Monday, February 16, 2009

Podcast Interview: Patrick, Developer of YouTube Street Fighter

Patrick, developer of the YouTube game called "YouTube Street Fighter" and "Bboy Joker", talks about developing for the new "YouTube Games" genre...

You can download the podcast here...

or listen to it here...

Show Notes:
Action: Hi, welcome to the Indie Game Development podcast show. With me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?

Patrick: My name is Patrick Boivin. I am from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and I am a director.

Action: How did you get into games?

Patrick: The games, well, I got into games because of YouTube. I saw this year the annotations tools they got in, so I wanted to try it and I knew that with the game principle it would be fun, so that's about it.

Action: So, specifically, what game did you just recently make?

Patrick: Well, I made three games. The first one some months ago, which was called LaLinea Interactive. It was basically some kind of an animation where you could decide what the character was doing.

The second one was YouTube Street Fighter, and it's basically this street fighter game but with stop-motion animation, and you have the possibility to decide the moves you do but on YouTube.

The third one is called BBoy Joker, and it's a break dancing competition between the Joker and the Dark Knight. I just uploaded it two days ago.

Action: When you started the first game, how did you plan that, and what inspired the theme?

Patrick: Well, I was a big fan of Street Fighter. When I was young I played a lot, so I knew this game. This is probably the game I played the most so I have good memories with it. I knew the characters. I knew some tricks about it, so it came quite easily. I think the idea came to me as I saw the action figures of Street Fighter, so this is what started it. The idea started there.

Action: Before the Street Fighter game, did you do another game?

Patrick: Well, not as what we could call it game. As I said, I made an interactive animation, but it's kind of a game but it's not. YouTube Street Fighter is my first real game, I think.

Action: When you first released the Street Fighter game, what happened? I was checking it out on YouTube, and it seems like it got four million views or even something more than that. So, I was just curious how it took off and what was the feedback?

Patrick: Well, in fact, I think what people loved the most with that game is that it is the first time that... Well, it's not the real first time, but it looks like it is the first time you have a video game on YouTube.

Action: Yeah.

Patrick: There was another one, a smaller one, but a few persons saw it. So, this is basically the first official video game on YouTube so that's why I think it went so quick on the view rate.

We'll see with the second one I made if it's a good thing to do. I don't know.

Action: When you were designing the Street Fighter game, what was involved because it seemed like there has to be a video for every potential sequence or combination, right?

Patrick: Yes. What I wanted to do is I wanted to be current. How can I say it? I wanted the energy bar to respect where you were in the game. This kind of multiplied the videos so there is 112 videos for the game.

Action: OK.

Patrick: And some of them are about the same. The only difference is the energy bar because you have three chance from each side, so six possibilities with four buttons with three different characters. So, this all mixed up gives 112 videos.

Action: To render the animations, how long did that take? What was the process involved for that?

Patrick: Well, all the process took me 10 days. So, I took three days for the animation, four days for the editing, sound and all this, the graphics, and three more days to put it on YouTube and create all the links between with annotations. There's about 600 links between the videos. So, that was long.

Action: Did you have to do extensive testing because the annotations aren't really automated so you have to hand code everything, right? Or is it...

Patrick: Yes. So, you can't repeat the process. If you have four of exactly the same buttons, you have to make it four times. You cannot copy/paste, that thing.

Action: You did this in 10 days. You release it. What happens? What was the response?

Patrick: The response was very, very good. I was expecting something big because I knew Street Fighter was popular. I knew that I would be something like the first one to do it on YouTube so I was waiting for a big response, not that big.

I'm almost at five million now, and it's not been a month yet. I got a lot of offers from around the world because what I wanted to do is drive people to my YouTube page so they can see my other stuff because, basically, I am a movie maker. I'm not a game creator which I'm going to be, maybe, because a lot of people are asking me for some things like this.

Action: Yeah.

Patrick: So, after one week I saw that Street Fighter was really popular, the game, so I decided to make another one. That's why I just uploaded the BBoy Joker one.

Action: You said that the response around the world was pretty positive.

Patrick: Yeah.

Action: Now, did you get a lot more people to subscribe to your channel on YouTube? How has the subscription rate been going?

Patrick: Before I put up YouTube Street Fighter, I was at 5,000. Now, I'm at almost 21. For the subscribing it went really good.

Action: And this was in less than a month, too, right?

Patrick: Yes.

Action: Were there any other positive surprises that happened once you released it? Like is there anything else you are promoting besides the subscription to all the games?

Patrick: Well, actually with YouTube since I am a partner, I can have a share of the ads linkage to the videos, so with Street Fighter I made money.

Action: Great.

Patrick: This is something really cool, too. Not big money but quite good money. I don't know. If someone could figure a way out of having some success like this a few times in a year, you could, I think, live on this really.

Action: You had other people contacting you. So, did they ask you to do games for them or was it more ideas for your next types of games or what are you thinking?

