Creating the Game: An Interview with Jamie Tucker, an Independent Game Designer

Daniel
In the summer of 2014, Daniel Fandino spoke with Jamie Tucker about growing up on games, game design, fan feedback, and the forthcoming Lovers in a Dangerous SpacetimeDigital America is excited to provide the audio and the transcript of their conversation.

 


I’m speaking with Jamie Tucker from Asteroid Base, an independent game design studio, about their latest game, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime. Jamie, thanks for being with us. Let’s start with something about yourself. How did you get into this line of work?

Its really weird, I guess I came into just cause from the community in Toronto, sort of seeing what they were doing at the time. I was in a complete different sort of career path where I had training as an illustrator and then I was working in graphic design and doing some affiliate freelance illustration. But I wasn’t enjoying it terribly a whole lot. When you start doing something for long enough you realize its not for you. So then I just saw what was going on in Toronto, I was living in Calgary at the time and I used to live in Toronto. And then I moved back and I was just like, there’s people making games which I never really realized you could do. Like in 2008, it was never really possible before that unless you were really good at programming so I started learning programming around that time just doing games with friends and that’s sort of how I got started.

So you didn’t have any kind of formal education in this, you didn’t go to classes, it was just something you picked up?

There’s lots of free courses. MIT has OpenCourseWare and I guess Stanford as a lot of new stuff now as well. But just taking computer science classes online, they’re all free and kind of get this really cool basic education with programming and just the rest has been teaching myself C# and Unity. But I come from an art background so I kind of had the pipeline for creating assets but it was just the programming stuff.

Well then can I ask you about your inspirations, the kind of things that got you both into art and perhaps you can bring into the games that you work with.

For art it was mostly comics and animation, that’s what I was into. Some really beautiful games that always struck me, like Katamari Damacy and Shadow of the Colossus. Those kind, they make you want to do that because they are so striking.

Were you a big gamer even now or as a kid?

I had a Nintendo. My brother bought a Nintendo when he was a teenager so I grew up with that. And then I had a Sega Genesis. But I always had the one game that my parents bought me, so I never got to play very many games at home because they were always like the one board game I got bored because we never owned a lot of games. So I’d always go to my friend’s house. So I grew up playing games at other people’s houses most of the time and even growing up when I was old enough I had a Playstation 2 for a bit until it broke and then I’ve missed whole generations of video game systems because I could never afford them even after college. So my playing games was always at someone elses’ house. I like playing certain kinds of games I guess from that, just like games you could play with them. I guess that’s why I like co-op or local games like Smash Brothers or Goldeneye because those are the good games that I was playing at other people’s houses.

That’s great because it segues right into the game you’re working on now, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime because one of the things that intrigued me the most when I first saw the game was this co-op feature.

That was probably the first thing we that decided on before we even had a game, that we were making a coop game. That was kind of the play style that we wanted to try out. When we started it, it was the beginning of 2012. It was during a game jam that we started it. We had seen some of our friends made some co-op games and we thought that would be really interesting kind of play, that would be different, so that was what we wanted to go for. After that, just different ideas of what kind of games to make. We settled on this idea that was kind of inspired by the game Artemis, where you’re on a bridge, it’s kind of like a Star Trek bridge simulator. So we want to get that sort of experience but in a controller based world. Instead of having your own laptop, your controller is controlling the character and that’s how you interact with things on the ship. We decided on that idea then thought of Star Wars where

Luke and Han are running around the Millenium Falcon and they go and shoot TIE fighters. It was all over a couple of beers, drawing in sketchbooks one evening. That’s how quickly the game idea came together. It was just because we wanted to make a co-op game.

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Great. But there is a single player mode.

You can make a prototype of a game super quickly and then the rest of the game takes three years.

Along that line is where you start thinking of how to expand the reach of the game so the one player version was a part of that. Not everyone is available at all times to play games cooperatively so we wanted to make a co-op partner in the AI so its a little dog that runs around the ship with you, you tell him what to do and he’ll take care of everything for you.

For people who might be listening to the podcast before they look at anything else can you describe the game a little bit more? You’re in this pink, circular, Death Star looking ship, flying around–what are you doing out in space?

You are just trying to get by in the universe. We have it so that you’re flying around rescuing different animals. You’re being attacked at all times by all this other stuff. You gotta run around to the different stations to be able to manage all the different threats while flying the ship, using shields, shooting turrets, you have to do all that. Within the ship you have to run around and then outside there is this universe that you can explore and save animals.

 

Sounds like the kind of game that will inspire arguments with your friends. Is that what you are looking for, a kind of actual, I don’t want to say competitiveness…

Yes, that’s was kind of dynamic that we wanted to foster. The best kind of co-op is when you’re talking to the person beside you. The whole complexity of the game is that the we tried to make the inside sort of simpler to move around in and to understand what is going on inside the ship, because outside is really complex. So there’s only a few buttons that you need to use on the controller. It’s to get communication because you can only ever see…If you’re watching two people its different because it looks all crazy, stuff going on. But when you’re playing it you’re very focused on what you’re doing, and sometimes you might not even notice what the other person is doing or what’s going on on the other side of the screen, because if you’re at a turret you’re only looking at whats in front of you So there’s definitely a need for communication and that was part of the design process at the beginning, making the game so that you’d have to communicate.

