Indie Game Developer’s Podcast Digest

Recently, I’ve listened to ALL the interviews at They are all fascinating and a great way to get an overview of at least a part of the scene. At some point, there was just so much interesting stuff that I started writing things down. Here are my notes, they are very messy and a bit personal and although they sound sound maybe a big negative, I assure everybody who reads this that I am very fond of each and every interview.

Before we get into the interviews some summary of important topics that I found often reoccurred:

- Nothing beats a finished product. If there is one thing that everybody agrees upon it’s this. Almost everybody said that. Someone even said that just releasing a game, no matter how good or bad it is puts you automatically in the top 10% of the scene. Working on a game and quitting it somewhere in-between is the worst thing you can do. You loose work, time, confidence and miss experience exactly from the kind of phase which makes all the difference: the last mile and beyond. You not only loose this game but also diminish the chances of getting the next game done. So aiming for many, small and simple products seems to be the best strategy. I had to think about Daniel and his “starter”/”finisher” idea. Are you reading this, Daniel? ;-)

- “Heart” beats Innovation. That’s a complex issue mentioned by some people. Innovation is often considered as the holy grail of game design. But just a smart game doesn’t always do it. It is rather more important to put a lot of effort into it and use it effectively to express something, even if the game is otherwise just a clone. This is actually the one big advantage of indie games over the big industry – the fact that they can be very personal and bold and made in a way no one else could because they wouldn’t dare or care enough. Instead indie game developers tend do imitate the neutral, “slick” style of the AAA titles because is associated with “quality”. It is an mistake I did with my animated movie and I intend never to repeat again.

- You need to play games constantly. Quite the few people stressed out that you need to play games, good ones and bad ones and pay attention to the details. Having started Game Design Reviews, I guess we can say that we already vigorously adopted this approach. ;-)

Anyways, on to the individual interviews:

Maw!soft Interview
I haven’t heard about Maw!soft yet. They seem to have made only one game, which is a simple puzzler. I haven’t played it yet. In the interview, I like how they discuss team dynamics and how seeing your partners slack off can have a very negative impact on overall productivity. I also like how he emphasizes that a clear vision shared by team members is even more important.

Aggressive Games Interview
The developer Aggressive Games seems somewhat familiar. I think I heard about their most recent game, Avelia Pet Adventure. But possibly, I just mixed it up with Eets. Honestly the games don’t look very good. The guy had some solid experience in the industry and he seems to be quite energetic and confident…maybe a bit to confident for my taste. However, I like how they discuss Jeff Vogel’s article about how innovation is only possible for the big game companies. THIS guy objects to what Vogel claims and gives good arguments as to why it isn’t so: the kind of innovation the big companies go for is one where you can see that the money was well spent. So they try to push things “to the next level” instead of finding new things that haven’t been pushed before. I did enjoy his 3 required reactions to a game if it is supposed to be considered revolutionary:
“I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“I can’t believe it’s a game.”
“I can’t believe how fun it is.”

It certainly fits for Katamari Damashi. His tips for people who what to start on their own are not to focus too much on the business side and to think small and just get something done fast.

VGSmart Interview
Interestingly VGSmart is not an indie developer but a Marketing Service for indie games. Although this guy doesn’t appear especially smart to me, he does raise some valid points and has obviously some experience. Of course, he agrees that Marketing is very important when doing indie games. His service I find quite intriguing. I cannot imagine me doing that kind of stuff very well and he does seem like the right kind of guy to do this. Being able to just pay him some money to do it for me seems quite reasonable. The biggest mistake when doing indie games according to him is to quit after your first game. His observation is that although the first game might be not successful, the real payoff comes eventually if you continue doing games. Quitting means you discard that value.

Pocketwatch Interview
Pocketwatch is the developer behind Wildlife Tycoon, an 2006 IGF Finalist. Although his game is something I wouldn’t buy, I can understand how he was successful with it and I think it is a cool idea. I like how he actually did some serious research on his most recent game. However, at some point he mentions he had 100 000$ as savings when he decided to try do indie Games. I don’t know, with this kind of security, it sounds like no big deal to start an indie game company. But his tips are very solid and I draw some hope from his realization that the tycoon genre is currently not very well explored in the indie scene.

