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Continuing our 'Road To The IGF' feature, profiling and interviewing each of the finalists in the 2006 Independent Games Festival main competition, today's profile takes a look at SMERC, the developers for the scientific puzzle game Moleculous, which is a finalist for the Best Web Browser Game award at the 2006 IGF. The developers' description of this educational puzzle quest to discover cold fusion explains:
"Strap on your lab goggles and get your daily dose of science with Moleculous. Those messy fossil fuels that everyone depends on are running out, and now it's up to you to discover Cold Fusion before the world's energy supply disappears!"
In this interview in the build-up to the 2006 IGF, SMERC reveals the idea behind Moleculous and how it was realized:
Q: Tell us a bit about your background in the game industry, when your developer was founded, your location, your previously developed games?
SMERC was founded in 1999 by Brian Wane as an interactive creative agency located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. In addition to developing its own line of downloadable games such as Moleculous, SMERC has created custom games for clients such as Sports Illustrated for Kids, Lego, Mezco Toyz, and GM. Moleculous is SMERC's first independent downloadable release and is published by Game Trust. SMERC currently has three downloadable titles in development for release in the first half of 2006.
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?
Moleculous features a game mechanic inspired by the traditional real-world game Pachinko, with board pegs placed to conduct ‘molecule experiments' by bouncing elixir drops into a catching flask. As an educational twist each level features a new chemical puzzle that is scientifically accurate.
While prototyping the game, we looked at various board arrangements that worked. From board configurations grew the need to make peg placements meaningful. A little experimentation and the answer jumped off the page—molecules! Hence, Dr. Leakentube was born.
All told, production took seven or eight months and was a product of both obsession and helpful prodding from Game Trust. Moleculous is available in download for Mac and PC, free limited web play, free online tournament, and cash online tournament play.
Q: What was the smartest thing you did to speed development of your title, and the dumbest thing you (collectively!) did which hindered development?
The smartest thing we did during development was to focus exclusively on Moleculous. It is terrifically difficult to put out a game when it is a side project. Making it a priority made it happen.
The dumbest thing we did was to not plan out all the play modes from the beginning. Retrofitting four additional play modes into the game four months into production was quite a headache. Not a mistake we'll make again.
Q: What do you think of the state of independent development? Improving? Changing for the worse or the better?
Well, Moleculous is our first independent game and we're a finalist in the IGF competition, so right now we're pretty chipper about the state of independent development.
Independent development is tied to the distribution channels available for indie titles. It seems that many portals are taking fewer risks on the types of games they are willing to promote and support. There are endless streams of clones that get a lot of attention, which is disappointing.
I think the increase in price for next generation titles is actually providing more breathing room for the lower-priced downloadable titles. Hopefully this will provide better funding opportunities for indie titles.
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?
The Xbox 360 is taking a huge step towards creating an entertainment experience in the living room that the whole family can enjoy. At the same time I think a different type of game is optimal for that type of distribution; multiplayer casual games that families can enjoy together.
Physical CD retail distribution is an unrealistic goal for most indie developers. Just to get shelf space requires more money than any of these games took to create.
Q: Have you checked out any of the other IGF games? Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?
I've only had time to try a few of the games, but of those, I thought Professor Fizzwizzle and Rumblebox were very clever. Fizzlewizzle is a fun platform game with the right amount of challenge to it. And I like that Rumblebox takes the usually abstract variable of the number of enemies to be defeated and commoditizes it as the physical means of your success (piling bodies up to a certain height).
Q: What recent indie games do you admire, and what recent mainstream console/PC games do you admire, and why?
I have always been a fan of Large Animal Games. They make fun, well-balanced games that get better looking every year. Saints and Sinners Bowling is no exception.
Does Half-life 2 still count as an indie game? It's brilliant and beautiful.
As for mainstream games, I'm still playing Katarmari Damacy! It's just genius game design and supports our ethic that innovative game mechanics are the future of gaming.
Q: Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?
Thanks so much for the support! The nomination was the highlight of 2005 for us, and we are incredibly humbled to be in the company of the other finalists.