Santa Cruz Good Times

Tuesday
Jul 28th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Gamers, Not Geeks

gammersnotgeeksTwo Santa Cruz video game designers break down life as a gamer

At Sundance, they wear Ugg boots, hair is coiffed, and “independent” movies are splashed across the screens. Glamour is in full force. At the Independent Game Festival (IGF)—which was held in San Francisco in February this year—it’s a vastly different independent scene. This one is without the paparazzi fuss and the Hollywood hoo-hah; it honors independent artists who make video games.

There, you might see guys like Edmund McMillen, a 27-year-old with muttonchops, wearing a black T-shirt, black shorts and boots. Or maybe you’ll see Alex Austin, 30, with his buzzed head. You’ll find gamers—lots of ’em—people who love to make and play video games as much as you loved playing with your Atari, growing up.

Two years ago, McMillen and Austin won top honors at the fest, when they, and a few others with their previous company, Chronic Logic, launched the wildly popular video game, Gish. At the time, the company was located in a cozy office off Mission Street on the Westside of Santa Cruz. Following Gish’s blast onto the scene, the company splintered and McMillen and Austin went on to form Cryptic Sea, basically the same idea—a company that creates independent video games, out of a new office on Lincoln Street, just seconds from Pacific Avenue.

Now, two years later, the duo are hard at work plugging away on other games, they just got back from this year’s IGF and they’re pondering the deeper levels of video games. (And I’m not just talking about ‘levels’ in terms of video game heroes going deeper into dungeons, or something like that. I’m talking about video game theory, learning, doing something good with a video game, and all the other types of things you never thought you’d hear a gamer talk about.)

Yes, making video games is an art, and its creators are fundamentally artists, people like McMillen and Austin, who sometimes get pegged as nerds, but are savvy guys. Without any sort of an academic degree behind them, McMillen and Austin have carved out their own legacy and niche in the video game industry. Both acknowledge that they could snag well-paying jobs in the mainstream video game industry—if they were interested, which they’re not.

“The vision gets lost,” Austin says, of working in the mainstream. “Mainstream games have a huge amount of money and 30 people working on a game.”

McMillen adds, “The whole point of trying to do this and not going into the mainstream is the fact that it’s just more true to the art of game design. We have the freedom to do whatever we want and make up our own rules. We’re making games because we want to make games that are fun for us.”

And they also want to make games that offer some sort of learning tool, that go beyond pure fun, into serving a deeper purpose. “They are supposed to be fun, but there is still depth to them,” McMillen says. “It’s the same thing as someone who goes and says, ‘I saw The Fast and the Furious and that was a fun movie to watch.’ Great. And there are people who say that 8 1/2, you need to see that movie because it’s a great art piece. … The misconception is that video games are video games. There’s an incredible depth. People see video games and it’s a little guy jumping on a screen and that’s it. There’s so much more that can be expanded on.”

McMillen goes on to explain that some people might write video games off as childish, which he believes just isn’t true. In addition, the pair doesn’t want to create mindless games that are addictive and a waste of time. In fact, surprisingly, Austin hardly ever plays video games, finding most of them boring. So what does he do? He create games that he’d actually like to play.

The path from a video game black hole, to winning a top prize at the IGF, can sometimes be a long one. It might start with the pair (along with occasional collaborator Luke Hetherington) brainstorming ideas, then moving into a rough outline. While McMillen designs the art and visual conception of the game, Austin works as the programmer, making the nuts and bolts of the game come together. Then they put it on their Web site, crypticsea.com and begin spreading the word. Fans find out and start purchasing the game online. Then the Cryptic Sea team finally takes their game to the IGF and hope for some success.

While this isn’t the multimillion-dollar mainstream side of the industry, they can get by. Gish profited them a $120,000 publishing deal. Up next? The pair, along with Hetherington is collaborating on a series of projects including the sequel to Gish, a golf game, a flight simulator game and more. Oh, and they’re looking for another programmer and someone to handle the business end of things. Just remember, these aren’t your average gamers—they’re looking for depth.

For more information, visit crypticsea.com.
Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

The Binding of Edmund McMillen

How a Santa Cruz designer created one of the most unlikely hits in video game history

 

Sun in Leo, Rosy Star, Venus and Uranus Retrograde

Three major celestial events occur this week. Wednesday, the Sun enters Leo, highlighting the heart center of everyone. Leo is a sign of deep sensitivity (along with Cancer). Wednesday is also the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, one of the most misunderstood women in the Bible. Saturday, July 25, Venus turns stationary retrograde at 0 Virgo (progressed Regulus, the Law, Hall of Records). Venus retrogrades for 44 days and nights, forming one petal of a five-pointed rosy star (pentagram) in the sky (five retrogrades over eight years = star). Venus retrograde turns values upside down. Our usual sense of beauty, values, the real price of things, relationships—all turn into a bundle of confusion. We don’t seem to know anything. Luxury goods are mispriced, values are jumbled, we wonder who that person is we’re in relationship with. We don’t know where our money is or where it’s gone. Venus, in daily life, represents values (resources, money, possessions and quality of relationships). Venus retrograde asks, “What do I value?” Venus retrograde puts us in touch with what has changed and what is truly of value in our lives. Venus retrogrades from 0 Virgo to 14 degrees Leo (July 25-Sept. 6). Leo is about the self and our creativity, which is how we come to know and value ourselves. We “know ourselves through what we create.” In Venus (values) retrograde (inner focus) we will ask, “What are values (not just money and finances)? What are my values? What do I create? How do I value my creations? Do I value myself?” Sunday, Uranus—planet of all things new, revelatory and revolutionary—also retrogrades (from 20 to 16 degrees Aries) until the full moon of Christmas Day. Five months of Uranus retrograde. In July and continuing on through the following months we have many planets retrograding. Things therefore slow down. Everyone’s focus becomes subjective, hidden by veils and curtains. A time when inner reserves of strength are available. A time of protection.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of July 24

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

AJ’s Market

Local cult fave keeps getting bigger and better

 

What do you think of Bernie Sanders?

He’s what we need, more hardcore Democrats. Old-school, ’70s-style Democrats. Tony Dolan, Santa Cruz, Freelancer

 

Hunter Hill Vineyards & Winery

Calling all Merlot lovers—Hunter Hill has released its 2013 estate Merlot ($25)—and a superb one it is, too.

 

Turn Up the Beet

Golden beets with buffalo mozzarella, plus single-malt whiskies and award-winning local Chardonnays