My documentary Us and the Game Industry is out today on GOG -- their first brand new film release -- for only 6 bucks (for only a week or so, then it goes back up to $10). It includes a Q&A session from after the premiere where some of the folks from the film and others discuss gaming culture and the indie scene right now (see our LA Times review).

Joining me is Jenova Chen (/u/jenovachen), of thatgamecompany and lead designer on Journey, as well as Jason Rohrer (/u/jasonrohrer), independent game designer of Passage and Sleep is Death (proof), both of whom are featured heavily in the doc.

We'll be answering questions from 11 AM PST - 1 PM PST, so let's get to it!

Comments: 143 • Responses: 14  • Date: 

two_off8 karma

I've seen a lot of mixed reviews and results from alpha releases. What are your opinions on games having wide alpha releases?

jasonrohrer9 karma

In the case of my most recent game, The Castle Doctrine, the game was an MMO, so it needed lots of testing with a large group of people. The game was "done" when I released it (tested with a few hundred people, feature-complete, and bug-free), but once thousands of people started playing together, new dynamics emerged, and it took me 11 months and 30+ revisions to finally make it work with a large, dedicated player base.

As a lone developer making a game top-to-bottom all by myself, I don't know any way to handle this other than with a big public alpha. Of course, people got memberships to the game for half price during that time, in exchange for them putting up with all the changes that had to be made.

I think this is way better than calling a game "released" and charging full price, only to admit later that a bunch of changes and balancing need to be done post-release.

For single-player games or simpler multiplayer games, I wouldn't do a paid alpha, but for something that depends on player dynamics and emergent strategies, I think it works great.

USAGI_film5 karma

Cheers, Jason.The alpha release step you are all taking confidence with seems comes with such good reasons. I was fascinated watching you talking together on THE CASTLE DOCTRINE forum during those months in alpha. I could see you needed to do it in order to release an MMO generously. Tell me. I know you chose to be a lone game developer. Have you, specifically found other lone game makers out there? Do you think you have a character trait for this ?

ThisIsMarklar5 karma

Why do you think indie gaming is reaching a much wider audience these days? What can you see happening to the industry in the future?

JenovaChen2 karma

Indie games introduce new type of experiences. They appeal to a wide range of gamers and perviously non-gamers. With more and more gamers growing up playing the same type of games, the appetite for new types of experiences grow stronger every year. And with the explosion of mobile devices the dormant gamers who might be interested in indie games but previously had no interest in the traditional video games now have a much lower barrier to acquire and try out indie games.

USAGI_film2 karma

Cheers, Jenova. That question from ThisIsMarklar is a core one, I agree. Why? We may, in exaltation value the invention and contribution of maths to our theoretical thinking. It led developers to computer code. Your forebears. Wow. I was more modest as I approached life through Art in it's leaps. Perspective, for example, or 2D and 3 D or Baroque or minimalism or installation works. But, wow. This is why I made this film. It is due to Maths. I am in awe of advanced maths so tried to get a little closer. We have so much opportunity to fully realise how the non linear opportunity with computer engineering changes how we design as our habitats keep adapting. Mathematical theory is, to the new media is like Peter Higgs has been to DNA. Electric stuff. Designers of games feel connected, implicitly to the wonder. Do you feel any of that!, Jenova? Zach? This is why you do what you do and are happy to be in the swim? Yes?

stfj1 karma

I don't know if I explicitly love the math part :p, but the idea that i can type some words and turn them into a sort of living 'thing' has always held a lot of magic to me, and I think that's part of why I love doing this line of work.

shotgun_ninja2 karma

Dude, yes. That's why I went into software engineering, and while I have yet to come out with a game more advanced than Connect-4 on my TI-83 Plus, I feel like eventually I'll be able to put out something that can live and breathe in the hearts and minds of others.

USAGI_film1 karma

Good to hear

USAGI_film1 karma

Hey Zack. There is the beauty. Maths is implicit as a language! Watch the film Particle Fever. It asks about the universe being coherent beautiful laws or chaos. Have you time to see a film?

organised3 karma

Question for Jenova: Jenova, Flow and Flower are the games that my mum played before she took what I does seriously and understood for the first time what other forms gaming could take.

I feel they are absolutely remarkable gems for doing this precise thing, making non gamers interested in what lies beyond casual gaming and elevating the artistic merit of gaming, what's next on the horizon, do you spend much of your time dreaming of the future? do you keep a sketchbook and is it filled with ideas? give us a glimpse or taste of what's coming next! ;)

USAGI_film2 karma

He He. There you go, Jenova. We like to be taken seriously. Do you?

StayBoldSon3 karma

Hello Stephanie, Jenova and Jason! Thank you for doing this AMA. I'm looking forward to the film when i get home and I'm a huge fan of indie titles. Two questions, what are your favourite indie titles/companies and how do you feel about indie titles getting more spotlight/better reception than AAA games? Thanks for taking the time to talk with fans, cheers and love from the great white north!

