FGL Community Spotlight – Episode Five
If you’re interested in joining us for some of FGL’s Community Events, be sure to check out our forums for updates on Game Jams and Contests! This week, FGL Game Night returns this Friday night so stop on by and play some games with the FGL Admins! FGL continues the Community Spotlight series this week as we sit down with developer PJBaron, creator of the smash hit racing games ‘Cruisin‘ and ‘V8 Muscle Cars‘ among other titles.
FGL_Brian: Hello, Pete! Welcome to the Spotlight. Why don’t you introduce yourself and your studio for us?
Pete Baron: I’m Pete Baron, I’ve been a video games designer and programmer for nearly 30 years, and I operate the web-site and studio www.insanehero.com. For the last… 5? years I’ve been concentrating on Flash games, and am just now starting to expand out into Mobile and HTML5.
FGL: You’ve put out an impressive volume of games. Do you tend to focus on developing one game at a time, finishing it and moving onto the next one, or do you like to work on different projects concurrently?
PJB: It depends on the project. A larger project like Aztec God Games takes up to three months full-time, so I work on those exclusively. A tiny project like Zombaby Bouncer might only take one or two weeks, so I tend to keep a couple of those on the boil at all times. I like to have a variety of options when I sit down to start each day… if I’m feeling “clever” I’ll take on a tough algorithmic task… but if I’m feeling a bit dopey, I’ll do presentation type easy jobs. Having a couple of games running out of sync with each other helps give me those options.
FGL: One of the fascinating trends I noticed across some of your more action-oriented games was a unique movement/combat simplification.
PJB: You’re thinking Working Stiffs/Pocket Platoon there?
FGL: Pocket Platoon, Working Stiffs, and Dead Vault all feature this mechanic to some extent
PJB: I’d been playing around trying to bring the old-school game mechanics into a more casual games environment. Then I saw a demo that Ben the artist had made. He had these people following the cursor but running away from Zombies… and I thought that works really well! I really liked the old joystick based games, and they converted quite nicely to keyboard controls… but touch screens are horrible for that type of control. So I was really trying out a series of different approaches to getting that same type of feeling through a touch screen interface. Ben’s demo showed me one way to move towards that goal.
FGL: Your games have excelled at simplifying the technical demands on the user, using only lightweight, non-intrusive in-level tutorials as needed. Is this a conscious decision you made during development, or did you gradually arrive at these user-friendly mechanics?
PJB: It was definitely a conscious decision in the first place. The actual solutions were the result of trying different things one after another and seeing what worked and what didn’t work. The user interface is one of the most important features of a game. It’s how the user manipulates the game world and sees the results of their actions. I believe it’s impossible to understate how critical it is to get that exactly right. I also think it’s astonishingly hard to come up with a great solution that is ‘new’. Generally, if there’s a popular game with a similar mechanic, you should always copy it. Innovation for it’s own sake will very often fail. But then, I still don’t see many popular touch-screen games utilising the kind of control I’m trying to perfect here… so I’m kind of stuck being forced to try these risky changes!
FGL: We can see some of the echoes of this commitment to the user experience in your highly popular racing games. The gameplay mechanics are fairly traditional, and the levels are very well-tuned, but you focused on other elements of the games that made them a lot of fun. What would you say is the ‘magic’ in those games?
PJB: I think a lot of players like to feel that they’re in control but on the edge of chaos. When I first wrote my Outrun style game engine I concentrated very heavily on that factor. I still go back to the original settings for V8 Muscle Cars with some of the newest racing games, because I think I nailed it just about right in that one.
There’s a feeling as though you’re an amazing driver when you swerve and dodge amongst the slow moving traffic then take a corner with the rear end sliding way out there… I think that’s gratifying to almost anyone.
FGL: Big time. Racing games in particular can live or die based on the core mechanics and race difficulty tuning.
PJB: I’m not a great games player myself. I tune the games so I can *just* beat them if I try really hard or upgrade everything to max. That seems to be another sweet spot.
FGL: We had a question from the community for you: “You’ve produced a large number of games of varying size / length, but each feel professionally polished. When you’re wrapping up development on a game, are there any small things a developer can do to give a game that ‘big budget’ feel?”
PJB: It’s mainly the same thing everyone tells you – attend to the details. There’s nothing worse than starting a game and seeing a bad font, an ugly title screen, poor spelling, or buttons that don’t work properly. If you have time *after* making sure that’s all correct… it’s always nice to throw in a surprise in the first couple of screens. Defense 1942 had a verlet-physics dog tag chain that you could fiddle with. Danger Dungeon flames would react like you were passing your finger through them. Cruisin has this ‘oil painting’ type title screen, but when you click ‘play’ the car drives off into the distance. Little surprises really draw the player into the experience right at the start.
FGL: Do you have any new projects you’re working on these days? Anything coming out soon we can look forward to seeing?
PJB: Well, I’ve got three games up for sale on FGL right now (a new rally racing game, dash n dog, and hedgehog cute)… right now I’m having a go at a “parking” game (on request from a sponsor) but I want to do something a bit different so I’m combining the game mechanics with another popular genre to try a new hybrid. I’ve just written a highscore table (just for fun) which meant learning about PHP, mySql, and TCP/IP communications… that leaves the door open for some turn based multiplayer options which I’ve been wanting to explore for a long time. So at some point soon, I’d like to release a small test game that uses those factors to try to bring a more social element to it.
FGL: Looking forward to that! Well, that’s all for my questions. Do you have any shout outs or thank you’s you’d like to give before we wrap up?
PJB: Thanks first to FGL for providing a marketplace which has allowed me to be independent for recent years! A quick shout-out to the artists who work with me to make these games look great, especially Ben and Andrew!
I’d like to thank PJBaron for answering our questions and sharing these stories with us. If you have any other questions for Pete, post your questions below! If you know someone who would be a good candidate for the Community Spotlight, comment below, send a PM to FGL_Brian or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.