Pixel Game Maker MV released

After more than a year when it was first released in early access, Pixel Game Maker MV has finally released on Steam.  Pixel Game Maker MV is designed to create 2D games in both a top down and side scrolling perspective.  It provides all of the tools you need to create a game, as well as a ton of completed examples to learn from.

Pixel Game Maker MV is described as follows on Steam (where it is currently on sale):

Pixel Game Maker MV allows you to build up your own action game with no programming knowledge necessary. This engine was designed with the idea of giving a voice to people’s passions, allowing them to freely express the game that they have held in their hearts. Create the game that you want to play now!

Using only six tools, you can create the game of your dreams!

  1. Resources – Prepare and arrange image assets required for your game
  2. Tiles – Create “tiles” necessary for map field creation
  3. Objects – Provide characters and items with various gimmicks
  4. Animation – Enliven and enrich your graphics
  5. Scenes – Build stages using tiles and objects
  6. Transition – Connect scenes to bring your games into shape

Key Features:

An Easy to Use Visual Scripting System – No Programming Necessary
Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned developer, Pixel Game Maker MV offers a flexible game creation system, allowing you to plan, create and build an exciting game using the intuitive visual scripting system.
4 Player Support Straight Out of the Box
You can build your own multiplayer games with Pixel Game Maker MV without any additional programming or plugins needed. Create cooperative or competitive local play between up to four players.
Customize your game further with JavaScript
Pixel Game Maker MV supports the use of JavaScript to create plug-ins and perform actions not available in the Visual Scripting system. This allows you to create and customize your game without restriction.
Create Endless Fun with “Multi-Viewpoint/Multi-Versus”
Allows for both top- and side-based views, combine this with the multiplayer function to bring your game to a whole new level. Works with any genre, so the games you can create are limited only by your imagination!
A Simple Way to Create Rich and Beautiful Game Graphics
Using the graphic import feature, physics engine, particle effects, and multiple layer combination, you can create your own ideal game in exactly the way you want to make it, easily and without all the hassle.
Allows for Functional Expansion
You can use JavaScript to expand on and add to the pre-existing features. Master using these extended functions and add-ons to create even more complex and beautiful games!

When we first look at Pixel Game Maker MV, we were not impressed.  We took another look at it in the video below if you want to learn more about this release.

GameDev News


Get a job: PlayStation, Game Closure, and more are hiring now!

Whether you’re just starting out, looking for something new, or just seeing what’s out there, the Gamasutra Job Board is the place where game developers move ahead in their careers.

Gamasutra’s Job Board is the most diverse, most active, and most established board of its kind in the video game industry, serving companies of all sizes, from indie to triple-A.

Here are just some of the many, many positions being advertised right now. If you’re a recruiter looking for talent, you can also post jobs here.

Location: San Francisco, California; Mountain View, California; Tokyo, Japan

Game Closure is on the hunt for backend / systems engineers to help us build the services and infrastructure that power our social games that are played by millions of people every day on Facebook, Viber, Line and other messaging platforms. We are a growing team with offices in Mountain View and San Francisco, California, Tokyo, Japan and some possibilities for remote work. If you want to join us to make great games on our cutting edge technology and truly make an impact, then we want to talk to you!

As a Systems Engineer at Game Closure, you will play a pivotal role in creating a platform to revolutionize the instant games development industry. Our engineers are generally amazing at something and great at everything else. We write scalable backend systems, cross-compilers, JavaScript / TypeScript game APIs and tools, and whatever else it takes. No matter what you work on each day, you will work with the best engineers in the world; we have top talent in every part of our stack.

Location: Milan, Italy

At Bending Spoons, we’re aiming to build one of the greatest companies in the world. Already one of the top iOS app developers worldwide, we’re going to expand our product line to hyper-casual and casual games the world can’t wait to experience. Therefore, we’re looking for someone with exceptional drive, analytical ability, creativity, and integrity to lead a team of amazingly talented artists, developers, and marketers.

Location: Bellevue, Washington

Sucker Punch is looking for a Producer with a passion for video games. The Producer will work with the production team and team leads across all areas of the project to manage the development process, including team scheduling and milestone planning, identifying dependencies and possible workflow blockages, facilitating communication across disciplines and identifying and managing high risk areas of production.