USAGI_film2 karma

Hello northerner. Hello Jason and Jenova. Good to be here. Hi Zach too. I feel privileged to hear you all talking. Game developments is a thrill to you each of you, I think. I saw it close up. I like seeing elation. What do you developers do on a bad day??

joavsi2 karma

What can platform owners (Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony, Apple, Google, Valve, etc.) do to help indie gaming? Is there anything from a technology side they can do to help?

stfj3 karma

Hey, Zach Gage here, i'm in the film as well and stephanie asked me to join in, but not sure how to update the top thing :p

The biggest thing they can do in my view is to build powerful and friendly developer relations teams. Releasing a videogame is incredibly complicated and stressful. Having someone there who has run the gauntlet before to help you out is incredibly important.

A lot of times I think about dev relations people as sort of friendly honest salesmen. When you go buy a car it's a really complicated thing, especially if you don't know anything about cars. Having someone there who can walk you through what you need and don't need, to get you situated in the perfect car for you, is really important. Otherwise you might wander around lost, or get scared and leave instead of making a purchase.

Unlike a car salesperson though, a developer relations person is someone who you'll likely have a long term relationship with, so they need to be friendly, responsive, honest, and helpful. Lastly, they need to be empowered. Many people like this exist at all levels of every company, but often they're under the thumb of someone else who might not have their same values. The best teams have the power to make decisions that help the indies they have relationships with. This includes helping with release timing, navigating complex certification requirements, and being honest and helpful about getting promotional support from their parent companies on launch. Sony and Apple's teams are both like that, so it's no surprise that they're getting all of the best games right now.

(The second most important thing they can do is provide strong functional technology for distributing and building games on their respective platforms. Whether this means making inroads with Unity, or building their own SDK, as microsoft did, and apple/google have done, etc.)

USAGI_film1 karma

Did you all note that Zach Gage, who is in the film too, joined AMA in today? Who else has seen Particle Fever the movie like me and Zach?

There is a lot more we can share. Look at Jason's comments about the 90% unplayed libraries. Anyway, who are you all here? It's great to hear from you. I missed getting to the LA premiere so can't wait to hear the Q&A. Do you remember anything you said that can't wait to be mentioned? Do you all here on reddit see yourselves as wanting sophisticated games? What's up for you now,Zach? By the way, I have just on this chat noted your new game, Jason. Do you see all? And, have you all noted that Jenova expects to have a bit of an announcement at the end of the year? Mmm. Fertile ground.

Kill_Frosty2 karma

Okay so basically this question is inspired by an indie game I have been supporting since the kickstarter called H-hour.

In the shooter market, it seems it is impossible to get a game invested in or published if it doesn't follow the "call of duty" guide lines. I needs to have the same core. First person shooter, fast paced with lots of explosions, health regen, respawn, gimmicy features etc.

However there is a huge market where there are lots of gamers, especially older gamers, who wants something different, or prefer third person shooters. However, bringing that stuff up seems to be a death sentence.

Look at the SOCOM series. Pretty well the opposite of COD. Third person, one life per round, basically a third person counter strike.

So my question is, are we ever going to see the market change when it comes to shooters? Seems if you want to be funded, you need to follow these guidlines and copy cod's core features, and then tweak settings, environments and the story from there.

I'm sick of the same game over and over and over.

USAGI_film1 karma

Hi. I could see how first person shooter games were a fully packaged commodity when I started making the film. H Hour got funded at kickstarter.Write a report about it when you play it would you?

Kill_Frosty1 karma

At this point the release seems unlikely due to lack of funding, which is why I brought it up. Even with known interest, investors are still hesistant. Not sure if you were saying you would write a report or were asking me to, either way I would be happy to write it or read your take.

USAGI_film1 karma

Please. I do mean you write what you notice. You can gather I have filmed developers far away from this domain of interest now. My point was to imply that games do need to be packaged well. As AAA always came with long view and slick marketing it is a kind of madness to enter the same or similar concept territory independently if resources are low. Marketing, especially for a game fairly close to tradition is a juggernaut of it's own. It is more exciting, surely , to tickle other taste buds. Jason and Zach answer this. Be bored with what was. Don't stay bored. Recognise the independent scene as vibrant. Nevertheless, I like to still know what interests players in third person shooters as a point of difference from first person. Or, what interests commentators. I am curious to see if and for whom tastes shift. That's cultural studies at its best.

Danielsax2 karma

I'm a composer. How do I get to write to music for games?
P.S - Do you need any music for one of your upcoming game?

jasonrohrer2 karma

Sadly, I think it's a bit of a hard space to break into. I say that because I get two or three emails every week from people just like you. In my case, I do my own music...

BUT, if I was looking for music for a game, I would seek out an semi-known musician out there who's style matched what I was looking for. I wouldn't be examining portfolios and listening to sample tunes. I'd probably be emailing my favorite bands and begging them to work with me.

So, you might want to try establishing yourself outside of games. Try to build a style and a following. When I get an email from a composer that says, "I can make music in any style! Jazz, classical, ragtime, rock!", and the email contains a bland sample in each style, my ears glaze over. That is exactly what I wouldn't want.

Also, along with /r/gamdev, you should also poke around the TIGSource forums.

