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IGF Factor 2010: Star Guard

Minimalist, beautiful, vicious. We loved Star Guard when Alec first played it, and it remains lovable now. It's picked up a nomination for Excellence in Design, and - of all the shortlisted game - is the standard bearer of arcade-brutality mixed with modern-accessibility. We sit down to talk with Loren Schmidt about all things Star Guard...

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RPS: Firstly, a brief intro to those who may not know you. Who are you? What's your background? Why get into games? Why get into indie games?

Loren Schmidt: My name is Loren Schmidt, and I developed the free title Star Guard.

I've known for ages that I want to make games for a living. I love well made games. Making games is very creatively satisfying to me. I also love how multidisciplinary it is.

I'm drawn to solo and small team projects for a number of reasons. I love it when a game is self-consistent- when all the pieces fit together well. When you have only a handful of people developing a game, everyone can be so tight knit that the different components mesh quite naturally. I also like the fact that when doing small team development, it's quite possible to make a project purely because you believe in it, not because you think it will be marketable. If game is worth making, you should have the freedom to make it. I really love seeing people like Terry Cavanaugh make small games that try out interesting ideas- the way the games industry is right now, you really can't do that as easily with a seventy person team.

That said, I do think that larger team sizes have strengths as well. It's pretty incredible to have so much specialized talent available, and to be able to have such high quality standards. I see small and large team development as complementary.

RPS: And... the game. Tell us about it. What was its origins? What are you trying to do with it? What are you most pleased about it? What nags?

Loren Schmidt: Star Guard is a very simple action game. My intent is that it be very easy to learn to play, yet scale well with player skill. I want people to be able to die a fair amount and not be punished for it. That's a fine way to play if you don't particularly care about score, or are just learning the ropes. I don't want the game to punish people for approaching it that way, but I want the game to offer optional challenges to those who want them.

One shortcoming of the game (or maybe the presentation of the game) is that it doesn't provide enough incentive to play skillfully. I'd like it if once people scaled the learning curve, they immediately felt a desire to challenge themselves.

I'd encourage anyone who completed the game in normal mode to try speed runs or try playing with limited lives. It's not for everyone, but some people really enjoy it. Normal mode is only half of the game.

RPS: What's your feelings on the IGF this year. Pleased to be nominated? Have particular love, bemusement or hate for any of the other entries? Is there anything you think is missing?

Loren Schmidt: Honestly I've been pretty nervous about the nomination. I don't really like being the center of attention, and competition isn't really my thing. On the other hand I do find it validating, and I'm happy to have an opportunity to go to GDC and spend time with other developers.

RPS: How do you feel about the indie scene generally this year? People have been relatively downbeat about 2009, after 2008 being so obviously incendiary. What are the themes, in your eyes? What are people missing?

Loren Schmidt: I feel really good about where things are right now. I'm enjoying the projects I'm seeing people develop, and I love the sense of community. People are very supportive of one another and willing to share. If you're interested in making games, now is a great time to learn.

I wouldn't worry about comparing years. I don't think games are coming out rapidly enough right now to make generalizations based on what's completed in any given year. The sample size is too small.

RPS: And how does the future look for you? What are you working on now and the foreseeable future.

Loren Schmidt: I'm currently making a couple of new games: I'm finishing up a tiny Flash game called Tin Can Knight, and I'm developing an RPG called Tiny Crawl.

Tiny Crawl is pretty exciting for me. I'm taking the basic hooks of an RPG, but using a very simple set of mechanics. The goal is to make something that's really streamlined and clean, where the depth comes out of interactions between the different elements rather than having a lot of different special case rules. For instance, Angband contains a huge number of special purpose items and spells, which are only useful in certain very specific situations. If you have a cursed ring on, cast 'remove curse.' If your strength has been reduced, use a 'restore strength' potion. That's not necessarily bad- it does make Angband deeper. But it achieves that through brute force. I'm trying to avoid that.

I'm finding development pretty engaging from a design standpoint, and I'm also excited about doing the art for the game. Once the design has been finalized a bit, I can get started on that. I'm aiming for a feel something like weathered parchment or old paper. It'll be fun to play with different ways of getting that feel- ink stains, burn marks, water damage... I'll announce the game properly and post some media once it's further along.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

You can download Star Guard or follow Loren's work here.

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