Keeping with that tradition, Mike Henry was awesome enough to sit down with us and talk about their superb puzzle/platformer, and their future endeavors.
GL: Thank you guys for giving us a chance to talk with you. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and the company?
Mike Henry: Twisted Pixel is an independent game company that was founded about four years ago by three battle-hardened industry veterans, who decided that it was time to use their talents to make the games that THEY wanted to make. I was hired on about a year later, just before work on The Maw started. As the company’s lead gameplay programmer, I get to take the designers’ crazy ideas and make them playable.
GL: Your most recent success, ‘Splosion Man, has received critical praise. Can you give us more insight into what inspired this zany title and its characters?
MH: We’re actually pretty overwhelmed by the response to ‘Splosion Man, because it actually started out as an inside joke. Our Lead Designer, Sean Riley, is known at the office for his love of “big ‘splosions” and breaking glass, and he tries to squeeze them into game designs whenever he can. One day while the company was sitting down and discussing ideas for what to do after The Maw was finished, Sean jokingly suggested a game called ‘Splosion Man in Glass World, “where you’re made out of ‘splosion, and that’s all you can do is ‘splode, and you’re walking around in a world made entirely of glass, and anytime you try to do anything, there’s just this huge ‘splosion and the entire level shatters!” Of course, we all laughed and moved on with the meeting, but that kind of stuck with us, and the more it bounced around in our heads, the more an actual game began to take form. Eventually we realized that it might even be a really fun game, and we made our CEO, Mike Wilford, pitch the idea to publishers. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall at those meetings.
‘Splosion Man himself took quite a few design revisions to get to a version we liked. A couple of them were normal dudes with explosive machinery strapped to them, but those were scrapped for obvious reasons. A few others were more alien-looking, with the ability to create fire. Eventually we decided that to get the maximum amount of personality and craziness out of him, he had to be made out of ‘splosions, just like in the original joke idea.
The scientists, perhaps less interestingly, are all based on people in the office.
GL: Was there anything you guys learned while making The Maw that benefited the development of ‘Splosion Man?
MH: On the technical side, we were making our own engine at the same time as we developed The Maw, so in a sense there was nothing we did during that project that didn’t directly benefit ‘Splosion Man‘s development. But in general, there were a lot of the things that we were trying out for the first time on The Maw – working with art outsourcing, having designer-generated levels, and playing with dynamic music are a few examples. We were definitely able to take our experience with those things and make them more streamlined in ‘Splosion Man because of it.
GL: The music and sound effects in ‘Splosion Man are fantastic. Did you assign a level of importance in developing both, and do you feel that sound and music can make or break a title?
MH: Absolutely. Sound and music both dramatically affect the way a game feels. We actually hired different composers (Joshua Mosley and John DeBorde) for our single player and multiplayer levels in order to give them a different feel from each other, and we even created two different methods of changing up the music as you play. In the single player levels, there’s an electric guitar track that gets played over the top of the music whenever you ‘splode, and in the multiplayer levels, we separated the music into 4 layers of instrumentation that each correspond to one of the players. Whenever one of those players dies, their instrument goes away, and hopefully you subconsciously miss their presence that much more. A company called Gl33k has handled all of our sound effects so far, and we couldn’t be happier with their work. Matt “Chainsaw” Chaney over there is responsible for the Donut Song that everyone loves so much.
GL: The downloadable market is flourishing, how do you feel this is affecting both independent and larger developers?
MH: At first XBLA seemed to me like it was going to be a way for independent developers to find a place to get their games in front of an audience without being crowded out by the bigger devs. It’s possible that if it hadn’t been for XBLA and its ecosystem at the time The Maw was released, Twisted Pixel might not exist, at least in the form it is today. Now it looks as though publishers have realized how much of an opportunity there is in the downloadable space for their “smaller” games, and the fight for virtual shelf space is beginning again. Fortunately, Microsoft has responded to this with the creation of XBLIG, which seems to be fostering a lot of cool indie creativity.
GL: Are there any cons when developing a download only title?
MH: I read somewhere that the majority of console owners still aren’t even aware that such a thing as XBLA exists, either because they don’t have their systems hooked up to the internet, or because they don’t really go looking for that kind of thing. I’m sure that will correct itself as time goes on, but in the meantime we have to rely on word of mouth, internet press coverage, and our presence at conventions like PAX for the bulk of our advertising.
GL: So, how about telling us what you guys have planned in the future? Maybe developing a title for another console’s virtual market, or perhaps joining Onlive? What about that retail title to be announced this weekend at PAX?
MH: We’re definitely open to developing for other platforms, it’s just a matter of what makes the most sense for each game, in addition to how our manpower and scheduling work out.
Our next game will be another XBLA title, and it’s called Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley. We’ve got more info available on our web site, http://www.twistedpixelgames.com. Everyone who enjoyed either of our previous games should definitely check it out. We’ll also be showing a demo of the first 10 minutes of gameplay 3 times a day at PAX East, so swing by our booth if you’re going to be there!
GL: Thank you guys for your time!
Many thanks to Mike Henry and the rest of Twisted Pixel! Gamer Limit can’t wait for Comic Jumper’s release; you can bet we will have a review ready for you when it does.