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Interview: Chris Taylor on 'Demigod', Indie Developers, The iPhone, And More!

bleahy
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Posted April 6, 2009 - By bleahy

Chris Taylor is truly a gaming heavyweight. We caught up with him at GDC for a brief interview on Demigod and the show, but we also talked to him about his upcoming projects, the video game industry, and even iPhone development.

You can watch the video interview, but be sure to click through to read the rest of the extended interview. It's very extended.

GDC 09: Gas Powered Games' Chris Taylor Interview »


G4: On Supreme Commander 2 with Square Enix, are there differences with working with a Japanese publisher compared to an American one? What are they bringing to the table for the project?

Supreme Commander

Supreme Commander

Taylor: Well they’re really great. I can’t talk too much about the specifics of that. All I can really say is that they’ve just been a real pleasure to work with. The big takeaway from the relationship so far is, at a high level, they really are in tune with the art and the creative process. They really believe in the vision of the lead designer and they really support that. That’s a real treat to be working with a publisher who isn’t just sort of saying “this is the money; this is the date.” Of being just business oriented. It is a very important part of it, but they don’t put it ahead of everything else, like we see with the Western publishers. Which gets old really fast when you’re trying to make something truly great.

G4: Are there plans to actually release the game in Japan and the Asian markets?

Taylor: I have not had conversations with them about that, so I can’t comment on the Asian market at all. They don’t bring that up with me. 

G4: What about other business? With Demigod wrapping up and Supreme Commander 2 announced, what else is Gas Powered Games working on?

Taylor: When it comes to the other business I’ve got two other titles, but one’s been announced and one hasn’t been announced at all.

Hands-On: Fat Princess

G4: “Casual gaming” is pretty big right now and the indie scene is getting bigger and bigger with platforms like the iPhone and the next-gen consoles. Where do you see this going?

Taylor: I see good times ahead for our industry if we can continue to evolve those platforms like iPhone and what we think of as casual gaming. It’s not so much casual, as an incubator platform for great ideas. Also, obviously Xbox LIVE Arcade and PSN; places where we’re seeing things like Castle Crashers and Fat Princess. That’s just really, really encouraging, so I’m really excited.

G4: That’s casual gaming, but what about indie developers?

Taylor: Our industry is headed for much, much better times with these low-cost entry points for creative people. Indie developers are not only here to stay, but that community is growing. And it’s so great, because it means that people are supporting it. And it means that the really cool ideas, that take us all the way back… like just for coincidence, maybe there’s something here. My kid found an old Atari 2600 cartridge at a garage sale yesterday. And of course it was a dollar, and he bought it, and he’s six years old, and he thought it’d be really cool to bring home this cool game for his dad, right?

So I brought home all my Atari 2600 stuff, giant boxes of this stuff, and there was like 100 games. And I had a copy of the game he’d bought, and I showed him all the other games. It reminded me of how completely insane and off the wall and creative all the games that were made back in the early 80’s were.

I mean there were terrible graphics, and some of them were terribly rushed and implemented, and terrible at every level, but some of them are creative inspirations. You know the classics, like Pitfall and the early Activision games, frankly - there’s some irony right there, right? – were just the best and the freshest. They were so original. We kind of saw that era leave us sometime in the mid-90’s to the late 90’s.

Everything got so serious, and I feel like quoting The Joker, “Why so serious?” Because that’s what it felt like. It felt like everything was big money and there was the market research, and you couldn’t iterate creatively, and the only people who got to iterate creatively were the people who somehow earned that right through making games that made money. If they made a crappy game they were sent to the back of the line, like “yeah it’s interesting you made some good stuff, but you made some crap so back you go.” I feel like now our industry has kind of come full circle to that, with these Indie developers and low-cost platforms. So, I’m rambling, full on now.

FanHub

David Perry's FanHub Flash Game Service

G4: You’ve earned the right to ramble. On that note of these new platforms, did you happen to catch or hear about David Perry’s new flash game aggregator service? What do you think about that?

Taylor: I don’t know all that much about it, but David Perry has impressed me time and time again. He reminds me of Paul Newman. He’s the guy who’s doing what he can. He’s rallying. He’s building services and portals, and a website where there’s advice that you can get and help. Every year I think he gets more organized and more focused in his efforts. I really have to give it to the guy. That is what I wish I could do. I wish I had the time and the energy to be able to get out there and do that more and fund that, because our industry needs more of that. I will tell you at a very high level, there are a lot of people who have made tremendous money in the last 25 years in our industry, and they have done very little to turn around, look backwards, and help those who are coming along behind them. To reach a hand out to provide opportunities like what they received.

I try to take a little time, myself, to meet with people and to help them whether they’re starting a business or just looking for advice on something: how to get in the industry? I do a lot of talking. I wish I could do a lot more, because it takes more than just talking to help our industry. You have to go that extra distance, and you’ve got to do things like what Dave Perry is doing. Even though I don’t know the intimate details, I can tell you that whenever he and I talk, or whenever I take a look at what he’s doing, I’m impressed more than I was before, with the steps he’s taken. Obviously the opportunities are few and far between right now this year, but the good times will come again, and we’ve got to reach out and open the door for those who really are better than we are at making games. We need to make room for them. 

