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IGF Student Showcase Q&A: Pistachio Productions (Ocular Ink)


February 16, 2006
 

In the run-up to the 2006 Independent Games Festival, which is held at Game Developers Conference 2006 in San Jose from March 20-24, 2006, Gamasutra is showcasing a number of the IGF finalists in different categories. As part of a series of Gamasutra Education-exclusive articles, we profile the 2006 IGF Student Showcase winners by interviewing them about their award-winning titles, which will be playable at the IGF Pavilion at GDC this March.

The interviewee for this feature is the Pistachio Productions team from Grinnell College and the University of Washington, who earned a spot as a Student Showcase winner with their unique-looking title Ocular Ink, described as follows in the students' entry form:

"In a strange and twisted land where evil dismembered body parts roam the countryside, you play the role of a young paintbrush-wielding eyeball that is determined to free his home town from the fearsome clutches of the evil eye-pirate known far and wide as Patches Deadlights."

GS: What's the concept behind your IGF Student Showcase winning game, and give us an outline of the team that's behind it?

Ocular Ink's central mechanic is the “Heavenly Brush,” which you use to paint magical symbols onto the ground, causing a variety of effects in the game world. We used a gestural interface, rather than a conventional button-pressing one, to closer map the user's physical actions to those happening in the game world.

Pistachio is a group of friends who grew up next door to each other and enjoy coming up with game ideas. Specifically, we are:

John Edwards, Programmer, Grinnell College
Justin Kim, Level Designer, University of Washington
Chris Goiney, Artist, University of Washington
Stuart Young, Modeler, University of Washington


Ocular Ink

GS: Tell us a little bit about the school and school program which were behind the game's genesis? Was this part of a course or final project? What kind of degree program did it count towards?

Ocular Ink, although created by students, is not actually associated with or sanctioned by either of the schools our team attends. Our team is composed of former high school classmates and friends who reassembled two years ago and made a quirky multi-player sheep-herding game called Mutton Mayhem. Our fields of study cover physics, neurobiology, industrial engineering, and drama. We abandoned our summer vacations and grade point averages in pursuit of that which is now known as Ocular Ink.

GS: How long did development on the game take and what tools did you use to create it?

We've been at work on our in-house engine, Dart, for more than a year, but the game as you see it came together during an inspired, yet panicked 3-week stretch of toil by Justin just prior to submission. That was Version 0.9, finished and submitted to the IGF in September of 2005. Our latest version (0.92e) was released in January of 2006 and can be downloaded from our website, www.pistachioproductions.com.

Tools and programs used:

Microsoft Visual C++ 6.0
Adobe Photoshop 7.0
Milkshape 3D 1.7.1 Goldwave 5.12
DARLA (Dart Level Editor)
JAS (John's Action Script)

GS: What was the all-time best and all-time worst moment that you encountered during the game's creation?

The best moment was getting the game submitted to the IGF main competition minutes before the deadline. We'd been crunching at inhuman speeds and that last day was especially inhumane. Getting it done and uploaded was a huge weight lifted off of our minds.

The worst moment... probably the time we redesigned the game. That happened multiple times, so our all-time worst moment actually occurred several times. The absolute worst of these was in the middle of summer 2005, when we realized there was about a month until the IGF deadline and we had no game. However, the impending deadline forced us to get our act together and resulted in the aforementioned best moment.

GS: Do you (yet) have any success stories or positive experience based on showing the student game to people in the game industry (praise, actually getting a job in the biz, etc)?

We've received a great many positive reviews from various independent game reviewers. The people of the Czech Republic have been especially responsive. Ocular Ink has also been mentioned in some mainstream publications, such as GameSpy and PC Gamer UK. Most recently, we attended the enemy indie competition, Slamdance, and got to talk to several supportive industry people. Though we have yet to receive any legitimate offers of employment.

GS: What are the most important things that student games should be showing off, in terms of both getting high marks in your courses and impressing potential employers?

We aren't really qualified to say what potential employers are looking for in student games, but we feel students should try and take more risks with their games. Most student game developers are in the unique situation of not having to limit their creativity due to external pressures. So why not try something different? For getting high marks in courses, the most important thing for student game developers to do is to not develop games. The rate of progress on Ocular Ink showed a perfect inverse correspondence with our GPAs.


Ocular Ink, eying the competition

GS: Have you tried any of the other Student Showcase finalists? If so, which ones did you especially appreciate, and why?

Justin and John played all of the student entries that had games available for download.

Rumble Box is an excellent game, with some of the slickest menu transitions ever created by man. Narbacular Drop is a trippy game with the neatest innovation out of the student entries. Cloud is commendable for its concept of nonviolent gameplay, and also sports some awesome tunes. Colormental has got a great visual style which puts modern graphics hardware to good use. Stuart was most impressed by Seas of Chaos, and is considering investing in the team. Chris said: “I don't play games [expletive deleted]. Except Rumble Box because it kicks butt.”

GS: Name one thing that people probably don't know about your game.

The game comes with a full-featured level editor, called DARLA. It can be accessed from the main menu. The game scripts and levels are all available to edit, so users can alter the existing maps or create their own. It has some neat features, such as terrain height manipulation, which allows the user to lower, raise, and deform terrain to create dynamic landscapes.

GS: Have you any other messages for your fellow Student Showcase winners?

Prepare for defeat!

_____________________________________________________


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