I like browsing through Xbox Live to check out the indie games. You never know what you’ll find. There’s one that caught my eye recently. It had a look that I haven’t seen with indie games before. It’s called Bureau: Kendall Rising.
With indie games, you expect decent art, but nothing of that level of quality. Sure, she’s hot. But more than that, that looks like professional-level work. So I reached out to the good people of Twist-EdGames and requested an interview. Lucky for me they agreed. I was put in touch with Guy Galer.
Guy’s resume is something that has to be seen to be believed. He’s considered to be one of the top indie developers for the Xbox. Not to mention he’s been working as a professional programmer for over 20 years. He’s worked for governments, Fortune 500 companies, and start-ups. He holds five software patents as well. So, it was a little intimidating trying to talk with him.
Guy is a thinking man’s video game developer. He draws from a wide knowledge base with all of his video games, and that’s especially true for his current game. What I love about him is that he tries to teach things like behavioral psychology and cognitive bias into his games. There aren’t enough programmers like him. So many dumb things down. I got the impression that Guy wants to educate the world with his games and give us all something new to play that we’ve never seen before.
So, my personal thanks to Guy Galer for taking the time to talk with us.
So without further adieu, let’s begin.
Press Start To Begin: Let me start off by saying your games look nothing short of incredible, probably some of the best I’ve seen on the indie scene. Why did you decide to go with 3D modeling and not a different direction?
Guy Galer: Thanks. I’ve been dabbling in 3D since I saw the juggling guy on the Amiga back in 1986. With all the advances in software and hardware, it’s now possible for small studios (or one person) to make films. I’m a huge fan of CGI cut scenes from games and wanted to use my filmmaking skills to make a story driven game.
When Microsoft’s XNA framework allowed video playback, I decided I could use my animations in a game and work within the limitations of being small but still have a game that has high production values. Although I like all types of games, I wanted to make something that could tell a story. I really dove into the strengths of the different mediums so I could figure out what I could do in a game.
Press Start To Begin: That’s very cool, trying to use all the features to make the best game possible! I gotta ask, how did you get started programming in the first place?
Guy Galer: I started programming to make games. It was first Basic on a C64 and then Director on the Amiga. I was at the right age (10) when Space Invaders came out and then all the home consoles. It was the closest thing to real magic and many years later, games are still awesome. I still love movies and books but video games have evolved so fast and continue to make strides even during stagnation cycles.
What’s really nice now is how much you can do with all the tools and SDKs that are available.
Press Start To Begin: Wow. It was the closest thing to real magic. Seeing video games like that has to give you a highly unique perspective when you’re making games. Can you tell me a little bit about you game….Bureau: Kindall Rising?
Guy Galer: I’ve written a few thrillers that focused on crime and forensics so I wanted to do my take on a crime show but make it real and ridiculous at the same time. It is a mix of campy and subtle educational elements. Hidden under all the crazy stuff, the game teaches (or maybe introduces) people about cognitive biases and behavior psychology. The campy elements act as the carrot to keep the player engaged in the other layers of the game.
The game is aimed at adults not just because of the sexual elements (which one could argue is interesting to anyone that has hit puberty) but because of the subject material. The average gamer age is 30 but most games treat us like we are a 7 year old boy. I wanted to make a game for thinking adults.
Press Start To Begin: What was your thought process behind this game? I mean, what inspired you to make it?
Guy Galer: I have daughters and they love learning new things. Most kids are this way but it fades for many people as we get older. I was thinking it would be awesome if games could be interesting on that level too. For example, some thrillers (novels) can inform you of all sorts of technology topics like nanotechnology, forensics or cybercrime. So, I starting thinking how could I tell an interesting story while conveying informational elements that would interest adults.
I wanted to do an anti X-Files (not because I don’t like the show) mixed with David Lynch’s Twin Peaks sort of game. Both shows have paranormal elements that my game likes to debunk, but I wanted to have some of the craziness that makes these shows special while exploring how to debunk things.
