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Following the news that Ant Hive Games' iOS puzzler The Line HD is a GDC China 2011 finalist, creative director Florian Garcia talked to Gamasutra about how "being an indie in China is like being an ant in a world of giants."

Mike Rose, Blogger

November 8, 2011

5 Min Read

"Being an indie in China is like being an ant in a world of giants," opines Florian Garcia of Ant Hive Games, the Shanghai-based developer behind iPad puzzler The Line HD. "I would say that the main difference between the indie scene in China and the rest of the world is that the scene is even smaller, which makes it complicated to communicate with the rest of the world," he said. Following the recent news that The Line HD has been selected as a GDC China finalist, the studio's creative director Garcia sat down with Gamasutra to talk about the game, and how indie games are perceived in China. The game itself has received dozens of high ratings from the press and gamers, and the development team is now looking to continue this success streak with a win at GDC China later this month. "The idea behind The Line HD comes as the next step on from Little Runner, a game I designed for Red Rocket Games where you controlled the environment instead of directly control the character," he explains. "Little Runner required the player to line up platforms in front of a character who is running ever faster. To support the simplicity, I decided that this game would be only black and white and fully hand drawn animated." Unfortunately, a combination of engine and device issues led to a cut-down version of Garcia's original vision finally being released, although he was still happy with what had been created. Months later, Garcia once again began to toy with the concept, and created a new prototype with Ant Hive Games. Playing around with the idea of drawing and erasing lines for the character to interact with, the developer finally had a clear vision of what he wanted to do. "In the end, it is much more fun to play and it also opened the door to all kinds of challenges you now can find in the game," he notes. Visually, the game was kept very minimalistic in nature, while the main character was based around a homage to an Italian animated series created by cartoonist Osvaldo Cavandoli called 'La Linea' -- or 'Lineman' in English. "This series was part of my childhood and helped me forge my imagination," he explains. Clearly all these changes to the original formula worked a charm, as the game is now a GDC China finalist -- and Garcia is understandably over the moon. "It is important because it tells us that we're not completely crazy and that it isn't only us who likes our game," he laughs. "As an indie developer in our situation, we really can use any help we can get, as we don't have the funds of an EA or Activision, so the exposure we get from the IGF is invaluable." He adds, "I would also say that considering how hard it can be for indies and considering the energy, passion and love spent every day, it is terribly humbling to be one of the finalists." This is especially hard for an indie developer living in China, says Garcia, as there's "a lot of confusion when talking about indie games" in the country. "In the mind of most people, indie is just about being an independent game developer, but to us it goes beyond that... to me, creating an indie game is about using our medium to innovate, push the boundaries of what makes a game or even talk about a subject nobody would usually dare to talk about. "As you might guess, there are not a lot in China following those principles," he sighs. "When we approached a local company with the idea of releasing our game on their platform, they were very surprised to learn that The Line HD was made in China because it was so innovative and new compared to what they were used to seeing." He does, however, note that it's still early days. "The scene is only a few years old so I would say that Rome wasn't built in a day... but thanks to the digital platforms such as Steam and mobile platforms such as the App Store, we're growing in numbers by the days." Indeed, Ant Hive Games is doing everything in its power to make sure that the scene in China continues to expand and thrive. "We try our best to stay close and support each other," says Garcia. "Our friends of Coconut Island have organized two game jams this year and are looking into increasing the number of participants in future." He continues, "We also opened a group called Shanghai Association of Gamers (SHAG) that we use to share ideas, plans and data. We intend to use it as a platform for all the local indie game developer to meet with each other during organized monthly gatherings which would also give an easy access point to our community for the new comers." Ant Hive Games' future all rests on the success of its iPhone and iPad endeavours, with a potential win at GDC China meaning great things for The Line HD. The team also has two other iOS titles on the way -- Little Milano, a game about an Italian man who is trying to keep an affair secret from two women, and an as-yet-unannounced two-player tabletop style game for iPad. There's are overall thought in Garcia's mind besides his games, however, and that's simply surviving China's indie scene. "As a small enterprise, we constantly have to think about how we spend our budget, and the unravelling marketing can be quite challenging. IGF and IGF China are two wonderful kick-starters and thanks to them, The Line HD might finally get the attention it deserves with this nomination."

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