Patrick: I had some people asked me to create games for them, yes. Some people asked me to create interactive clips for them. And also since I have a lot of stuff on my YouTube page, people were attracted by the game. They came on my page. They saw the other stuff, and then they asked me about the other stuff. So, some people are desiring to have video clips, ad commercials, propositions. Well, I think it's the best thing I've done for myself since a lot of years.

Action: What types of videos initially compel you to put stuff on YouTube? I mean, what's your original video passion?

Patrick: Well, I'm a movie maker so I create short movies. I'm working on long feature ones, actually. I also work a lot on commercials, television commercials, so this is what I do for a living.

I did also a TV show called Phylactere Cola in Quebec. It was a French TV show with a lot of sketches, shorts, movies, ad parodies, movie parodies. So, I've done a lot of short movies so I really know how to create something from A to Z alone. This is basically where I came from. I came from short movies.

Action: Since you saw this game take off, are you thinking then of moving from the short movies into this video game genre?

Patrick: The video game world is really something that is interesting for me, but I don't know that world so I'm far from it in a way. But, it's something that really interests me. Personally, I think I am going to try some other stuff on YouTube like video games. Of course, if some people ever think about me for video games, I would be glad because it's something that I really love.

Action: After your Street Fighter game, you worked on another game. Can you talk more about that game?

Patrick: Yeah, I created BBoy Joker which is break dancing competition between the Dark Knight and Joker. Basically, you choose one character. You look at the moves the other one is doing, and then you try to repeat the moves with your character.

Action: Was the development process pretty much the same as the Street Fighter one in terms of - it took 5 or 10 days and 112 videos, or is it something different?

Patrick: Well, the process was longer than with Street Fighter because the dancing is more difficult than the fighting, and I wanted to have a lot more movements than in Street Fighter. Street Fighter was quite easy to animate because, well, fighting is easy to animate. There is not much moves in it. It's a lot of loops, but with the dancing I wanted to have a lot of different moves and break dancing could be difficult to animate.

Also, what's difficult to animate is the action figures themselves. The Dark Knight and the Joker action figures are from Hot Toys. They do really great animated toys, but to make stop-motion with them could be a pain in the ass which the process was longer for it.

Action: For the stop-motion, what you had to do was you had to move it just a little and take a picture, or how did that work?

Patrick: Yeah, that's it. For a stop-motion what you do is you have your character. You raise the arm a little. Take a picture. Raise it a little more, a picture. So, each frame can take between 10 seconds to 5 minutes.

Action: Is that a style you are doing more from an artistic perspective, or have you thought about just doing 3-D animation for the games? What's the benefit of doing stop-0motion versus, say, some of the other technology that allows you to render this stuff?

Patrick: Well, I'm working with what I know so I've never done a lot of stop-motion but it's something with which I'm at ease with. I am confident with what I can do with stop- motion, and in 3-D I don't really know the software. So, I would have to learn softwares, and it's something that I could do but right now I wanted to make it fast so I used what I knew. Also, I know that stop-motion video games are not what you see everyday, so in a way it was a way of being different.

Action: Now that you have released it, what is the next step? Are you thinking about making more games? Are you going to make different types of games? You know, I looked at some of the other YouTube games.

The thing about the Street Fighter is that it was more strategy-based versus the other games which were more like, "Oh, you just click here", more of an adventure game. So, I wasn't sure if you were going to explore new types of ways or new types of games in this YouTube genre.

Patrick: I will because I am already thinking about it. I want to make other games because I have fun doing it. Also, I see the advantage it can bring me so I want to do some more but I don't want to repeat myself. I don't want to do another game like Street Fighter. I won't do another dance game, also.

Action: Well, what's wrong with sequels? I mean, there's sequels in normal video games. Why not have sequels in the YouTube video games?

Patrick: Well, yes, we could. You're right, but it's personal. I want to make something different every time. It's how I am.

Action: Sure. Are you thinking about ways to speed up the process because you said the second game actually took longer than the Street Fighter game? I wasn't sure if you are trying to find a way so that you can, maybe, get it out in 5 days instead of 10 days or 5 days instead of 20 days or something like that.

Patrick: No, I wouldn't do that because what's important for me is that everything that I do looks better than the one before. So, for me, taking three months or three weeks or a month to create something for YouTube is not a long process. It's not long, so I could create a game on two months' production and it would be OK for me, also. What I want the next one, too, is to look better than the two firsts. Even if it takes me six months, I will do it.

Action: Are there any changes to the annotation API that allows you to make more expressive games, or has it been pretty much the same since the annotation API got released?

Patrick: Well, it's the same. Nothing really moved since last year.

Action: Are you exploring any other types of genres or any other types of ways to combine video and video games, aside in what you've already talked about? I'm not sure if there is something on Vimeo or some of these other video sites that allows you to be even more expressive? Or is it mainlyYouTube which is the best for you?

Patrick: This is mainly YouTube, yeah. YouTube is the first - in fact, YouTube is not the first one to develop this, but they bought the one that did. So, actually, you can only do this on YouTube, I think, do this as I did, but there is another video site which is called Open Film. I asked them if they would be interested in taking the clips and program it in Flash for their site so people can play on their site.

