Interview with Dylan Cuthbert of Q-Games
Questions for yesterday:
Parallaxed Game: In an interview with PS3 Fanboy from GDC 08, you mentioned that when pitching the PixelJunk series to Sony at GDC 07 you had 10 or 20 cards with your prototypes. You said that you weren’t going to make them all, but that you wanted to make as many as you could. Could you maybe tell us one of the ideas from the cards that you axed, and why you axed it?
Dylan Cuthbert: Even our old ideas might make a re-appearance at some point so unfortunately I can’t really go into detail about past axed ideas. Some of them were taken to full prototype though, and then we assessed the prototype to not have enough “oomph” or depth to take it to a full product.
PG: Was there ever a moment in your career where you thought to your self, “well, I guess I got to get a ‘real’ job if this doesn’t pan out soon”?
DC: Actually, never. Sometimes there’s some political nonsense that makes me want to just walk away from the games industry entirely, but then the games themselves, the creativity and ideas always bring me back. Games are such a blank canvas when used right, they are the most powerful form of expression that exists I think.
PG: Now that time has passed since Racers, Monsters, & Eden have come out; do you have any regrets that you would fix if you would have noticed it from the beginning?
DC: Well, the cool thing about PSN is that we can not only look at things in retrospect but we can also fix them if we want to. The recent Monsters patch is an example of this. For Racers I wish we had encouraged people to play the Random Mode/Random Track single race mode more, as in that mode you can play the game all night when you have a few friends around, it’s so addicting.
PG: Was there something in the original Monsters and Eden design documents that was cut from the final product because it would have made the game easier or too complicated to control?
DC: For Monsters we had originally had far more instantly usable weapons than the mines that eventually in, but we cut down the special items to Dash (player related upgrade), the Mines (attack related upgraded), and the special tower (tower related upgrade). At one point we had a little R2D2 like droid thing running around after you that would jump up and take out the enemies. It made the game a little too action oriented.
PG: Monsters had special levels to unlock items that added another layer to the gameplay. Did you ever think about doing the same with Eden? (maybe a longer thread, ability to swing off rocks, stronger thread, etc)
DC: With Eden the game is all about the unique controls, so we didn’t want to unlock new abilities as it would change the game irreversibly (either that or we would have had to have added menu options to let you disable them to revert back to the original play style). We obviously considered it though.
PG: From the previous 3 titles in the PixelJunk series, what level from each stood out as you favorites level & what about that level made it your favorite?
DC: Garden 7 in Eden, and Racer Gardens in Monsters, which is based on the PixelJunk Racer track “Redwood Lakes” (which is based loosely on the Redwood Shores Oracle buildings area in Silicon Valley).
Questions for today:
PG: How many trophies do you currently have in Eden?
DC: At some point I’ve had them all, but across a few different accounts while testing the game. Right now I have a fair amount on my home account, but LBP is taking up my home game playing time recently. ?
PG: Do you have any favorite indie/web game that you play when you find yourself in a rut?
DC: No, not really. I don’t really like web games that much, they don’t have enough depth with their controls (probably because they are played on the PC with variable frame rates). I tend to enjoy RTS games, so I play Command&Conquer Generals: Zero Hour a lot here at work with people, because we modded it to remove the stupendous inflation problem it had. Since we did that we have been playing it every lunchtime for about five years.
PG: What is the best and the worst thing about being the boss of a game company?
DC: The best thing is that anything you say HAS to go. The worst thing is everyone coming to you for all the answers to everything. ?
PG: What kind of feedback do you get from your fans and what are some of the most unexpected things that you’ve read or seen?
DC: One fan not being able to clear Easy 1 on Monsters was very surprising to me. We get lots of feedback, mails daily from users, 99.9% positive too! I do attempt to reply to most of them personally too. I suppose if we ever make a million seller that’ll be difficult to fulfill though.
PG: How do you select the music for PixelJunk games? Do you already listen to music from that artist, or do you go out looking for something? Also, once the music is selected, does this ever effect the art style or gameplay so that they fit together better?
DC: It’s a combination of events – some people in the office might already know the artist, or if they don’t they know someone who does. We then listen to prior work they have done and play it alongside the images or prototypes of the games we are making to see if it fits. In the case of Eden however, we brought in Baiyon early on and worked with him on the full visual audio package. For Monsters, Otograph adapted their style to fit the lighter melodic nature of the game.
