26 de febrero, 2014
Ian Snyder: “We have to beware of elevating anything to the pedestal of infallibility”
Ian Snyder: “We have to beware of elevating anything to the pedestal of infallibility”

Offbeat, nonsensical, young creator graduated on Kansas City University. Out of the box thinker, distrustful towards self-promotion, Ian Snyder praises web browser games towards his creations, talks about the vital importance of developing, in a more personal and intimate way. Despite his youth, freshness and his high expectations about life, he’s behind more than ten projects, with which he has learned to improve day by day, proving that he is one of the pivotal authors of the future of indie scene.

Your Twitter account clearly asks it (@whatisian), your web site too (ianiselsewhere). Now, it’s the first question: what or who is Ian Snyder?

Ian Snyder is a small quivering ball of sewer slime which emerged from underneath the streets sometime in the late 1990s. Upon stepping into the world, blinking its more eye-like cavities in the golden sunlight, it began to slowly expand and expand and expand. Today, nearly the whole world is covered in this slime. We can hardly take a step without squishing. How long has it been since any of us has seen a clean surface? Months? Years? One tends to lose track when covered in such an ooze. We don’t know why or how this ball of slime continues expanding, but we estimate that, if it continues growing at the current rate, it will cover the earth in a 5-meter-deep layer of itself by 2020, and by 2050 the whole earth will be merely an unrecognizable orb of gelatin floating through the uncaring depths of space.

Throughout your career, we can see that your games are varied enough. What is your choice: create easy game mechanics instead of other game aspects? Does the indie scene allow you to move within many kinds of gameplay experiences?

I try to take on projects that I think will challenge me to grow as a game designer. While some of my games, I admit, were made purely to help me stay afloat financially, I try to do at least one new thing every time I make a game. If I’m not growing as a result of working on a project, I’ll typically get bored and abandon it. Perhaps this is what has led to the variety you point out.

With Star Swing you offer us a musical chill out game; Ambia is a puzzle shooter; Sun Hop is similar to a gravity simulator… How is possible for you to create games with so many differences? What are your game references?

Ian SnyderI don’t know if I’d say those games are all that different from each other, to be honest. Each of those three occurs on a 2 dimensional matrix, deals with gravity, has a relaxing soundtrack, and has a predominantly blue color scheme. Both Star Swing and Sun Hop are played with only one button. All of them take heavy influence from other videogame works that existed before them. Star Swing, for example, was heavily inspired by videos of Steph Thirion’s Faraway (I’ve never actually played the game though). Ambia doesn’t really do anything novel in terms of mechanics… it’s a bit like a cross between Cave Story (Studio Pixel, 2004) and Super Create Box (Vlambeer, 2010). Sun Hop takes its inspiration from an old Tonypa game called Geartaker.

I feel pretty self conscious about these three games in particular. They’re, on the whole, some of the least original work I’ve done. Each of them falls under the category of games I made almost purely to sustain myself financially, too. Although -I’ll note- none of them did particularly well financially. I suppose they don’t tread too hard on their predecessor’s toes, but I’m still uncomfortable with them.

Can we use Star Swing like a anti-stress complement? How you can bet for a project like this? We can consider it a relaxing work like Osmos or Proteus?

Sure, I guess part of the aim of Star Swing was to make a relaxing experience. The score counting is deliberately obtuse, and is such that it allows you to dip in and out of play at any time. I really like that aspect of it, actually. As I said earlier, it was a mostly financial project for me, but what kept my interest in it was the musical and graphical aspect. I’m still quite fond of the soundtrack for that game. It’s simple, but it’s effective nevertheless.

Not considering The Floor is Jelly, all of your games can be played in the web browser. Do you intend to promote easily gameplays instead of no narrative or hard mechanics games?

I would love to just put all my games on the web for free. I don’t like asking people to pay money for my game, but you have to pay the bills somehow. The browser is really wonderful as a means of delivering games to people. All I have to do is send someone a link and they can play my game… that’s lovely! There’s a kind of freedom in that. A game that exists online doesn’t want you to play it in the same way a downloaded game does. It sacrifices certain elements of itself, it has a humility about it. The game is content to let itself be surrounded by ads, by terrible comments, by all kind of abuse, but it continues to exist. The downloaded game, however, demands all of your attention. It demands you set it to fullscreen, or play it with a controller, or only on these platforms. By and large, games are too precious with themselves. I want to see less self-importance in games. I like browser games because, more than many other kinds of games, they are satisfied with who they are.