What will be the fun with that is that you won't have the - how can I say this? On YouTube if you click a button and you have to change video, but if it's programmed on Open Film you won't have to wait for the video to come. It will be direct.

Action: Can you play your video game in embedded YouTube, or do you actually have to be on the YouTube site?

Patrick: I have to be on the YouTube site, yeah. I could program this on Flash. I think it would work well, but personally I haven't tried it. I was putting it on YouTube to test it.

Action: There are other people who are using the YouTube video, like the video partnership program. Do you get together with them and talk to them about how their videos are doing in terms of advertising and stuff like that?

Patrick: No, not yet but YouTube just started a new forum for the partners. So, it might come to this. Maybe, one day we'll talk together and see what could be done best: how did you do it, and da, da, da. Actually, no.

Action: Have you been in contact with other video makers on YouTube?

Patrick: Well, a lot of video makers on YouTube asked me for advice?

Action: Yeah.

Patrick: So, yeah, I do have a lot of contact with them, but I'm not really chatting. I'm not a good chatting guy, so I won't write you to say, "Hi. How are you?" But, if you ask me a question I would be pleased to answer it.

Action: What suggestions then do you have for other indie video game developers or indie video makers on how they could get good exposure on YouTube, you know, and have their own break?

Patrick: Well, personally I think that what can be popular on YouTube is to mix things. Example, mixing Batman with break dancing is something quite curious so this is what drags people to your stuff, I think. If you do things that already exist, well people don't mind about this, but if you do something really different or if you mix things together, then it can drag... But, you never know. It's quite a lottery, also, on YouTube. You can put something great on YouTube. I've seen a lot of great movies on YouTube, and they had 200 views.

Action: Any last words then for indie game developers and other people out there who are doing experimental things and trying to do something different?

Patrick: Well, I think YouTube is going to be in the next years developing the annotation tools. I'm sure about it. One thing for sure is that it's a good place to be discovered. It's a good place to show what you can do because everybody is there. If you can develop - maybe, I don't know - something like a trailer game of your game for YouTube. Then you can drag people to see your real game on another site. This is what I would do.

Action: It's a great idea. We're talking with Patrick, the guy who created the YouTube Street Fighter game and has another game which is Batman. What is the exact title of the new game?

Patrick: BBoy Joker.

Action: OK, BBoy Joker. Is there a website that people can check out, or should they just go to YouTube and type in YouTube Street Fighter?

Patrick: YouTube Street Fighter is the best one, or you can type Patrick Boivin on YouTube, and you will find all my games and my videos.

Action: Great. Thanks again for your time. I know this interview was set up really quickly, and I appreciate you being able to do this on short notice. So, thanks again.

Patrick: My pleasure. Thanks to you.

Action: Take care. Bye.

Patrick: Bye.

Take care,

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Podcast Interview: Tom, developer of the Google Maps Real World Racer Game...

Tom, developer of the Real World Racer game, talks about the challenges of making a game for Google Maps and the creative process behind making indie games...

You can download the podcast here...

or listen to it here...

Here is a video of the game...

Show Notes:
Tom Scott. Hello.

Interviewer: Hi. Welcome to the Indie Game Development Podcast show. How about you introduce yourself?

Tom: Well, hello. My name is Tom Scott. I am from York in England. I designed Real World Racer and a load of other games. I am currently and accidentally Student Union President at the University of York.

Interviewer: How did you get into Indie Game Development?

Tom: Mostly by accident as with most things I do. I tend to get ideas rather than trying to go into certain fields. One day some idea will spark itself into my head, and I'll think, OK, I'll build that. I'll spend a few hours or a few days putting something together. If it works, great. If it doesn't, well such is life. Something else will be along in a minute.

Interviewer: So, you got some game ideas, then, I take it? How did you motivate yourself to do stuff quickly because I know that some other game developers, they get an idea. They'll put it on hold, or they'll just work on other stuff instead of the actual idea that they had.

Tom: I tend to find that's a good barometer for whether the idea is good enough. If it's a good idea and it's something that I should go with, then generally I find myself kind of compelled to code it.

I'll sit down and just type for a while and test it and in this case swear it and Javascript for a very, very long time. But, after a few days I'll put it together. The really handy thing when I was designing Real World Racer is I was actually on vacation. I was in Helsinki for three months and found myself with a week to spare with a laptop, an Internet connection and a nice, sunny beach to sit on for a while.

And so, that's where I did it when I had very little else to do for a while.

Interviewer: For the audience, can you talk about what Real World Racer is?

Tom: It is a racing game designed around the Google Maps engine. It's got a Google Maps interface. You normally see those little red spikes that get driven into the ground on Google's maps. They are replaced with cars, and the poly lines that normally make up street directions become the actual race track.

So, you go along; you hit checkpoints; you reach the end. And at the same time there is very, very rudimentary Javascript AI cars racing against each other.

