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Interview with Chronic Logic

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 year¹s Seumas McNally grand prize is $15,000.

Today I got the pleasure of sitting down with Josiah and Alex from Chronic Logic and the two sole developers for the IGF finalist Ponitfex 2, a game where you are tasked in various scenarios with building various types of bridges, and then testing them with real-world physics to see if they make the grade or collapse due to your poor engineering.

So who are you and what do you do?
Josiah: I am Josiah Pisciotta; I started working here about 8 months ago, early last year. when I started there was Alex and Ben working here since then Ben has left so I have taken over a lot of what he did, maintaining the business end of things, web page, sales and try and program when I am not to busy with other stuff
Alex: My names Alex Austin, I'm a designer/programmer; I've been making games for about 7 years.
Josiah: Alex and I have actually worked together a lot before I started here
Alex: yeah we've been making games on and off, but I've been doing it full-time for about a year and 4 months

So you guys are both local?
Alex: yeah, we grew up in the same town
Josiah: went to the same high school and everything

Did you know each other growing up and in school or did you meet later on?
Alex: we knew each other in school. We actually worked on some games at school, even though there weren't any programming classes
Josiah: ya we started working towards making games together in high school
Alex: one of the games was a text-based game called escape from calculus. We also made a 3D engine with the default C graphics library, not pretty, hehe
Josiah: so ya we have been working together for a while :-)

What got you guys interested in game development? Did you both get hooked independently or did one of you influence the other?
Josiah: We both had been doing some form of development on our own, way back in the day of the Apple IIe and BASIC
Alex: we both had been working on games in basic, I remember in 8th grade we were working on different games, mine was a baseball game and Josiah was working on an RPG
Josiah: so we both started independently but we had influence on each other as well, especially later on after we started working together

Josiah you jumped on board 8 months ago, Alex how long has the company been in business and what made you both want to go indie?
Josiah: When I joined, Pontifex I had been finished and released. I had been keeping in touch with Alex during the development even though I was not living here in Santa Cruz. So when they asked if I wanted to join up and I was all ready considering moving down here it was an easy choice
Alex: we've been in business since October 01. The reason I wanted to do games independently was so I could work on whatever I want also publishers are difficult to deal with, and most game companies aren't interested in programmer/designers, its either one or the other
Josiah: I agree, plus it's hard to get jobs in the game industry, for me it was easier to start out on our own

Both your games Triptych and Pontifex are based on real-world physics. What's the engine like?
Alex: top secret :-)
Josiah: heh
Alex: really it's similar to a particle engine with springs. Actually I originally started working on this type of physics engine because I was frustrated with trying to do rotations on rigid body simulations so I made the objects out of particles and springs and evolved it from there

What gave you the idea for Pontifex? Was it based on the physics engine you had or did the physics engine evolve from the game idea?
Alex: actually I designed the physics engine for a 3D vehicle combat game that Josiah and I were working on a few years ago. I had though about doing a bridge building game even before that. Then one day I decided to try making the bridge building game with the physics engine and it worked pretty good, and I went with it from there.

So the game didn't come about as a way to make use of the engine? What made you think of it way back when?
Alex: I think the idea for it came from when we built toothpick bridges in school, I thought that was fun and though it would make a cool game. The physics engine definitely shaped the game however, since I had to build it around that.

So when Pontifex was finally released to the masses, what did you think of the reaction that spurred a sequel?
Josiah: the reaction was good to Pontifex, but I think what really indicated that a bridge building game could do well was the huge reaction to the original game Bridge Builder™, which Alex was giving away for free. The sequel to Pontifex was brought about because we wanted to make a game that had some of the features that Bridge Builder™ had with better graphics and game place. So it was really because we still felt there was more to do with a bridge building game
Alex: yeah Pontifex 2 was really a cross between Pontifex and Bridge Builder™ (Bridge Builder™ is a trademark of someone other company however)

Good point Josiah, I was just thinking along the lines of publishers, i.e. if the sales and reaction don't look good, why make a sequel? Do you think you guys would have made Pontifex 2 without the community support you have?
Alex: no, without the interest of the fans of Pontifex we definitely wouldn't have made a sequel
Josiah: knowing that we had a lot of people interested in the game and a lot of people who would purchase it definitely influenced us towards making Pontifex II
Alex: yeah a lot of the ideas for Pontifex 2 were to give the fans of Pontifex something new
Josiah: we also have a lot of ideas for other games that we would like to make, more than Pontifex. But you have to be able to budget them in a time frame that is reasonable and that was one of the big appeals to Pontifex II as well
Alex: yeah it's a game that doesn't require a huge amount of art
Josiah: ya that was another factor :-)

So to clear things up, what's the difference between Pontifex and Bridge BuilderTM? Was one like an editor and the other an actual game?
Alex: no Bridge BuilderTM was a 2D game, much simpler than Pontifex. It was really a demo and it had 15 levels. I was going to make a full game out of it, but I got a job and the whole copyright issue made me give up on it for a while

You mentioned the development time for Pontifex I briefly - how long did that actually take? Any major problems or events during development worth mentioning?
Alex: it took about 5 months. The first couple months I was trying to figure out how to extend the game into 3 dimensions - there was a few issues with that. The hardest part however was probably just getting the interface right. I wanted it to be flexible enough to edit in 3 dimensions, but also easy enough for people to use

How long did it take to develop Pontifex II, and how was development relative to Pontifex I?
Alex: it was a little shorter, but we used some code that we had been working on for other games, like stencil shadow volumes
Josiah: and it uses a lot of the same interface ideas as Pontifex I, so a lot of the ideas were already developed for it

What made you decide to enter the game into the IGF?
Alex: we had about 15000 reasons :-)
Josiah: $$$ ;) No, really they had wanted to enter Pontifex I into the IGF, but the guy whose job it was never got around to it. So this year we definitely wanted to enter a game. We thought about Triptych because it was already finished and Pontifex II was in early development, but we felt that Pontifex II would be our best game so we entered it. Also Pontifex II was being developed by just me and Alex so we wanted to enter it because that's where the company was moving (Ben was leaving). We felt that we had a good chance of it doing well too :-)

Will this physics engine be the basis of following games or are you thinking of going into other areas?
Alex: yeah I think most of our ideas will use realistic physics; the influence of the physics probably won't be as obvious as with Pontifex 2 however. The games will just have a lot of gameplay possibilities that realistic physics allow
Josiah: The physics engine was originally developed a few years ago when we were working on a game called Mindriot, we still hope to make this game and others that will use some form of the physics engine

What's next for you guys?
Alex: our next game will probably be something totally different than Pontifex 2
Josiah: ya, as Alex said the realistic physics engine allows for very dynamic gameplay and that's what we think makes games fun, so we have no plans to move away from that idea :) We do have a few ideas for games, but we will see which ones seem the most reasonable to make with our resources and budget
Alex: it will probably be a multiplayer game though
Josiah: yes

Sounds great guys. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview.
Josiah: Thanks, we will see you at GDC :-)
Alex: yeah, thanks

Interview conducted by Drew "Gaiiden" Sikora.

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