Indie Games Uprising III Interview: Sententia
August 9, 2012 4 Comments
It’s back! Last year, the ten games of extreme varying quality (somewhere between sublime and subfeces) took part in what was the most promoted event in Xbox Live Indie Game history. This year, nine new games are ready to show off what the platform is capable of. It’s called the Indie Games Uprising III. The man running it, 19-year-old Michael Hicks, has a game of his own in it: artsy platformer Sententia. I talked with him about his game, the event, and what exactly “art house” gaming means.
Kairi: When I hear the term “art house style game”, I typically throw-up a little bit in my mouth. What do you think the medical term for that is?
Michael Hicks: Ha! Well, I guess you could say I used that to rebel against “the man” or status quo. It’s kind of a vague term looking back at it now, but this game is extremely personal to me and marked a big change on my outlook towards game design. I wanted to be sure that when going into the game people would know that I attempted to make something more than a game about jumping over blocks and attacking enemies; there’s a ton of reasoning behind all of the design decisions… almost an unhealthy amount! I guess I was just worried people wouldn’t get me, so I decided to go all hippie hipster and call it an art game!
Kairi: When I watched the video for Sententia, it looked to me like a cross between a punisher and Scribblenauts. What is the actual inspiration for the game?
Michael: You’re the first one to call it a punisher! The game is very challenging and ramps up fast – I don’t think that’s something people typically take away from the trailer. The gameplay wasn’t really inspired by a particular game, but you could say that it was inspired by the themes and messages I wanted to convey. The games that made me open my eyes were “Aether” by Edmund McMillen, “Gravitation” by Jason Rohrer, and “Braid” by Jon Blow. These games are very powerful, but they tell stories through basic gameplay interactions and themes, I wanted to try and experiment with what they pioneered. As I started to get more technical with the platform designs I did reference “Super Meat Boy” quite a bit, as the game is very challenging, but never felt frustrating (at least to me!).
Kairi: Your previous games have been space shooters, and now you’re doing a self-described “art” game. You’ve started taking drugs, haven’t you?
Michael: No, never! It’s insane how many times I get asked this by people… it’s so weird that when people start to make more expressive things others instantly think they’ve turned to smoking weed or something!
Kairi: I’m actually kind of surprised by the lack of quote-unquote “experimental” games on XBLIG. Why do you think developers don’t try to get weird when they create their games?
Michael: It’s really easy to just stick with what has already been proven to be successful, it takes some practice to really work the “originality muscle”, and I’m still trying to exercise it myself. It also takes some guts to make something super personal/deep/experimental and release it to a wide audience; I’m very terrified to release my own game, I think the closer it gets to the release date the more I am going to lose my mind.
Michael: I don’t think I’ve ever censored myself like that, but before “Sententia” I was going to make a game based around this joke rap project that my friend and I do on occasion. We started recording music for it back in High School as a way of making fun of pop culture. In this game you were going to drive around with a police officer collecting donuts while this song of ours played on the radio. Then I remembered that I’m in a position where the games I make can actually affect people’s lives and I wasn’t interested in committing career suicide.
Kairi: You pussy!
Michael: Hey, I thought it was the right thing to do!
Kairi: Okay, so now that you’ve finally manned up and are doing something off the beaten path, are you finding it difficult to implement your vision using the XNA framework?
Michael: Definitely not, I hope I never have to work with anything else. I really don’t care for C++ or any of the hardcore techie languages, even though I can use them. I love to program, and I’m glad I can do it… but I don’t like spending time doing all of the crap that those languages require when I could be doing more game specific type stuff.
Kairi: You’re the man in charge, more or less, of the third Uprising. Are you fucking insane?
Michael: A lot of people think I am, that’s for sure! It’s really an honor to be involved like this, but it’s a huge responsibility; I want to make sure this is a promotion that people won’t forget.
Kairi: Some people, who shall remain nameless (ME!) thought the last Uprising was incredibly disappointing. This year looks much more promising right from the start. What do you say to those (ME!) that are skeptical about the quality of the games this time around?
Michael: Reception of indie games at this level is kind of a weird thing, you get such mixed reactions. Personally though, I am really excited for the line up this year… a lot of the games are very interesting. I’ve played most of the titles thoroughly, and I would definitely rank a good number of them in my “Favorite XBLIGs Ever” list.
Kairi: I noticed all the Uprising games are single player titles. Is the irony that we’re doing an event where the community rises up together yet plays games alone lost on you?
Michael: Wow, that never dawned on me before! We tried to get a variety of games, but mainly we wanted to scout out some titles that we thought were great games.
Kairi: In closing, how do you feel the games of this Uprising stack up against the games of the previous two events?
Michael: The selection this year is totally different from last time I think. I would classify those games as more extroverted and these games as more introverted… maybe that makes no sense. Either way, we’ll just have to see what people say when all of this kicks off!