Location: Burbank, California

Responsible for being an active and key contributor for the creative direction and style for audio assets and workflow processes throughout a production cycle. Creates, edits, and implements game-ready audio. Works closely with the rest of the audio team to maintain a high level of quality and consistency of assets.

Location: Santa Monica, California

As a Producer, you will support the creation of each project’s schedule, budget, production pathways, and overall plan. You will also continue to provide supervision and support through the full product life-cycle (concept development thru to post launch DLC support). In addition, you will partner with all external teams to overcome complex problems, improve product quality and stay on track.


Video Game Deep Cuts: Sayonara, Switch Lite, Wild Herds

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

[Video Game Deep Cuts is a weekly newsletter from video game industry ‘watcher’ Simon Carless (GDC, Gamasutra co-runner, No More Robots advisor), rounding up the best longread & standout articles & videos about games, every weekend.

This week’s highlights include the gorgeous Sayonara Wild Hearts & the launch of the Switch Lite, as well as a doc on the making of Them’s Fighting Herds, Borderlands 3, and lots, lots more.

And wanted to give a special shout-out to Kotaku this week for having a number of fascinating, well-reported stories. Under Stephen Totilo, the site continues to twin crackerjack investigative reporting alongside stories that go way deep inside the actual culture of games and game development – and I think that’s a remarkable thing. Long may it continue.

Until next time…
– Simon, curator.]


How People Find Your Game: Nintendo Switch Edition (Simon Carless / Game Discoverability Weekly – ARTICLE)
“Specifically, across all regions, there are now 2,821 games available for Switch (the vast majority on the eShop), with just 388 coming out in 2017, another 1,298 in 2018, and 1,135 so far in 2019. (That extrapolates out to 1,700 Switch games in calendar 2019 even if the release schedule isn’t accelerating. And let’s face it, it’s probably accelerating.)”

Apple Arcade Is Mobile Gaming Without All The Bullshit (Michael Fahey & Stephen Totilo / Kotaku – ARTICLE)
“What a shock, then, that Apple Arcade is one of the best gaming launches we can remember, and that we can recommend it without making any apologies or exceptions for the stuff no one likes about mobile games. This thing is great. (SIMON’S NOTE: I’ve been very impressed with Apple Arcade – here’s some top game picks from The Verge, and here’s an interesting dev-related perspective from GameDaily.biz.)”

Borderlands 3 is a lot more Borderlands, in ways both good and bad (Kyle Orland / Ars Technica – ARTICLE)
“Even a few hours in, Borderlands 3 has shown enough enemy variety to keep the shooting from getting stale, and beasts and humans alike show a great deal of personality in their animation and sound design. These opponents show a decent propensity for finding cover, flanking your position, and even running away for a better vantage point when it suits their strategy. [SIMON’S NOTE: in general, Metacritic has good scores for the game, btw.]”

The Secret To The Success Of BastionPyre, And Hades: No Forced Crunch, Yes Forced Vacations (Nathan Grayson / Kotaku – ARTICLE)
“It’s been ten years since Supergiant Games opened its doors. The team put all of their hopes into the studio’s debut game, Bastion, an action-RPG with a narrator. It succeeded with flying colors. Since then, the studio has released Transistor, Pyre, and Hades, every single one receiving critical acclaim and financial success. The team’s big secret? Everybody’s actually happy about working there.”

Teamfight Tactics with Greg Borenstein (The Spelunky Showlike / Libsyn – PODCAST)
“Riot Games’ Greg Borenstein joins us to chat about the design behind their red-hot autobattler Teamfight Tactics, as we discuss the benefits of embracing complexity, the rise of randomness, and what the game has in common with Sorry! You know, that Sorry!”

The 50 best video games of the 21st century (Keith Stuart & Keza Macdonald / The Guardian – ARTICLE)
“Want to build worlds, become a crime kingpin, get lost in space, or enter the afterlife? Then our countdown of the 50 best games of the era has something for you.”

