This week I managed to convince the talented Sophie Houlden, developer of the lovely OUYA puzzler game, Rose + Time, to video Skype with me, but the internet had other plans for us! The quality on the video was low, so I’ve transcribed the interview for your reading pleasure instead.
What are you working on these days?
Mostly the game that I made for No Quarter that I emailed you about… [There Shall Be Lancing]
Yeah, I took a look at it this morning, it looked awesome.
Cool. Yeah a lot of people like it, so I’m fixing it up.
Cool! I was going to ask – how was the response at the show?
People like it I think. It’s one of those things, it’s really simple, so I guess there’s not too much to say about it. It’s more a way for people to like, get into mind games with one another then just have the game itself be the main part of the fun.
Oh! Tell me more about that ‘cause I don’t get that from the video.
Oh, yeah no you really need to play it. It’s… so, pretty much every move is a counter move and the longer you wait, the faster you can attack. So basically the longer a play goes on, the more tension builds and you have to think faster and faster but you also want to hold on so that you’re more capable as well.
Oh neat, I like that dynamic.
So where are you exactly? I know you’re in the UK.
I’m in Cambridge at the moment.
It is the nice part. I’m used to more hilly environments. It’s far too flat here but otherwise very nice, nice people. Lot of developers as well, here.
I was gonna ask, what’s the development community like?
It’s very friendly. There’s a developer meet-up at the cafe every Tuesday. I don’t tend to go because I’m a shut in. But I’m friend with a lot of developers here and that’s quite pleasant.
Haha, So you’re a bit of a shut in, eh?
Yeah, it can be exhausting talking to game developers.
I mean, I think that can be a very common quality in game developers, that we don’t necessarily… I mean I always liked working with Janovah because we both have that common in a way. Like we would go to events because you need too. It’s good to connect with your community but at a certain point, we’d be like, usually just off in a corner talking about game development or you know some specific topic, so.
Yeah, I can relate to that. That’s, it’s much more comfortable if you’re not worrying about being out and about too much anyway.
So, how long have you been making games and how did you come to it?
I think it’s like 13, 14 years? I don’t know, I was this stupid kid making games and stuff. So, I can’t remember exactly how long. But I guess the reasons were just Final Fantasy 7, just a cool story and I’m like “Oh I wish I could make cool stories and cool worlds.” Yeah, young and naive I guess, so.
So how did you start from that point, in saying “I wish I could do this.” Then what was like, the next few steps for you?
I used my Dad’s Amiga and there was a thing on that called Shoot ’em Up Construction Kit.
Which was you know, a tool for just shoot ’em up games and I used that some until I had exhausted it. Then I started just messing around making games in PowerPoint. And then we moved on to Game Factory and started making actual games. Somethings.
You made games using PowerPoint?
Yeah, no just like, cause a lot of adventure games you can just get away with just, click on something and something else happens in PowerPoint, it’ the same. So I used that. I’d make like stories, you’re going through forest’s, there’s a maze in the forest and you talk to people, you help get out. Silly stuff.
That’s awesome. So those were also in a way like, puzzle like. Are you attracted to that particular genre?
I keep getting trapped in making puzzle games. I get like super sick of it. Like I’ll work on a mechanic, “Oh this is really cool, this is a cool mechanic.” And then I’ll realize later on in the development process, oh no the puzzle game, I’ve got to make puzzles for this. And.. It’s one of those things, I accidentally make puzzle games all the time.
You do it accidentally? I love that. I was gonna ask because it is, it’s a very hard genre to work in, I think. Crafting engaging puzzles that evolve over time, is quite a skill.
I don’t know, I mean, for Rose + Time it was entirely unplanned but for most puzzles it’s pretty simple I think. You just take away options that the player has until there’s only a handful that are interesting. And yeah, that’s also why I don’t enjoy making puzzles, I don’t like taking things away or blocking off paths so much. So yeah, I guess that’s how you make a puzzle.
Interesting. I was reading through your blog and you had a tough year, this year, or was it…
It was earlier this year right?
It’s every year. No it’s…
You had kind of a, “I’m sick of this” moment. Which Phil Fish obviously, just recently, very publicly had one. I think we all kind of have those moments. So I was interested to hear about yours and I was really glad to read about it.
Yeah. Mine was more of a case of, I constantly find myself working on the wrong things, like the stupid stuff that nobody will ever be interested in. Then I freak out when it turns out that nobody’s actually interested in it. So yeah the stupid things, they don’t work out for me and then I get upset at myself and yeah. I get thinking about about money problems and it leads to a healthy freak out.
Hah! I like that, a healthy freak out.
If you don’t freak out, you smash into the ground much faster. You’ve got to change momentum from time to time.
So were you able to change your momentum that time?
Yes. I had to ask my mom for some money and that took like the main stresser away and since then I’ve been able to work again. For how long I don’t know but for awhile at least.