Questions for tomorrow:
PG: You have mentioned that there are 6 games in the first series of PixelJunk, and that 1-4 is called Dungeons. How far along is Dungeons and when can we expect to see it revealed? Are you waiting for GDC 09?
DC: We can’t talk about any of the future titles yet, we might not even show anything at GDC09, who knows! The next title isn’t necessary based on the Dungeons prototype work as we develop several ideas simultaneously, finally going with the idea that has the most momentum.
PG: You have mentioned before that for PixelJunk series 2, you would begin to use 3d graphics, you also mentioned that you want to start it as soon as you can. Why are you so egger to move on past series 1 before the first 6 games come out?
DC: Why not? Basically I’d like to make any game that I can think up, PixelJunk series 1 is primarily 2d so if I wake up with an idea for a 3d game I’d like to have series 2 set up and running so we can try out ideas with that. Maybe series 3 will be 4D? ? Our schedules are very flexible so there is no confirmed order to the releases yet.
PG: Eden’s ability to use custom soundtracks was locked out to those who have finished the game. This was because the music was so important to the creation and the playing of the game. So I was wondering, what are your thoughts on making a PixelJunk game where the gameplay and music were in sync, like with Vib Ribbon, Rez, and Everyday Shooter?
DC: I’m a bit wary of music games. I don’t mind a little bit of interaction but to have the game driven by the music makes the game a lot harder to design in a precise way.
PG: When the PS3 EyeToy came out there were a couple of PSN titles and a few retail titles announced, yet most future development appears to be only EyePet. Do you see the EyeToy as something that you would like to include in a future title, or is it not something you see as useful to enhancing your games?
DC: Not right now, no. Little Big Planet has shown what kind of potential the eyetoy has though.
PG: Misconceptions often effect most games, movies, and albums, because someone sees or hears about the product and forms an idea about it. If the idea isn’t modified to what the product truly is then that person tends to have an “ohhhh” effect. This more often than not is a negative effect on their feelings towards the final product. If you could make a statement to prevent this from happening about PixelJunk Dungeons, what would it be? (e.g.: Racers isn’t a racing game as much as it is a puzzle game, Monsters requires more thinking than building, and Eden is much more difficult than an “organic Mario”)
DC: Heheh, no comment on Dungeons or future PixelJunk titles yet. Btw, I disagree that Eden is more difficult than Mario – it all depends which Mario you are talking about, and I am talking about SMB3.
PG: There are two images I found on the web that are taken from a Japanese magazine that are labeled 1-4. One of them looks like a snow covered mountain with specks in a few different rows. (http://www.vertigogaming.net/pixeljunk_2a.jpg) The second looks to be a side view of an underground tunnel with bodies of “water” that look like you would move the water to progress through the level. (http://www.vertigogaming.net/pixeljunk_3a.jpg) can you comment on these “screens” or “concepts”?
DC: Those are simply pictures from the initial prototype “cards” we knocked up. On the reverse side is written the game design spec for each game. Some of those games will make it, some won’t. The numbering is fairly irrelevant at the moment though.
PG: You created a music visualizer of the world for the PS3 based on your pitch for the opening on the PS3 which is the one I use when playing music. My question is, can we ever expect to see a PixelJunk visualizer theme for the PS3?
DC: Right now there are no plans for a PixelJunk visualizer, it takes a lot to persuade Sony to put stuff in their ROM.
PG: Have you thought of making a PixelJunk title for WiiWare since you can have controls that are currently different from anything that the PS3 or 360 can give you from a design perspective, or is PixelJunk an exclusive title to Sony?
DC: In the future there is always the possibility but right now there are no plans to take PixelJunk to another platform. I am interested to see if WiiWare takes off but right now I’m not sure the types of users buying Wiis are also the types to buy experimental independent games.
PG: Is your next Nintendo project going to be for the handhelds, the console, or WiiWare and how far are you in development?
DC: I can’t comment on our Nintendo-related projects, they are all top secret.
PG: Screw, Marry, Kill: Racers, Monsters, & Eden?
DC: I’d have to become a mormon to fulfill this answer.
PG: If a fan of yours ever happens to run in to you at an event with a bar, and wants to send you a drink, what kind of drink should they send?
DC: Japanese beer, preferably draft, or a good red.
