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Road To The IGF: Rabidlab's Jake Grandchamp (Dodge That Anvil!)

This latest interview with a 2006 Independent Games Festival finalist chats to Jake Grandchamp from Rabidlab, Los Angeles-based developer of Shockwave action title Dodge That Anvil!, which is a finalist in the Best Web Game category.


Over the next few weeks, Gamasutra will be presenting a regular 'Road To The IGF' feature, profiling and interviewing each of the finalists in the 2006 Independent Games Festival main competition. Today's interview is with Jake Grandchamp from Rabidlab, Los Angeles-based developer of Shockwave-based action title Dodge That Anvil!, which is a finalist in the Best Web Game category at the 2006 IGF, and is described as follows as part of its entry:

"The sky is falling! Eastwarren's rabbits have been forced underground, and only one brave harvester stands between them and starvation. Travel through bountiful fields while unraveling the mystery of the perilous anvil storm. Be clever, be quick, and dodge
that anvil!

Grandchamp took this opportunity to talk to Gamasutra on his background in the industry, his thoughts on the future of the indie scene, and his best and worst moments during the development of Dodge That Anvil!:

Rabidlab's Dodge That Anvil!

GS: Tell us a bit about your background in the game industry, when your developer was founded, your location, your previously developed games?

JG: Despite a skill set ostensibly geared towards the demands of the mainstream game industry, I have steered clear of the big companies, instead making my living in the more low-key world of advergames. I moved to Los Angeles in 2002 to form Rabidlab. Dodge That Anvil! is the studio's first commercial title.

GS: Tell us a little about your game - genre, how long it took to make, what it was inspired by, why you wanted to make it?

JG: Dodge That Anvil! is a very streamlined 3D action game. It is designed to appeal to fans of platforming action, while encouraging less-experienced players with its simplified controls and interface. Though the development has been subject to a hiatus or two, I estimate the full investment at one year.

The core gameplay was inspired by a physics test program I had created. The app was a stress test wherein I added a new physical object to the environment once every two seconds. In order to direct the placement of new objects, I created them above the head of a controllable character. This resulted in the instantly amusing scenario of the player character fleeing from a constant rain of heavy objects! It begged to be made into a game, and I did not refuse.

Given the inherent humor and absurdity of the gameplay, an abstract cartoon world was the obvious choice of setting. It is arguable, however, that something of an incongruity exists in the pairing of a realistic physics simulation with an impressionistic, technicolor exterior. I found the combination liberating, and the resulting lack of restraints on experimentation helped to keep each aspect of the development process fresh and fun.

GS: What was the smartest thing you did to speed development of your title, and the dumbest thing you (collectively!) did which hindered development?

JG: Dumbest thing: Conceiving a 3D platform action title with novel, physics-enhanced gameplay for my one-man company's very first commercial project. It's been fun and rewarding, but certainly not the easiest way to get a business rolling.

Smartest thing: Using an authoring tool to expedite development, in this case the excellent Macromedia Director/Shockwave package. Director provides a solid, cross-platform 3D engine, Havok physics, and a widely deployed web plugin. As described above, experimenting with this toolset provided the inspiration for the basic game design.

GS: What do you think of the state of independent development? Improving? Changing for the worse or the better?

JG: I'm still new to independent development, but from my perspective it's an exciting time to be involved in it. New distribution avenues are materializing pretty regularly, and media coverage of indie titles seems to be increasing. As for the eternal question of what exactly it means to be indie, I tend to take the broad view, and I believe there will be opportunities for indies of all stripes and sizes to find success in the coming years.

A little more anvil-dodging.

GS: What do you think of the concept of indie games on consoles such as the Xbox 360 (for digital download) or on digital distribution services like Steam? Is that a better distribution method than physical CDs or downloads via a website/portal?

JG: It's definitely exciting that these distribution avenues are available. For titles intended to reach a broad audience, it seems reasonable to assume that Xbox Live Arcade and Steam will complement the existing portal sites and retail channels, but not replace them.

GS: Have you checked out any of the other IGF games? Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?

JG: I really enjoyed Professor Fizzwizzle. Putting together a solid, fun puzzle game is no mean feat, and Grubby Games executed on all fronts with their title. Tommy and the Magical Words preyed ruthlessly on my weakness for word games. I can't even look at word game screenshots without lingering over them, looking for moves.

GS: What recent indie games do you admire, and what recent mainstream console/PC games do you admire, and why?

JG: Of the indie games I played last year, my favorite was the Japanese freeware scroller, Doukutsu Monogatari (Cave Story). A truly astounding solo effort - playing it felt like digging up a forgotten 16-bit era classic. If you've never played an independent game, that's a good one to get completely spoiled by.

As for leading brands, I've spent a lot of quality time with Advance Wars DS . Like hard candy, a solid turn-based strategy game always gives you your money's worth. My other recent highlights are all DS titles - Mario Kart DS, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow , Mario & Luigi 2 . Exception: Dungeon Siege II provided the methadone for my lengthy Diablo II habit.

GS: Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?

JG: Fight the good fight. Games are art, and art is for everyone. Evolution, not revolution. Unless you're talking about the Nintendo Revolution, in which case I'll take two.


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