1. Who is behind Smudged Cat Games and what games have you made?
I’m David Johnston, I’m the only real employee of Smudged Cat Games. I do all the design and coding of every Smudged Cat game. I work with other people who do the graphics, music and sound effects but none of them are actually part of Smudged Cat Games. For the first Smudged Cat game, Adventures of Shuggy, I worked with Chris Hildenbrand who did all the graphics, and Jesse Hopkins who composed the music. I’ve also worked with Bennet Aldous on several other smaller scale XBLIG titles and, most recently, Gateways.
2. How did you get into the video game industry? In particular how did you decide to become an indie developer”?
I worked for Rare when I graduated from university. I really didn’t like it though and ended up working on various other non-games software engineering jobs. It’s only when Microsoft launched XNA and I started working on Shuggy that I decided to try and become an indie developer.
3. You recently entered Gateways into Dream.Build.Play 2012 and finished in the top 5, how did you prepare the contest?
Gateways had been in development for quite a while, in fact it had been entered into the previous DBP competition but didn’t place. It’s undergone a lot of changes since then though and the game has considerably more polish than that first version I entered.
4. How did you react when you found out you won?
Obviously I was over the moon. It’s so cool to see a game you’ve made up there and being recognized. I certainly had a few drinks that night to celebrate!
5. Where did you get the idea for Gateways from? Obviously Portal was an influence but you have quite a bit of things that Portal did not.
Obviously everyone compares the game to Portal which I was totally expecting. I didn’t really set out to make a 2D version of Portal though. I was actually working on another game where I wanted to let the player teleport across large parts of the map and wondered if there would be a better way to represent it rather than just walking onto a ‘teleporter’ object and appearing at the other end. I came up with the idea of being able to look through the teleporter to see the other side and realised it was such a cool effect it could warrant a game on it’s own where you actually place these teleporters. I started thinking about other things that could be done with these gateways and came up with the resizing, rotating and time travel gateways. Once they were straight in my head I decided it had to be done and would be a metroidvania style game where the player acquires the different gateway guns as they progress.
7. How has your relationship with Microsoft been? I know you have had The Adventures of Shuggy on XBLA, how did it fare?
The Adventures of Shuggy on XBLA was a bit of a headache for me. More because of the publisher rather than Microsoft because I don’t feel they did enough to promote the game. It sold OK but I feel it could have been so much better. More recently Microsoft have been annoying myself and every other XBLIG developer because there is currently no way to get redeem codes for an XBLIG title that you’ve released which really cripples us.
8. How do you feel regarding the Indie Game section on the Game Marketplace? Do you think Microsoft has done a good job with it?
Not really, and they seem to have given up on it as well which is even more worrying. There’s such a vast amount of content on there but there isn’t a way to sort through it all. Everything is just dumped on a massive list. There are the top downloads and top rated sections but they hardly ever change and if you don’t get in there you might as well not bother.
9. How do you feel regarding Steam? A lot of indie developers feel like that is the place “to be”, do you agree with them?
I’ve only had moderate success with Steam so it hasn’t exactly been the “golden bullet” that some people make it out to be. It’s certainly better than XBLIG, that’s for sure but I don’t think it’s the answer to everything. I worry that on Steam everyone just waits for a sale which really devalues the games.
10. If you could change anything about the Indie Games section on the Game Marketplace, what would you change?
Just a top downloads and top rated for that week or that month would make a huge difference.
11. If you could change anything about Steam, what would you change?
I’d like to say get rid of the Steam sales but that’s what they’re famous for now. It would just be interesting to see what different it made to the sales of a game when it was released if people knew it wasn’t going to be massively discounted at some point in the future.
12. What word of advice would you give to others looking to be an indie developer?
I’d say pick a project that you’re passionate about that isn’t overly complex but which provides something unique that people haven’t seen before. Too many people start out trying to make some massive game that they’ll obviously never manage to finish. It’s far more important to get something complete and nicely polished that you can get out there and get people’s opinion on.
13. What game do you wish you could have worked on that for whatever reason you couldn’t have?
I’d have loved to work on Spelunky, I’ve been playing it recently and admire how well structured it is despite it being randomly generated.
14. What would you say your favorite game and developer is?
My favourite game is probably Dark Souls, I spent ages playing that game and love how carefully crafted every inch of the game world is. I’d probably say my favourite developer/publisher is PopCap. I really admire how their games are relatively simple at their core but manage to contain a kind of hidden complexity that makes them a joy to play. The level of polish they apply to their games is also something I aspire to.
15. If we went to you house and looked at your most recently played games on both Xbox 360 and Steam what would we see?
On Xbox it’s Deadly Premonition, Trials Evolution and Spelunky. On Steam it would be The Stanley Parable, SpaceChem and Nimbus.
16. What is your least favorite genre? What is your favorite genre?
There are many genres that I don’t really like, sports games are probably the worst but I’m not that keen on first person shooters or driving games. Most AAA titles to be honest,… everything seems so generic. I’m not sure about my favourite genre,… is indie a genre? My favourite types of games tend to be ones that don’t cleanly fit into a particular genre because they’re trying to do something new.
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