The main characters of all of Twisted Pixel’s games stand out above the competition, some of them even explode. There are very few studios that can claim to have achieved so many original IP in so little time. Apart from their simple and addictive gameplay, there’s one key element that we can found in all of Twisted Pixel’s productions: humor. Either subtle or with completely hilarious situations, both The Maw or Comic Jumper, and also Splosion Man and the recent Ms. Splosion Man had made us laugh out loud.
In short they’ll be releasing The Gunstringer, one of the very first titles for the hardcore audience of Kinect, so we thought it was the right moment to interview Sean Riley, Lead Designer at Twisted Pixel Games. We talked about Kinect, downloadable games, the difficulty of being indie and how important is to laugh about yourself, among other things.
gen16: Most of your games have appeared in XBLA, with the exception of The Maw, also available on PC. Will you keep developing exclusively for Xbox 360 or will you “jump” to other platforms?
Sean Riley: It’s a tough balancing act because Microsoft has been very good to us and they have one of the best platforms around, but we also want to get our games out to the most possible people. I’m not the one who makes the primary decisions on those things at our company, but I think it mostly comes down to not having much time to spend on porting our games to other platforms.
gen16: How did the idea of making Ms. Splosion Man come? Did you decide it before or after launching Comic Jumper?
Sean Riley: There were a bunch of ideas we had to cut while we were making Splosion Man, ones that we knew would be really good but that we just didn’t have time to finish. So we knew for a while that Ms. Splosion Man was a game that we would someday want to make.
gen16: Most of gamers see Kinect as a casual product. What do you think that is needed for them to accept it? More games like The Gunstringer?
Sean Riley: I think with any new technology, there is a period of time when it feels like a gimmick. Like when color first came to film, I’m sure people were like, this is pretty cool, but how much is it really adding? It’s really up to us as designers and companies to find the ways to use the technology to its fullest, to give people experiences they wouldn’t be able to have otherwise, and that body of work will eventually convince people that yes, this was a good development. So I don’t know that Gunstringer will single-handedly convince a world of stubborn hardcore gamers to embrace the Kinect, but I think it will be part of the argument for woah look at the experiences you can create with the technology.
gen16: The Gunstringer is your first retail game, but in the beginning you announced it for XBLA. Did Microsoft decide it to “enhance” the catalogue of core titles for Kinect?
Sean Riley: When we showed The Gunstringer at an internal Microsoft meeting they were blown away with everything we had accomplished and immediately they got into talks with us about what additional resources and time would allow us to do with the game. They wanted to get us out to more people and taking the game up to retail production was the best way to accomplish that.
gen16: After The Gunstringer release, will you keep making downloadable games?
Sean Riley: We like to keep our options open to anything that gets us excited, but I think everyone at our company enjoys the freedom that working on smaller downloadable projects allows us to have.
gen16: Do you believe that, due to the digital format, genres almost dead like platformers are now revitalizing?
Sean Riley: Most definitely. Digital Formats allow smaller companies to get into the action, and I think for a lot of us, getting a chance to work on our own projects will naturally lead us to the games that influenced us so much while we were growing up.
gen16: You did a small crossover with The Maniacal Smile. Did the idea of expand your IP beyond videogames cross your mind? Maybe by doing an animated series of Splosion Man.
Sean Riley: I think it would be awesome to see Splosion Man as a Saturday morning cartoon! With all our games, we strive to make really unique, memorable characters. When you have that, then I think you have the opportunity to spread into other markets. That said, video games are what we do best here, so we’d have to find the right partner and opportunity to strike out into those other dimensions.
gen16: How do you see the indie market nowadays? Do you believe that is better to look for the resources of a publisher, or keeping independent is the key to create new IP different from the others?
Sean Riley: Being independent is wonderful, but there were definitely a lot of sacrifices and lean years we had to survive through to make it happen. We also had some tremendous luck and generosity that allowed our company to even happen. So it is hard to say, hey everyone, follow our path and everything will be great, because so many stars aligned to make it happen. But all of us gave everything we had to our projects, barely seeing our families for months on end, and I think you need to be prepared for that level of dedication to get things off the ground. It’s been a profoundly rewarding journey, though, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
gen16: Why did you decide to make an engine instead of working with some of the existing, like UDK? Which advantages does it give you?
Sean Riley: We have a brilliant programmer named Frank Wilson who was one of the original founders of the company. He had the ability to build the engine from scratch so cost-wise that made the most sense. We use a lot of third-party apps like Granny 3D to supplement our engine and I think that’s been tremendously helpful as well.
gen16: You are one of the few companies that keep making games with a lot of sense of humor. Do you believe that the industry needs more of it?
Sean Riley: I think absolutely it does. Part of what makes our humor successful is that we are willing at all times to mock ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously. That can be a rare trait to find, and I think that’s one of the reasons you don’t see it as often in the industry. I guess going with humor is also not very safe – everyone has different taste so sometimes you will alienate part of your potential audience if their sense of humor doesn’t vibe with yours. But despite all that, I think our humor helps set us apart and definitely makes the games really fun to work on.
Sean Riley: Matt “Chainsaw” Chaney is like a Mozart with extra talent. Some day we will release his full music potential to the world and ride that gravy train to our retirements.
We would like to thank Sean for his time. Also thanks to Jay for making this interview possible. Keep the good work!