PG: If Sony and Media Molecule approached you to make a level for LittleBigPlanet, would you make a PixelJunk level or would you try something new? (Sackboy would look great with a Monsters mask)
DC: I think making a whole level would consume a little too much time, but you never know, a Monsters mask sackboy might be in the works as it would look pretty nifty.
PG: You have mentioned in an interview with IGN Insider that if not making games or designing desserts, that you would really like to write novels. So will any of the future PixelJunk titles have a focus on a story? Or would you prefer to leave that for a different series?
DC: Hardcore sci-fi. I’ve always been interested in writing sci-fi and wrote short stories before I found I could program.
PG: If you could work on any IP (from games, movies, books, comics, etc), what IP would you want to work on and would it be a download game or a full retail game?
DC: I’d prefer not to work on existing IP. At a stretch if I really had to, I would like to work on something based on the Culture universe created by Iain Banks. It would have to have the scope of a full price packaged game.
PG: From playing all 3 PixelJunk games, I would guess that you really like your games to be hard as balls. What are some of your favorite hard games? (feel free to include games you’ve worked on.)
DC: I like to make games that are a challenge. I’d prefer it if players didn’t simply ace through a game without really lifting a finger or thinking about it. I try to make PixelJunk games give back more than you give in, but you do have to put the effort in at first. If every game feels the same as every other game what’s the point?
PG: What games have you had the chance to play off of PSN, XBLA, & WiiWare, and what did you feel was worth mentioning as a great game or a game that tries something new worth checking out?
DC: Braid had some really good game mechanics although I found the atmosphere of the game a little dry and serious somehow (still an excellent game mind you). I enjoyed Everyday Shooter quite a bit too, but right now I’m not seeing anything on PSN/XBLA that I want to play so I have got stuck into making levels for LBP in my spare time.
PG: Have you had the chance to play either of the previous titles on the PS2 from Vanillaware, Odin Sphere and/or GrimGrimoire?
DC: I have only seen these games and haven’t really had a chance to play them – they don’t strike me as the type of games I like for some reason. I think this is just a personal taste thing.
PG: I’ve searched online to see if there were any PixelJunk related shirts or other merchandise out there and turned up nothing, is that something that you would be interested in doing? If so what would be the first thing you would want to have released? (shirts, messenger bags, hats, toys, etc)
DC: We have T-shirts made up internally but there is no merchandise as of yet. It’s something that we might be interested in doing in the future but not just yet.
PG: What is something you learned along your way that would be helpful to people who look to get in to gaming? (something you can’t learn from school)
DC: Never give up – good games come from lavishing attention to detail on everything. Don’t ever think that something is “good enough”. If it is “good enough” it can be made even better, don’t stop making something better even if you think it is the best it could possible be.
PG: If you were given the opportunity to create a full price retail game with unlimited budget, team, and time; with the goal to reinvent an existing genre or try something completely new to gaming, what genre would you look to freshen up? Or would you try something new, and what would your focus be (control, story, ai, etc)? What about that genre do you feel are the biggest blemishes that need to be cleaned up or forgotten?
DC: I wouldn’t mind taking another look at the Captain Blasto genre (3d platform shooting with a 3rd person camera and surreal graphics). I’m sure a lot more can still be done with the ideas we had for that the game.
PG: What do you feel is the biggest problem right now for the gaming industry?
DC: Gamer complacency. It’s not their fault of course, but there are so many games out there, that it is impossible for them to try them all, so they swarm in droves for the big titles without giving some really good quality smaller titles a second look. PixelJunk is a great collection of games that cost a pittance and we still only sell to a fraction of the PS3 installed user base.
PG: If you had a power what would it be? And what would you use it for?
DC: A super power? Why, the ability to see through women’s clothing, of course! Seriously though, it would be to be able to fly, who doesn’t want to be able to fly, eh?
PG: Is there anything you would like to pimp? (either your own or something you enjoy and think people should check out)
DC: The Eden and Monsters soundtracks on PSN! C’mon people, get in there and buy them, they are only 3 bucks a piece and for the PSN store it is a historic first to have game soundtracks available, we need to encourage the powers-that-be to do more of this.
I would like to thank Dylan for taking the time to complete this interview. And as a big fan of LittleBigPlanet, I would like to see a PixelJunk Monsters Costume… it might look something like this.
– Austin Trees