Positech Games
Positech Games is the developer behind Democracy. It is a very LONG interview (almost 2 hours) but also one of the most interesting ones. This guy has been working at Lionhead and that crazy over-hyped British studio who made Republic and disappeared after that. The cool thing is that is seem to be very modest about it. His impression and critique of the “Big” game industry is something I can fully understand. His approach to games is to basically code away which I somehow can relate to. I like it how it seems like he learned all his skills as he went along – finding himself in a situation where other people were puzzled how he got so far with what he knew. He thinks people should games they would like to play and again, he stresses out that actually getting games done is most important.

Amaranth Games Interview
I haven’t heard about Amaranth Games until then. Being female, Amanda seems to be an oddball. I liked the interview very much. I like her story how she played games when she was young and quit and then came back after collage only realizing that all the kinds of games she loved as a kid (King’s Quest) were missing and replaced by games that sucked. I totally respect how she made so much games with such simple tools. She thinks that successful games have always some kind of special, light-hearted “look”. I’m not quite sure what she means but I certainly agree that visuals can make or break the game… doesn’t necessarily meaning cutting-edge technology, just developing a polished look and feel. I also like how she seems to deliberately put difficult passages into the games so people struggle with it and visit her website and her forum for help. That’s a cool strategy! She stresses out that marketing is important and especially stresses out that you should always finish your games, even if you begin to hate them mid-development. She adds that finishing projects makes it easier to finish projects in the future.

Armadillo Run Interview
The developer of Armadillo Run which really seems like a “The Incredible Machine” clone to me. I think I should take a look at it. The interview is very short and while it is quite interesting to hear how he got into the business, he stays very technical all the time so there is not really anything substantial I could take away from it.

Chronic Logic Interview
Chronic Logic made the whole Bridge Builder games. Yu-Chung remembered one of their other games, which is Gish and it looks kinda like an evil Loco Roco. It was mentioned in other interviews so I’ll take a look at it. Again, he stays quite technical all the time so no general, philosophical insights. Still, interesting to hear how their games almost accidentally gained so much attention. He mentions X-Com as a favorite game – Kudos!

Squashy Software Interview Part 1
Squashy Software Interview Part 2
The interview with Anthony from Squashy Software is huge. It lasts for two hours. The only game has has out yet seems to be Platypus but it looks really cool – a 2D Shooter with graphics made by claymation. Obviously lots of material. Having a Job besides his Indie project, I he isn’t really into the whole indie scene. That’s why his newest games takes ages (2 Years). This guy comes from a visual background and mentions how important visuals are. He criticizes how most indie gamers are too “slick” as far as graphics go and end up with games which could be done by anybody. Graphics are a great way to establish a brand and being indie, there is no reason be strive for that conformity the big guys are forced into. I totally agree with him. He mentions also that “Heart” is more important then innovation. I heard that kind of thinking from Yu-Chung and I would also agree. I especially can relate to his observation that as you work on a project, the project tends to sort of take a life of its own and instead you owning the project, the project owns you – in a positive way. I certainly agree with that, I think your work should have the highest priority, even above your personal needs. If it doesn’t then you’d better do yourself and everybody else a favor and stop being “creative”. He stresses out several times that it is important to play a lot of games and make sure you understand what is so great about them, even if they are just tiny details. He also admits that he underestimated Game Design and that now he realizes how difficult and important it is. He says that planning is therefore very important but in oder to be able to do useful planning, you need experience in actually making and releasing games first. I like that relationship. However, he doubts the usefulness of reading books and theoretical thinking. I would disagree with that. Kinda a funny contradiction if you consider how important he finds research.

Last Day of Work Interview
Last Day of Work is really a great name for a game developer. They made games like Fish Tycoon and recently Virtual Villagers. I think remember Daniel telling me something about the former. He stresses out how important communication is when you work in a Team and have no Office. Interesting to see how they solved that problem technically (Skype, etc…). He also stresses out that playing games constantly is important to collect observations. Also he is a proponent of top-down design so he thinks that coming up with a theme first and designing the game is later is the right way to go. He is concerned how indie seems to repeat the problems of the big industry – indie games are starting competing with production values. I found that observation quite useful – made my brain click a few times. We were discussing recently the problem of how much you want to charge for an indie game. The idea of indie in general is that you can get a great payoff at a low investment and high risk. Raising investment won’t raise your payoff and is quite a problem if you consider the risk. So you use that extra money to remove the risk and end up with boring, “streamlined” products which look great and just HAVE to be a big seller on order to make up for your investment. Lesson: keeping it small means smarter and more cost-efficient games. Last advice from him is: finish a game and get it out there.

