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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Captain Jameson


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, Farbs steers us into the Captain Forever universe in its new RPG-esque installment, Captain Forever.

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

The game is called Captain Jameson, and you can win bonus nerd cred by figuring out why I called it that. (Post your answers in the comments!)

Captain Jameson is a retro-futuristic parable about the cascading benefits of capitalism. I think. What I built was an awesome spaceship exploration/shooter game where you build your ship entirely out of modular parts, but what people read into it is up to them.

Captain Jameson is part of the Captain Forever series, and you can check it out -- and play the first game for free -- at Captain Forever. What Jameson adds to the series is exploration and persistence, so instead of playing standalone 10-minute games in an arena the size of your monitor, you now explore a vast starscape for hours. Captain Forever has been called "Lego Asteroids," so I guess Captain Jameson would be "Legoland Asteroids."

What's the coolest aspect of Captain Jameson?

The spaceship construction and simulation is cool, and I think it embodies the coolest aspect of the game. That is, everything in the game has function, and you can use those functions however you want. You can wedge a tiny fighter into the side of a dreadnought and attack it from the inside. You can push other ships into fiery magma asteroids. You can build a collection scoop out of girders and use it to collect the remnants of your enemies. Exploring the world of Jameson isn't about strolling through a procession of pretty backdrops; it's about finding your own path through the landscape, using the stations and ships and other things that you find to help you progress.

What inspired you to make Captain Jameson?

Hmm. The most direct inspiration would be Battleships Forever. BF is a great RTS based on the modular-spaceship concept from the arcade shooter Warning Forever. I loved the look and feel of BF, and the idea of constructing spaceships out of functioning parts really appealed to me, but I wanted to pilot the Battleships Forever ships directly, and to build my spaceships as part of the regular game rather than in an editor. Since nobody seemed to be making that game I figured I'd do it myself.

For Jameson in particular I was heavily inspired by Frontier: Elite 2, which I played endlessly in my teens. I wanted to recreate the wonder of discovering a vast, functioning universe, without just rehashing the space-trading genre.

I was also inspired by the light-up space shuttle I got for my third birthday. I loved that thing.

Anything you'd do differently?

I'd probably worry less and experiment more. At one point a tricky design problem meant that the game wasn't fun, and I was convinced that the obvious solution wouldn't work. I paced back and forth for a solid month, trying to find a better way to fix it. Eventually I gave up and tried the obvious solution, which worked perfectly. Whoops!

Why did you decide an RPG was necessary in the same universe as Captain Forever?

Huh. I'd never thought about it that way. In my head it always worked the other way around. Captain Jameson was the game I wanted to make, and Captain Forever was the first step toward it.

How close are you to realizing your initial vision of Captain Jameson and the Forever series?

For Captain Jameson that's a really tough question. I think of each sector in Jameson as a pizza, since it's disc-shaped and sprinkled with ingredients. At the moment the game makes a pretty mean Margherita, available in medium, large and family sizes, with optional chilli. As I add new elements to the game I add new ingredients to the metaphorical pizza kitchen, allowing the game to create new combinations of elements and thus invent new recipes for pizza. I could keep adding to the game forever, and apparently I'm hungry.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?
I woke up one night at 3 a.m. with the idea lodged in my head.... Working alone, I was able to implement it that night and go back to sleep.

I like the freedom that comes from working alone. For example, in the Captain Forever games there's a pilot's face reflected back at you in the monitor. If you enable a special option the game will access your webcam and reflect your own face instead, which is then lit up by explosions and shaken about by collisions. It's pretty cool. I added this because I woke up one night at 3 a.m. with the idea lodged in my head. In a larger studio the idea would have been proposed, debated, approved (hopefully) and scheduled. Then a designer, artist and programmer would all have to work together to get it done. Working alone, I was able to implement it that night and go back to sleep.

Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?

Err... yes and no. A big part of the indie movement is the democratization of development, and it's people like Stephen Lavelle and Derek Yu running communities, and Adam Saltsman, Chevy Ray Johnson and Alec Holowka creating great free tools and platforms who are making that happen. I'm as much a part of the indie movement as I am part of democracy. I vote, but I don't campaign. I make games, but my community and tool-building efforts have all fizzled out.

How's that $9 sale working out for you?

It started out brilliantly, and has since levelled out to around the same as before. I'll keep the sale running for a few more days though, in case this article persuades more people to check it out.

Sell Captain Jameson in one sentence:

Buy my game!

Captain Jameson is on sale for $9, which is $10 off, plus $2 more off, minus one more dollar off. Which is $11 off, for those curious.

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.

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