Interview with Alex Jordan of ApathyWorks

If you’ve been keeping up with this website or at least follow indie games in general, you may be aware of the recent Indie Games Summer Uprising event that just took place on the Xbox 360.  Over 2 weeks, a select group of developers were chosen to release their games in the Xbox Live Indie Games market to much fanfare and press, at least among the indie gaming sites.  Among those developers is Alex Jordan of ApathyWorks.  He released his quirky puzzle game Cute Things Dying Violently  during the first week of the event and was kind enough to field some questions about himself, his game, and the event in general.

 Cute Things Dying Violently

Brandon:  Well thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.  First, congratulations on having been selected to this year’s Indie Games Summer Uprising event.  How did you find out you made the final cut and what was your reaction?

Alex:  Thanks! It was really thrilling to make the final cut, I think I was doing laps around my apartment when I found out. Basically, I was sitting at my computer on July 18th, feverishly refreshing Twitter, my email, and the Indie Games Summer Uprising site, waiting to see which would update first. I can’t remember which did, but when I finally saw the voting results, it was a huge rush. CTDV grabbed 6th place and wound up only being 2 votes away from missing the cut entirely, so I added a dash of panic to my enthusiasm: “Oh my God, I have about a month to make this the best game ever so that I don’t waste this opportunity.”

Brandon:  How did you actually feel about your game when it came time to release it?  I know that software’s never “done”, but were you satisfied with the job you’d done?

Alex:  I was very pleased with the game when it came time for release. Most of the major gameplay coding had been wrapped up by December, and I’d used the intervening several months to further refine things, so pretty much nothing wound up in the final build that I thought, “This is broken, I’ll have to fix this later.” I have a ton of additional content planned for future patches to the game, but it wouldn’t have made sense to delay release for months on end to get it all added up front. I think it’ll be nice to show appreciation to the people who bought it by continuing to give them new content as I add it.

As for the literal moment of releasing the game, that felt wonderful! I released it from my iPhone while I was out with friends, eating Ethiopian food and drinking way too much honey wine on a work night.

Brandon:  How has the general response been from players?  Everything seems to be very positive via twitter.

Alex: Most of the responses have ranged from good to gushing. Some players are treating it as a fun diversion while others have been blown away by it, which makes me incredibly happy, of course. I’m really not sure how things are going on the word-of-mouth front, but the emails and Tweets that I’ve had directed at me have been overwhelmingly positive. As for the game reviews, those have been mostly good to great as well. The few reviewers that either haven’t liked the game or had significant reservations seemed to be bothered by the controls. Because I have it in my power to address these complaints, my first CTDV patch will add either a way to preview the shot you’re about to make, a “ghost” visualization of your previous shot, or both. I think those additions will retain the core physics/puzzler/platformer gameplay while giving people on the fence about the controls another reason to try or like the game.

Brandon: As gamers it’s always rewarding to know that a developer’s taking our words to heart on where a game could use a tweak here or a correction there.  By now you probably know that we loved the game.  I’m curious, though, to know if there were other games, movies, shows, anything really that you feel inspired either the premise of the game or the brand of humor you used?  Bonus points for the Flying Spaghetti Monster reference.

Alex:  My first inspiration was the nontraditional use of analog sticks in recent sports games, like rotating the analog stick to swing a golf club or what have you. I wanted to make a game with nontraditional controls like that and the flicking mechanic seemed like a neat idea. (In its original inception, instead of letting go of the stick to flick things, you’d push the stick quickly in the complete opposite direction. You could even rotate it to add some spin on your objects, like with a tennis ball. That… that was only a good idea in theory.)

As I’ve said elsewhere, games like Angry Birds, Super Meat Boy, and Lemmings weren’t inspirations. I live in a cave on Mars, so I hadn’t heard of the first two and I’d never played the third when I came up with the concept for CTDV. I like to think of CTDV as a kindred spirit to them, though. On the list of games I actually had heard of and played, I was quite taken with the feel of World of Goo and Worms and adopted a little of their magic.

