Lately, we've been doing a lot of interviews. It's been great! A while back we even had a whole blog post about them (you can read that here: http://blog.wraithgames.com/2016/04/if-were-being-pressed.html)! Now it's probably high time we do another post of that nature, but until a couple of the interviews we did actually hit the web, that will have to wait. No, this time I'd like to highlight an interview we did back in February for the website Gamer Problems that's no longer online. Well, until now, that is! See, they had some sort of massive server overhaul and all their content before May was wiped out. Bummer! Thankfully, we just so happened to have that we had a backup of the interview and wanted to share it with you all.
So, without further ado, I present to you...
Tell me a bit about yourself and how it all started?
My name is Jay Kidd and I’m the founder and lead designer of the indie game studio, Wraith Games. I founded the company back in 2005 with a few of my friends because we just wanted to make the type of games we liked to play. I realized when I was just 9 years old that I wanted to make video games when I grew up.
I went to the Butler Tech School for the Arts where I specialized in graphic design, though I also have a programming and game design background. I currently live in the Artspace Hamilton Lofts with my fiancée (Wraith’s lead programmer) Kristy Iwema. I’m a pretty old-school nerd, really. I spend most of my time either playing or making video games, playing D&D or Magic the Gathering or consuming some sort of media (usually either cartoons, anime, comic books, or fantasy novels).
Do you idolize any other game development studio?
Quite a few. Nintendo immediately springs to mind. It was the combination of playing Super Nintendo games and playing on my old Windows 3.1 that made me want to get involved with development in the first place. Every time they come out with something new it always brings me back into my living room as a kid, but with a twist.
Valve is another big one for me. It’s not really necessarily because of their games either, though their games are most definitely some of my favorites. No, it’s more about how they run things over there. They have this kind of creatively-driven, flat management-thing going on. We’re really striving to be a Valve-like place.
There are tons more: WayForward, Retro Studios, DoubleFine, Naughty Dog, Bossa Studios... the list just goes on and on. We could be here all day! Other than that, though, I mostly idolize individual developers like Notch, Pixel, Terry Cavanagh, Connor Ullmann, the amazing duo that is Team Meat; so many talented people! I’m usually not one to buy wholly into auteur theory, but they make a powerful argument for it.
From where do you get inspiration for your games?
Everywhere! I know it’s kind of a cliché answer, but it’s true. There are some times I’ll just be sitting around and something will catch my eye and I’ll think “that needs to be part of a game”. Most of the time, though, it’s media. I consume a lot of media. I love film, music, animation, comics, novels and, of course, games. Classic games, especially. Collapsus, for instance, came to be because I wanted to make a game for my mom. She loves puzzle games, so I just reached into my knowledge of games: Tetris, Bejeweled, Puzzle League, some of the first things you think of when you think “puzzle games” (at the time, at least). I didn’t just want to remake those games, though. So many people would have settled with just making a Tetris clone or something, I just wanted to make something original using some of those ideas as stepping stones.
I also play a lot of tabletop RPG’s. I’ve been running the same weekly game for a little over 10 years now. That’s always been a great way to get out some of my weirder ideas and refine them. Add a little Star Wars, a little Fullmetal Alchemist, some Death Gate Cycle, maybe some Steven Universe and shake. Who cares if it started out as high fantasy. After playing that for a few months, boiling it down to the stuff that matters, then we add more inspiration. After playing, I usually jot down the best parts, the stuff that really made an impact, and I try to save that for my real game design.
Which one of your games did you most enjoy making?
That’s a hard one. It’s a bit like asking who you favorite child is. If I’m really being put on the spot about it, I’d say Physix. It’s nowhere near done, but already it’s been such a blast to work on. It actually started out as an entirely different game. We had been working for a few weeks on a first-person, point and click-style mystery game. Like with this stage of Collapsus, Kristy and I were working alone on it while everyone else was doing other things. It was set in a mansion and while we had that most of the way done, the bulk of the work was on a dynamic dialogue system. We hadn't even started on that part and were due to show it off at a convention in a couple weeks.
While messing around with the dialogue system, I’d gotten so put off with one of the characters, I picked up a nearby object (I think it was a chair) and tossed it at him. Of course, it just bounced right off, because he wasn’t programmed to respond to something like that, but that’s when I kind of realized that the physics engine was way cooler than anything I was doing. I ended up making a kind of maze where I just ran around tossing chairs at people. That’s when I started adding physics based puzzles. We ended up taking that to the convention instead. The gravity manipulation came later, of course. You can’t imagine how much fun playing around with anti-gravity is. Hopefully you won’t have to wait too much longer to experience it, though.
