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Interview with Game Trust/SMERC

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.

Moleculous was developed by SMERC and Game Trust and is nominated for the Best Web Browser Game award.

Who are you and what was your role on Moleculous?

Jonathan: I'm the Game Manager here at Game Trust, and my involvement in the game was mostly a production role. Brian Wane, the founder of SMERC, handled all concept, game development, art, sound, etc. They did a spectacular job and we have already begun another project with them that should be completed later this spring.

Congrats on making it into the IGF finals. Is this your first attempt at entering the competition?

Jonathan: Yes, this was our first attempt into the competition. We had another title named Shroomz: Quest for Puppy that won the Billboard Award for Best Web/Downloadable Game of 2004, but unfortunately we did not get the IGF entry in on time. We didn't make the same mistake with Moleculous.

What made you decide to enter Moleculous into the IGF?

Jonathan: Amidst a casual games market completely dominated by clones and derivatives of other games, we felt Moleculous was a "breath of fresh air," so to speak. The game is completely unique, and there is no other casual game like it. We love and respect the work that the IGF does in our space, and we knew that they would appreciate a game with totally unique game play.

How do you view this year's competition? Do you think the IGF is heading in the right direction?

Brian: We at SMERC are really impressed with the quality of the games in this year's competition, and are honored that Moleculous is in such good company. It's amazing that there is a venue for games of this scope.

How did the idea for Moleculous come about?

Brian: Moleculous features a game mechanic inspired by the traditional real-world game Pachinko , with board pegs placed to conduct ‘molecule experiments' by bouncing elixir drops into a catching flask. As an educational twist each level features a new chemical puzzle that is scientifically accurate.

While prototyping the game, we looked at various board arrangements that worked. From board configurations grew the need to make peg placements meaningful. A little experimentation and the answer jumped off the page – molecules! Hence, Dr. Leakentube was born.

How much did the game evolve from its original inception? What drove this evolution?

Brian: Moleculous changed significantly from its earliest prototype. The evolution was mainly driven by a need for story and depth in the game play.

Besides chemical compounds, what other educational value does Moleculous contain? Was this a goal of the game or a side-benefit of the design?

Brian: Well, there is certainly logic, but given the game mechanic it's of a slightly different variety than is typically found in puzzle games. Players learn how to place elements to control the ball's movements, but it is a fluid, reactive logic.

What's your most enjoyable part of the game and how did that feature come about?

Brian: I'd have to say that my favorite part is when the player becomes proficient enough that they start placing elements as the balls are falling, because the game really changes at that point. Originally the game let you place element pegs separately from dropping the balls. When we combined the actions so that placing a peg also created a falling ball, this feature really came into its own.

During the development of Moleculous , what were some major issues that caused problems and how were they solved?

Brian: The dumbest thing we did was to not plan out all the play modes from the beginning. Retrofitting four additional play modes into the game four months into production was quite a headache. Not a mistake we'll make again.

What tools/technology was used for the creation of Moleculous?

Brian: Macromedia Director, Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, 3d Studio Max, Vecta3D, and the Game Trust tournament software.

What's the one thing about the way you develop games that you think helps you do your job best?

Brian: We build from the game mechanic up and try to make the solution as algorithmically-based as possible. This often allows for unexpected and surprising game features.

How long has Game Trust been around? What's a brief history of the company?

Jonathan: Game Trust was founded in 2002 to create infrastructure for online and wireless causal games. The Company started by acquiring a casual game operator, NoPay2Play, and working with Core WebSystems from Denmark to extend the NoPay2Play offering. By March, 2003, Game Trust launched a multiplayer and tournament portal for MiniClip.com, which Game Trust released using Game Frame Version 3.0. Shortly after launching on MiniClip, Game Trust started supporting micro-transactions for tournaments in games of skill. Demand for the Game Frame platform grew quickly, and Game Trust signed two dozen licenses over the next year. In February, 2004, Game Trust acquired Core WebSystems with part of the proceeds from a $5 MM investment and released the next version of Game Frame. Game Frame Version 4.0 included support for single player games, game integration API's, and subscriptions. Game Trust then signed and launched a license with Shockwave.com in the summer of 2004. From the summer of 2004 until the present, Game Trust continued to refine the Version 4.0 platform, signed many more licenses, including MTV Games and The Money Gaming Corporation, and released over 40 new games on the platform. Game Frame now powers casual game play on over 75,000 web sites worldwide in 5 different languages, and over two dozen leading casual game developers are writing games for the platform. Game Trust received a $9 MM investment in November of 2005 to continue the development of Game Frame and to expand in Asia .

What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages to game development on the east coast?

Brian: Disadvantages: High cost of living and the general impression that North American game culture is the property of the west coast.

Advantages: Lots of people that want to make games and not that many game development shops. You can also make a splash with smaller development efforts.

What advice would you give companies looking to make a start in the northeast?

Brian: Find cheap office space and don't feel that what you do has to be determined by west coast trends.

What's next for Game Trust?

Jonathan: As I said earlier, we are currently producing another game with SMERC. It is currently in very early stages of production, but I can tell you that it is an innovative action-puzzle game that will release this summer. We learned a lot by working with Brian and SMERC, and we will use those lessons to create an even better game.

We also have several other interesting projects underway, including an original casual game produced by Alexey Pajitnov; the famed creator of Tetris. All told, we have over 7 original casual games in production, and we will release over 10 games in 2006 – for online, tournament, and download play. It looks to be a very exciting year!

Interview conducted by Drew "Gaiiden" Sikora

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