GS: A lot of those games seem to be somewhat inspired by your stuff, and it would be like everything was coming full circle to have your games influenced by audio cues.
JM: That's definitely something I'd be interested in exploring. I've done a bit of work on algorithm-generated music, and I'd quite like to do a bit of work along those lines. Also, I need to get a couple of good games out on Xbox Live Arcade so I've got some dev time to play with.
GS: Money-wise, how have you survived throughout the years?
JM: Basically, we've survived on the stuff that we've made through the visualizer, and just stuck that in the bank. Thankfully, we have got low overheads, so as long as we keep the sheep and ourselves fed, we can keep going. We didn't want to take any funding, because if you take funding from Microsoft, at the end of the day, your returns from the released product are a lot less than if you don't. We figured we'd go out on a limb and self-fund, and then hopefully do better when it's released.
GS: Your fanbase will certainly come out to buy the game in droves. Where do you think they came from?
JM: They're just people who love what we did over the years. There's a lot of people who liked Tempest 2000, and there's people who have been interested in the light synth side of the work, more than the games. I think that probably worked as well, since it's so closely integrated.
In Europe, there are people who remember me from twenty-five years ago, when we were doing stuff with Llamasoft. It's amazing how many of those people are still around. When we started the Llamasoft forum four or five years ago, I expected there to be about fifty or sixty people there who remembered the old days. I think we've just passed 2,500 members, and it's a big, thriving community. I'm quite surprised about that.
GS: It is pretty astounding. I don't think a lot of independent developers get that kind of following.
JM: It's not just about Llamasoft, either. If it was just about Llamasoft and all they ever talked about was Llamasoft and games, then I wouldn't be inclined to go there all that much, really. It wouldn't feel like home. As it is, it's a bunch of like-minded people and Llamasoft is just a common interest, but we talk about lots of things there. There's lots of clever people, there's other coders, there's lots of industry people there. It's just a good, interesting collection of people.
GS: You draw a lot of inspiration from retro games, but Unity seemed to be a new concept. Was it an original game, or did it draw on other things?
JM: It was pretty original, despite the fact that it was a shooter. It had this whole idea of evolution going on, and the way you played it would change the way the enemies were constructed and how they behaved. It didn't know whether it wanted to be Defender or Spore, and you know how long it's taken that guy to develop Spore, so if we'd stuck with that I'd still be doing it now.
There just came to a point where we realized that it's diminishing returns. It's a shame, since that's the first game I've never actually completed in about 25 years. It was disheartening, because I heard a comment from someone working at a game magazine saying that Space Giraffe was going to be vaporware. I mean, fuck off! In 25 years, I've had one game which hasn't made it, and all of a sudden you're discounting everything I do as vaporware. So, I had to tell him to piss off, basically.
GS: How important do you think it is to make something that's original, as opposed to nostalgic?
JM: I think it's perfectly fine to draw inspiration from old games, but people expect more than from what's in old games. In Xbox Live Arcade, it's nice to have the old emulations, but you tend to get them and play them for five minutes here and five minutes there and then put them away and don't play them much anymore. You need modern thinking as well. You need to address what today's players want. They want something a bit more lasting, something a bit more deep. They want something that uses the new hardware as well.
I like the way a lot of classic games are designed. They were fashioned within such a small space, with such a small collection of behaviors that together added up to make something that was bigger than the sum of its parts. That's the kind of design philosophy I'm using to develop Space Giraffe, but it has to go a bit further, and it has to be much longer, deeper, and much more rewarding to today's audiences.
I think it's something that Geometry Wars did very well, but then again, after you've played Geometry Wars for more than 30 minutes you've seen everything that's in it and it just gets faster. With Space Giraffe, each level is its own different graphical theme. There's a bit more depth and substance, and you get the feeling that you haven't seen it all within the first half hour.