Interviewer: So, you were in Helsinki. When did you get inspired by this idea, and what compelled you? Why did you feel that it was going to be really interesting to do?

Tom: I'm not entirely sure. I never am with ideas like this. I had been working on the Google Maps API for something else.

Actually, I do remember. I was trying to find the Javascript routine required to move markers on the map rather than sort of destroy them and recreate them. Google added this really, really efficient move marker thing, and so it just popped into my head that I could use this as a game.

The initial thought was a kind of a battleships Risk-type game, Naval Command. After a couple of minutes it changed itself into a car racing game because that was sort of the driving directions, API and all these other things. And everything just came together. I thought, ""Yes, I'm going to build that. It's going to be great.""

Interviewer: And so, you had a week there and you just spent a week then building it or what was the process?

Tom: Pretty much. Where I was, my girlfriend at the time had gotten an internship at a company in Helsinki because I'm from England. She said, ""Do you want to go for the ride?"" I thought, may as well. So, I basically had an apartment to myself 9 to 5 each day. Nice little island off the coast of Finland to walk around, which is lovely but it did mean that I had plenty of time for ideas to spark into my head and for ideas to get written.

When you do have a net connection - by the way, the Finnish broadband is amazing. It was something like 10 megabits a second for some stupidly low amount. So, anyhow, a really good Internet connection and a laptop and nothing to do for a few hours. Then, yeah, I put it together.

Interviewer: You mentioned that you were traveling at this time when you got the idea. I mean, do you find that traveling and just getting out of England actually helps you with the creative process? Or how does that work because some of the other game developers I've interviewed have mentioned that some of the breakthrough ideas that they have gotten have come from when they are actually just traveling around?

Tom: Yeah, there are two places that I tend to get my ideas from. If you had asked me this a couple of years ago, I wouldn't have known the answer. But, the two places are travel, for one. That obviously is really expensive so I don't get to do it all that often and from friends.

The most important thing I can find to sparking off creativity is just being with people and just shucking ideas back and forth. If you think of something, run it past them and see if it works. If it gets a laugh, if it gets some interest go for it. If it doesn't, then don't worry about it.

Interviewer: So, your friends have to laugh at it for it to be passable.

Tom: For a lot of the video stuff, I do. It's not just getting development but just interest in things like that. I did a talk - Have you heard of Bar Caps?

Interviewer: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Tom: I help run Bar Cap leagues. I've been to a lot of the London ones over here in Manchester and Sheffield and all over the place. I did a talk about getting new ideas out of your head and onto the web.

The idea I've come up with is something called ""The Effort to Awesome Ratio"". Along the 'x' axis you've got not much effort, a little bit of effort, a lot of effort and on the 'y' axis you've got a little bit awesome, kind of awesome, really awesome. If the effort outweighs the awesome, you don't do it. If the awesome outweighs the effort, you do do it. It's a really fuzzy subjective way of doing it, but that's generally how I work out whether to do something or not. I mean, there are wonderful ideas. Someone came up and said, ""That was it"". So, I wanted to do a version of Portal. You know the game.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Tom: I wanted to do it as kind of a video thing. So, rather than a game I think I wanted to do Jackass with Portals. I obviously staged scripted CGI stuff and that would be really cool. But, the amount of effort required to get the CG looking good isn't worth it.

Now, on the other hand when someone says, ""We should do Mario cart in real life"". Well, OK, we can do that because that just requires a few coupled together carts, a few banana skins and mortar balloons. I think I can probably pull something together in a day or so.

If it doesn't work, there's not been that much effort invested. Unless it's an incredibly awesome idea, unless it's the best idea I've had in years, it's got to pass that test.

Interviewer: Going back to the Google Maps game, did you run it by your friends before you got started, or did you just make it and then show it to your friends? How is that process?

Tom: Well, because I was on my own traveling at the time, I had the spare time to do it. I thought I'll chuck this out. The worst thing that can happen is that it gets ignored, and I've wasted a few days putting it together. But, it kind of had all the signs from the start. Occasionally, if you get an idea you kind of know it's probably a good one. Do you get that?

Interviewer: Yeah. Exactly.

Tom: That just hit me. I thought that's a brilliant one there. That's going to spread. For a while it didn't. For a while it just sat there on my site despite getting a couple of links. Then, after about 7-8 months, something like that, it got linked to by - how can I phrase this delicately - an adult oriented site in Spain. That got something like 50,000 hits in a day which was ridiculous.

I'm not entirely sure if there was a connection, but two days later it showed up in a German newspaper. I'm not sure if those two are connected. I don't know if someone in Germany was kind of looking at some parts of the web that maybe they shouldn't have been at work came across this. And it was Der Spiegel, I think, apologies to any German listeners. I'm no doubt completely mispronouncing that. They linked to it in one of their web columns and, of course, then it went from there.

The trouble was I had all this traffic coming in. I had all these people playing the games, and very few of them spoke fluent English. So, I got very little feedback on the game other than this hit counter that was going off the charts.