G4: I don’t know how many you get a chance to play personally, but what is your favorite recent indie game?

Taylor: I played the iPhone game Galcon, have you played that?

Galcon

Galcon (PC Version)

G4: Yes, I have.

Taylor: It’s so simple. It’s like high-speed Risk. I love that a lot, and I really love all my little music applications on the iPhone. It’s like crack going in here and playing stuff. I’ve got Chopper. I’ve got Motochaser. I’ve got Topple. Trace is really, really good. Have you played Trace?

G4: Yup.

Taylor: Oh, wow you’re really on top of it.

G4: Yeah, I’m our resident iPhone fanboy.

Taylor: Oh, you’re the iPhone guy. I download all the little random things like Darkroom and Easy Wi-Fi. Fieldrunners is really good, that’s great. I also download a lot of stuff that’s crap, but to be fair, I kind of look forward to being stuck in a doctor’s office or something, so I can sit there and surf iPhone apps. I just can’t do it when I’m at home, because I’m usually doing something else.

G4: What about mainstream games? What have you been playing recently?

Taylor: I’ve been looking at Gears of War 2 as of recently. Halo Wars, F.E.A.R. 2… Of course Resident Evil 5, I’m going to jump all over that.

G4: Make sure you play it co-op.

Taylor: Oh, really?

REsident Evil 5

Resident Evil 5

G4: I started it single player and the AI is kind of not so great.

Taylor: Really?

G4: Yeah the AI will get itself killed… a lot, but it’s a completely different game co-op. I’ve beat the game with Billy Berghammer. It’s a lot of fun. Make sure you play it co-op.

Taylor: And you’re playing on what platforms?

G4: We’re on 360.

Taylor: Hmm, I’m a PS3 guy.

G4: Really?

Taylor: I am. You know what it is?  My 360’s too loud and I’m on my third one.

G4: Well, if you get the big hard drive and start installing your games to hard drive it runs near silent. It’s all the disc drive that makes the noise.

Taylor: Yeah, my drive is one of the ones that failed. My drive door wouldn’t open, and then it wouldn’t close, it would just be stuck in whatever position, and when you got it to close it wouldn’t read the DVD. I just get to the point where: I’m on my third one I’m like “I think I’m going to start buying PS3 games”.

G4: See for me I prefer LIVE to PSN hands down. I’ll get all the exclusive PS3 games, but anything multi-platform with a multi-player component is a 360 purchase for me.

Taylor: Yeah, I tend to agree, so there’s a nice balance between the two platforms. I don’t know, was there a question in there somewhere?

G4: Ha, I think it started with 'What's your favorite indie game?', and we talked about the iPhone before moving to consoles. Back to the iPhone: do you see Gas Powered ever moving into iPhone development or is that more a realm for these indie developers trying to move up?

Taylor: Yeah, I’ve got some ideas that I’d probably like to see eventually on an iPhone. In fact, I’m on the iPhone developer program. I’ve looked at it, I’m poking around, but it’s hard for me right now, because I don’t know… I mean what’s the install base?  I saw a report on it, it said 30 million?

G4: Yeah, 30 million.

Taylor: Did you see that!?

G4: Yup.

Taylor: That’s mind boggling. So that’s a really good sign, so there’re some concepts that I’m working on, prototyping. Of all things, I’m prototyping them on the Mac, on OpenGL. So that’s good because iPhone is OpenGL. So it means that whatever I prototype, and the thing that I’m prototyping is a concept that I’ve been working on, I was talking about it last year at GDC. It’s something that 200 million people could play. That I’m really excited about, because it’s one thing to sell half a million or a million or maybe two of a game, but if you could do something where 200 million people play, that’s a real accomplishment in terms of the art of making a video game.

It’s not so much about video game anymore, it’s about interactive entertainment with heavy emphasis on entertainment and not as much on the interactive. So many great forms of entertainment today aren’t interactive… they’re just damn entertaining. And if you can’t get the entertainment part right, the interactive part’s irrelevant. Nobody wants to interact with a boring thing. So, I really feel like something has to be entertaining, and in our space it’s definitely interactive, and then it has to have a real wide potential market. And the stuff we’ve been doing this last 20 years, 30 years in our industry is so narrow. It’s 18-35 male, and it’s got to change, and I’d like to… I can’t get funding for something like that, so I have to develop it in my spare time.

Apple iPhone OS 3.0

G4: So is the iPhone model not really something you feel works for a large company?

Taylor: I think the problem is, is that when you bring it in to a Gas Powered Games it’s just going to immediately start going up in ways that you have to responsibly attribute those costs to the project. The numbers just don’t work. And now in this economy it’s the wrong time to be a studio on something experimental. That’s just not going to happen right now. 

G4: I feel with the iPhone you see a lot of these $10 games, when you can get a perfectly fun game for 99 cents made by one guy, and it’s making a millionaires. One guy made Trism. So if you did go to the iPhone, it would be outside of Gas Powered?