Which game that you have made so far was the biggest challenge?
Early on, especially, we had quite a few projects that didn’t get anywhere. Projects that we literally just stopped and never picked back up again for one reason or another. It’d be pretty easy to say one of those, because their lack of completion wasn’t for lack of trying, usually.
The truth is, that it’s probably Collapsus. We’ve all had quite a good time working on it, but there have been so many frustrating parts, to say the least. Over the course of development it’s changed engines four times and has had a total of seven programmers working on it at one point or another. Now, this was in the early days of the studio, well before any of us were doing this full-time (before we were a “real” company, for that matter), so trying to work on a game while juggling other responsibilities on top of that can be difficult especially having to adjust to a changing engine (a decision made by a programmer who is no longer with us) while working off of a predecessor's code (and their predecessor doing the same, etcetera), you can see where things fall apart pretty easily. There were times where keeping team morale up was a pretty daunting task and to say that some people didn’t leave over it would be an outright lie. In the end, we’re proud of what we made and learned quite a lot, so really that's all that matters.
Favorite game that wasn't made by you?
Another hard one! I don’t really have one true favorite. I’m a huge fan of nearly all of the Mario games (yes, even Sunshine), but I’d have to say that Mario World wins out, I think, but just by a bit. For some reason, I’d have to say the version on the GBA is slightly better than the SNES, but not by much. Zelda is another huge franchise for me. A Link to the Past (also the GBA version, though again, not by much) and Wind Waker HD are pretty much tied for me on that front. If I stayed with just Nintendo, we’d be here for a while, so I’ll just say those.
Portal and Portal 2 are simply masterpieces. I actually pre-ordered the stand-alone copy of Portal for PC when the Orange Box first came out after seeing the trailer. I was a bit too low on funds at the time to buy the whole thing and I knew I had to have this amazing new game. It was like nothing I had ever seen before! Most people don’t even realize the standalone boxed copy even existed, but it does, and I still have it.
Cave Story is another favorite. When I first played it, I didn’t even know it was only made by one guy. This was before the various plus versions came out and I was floored. It’s just so charming and oddly moving. Since then, I’ve bought every version that has come out.
I have a pretty big gaming shelf and well over 1000 Steam games, to boot, so narrowing it down is very hard for me. I guess I’d have to say that the Batman Arkham series, Tetris, Minecraft, The Elder Scrolls series, and Super Meat Boy also deserve special mention. Other than those, I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t mention a very small, web based game that really pulled me in. I know it’s probably a bit silly, but Seedling from Connor Ullmann is honestly one of my favorite video games of all time. I have no clue why, because, objectively speaking, it probably shouldn’t speak to me on the level it does, but hey you can’t really help what you love, right?
Where would you like to be in 5 years time?
Tahiti. No, I’m kidding. Probably. In all honesty, I just want to be making more games. Maybe hire on some more team members, maybe move to a bigger studio space. Even those are just maybes. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do with people who want to do the same. So I guess, I just want to do more of it.
If you could go back in time to when Wraith Games was founded in 2005 what advice would you give yourself?
I’d tell myself to stick with it. There were so many times I wanted to give up and either friends or family would push me not to. They saw the passion in me. Growing up, I would be in computer lab or in programming class and I wouldn’t work on on my assignments, I’d be working on making little games. I’d carry around notebooks and sketchbooks of ideas. They knew I couldn’t live with myself if I ever gave that part of me up, I just wish I’d known that, too. It would have made the harder parts easier. Of course, it’s easy to say that now with how well we’re doing, but looking back, it was always so uncertain.
Any hints of what your next game will be about?
Oh, now that one’s easy! There exists a document that has been dubbed “The Phone Book” containing all of the projects I’ve ever wanted to work on. It’s called that because of the sheer volume of content in it (and it keeps growing). We should never run out of projects, especially since I’m not the only designer here who has ideas going forward. Other than finishing up our current projects (of which there are always more than we had planned on working on at one time), we’re going to be picking the temporarily shelved “Jet Pack Hero” and “AAAAH! A Giant Freakin’ Cave Worm… RUN!” back up.
After that, we have plans for a more traditional side scrolling platformer, a musically inspired Metroidvania, and a game that I’m not actually allowed to talk about right now. When that one’s done, those reading this interview in the future will know why. Those are really just the tip of the iceberg on what we have planned for the future!