Goodsol Interview
Goodsol comes from “Pretty Good Solitaire” and it is basically all this guy has to offer: just tons of card games in thousands variations. Ok this a guy which is doing games EXACTLY like I wouldn’t. The games are all boring clones. At the same time, he stresses how important marketing is. He generally seems to be more the marketing guy. Still, although I wouldn’t do it, the way he approaches it is something I can respect. He has a very well-defined niche and milks that niche for all it’s worth. It seems to be quite efficient and well-executed. It’s nice how he stays so consequently pragmatic. So when he is talking about coming up with innovative ideas, he immediately thinks about the correspondent search-keyword people would type into google to find that kind of product.

NinjaBee Interview
NinjaBee Studios made Outpost Kaloki and Eets which even I know! Considering this, the Interview is a bit disappointing. Again, learning about technical details how everything came to be is nice but no real insights. It seems like the studio is developing beyond the small-budget indie studio so obviously, their problems are quite different from mine.

Mystery Studio Interview
I haven’t heard about Mystery Studio until then. I was flabbergasted finding out that their first important game, “Betty’s Beer Bar” seems to be actually a precursor to Dinner Dash which I worship. Quite amazing to see that kind of studio being based in South America. That’s a country you don’t associate with cutting-edge game design. They have a very constructive and positive attitude. His final remark is the biggest obstacles are sometimes in your own mind so it is better not to worry too much and just try it. His experience was generally that everything he thought would be difficult went easier then anticipated.

Psychochild Interview
Brian “Psychochild” Green is the co-author of “Business and Legal Primer for Game Development”. The interview is short and it’s basically mostly just references to the book, naming out all the chapters without giving away too contents. Obviously, he stresses out that PR / Marketing / Business is most important. I guess just reading the book makes more sense then listening to the interview. Then again, it’s not that long and gives a nice overview about what the book is about.

Caravel Games Interview
I haven’t heard about Caravel Games yet. Their main thing seems to be Drod and I have no Idea about what it is. Again, keeping the big picture in mind and getting the product out is mentioned as the important thing. Interesting that he mentions some experience with audio recordings and how he was able to cut corners because of the special setting the game was in. Kinda the same idea I want to do. However, doing the recordings remotely – letting the voice talents do the recordings on their own and sending them over per Internet – that just goes too far! Of course, I didn’t hear the result so I have no idea how it turned out. I should find out. I like his final remark. Indie Game developers should make games they want to make – if you just want to do money there are better ways to do so.

Bitwise Interview
Bitwise Productions seem to have made only Scorched Earth and Breakout clones called “Super DX Ball” and “Pocket Tanks”. Neon Wars seems to interesting, though. I can’t recall if Yu-Chung told me about it or not. The interview is nice and casual. I like how at the end he agrees with Myamoto who uses his non-gamer wife as a benchmark for the quality of his games. I never heard about it but I do that as well. And yes again, nothing beats a finished product.

Moonpod Interview
The developer Moonpod should be known to anyone. They made Starscape and most recently Mr. Robot. Actually, I played Starscape a bit and I really disliked it. The shooting part was ok but that management part was really dull and just too complicated. Even the interface was really dry and complex without accomplishing anything which would explain that complexity. I should try Mr. Robot. But anyway, the interview is again a bit technical and yields just few general advices. Again, the company seems to be a bit bigger so I don’t consider them too relevant for my situation anyway. He mentions how the Developer Diary has a therapeutic effect because you are able to draw a line after each month of work. I like that and I saw a similar effect while working of KISD projects. Presenting your work to other people while you work really helps you avoiding getting stuck in stupid details.

Skinflake Interview
Skinflake did the famous Stair Dismount and Truck Dismount. I also played Pogo Sticker because it was recommended to me by somebody. Actually none of the games could hold my attention more then 5 minutes. The interview is a bit hard to follow because of the accent. He also stays very technical and so I have no comments on this one other then that the voice-controlled racing game he mentions sound very exciting.

Braid Developer Interview
Although I haven’t played Braid yet, it sounds fascinating and the developer (Jonathan) gets some bonus for being favourably mentioned by Eric Zimmermann in a recent interview. I must say I dig that guy. He mentions how Nintendo got out of the production value penis bragging game and how this might be something which will be more important in the future. He also notes that production values are rising for indie games, especially if you look at portals. However, he points out that there might be different kinds of production values, not only the kind of production values that are just put into fancy graphics but also ones which are invested into a general polish of the game. Also, he thinks that the way for indie games to succeed is to be more “expressive” which relates to the previous argument about the tendency of indie games being too “slick” and how “heart” is more important then innovation. He takes his time to explain his point and I think it is a great observation. It’s a great Interview, I recommend it.