Hideo Kojima Answers Our Questions About Death Stranding (Joe Juba / Game Informer – ARTICLE)
“While we learned a lot from watching those demonstrations, they also raised many questions about how Death Stranding works and what it tries to convey. What is the goal behind the asynchronous multiplayer? What do “likes” do? How has the game changed since its inception? [SIMON’S NOTE: here’s a subtitled version of the gameplay demo, which may or may not make things clearer.]”

The Small But Important Change ‘Celeste’ Made to Its Celebrated Assist Mode (Patrick Klepek / VICE – ARTICLE)
“Lexa acknowledged Celeste handled its Assist Mode “well,” but said it “felt othering for many individuals when it mentioned ‘intended’ gameplay, leaving folks feeling insulted for needing the assists at all.” Some people decided not to play Celeste because of this, Lexa noted.”

Tetris World Championship: Building Explosive Esports on 8-bit Nintendo (Chris Tang / GDC / YouTube – VIDEO)
“In this 2019 GDC talk, Hitsparks Games’ Chris Tang explores how the Classic Tetris World Championship format makes the most of NES Tetris’ quirky killscreens, OCR technology, a passionate community low in toxicity and high in intellect, attachment to growing gaming events, explosive memes, and having an amazing role model for a champion.”

Nintendo Switch Lite review: a triumphant return to dedicated handhelds (Andrew Webster / The Verge – ARTICLE)
“With the original Switch, Nintendo proved that games didn’t have to be designed around hardware, and that with the right device, you could enjoy the same game in a variety of places and situations. With the Switch Lite, the company has proved something very different: it can still build one hell of a handheld. [SIMON’S NOTE: Some more review links here.]”

Mordhau Players Are Having A Great Time By Ignoring All The Rules (Luke Winkie / Kotaku – ARTICLE)
“But if you dig deeper, you’ll discover that Mordhau is capable of empowering a very different kind of medieval daydream, one where there is no drama, or vainglory, or tyranny, one that resembles the hearty debauchery of a market square underneath Elizabethan ramparts. On “duelyard servers,” the kingdom is at peace, and the battles are a distant memory.”

Former Donkey Kong champ threatens to sue Guinness over record removal (Kyle Orland / Ars Technica – ARTICLE)
“The somewhat disorganized and rambling evidence package is an almost overwhelming amount of information to take in, including data from the chain of custody of the tapes used in Twin Galaxies’ investigation, discussion of Nintendo technicians certifying Mitchell’s boards as authentic, and obscure technical details of how arcade (and emulator) gameplay can be captured on video.”

Larian Studios breaks into Valve for Divinity: Original Sin 2 (Larian Studios / YouTube – VIDEO)
“What happens when you use magic to bypass an ironclad security system that includes the best creations that Valve games have to offer? Watch Swen as he attempts to pull off the greatest heist of all. [SIMON’S NOTE: this is literally an ad/promo for cross-play between Steam and Switch, but it’s so damn cute and authentic that I thought I’d link it! This is how you do marketing videos, devs.]”

Too Big to Bail: Why Dead Cells’ Creators Built an Evil Empire (Steven T. Wright / EGMNOW – ARTICLE)
“What do you do when your game is too successful? That’s not a problem (if you can even call it that) faced by many in the ever-tightening world of games, where an increasing number of competently made or downright brilliant projects go relatively unrecognized. But for the French game studio Motion Twin, best known as the developers behind the mega-hit Dead Cells, it’s a conundrum that’s plagued staff meetings and after-work events alike.”

Fame, backlash, and money: Meet the young women making games for millions of fans (Cass Marshall / Polygon – ARTICLE)
“There are millions of young women between 13 and 25 on Episode. The app, which is dedicated to reading and creating stories, has quietly created a new generation of game developers. While some rise through word of mouth and enjoy the thrill of feedback, acclaim, and readers, others get featured on the front page of the app and earn money through their creations. But there’s an air of politics to the world of Episode that sometimes boils over into backlash and bullying.”

The Story Behind Those Bizarre, Incredible Lily’s Garden Ads (Brian Feldman / NYMag – ARTICLE)
“It’s heavy stuff. A devastating tale of love and loss told in just 11 seconds. And then the title appears: the cheery Lily’s Garden logo appears floating over her slumped body. Below appears an enormous button enticing the viewer to “PLAY NOW.””