Interviewer: You're saying that once you finished the game, it just stayed on your site and really nothing happened for about seven or eight months.

Tom: I got a few links from a lot of the Google Maps blogs because I'd done a minor multi-play Google Maps game before. That had a lot of technical issues. I was trying to run it off a shared host, and it really wasn't up to what was needed. I got a few links off that. All I did is I got rid of that game because the tech back end had started to break down. So, I'll get rid of that and I'll replace it with this. So, a few Google Maps blogs linked to it. I got a few links in. It wasn't until basically a Spanish porn site came along that any of this became popular.

Interviewer: So, it gets picked up by the German newspaper. Then, what happens?

Tom: And then, it just seemed to get linked around the web, mainly Europe, mainly in languages I don't understand. There's probably a lovely writer written in Hebrew somewhere. Obviously, that's completely unintelligible to me. I really wish I did speak other languages. It would make my life so much easier.

One thing I did do, though, was I had a language detection function, so rudimentary translation of the basic instructions. So now, if someone from Spain does come along, they do get Spanish instructions which are quite a nice thing. It was a horrible, horrible hacked in Javascript, but I was able to put it in in 10 minutes or so.

Interviewer: You know what? Speaking of Javascript, what were the technical challenges to get this game done? I mean, was it completely just Javascript or...

Tom: Well, it is Internet Explorer. It really is Internet Explorer. I don't know if you do any web development.

Interviewer: Yes.

Tom: But, if you've ever tried to get anything kind of Ajaxy working in IE it's a nightmare. I'd get something working in Firefox and working in Opera and working in Safari, perfectly laid out, and you test it in Internet Explorer and it just failed - the number minor work arounds in the code and hacks that just had to be put in.

I should point out I'm not the world's greatest Javascript programmer. This game owns a hell of a lot to Google, a fantastic API for Google Maps. I couldn't have done it without them, but in the end it's the same as doing any other kind of web development. It's different from game development because you're working with an API and you're working with Javascript codes. A lot of the time I wasn't working with Game Logix. I was just trying to get the bloody thing to work in IE.

Interviewer: Did you ever think of trying to use Flash or using the Yahoo Maps API and using Flash and then just building the game on top of that?

Tom: I never thought of doing that because for me Javascript and Google Maps are like my home turf.

Interviewer: OK.

Tom: I have developed stuff with that before. I've done all sorts of things like that. I would have had to start from scratch with a new API. I wouldn't have known if it had the capabilities I needed.

Interviewer: You mentioned a multi-player Google Maps game beforehand. Can you talk to me about that and what inspired that?

Tom: That was called Tripods. It think it basically was going from War of the Worlds or something like that. I had three-legged Google Maps marked as attacking Manhattan. You had a little green marker. You could give commands, north, south, east, west and fire which was good, but at the time I was using the Version 1 API of Google Maps which was many, many years ago. I say, in Internet time, many, many years ago, and it just wasn't up to it.

There wasn't a move marker command in that so every time the marker had to be deleted and replaced which you had a one frame a second delay, right. As well as that, the API calls to the server and the game commands to the server meant that you could issue a command pass once every two seconds. It was really, really slow and really, really laggy. Javascript, because it's a multi-player game you have to completely utterly distrust the client.

So, all the calculations about how the game was doing had to be done on the server side. That's a nightmare when in my case you're running on a shared web host. It was this horrible, horrible hacked together combination of PHP and Javascript and other awful, awful bits of technology that should never be made to work together.

It did work, and it worked for about three months. Then, Google came out with a Version 2 of the API, completely defecated the old one. I would have had to re-write from scratch, and even then it would have the same problems. I just thought, no. I'm going to replace this. It's going to be a much better game. A multi-player just isn't possible right now. It would be possible if it had some kind of turn-based play by email thing, but I think some other people have stepped in to formulate that one.

Interviewer: Going back to the racing game, once it started taking off did you start thinking that you might make another racing game and actually try to make money off of it? What were your thoughts at that point?

Tom: It's finding the time to do it, that's the trouble. I'm all one of these people that isn't - I'm sure there's a psychological term for it or something - complete to finish it. I'm not a complete to finisher. There'll be about a dozen people listening who are just nodding and understanding what I mean by that.

I have a tendency to do new products in this burst of massive enthusiasm, and then when they're in an acceptable form just kind of put them out there and see what the reaction is. That said, there is actually some progress on this. While the game itself hasn't been updated in a while, I think it's going to be perpetually in Beta like a lot of things.

I got an email a few months ago from a French web development company who were wanting to advertise perfume which is not a natural match for Javascript based web games. What they had was this list of 10,000 of their clients. They had names, addresses. From that you can geo-code their location. From a database they had you can geo-locate their closest store that sold this perfume.

So, they came out with help from me, and they licensed the game. I created a new version for them. What they did is they emailed out to 10,000 people a personalized version of this game that went from their own home to their closest store. I utterly, utterly sold out, but frankly it paid my rent for the next couple of months so I'm not going to complain.