Taylor: Not necessarily. What’s more likely is that I do something that’s on the PC, or on both platforms both PC and Mac, and that I have someone take it over to the iPhone. We’ve had a lot of partnerships in the past, so that would be my approach there. But when I’m prototyping something at home, or I’m prototyping something on the side, I’m working on a laptop computer, my MacBook Pro, and I’m going to work on OpenGL because that gives me a lot of flexibility and a lot of power. I can do iPhone development in the same exact way in an emulator, but I’m not looking for a 30 million installed base; I’m looking at 200 million. That’s what my first interest is, and then it is the ways you creatively paint on a big canvas. Then decide how you want to shrink it down, instead of starting on a shrunken canvas and then expanding it back up.

G4: But you’re prototyping on OSX and the iPhone?

Taylor: If it’s prototyping and experimenting with gameplay, you might as well do it on the super most convenient platform I have, and that’s me sitting in bed at night while my wife’s watching Tivo’d evening soaps. I sit there and I tickle my various little projects, which I’m having a great time with lately. I talk about my Macbook Pro all the time, and how incredibly awesome it is. It really is the best computer I’ve had, that I’ve probably ever owned.

G4: Digital distribution is becoming a big thing. Demigod is available on Stardock’s Impulse. This isn’t a Steam vs. Impusle thing, but about the business model. We see Lost & Damned for Grand Theft Auto IV digitally distributed. We see PC Services, PSN – can America support it?  Do you see the industry moving fully to digital distribution?

Taylor: Some people really don’t want to buy something with their credit card online. They want to go to a store. They’re always going to be there, and they’re going to hold out for a long time as consumers. It’s going to take a long time to wash those consumers out of the system. But the bulk of video games 10 years from now, 15 years from now, will be bought electronically, but I think retail is going to be a big part of our business for that next 10, 15 years. So what happens when retail counts for only 10 percent?  That’s still significant enough for us to… You know, we still ship games to Canada, we still ship games to Portugal. You know, we’re going to go after those markets, and so, games will be boxed. Boxes will be made. Manuals will be printed, for a long time.

G4: What happened to game manuals?  They used to be chock full of information, so great, and now it’s just here are your controls, and a troubleshooting section.

Taylor: I think I’m going to go on record as saying: I’m officially the old-school guy who really still loves the act of opening the game box. I love the smell of the ink on the pages. I love the romance of it. I feel that was such a big part of my experience when I was 15, 16, 17; when I was buying games, and I was sad to see it go for a few pennies saved on every game… and it’s funny too because you know when you really save a lot of money?  It’s when you sell millions and millions and millions of games, you can take the 25 cents a manual you save, and multiply it by four million and say, “look we saved a million dollars!” I’m going, “yeah, but look at all the money you made. It’s not about the money. Forget the money. Stop talking about the money. It’s about the experience. It’s about the joy of the complete experience.”

I look at BMW and I look at Mercedes. They understand that there’s a joy to the experience that is outside physically driving your car down the street. They make their manuals really beautiful and they make the experience of getting your oil changed really great. They make every part of the experience great, because they understand the service that you get when you don’t strip all that away. When you say, “no, it’s just about the game, it’s not about any of that other stuff,” you’re robbing the customer of a key part of the experience; the ownership of something great. Some people have toiled away for years to create it, and that can be reflected in a manual. It can come across in the packaging, and it’s a crying shame that somehow we use dollars as justification for shrinking that down to nothing.

So I’m really upset about how we do things for the wrong reasons in our industry. And I know it’s probably not relevant to talk about BMW and Mercedes, because people go “Yeah, it’s all fine and good for him to say this, but I drive a Ford.” I happen to know because we leased a Mercedes once and I was blown away. How the experience was just completely over the top and I thought, “well, this makes sense, you drive a Mercedes.” Even with the low-end Mercedes, you’re still getting the full treatment, right?

G4: Yeah.

Taylor: And that’s why there’s the joy of it. When you’re buying something for 50 dollars, and someone saved a quarter, it’s sending you a signal. 

G4: I had a similar experience when Time Warner didn’t want to give Viacom more money to keep their channels. I watch Daily Show and South Park so I wanted to keep Comedy Central. I called Time Warner up and I said, “what’s the deal? I want to keep my channels,” and Time Warner was saying “Viacom wants to charge us 5 cents more a customer. it adds up.”  And I said, “increase my bill by 5 cents, I don’t care.”

Taylor: And what did they say?

G4: They said “it’s not up to us, it’s millions and millions of customers.” And I said, “it’s 5 cents to me.”

Taylor: I know, and you can’t argue with the big corporate machine. The corporate machine has no heart, and it has no soul. It’s pointless trying to argue with that. Those who do get it, and those executive that are gamers that rise up in our industry, will get it and bring that stuff back, and they will be rewarded for doing so. And it will be a great day.

G4: Thanks, Chris.

Taylor: Awesome, bye.

Interview: Chris Taylor on 'Demigod', Indie Developers, The iPhone, And More!
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