goal is to entertain people

So. Global Defense Network - what's the gameplay like?

Jeff: Well, it's a point a click shooter timed to music. If you've ever played any of the music based games, like Frequency or even DDR, you can get into this zone where your fingers take over and you just feel the rhythm of the music. That sort of feeling is what I was going for at the heart of the game play. It also has a single player experience that you play through. I really liked the idea of a game taking advantage of the fact that most players won't know much about the game, having a bit of mystery and surprise. The game opens up into something most players don't expect

Where did the inspiration for the game come from? When was this?

Jeff: One of my goals was to create a single player experience, and to make something that is just fun. Other than that, a lot of inspiration came from other games, books, and movies. Music-based, rhythm action games, a great book, Ender's Game, and the movie The Last Star-Fighter. When I started it, I wanted to try some different things that I hadn't seen done before (and some things that I had just never done before). The game took about a year and a half from start to finish. I try not to think too much about other game ideas while I am currently working on one, so the ideas and design didn't start till I started working on the game.

What was the game developed with?

Jeff: It was written in C++ with Visual Studio and uses DirectX. I wrote my own graphics and physics engine for Goof Ball (a previous game) and used the same one for this game. I used lots of different tools - Gold Wave for sound editing, BASS & MO3 for music, and an old copy of 3DS for modeling

What were some of the technical hurdles in doing the rhythm programming?

Jeff: There weren't as many as I expected. I experimented with different ways of doing beat finding on the fly to allow any song to be just dropped in, but found that it didn't really fit my needs as far as overall game play. I wanted the graphics to fit the feel of the music, not just the beat. So, I made a music sync tool to make custom levels to fit with the music. I was also expecting to run in to some de-synchronization issues, but that turned out to not be a problem

What was your work week like? How many hours did you normally put in?

Jeff: Well, I still work in the retail game industry full time, so I work on my indie projects in my spare time. I had my first child about eight months ago and that has changed a few things, so there isn't really a normal week for me. I really try to spend some time each day working on my projects, even if it is just a half an hour. Staying focused is very important as time is valuable

Quality of Life is fast becoming an important topic in the industry. What are your views on QoL?

Jeff: I'm really glad that this is starting to receive some press. The number of work hours that are sometimes required and are considered normal is something that has to change for the industry to mature. Unfortunately, requiring ridiculous hours has been working. It's difficult to change something that works

What do you do personally to keep it fun?

Jeff: It's games we are working on. Remembering that is key to keeping it fun

So what's next on your platter?

Jeff: I want to do something fairly different. I'm working on a kid's game. Technically, I'd like it to include some believable AI

Well, good luck at the IGF this year; I'll see you on the Expo floor come March

Jeff: Thanks!

Interview conducted by Drew "Gaiiden" Sikora.

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