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Marie the Bee A Conversation with Cactus & Petri Purho [Interview]
Wed, Apr 22, 2009 12:33pm EDT
By Marie the Bee
Ever since our How to Be Me interview with Petri Purho, HCF has been eager to delve deeper into the world of indie game developers and their awesomeness. Indie darlings (and budding BFFs?) Cactus and Petri Purho, who recently gave back-to-back lectures at GDC, agreed to sit down with us for some fancy, three-way IM action. In the conversation that follows, we cover topics ranging from game-related depression, to the fear of the judgment of our peers, to making games that aren't fun, to the winner that's inside each and every one of us.

Cactus, do you think you could tell us a little about yourself? Better yet, Petri, do you think you could tell us about Cactus?!

Cactus: That's way more interesting, yeah.

Petri: He's awesome and he does awesome games.

And then Cactus can take a turn describing you...

Cactus: Petri's Finnish, makes cool games when he's not being a magician. He has really nice hair.

Petri: Cactus makes games at an insane rate. Here's a motivational poster that I made for myself:

Cactus: Petri's made more games than me this year though...

Awww... really?

Cactus: Yeah.

Petri: It's not true. I've released 2 games so far. You've made more.

Cactus: But you've made games you haven't released right?

Petri: Well one. (And maybe another one).

Cactus: Yeah, I think I've made three games.

Petri: That's really lazy of you.

Cactus: I know.

Have you been busy? Doing other things?

Cactus: Yeah, I was pretty depressed during winter, and then I've been out with friends more than normal the last month or so.

What kind of circumstances are best for making tons of games? No friends and summertime?

Petri: Yeah, that's pretty much it. I've made all my best games during the summer.

Cactus: I think the key is seeing games as a fun thing you can do to delay attending to more urgent matters.

Petri: That is so true. Cactus, do you feel depressed if you don't do games, if you're not up to your speed?

Cactus: No, I don't really care. I don't take games seriously enough, I think. I want to, but I haven't been able to.

Petri: That's good for you. Because I was somewhat depressed a little while ago, as well, but I felt so much better when I made and finished a game. I don't know why. Maybe it was because I was feeling depressed because I didn't get shit done.

Cactus: Yeah, it always feels good to finish a game, but I don't feel bad about not making games. (Well, I feel a bit like I should make more games, but nothing more than that.)

Petri: I think for me the big cause of "depression" was Crayon Physics Deluxe. I was talking at GDC and pretty much everyone told me that you'll get depressed after you release your big game. So I guess there's something to it.

Cactus: Must be a lot of pressure on doing an amazing follow up, eh?

Petri: No, I don't think that's it. It's just that after you've released something it gets bashed all over the internet (which I expected) and that wasn't the cause of grief, but I think it's just that after that there's nothing really to do. Feels really pointless, like you're fired from a job or something. I don't know; it's hard to put into words.

Sort of the game equivalent of postpartum depression...

Petri: Yeah, that's what Kyle Gray told me.

What sort of satisfaction do you guys get out of making games, then? Beyond spending time on something fun in lieu of more urgent matters. :p

Cactus: I enjoy being creative, and whatever attention you get when you release the game feels pretty rewarding, although that feeling kinda drops a bit with every game you make.

Petri: There's no letdown in prototypes, really.

Even if the prototype doesn't perform as you would have liked?

Petri: Like, prototypes, I don't care how they perform. If nobody likes them and everybody trashes them it's fine with me. I have a safety mechanism that allows me to protect myself. I just say that the game was made in 7 days what else would you expect from it? It's only 7 days max. Like what the FUCK have they ever made in 7 days?

Does that go double for you, Cactus? Since your games are made in hours?

Cactus: Pretty much. I actually typed out the development time for my games as an excuse for them not being better, rather than a reason to brag when I created my website.

Petri: It's a good tactic.

I think that most people would agree you both make fantastic and fascinating games and that the short span of time in which you make them is a testament to your awesomeness.

Petri: Here's an very interesting talk by Tim Brown:

In the very beginning he points out why adults rarely are very creative. A big part of it is that we're all very afraid of the critique of peers.

Is there any amount of success you guys could achieve that would relieve your fear of the judgment of your peers?

Cactus: I don't think so. I think pressure might build up along with your accomplishments in many ways...But, Petri's more successful than me, so he should be answering that.

Petri: Not true. Like, I released my worst game up to date right after I won the IGF grand prize. :) So, I'm pretty down with failing spectacularly.

Cactus: Hahaha.

Petri: Somebody pointed out that releasing 4'33 of Uniqueness right after releasing Crayon Physics Deluxe was an very interesting career move. Never thought of it that way before.

I think I'd like to move the conversation into a different direction if that's okay!

Cactus: Sure.

There's been something that's been on my mind since Cactus' talk at GDC and that's games that aren't fun. You brought it up a couple of times. I think, for most people, "fun" is intrinsic to a "game"....So, what kind of unfun games are you imagining? And what would they accomplish?

Petri: (Naa Naa you got the difficult question.)

Oh, you will have to answer, too!

Petri: Damn.

Cactus: Well, I see it as comparing games to other media, like movies or books. Right now it feels like games are usually pretty much limited to something similar to cartoons, action, adventure and comedy. While there's certainly classics in some of those genres, I generally prefer less "entertaining" movies and books myself. So for example, if we'd describe a Nobel prize winning book, fun would not necessarily be among the words we'd choose. I think games are just aiming at trying to please everyone at the same time. I want games that are targeted at people who share my taste more specifically. Where's the Stanley Kubrick, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Fellini of game design?

I'm pretty sure people have already compared you to Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch.

Cactus: Yeah, but that would be a very relative comparison, probably solely brought out from the limited output of more alternative games. Compare one of my games directly to one of those guys' movies, and it's basically just a fart in the wind.

Petri: I agree that there should be more games that explore what else we can do with games. Like Jenova Chen pointed out, the emotional spectrum of games is very limited. So, I'm very interested in seeing games done where the goal of the rules of the game is not just to be about fun, but to express ideas and other emotions. Jason Rohrer's and Rod Humble's games are a very good beginning, but I think there's even more interesting stuff to come. Jason's Gravitation is so worth checking out. But that's purely or very much on the game mechanic / rules side of things. Then there's the thematic and visual side of things, which also is very limited in scope. But I think that's the side of things that will continue to mature and develop as we see more games. But I don't think that's going to be enough. Also, I think fun is just a really bad term for games. I don't care if something is fun. I just want something that's interesting and worth while for me. So, I agree with Jason Rohrer when he said that games are hopefully going to be next big art form, but it's going to take a lot of work to get there. We're not there yet and we might never get there unless we work really hard.

What will it take to reach that point?

Cactus: I think more easily accessible tools might be the key. A movie usually has one director that gets most of the credit for the end result, books are usually the visions of a single person too, and often it's the same with comics and music. Mainstream games are usually created by huge teams of people, which makes it really hard to stay true to the original vision of whoever came up with the game concept. I also don't think a big company would care to face the risks of making something completely different, unless it was something they knew would sell.

Petri: That would also allow more interesting persons to express their opinions and ideas through games.

Cactus: Exactly.

Petri: There's also this idea that was expressed by Rod and Jason and a lot of other people, which is that in every medium there's something that defines that medium, sets it apart from all the other mediums. In movies it's editing. In games I think it's the rules of the game. Unless we explore and figure out how we can use the rules to craft and express ideas, we're doomed to this reputation that we have.

Cactus: Yeah, some people have to be the pioneers who start it all, I guess. It's up to game developers to make it happen, I think. Like Petri mentioned, people like Jason Rohrer and Rod Humble are doing a lot to help with paving the way for these kinds of games.

How do the indie game developers bring their message mainstream? Would going mainstream ruin it?

Petri: I have no idea how indie game developers could reach the main stream. I don't think they can as a whole. There might be one or two developers that make it big and hit the mainstream market, but I don't see indie games as a whole ever reaching to mainstream market . [Going] mainstream could ruin it, but also: is something indie when it hits the mainstream market in a big way? Like Nintendo is financially independent, but you don't say that they make indie games.

I'd love to see the Jodorowsky of games. I just wonder what needs to happen to bring that about.

Petri: Someone just has to make it. I don't know how to get the money to do it, but I don't know how Jodorowsky financed his movies.

Are there people you're watching? Whose work has that kind of promise?

Petri: I play pretty much all the Cactus games that come out.

What are your favorite games of each other's and why?

Petri: I love Cactus's Mondo Medicals, Psychosomnium, Ad Nauseum 2, Seizure Dome... I'm forgetting a bunch of games. [Note: All of which can be found on Cactus' site under Games!]

Cactus: I like many of Petri's games. Crayon Physics was the first one I took notice of (I sent it around to people on MSN even), but I really like ComGYBR and JLHTP too. As well as quite a few others. I hadn't played any physics games before I started visiting Petri's site.

Petri: I have no idea which games you're referring to. :)

Cactus: Hahaha.

Petri: I got JLHTP.

Cactus: Choke on my Groundhog.

Petri: Oh. Cool :)

What triple A titles do you guys play?

Cactus: I play Mario Kart...

I will own you at Sherbet Land, Cactus.

Cactus: I doubt it. ;)

Oh man, it's on.

Petri: I suck at Mario Kart.

Then I definitely want to play you, Petri. Um... I feel like the interview portion of this chat has pretty much shut down... Thanks so much, you guys, for the interesting chat!

NOTE: At this point the conversation degenerated into chit-chat. Later, after expressing my own feelings of self-doubt & despair, Cactus shared this illuminating Youtube clip that, hopefully, may inspire all of you who may experience self-doubt, too:

There's a winner inside each and every one of us.

Cactus: Yes, exactly. Don't doubt yourself anymore!

brian p
Awesome! I love seeing the indie artists chat about the process they go through. Mainstream tastes are what they are, but the core of the art happens at the indie level. Great reading.
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