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Road To The IGF: Rich Carlson, Digital Eel (Weird Worlds)

March 8, 2006


Continuing our '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 Rich Carlson of Digital Eel, the "garage band" developers of the short but epic space opera game Weird Worlds, which is nominated for the Innovation In Audio award at the 2006 IGF as well as the Seumas McNally Grand Prize. The developers' description of this space exploration adventure explains:

" Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space is a space adventure, starship combat and strategy game set in the plausibly implausible universe of Digital Eel's Strange Adventures in Infinite Space. Weird Worlds emphasizes replayability and features intelligent random universe generation, a unique turn-based movement system, real-time starship combat and an easy one-click interface."

In this interview in the build-up to the 2006 IGF, he spoke about the origin of Digital Eel, and provided some background about why they ended up making a sequel to Strange Adventures in Infinite Space (that sequel being Weird Worlds):

Q: Tell us a bit about your background in the game industry, when your developer was founded, your location, your previously developed games?

Like everyone else, we're incurable gamers, chronics, and we're all game tinkerers. That's probably the deepest ground. I used to work in the game industry but I left to devote more time to Digital Eel. Iikka and Phosphorous both work full time at game companies in the Seattle area. They work on Digital Eel games in their spare time.

We started Digital Eel, which is sort of like a garage band not a company, sometime around 2001. The three of us met over the course of a few years (Iikka and I met at Ion Storm. We later met Phosphorous at Amaze.) and we decided we'd like to make games together. (Similar tastes and so forth.) It turned out to be a lot of fun and we've been doing it ever since.

Before Weird Worlds, we released Plasmaworm (the ultimate snake game!), Strange Adventures in Infinite Space (Explore the 20 minutes or less!), the ever popular (and moist and squishy) Dr. Blob's Organism, Digital Eel's "Big Box of Blox" (a sort of psychedelic parody of match three games) and a "best of" collection of Mac ports called the Boiler Plate Special.

Digital Eel's Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space

Q: 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?

Weird Worlds took about a year and a half to make, working mostly part time. It's a sequel to Strange Adventures in Infinite Space -- Weird Worlds is larger, prettier, a layer or two deeper, etc. As far as genre, it's a hybrid, part strategy game, part adventure game and part starship combat game, similar in some ways to games like Pirates! and Star Control 2.

We wanted to make Weird Worlds because there were neat features left on the cutting room floor when we made Strange Adventures that we wanted to come back to, and a lot of newer ideas floating around too. Also, many gamers and modders have expressed their ideas and suggestions for improvements. We wanted to use Open GL, and have more graphics and better sound quality. And I guess we just wanted to make Weird Worlds for the fun of it, and visit the ol' Purple Void one more time.

Q: What was the smartest thing you did to speed development of your title, and the dumbest thing you (collectively!) did which hindered development?

We really try not to speed development. We're self-funded so we don't have to follow a set schedule most of the time. It has to be this way so Iikka and Phosphorous can put most of their energy towards the companies they work for, and family, etc. So, light pressure (if any) and slow steady progress is what it's about.

The dumbest thing we did? Haha, I dunno. We do a lot of dumb (but mostly benign) things.

Q: What do you think of the state of independent development? Improving? Changing for the worse or the better?

Changing for the better, overall I think. The high end seems to be faltering (and all but disappearing) but it's good or going to be good for all other levels of indie games. Even niche/genre indie games are being taken more seriously. (Manifesto lives!)

Q: 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?

Iikka and I watched a 17 minute movie of Geometry Wars 2 for Xbox Live ($5) and it seems obvious that indie games of all kinds would thrive there. We release downloadable and CD versions, but any way you can get decent games into gamers' hands is good.

Q: Have you checked out any of the other IGF games?

No, not yet.

Q: Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?

We tend to go for the ones with funny names first, so we'll be checking out Fizzwizzle, Dodge That Anvil and Crazy Ball. (Why do I instantly know I'm going to like a game called "Crazy Ball" before I've played it?) We'll look at most of the rest before we come down to the GDC.

Digital Eel's Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space

Q: What recent indie games do you admire, and what recent mainstream console/PC games do you admire, and why?

I liked Gish and Oasis a lot. Gish because it actually has original never-seen-before gameplay, and it's cooooool. Oasis because it demonstrates so well the idea that small, short computer games can have big game themes as well as good old-fashioned beer & pretzel gameplay.

Meanwhile, Iikka plays Linley's Dungeon Crawl most of the time and I tend to play RuneScape and retro CRPGs so we don't see a lot of new stuff.

Phosphorous likes Guild Wars a lot. We all liked Burnout 3.

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

Events like the IGF, which should really be seen as celebrations not competitions, are among the best events in life, so let's revel together even as we rebel together!


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