The Animation of Hollow Knight (Video Game Animation Study / YouTube – VIDEO)
“Hollow Knight is an interesting game. It’s put under the ‘metroidvania’ genre, as that’s what describes it quickest and easiest, but it’s far beyond what the genre encompasses. I found it difficult to get into the first time, because I didn’t get why the you couldn’t see yourself on the map, and that the map didn’t update where you were. That’s because it’s not your average metroidvania. It’s so much more, draws in lots of different things from so many other genres of games, I’d be willing to call it an offshoot of a metroidvania.”

‘Sayonara Wild Hearts’ Is a Brilliant, Beautiful Celebration of Pop Music (Patrick Klepek / VICE – ARTICLE)
“Sayonara Wild Hearts, the latest from the visionaries behind Year Walk and Device 6, is my Rez. It’s an interactive pop album, a fusion of game and music, a shooter and a rhythm game. It’s an experience that’s Carly Rae Jepsen by way of Anamanaguchi… [SIMON’S NOTE: also available on Apple Arcade, notably.]”

The making of Devotion, China’s least favourite horror game (Edwin Evans-Thirlwell / Eurogamer – ARTICLE)
“There is obviously a longer story to tell about how Devotion’s fate reflects the Chinese state’s sensitivity to criticism, the culture of Chinese patriotism online, and the country’s strained relationship with Taiwan, but when I approached Red Candle for an interview in February, it was simply to hear about the creation of a complex and powerful artwork.”

Making Them’s Fightin’ Herds: The Story of Mane6 (Hold Back To Block / YouTube – VIDEO)
“In our latest documentary, we take a look at the origins of Mane6 and their work on Them’s Fightin’ Herds to see just what goes into making an indie fighting game. [SIMON’S NOTE: a very professional video doc about a My Little Pony-style 2D fighting game!]”

An oral history of ‘Snake’ on Nokia (Quinn Myers / MEL – ARTICLE)
“While testing the early versions of the game, I noticed it was hard to control the snake upon getting close to an edge but not crashing — especially in the highest speed levels. I wanted the highest level to be as fast as I could possibly make the device “run,” but on the other hand, I wanted to be friendly and help the player manage that level.”


[REMINDER: you can sign up to receive this newsletter every weekend at tinyletter.com/vgdeepcuts – we crosspost to Gamasutra later, but get it first via newsletter! Story tips and comments can be emailed to [email protected]. MINI-DISCLOSURE: Simon is one of the organizers of GDC and Gamasutra & an advisor to indie publisher No More Robots, so you may sometimes see links from those entities in his picks. Or not!]


Nintendo fought hard to lower the Switch Lite’s price to $200, say suppliers

Nintendo launched its $200 Switch Lite today, offering would-be players a cheaper and more portable way to buy into its latest console generation.

Trimming $100 off of the console’s pricetag meant cutting some features and, according to The Wall Street Journal, no small amount of negotiation.

Component suppliers speaking to the publication note that Nintendo took an aggressive approach while sourcing parts for its Switch Lite, all in the interest of hitting that $200-or-less price point and keeping the system within reach of the lower end of the console market. In one case, an executive speaking to The WSJ says that it had a months-long back and forth with Nintendo, all over the price of one key Switch component.

Those aggressive price-cutting efforts also saw the company pursue a new battery supplier, something a WSJ source said Nintendo hoped would lower costs by fostering competition between Murata Manufacturing, the new supplier, and TDK Corp, Nintendo’s primary battery supplier.

The Nintendo Switch has always sat on the line between the home console and handheld markets. Early on, the company endeavored to angle the system as a home system that could be made portable when needed, but more recent efforts (like the upcoming launch of new, Switch-exclusive Pokemon games) have seen it lean more and more into the handheld aspect of the Nintendo Switch.

The entirely-portable Switch Lite is a reflection of those shifting attitudes, and while Nintendo has said time and time again that the 3DS serves a separate market, the Switch Lite takes a similar approach as Nintendo’s other dedicated handheld.