Interviewer: Sure. Did you know how that campaign worked? Did people like the novelty of the idea?

Tom: From what I've been told, it went very, very well. Some of them said they'd love to work with me again, so I don't think there are any complaints.

Interviewer: Awesome. How you thought of making any other Google Maps games then in the future?

Tom: I haven't come up with a killer idea yet. What will happen, possibly after this interview because you've now got my mind in the kind of place where it's making those connections it needs to. If something comes along, I may well think about it.

There's a wonderful idea someone came up with where you had to identify satellite photos on a non-satellite map. So, you get this kind of vaguely recognizable bit of coastline or something like that, and you have to drag the other map of the world close enough to it. That's a great idea. It doesn't have to be an action game or something like that. It can just be some kind of thing that uses the API.

As much as I'd love to, I can't force ideas. I've never been able to. Chances are I'll be in the shower at some point and inspiration will strike, and I'll be coding it the next day. Trouble is I've got a 9 to 5 job now which is really annoying. It really puts a crimp in your style for this kind of stuff.

Interviewer: You were mentioning that the games don't have to be action based or whatever. Are you then thinking of maybe something that is more multi-player that's more possibly strategy-based or even a...

Tom: I'd love to do something like that. I'm sure someone has done Google Maps Risk. There's probably a couple of versions of that out there. That's because I really don't know what I want to do. You can do multi-player when the lag is anything from five seconds to five days. Then, doing multi-player like that is fantastic. It is really, really difficult to make a multi-player web game in Javascript. It's not set up for it. It's so not set up for it.

There are possible ways to do it. There's Comet. There's Live Connection to the server. You could even, if you really wanted to play about with it, go for some kind of Flash communication server or whatever the replacement for that was. But, at that point you might as well just do the damn thing in Flash.

Interviewer: Yeah. Exactly.

Tom: The advantage of Real World Racer is that it has that novelty value. That's the only thing that's selling it, to be honest with. Apart from that, it's a very, very rudimentary game, but it's the novelty value playing something like this on such a work-like, business-like interface.

Interviewer: Yeah. Exactly. Aside from Google Maps games, are there any other types of games that you are working on?

Tom: The one I'm working on at the minute is a video game. I just realized how silly that sounds when I say it. It's a game involved video. It's kind of a throwback to the old CGI games where you have a video sequence and click on a certain area of the screen or push to one side or push a button at the right time - something like that which is a nice thing to go back to because you've got finally broadband speeds in enough places in the world that you can do streaming video. I think that's a great way to progress at the minute.

Interviewer: When is this game going to be out, and how is that development going?

Tom: I'm trying to launch new things every Wednesday at the minute, so a lot of things are just quick ideas. It will probably be in a few Wednesdays time. So whether it's a video or a game or something like that, I try and put it up.

I was just thinking there is actually a wonderful kind of genre emerging on YouTube at the minute. You know, YouTube has added video annotations.

Interviewer: Yeah. Exactly.

Tom: You can put those little boxes up that pop up and do these things. There's an entire series of choose your own adventure games popping up on YouTube from people who have filmed them and then used the annotations as link boxes. So, it will say click here to go to this part. Click here to go to this thing. It's just this small branch in choose your own adventure that's evolved out of technology that was never designed to do this. It's a fantastic way of doing it.

Interviewer: So, you're saying that people can put in these annotations, and when you click on them it'll go to a different part of the video?

Tom: It won't go a different part of the video. It will go to an entirely different upload. So what they have to do is upload all the videos and then add the annotations that jump between them all. There are people putting days and days of effort to use this. That's great.

What we need is a platform for this. Someone could pull together some kind of interactive gaming platform where you upload the video. You select the area to click and it goes to this section of the video. That actually should be a really good way to get these things up that wouldn't require YouTube. But, of course, by doing that you are away from YouTube. You get one tenth the hits. You pay your money; you take your choice.

See that's what I mean. That's an idea sparked off just by talking to someone. The most important thing that you can do is keep chucking ideas back and forth at people, and these things will spread out a bit. It's brilliant.

Interviewer: The games that you mentioned are very different than the traditional games, you know, that people are used to. Do you mainly play traditional games, or do you like to play some of these new media type games or emerging gaming genres?

Tom: Oh, I wish I had time to play computer games. With everything else I'm doing at the minute, I very rarely get time to play stuff. When I do, it tends to be really quick, casual Flash games. I've never really had the patience for things like Civilization. I know a few people who found an old copy of Civilization 2000 recently. And there are people who are carefully, meticulously building up cities and then eventually chucking tornadoes at them.

I've never had the patience for that. I've always been one of these people who wants to go in, kill something - ideally, something controlled by another player on the other side of the world - and then get out about five minutes later having to de-stress for a while and go on to do something else.

Interviewer: In terms of Flash games that you play, are there any specific Flash games that you play online that you find really addictive or is it just any kind of Flash game that just takes a little bit of time?

