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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Retro/Grade

Justin McElroy

Being a giant, beloved video game site 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 Matt Gilgenbach, co-founder of 24 Caret Games, the developer behind upcoming PSN release Retro/Grade.

How did your company get started?
We always dreamt of having our own game studio. In the summer of 2008, the game business was booming, the sun was shining, and birds were chirping, so the time seemed right to venture out on our own. Unfortunately, soon after we started, we were caught by surprise by the great recession of aught-eight. Perhaps it wasn't the best time to start after all! Despite that setback, we decided to follow our dream against innumerable odds. We are hoping to option the true story of 24 Caret Games to Hollywood for one of those feel good triumph of the human spirit movies. I was thinking Rpattz could play me. He had the appropriate game developer complexion in Twilight. So far, no studio has gotten back to me about it ...

Why did you want to make games?
We want to make games because it is a powerful new art form that has yet to see its full potential. Since the medium is at its infancy, the games that developers make now can shape the future direction of entertainment. Everyone in the field is experimenting trying to learn more effective tools to create fun, interesting, and emotional experiences. We have yet to reach the point where the classics are as good as what can be created now, so game creators are still learning how to master the craft. It's an extremely exciting to be a game developer (especially an independent one) now because we can push boundaries and surprise people with what a video game can be.

Why be independent rather than try to work for someone else?
If you are working for someone else on a game you love, there is no promise that they will continue to make games that you want to work on. Perhaps one project is your dream game, but the next one is an advergame for adult diapers. Plus, the way each studio develops games is completely different, so you can find a studio that is making the type of game you want to make, but they could be making it in a way that doesn't mesh with the way you prefer to work. Switching studios frequently is a bit of a pain because you have no ownership of the work you do, so you may have to constantly re-implement things that you have done at other studios, which isn't as fun as tackling new problems.

Since we are independent, we don't have to worry about those problems. We can make the games we want the way we want to make them, and we own all the work we do, so we don't have to worry about constantly reinventing the wheel.

What's your game called, and what's it about?
Retro/Grade is actually about an ace spaceship pilot, Rick Rocket, who has just saved the universe. Unfortunately, all the destruction he caused when wiping the enemies off the face of the galaxy caused massive damage to the space/time continuum. The entire flow of time is reversed, and now in order to prevent the entire continuum from collapsing, he must undo his actions from the previous battle.

Although it looks like a shmup in reverse, the way the gameplay works is more like a rhythm game. Rick's lasers return to the ship, so he must undo the firing when they get back to the tip of his ship. Enemy lasers are also returning to the enemies that fire them. Rick must avoid them or he will create a paradox since he will prevent their return to the gun that fired them. All of this is timed to the rhythm of original music we had composed for the game by Skyler McGlothlin aka Nautilus.

Our secret is that we work a lot of hours.

In addition, Rick's ship is equipped with a special Retro/Rocket that allows him to reverse (forward?) the flow of time. If the player makes a mistake, then he/she can undo it and try a section again. Also, the ship can be piloted with a guitar controller (in addition the a gamepad) for those people who are itching to use their pricey peripherals in a different type of game.

Do you feel like you're making the game you always wanted to play?
Definitely. I am a huge fan of Retro/Grade. Rhythm games is one of my favorite genres. There are many great ones on the market, but it seems like the trend for rhythm games is to make them more and more about simulating musical performance than good ole' fashioned game-y-ness.

With our premise, we can add a lot of fun game elements that don't map well to a musical performance game. The Retro/Rocket is a great example. I wish other music games had the ability to undo a section you messed up and try it again. Too often I get my fingers off the right buttons on the guitar or start missing a certain drum, and I fail the song miserably and have to start over. Reversing time may not make sense when you are rocking out, but when you are piloting a space ship through a temporal anomaly, it fits right in.

As well, I've always been fascinated by how things look in reverse, so a music game with all sorts of backwards effects is right up my alley. I hope everyone else likes Retro/Grade as much as I do!

What is your favorite rhythm game?
Samba de Amigo 2000 for the Sega Dreamcast. If you love rhythm games, get the official Sega Maracas (the knock offs don't work well), a Dreamcast, and import Samba de Amigo 2000. You won't be disappointed! If your mastery of the Japanese language is lacking or you are intimidated by randomly guessing what menu options mean, you can get the American-released Samba de Amigo, but 2000 has all the songs from the first game plus a lot more.

How long did it take you to create?
We started the company two years ago. We initially were building a tech demo, so we didn't start on Retro/Grade until two months later. We won't finish until 2011 either, so it is the longest I've ever worked on a game.

What are you proudest of about your game?
24 Caret Games is two full time employees plus some part time contractors. These days, that's a small team even for a lot of downloadable games. However, we've put together a great product that will stand out with its creative concepts, fun gameplay, and over the top visuals running at 60 FPS even at 1080p. It's been the most challenging project of my life because we are extremely short-handed, but I am really proud of what the two of us have been able to do. (Our secret is that we work a lot of hours.)

What's next?
We still have a good amount of work to do on Retro/Grade, so we will continue to work on that. Currently, we are focusing on a version for PSN, but we are considering bringing it to other platforms. After we are done with Retro/Grade, I'm not sure what's next. Maybe an advergame for adult diapers? The more I think about it, the more fun that sounds!

Want to check out Retro/Grade for yourself? Sadly, you'll have to wait until 2011 to give it a shot. 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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