Danielsax1 karma

That is a really interesting point of view! As a composing and arranging student at music academy I have always seen it as one of my core competences to understand and write for as many genres as possible. Your comment puts it into a different perspective. Makes you think!

USAGI_film3 karma

Hi. There is a classic of a book I have,Composing for the films by Adorno & Eisler, first published by Oxford University Press in 1947. Essays about the objectives with music composition pre -games music during the mid twentieth century with the Hollywood model. It's a great read. Musicians had a hard time back then for the division of labour was such that composers, when arranging, could not retouch and correct as the music tracks shipped out from their care for each job. Music was in danger of being trite and being compromised. Now, independent Rohrer, he tweaks as he goes and stays connected ( he has had a musician on a game, haven't you ,Jason?). When I picked thatgamecompany to follow, it being a game company in the middle economic range with just that much more investment to disperse, I knew that Sony Entertainment America had it's reputation as a musical epicenter and that their pride in work would mean something in the industrial relationship here that would be really special. The time that Austin Wintory had with Sony was a heavenly place. I saw a chance to foreground the significance of a musical motif as a focus in the film as soon as I heard about JOURNEY in 2009. My background is filmmaking. The adage always in my learning was that 50% of a film's impact comes from it's music, fx and audio. I hopped over to Burbank as early as 2010 to connect with Austin Wintory. I sensed that he was experiencing a green lit privilege of being able to retouch and tweak the musical tonalities for this game. More delightfully, I popped over( just 10,822 kilometers) when it was time for him to lay in the principle motif. That scene you see in the film is the actual recording of "da da da da daa da da da da etc etc " with Tina Guo. I wanted to be there for the hairs tingling on the arms experience live! Austin was in an exceptional position - almost a once in a lifetime position in the history of games development. Often, as he told me, he had access every twenty four hours and over three years to each game build update to work on JOURNEY. Get him in for a talk at your academy sometime. Where is this? Cheers.

TheDiceParadox2 karma

I absolutely LOVE documentaries about the Game Industry so I will be picking up yours Stephanie.

That being said, do you have any recommendations? I've seen Indie Game: The Movie, as well as The Smash Brothers on YouTube.

I love all of you guys' work! Keep fighting the good fight!

USAGI_film1 karma

Thanks. You know what. I think one day I'll sit down and watch 10 movies about chess. I can't believe it. I thought about it when I saw your question. Have you watched the latest? I saw that there is a film about a chess champion in film festivals too. Shall I dig out more detail for you?

USAGI_film1 karma

Ahoy. I was just scrolling about and found the Roger Ebert review about the game film in the 2013 film festival. It's this comedy. COMPUTER CHESS. A bi-line on the poster says , "close to perfect"It is a hoot to a lot of people. Try it! Ebert, to be expected, gave it just above a 2 and I have a disinclination to watch it. Point is, it made it to a film festival. Hooray for that

organised2 karma

Question for Jason: Hey Jason, I absolutely love passage and often quote it as one of my favourite games. I was wondering how has being a parent affected your idea of games and the games you're currently dreaming up?

jasonrohrer3 karma

Thanks! Becoming a parent was the turning point for me. Before that, I really didn't have much to say. I lead a pretty boring life. Having kids makes you grow up, puts things in perspective, and connects you to history and the world in a profound way. You suddenly have new insights into your own parents and your own childhood. Everything comes full circle. Some of my early games, like Cultivation, Passage, and Gravitation were specifically about family and parenthood. I strayed away from that topic for a while, but I returned to it in Sleep is Death (at least in some of the stories that I told with it) and definitely with The Castle Doctrine.

organised1 karma

This is really interesting to hear. I'm going to have to revisit your games :) and play more! Thank you for the answer I really can't wait to watch the documentary.

USAGI_film2 karma

I enjoy hearing this. It was a highlight for me going out to Las Cruces to spend some hours with your family, Jason. We did so many skype interviews as I researched for the shoot. You went through rocking two babies to sleep whilst we talked, each time for an hour. There is no doubt that I fell into making this film as I watched our son draw and get a first game on Kongregate those years ago. I wanted to get insight about where critical thinking was at with game development. Where was whimsy? What did the future hold? Our son was the sign poster for my film research. My inclinations include profundity so the developers I selected were what you got. We must challenge form when new forms emerge. Thanks Tom Robinson. Thanks to each of you developers giving me the time and taking your practice seriously. Would anyone care to receive the film newsletter? link to the film website to subscribe.


A question to Stephanie: does the movie being sold on GOG come with subtitles, in english or possibly even in other languages? If not or if only in english, do you have any idea if/when a portuguese language subtitle will be available?

PS.: If it's not in the cards right now, and you would be interested in having an official portuguese language subtitle produced, I'm a professional translator and I'd love to work with you on this.

USAGI_film1 karma

It is a full English language film. Requests have come in for in with portuguese sub-titles. Thanks for your offer. I have had an offer from a developer in Brazil. Would you get in touch? I have had request for French to. Anyone out there? Do you have my email? Twitter [email protected]