Tom: It'll be generally whatever pops up in my RSS feeds. I'll just kind of flag it for having a look at later. What have I been playing lately? There was some game that really startled me and now I've forgotten which is not particularly useful for this interview. So, never mind.

Interviewer: No biggie. Have you played any of those YouTube games that you mentioned?

Tom: I've never played through. The reason I found out about it was I jumped to a related video, and it happened to be in the middle of one of these. It was a magic trick. Someone was doing the old magic trick. There used to be a web page somewhere on [sp] or something like this.

You have been presented with a choice of six playing cards, and it would say: pick one of the cards, and I'll magically remove it. So, you wouldn't actually click on the card. You'd have six cards. You'd say, go to the next page and hey, presto, the card you chose would have magically disappeared.

Now, actually what they did because all the cards were picture cards is they just changed the six picture cards for five entirely different picture cards. So, no matter which one you chose that one would have gone. I've fooled a hell of a lot of people, surprisingly. What they did was they jazzed this up with video and put six cards out in front of the player. They wouldn't do as much hand gestures as I do this one. It's utterly useless for this interview as well.

They put six cards out, but the camera pointed down at them and said click on one, and the six video annotation boxes come up and say, click one of these. All six of them link to exactly the same video, but in the page refresh loading time your brain doesn't keep track of the five cards that you didn't choose. So, all five cards change and hey presto, they're psychic.

Interviewer: Cool. Aside from YouTube and Google Maps, do you see any other spaces where you think there is a potential for gaming to mix traditional game play or even game play with some of this with information or...

Tom: Oh, absolutely. Nearly anything that has an API can be turned into a game. I realized as soon as I said this there's three or four examples that can't. Take, for example, the Flicker API. I know people come up with Flicker games which are something like what this photo is tagged or something like that which is great. You just take the API and you make a game out of it.

Here's an idea off the top of my head. Someone can go build this because I'm not going to have time to. The Twitter API, you can use semis which are now searched on What it tells you every day is the currently trending topics.

Here's an idea. Actually, I might build this myself if I have time. Guess what the next trending topics are? Spot them before anyone else does. So, you register on the site. In fact, you can even use it as the Twitter API. You send direct messages to a certain user name. It logs your guesses and the time. If that shows up in the trending topics, it gives you more points the earlier you've spotted the trend. How's that sound?

Interviewer: Sounds good.

Tom: There you go. And then you've got a player ranking list based on actual Twitter ideas. Immediately, you've got the user base there. You don't have to get people to register. You can just use their existing Twitter accounts. So immediately, you've got a user base. You've got the inter-activity. You've got a scoring system that can't easily be cheated because people tend to stick to one Twitter account. Actually, that's a great idea. I may want to go and build that now.

Interviewer: Have you looked at other SMS games or using SMS to make interesting games?

Tom: There was someone at the Bar Cap Conference I went to. I'm trying to remember the name of his company. You are going to hear me typing now because my microphone is actually built into my laptop. There we go. It was MGami.

What they are trying to do is create a platform for games like this. They're out of Sheffield in the UK. They are trying to create a platform for mobile applications, like ultimate reality games, like things like that so that people who try a set of games like this but who aren't necessarily wanting to invest in all of the hardware. You can just come along and use their API to run the short games.

That's a fantastic idea. I love the idea of social gaming, iPhone games, things like that. But, the trouble is it's really, really expensive to run. If you want to do a location check on a phone in the UK, I think it's something like 20-30 pounds to check?

Interviewer: That is the main issue with SMS is that - in fact, does Twitter even work in the UK now?

Tom: No, it doesn't. You guys never liked it. You pay to receive text messages, or it is included in the plan. Sends and receives is included in your plan. You can even - I think, on some networks and emails.

What a lot of American developers don't realize is that in the UK the entire phone network is based on caller pays. So, you will find that if you are calling from a land line it will cost you more to call a mobile - sorry - call a cell phone. And we have entirely separate area codes for cell phone numbers so you know what the number you are calling is going to cost.

All of our system is great. It means that if you are sending out a SMS to a thousand people in the UK regardless, if you send the absolute cheapest way possible a thousand text messages are going to cost roughly 40 pounds or about $25-30. If you've got to send 100 of those for the game, that's a $3000 budget gone. I think my math is right, my arithmetic. No, it's $30,000. Yes, a $30,000 budget needed. It really does.

Interviewer: Well, you talked about iPhone games. Have you done any iPhone games recently?

Tom: I don't actually have an iPhone. I still have really a five or six year old brick of a phone that doesn't nothing apart from calls and text messages simply because I tend to abuse technology like that if it's in my pocket. My phone has been dropped at about 20 miles an hour onto concrete, and I would love to see an iPhone survive that.

So, I don't have one. I know a lot of people who do. I think the idea of having 3G and edge everywhere really opens some really fascinating possibilities, the idea that you can log onto a game whenever you want.