Toribash Interview
Toribash sounds like I game I would find exciting on paper. However I really do not like the execution, looks so abstract, bloody and cartoony at the same time. That’s quite the mess. The interview isn’t so hot either, he stays focused on this single game and stays very technical. It doesn’t really sound like there is a lot of thought behind the whole project.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

9 responses to “Indie Game Developer’s Podcast Digest”

  1. Psychochild

    Yeah, that interview was pretty short, but I’m always happy to discuss issues on my blog. Or, you can contact me at the address on my site and I’ll discuss issues as I have time. Thanks for the overview of the podcasts, makes it easier to pick and choose the interesting ones.

    And, yes, finishing a game is the most important thing. The problem is that sometimes things just don’t work out. For example, a vital team member leaves, or your technology doesn’t work out, etc. But, having a finished game is infinitely better than having only part of a game to show for your efforts.

    Have fun!

  2. Yu-Chung Chen

    Thanks a bunch for sharing! I won’t find time to listen to them all soon, so this is very valuable.

    Actually I’m not finished reading but this

    you should always finish your games, even if you begin to hate them mid-development.

    is something I really need to read/hear right now – not that I’m currently working on any games, but I’m in a contract work I started to hate. Realizing that finishing in itself is an accomplishment and lesson for myself (screw the client!) should make my working situation a bit more bearable.

    Of course I should finish Gravity too. This blog is a good motivator.

  3. Daniel 'sirleto' Renkel

    hi kryst,

    first of all a big thanks for you sharing this. i could never listen to all of them – probably because i dislike some of their games. but i really love to read how you think about it and what things you want to point out.
    now some comments on some things you wrote:

    >> Nothing beats a finished product

    of course did i read this. i still believe in my starter, finisher idea – i will try to explain how i see it on tuesday night when we will visit you in cologne.
    let’s see and wait what will happen with my “finished product” mayanova:
    … or better: when it will be complete / finished =)

    >> “Heart” beats Innovation

    yeah, that pretty much sums a lot about “nextgen” consoles up. and i think it is as true at it is simple. take this, and you understand the true meaning of “heart beats innovation” (atleast in marketing terms): (if it doesn’t work in firefox or its probably because of flash. try to watch this:
    btw: one should book honda’s great advertising agency – probably it does deals for tiny companies, too. =)

    >> Aggressive Games Interview
    > “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
    > “I can’t believe it’s a game.”
    > “I can’t believe how fun it is.”

    i like the first and the thrid rule, but i – honestly – never heard anybody say the second one. probably some stupid folks saying this about nextgen 3d graphics, but not in any broader meaning.

    >> VGSmart Interview
    > His observation is that although the first game might be not successful, the real payoff comes eventually if you continue doing games. Quitting means you discard that value.

    i don’t think that this is somethign special for me, i would say it’s obvious. but having read a lot of posts in the well known indiegamer forums in the last 3 years, i have also read from / about a whole bunch of people that seem to quit right after the first (childish) steps. for me it is obvious that no “king of popular commerce” ruling this world is unreachable better than us peasants, but that they are just ruling the world because of them sticking stubborn to their work.

    >> Squashy Software Interviews

    i read a lot from anthony on forums and always had the feeling he is a great guy, that thinks a bit the way i think.
    now reading all your comments about his interviews, i even feel more the way that he is really doing the things right. poor that he had so much struggle with the platypus license being used for psp without any monetary gain for him (atleast i understood it this way).

    >> Last Day of Work Interview

    i like your comments about money and risk. it’s exactly the way is started thinking a while ago and more and more see it as a positive, probably fun way to do games in the future. to create games somewhere between lowest-budget-crazy-shit-with-highest-risk and AAA-boredom must be a good way to invest money and is also a great way to have a fullfilling way of living / working.

    >> Mystery Studio Interview
    > His final remark is the biggest obstacles are sometimes in your own mind so it is better not to worry too much and just try it. His experience was generally that everything he thought would be difficult went easier then anticipated.

    i hadn’t expected that last point and would argue against it – but in connection to the “biggest obstacles are in your own mind” it makes so SO SO much sense. great. really – if i only knew how to solve this HUGE bunch of problems “only” in my mind. remembers me of this true joke: somebody asking on how to compete with all those ideas you allways have in your mind while developing a game as an indie. how to cope with all the distractions. and one of my favourite posts their simplay answering the name of a andepressiva psychopharmacy pill. a joke on the one hand – until later in the thread he tells that he really takes it / took it and it helps / helped him quite a lot. wow – made me think sad thoughts for quite some time.

