1. How long have you been making games?
Huh, that’s kind of difficult to define. If we’re just talking about programming, I think I was around fourteen, but I’ve been creating design documents for things since I was about nine or ten years old.
2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.
It varies from game to game. With something like Castles in the Sky, we very much wanted to make something that would let us express how we felt about our childhoods in a more meaningful way than we’d be able to communicate outside of the medium. With 10 Second Ninja, the design evolved from within itself a bit more. The core gameplay came from “what is a player capable of doing in a very short amount of time?” and everything else came from that.
3. 10 Second Ninja is a blisteringly fast 2D action puzzle game in which the player is tasked to save the world... From Nazi robots from space... In ten seconds. Wow, how did you come up with this concept?
The initial idea came from playing games like League of Evil 2 and Stardash. Platformers that gave you side objectives, including finishing levels in 12-20 seconds. I liked this idea and toyed around a bit. Very quickly it started to feel a bit like Sonic on steroids, so I kinda took that idea and ran with it. The context for the action turned into a hyper realized version of that good versus evil, awesome versus nefarious thing that Sonic did. Having these polar opposite forces of AWESOME against EVIL, but framed in a way that modern internet culture perceives those things felt like it instantly clicked. “Whoa, you no-scoped that dude? You’re NINJA!” “You like Xbox One over PS4? You’re WORSE THAN HITLER!” It’s a good versus evil story with that kind of framing.
4. 10 Second Ninja is going to be released... today. What are your plans for release day? Any special activity? Any special meal, spirituous drinking or dancing party? I doubt I’ll have time for anything like that. Most likely I’ll be chained to the computer all day, answering questions, fixing previously unknown bugs, and trying to make sure my heart doesn’t explode.
5. You've described the experience of playing 10 Second Ninja as dancing. Can you tell us more about this definition?
Sure. So, 10 Second Ninja isn’t really about reacting to stuff. We iterated a bit with enemies, but having enemies that reacted too dynamically to the player made it very difficult to beat times and think through your options. It wasn’t fun. What remained fun and fair was the player being in a constant battle with their self. What the game is now feels a bit like dancing, with each level being a new dance move. First you’re just trying to get through it, figuring out the steps, one after the other. Next, you iterate on that until you have a rhythm down and you aren’t even thinking about what you’re doing anymore. The final payoff is being in that zone where you feel like you’re just nailing it. Busting moves and feeling utterly in control. That’s what 10 Second Ninja is about.
I think Jack (the other half of The Tall Trees) and I were just kinda… stunned. My favourite game in the world is Gone Home, and it’s a game that’s very near and dear to the both of us. Being nominated in the debut game category with it is wonderful, scary, and surprising; It’s nice to know that we’re definitely not going to win against it, so we can just enjoy the awards ceremony. It’s been massively reassuring just to be nominated, and I know people always say that, but it is. I think we’re either the only game, or one of very few games, to be nominated that isn’t on a major storefront. It’s nice that BAFTA are recognising us in spite of that.
7. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?
Jenova Chen because he taught me that games didn’t have to be about challenge, and that a wonderful story told well can be just as, or more, fulfilling. Neil Druckmann because The Last of Us and the Left Behind DLC was some of my favourite videogame storytelling ever, and I’d love to spend vast amounts of time studying how that game was directed. Steve Gaynor because the way he talks about what he makes is really super wonderful, and Gone Home is fantastic.
8. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?
I don’t play as much as I used to, especially now as I’m crunching pretty hard. I’ve gone back to Minecraft recently as a creative outlet while I bug fix. I’ve also been playing a fair bit of Remember Me, which I have a kind of polarising love/hate relationship with. I also play Red Dead Redemption, GTA V, and DayZ with my colleagues during meetings from time to time.
9. One last random question. If you could merge any three animals into a perfect killing machine, which ones would they be? And also, how would you name your creation?
Oh boy, uh… hmmm… a lion’s head, on a giraffe’s neck, on a cheetah’s body. Fast, aggressive, and with a long reach; perfect killing machine. Either that or it’d just fall on its face and not be able to get up. I’d name it Harold after Harold Bishop from the hit Australian TV show Neighbours.
*We Ask Indies is an initiative by Beavl, an Argentinian independent game studio putting some teeth into videogames. You can check all the interviews here (caricatures are made by amazing artist Joaquín Aldeguer!).