As for the sense of humor? That’s entirely my own. I’m not sure at what point I consciously decided to make CTDV a funny game… I think I kept coming to points in the design process where I had to write something descriptive for levels or for menus, and I just kept coming up with amusing one-liners to stick in there. Before all was said and done, I was up to my neck in sarcasm, puns, and smartass-ery.

Brandon:  Well I really thought it was the humor that knocked the game out of the park and made it a no-brainer for the Summer Uprising selection process.  How has your experience been with the event?  Was there anything in particular where you can see improvements being made?  And do you feel that Microsoft is doing enough to promote indie developers?

Alex:  My experience with the Uprising has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve met a ton of cool developers and the whole thing has been an amazing vehicle for spreading word about our games. There’s room for improvement, like with most things, but I’m not quite sure where to begin. Lots of the identified issues, like the severe drop in media coverage during the second week, have subjective responses. Do we bundle all the games together up front in a single week? Do we spread it out more over a month? Do we wait for the perfect period to do an Uprising so that we don’t have to contend with events like DreamBuildPlay and PAX, which preoccupy journalists? I’m not sure.

As for Microsoft, beyond the fact that they’ve given me an amazing opportunity in the form of XNA and XBLIG, they’re doing a lousy job of promoting indie developers. Xbox Live Indie Games is an unregulated market, which is a good thing because it allows pretty much any developer to take advantage of it, but Microsoft hasn’t given anyone the tools to separate the cream from the crop. The clunkiness of the Xbox Dashboard certainly doesn’t help. And Microsoft can hardly ever run promotions because they won’t (and shouldn’t) detract from the attention that Xbox Live Arcade developers and publishers pay good money for. There’s too much tension there for XBLIG to grow beyond its current form.

I guess the moral is that Microsoft is bad about promoting XBLIG developers, but will they be good about turning XBLIG developers into XBLA developers? That’s something I’m interested in seeing a better answer to.

Brandon:  So with this summer’s event over, what can we expect going forward from Alex Jordan?  I know you’ve mentioned some control updates to Cute Things Dying Violently.  Are there specific plans to further support the game?  Is there another game you’re making or would like to make?

Alex:  Although the Uprising is over, I’m just getting started. First I’m going to patch CTDV and add the additional aiming tools, level rebalancing, bug fixes, etc. Since the game seems to be relatively popular, I want to keep supporting it over the next several months. My biggest priority after the first patch is to add a level sharing hub so that the best custom levels can get greater exposure. I also want to start adding new objects and a fluid system to play with. After that, it’ll be time to start thinking about a CTDV sequel, but we’ll see.

I’m not working on any other projects at the moment, but there’s a ton that I have planned. My brother and I will begin work on a 3D platformer in the near future, for one thing. We’ve been working on the design document for that one for quite a bit. I also have grandiose ideas for a horror game and an RPG, but God knows where I’d find the time for those right now. I have a 48 hour imagination stuck in a 24 hour day!

Brandon:  I know exactly what you mean when it comes to a lack of time.  Well before I let you go, is there anything you’d like to say to everyone who hasn’t had a chance to try Cute Things Dying Violently

Alex:  I’d find some indirect way of saying, “GIVE ME YOUR DOLLAR.” Something humble and contrite, like, “I’d really like gamers to at least try the demo. There’s a lot of content that might appeal to all sorts of players – challenging puzzles, cartoony gore, a sense of humor, a long singleplayer campaign, fake achievements called Achieve Mints, special challenge levels, local multiplayer, a level editor – so it’s well worth your time to look into it. I hope you like it!”

I’d also add something magnanimous like, “You should also check out the rest of the games in the Summer Uprising promotion, because it’s got a bunch of fantastic titles that have been released by talented developers.” Except I can’t really be sarcastic about that, because it’s got a bunch of fantastic titles that have been released by talented developers. Please check out their stuff and support them!


Cute Things Dying Violently is currently available in the Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace.  You can follow Alex on Twitter @AlejandroDaJ

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Author:Brandon Schmidt

Brandon is the founder and managing director of The Indie Mine in his free time. His preferred medium is video games and he's not shy about his support for the indie development community. You can follow him on Twitter @TheIndieMine.

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