RS: Not major games, but you do in the indie space, right? The indie space is a little more soulful and a little bit more able to be what the mainstream industry would consider niche.
We're careful for that kind of stuff. We're not making a game that only appeals to Edward Gorey fans. If anything, we're taking that art style and sharing it with people because we think it is appealing. And so maybe people who have never heard of Edward can now sort of like get into him. That would be great.
Definitely, but usually it's what sells that determines the art style decisions.
DK: Realism... Most of the triple-A game industry is still really heavily influenced by all these kind of adolescent power fantasy fictions. I don't want to make a game based on Saving Private Ryan. We've done that before. I've made games with guns. It's exciting to kind of move into different territory and try to do that in a way that still like appeals to a wide range of people.
RS: Yup. And there are a lot of checks and balances in the vertical column in a triple-A game. You have to appeal to your immediate supervisor, the director of the project, the executive producer who manages your franchise or your portfolio of games that you're involved in, the person who manages your branch of the company, all the way up to the creative director of the company.
In a lot of companies, you really have to pass all those gates. There are a lot of places that an interesting idea can get like converted into a less interesting idea. In our company, we did a little of that process. We didn't ship the first thing that came to mind. We didn't ship it until we evolved it to the point where we felt it was good enough. But it wasn't the case where it was like, "Well, no, that's an interesting idea. That's a little too risky." I feel like that happens a lot.
In your recent GDC Austin lecture, you talked about how you didn't ship the first concept you came up with, and instead evaluated several styles -- that strikes me as a little more process-oriented than a lot of the indie developer experiences I've heard about.
RS: Yeah. I think for me, the biggest thing was trusting my instincts. And so if we had something we liked, it's like, "Cool. Go." David did a ton of work on the controls while I was moving across the country.
I literally picked up the game the first time, and before I even drew a web, I jumped, kind of like how you do now when you play that game. I was like, "This is amazing. I trust this. We're moving on this. This was totally worth investing in." That's an example of totally trusting my instincts.
On the counter-side, if it wasn't working yet, we'd just like pull out the triple-A process. "Well, let's figure out what it should be. The tilting controls aren't working. What are we going to do? What's the process we follow?" But then there comes a point where you feel good about it again, your instincts engage, and it's like, "Good. Move."
DK: In terms of the process and how I approached my work, I don't think a lot changed. I have a lot of experience to draw from, and I apply that experience from day to day. The main difference for me was getting to work on a lot of different areas.
Even as an engineer, I was specifically specializing in AI work, for basically a decade. You get pigeonholed in this industry a little bit. People only wanted to hire me for one thing, so it was really refreshing to be in a space where I could be engaged and learning all the time. Every week posed a new challenge, and that was really exciting and refreshing.
As an engineer, does it seem less glamorous to be developing for a little mobile device than for a big, meaty console or PC?
DK: Well, I find the iPhone to be really glamorous, actually. Maybe five years ago, when we were talking about a Windows Mobile device... The iPhone is this totally different thing. I think the iPhone is being perceived as being a cooler object than even an Xbox or PlayStation to most of the people who are friends of mine. I have a number of friends who are kind of core gamer types, but I think the iPhone has a much broader reach.
RS: You don't have to be an elite hax0r to code for the iPhone nearly as much. It's just a way sexier device, so the coding you're doing is exciting in a lot of ways.
DK: Yeah. I get really interested in developing mechanical stuff for a platform that's giving you new options. When the Wii first came out, there was a part of me that was like, "Oh, I really wish I was working at a Wii startup," just because there would be a different play space to explore.