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Road To The IGF: Dan Marshall ( Gibbage )

Road To The IGF: Dan Marshall (Gibbage)

September 18, 2006 | By Alistair Wallis

September 18, 2006 | By Alistair Wallis
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More: Console/PC, Indie

For the first in Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2007 entrants, we contacted Dan Marshall, developer of Gibbage.

Marshall worked on the game on his own over the period of around a year and a half, teaching himself to code at the same time simply to see whether it was still possible for a successful game to be produced by one bedroom programmer. Of the game itself, Marshall explains:

Gibbage is an incredibly simple concept. Each player is spawned from their Power Booth, with a perpetually-draining Power Level of 200. Your ultimate goal is to reduce your opponent's Power Level to zero, thereby winning control of the arena. To do this, you run around collecting the randomly spawned Power Cubes (up to three at a time), and returning them to your Power Booth. Doing so increases your Power Level, and reduces your opponent's.

Naturally, as the Power Cubes are in short supply you'll have to stop the other team getting there first. This is where the 'gib' part of Gibbage comes in -- you'll need your wits about you as you leap and swing about the arena trying to kill your opponent with well-timed bombs or your itchy trigger-finger.

We spoke to Marshall via email to ask about the game, the IGF, and about auteurs in today’s games industry.

What is your background in the games industry?

I have no experience or background in the games industry whatsoever, so instead I work in the TV industry! Gibbage was coded in the mornings before I headed off to do my day job and in the evenings after I’d slumped back home. I got very little sleep for a very long time.

I’m not a professional coder; far from it. I’m just a guy who loves games and wants to create his own little universe inside peoples’ homes.

When did you start making games?

I used to dabble in Klik ‘n’ Play and its successor The Games Factory when I was a kid, which is what bore the original incarnation of the game, Gibbage: pour hommes.

My best friend and I were glued to it for many years, and one day I decided it’d be a nice idea to write a new one. Under XP, The Games Factory had completely given up the ghost, so I was left with the startling realisation that if I wanted to write a new game, I’d have to learn some proper, grown-up coding techniques. What ensued was four months of biting holes into rubbishy C++ books before throwing them at the wall in disgust while I learned the basics.

It's interesting to see that you did Gibbage pretty much on your own - do you think there is still room for auteur developers within the industry?

Absolutely. I actually think that’s a large part of Gibbage’s charm; it conveys my personality from every crevice of the code. Everything in it came from the dark unused corners in my brain, and I poured every last drop of my soul into its development. So when you’re playing Gibbage, you’re getting to know me. You’re getting to know what I think is cool and interesting and funny, not what a group of designers who have had a little meeting about reaching a general consensus of what might work as cool and interesting and funny. I think that counts for a lot.

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

I was playing an FPS one day and realised all I ever do is plough my way down a identikit grey corridor with a presumably-real make of machine gun shooting men in the head. It was boring, and I’d grown extraordinarily apathetic towards it all. I wanted to play a game like in the old days where a friend would come over and we’d wee ourselves laughing at how rubbish the other person was. Games were a lot brighter back in the old days, and there was more laughing involved.

I couldn’t find anything that matched my specific needs. So being the foolhardy idiot I am, I set about writing one, instead.

I’m really pleased with the fact that it’s actually, properly genuinely fun. Seeing two people sat around a copy of Gibbage is one of the most delightful things on this Earth to behold. Jostling, poking, insulting each other and tickling are all valid ‘tactics’ in Gibbage, which means people get angsty and annoyed and laugh so hard that stuff comes out of their nose. It’s a beautiful sight.

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

At no point throughout Gibbage’s development did I have any expectations whatsoever. I was largely just bemused that I’d managed to make some little men run around on the screen, and that was pretty much enough for me. I didn’t really anticipate selling it until six months into development when I realised it was actually completely brilliant.

I suppose I just wanted to bring back a little bit of disposable fun into games, and from that point of view I guess Gibbage lives up to what I wanted to do completely…

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

I like the fact that no two levels are the same, there’s a wide variety of stuff getting in your way. Sometimes it’s quite minor things like balloons or the inevitable slippy slidey ice. Sometimes, however, you’re up against acts of God, hordes of zombies or monkeys that touch themselves inappropriately and steal your power cubes.

I’m really pleased that I took the time to craft 27 unique and fun levels rather than bash out 100 that are pretty much exactly the same. I like the idea of someone new to the game genuinely not knowing what I might throw at them next, and I think that contributes an awful lot to Gibbage’s appeal.

How long did development take?

About a year and a half in all, but it took me four months to pick up the basics of what a ‘float’ was and all that other messy C++ rot was prior to that. I was writing Gibbage while I learned how to code, which quite probably goes a long way to explain one or two of its little ‘quirks’.

What was the development process like?

Completely hellish mainly, with brief, fleeting moments of unexpected elation when I worked out how to do something complicated.

Who did the music for your game?

Lovely, lovely Mike Watts of Encore Music took care of that side of things for me, on the understanding that I have zero musical talent myself and that taking that on board as well would have simply resulted in a brash, hideous mess for the score. Like how John Carpenter does his own music.

As it stands, I have possibly one of the most memorable and funky theme tunes in any indie game to date.

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

Most of it’s depressing tosh, obviously. There are way too many dull clones of clones of clones. Indie developers are in a prime position to use this extraordinary talent they have to create something utterly unique and charming and mindblowing. Instead, they make a dull click-a-thon for bored office workers because that’s what the portals buy up and that’s what brings in the cash. It makes my heart sink.

That said, if you ignore all that grot, there are some cracking titles out there. Once production vales begin to soar and digital distribution becomes more acceptable to the punters, I’m convinced we’ll see some amazing games coming out of the indie scene and gamers who were previously only obsessed with mainstream titles will sit up and take notice.

Have you checked out any of the other IGF games?

Absolutely, I’ve even reviewed one or two of them for I have to admit, I didn’t really expect there to be so many strong contenders when I handed over my $95 entrance fee...

Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?

Armadillo Run, without a doubt. It’s innovative, it’s a fantastic use of new technology and it’s addictive as hell. It also has mainstream appeal the rest of us can only dream of. Besides Gibbage, it definitely wins The Best Indie Game Ever award as far as I’m concerned.

Which recent indie and mainstream titles do you admire, and why?

Indie-wise, I’m really impressed with anything that shows even a spark of ingenuity. Even if that ingenuity is playing homage to a dead and forgotten genre of yore, I’ll lap it up. In short, as long as you’re not working on a Match-3 clone with such ‘innovative’ gameplay enhances such as it being set in Hawaii, you’re in my good books.

Mainstream games are more tricky. I’m still a sucker for a good FPS but I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of freedom they offer.

Ooh, and I completely love all the games the IGF judges have worked on, obviously. They’re definitely my favourite favourites.

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

Best of luck in the competition and I’ll see you in March when Gibbage wipes the floor with the rotting corpse of whatever that crappy little game it was you wrote, and I run out clutching a massive cheque and shrieking like a banshee on smack all the way back to good old Blighty.

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