As everyone should know, the developer and artist behind the amazing game, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, were Michel Gagne and Joe Olson. I had a chance to ask Joe a few questions about the meaningfulness of the project overall, and what it takes to create such a quality indie work in a modern gaming market.
1) Let’s start things off on a good note. How do you feel about all the positive feedback and attention that you’ve gotten for the game?
JO: It’s been a pretty awesome experience. I’ve worked on many games over the course of my career but this is certainly different as it’s my companies first product. Getting included in Summer of Arcade was an honor and the positive feedback from the gaming community has really been great.
2) Both of you have had rather prolific careers as animators and developers before this collaboration. What was it like when you first started sharing ideas for the project?
JO: From the get-go I’ve known that this project would be one of a kind and something unique and special. It was tough to get publishers to feel the same way at first, but thanks to our persistence we finally completed it and it’s great to have it out in the public’s hands.
3) Would you say that Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet’s presentation plays a strong role in its gameplay experience?
JO: I think the presentation and gameplay compliment each other. Throughout production there was a lot of collaboration and back and forth on both the visuals and the gameplay. In some cases, the visuals inspired the gameplay choices, and in other cases the roles were reversed.
4) If you had to remove the presentation elements from the title, what gameplay features would you seek to reinforce?
JO: The game was always about exploration and encouraging the player to experiment with their environment. We also wanted to make the experience smooth and rewarding.
5) Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is an incredibly animated world. Tentacles are swaying, gears are turning, not to mention the piloting of your own spacecraft. How did you take into consideration all those issues of movement?
JO: This was always one of the most important aspects of the project from both a visual and gameplay standpoint. Michel’s work is always so alive and full of interesting little details. We had to create some custom tech for the game in order to achieve some of the fluid movement that we just couldn’t get with traditional bone animation.
5) Was there an overall goal when it came to choosing an aesthetic principle for the game?
JO: The goal was to put the player inside an interactive feature quality animated film. This informed a lot of the design decisions along the way, including the UI (or lack thereof). We took great pains to keep the screen clean and uncluttered with mini-maps, help text, and health bars.
6) Your title is a work of art. What would you say your major inspirations were?
JO: The major inspiration on the visual side was Michel’s incredible body of work, but most specifically a series of animated short films called Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets that he created for Nickelodeon in 2005. On the gameplay side, we are inspired by the 8bit games of our youth and wanted to bring back that experience to young and old gamers alike.
7) 2D side-scrollers have been a popular genre for indie developers to work with throughout the years. What personal significance does the genre hold for you?
JO: The 2D 8bit games I played as a kid heavily influenced the career I chose in the game industry. The Legend of Zelda, Contra, R-Type, MegaMan, Ghosts N Goblins…These are the games that made a lasting impression on me.
8) What’s it like to be coined as an “indie” developer? Are there different mindsets or expectations as to the kind of results that your efforts will yield?
JO: It’s a great time to be an indie developer. With so many avenues and platforms available to help get your product to the masses it’s no wonder there has been an explosion of unique and innovative games in the past 5 years. I hope that we’ll see this only increase in the years to come.
9) Do you still play games in your free time? What titles?
JO: I thoroughly enjoy the Professor Layton games, as well as just about anything Valve creates – especially the Portal games.
10) Overall, was working on ITSP as enjoyable as it was rewarding?
JO: Absolutely, this has been the single best experience in my long-ish career in the games industry
11) Do you have any plans for further collaborations?
JO: We have some DLC for Shadow Planet in the works, and some other ideas we’ve been kicking around for the past few years. If Shadow Planet is a big enough success we may explore the universe further on another platform or device, but we’ll just have to wait and see!
12) Do you have any shout-outs or special mentions that you would like to include?
JO: Definitely HAVE to give props to the team here at Fuelcell. This was a labor of love and a lot of free time and sleep was sacraficed to get the quality to the level we wanted it in the short amount of time we had. With their hard work and passion it would have not been possible.
Once again, thank you Joe for all of the time and patience you have showed us here at Gaming Irresponsibly.