The Floor is Jelly represents a big leap as an indie developer, it had more hype in the trade press and we could say it’s your most mainstream (popular game so far). Did you want to give that little “narrative” twist? Can we say that it is your opera magna?

Oddly, it’s not actually my most popular game so far. Downloadable games tend to get a lot more buzz in the press, but, according to my statistics, significantly less people actually played The Floor is Jelly than many of my browser games. It’s a strange phenomenon.

For me, The Floor is Jelly was just another learning project. A place for me to try something new. I started it as a means of exploring what it was like, and what kind of a game I could make, on a longer term schedule. All of my previous games had been finished in under a few months. I wanted to see what I could make if given a year’s time. So I don’t think it’s my magnum opus, I think it’s just another learning project for me.

Since your last game was awarded in the Independent Games Festival 2012 and reading your dev blog we could realise how hard it could be to create a game like The Floor is Jelly, are you a developer more oriented to programming (physics, engines, IA…) or you prefer to dedicate your time to the visual art?

I enjoy all aspects of game development, and I think they’re all connected. For The Floor is Jelly, the visual aesthetic is highly integrated to the programmatic physics of the gameworld. They were developed side by side, and necessarily so.

The Floor Is Jelly

Also, during that year, you were one of the best students of the Independent Games Festival 2012, do you think that the oriented courses to design and programming video games are a good choice or do you prefer to be a self-taught person?

I think it’s best to be self-taught, when possible. I went to an art school, actually, rather than a game design course. I didn’t want to learn about videogames, I already knew how to make videogames and I knew I could teach myself whatever I wanted to know in that area of knowledge. I knew nothing about art, however, and wanted to learn about it. Furthermore, I knew that I didn’t have the mental tools or the social connections to teach myself about art, so I decided to pursue those through academics.

Like a graphic designer that I am, I see you as a colour maniac, so much so that you want to find colourful and harmonic chromatic scales for The Floor is Jelly according with the contrast of the differents levels. How important do you consider the visual impact from a video game? Is there a famous painter or a pictorial movement for which you have predilection in order to incorporate it into your games?

Every game has a visual impact. Even the absence of an aesthetic is an aesthetic. The visuals of a game communicate something about the nature of that game, or convey some message the author tried to impart to the player. That message could be highly specific, or it could be “I didn’t care about this game’s visuals,” but it is always something. It’s important to understand that you cannot abdicate your game’s visuals of meaning, although you may deemphasize them.

Color is very important to me. I spend a great deal of time tweaking it until it feels just right. Personally, the primary signal toward an emotional state is a color scheme and a musical score. I can’t necessarily point to any specific painter who has been influential to me on this account.

Is it hard to be a versatile person, that is to say: knowing how to program properly and devote some time for the art? Are you willing to receive help from others devs to complete your future games?

I don’t think it’s particularly difficult. I enjoy it though. It’s good to be involved in every aspect of a games production, and I become uncomfortable when aspects of it are given to other people. I’m not outright against collaboration though, and I intend to do more of it in the future.

You cook it, and you eat it… Is somebody else after Ian Snyder in the game production? Do you think you have to foster the relationship between indie developers?

It’s very important to be connected to a good community of other developers, whether online or in person. My game absolutely would have been worse if I hadn’t had a network of people there to tell me when I was making mistakes and to help me discover better avenues to explore. The single most important piece of advice to aspiring game developers I can give is to find a community of people you can trust.

The majors companies (Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, EA…) thinks that the indie videogames have so much potential: could the indie scene set the guidelines of this new generation?

We have to beware of elevating anything to the pedestal of infallibility. Indie Games do not necessarily promote an any more moral path than AAA games do. I think what’s likely to occur is that the present indie games scene will collect into small pockets of financial power which will slowly displace the current AAA environment. In 10 or 20 years we will perhaps be in the same situation we are now, but instead of bemoaning the dominance of companies that rose to power from the less concentrated game development scene of the 80s and 90s, we’ll be bemoaning the dominance of studios that rose to power out of the current indie scene. We should be immediately distrustful of anyone trying to set guidelines, lest we let these guidelines rule us at our expense.

Ian Snyder, Ian Snyder, Ian Snyder… What is the next project of Ian Snyder? What goes through your head right now?

Right now I’m patching a few bugs for The Floor is Jelly and trying to push out an update. After that, who knows!

Acerca de Sergio Ochoa

Yo escribía biografías con gran elegancia hasta que se volvió mainstream la dote de redactarlas en tercera persona. Magical Drop III pro-gamer y monoculopaster reconocido, Twitter es mi habitat natural: ahí es donde somatizo todos mis perjuicios.

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