Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Icarus


Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We at Joystiq believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, Justin Scott drops some archeological drama with Icarus.

Why did you want to make games?

I love that feeling from creating something and having it come to life. When I was young I drew levels for Mario games. When I grew up I started getting heavily involved in Active Worlds (forget Minecraft and Second Life; AW got so many things right). My entire career is computer programming, which I learned because I wanted to make games. Some people make music or pictures, I make worlds.

How did you get started in development?

My parents' first mistake was buying me Interplay's Learn to Program BASIC when I was young. Their second mistake was bringing home Quake to a young, fertile mind. I still have a behemoth tome called Quake Level Design Handbook. Software development and games have just been fundamental pillars of my life as long as I can remember.

Designing a game got me really interested in game design, oddly enough.

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

The game is Icarus. It's a 2D ambient platformer game for Windows featuring retro aesthetics, unique game mechanics, and an engaging atmosphere. The goal was to develop a roleplaying experience that told a story through gameplay instead of despite it. When I play most games
in the genre I feel like there's a cognitive dissonance between the dialogue and combat. It's as if I'm playing two different games that are only tangentially related and the whole is lesser than the sum of its parts. In Icarus I transcend this problem by eschewing the crutch of dialogue trees and having choices based directly on the player's actions. The game was developed from the ground up by myself except for the excellent soundtrack created by br1ght pr1mate just for this game.

Some people have compared Icarus to Minecraft – What do you think about that?

Minecraft riles me up because it's almost an amazing game, but after experiencing the immense value of social aspects that Active Worlds and Second Life can offer and Minecraft can't then I just can't appreciate anything I create in it. Why do you think so many people have resorted to making Youtube videos? Because Minecraft hasn't given them adequate tools to share their creations. Minecraft does get simplicity and abstraction right though, which is something Second Life fails miserably at. Anyway, I rant about all sorts of other stuff like this at my blog, Interactive Fiction.

Do you feel like you're making the game you always wanted to play?

I made the game that I never knew that I always wanted to play. Icarus shows that it's possible to make an engaging story-driven game that doesn't require 40-plus hours to beat or rely on the classic "leveling up" narrative. Originally it was just a tech demo of procedural terrain generation plus some interesting ideas for combat in a platformer. When the whole story thing came together it really surprised me with how much I liked and respected it.

How long did it take you to create?

6-8 months, I think? It's hard to recall because there was a month or two where I was developing a different game. It was a game that played like Mario 64 and addressed the open exploration aspect of the game instead of the dubious steps backward that Nintendo has been taking lately with the franchise. Turns out I'm not a very fast 3D modeler, but it's a subject and game I feel very passionate about so who knows if I'll ever return to that.

What are you proudest of about Icarus?
Why be independent?

I simply don't like the way the game industry currently operates. The wrong projects are being given too much money to disrespect their employees.

That it's mine, created entirely by me as an expression of my thoughts and ideas. I'm also proud of the design that went into the game, all the subtle decisions and the research of what my influences did right and wrong.

Anything you'd do differently?

I would be more wary of XNA. It does a lot of weird proprietary things that don't make sense in my projects and I don't even own an Xbox 360 to develop on. I'd love to have another developer just port the game to XBLIG for me and just take a portion of the profits from it. I'd also make modding a bigger part of the game. I didn't expect the reaction I got from testers so the tools I put out are very last-minute and minimal-effort. I guess I should have predicted that since people keep commenting how my game looks like Minecraft and Terraria.

What one thing would you tell someone to convince them to get Icarus?

It doesn't take much of a time investment and it costs whatever you want to pay for it. The second thing would be that I'm donating half the profits to charity. Honestly, if someone isn't going to consider paying at least $2 for a quick game then they're not going to buy it no matter how much I tote specific features.

What's next?

A 9-5 job! This was a project for a large period of time between graduating and when my job starts. I have a lot of ideas for games that would be pretty innovative and cool, but I don't know that I have the time to do them. I'll probably look into Unity, which I hear good things about, and see if I can do something in my spare time. I feel a bit burnt out right now but history shows that game development is in my blood.

Icarus is pay-what-want, with 50 percent of all payments going to Child's Play Charity.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr