April 5, 2008 4:02 PM |
['Quiz Me Quik' is a new weekly GameSetWatch column by journalist Alistair Wallis, in which he picks offbeat subjects in the game business and interviews them about their business, their perspective, and their unique view of life. This time - Line Rider creator Boštjan Čadež.]
There would have to be a fairly large percentage of people who've played Line Rider who first experienced it through YouTube videos. It's a pretty amazing sight – the rider swooping and diving through intricately created courses, coming close to peril on oh-so-many occasions, but always pulling through and continuing on his epic journey. And then you try it yourself and realise that – eep – it's a lot harder to put something like that together than you'd think.
That's really testament to the versatility of Line Rider, though. It is an amazingly simple idea – like all the best innovations – but it allows people to create their own unique vision and have fun with it, even if you're not able to recreate level 1-1 from Super Mario Bros.
It's going to be interesting to see what inXile can do with the game on a commercial level. Will it be as compelling with the knowledge that you're actually having to shell out money to play this on your Wii or DS? The issue of value in games has been gone over again and again, so I'll leave it well alone here, but how do you create value in a game that effectively lets you control just a pencil and eraser?
It could even be that it goes too far in trying to create value in the game, of course. Maybe people will pick it up and sigh, 'Jeez...I remember the good old days, when Line Rider didn't even have an eraser'. Only time, sales figures and the collective whining of forum users across the Internet will tell, I suppose.
With the game's release only a few months away, it seemed like a perfect time to talk to the creator of the Flash toy, Boštjan Čadež, and ask about the history of Line Rider, and his experiences with inXile in putting together its future. Oh, and also about whether the little sledding dude has a name.
GSW: Firstly, I'm curious: do you think of yourself as an artist, or a programmer?
Boštjan Čadež: Heh, I'm not actually educated to be either. Currently my qualification is dental technician. I studied design but haven't graduated so far. I guess that puts me closer to art than programing.
If I think about what I do most of the time, I could say I consider myself an artist of some sort.
GSW: What were you studying at the time you created Line Rider and isoType?
BČ: Industrial design.
GSW: So you didn't finish that course, and moved into dental work?
BČ: No, actually quite the opposite. I finished dental work as part of high school, but later never finished the design part.
GSW: Do you think you could work full time in the games industry?
BČ: Well, I wish I could but my knowledge isn't specific enough. I have no skills as a designer, producer, programmer, anything. I just made a game. As far as I experienced it, I don't fit anywhere.
GSW: How did you come up with the concept of Line Rider?
BČ: I've told the story about the sketch in my sketchbook too many times, so I'll skip that and talk about a wider background. I used to program AVS [Advanced Visualization Studio plug-in for Winamp] presets and later VJ in clubs. I learned the basics of programming that way, and learned some more with little projects in Flash.
Anyway, I enjoyed procedural animation because it didn't involve frame by frame 'slave' work, which I was always too lazy to do. But procedural stuff gets boring, monotone and predictive very fast. It especially bugged me with VJ-ing. Pre-coded stuff was too much like video - too much in the past – and even if it was reacting to audio in real time, it looked always the same. So I started thinking about how to find something which had the best of both worlds: something which I could change on the fly, some way of animating stuff by just drawing it.
Then I saw Cronodraw, by Anderas Gysin. It's a simple idea which kind of had what I was looking for. So I kind of ripped the idea and made a preset that repeated what I drew in the window in an endless loop, or just moved some sprites along the path my mouse moved. This was kind of what I was after, because it was a simple way of doing moving images by just drawing lines; no frame by frame or tweens.
And then after I finished isoType I saw the sketch and it clicked. Line Rider still has limitations though, so I hope I can find something better in the future!
GSW: What would you say they are?
BČ: The limitations I see are: you can't animate anything but the character. It's not a limitation of the game, its a limitation of Line Rider as an animation tool.
GSW: I've always been amused by your detailing of a back story for the game - is that something you still talk about? Has it filled out any more since you first wrote about it?
BČ: Not really. Well, there is a story that's in the games inXile is making, but I cant talk about that just yet.
GSW: Did you ever settle on a name for the Line Rider Dude yourself? I know he's now known as Bosh, but was that your idea?
BČ: We tried to give him a name while I was at inXile, but couldn't settle on anything. My proposal was Sanka, as 'sanke' is 'sled' in Slovene, but it didn't stick. So one day, [inXile founder] Brian Fargo said, 'Why not call him Bosh?', because that's what they called me in the US, since no one could pronounce Boštjan. And Bosh it was.
GSW: How quickly did Line Rider gain popularity?
BČ: It got 'popular' in a matter of hours. It had 10000 views in the first 24 hours it was on Deviant Art. I guess it all started when Unconed posted it on Digg.
GSW: Did the popularity of Line Rider videos come as a surprise?
BČ: Sure. Line Rider, as it is, doesn't even let you make videos without a screen capture program. So videos by themselves were a surprise. I still wonder how much videos had to do with the popularity of the game itself. I mean, they are like adverts made by the players. And in the start, YouTube's view count was a kind of 'high score' of the game - so when people competed in making the best track, they also promoted the game.
GSW: Yeah, I think that's true - it's almost adding a competitive element to the game, in a way.
BČ: Exactly. Line Rider wasn't even a game until YouTube.
GSW: Were there any videos that you were amazed by - people doing things that you hadn't intended or didn't realise were possible with Line Rider?
BČ: I was mostly amazed by how much patience people have. I knew you could draw until you drop - or Flash player does - because I made it that way. I just didn't expect anyone to bother. I also never expected for people to do such technical stuff. I mean, all the complex tricks and cool uses for quirks – a.k.a. bugs I never managed to fix - in the collision reaction algorithm!
GSW: How did you decide what to add or remove in subsequent versions of Line Rider? Are there any features you added that you're particularly happy with?
BČ: I didn't remove anything. I only added because people asked for stuff, like the eraser. Apart from the bugs, I still think Beta 1 is the coolest. It really forces you to put in some effort. In my opinion, the fact it didn't have an eraser made it more addictive.
GSW: Are there any awards or write-ups that you're especially proud of?
BČ: The GDC achievement award of course [for innovation in 2007]! Still don't know how that happened, but I sure didn't mind. I mean, it was my first - and last so far – game, which isn't even a game and how it got that award is still beyond me!
GSW: When were you contacted by inXile, and what was your initial reaction?
BČ: I think it was sometime in November 2006. I was thrilled about my game getting published. I used to play Game Boy when I was a kid and the idea of seeing my game on Nintendo hardware was something special to me.
GSW: How much did you know about the company's plans for the game when you signed the rights over to them?
BČ: Well, I knew the game would keep its basic idea and that's pretty much all that mattered to me.
GSW: You weren't concerned that they would build on it in a way that would remove the simplicity that people seem attracted to?
BČ: I was, but at the same time I wanted to add stuff which was impossible in Flash. Flash is quite a limited platform, as far as performance goes.
GSW: How much involvement have you had in the development of the Wii and DS versions?
BČ: I was quite involved during the three months I was in California, but that only covered the very early stages of development - tossing around ideas and such. I kind of cut the line when I came back and focused on other stuff, because I'd had enough of it for a while.
Later I just saw the game as it developed, and gave my two cents where I thought I should. To be honest, I don't really like how games are made when there is business involved. Too many compromises, too many deadlines and too many people that have too much say in stuff just because they have money and need to make something that sells.
GSW: What are you working on now?
BČ: Building an art museum inside wooden boxes with my friend, playing with Lego Technic, experimenting with Processing, and slowly making another Flash toy.
Categories: Column: Quiz Me Qwik