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Interview with TerraFriedSheep
Published on April 25, 2014
Q) How long have you been interested in games?
A) I would have thought this question would be a nice and simple question to answer, but putting my mind to it I'd say there have been two quite different stages to my 'interest' in games throughout my life. I'm sure I must have started playing games from the moment I was physically able to press a couple of buttons. Depending on where I was, this could mean trying my hand at a Commodore 64 or a NES or similar gaming machines from that era. I can even remember playing games on a TV set via a machine that took tape cassettes, the name of which escapes me now.
My first proper experience of regularly accessible gaming though was the Sega Megadrive. I shared one with my two siblings, and would often spend time sat on the floor playing games over again such as Sonic 1, 2 or 3, Street Fighter or Micro Machines 96 but to name a few. As for PC, I was introduced to Civilization 2 at an early age and that with SimCity 2000 were core games I probably invested too much time in, but they are still to this day good.
Fast forward a decade or so and I start dabbling with creating my own games, and it doesn't take many Google searches before coming across Game Maker (although I did try a couple of other vastly inferior 'engines' before finding it). From that point onwards, my interest changed from playing games to creating them, until it got to the point where I couldn't see a game being played without wondering how I would go about making it myself. I found that I was getting more pleasure out of putting the pieces of games together rather than playing them, and have in fact altogether stopped playing games on a regular basis at all! I must be one of the only game developers out there who doesn't play games themselves (apart from occasionally other indie games when I'm giving something back to communities and Jams I participate in). I do revisit some of my favourite games from the past on occasion, but if you asked me to name the last commercial game I bought for PC/console, I'd struggle to tell you when or what it was.
Q) What made you decide to become a game developer?
A) At no point did I decide to become a game developer, it just developed as a hobby much like any other would. I only create games when I have spare time and inspiration, and they can be difficult to come across at the same time! I know that for a very long time I had at least wanted to have some sort of input into game design, as I have a very early memory of sitting with my brother and drawing a scene of a new game idea which we were going to send off to the big game development companies. That picture never got sent, and nothing really came of the far-fetched idea anyway. I did however send a letter to Nintendo once with a picture of my 'Gameboy Color' with the idea of a memory card that you could stick in the side to save more games (probably because some games you could only have one save for, and I expect that caused friction between myself and said brother). They didn't take me on as a business partner, but did send me a load of free goodies, including their soundtrack CD 'Killer Cuts' and an inflatable banana, which drove my Mum mad. The only thing I have left from this is the CD.
The first time I ever 'made' a game was when I was digging deep into the Civilization 2 data folders, and realised you could edit the files to bring your own graphics into the game, and change the various text dialogues and unit stats. I completely remade the game with my own graphics and ideas, and although it really was just Civ2 disguised behind bad graphics and inferior game balancing, it probably ignited the desire to make something that I could entirely call my own.
Q) What inspires you?
A) I generally find the best inspiration comes to me when there is no possible way I could fire up the laptop and start developing the idea I have just come up with. Therefore I probably come up with most game ideas when I'm travelling, at work or am in a situation where I have some free thinking time (the latter two occasionally coming together, don't tell the boss!). The fact that my inspiration comes in these situations doesn't actually seem to affect what the game idea itself is. Looking through my collection of completed works, I can safely say I have never been in a situation close to most of them! In fact, I'd say there is only one game that I have finished where I can directly link the game to a real life scenario.
That game is Letterboxes, an exploratory platform game where you explore a world which has ten letterboxes (and some bonus areas if you complete the game!) scattered throughout it. When you find one you can leave a message for future players to read, and of course go back through past messages and see what others had to say when they found each letterbox. I got this idea while in Dartmoor, England. On Dartmoor you'll find many tors, and if you search around you'll find letterboxes people have hidden there (usually under rocks) with notes and stamps in. People who find these can leave a note, or stamp their own notebook proving they found that letterbox. Despite having spent many days over many years up on the moor, I hadn't found a letterbox until sometime in 2013. It was great to find one, so I decided to put this old tradition into a game during the 11th GMC Jam.
Q) How would you describe your creative process?
