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Road To The IGF: Klei Entertainment's  Eets
Road To The IGF: Klei Entertainment's Eets
September 29, 2006 | By Alistair Wallis

September 29, 2006 | By Alistair Wallis
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Continuing Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2007 entrants, today’s interview is with Jamie Cheng, founder of Klei Entertainment and Executive Producer for Eets.

Cheng formed Klei Entertainment just over a year ago, though notes that Eets has been in development in one form or another for four years, and has involved a team of twelve people. The game’s development period has previously been detailed on Gamasutra in this post-mortem by Cheng, in which he notes “…Eets was originally created as a learning experience, and boy, have we learned. We had a lot of fun making this game, and we are lucky enough to be in a much better position than when we started.” Klei describes the game as:

”Eets is a wacky and fun puzzle game that breaks the mold of the boring puzzle games of yesteryear. With vibrant graphics and gameplay reminiscent of Lemmings and The Incredible Machine, it turns a puzzle game into orchestrated action, at least when things go according to plan. Experience over a hundred puzzles included in the game, and plenty more created by our budding community!”

We caught up with Cheng via email to discuss Eets, the formation and future of Klei, and independent gaming in general.

What is your background in the games industry?

I got my start as an intern at Relic Entertainment (THQ), where I eventually worked for about 3 years as a programmer, then as a specialist AI programmer.

I had a lot of fun working at Relic, and met a lot of great people. Before I started Klei, I also spent a lot of time researching AI, and ended up co-authoring a piece for Game Programming Gems 5 with a post-doctorate at the University of Alberta (hi, Finnegan!)

When was Klei Entertainment formed, and what previous titles have you released?

Klei was formed July of 2005, so it's been a little over a year now. We haven't yet released any other titles, but there is at least one other unannounced product that will be released before GDC.

It's actually a pretty exciting time for us. As with most start ups, we began with "are we going to make payroll? How many months can we survive?" And now it's "okay, we have decent cash flow. Now let's have some real fun."

What inspired Eets, and why did you decide to make it?

The tale of Eets is a long, odd journey that would probably take a couple of pages to flesh out. But the gist of it is that we were a group of friends who wanted to create the best game we could in our spare time with no financial backing.

Drew Chang was the brain child for the character, and he'd come up with the most outrageous suggestions, many of which ended up in the game (and many which thankfully did not).

The entire project was born to be a learning experience, but I hate doing anything without fully jumping into it, so right from the start we has schedules, deliverables, a build computer, source control, and all the other things to keep our process as smooth as possible.

How important do you feel the community that has sprung up around the game is to its success?

Hmmm. To be honest, I love our community, and it's addictive as hell, but I don't think it had a huge impact on our bottom line. Yet.

The biggest benefit is that everybody talks about it, and it's always mentioned in our reviews. However, we all know that communities take a while to build up (usually up to 2 years), so we'll definitely continue supporting it as we always have been.

What were your expectations from your game, and do you feel the end product lives up to those expectations?

My initial expectations for the game were simply to build a game we're proud of, and learn from it. And yes, I certainly have learnt from it.

The end product has far out-stripped what we initially envisioned, and this is thanks to all the hard work that our team has put in. The initial prototype of the game was touched by a lot of hands; it took an immense amount of dedication and I just want to say thank you to everyone once again.

What do you think the most interesting thing about your game is?

The combination of art style and gameplay.

The way our engine works, many people first think that each of our levels are hand-drawn, rather than pieces placed together. Everything comes alive, and the game just figures out how to handle the physics -- it just works, allowing us to create really beautiful worlds and allow the players to play within that.

That's rare for a 2D game, I'd say.

How long did development take?

Our prototype took us 3 years, on and off, with several iterations. We then spent the last 9 months polishing it up to a slick shine.

What was the development process like?

For the 9 months of polish, we worked full time in my basement. I have pictures, and it was hilarious. Marcus and I worked on an orange couch, hunched over many computers while Alex sat on a broken computer chair that would stab him in the back if he leaned back.

For the 3 years of prototyping, we worked at our respective homes and met every Tuesday night to go over design issues and see if everyone was hitting their deliverables.

We're now working at a nice little office downtown, and our development process is the same, but we have much better equipments and tools.

What do you think of the state of independent development, and how do you think independent games fit into the industry?

One word: Choice.

Even between the time I started Klei and now, the choices available for independent development have increased dramatically, and are continuing to do so. Of course, there are also a lot more of us, and the quality of the games are also improving dramatically.

Lumping "indie development" into one category is somewhat hard to talk about. Are we talking one man team? 4 people? Casual games? Xbox Live Arcade? Mobile?

In general, I'd say the future is looking the most rosy for indie developers that have pockets deep enough to take on "large" projects, say 4-10 people at a time, and enough to keep going if things go awry. That's when you really do have a lot of choice.

This is going to be a fun ride.

Have you checked out any of the other IGF games? Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?

I'm always a big fan of The Behemoth, and I'm looking forward to playing Castle Crashers. I didn't get a chance to move away from our booth at PAX, so hopefully I'll be able to at GDC when they get into the finals.

Bang! Howdy is looking mighty neat, and I really want to play Bugs at War by Ninja Bee. Interesting; every game I just mentioned probably has a budget above 100k.

I'm also interested in FizzBall and I did enjoy playing Aveyond.

What recent indie games do you admire, and what recent mainstream titles do you admire, and why?

Uhh... okay I guess I'll go for semi-recent games, or this could take a while.

Indie: Alien Hominid, for taking that immense risk and starting the Behemoth. I thought the game was way too hard, though.

Gish, for great gameplay and hilarious tar-ball-thing.

Puzzle Pirates, for casual MMO and again, big fat risk.

There's more, but I'll stop here.

Mainstream: Guitar Hero, Zelda - all of them, Naruto (currently playing the 3rd iteration) on the GameCube, Super Mario Strikers, and many, many others.

All the above are amazingly balanced, well thought out games that anybody can pick up and play. They also all have great replay value and surprising depth, which is a very hard thing to do when targeting the mass audience.

Oh and Brain Age. I showed my Dad when I visited Hong Kong a few months back, and he picked it up and played Sudoku (which he had never played before). The next morning, he asked me for the charger. If you have a DS, you know the battery life of a DS...

Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?

It's an exciting time to be in the games industry, and increasing globalization is making it all the more fun. I hope you agree, and I look forward to meeting you all!


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