Brendon Chung of Blendo Games
has been responsible for some of the smartest, most varied and distinct indie games of the last few years, including Gravity Bone, Flotilla, Atom Zombie Smasher and Thirty Flights of Loving. I caught up with Brendon at PAX last month
where he was exhibiting his new game, Quadrilateral Cowboy.
So, to start us off, tell us a little about your new game.
Sure. It's a cyber-punk 20th century 1980s low-tech hacking game.
Excellent. I've played it, I love it, it's I think my favourite game here. So your games, more than most, are incredibly varied. You've done a turn-based space sim, a zombie strategy game, more surreal things... and now you're doing a first-person stealth hack'em up. Is that a conscious decision on your part to try to nail as many genres as you can, or is it just the way it happens?
I'm not trying to nail as many genres as I can, it's more me trying to get out of my comfort zone. I'm a big fan of when people get out of their comfort zone and do something they're not used to doing. I love seeing when dramatic actors do comedies, I love seeing when comedians do dramatic roles. So for me, that's why. Flotilla was my first turn-based strategy game. I thought - I might as well give it a shot, see what happens.
So there's a theme across a number of your games and it's certainly got a surreal feel to it. How much of that is because you want to have control of your world, how much of that is to give you leeway in the gameplay, is it your style, is it just the way it comes out - tell us what goes on behind that.
So these are just things that I'm interested in like when I read books or watch movies... Woody Allen or the Coen brothers, they influence me a lot in that they have these worlds that are real, but at the same time be wildly fantastic about them.
OK. We talked yesterday about the writing. You said you wanted to keep the text in the new game minimal if even non-existent outside of the computer terminal system that you use; but I got the impression that you like to write, even if you like to keep it out of the games. Tell us a bit about your relationship with the writing.
Yeah, so I love reading, I was a film major in college and writing was one of the things I most enjoyed doing. But then when I play video games I am the type of player that skips past all the text bubbles and cutscenes because if I want to read a good story I will pick up a good book. So I feel like games are best served when you're interacting with them, not reading pages of text. Although I will say, Planescape: Torment - best game ever made.
I love in that game because they didn't have that detailed animation it was prose, right? You know, "So and so looks at you with a steely gaze and says...". Seems very strange nowadays. So playing Cowboy, you've obviously got a world that functions according to a set of rules, and I love that because it makes the world feel more thorough. It feels real because everything functions independently, you put some stuff int he level and then it goes off and does its stuff, just like in the real world. How do you go about conceptualising that world and what do you think the game rules bring to the game?
Thirty Flights of Loving and Gravity Bone are very narrative based, very experimental in terms of story. This one's the opposite of that. It's about really high player agency, letting the player run around a simulated cyber-punk world. I was kind of inspired by... Recently I've been a simulation kid. Games I've really liked have been Day Z, Dwarf Fortress, and those are games where it's just pure simulation and they let people be creative within them. That's something I want to support.
I went to the Erik Wolpaw and Tim Schafer talk earlier today about gameplay vs story and someone asked Tim, "How do you feel about games that express their meaning through mechanics rather than pre-authored script?" and he was kind of quite dismissive about it.
In what way?
Something like: "When I interact with a piece of art I feel like I'm communicating with another person, and if all I have is a bunch of mechanics and no pre-authored story then there's no communication." It sounds like you're saying the opposite and I think I'd probably be on your side. Um... that's not really a question...
*Laughs* Yeah, what games I feel excel in is interactivity, and being able to crunch a billion numbers behind the scenes. So an authored story is a form a lot of media can do, but player generated stuff - that's what's so unique to video games.
Well done, it's almost like I fed you that. One more question . Stealth. I love it, I think you must enjoy it.
Thief is my favourite game of all time. Next to X-Com.
I like that it makes you roleplay a certain type of character. I think a lot of games now you're some muscle-bound guy and have 20 guns strapped to your back and that's fun, I enjoy that. but I like having variety in my gameplay, so when I played Thief I suddenly played this guy who had one hit point and a guard just looked at me the wrong way and I would drop dead. I'm hiding in a corner and I'm breathing shallowly and hoping he doesn't see me. There's something wonderful about that experience.
Good answer. Brendon, thank you.
You can keep up with Blendo here, and Quadrilateral Cowboy right here.