    >> Braid Developer Interview
    >Although I haven’t played Braid yet, it sounds fascinating…

    as far as i remember, (nerly) nobody has played it yet :)

    so far my 2 cents on your comments on interviews from a quarter of this planet =)


  4. Daniel 'sirleto' Renkel

    one last addition:

    >> Toribash

    as far as i can tell from the video – it looks like it’s about decapitating? i guess whatever the visual demonstration, or idea on paper, there couldn’t be a topic i would dislike much more =0)


  5. Krystian Majewski

    I don’t quite understand what you mean by showing the Honda commercial. As I see it, it has litte to do with what I ment with Heart beats innovation. Maybe you could explain.

    I think the second rule from the “Agressive Games” Interview is actually the most exciting one. The other two are rather obvious. I wrote about it in my Brain Age article.

    Indeed, the thing with Squashy Games is SUCH a shame. I recently played Platypus and it TOTALLY rocked my world. Just stunning!

    As far as I understand it, Toribash is a Turn-Based fighting game where you kinda set exactly the way the individual limbs of your character move. It’s a mixture of a turn-based game and an animation program. The videos you see are the results of those turn-based confrontations.

  6. Krystian Majewski

    Ooops, I didn’t mean the Brain Age article but the Tone Rebellion article. Or actually, the comment on that artcle. Arggh, here it goes:

    If you want to adress new customers, don’t even think about such things as them going in a store and skimming through names and pictures. People, who don’t play games simply don’t consider playing a game, they will never set foot in a games store. Even if they did, they would be instantly driven away by the intimidating atmosphere. Imagine your parents in a local EB Games, they would be lost and confused. You have think about how to meet such customers somewhere else. At a theater, in a books store, in a museum, while waiting for a train, etc.. What you want to achieve is a situation where they wouldn’t realize that they are about to play a computer game. You have to challenge their views and prejudices of what a computer game is.

  7. Daniel 'sirleto' Renkel

    honda ad: well, it doesn’t show anything of the car. you hardly see it in the whole commercial. but it tells emotions, the ad is made with so much “heart”, that the watcher may (should :) think: if they make that car with the same heart, i’ll go and buy it. and frankly: most people don’t go that far and think reflective about such ads. it just works: they see it and think: wow, what a lovely car – without having seen anything about it =)

    second agressive rule: i knew that you like it, but i only said: i have never seen that happen. i know that it is something that should happen and i can believe how my parents could’ve said it about brain age or something similiar (they could say it about wii fit someday). but actually: they didn’t – any nobody else did so to. but i think that is okay, because it is the feeling people have about those games – not the over reacting expressions that count, atleast that is what i believe.

  8. Krystian Majewski

    Argh, so many feelings. Maybe you should talk to Julia. It seems like there is not enough outlet for all those feelings of yours ;-)

    Seriously, feelings are nice but that doesn’t really say anything for me. It is especially annoying how they are so damn over-emphasized in the English speaking culture. This kind of emphasis of feelings often comes with this annoying separation between logical arguments you can talk about on the one side and feeling on the other side. As if feelings were something cannot be discussed. Oh yeah and feelings always come from nowhere, no one seems to care to explain them or even question them.

    Anyways, I’m sure you like the Honda commercial and I like it too. I like the way the car looks even more. But it is actually quite the opposite of what I think “Heart” means in this case. You see, if the car was made with “Heart”, they wouldn’t need that kind of commercial to make people feel like it was so.
    And even worse: the commercial is quite “slick”. You know, it’s easy to grasp, there is nothing about it you could object to. It couldn’t be interpreted in a way which would make the car look negative. It basically says nothing.
    For me, the most important part of the “Heart” argument is to find out what a big company COULDN’T do exactly BECAUSE it is a big company. For example, because they would be too afraid. So for me, a car with Heart would be:

    This, or this, or this or maybe at least this but ESPECIALLY this ;-)

  9. Krystian Majewski

    Oh, and I totally forgot this one

    And the coolest thing about it is that it fits the innovation rules:
    “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
    “I can’t believe it’s a car.”
    “I can’t believe how fun it is.



The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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