Obviously, the iPhone doesn't have - I was going to say that shows how old I'm getting. The iPhone doesn't have terminate and stay resident programs which is an old term from about DOS 4, I think, something like that. God, that makes me sound old.

Because you can only run apps in the foreground, it would be that you'd have to explicitly log on to the game. That's a great idea. Imagine if you're in a city like London or New York, you log on to this game and immediately reports by 3G where you are. And it says, find this player near you. Exchange this password. Go to this place. It would be a fantastic way of doing this. I'm sure, I'm absolutely certain that some corporate sponsor is going to come in in the next few months and release something like this. It's just the case of whoever gets there first.

Interviewer: What's in store then for the next three to six months in terms of development? Do you have any specific plans or are you going to do your weekly Wednesday release?

Tom: I never have any specific plans other than I'm going to try and put something out every Wednesday. The trouble is the job I've got. The back story is somewhere on my website.

I accidentally got elected as Student Union President at York which I have a job that goes anything from 9 to 5 until 8 to 8 which means I don't have much time for development any more over editing video or for doing any of the other things that I do. I'm desperately trying to fit in as much as I can, and all I can say is that as soon as the idea strikes I'll build it.

In fact, I may as well spend a few hours tonight trying to put together that darn Twitter game. If I do - when is this podcast being released, by the way?

Interviewer: Probably in about a week or something; a week or two. I'll set it up to do it next Wednesday.

Tom: [laughs] In that case, have a look. One of two things will get released next Wednesday. It will either be that, or it may be me trying to see if I can climb a wall using nothing but duct tape. It's going to be one of the two, one or the other.

Interviewer: Sounds good. Do you have any advice or suggestions then for other Indie game developers out there who want to make some of these emerging genre games?

Tom: Yeah, I guess. It's not particularly positive advice when you first hear it, but it's the kind that's helped me through. If you spend 10 pounds on your game - sorry - if you spend ten bucks on your game, whatever, it's likely to fail. I'm just saying there are so many people chucking so many ideas out onto the Internet that you're likely to get lost or somebody else would have gotten there beforehand or the public just won't be interested.

There are a million people chucking a million ideas a day at the Internet and for most of them just by the laws of probability are doomed to fail. If you spend a million pounds on a game, it's still likely to fail. And this is what big companies don't get about the web. It's that the odds of a million pound project succeeding aren't much greater than the odds of a 10 pound, $10, project succeeding simply because of that same weight of numbers.

You don't know what's going to capture the public's imagination. I used to think that people had a magical corporate influence detector, and that anything that big companies put out on the web was going to fail simply because people could detect that it was corporate. It's not the case. It's just the fact that corporate games are outnumbered so so greatly by the millions of people putting ideas out there. The odds are that the million pound games are going to fail just as much as the 10 pound ones.

My advice is don't worry about it. Chuck out as many ideas as you can. The only way to improve your odds is not to spend a year of your time working on that one perfect project. Put out a quick version of it. If it's successful, spend the time and the budget on that. If it isn't successful, chuck out the next idea instead.

The big bit of advice I always have is put as many ideas out as fast as possible. Be in as many places and as many times as you can, and then, maybe, one of them will be in the right place at the right time

Interviewer: Cool. We're talking with Tom, the developer of the Real World Racer game for Google Maps. Thanks again for your time.

Tom: Thank you very much. Can you give the website a quick plug?

Interviewer: Absolutely. What is the site, and what's the URL?

Tom: It's, s-c-o-t-t. Thanks very much.

Interviewer: And there will be a link to the game right there.

Tom: Of course.

Interviewer: Sounds good. Thank you very much. Take care.

Tom: Thank you very much. It's great being on here. Have a good night.

Interviewer: Yep. Take care. Bye.

Tom: Bye-bye.

Here is a link to the Twitter game he made...

Take care,

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Podcast Interview: PMOG Founder

Here's a quick interview that happened at GDC 2008...

Justin, from GameLayers and the founder of the Passively Multiplayer Online Game ( talks about developing and designing the unique game...

You can download the podcast here...

or listen to it here...

Show Notes:
Passively Multiplayer Game
Installed as a Firefox Toolbar
Started as an experiment

Builds a player profile based on your surfing/browsing habits

Game Designer Victoria...innovated and created something where folks can leave traps and other
suprises on websites for other players in the system

Wanted to build a game that used everyday actions to play the game

Wanted people to just play as they went about their lives

Having a toolbar in Firefox was a huge breakthrough for the game bacause it allowed for a passive
playing experience

5:00 - 9:00
Interesting Game Mechanics

Players can create missions in the game and allow other folks to play these missions...and so it allows
folks to learn topics by following a mission

There are hundreds and hundreds of missions played

People can lay traps as they create missions. So people use these missions to prank each other.

Two or three surprises as they developed the learning how communities taking place

There is a huge potential for games that are integrated in everyday life.

Your everyday actions help to create new ways to interact and engage with them.

Hopes that games are made open so games can communicate with each other.

Envisions that there is a meta game that works with all games

Take care,

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