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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Overgrowth

Justin McElroy

Being a giant, beloved video game blog has its downsides. For example, we sometimes neglect to give independent developers our coverage love (or loverage, if you will) as we get caught up in AAA, AAAA or the rare quintuple-A titles. To remedy that, we're giving indies the chance to create their own loverage and sell you, the fans, on their studios and products. This week we talk with John Graham of Wolfire Games, whose Overgrowth, a follow-up to underground hit Lugaru, is currently in development.

How did you your company get started?

David Rosen created Wolfire in 2003 as a web site where people could download his personal gaming projects. All of us at Wolfire were really into computer games growing up but I think something unique in David compelled him to get an early start. I had the good fortune to go to the same elementary school as David, and while most kids were playing the hunting section of Oregon Trail at recess, he was spending his time coding his own stick figure war game in a programming environment called HyperCard. He even went so far as to craft his own explosion and gunshot sound effects by recording the distortion that occurs from blowing into a microphone. Soon David's war game spread around the school until, not surprisingly, it got banned by the administration for being too violent. By the time David hit high school, he had migrated to 3D games using C++.

His first commercial title was a ninja rabbit fighting game called Lugaru. David could only code in his free time, so he didn't have a chance to promote Lugaru much. However, the game became an underground success and earned him recruitment offers from big companies like Crytek and Blizzard. David turned them down to pursue a college education and after he graduated, he decided to assemble a team and go indie full-time. Now he is joined by our lead artist Aubrey, his twin brother Jeff and myself and we've been working just over a year on a sequel to Lugaru called Overgrowth.

Why did you want to make games?

It has been a lifelong dream. David and Jeff co-wrote a letter to LucasArts when they were seven begging to join the the Monkey Island team. LucasArts replied with a really nice letter, but sadly declined. While our understanding of games has dramatically matured since then, the sentiment is largely the same: we are gamers at heart and want to be involved in creating them. Video games are an amazing medium because they require a synthesis of so many creative processes. While this means making a game is a lot of work (especially if you decide to build your own engine from scratch like us), it is also a supremely rewarding experience. A lot of people dream about making a living by making games, but few end up getting a chance.

Why be independent rather than try to work for someone else?

Clearly, the low-risk move is to get paid a salary to work on someone else's project, but it's also a lot less fun. As I mentioned, David could have gotten swallowed up by a large company right out of high school because of Lugaru, but his dream has always been to work on his own projects. While the big companies are beholden to shareholders and need to capture large chunks of the market by rehashing proven genres with new eye candy again and again, the little guys are free to experiment and try to carve out their own niche with some innovative gameplay. Because our overhead is so much lower than EA's, if we can reach just a miniscule amount of the industry we will be successful.

What's your game called, and what's it about?

Overgrowth takes place in a world where rabbits, wolves and other animals must use paws, claws and medieval weaponry to engage each other in battle. It will look loosely similar to other 3rd-person adventure games like Assassin's Creed. However, Overgrowth will be inheriting the spirit of Lugaru's context-sensitive combat system and will play much differently from other fighting games. Rather than allowing a chaotic mashing of the attack keys to become a valid strategy, Overgrowth will actually require players to think their way through fights. Instead of requiring the memorization and recitation of pre-programmed combos, players will learn to stitch their own combos together on the fly. I recommend trying the free Lugaru demo to get a feel for the core foundation that Overgrowth will be built upon. We're also planning on some small-scale co-op multiplay.

"Clearly, the low-risk move is to get paid a salary to work on someone else's project, but it's also a lot less fun."

How long have you been working on Overgrowth?

We've been working on Overgrowth for just over a year now. It's no easy feat to build a cutting-edge engine from scratch so until now, we've mainly been focused on technology development. However, we just put in our initial scripting system so we are dangerously close to being able to craft the game itself.

What are you proudest of about your game?

We are most proud of our bold strategy of "open development". Our attitude is that when you are an unknown indie company you should be actively reaching out to everyone you can. Rather than making a game in a cave and walking out one day and say "Hello world, here we are, please love us," we've been publicly documenting every step of our development process. This has not only helped us create a buzz for Overgrowth but it also gives us valuable early feedback.

What's next?

We're entirely focused on Overgrowth right now and while we definitely have a lot of ideas we don't want to spend a lot of time indulging them until we finish Overgrowth. The good news is that our Phoenix Engine will be ready to go so we can get right to the actual game development instead of needing to create a lot of new technologies.

If you'd like to follow Overgrowth's development, you can do so on Wolfire's official site right here. If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email justin aat joystiq dawt com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.

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