the next few weeks, Gamasutra will be presenting a regular 'Road To The
IGF' feature, profiling and interviewing each of the finalists in the 2006 Independent Games Festival main competition. Today's interview is with Keith Nemitz of Mousechief, the developers of unique PC and Mac story-based game The Witch's Yarn,
which is nominated for the Innovation In Game Design award at the 2006
IGF. The developers' description of this notably alternative title
the characters and events in a lighthearted melodrama upon a
beautifully illustrated, abstract stage. Meet Wednesday, a witch who
foreswore magic for the love a mortal. Intent on a quiet widowhood, she
opens a yarn shop. However, life refuses to be quiet until she
discovers her true purpose among mortals."
this interview in the build-up to the 2006 IGF, Nemitz was kind enough
to tell Gamasutra about his beginnings in the video game industry, the
concepts behind his fascinating Direct'Nject story engine, and his
favorite IGF title thus far:
Tell us a bit about your background in the game industry, when your
developer was founded, your location, your previously developed games?
I left Apple Computer in '92 to work on an independent game. It was a
tool for pencil and dice RPG referees. I showed it around at the 3rd
GDC and, as a result, was hired by Sierra Online to port their
adventures. When they moved to Seattle, I moved to a job with Digital
Pictures and developed games using video with sprites. They died away a
year later, and I found myself drifting in post-layoff limbo. This was
before the internet bust, so work found me pretty quickly.
Mousechief's The Witch's Yarn
Stormfront Studios, I started making the transition from programmer to
designer, but after two years, we disagreed over my salary, and I broke
with them to build another indie title. Flagship: Champion was a finalist in the first IGF. It was enough to land me a job with 3DO. Ahem. Near the end of their
lingering demise, I was jettisoned back into independence, right in the
middle of the internet bust. I moved to Emeryville to cut my expenses
but ended up marrying the girl next door. That was the beginning of
GS: Tell us a little about your game - genre, how long it took to make, what it was inspired by, why you wanted to make it?
KN: Concerning The Witch's Yarn, here are three words for your readers: DON'T PLAY IT! It's not meant for them. The Witch's Yarn
throws them for a loop with it's minimal control scheme, and it hits
them over the head with a relaxed pace, all text dialogue, and largely
inanimate presentation. The difficulty of puzzles ramp up dead slow
starting with no challenge at all. Not until chapter's 6 and 7 is this
game's 'innovation' used to manipulate a complex social dynamic for a
call this control scheme, Direct'Nject. Direct'Nject gives players
powerful tools to manipulate a story, in the form of characters and
props. Instead of controlling a single character with simple verbs, the
player 'injects' complex nouns into a dramatic situation. Different
nouns influence the story in different ways. Some would be more obvious
than others. The results of placing the Thief of Baghdad in a bazaar
should be pretty clear, but placing Oliver Twist into a London street
market would have more subtle or pervasive effects to the story.
is a deliberate attempt to break the 'player control vs. narrative'
dichotomy in current interactive fiction. Direct'Nject gives designers
full control over the story's presentation. The simplicity of it's
mechanism, selecting nouns from a list, is easily under-appreciated,
but it allows for dramatically rich interaction. It also enables
adventure games to be picked up and fully enjoyed by anyone who can use
allowed Mousechief to cut development costs to the bones. We would
liked to have had enough funding to develop an autonomous agent filled,
3D, living-world with voice acting. The Witch's Yarn is a 2D, abstract stage play. Our budget was $10,000, and the entire product (10 hours of play) had to fit in 8MBs.
was the inspiration, to bring interactive fiction to the masses, cut
costs, and increase the player's immersion. Casual gamers were the only
market we could approach for $10,000. So, The Witch's Yarn was
written as an interactive sit-com. Dear readers, please tell your
non-gamer friends and relatives, who enjoy a leisurely read, The Witch's Yarn was developed for them.
it was intended to appeal to women, but our sales have been
fifty-fifty. We're not unhappy about that. I'm especially proud of the
music contributed by several, indie jazz musicians. And, Aneurin 'Nye'
Wright, totally rocked as our artist!
What was the smartest thing you did to speed development of your title,
and the dumbest thing you (collectively!) did which hindered
The Python programming language and PyGame library whipped this game
into shape in about two months of coding. They literally give me the
power to be a designer and coder simultaneously, instead of having to
switch modes with my bare metal programming past. They also made
cross-platform development a breeze.
the other side of the calendar, to be precise, nine pages later, I was
still writing the story and scripts. I should not have written the
entire, however many thousand lines of dialogue, by myself. I should
have hired a writer. It's a lesson we've acted upon for our upcoming
A little more yearning for Yarn.
GS: What do you think of the state of independent development? Improving? Changing for the worse or the better?
It's embarrassing to admit, but I've been pretty isolated from the
community. I barely have time to make an occasional contribution to the
indie gamer forum. My gut says its improving, but that will encourage
competition. It will always be a lot of work to stay in the running.
What do you think of the concept of indie games on consoles such as the
Xbox 360 (for digital download) or on digital distribution services
like Steam? Is that a better distribution method than physical CDs or
downloads via a website/portal?
It's all about bandwidth to the customers, and mind-share bandwidth is
1000 times more important that download bandwidth. Fortunately, viral
marketing is fairly cost-effective right now, if not very reliable.
Will modern society eventually expand or constrict this current golden
age of communication?
GS: Have you checked out any of the other IGF games? Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?
I haven't played enough of them to pick one. I wish more were available
for the Macintosh. No, wait! I mean, I hope none of them are ever
available on the Macintosh! It's the reason we earn more money from the
Mousechief website than from our publisher's entire network.
GS: What recent indie games do you admire, and what recent mainstream console/PC games do you admire, and why?
I think of Professor Fizzwizzle as a warning that indies need to take
seriously. If you can't match that game's production values, your game
probably won't make it, from here on.
As for industry games, I'm still jonesing for another launch of Civilization IV. I lost December to that fascinating, schedule shredding title.
GS: Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?
I feel like I've already said too much. Thank you for this opportunity
to answer your questions and for your terrific IGF event! I wish
everyone who entered, a rewarding future.