The original Bureau was an experiment to see if people would be willing to read a lot and I would bribe them with some salacious scenes and pretty cut scenes. To be honest, I was a little surprised that it worked. Right after is shipped, I starting getting a steady stream of email from people that wanted more.
Press Start To Begin: Do you approach all your games the same way?
Guy Galer: It takes me about 6 months to make a game so I try to make sure it is something I can stay interested in and has some potential to make enough money to make my next game. It has to be a game I want to play and also unlike anything else on the market. I’m not going to clone whatever is popular.
I also think about what I’m trying to accomplish that is different than my previous game while leveraging things that worked. I also look at the subject matter as a major factor in creating the game. For example, for my game Lucky, I really wanted to explore the difference between skill and luck and the psychology that makes us think that we deserve credit for things that sometimes happens by pure chance.
Each game I do is an experiment along with building on things that worked from the previous games. Bureau: Kendall Rising is the third Bureau game but is really a reboot of the first Bureau. I did this because I wanted to release it to other platforms and I didn’t want to just port the original. Because I had changed and improved so many things, I released it for Xbox too.
Press Start To Begin: What kinds of unexpected challenges pop up for you when you make games? How do you handle them?
Guy Galer: I could write a book on unexpected challenges or what I like to call lessons learned. For example, an early lesson I learned was that although there is little difference between rolling dice and having the computer pick a random number that is not what the player experiences. Either way, the outcome has nothing to do with the player. However, that is not what the player thinks. A die roll makes it seem personal like we are in control where a computer generated number is cold and detached.
Making games is a re-learning process and dissecting why games work. Why are they fun? What is fun? In most cases, there are no simple answers or singular answers to any aspect of game creation.
Press Start To Begin: I’m not surprised you’re almost universally praised for your work on video games. It’s not just the quality of work, but also the amount of thought you put into everything. How does it feel to be recognized for what you do?
Guy Galer: It feels great that I have been able to take a niche type of game and find an audience that not only likes it but keeps emailing. I really love making games but it is also hard. Everyone that breaks out on their own has some of the same fears and reservations and the internet has allowed us to connect to a lot of good people and a few assholes. That’s the main reason I’m still making games is because of the feedback I get from players.
Press Start To Begin: What’s your background in gaming like? What sorts of video games did you like to play growing up?
Guy Galer: I was a big fan of all the Infocom games (like the Zork series and Leather Goddess of Phobos was hysterical). Cinemaware titles stand out as some of the first games that really tried to look like movies. LucasArts created some great point and click games that really moved story telling forward. I like a lot of arcade like games too and spent countless hours playing Jumpman on the C64.
Press Start To Begin: And what about nowdays?
Guy Galer: I play a lot of different games. My favorites in the last year have been Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite, Gone Home, Dear Esther, Syberia, Resonance, StarCraft 2 and a lot of XCOM. Right now, I am a little too obsessed with Dark Souls. I cannot say enough good things about that game.
Press Start To Begin: What’s the future for Twist-Ed Games
Guy Galer: I want to get Bureau onto the PC and I started a Steam Greenlight project to do that. If that happens, I hope to let players play a much larger version of the Bureau game.
I’m also working on a top secret “little” game that is unlike anything else I have done. It is another experiment just for the tablet market.
Press Start To Begin: You have me interested! And finally, the last question. Let’s pretend you had an unlimited budget. What sort of game would you love to make?
Guy Galer: Ha! I’ve worked on big budget (non-game) projects and the budget drains a lot of the fun out of the process. It is a lot more intimate to be working on indie games where everyone is getting their hands dirty. I like making the games I make now although it would be nice to have a modestly larger budget.
Press Start To Begin: I’ve never thought of it like that before! That’s a very good answer. Thank you very much for your time!
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Twist-EdGames Homepage: http://www.twist-edgames.com/