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Interview with Queasy Games

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 chatted with the sole developer from Queasy Games, maker of the multiply-nominated game Everyday Shooter, which is in the running for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize, Design Innovation Award and Excellence in Audio.

Who are you and how were you involved in Everyday Shooter?

Jon: My name is Jonathan Mak, a skinny Chinese punk with long black curly hair, from Toronto Canada. I designed, coded, did the music and sounds (pretty much everything) for Everyday Shooter.

Congrats on your multiple nominations - what made you enter Everyday Shooter into the IGF?

Jon: It just seemed like a good possible venue to show the game. I mean, there still isn't a whole lot of coverage of indie games these days so I'll try whichever venue I can.

Where did the inspiration for Everyday Shooter come from?

Jon: My last game, Gate 88, was a really complicated mess so I just wanted to write something simple, easy, and most of all, fun. I tried a whole series of game ideas, mostly centered on chain-reaction systems like the one in Every Extend, but each idea turned out to be pretty crappy. So I decided to just straight up clone Every Extend for educational purposes. Kinda like playing another person's song to learn an instrument. While cloning Every Extend, I veered off course and created what is now the first level of Everyday Shooter. Around this time, my friend was forcing me to play this game, Lumines. I really loved how the game would transition to new skins -- it felt just like a music album! So after that, it became clear: make a bunch of shooters. The great part about this is that the development time for each shooter is really short, so I can afford trying out very wacky ideas only to throw them away. The dev process became much more creative and fluid in that sense.

What inspired the musical aspect of the game? Was that an early decision or something that came about later on in development?

Jon: Originally, the idea was to create all backing tracks with guitar, and then have musical sound effects made using a synthesizer. However, I discovered that it was really hard to make the sounds fit with the background guitar track. This is probably because I'm not a very good synth programmer. After thinking back to the original vision of the project, which was in part to create something simple, it hit me: just use guitars for sounds and music. Probably a lot of inspiration also came from Steve Reichs' Electric Counterpoint, as well as a bit of John Cage. Actually, I'm not actually well versed with his work, however I do really love the idea of the music of chance. I like the idea that even the most random things have some order or logic that drives it. This is why the sounds in the game are not beat-synced.

Did you enjoy working on this game yourself or would you have preferred a small team or partner? Why?

Jon: I don't think it's a matter of preference. I think it's just what's right for a project y'know? I mean, this isn't some sort of engineering work where you can form a team to create a product. Instead it's more like bands in music. If you can find people that you gel with, then that's great! But sometimes you can't find those people and so you do it yourself. In the end, I guess it felt right to make the game myself since all of its ideas are very personal. So, in the end, whenever I look at the game, I feel like I'm looking at a part of myself. Still, that doesn't mean that I don't like the idea of creating games in a small band.

So in working alone what do you think was the hardest part of making Everyday Shooter a reality?

Jon: Well, on the surface, the lack of time really sucked. But really, the hardest part was just believing that the game would come out good. To me, the hardest part about working alone is that you're fully accountable. There's no one to fall back on, and there's no one to pick up the work when you've got writer's block. There were a few months where I would either create stuff that sucked, or just didn't have the motivation to continue. Those days were pretty depressing.

Was there anything that happened during development that you would like to reveal to other developers as a caution?

Jon: Don't force it. Just create the thing that YOU want. For example, don't force creativity or innovation. If your game isn't innovative, so what? So long as you like it, then that's all that matters. In fact, I didn't really think anybody would find my game to be innovative! It was called "Everyday Shooter" for a reason :) But also, don't get caught up in being a professional either. We're not engineers here, we're artists, so don't be afraid to get spontaneous and jam out ideas.

What was used to make Everyday Shooter and what tools aided in development?

Jon: Coding was done in C++ using Microsoft Visual Studio 6.0. Libraries include FTGL, FMOD and SDL. I use OpenGL for graphics. Music and sounds were done on a cheapo Squier by Fender electric guitar going through a Line 6 Pod XT, recorded into Sound Forge 4.0. In game graphics are all code generated (real time, morphing vectors).

Is there anything else about Everyday Shooter you would like to reveal to other developers?

Jon: I guess so. I mean, there's the whole thing where each level/song/shooter has it's own visual and musical style, and it's own special chain reaction system, which when understood, will net you big points and give you a better chance at beating the level. Also, the game is setup so that each level lasts the duration of the song. When the song ends, the next level starts immediately.

So how do you view the indie game scene now versus back when you started making games?

Jon: Back when I started, I actually wasn't really into the indie games scene. Regrettably, I was more into what I call the "Amateur Profession" scene, where it's a bunch of yokels trying their best to emulate the professional. I didn't really know there was a indie game scene until I met my friend, Raigan, about five or six years ago. By then, the scene, though small, was expanding with the help of sites like Gamehippo and HOTU. Now, with coverage of indie games in print magazines like GFW, as well as sites like tigsource.com, indygamer.blogspot.com, and the2bears.com, it feels much more stable. More than coverage however, I think that the technical barriers to creating video games have lowered each year. Although it still requires quite a bit of technical know-how to create a game, I think that in a few short years, we will see more games made by less-technically minded people. As a result, we'll see non-traditional ideas not rooted in what we now think of as a game. I can't wait for that time.

Any plans yet beyond Everyday Shooter?

Jon: Kind of, but nothing concrete. I mostly just want to take a break, rest, and play all the indie games I've missed over the past years. Can you believe I haven't played Cave Story yet!? ARGH!

Well good luck at GDC and I'll see you there

Jon: Thanks!

Interview conducted by Drew Sikora

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