POP: Methodology Experiment One is an explosion of colour and sound and interest, eloquently revealed by its trailer, which you can view below. Described by creator Robert lach as “a series of erratic minigames stylistically tied with the music” the game had an unusual design process, in that Lach wrote the music first and then created the game from that initial audio work (hence the ‘methodology experiment’ of its title).
Launched today for PC and Mac, the game is available for a pay-what-you-want sale. But, in a neat twist, Lach is including Kickstarter-like prizes at different price points (for example $25 will give you the game, some stickers, a button, and a t-shirt).
We’ll send you across to the (wonderful) download site in a minute, but first, pull up a chair and listen in as we chat to Lach about the project.
Hookshot: How would you describe your game in 15 words or fewer?:
Robert Lach: POP is an experimental game that is probably dangerous for your mind.
HS: What made you think: I have to make this game?:
RL: Before making POP I was involved in a long-term project for over a year that still isn’t even 25% done. Eventually the team fell apart and I lost a lot of momentum. I needed to fall back into the rhythm and given that team-collapsing experience I wanted to do something independently. I was also interested in experimentation; not only with game mechanics but the game development process itself. Considering what I wanted to accomplish, I remixed the typical development pipeline and stuck to it as best as I could. This game is what came out.
HS: What did you do before this?:
RL: My last real job was at Electronic Arts working on central tech for the football game franchises. I left that world to go full-time indie.
HS: Name one way in which being an indie developer is better than your previous job, and one way in which it’s worse.:
RL: Everyone goes into the AAA game world thinking that all of their “awesome game ideas” will finally come to fruition, but you quickly realize that you’re not working on games at those places, you’re working on products. Every design choice is touched by a dozen people and everything interesting is polished away so the final product is a shiny ball to dingle in front of the mass consumer. I promise you every “game designer” at these places has a notebook full of ideas that are “too good for this place” and romanticizes about the day they’ll leave only to get trapped by the comforts of steady pay. It’s even worse if you’re a programmer; everything you do is so dry and laid out, you might as well be working on accounting software.
HS: And the way in which it’s worse?
HS: You are from the “windy” city. Was the wind instrumental in the development of POP?
RL: Absolutely. Well, not the weather phenomenon, but the city itself. There’s not place in the world that has that balance between grit and refinement like Chicago. Whatever you’re into there’s a place for you here. Plus there’s no place definitively cooler.
The indie game development scene here has really come together recently. For a while I thought I was alone and insane but now we’re seeking each other out (still insane) and theres a lot of interesting stuff happening. If you look at the Chicago born games they all have that skew to them you don’t find anywhere else. The city is pretty game developer heavy but game employer light because of failing studios. I’m just waiting for some of these guys to “go indie”.
HS: Is this your first game? How long did it take to create?
RL: I’ve probably made a couple dozen games before this. Most of them you’ll never see, others you can find if you look really hard. This is my first game that I felt confident enough for public release (and only after I got the IGF nod). I think to be a successful game developer (or do anything creative really) you need to have a large body of work behind you. Not saying it’s impossible though, just difficult.
The IGF build was under 2 months of work. Most of that time was making the music and art. That build was programmed in less than 10 days and less than half of the vignettes included in the release version made it in. That was in October 2011 and the game was “done” in March 2012 but I’m still fixing bugs when they pop up.
So to answer your second question, just under 6 months.
HS: What’s the dream? Where are you headed next?
RL: I’m not going to talk about specifics since I feel that when I talk about what I’m working on it makes it harder to complete. I do have 2 more “Methodology Experiments” planned though. In general, I’ll be making games.
The “dream” is pretty philosophical and I could probably write a book about it. Let’s just say: games are everything.
HS: Your sales model is like a hybrid of Radiohead’s Pay What You Want In Rainbows thing meets Kickstarter. With that in mind, who would win in a race: Thom Yorke or Tim Schafer?
Well, Thom Yorke would win a race since he’s transcended space/time, but Tim Schafer might slow him down with mind bullets.
If we’re talking about sales models though it’s a difficult comparison as Yorke was selling something and Schafer was selling something’s existence. For games at least, I think the KickStarter model is more in-tune with the requirements of development.
HS: Which is the best bit in POP?
RL: I’ll be honest. I don’t think I’ve liked any game I’ve ever made. All that I see are my mistakes and shortcomings. Making this game was especially difficult since I didn’t want to take away from the integrity of the experiment and I purposefully left issues in. (This statement must be a marketer’s nightmare).
I guess the part I least hate is air raid vignette as that game was completely awful until the last hour of coding it when it all came together better than I expected.
HS: Your trailer is rad. How did you make it so?
RL: I did exactly what I did when making the game, tied it to the music. In the end the feel of the trailer is very similar to the feel of the game.
I do have quite a bit of video editing experience as back in the day I was making machinima movies using the Half-Life engine. I ran a machinima production group called Chaos Films when I was in my early teens. It was pretty amazing looking back since there were probably over a hundred people involved if you count up the in-game and voice actors. [It was funny] when my first appearance on voice chat revealed I wasn’t some dude in his 30s like everyone assumed. To this day I try to avoid agism since you never know what people are capable of at any age.
If I weren’t making games I’d be making films.
HS: You code, design, make art and music. Where did you learn to do all that?
RL: One of the reasons for making this game was to get better at making art and music. That’s all you have to do to get better at something, just do it. If you suck at music, start making music. If your games are horrible, make more games. I just keep pushing against my comfort zones until those zones expand and the practice hours pour in in the meantime.
That’s why “idea guys” are so hated. Everyone has ideas, but if you’re a programmer/artist/whatever, you actually made some effort to make that idea happen.
I don’t believe you can call yourself a game developer until you’ve made a game by yourself. There’s a language between each component you don’t understand until you explore those areas personally. You don’t have to be good (I don’t consider myself a good anything), but just be able to. That’s also why I find the job title “Game Designer” so divergent as so much of the game’s design is in the code or in the art.
HS: What two pieces of advice would you give to someone wanting to get into independent game dev?
1. Just make games.
2. Don’t do it for the money (there isn’t any).
HS: What’s your favourite downloadable game of 2012?
RL: I don’t know if it’s out to the public yet but it’s Proteus by Ed Key and David Kanaga.
HS: Why do you make games?
RL: There is nothing more artistically and culturally significant in our era than the digital game.
You can download POP: Methodology Experiment One from the game’s official website here