Sales of the 3DS have naturally slowed down as the system approaches its ninth year, but Nintendo says that the lower-cost family of handhelds, currently sold for as low as $80, serves as a solid entry point for families looking to pick up their first video game system.

Likewise, at $100 less than a full-sized Switch, Nintendo appears to have a similar approach for the Switch Lite (though Nintendo reiterated after its announcement that the Switch Lite is no 3DS replacement). The system offers an accessible starting point for people who have yet to invest in Nintendo’s current generation of hardware, and one that, like the 3DS, has a strong library of titles already at its back.


Ubisoft is taking legal action against Rainbow Six Siege DDoS attackers

Ubisoft is taking a number of steps to try and cut down on the impact distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks have on Rainbow Six Siege matches, including steps toward legal action against regular offenders.

Siege is a competitive, team-based game played entirely online, making it a prime target for DDoS attacks and other malicious actions against the servers hosting matches. And, as Ubisoft explains in a post to the Rainbow Six Siege website, the number of those attacks have noticeably increased lately, prompting the team to make a number of changes to address the issue.

As a result, Ubisoft has already begun issuing cease and desist notices to the websites and people hosting prominent DDoS services, and is working with its legal team to take action against those that facilitate the attacks.

Within the game itself, Ubisoft is cutting back on matches per server to hopefully reduce the number of games affected when a DDoS attack strikes. Previously, each server could host three simultaneous games, meaning that an attack targeting one game ultimately took three offline. Moving forward, each server will only host one match at a time.

Ubisoft is also rolling out a wave of bans to the “worst offenders” on both PC and console, and is disabling a feature that unintentionally penalized players for being in a match ended prematurely by a DDoS attack. Full details can be found in the full post.

Online games have long struggled against DDoS attacks, but recent years have seen the perpetrators of large-scale attacks against games like World of Warcraft hit with substantial fines and prison time for their actions.

Last summer, the person behind a 2010 DDoS attack on World of Warcraft was sentenced to federal prison and ordered to pay roughly $30,000 in restitution. Another case, this time against the person behind the 2013 attacks on Daybreak, saw the attacker ordered to pay $95,000 in restitution and sentenced to 2 years in prison.


The Weekender: Let’s go to the Arcade Edition

Coming back from a holiday is always a bit of whirlwind of catch-up and trying to make sense of what happened while I was away. Turned out Apple Arcade happened, so now we have a whole new thing to look at and see what it brings to our favourite hobby. As essentially a friendlier home for premium games, I hoping we’ll see more of the games we really want flock back to iOS… although I know many have separate reservations about subscription models in general.

Since I wasn’t back until Wednesday the first half of the week was still being ‘covered’, which is why we had a couple of older list refreshes we hadn’t seen in a while and some news. The later half of the week was rounding off some gaps I wanted to fill. Mario Kart Tour is coming and we haven’t really talked about it much until this week, and then there was the Talisman DLC we missed out on from the end of August. Finally, I’m kinda digging Pokemon Masters at the moment, so you’ll see me doing stuff there.

Meanwhile, in mobile gaming…

Apple Arcade

The biggest news this week doesn’t have anything to do with a single game, but many. Apple’s new premium subscription service Apple Arcade. It’s now been released into the wild where you can get access to a wide range of games for just $4.99 usd a month. Apple have around 100 games already in place for launch, and we imagine more will come. I might even need to add a new section to this column covering new Apple Arcade releases.

I’ve got Michael working on a new guide that’ll sift through some of the Arcade’s more desirable releases, but right off the bat you can get access to the likes of MiniMotorways (Mini Metro sequel), Cat Quest 2, Beyond a Steel Sky and Cardpocalypse, to name but a few.

iOS 13

We thought we’d also remind our iOS users of a bit of tech related news – iOS13 has also dropped. Anyone with an iPhone 6S or iPhone SE or newer phone will be able to get it.

Updates for GameCenter, the ability to use console controllers, Dark mode and more are part of the update, so make sure you have a poke around when you can to see what’s new. For the first time, this update is NOT being rolled out to iPads. Apple tablet devices are getting their own bespoke OS called ‘iPadOS’ which will have dedicated features – that’s due to drop at the end of the month on September 30th.