Do you see this as something that’s going to be bigger in games as we get more connected with the internet, with mobile devices everywhere that games will have this option at least to be able to connect with anyone and this kind of conversation go on as part of games.

You mean remotely?

Yes, even remotely. I can understand that not everyone is right now connected nor do they have that kind of communication. But it looks like we are moving in that direction.

It’s definitely good if its someone you know. There is unfortunately–there’s games that if there is voice chat it just ruins the game. Someone you don’t know, the anonymous sort of thing behind it, people can say mean things over the internet while playing games. I have a few friends that live far away from each other but they play Battlefield 4 together though a Skype call. Instead of talking on the phone that’s how they interact with each other now. That’s definitely something that could never happen before.

I do see your point though. I hadn’t really considered that connecting with some random individual you might get some colorful language involved. With friends you have more of a friendly rivalry…with friends.

I think in Hearthstone they took out chat I believe, because it was antithetical to the game. Sometimes you just want to relax without someone always chirping at you. 

I see how this game gives you the option to play with friends where you’re kind of expecting—and I guess you can take the abuse your friends throw out at you.

It’s not hateful abuse. There’s always love behind it when you’re arguing with someone that you care about and playing a game with.

Speaking of the people that play the game, how do things like fan feedback or player feedback work into your development cycle.

We’ve done a lot of shows now, we do like four or five a year now I think, been doing the game for two years now so we’ve gotten a lot of feedback. It really helped us see who was the most excited about this game. We are starting to develop around that. It’s the fact that so many people have come up to us and this is the game that they’ve been waiting to play with their wife or their husband or their girlfriend or boyfriend. So many people have come up and told us that. Showing it at events like PAX, we’ve had lineups of just couples wait to play the game. You really see who is interested in the game. I think its the co-op element and its the look that we’ve created where its not off putting to people.

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You could have gone a darker Star Wars thing. It’s a very colorful game. Were you going with accessibility for that?

I don’t know we can say one of the first thoughts we had was about accessibly but its turned out that way. It’s really helping us find our audience because its a game you want to show to your friends because it doesn’t have weird, gross violence or anything excessive that some people might be turned off of. It just happened that way but I think it also did help that is what we are interested in, that sort of look, from our influences, cartoony and fun but there’s a little bit more depth to it. Its not cute just for being cute. From the feedback we’ve gotten, who our audience is, we are definitely making the game around that. Now knowing that, the game we want to make it harder. People didn’t want to be it too easy. It seems a lot of core gamers are going to be playing it but they’re going to be playing it with someone who is maybe not as core of a gamer, so its something they want to introduce to them. We are working the difficulty around that now that we’ve established that is going to be a big part of the audience that is playing the game.

You mentioned earlier when we first started talking that back around 2008 you thought that this could be a career, that you could go and make games. What do you see as the role of games like this, this social game society, games in general as we move towards this world that seems to be really connected with the internet. Do you feel you have any kind of responsibly as a game designer to do something, or is it something just for fun? What’s the state of games you see in the next ten years?

I think the reason why everyone is a game designer or game developer is because they played a game as a kid that really changed their life and that’s why they wanted to become a game developer or game designer. I think we have a responsibly to make those games that inspire the next generation too. I don’t think people playing Call of Duty—if a ten year old is playing Call of Duty its not inspiring him to become a game developer. There is nothing that really captures the imagination in that game. Matt Hammill and Adam Winkels who are also on the team with me, they also feel strongly about this. I want to make games and experiences that are inspiring to people and makes them want to get into it as well. That’s the greatest compliment you can ever get from someone if you inspire them. Matt Hammill made a game called Gesundheit!. He had this young boy in Singapore, eight or nine years old, he sent him in the mail a whole bunch of levels that he was designing for his game Gesundheit! that he released on iOS. Matt made all the music himself for the game and then he had a childrens band at some school and they played the songs in their band. It’s just those kind of things that are really great. We want to make the games that inspire that creative output from people.

That’s fantastic. I really appreciate your time and I don’t want to take too time off your work day, but to finish off, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime its going to be available for PC and Mac? Release dates?

I don’t know. (laugh) We have a lot of work to do on it still so, we don’t have any dates right now. Also good chance its coming to consoles as well.

What about mobile devices. Do you think it would work on something like an iPad?

We’ve talked about it, but we’re not sure. It would be a different game and I don’t know if it would be the social experience that it is now if we had it on tablet if you could one play it as one person.

I really look forward to the success of the game and I’m looking forward to playing it myself and I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.

Thanks a lot.

P.S. You can view the trailer for the game here, and explore Astroid Base’s work here.

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