Indie Game Developers Discuss Their Failures

Indie Game Developers Discuss Their Failures (photo)

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Prototype. Don’t get comfortable. Keep your head up. That was the message at yesterday afternoon’s “Failure Workshop” at the Game Developers Conference. 6 different independent developers, responsible for titles like “World of Goo,” “Off-Road Velociraptor Safari,” and Plants vs. Zombies,” shared their development horror stories to help an audience of hundreds. Here’s what we learned from their months and sometimes years of pain.

“No amount of ‘theming’ will save a bad idea.”

Kyle Gabler, half of indie dev 2D Boy, spoke about the follow-up to PC/Wii/iPad success “World of Goo.” The title, “Robot and the Cities That Built Him,” sounded fun: a giant robot destroys a city over and over again. But the game, as Gabler describes it, was boring. Very boring. It took two months of polish before the two-person team bothered to prototype the game. With tangible proof that the core idea, while entertaining thematically, was no good, the team scrapped the project.

“The Parking Lot Theory”

Matthew Wegner and his studio Flashbang made a name for themselves with Blurst.com and the site’s hit game: “Off-Road Velociraptor Safari.” It was one of many games made for Blurst under 8 week deadlines. The goal was to attract people to a developer website with lots of quickly made games – and ideally make money off traffic. Traffic only spiked around each new game’s release then tabled; the financial strategy was a whiff.

To make money, Wegner and Co. chose to adapt “Velociraptor Safari,” the highest trafficked game, for an HD/XBLA/PSN style port. The process proved to be dull and time consuming. So they tried a new art style. That too failed.

In hindsight, Wegner admits the company slouched into the comfort zone. “It’s the Parking Lot Theory,” he said. When a man loses his keys in the parking lot, he looks below the street lights not because that’s where his keys might be, but because it’s the easiest place to look. Updating a proven game was easy. What they needed to do was make the project more fun. They needed to put more game in the game.

“Start prototyping”

George Fan, the man responsible for PopCap’s most recent game, Plants vs. Zombies, told the tale of Cat-Mouse Foosball, his 2001 failure that nearly scared him out of the industry. At that time, Fan was more artist than designer. He drew level layouts and character designs, creating the game in his head long before touching a computer.

What Fan learned: you can’t draw games, because you can’t keep the image in your head. A video game has too many variables – one action could cause any number of reactions. The design process isn’t static like drawing a picture. To see a video game, Fan echoed Gabler: prototype. Creating a rough version of the game often reveals if the project’s fun. Or at least if it works.

Fan loaded up a recreated demo for Cat-Mouse Foosball. Cats and mice scurried through the screen colliding into red barriers. It was a mess and Fam let out a good-hearted laugh. Without failures like this, he might have never made it so far.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.