New Game App Releases

We’re a little behind catching up on new game releases this week, so while there are a few things worth highlighting I haven’t had a chance to take any of them for a spin or do a top-line overview. Still, these are the ones you should be interested in, and we’ll endeavour to get full reviews and/or in depth articles as soon as we can:

  • Through the Ages first expansion, Leaders & Wonders, is now available as an IAP on both Android and iOS for $4.99
  • This is the Police 2 launched on iOS and Android while I was away. While we weren’t as impressed with the first title, we’re hoping this sequel has stepped up it’s game. You can pick it up for $6.99 and we’ll have our full review done ASAP
  • Other games that have caught our eye this week are rogue-like dungeon crawler Undervault, and free-to-play card game Mythgard which has entered open beta.

Elsewhere, Football Drama is a soccer management game that darks a rather satirical take on managing a football team in modern times. It’s a more narrative driven experience, but actually involves both deck-building and turn-based tactical mechanics, so we’re very intrigued. It’s available on iOS and Android for $4.99 and is on our review list.

Updates & Sales

Rebel Inc. has received it’s fourth major update since launch, titled the ‘Azure Dam’ Expansion. It adds a new map (Azure Dam), a new Governor called the Development Director as well as a new mechanic that allows you to collect intel on specific regions to see if they’d like to see certain improvements rolled out to them.

Add on top of that the usual round of bug fixes and balancing, and this is a nice meaty update to get you back involved. The team have also said they’re not done with the game yet, and they’ll be plenty more content down the road.

We’ve missed quite a few sales and there doesn’t seem to be anything especially noteworthy this week. Nothing you haven’t seen before anyway, although I’m pleased to report an Android-specific discount, for once, as Rusted Warfare RTS is down to $0.99 on Android.

Seen anything else you liked? Played any of the above? Let us know in the comments!


Google Stadia ‘Founder’s Edition’ pre-order bundle has sold out in Europe

The Google Stadia Founder’s Edition, the pre-order bundle that includes three months of Stadia Pro, a transferable buddy pass, an exclusive night blue Stadia controller, and a Chromecast Ultra, has sold out in Europe. 

Speaking to Gamesradar during a recent interview, Google’s director for games Jack Buser explained the Founder’s Edition is also close to selling out in other territories like the U.S. and Canada. 

Once supplies have run dry, the limited edition bundle will be replaced with a new Premier Edition package, which will ship after the Founder’s Edition and replaces the exclusive night blue gamepad with a white one, and also ditches the buddy pass. 

“We’ve been watching the [Founder’s Edition] numbers dwindle down and down and down as we’ve announced more and more games coming,” explained Buser. “We’re up to over 40 games now that have been announced for the platform, with over  28 partners, which is amazing. And yeah, we were super excited.

Google is set to launch its streaming service when the Founder’s Edition arrives in November, although certain key features such as support for other controllers and platforms like computers, tablets, and phone will only arrive in 2020.

It’s also unclear how many Founder’s Edition bundles have actually been sold, given Google has yet to reveal how many were up for grabs in the first place.


Blog: Development stress, choices that matter, and language of games

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

This interview was originally published on Game World Observer on September 13, 2019.

Eliza is the latest title from Zachtronics that took everyone by surprise. In contrast to the programming puzzle games the studio is famous for, Eliza is a visual novel about an AI counseling program, the people who develop it, and the people who use it. You might want to check out a small review of the game that we posted earlier.

Good folks at GOG.com put us in touch with Matthew Seiji Burns, the man who wrote Eliza, composed the music for the game and is otherwise responsible for its production.


Matthew Seiji Burns, writer, composer, and game developer.

GWO: Matthew, before joining Zachtronics you worked at Bungie, Treyarch, and 343 Industries. What is it that you did?

Matthew: When I worked at these studios I was a producer. That meant creating production plans, making sure all the right assets were created in the right order and on schedule, ensuring we had enough staff, and so on. I concentrated on several areas including design, animation, and audio.

GWO: You also worked at a games research lab at the University of Washington. What was your role?