A) As the early roots of my ideas tend to come at a place where I can't get working straight away, it means I start thinking the ideas through in my head and how I might go about making them. I will often come up with a simple, core game mechanic which I feel I could make work, and then I'd imagine up extras that I could add on, until it gets to the point where I can't hold all the thoughts together. It's at this point that I know if I started making the game I'd run into problems trying to add too many layers of complexity right off the bat. So what happens then is I revert back to the core game mechanic, and when I get the opportunity, start making it. Simple ideas often work out well, and because of all the ideas I had as potential to include in the game, I intuitively make the game in such a way that adding things in is easy, and the game can grow from there.
With this in mind, I find my creativity can flow much more easily when I have a simple game down and come up with an idea to improve it. So long as I don't leave certain aspects of the game design process behind (particularly graphics--if I start leaving placeholders around I really struggle to go back and improve them) I can use this 'create and add' technique to build my games from the ground up.
Q) What do you consider your best work?
A) While thinking through a response to this question two of my game series (if you can call them that!) come to the forefront of my mind: Survivor and Fatal Tournament.
Survivor was the third game I finished and released to my YoYoGames sandbox account, and it is undoubtedly my most successful game to date. It was not too long after releasing the game that it became featured on the homepage and the plays started rolling in. The game has fetched over 27,000 plays and had nearly 14,000 online highscores submitted, which I suppose surpassed any numbers I had imagined possible for one of my creations. I had a good feeling about it prior to its release, however, as I had developed it over the holiday period and had had various members of my family try it out. They spent hours between them trying to outdo each other and survive for the longest time. It was great to see for me, as I could see that even people who were useless gamers could enjoy the game--and I felt guilty. It was strange seeing people being so addicted to something I had put together. It did however come with a nice satisfaction of knowing I had got a good balance of challenging gameplay where the player felt responsible for being beaten by it--and compelled to try and better themselves at it.
As a developer I am incredibly lucky to have had my game gain this level of exposure, as it gives a plethora of feedback, good and bad, and from that it really helped shape any future games I ended up making. I have now released Survivor Reborn in which I hope to have tied up any problems from the original, and I am very pleased with the result. I worked hard on the graphics, and while not to everyone's taste they are far superior to the original, and the game as an overall package feels complete and as such I would say it is my 'best work' overall.
Despite Survivor being my best overall work, I just want to add a few sentences about my other favourite technical work--Fatal Tournament. I released Fatal Tournament barely two years after taking my first steps in hobbyist game development, and it came with challenging AI and online multiplayer. Although fairly short-lived, there were a few occasions where I had maybe seven or eight people all playing at the same time in an online multiplayer battle. It is probably the most fascinating part of my game making history for me, because I could actually see people playing my game. The thought that these people were all there simultaneously trying to outwit each other, and seeing human thought processes and tactics being played out in the environment that I had created was fantastic. The game is still to this date the most complex game I have released, but it is dated now both in terms of the technology it was created with and my technical ability.
That is where Fatal Tournament 2 comes in--a remake I've worked on a couple of years ago now, and did end up releasing a demo version which, as far as the single player gaming goes, is the most immersive game I have made. It focuses on a death match arcade scenario in which you must fight until the victory requirements are met. I gave a lot of attention to the freedom of the match setup--you can choose how many kills you need, what level you need to be, a time limit, the exact weapon and powerups you want available, as well as how many computer AI's you want. There are also three challenges per level to take on which you can earn four classes of trophy on, depending on your performance. Then there is the AI, and this is what I am most proud of. The AI want to win just like any human player would want to win. Each AI makes decisions on which ability to level up, whether to head for a weapon or item box, which enemy they could most likely get a kill from and in which direction to head in to try and achieve these tasks. This is all built around three levels of intelligence, with the increasing difficulty meaning they make smarter decisions (like better navigation with the remote controlled missiles), and even attempt to dodge incoming fire. If I ever get the opportunity, I would love to finish this game but there is still a long way to go if I were to be satisfied with it as a fully finished product. It's well over a year since I worked on it, and various GM updates have rendered some of the coding invalid, adding to the burden--perhaps I'd be better off starting from scratch...!
Q) What advice would you offer to aspiring game developers?
A) Be proud of positive feedback, appreciate constructive criticism, and don't be put off by negativity. If you are enjoying making your games you're onto a winner. There is so much to learn that you shouldn't expect your first creation to be perfect. Each time you make something new you'll be able to apply the good from previous projects and remove the bad. It's an iterative process which takes time and shouldn't be forced, and eventually you'll be able to go back and make that first idea the way you imagined it.
© 2014 Ben Tibbetts