By Jeremy M. Zoss in Features
Monday, April 19, 2010 at 10:44 am
Not long ago, a small development team made a splash with the description of an upcoming iPhone game that took a few shots at mega-publisher EA. A little team taking jabs at the big guys isn't normally huge news. However, the four team members of Downsized Games have some personal experience with the publisher - they were former employees of Mercenaries and The Saboteur developer Pandemic Studios, the EA-owned company that was shut down late last year. We wondered how the team was doing with their new-found publicity, and talked with Downsized's co-founder Many Vega about the attention they've been getting, their upcoming game, and their plans for the future.
First off, can you give us a little background on Downsized Games and how it came to be?
We were just four guys who were minding our own business and making games when EA shut down Pandemic Studios. I can't say that getting laid off was unexpected, though we didn't think they would just close the whole studio down. I think that was the biggest shock, and it left us a bit... bitter. Pandemic was a great place to work when we started there, and it made some good games in it's day, but as Uncle Ben once said, "with great buyouts comes great responsibility." I guess Uncle Ben got shot so we got together and decided to make iPhone games and fight crime as Downsized Games. Something like that. We just wanted to get together to make a game that we had some control over, something that we could get excited about after years of the corporate video game industry. We wanted to have fun and make a fun game.
What's it like transitioning from big-budget game development to indie iPhone development?
I can't speak for the other guys, but for me it has been bliss. We get to throw ideas around and watch them grow without some over-the-hill marketing douche telling us that it isn't "culturally relevant". I get to draw again, which is my passion, and everything I do has a direct impact from one day to the next. It's awesome to make something that is your own and that you can be proud of. Plus it's just so much easier to keep track of everything that it's nearly impossible to let things spin out of control, which is a major issue in AAA games. Teams are so huge and there are so many different opinions and commitments that the game basically becomes secondary to pleasing the overlords.
What's the long-term goal for Downsized Games? Do you hope to grow into bigger games, or would you rather stay small?
All we want to do is make something we can be proud of and hope that others will get some enjoyment from it as well. Eventually we'll have to plan on how we're going to make money to continue working on games we love, but for right now we're testing the waters. Our hope is that we can get some contract work that we can work on, and use the money we make from those to make our own games. The best thing about iPhone games is that they take about 3-4 months to complete, so you can do 3 or 4 games a year. This not only allows us to alternate between "work jobs" and "fun jobs" but it also keeps our minds fresh. Working on one game for 3-5 years is just brutal on creativity, not to mention sanity.
Can you please give our readers a quick overview on BulleTrain?
BulleTrain is not going to blow anyone's mind when they first see it, but our intention was to make something fun in the style of old school arcade games. I remember when I was a kid plopping down rolls of quarters into games like Gauntlet, Time Crisis, R-type, Tron and Smash TV, and never thinking about it. Those games were fun diversions that increased in difficulty until you eventually failed, and if you managed to get further than anyone else you felt a sense of accomplishment. Not to knock today's "achievements" but getting awards for completing menial tasks and being a completionist seems weak to me, I want to be the damn BEST. BulleTrain is a shooter, it get's harder as you progress, you will want to keep trying to get further and see the next train car and get a higher score, and just when you're starting to think that there's nothing left but increasing waves of difficulty it will get so ridiculously ridiculous that you will realize after it's done that you haven't blinked in the last 15 minutes. Downsized is about making small games that make you forget how "hardcore" a gamer you are and let you enjoy the blissful ignorance of having fun.
There seem to be some not-so-subtle jabs at a former employer in the game's description.
Yes. We're not bitter, I promise. We're just sarcastic assholes ;)
Your studio has gotten a lot of attention in a very short time. Were you surprised by the response?
Surprised would be an understatement. We just expected to get the game out there, and use our network of friends and former employers to maybe help spread the word. We really didn't think Kotaku would give us the time of day, much less Gamasutra which is like... serious news. After the first blitz of attention though, things have settled down and we just have to finish the game and get it out there. Hopefully people will remember us and give the game a try.
Stupid Question: It's 20 years from now and Downsized Games is the biggest video game company in the world. What sort of companies is it buying?
The sheer insanity of a company called Downsized Games becoming the biggest video game company in the world would be enough to keep me laughing to my grave. I'm already getting emails from people who have been "downsized" telling us to keep up the good work and offering their services to the "cause." Honestly, it would be fun to get to a place in life where Downsized could offer other people, who find themselves on the wrong end of corporate video games, a place and opportunity to make their own fun games. Even if it's just a rest stop for people who needed a break from the daily grind. I bet we'd see some amazing games come from this kind of set up. The Image comics of video games, but without the shitty Spawn movies.