Matthew: I worked at a games research lab called the Center for Game Science. This role was much like the producer role I held previously; it involved the day-to-day management of this research group. The work was very interesting and I greatly enjoyed my time there. In particular, we investigated the way computers and humans can combine their different problem-solving approaches to tackle complex problems in science like protein folding.

GWO: Of all studios out there, why did you join Zachtronics after going indie? Not exactly a go-to studio for story-driven games. Or so it seems.

Matthew: It’s true that Zachtronics isn’t the first studio you’d think of when it comes to story. However, that was part of the appeal to me. I’m not interested in “telling stories” for their own sake; for me, the stories have to connect to something in order to make them real. All of Zach’s games start with something grounded, even when they take place in a fantasy world [Zach Barth, founder and creative director at Zachtronics—Ed.]. Also, even though it might not be apparent at first glance, Zach takes story seriously and considers it from the beginning of every project— even the ones about assembly language programming. He wants to understand why players would be performing these actions before he asks them to do it. Since most of what you do in a typical Zachtronics game is manipulate abstract symbols, there needs to be some kind of meaning eventually.


GWO: Where does Eliza stand in the lineup of Zachtronics titles?

Matthew: Eliza is a unique experiment for the studio, but people familiar with the stories in other Zachtronics games might see there’s more in common with Eliza than first appearances would suggest. All of the team’s games, starting from SpaceChem in 2011 and running through games like InfinifactoryOpus Magnum, and EXAPUNKS, explore the consequences and implications of the engineering work its players perform. In that respect, Eliza could be seen as an expansion and deepening of the studio’s worldview, rather than a reversal.

GWO: Eliza feels almost painfully personal. One of its themes is career burnout. You also wrote a book called “Surviving the game industry.” Could you tell us about specific experiences you had back in your AAA days that led to a burnout?

Matthew: While they were not universally bad, I definitely had some unfortunate experiences. My physical and mental health were negatively affected by cultures of stress and crunch at multiple places I worked. In fact, one of the studios I worked at years ago was recently in the news over allegations about its crunch culture. Looking back, I feel that maybe I should have taken a stronger stand against it. But I was young and wanted to be seen as a good team member, so I let it happen.


GWO: Counseling sessions account for much of the story and gameplay. Any of your personal experience here, if that’s an ok thing to ask?

Matthew: That’s fine — it would be shocking if I didn’t have this experience, right? My personal experience with counseling does inform the game in a few ways. One is the overall structure of the session. The counselor starts with some small talk about the weather and then segues into weightier topics. Another is how once you get started talking about yourself, it’s easy to keep going when the other person prompts you. I guess I should also mention that my experience with person-to-person counseling has been overall a positive one.

GWO: You said that while researching for the game, you conducted a number of interviews. One was with a counselor. How did you approach people about those interviews?

Matthew: I was interested to find out more about the methodologies, the way counselors themselves are trained, and how they think about their work. I was lucky to be able to talk to someone who was very open about their work while also being honest about its limitations.

GWO: Any discoveries from talking to these people that informed any aspects of the game?

Matthew: There were two things I learned that became represented in the game. One was that mental health practitioners love numbers. For example you might have to answer the question, “How do you feel, on a scale from 1-10?” You might have to answer this question over and over, every time you see your therapist, or at regular intervals throughout the day. Putting your mood into a number is a strange concept if you think about it, so it became something discussed in the game. The second thing was looking at a manual for practitioners of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and realizing that many interactions with even human therapists are scripted, at least in a loose way.


GWO: Eliza‘s narrative does not start to branch out until very late into the game. The gameplay is rather restrictive in terms of choices you can make. Could you explain your thinking behind this?

Matthew: If a game started and your character had a choice right off the bat, say to go outside or stay home, it wouldn’t mean anything and you would pick almost at random. Or you would pick what you, yourself, wanted to do at that time. What a long period of linearity does is allow me to set up a more complicated situation. Maybe your character doesn’t usually like to go outside, but today you are considering it because your father is angry with you. Suddenly this choice becomes more interesting when there’s more context for it— more character, more history. So I wanted to use this kind of structure where I spend a lot of time setting up one very complex, interesting choice, instead of providing a thousand small choices that do not ultimately matter, which is the route some games take.