I think that there’s enough of an audience to make any artist sustainable, out there. You just have to find them and that’s the hard part.
Yeah. if you can make any artist sustainable, you are like probably the most valuable person in the world.
Yeah I mean, you know, there’s levels of sustainability, right? That’s why I’m personally am not as interested… I mean I think the huge success stories are awesome and inspirational but they’re not as interesting to me as the developers that just have figured out how to make a living, you know, doing something they love. I think that’s really a good life goal to have. Just you know living and doing it in a way that you get to pursue your passion. So I guess that’s the first caveat. I don’t know if I can make everybody rich but I think there’s enough of an audience out there through the internet, yeah, to create sustainability.
No, I actually agree. That’s something that I get into a lot of arguments about on Twitter. Like, the whole artificial shelf in digital games, and over-saturation, that says “Oh no you can’t sell your game, you’ve got to let us sell our games so that we can have a chance and you don’t have any chance.” I strongly dislike that. The argument that over-saturation is a problem seems really weird in a world where there’s the internet and the internet is so over-saturated and works just fine. It seems silly that people would say that. So yes I agree.
Yeah, I think it’s an old paradigm because the new paradigm is about fragmentation and niche audiences where you don’t have to appeal to this singular broad concept of… for instance who a gamer is, you know, or the core gamer. There are all sorts of people that play video games, so you can sort of diversify the audience a bit.
But I think that on the opposite side, so many independent developers struggle with the feeling that, if you just make it and you dump it out there then people will show up and play it. And it is true that there is so much content and so much noise out there, that you kind of need to have a strategy of like, how are you going to make sure the people who are going to love your game know that it exists and that they can go buy it, you know?
I think that it’s definitely doable but there’s not enough systems in place to help people find the games or to just let developers get the games in the hands of people. There’s a lot of artificial stuff that’s in the way. Which is part of why I like what you guys are doing with OUYA. That’s the same.
Well that’s good to hear, I was just going to ask you what do you think that we could be doing better or that anyone could be doing better, to help that?
I think the main thing is just, keeping costs down and letting there be some automated process of it. Just anybody can get their games to a device, is the key thing. Like a lot of stores will refuse to let anybody on unless they’ve got a publisher or something like that. I think that’s getting in the way of all the people who are going to be making games and who’ve started making games, all the kids and stuff is… nobody’s uploaded their game to PlayStation and then gone to school and said “Hey guys look what I’ve put on the PlayStation myself.” I think that should be the kind of situation that should be available to people. Just the same as uploading art work to an art website or something, you put your game out there and it’s available.
Although supposedly that’s all going to change this fall and winter.
So I hear. I’m hearing some very nice things and the people involved definitely seem to be very cool. And there’s people I trust who are assuring me that it’s all super friendly. So, I would like it to work out like that but I feel like there will be large reams of non disclosure agreements and stuff.
I mean, in a way, it’s a really great sign that it’s sort of an irrefutable fact now that supporting content from alternative sources is really good for business. And hopefully that will make it better for everybody, you know.
I think so, I think that’s the best way. I mean if you want to convince people who have got money to lose, is just convince them that they’re going to make money off it anyway or it’s zero risk and worth it for PR at least. And eventually they’ll see it as worthwhile or they’ll buy out and the company will be inherited by people that see it as worthwhile.
Yeah, exactly. What are you playing, yourself?
Right now I’m playing Kerbal Space Program, too much. It’s so fun. I’m a massive space nerd anyway, so.
Yes. Space is awesome.
Space is awesome. Yeah. What else? Oh Ittle Dew, I’ve been playing a lot of Ittle Dew.
Oh yeah, you’ve been enjoying that? I really like that game.
Yeah. No, I finished it and then I was like desperate for more so I’ve been playing the challenges, which I never do in a video game. I can’t stop and I want more of it. So yeah, I’ll probably pester those guys to make some more content.
I was gonna say you totally should tell Joel and them!
Yeah. But otherwise I’ve not been playing much, not enough time.
Yeah, I hear you. I feel like this summer’s been really crazy for everybody. Are you going to be at any showcases or events coming up?
I think there’s…Game City?
Yes. They asked me to make a game for them.
Oh that’s really cool. I wish I could go out there just to see that. I still haven’t been to Game City and I just hear such amazing things about it.
I keep hearing things about it, so it will be cool to go.
Oh awesome, yeah. And participate, that’s the best way I think. Especially for introverts because then you can let your work just speak for yourself. You don’t really have to introduce yourself to people, you’re like “Okay this thing”.
No, I do really enjoy just like putting a game somewhere and then hiding, just watching from a distance. That’s fun.
Cool, you’ll have to let me know how that goes, what you end up doing for it.
I got to find out myself.
For more info on Sophie Houlden’s work, check out her website and follow her on twitter at @S0phieH
There Shall be Lancing video: