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TUAW Interview: Jesse Simko of Sawblade Software


Sawblade Software is the parent company of Power Game Factory, a game development environment for Mac OS X that even non-programmers can use (C.K. took a look at Power Game Factory earlier this summer). With it, you can make great, stand alone,  side-scrolling games with complex levels, Quicktime cut scenes, custom sprites...on and on. The best part of all: You don't need to write a lick of code and you can distribute your creation royalty free. Sound good? It is.

I've been using it for a couple of months now, and I've found that making games is actually more fun than playing them. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Jesse Simko, the company's founder. We chatted about his inspiration for creating a development environment for non-developers, his experiences so far and his future plans. You can read the interview after the jump.

: First of all, thanks for agreeing to answer my questions. I know you cover a bit of this on your website, but just how did Sawblade Software, and Power Game Factory, come to be?

Jesse: Sawblade Software got its start in 2002, when I designed a side-scrolling action game called Greenland Invasion for my final college project. After school ended I began building an authoring tool oriented around the Greenland Invasion game engine. The program grew over time, with the engine and the editor gradually acquiring new features. A couple years passed, and eventually I finished the project. Ultimately, Power Game Factory lets users create side-scrollers that use a very much enhanced version of the original Greenland Invasion technology.

TUAW: I’ve been playing with Power Game Factory myself for a couple of months, and I’ve found that creating games is even more fun than playing them! I’ve got no coding experience, yet I can create really fun games easily. What events prompted you to decide on a “game development for non-developers” approach?

Jesse: The memory of what it was like to be a non-programmer motivated me to create Power Game Factory. Growing up immersed in Mario and Metroid titles, I was inspired to draw up plans for games of my own–but it was frustrating knowing that I was unable to actually create any games myself. When I later gained the ability to develop software, I decided to make a program that I would have wanted as a kid. And as someone with an interest in interface design, I wanted to make Power Game Factory as usable as the products that influenced it, particularly Bungie Software's Marathon editing tools, Forge and Anvil.

TUAW: What unique challenges did you face in developing Power Game Factory?

Jesse: Fortunately, none that were insurmountable! As far as technical challenges go, I'd have to cite Windows incompatibility, feature creep, unexpectedly long debugging sessions, and development environment instability as the biggest problems, but those issues probably affect lots of programmers. On a more personal level, there were lots of tedious, time consuming steps involved in putting this particular application together, and looking back, I'm a little surprised that I remained motivated long enough to complete the project. I guess it was the frequent switching back and fourth between programming and content creation that kept things interesting for me. Eventually, business management and marketing chores provided even more variety to my daily routine. And as I worked I realized that this was more fulfilling than anything else I've pursued, and that includes my pursuit of a real job in the game industry. So I knew that I had chosen the right project, and that finishing it would be the best thing to do.

TUAW: My wife teaches elementary school, and she’s interested in my creating more educational games with Power Game Factory for use in her classroom. Have you learned of examples of people using your software in unexpected ways?

Jesse: I recently read a post on the Sawblade Software forum from someone who was explaining how they were making a vertically scrolling vehicular shooter using Power Game Factory. That's not what the tool was designed for, and seeing people trying to breach its limitations gives me a weird feeling. So to anyone with ambitious design goals, I'd recommend learning to program, so as to be able to engage in a less confining production process. But with regard to designing educational games, I honestly don't think there would be much of an opportunity to learn while playing the violent, reflex-oriented games that Power Game Factory was designed to produce. I believe that the act of producing that sort of mind numbing entertainment, however, can definitely be educational.

TUAW: What has the reaction of the Mac gaming community been like?

Jesse: Mac gamers seem very enthusiastic about Power Game Factory. I've received lots of thank-you's from gamers, as well as from artists and graphic designers. And the Mac press has been great. The fact that Power Game Factory users are satisfied with their purchase validates all the coverage that the program has been receiving. I'm really happy to see people of all ages enjoying software that I myself like to use... it's nice that there's no conflict between what I enjoy doing and what I need to do to put food on the table.

TUAW: One of the things I most enjoy is creating Quicktime cut scenes and custom splash screens. I would imagine that games could get intricate and finely detailed rather easily. Have you seen examples of more “epic” games made with Power Game Factory?

Jesse: I've seen hints of monstrous epics in the making, but it won't come as any surprise that those are the very games that haven't been fully revealed yet. Personally, I'm waiting for the first Super Metroid killer to arrive... something that will blend that mid-90's Nintendo aesthetic with the intuitiveness that we've come to expect as Mac users. And it would be great to see Metal Slug reborn into an obscene hi-res frag fest.

TUAW: What is your development setup, both hardware and software?

Jesse: I use REALbasic versions 4.5.2 and 5.5.5 on a 1.8 GHz single processor G5 with two 160 GB hard drives and 1 GB of memory. My video card is a measly GeForce FX 5200, so I figure if my game engine can run well on a weak card, then my game engine is good! For what it's worth, I started this project back in 2002 on an 866 MHz G4, and I briefly used a 700 MHz G3 iMac and a 1 GHz eMac during different stages of the development process. Besides REALbasic, the other applications in my dock include TextForge, Photoshop CS, DreamWeaver MX 2004, Order Tracker, and EPSON Print CD. When it comes to designing in 3D, I like to use LightWave and MeshWork.

TUAW: What has been your favorite experience since launching Sawblade Software?

Jesse: Seeing a KMFDM concert! Attending my friend's wedding was great too! I know those aren't the answers you were looking for, but most of my experiences pertaining to Sawblade Software haven't exactly made my heart pound with excitement. Speaking with industry veterans from MacWorld magazine, REALSoftware, and game publishers has been an honor though, and having the product for sale at the Apple Company Store and featured in Mac magazines is a welcome reminder that the industry is supportive of what I'm doing. Basically, I've experienced a steady stream of mostly pleasing events, but it's hard to identify a culmination or defining moment.

TUAW: What are your future plans for your company and products?

Jesse: I want to make a 3D game in which you're a school bus driver, and you go around picking up gangs of little kids and taking them to school... or, if you so choose, to the wrong location, where you could watch chaos ensue. It was my friend's idea, and sooner or later, we're going to make it happen.

TUAW: Finally, thanks again for taking the time to chat with me. Do you have any parting words for our readers?

Jesse: If anyone out there knows how to program and wants to make an authoring tool that lets users create Zelda-style adventure games, I think you'd be answering a lot of peoples' prayers. In the mean time, I might tackle "Power Game Factory: Space Shooter Edition".

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