GWO: Voice acting is fantastic in Eliza. How did you go about finding the voice talent for the game?

Matthew: Thank you! We held open auditions for each character and received over 1,200 submissions, an overwhelming number. It took the casting director, Khris Brown, and I many days to listen to them all and many more days agonizing over our final picks. For some of the characters I listened to them while playing some of the music I was working on for the game at the same time, to try to get the feeling of what it would be like in the final product.

GWO: One of inspirations for Eliza was a virtual therapist demo for those potentially having PTSD. Do you know what became of it?

Matthew: The specific program I saw the demo of is no longer funded, but the technologies used to power it still live on, both at the university that created it and in the larger research community. Additionally, large tech companies also continue these lines of research, such as Amazon’s documented interest in detecting your mood from your voice

GWO: What were the challenges and discoveries in transitioning from a Twine interactive storytelling you did before to a visual novel?

Matthew: Ultimately, because of the artists and actors I was able to work with, it was a more collaborative process than those previous projects. For example, my Twine games had very little in the way of visual imagery. So doing this project meant considering some new things such as, what do these characters look like? What clothes do they wear, and what does that say about them? With text you can leave a character very nebulous, or define them by one small observation. But when you are portraying them full-on, every choice that goes into the portrayal adds to the character, and the artists contributed their own ideas for dress, posture, expression, and so on. The same goes for actors. Writing something to be read is different than writing something to be performed, so I had to adapt to a somewhat different style. Actors add so much information to a character with their performance, so often times you can leave things to them, instead of trying to push everything through the text.


GWO: Is there a fundamental difference for you between writing games and writing short stories?

Matthew: Not really… in fact, I would go so far as to say that for me, there isn’t even a fundamental difference between writing text or writing music. There are plenty of technical differences, and the language is different, but at the very bottom they’re basically the same activity.

GWO: The game is as much about therapy as it is about talking and listening. On some level, Eliza feels like the extension of your text-only game Apology Simulator. And before that, you wrote about depicting human interaction in Gone Home. Is it accurate to say that human interaction is the overarching theme in your works?

Matthew: I’m not the type of writer to boldly declare my own overarching themes, but I think one could make a reasonable argument that this was the case!

GWO: Fair enough. You wrote on your blog that “the time I spent hashing out my thoughts on games here helped me find my positions, develop my theory.” Do you think you could talk a little bit about that theory?

Matthew: Here’s the short version: When most people say “games” they think of discrete products— rows of cases on a shelf in a store, or a set of entries in someone’s Steam library. To me, though, games are not individual units any more than “architecture” is a set of buildings or “philosophy” is a pile of books.The buildings you see are the result of the process of architecture; the pile of books is the outflow of the activity of philosophy. In the same way, games to me means the set of technologies, tools, and techniques we use to make them. They are a language, a grammar — one we can use to entertain, educate, and realize works of true artistic expression.

GWO: Matthew, thank you very much for the interview. Good luck to you and Zach in your pursuit of those clandestine R&D objectives at Zachtronics! You guys are one of a kind.

Massive AppGameKit Sale On Fanatical

There is currently an AppGameKit Bundle over on Fanatical, an opportunity to pick up this seminal game engine and a ton of content for an extremely low price.

The bundle is composed of 3 different tiers ( each higher level tier contains all of the lower tiers content as well ), broken down as follows:

Tier 1 (@ 5$ USD):

  • AppGameKit Classic Game Engine
  • Games Pack 1
  • Games Pack 2
  • 3D Asset Pack

Tier 2 (@ 10 USD):

  • Tier 1 +
  • Giant Asset Pack 1
  • Giant Asset Pack 2
  • Sound Library
  • Shader Pack

Tier 3(@ 20USD):

  • Tier 1 & 2 +
  • GameGuru Loader

I have covered AppGameKIt in the past including this closer look review, this video on AR in AppGameKit and this tutorial/introduction to AppGameKit Studio.  I also previously did this video on GameGuru if you are interested in learning more about the Loader included in the third tier.  You can learn more about this deal in the video below.  Using the above link from Fanatical also helps support GFS with each purchase, so thanks if you do so!

GameDev News