Telling the tale, his way...
Having people all over the world allows us at RGG to really get to know the community as a whole, with so much going on in the indie scene it's important to have eyes everywhere.
So for his very first Portal interview Gabriel or as you may know him Miracleman decided to go to have a chat with a man who isn't just making cool PC games but also placing the story in the hands of the players.
The so called bigger companies are going for total graphic immersion, that's cool and all but indie devs know it's all about the small details.
Once upon a time, long ago in the world of indie gaming...
Enter Daniel Benmergui, an Argentinean man who has fulfilled his dream of making his own video games and doing so he has represented his country and encouraged a whole lot of people from South America to start their own project, despite how impossible it might be. A living proof of his willingness to help other developers in the region is DUVAL, a growing community of South American developers that he co founded and which currently gathers hundreds of indie developers who share tools, ideas, tips and host different competitions.
Currently working on two different projects (Ernesto RPG and Storyteller) Daniel is an indie developer born in the time of the home computer scene and has been a key witness of the golden age of consoles. He has been able to capitalize his experiences as a gamer and as former Gameloft developer lead to make his own unique titles such as “Today I die” and “I wish I were the Moon” which have won awards many times and are well known for those out there who fancy absolutely great indie games.
It is with great pleasure that I bring you this interview, I hope you all enjoy reading the story of an indie developer from a different part of the world, with his unique art and touch.
Super Sexy South American Story Time...
RGG: You were born in 1978, so it could be said that you witnessed the beginnings of the videogame era in Argentina. Do you remember any particular console that has left its mark on you?
DANIEL: I had a Texas Instruments, an Atari 2600, a Commodore 64, a Commodore 128, an Amiga, a Super Nintendo and after that, it was all PC for me. Each of those platforms had an important influence in me, even though the more interesting one was the Amiga. During the Commodore 64 era, videogame development was not yet fully industrialized, so I tried a whole lot of experimental games when I was a kid. The new generations were born with completely established genres and games that look very much alike.
RGG: If you could acquire the rights of some retro game and remake it, adding your own style and elements, what game would you choose?
DANIEL: Star Control 2, Tie Fighter, and System Shock. We are living in an era where it makes commercial sense to make small games, niche games, and also games with a bolder theme, difficulty and gameplay. It would be a waste of potential not to try and get away from all the known genres and maybe “revisit” ideas that we loved and that were unfeasible for a long time…
RGG: As a player, are you an old school type or the modern kind?
DANIEL: I went from loading games using a cassette player, to beat games that required hundreds of hours full of ordeals, to squeeze the PC memory to play something in MSDOS, to be a part of a Quake clan and to finally play games without any manuals or tutorials. So, without the shadow of a doubt, old school!
RGG: This question is a must: You are confined on an island for an unknown amount of time, but you are given the chance to carry some games with you, what games would you take?
DANIEL: It depends on what else is there on the island... Hehehe
RGG: In your opinion, what do independent videogame developers have that big studios don’t?
DANIEL: The possibility of targeting a niche public and be commercially feasible at the same time. Unfortunately, in Latin America we keep thinking in terms of the 90s; we believe that in order to be able to live on videogames we have to do what the industry dictates.
RGG: How was it for you to go from leading a huge group of people in a company like Gameloft to take a leap of faith and start a solo developing project?
DANIEL: The scariest part was not having a salary, a boss that tells you if what you did was good or not (you don’t have that luxury when you are on your own), a lot of colleagues, and the social approval of “having a good job”. Of course, looking back it would have been completely nonsense to choose the “safe path” (as if being an employee would be safe). Life as an independent developer has tons of ups and downs, but you are always making your own path.
Being an employee, even a privileged one, hides lots of humiliations that undermine your confidence and feeds cynicism. You simply cannot create something valuable in cynicism.
RGG: Why did you decide to become an independent developer of games?
DANIEL: Something I learnt while at Gameloft is that when you are important, you mostly learn to be a good employee; that is to navigate political waters, speculate with your bosses, cheat the system, etc. It is just like school! But I wanted to learn how to make videogames, so I had to stop being an employee.
Fun and games, the Indie way...
RGG: All your games that I had the chance to play (i.e. Today I die, I wish I were the moon) have very unique characteristics that I haven’t seen before. What was your inspiration to create them?
DANIEL: Those games were weird even for me. When I started my life as an independent developer, I thought that I was going to be making games like “Ernesto RPG” all the time. What happened was that, at that time, I was going through some deep and important changes, and that storm created in me the need to make those art games. I always took them as a silly thing that I was doing as side projects. I never thought they would have such a huge impact.
RGG: In Ernesto RPG and Storyteller you keep a retro aesthetic, is that something that will continue in the future or you have something different in mind for the upcoming projects?
DANIEL: Ernesto is not going to be so retro. I don’t like the retro aesthetic, but it is the only one I can do if I don’t want the game to look awful. That’s why in Ernesto, we are working with Jeremias Babini, I want my games to part ways with the retro aesthetic which has been used way too much.
RGG: How do you see the indie games scene in Argentina and South America?
DANIEL: I’d like to see more groups of people making real games and not so many people trying to imitate what the industry dictates should be done (i.e. Free to play, mobile games, etc). The saddest thing is, that most of those groups believe that that is the safest way to go, but commercially speaking, it is not.
RGG: What are the difficulties that an indie developer faces in Argentina? What are the main differences between them and other indie developers in Asia, Europe or in the USA?
DANIEL: I don’t know how Asia and Europe work, I believe that Europe is almost at the same level as South America.
There are several differences, but it would take ages to discuss them all, so I will choose one: in Argentina we have to learn to bury the cynicism. I don’t think there is currently a more dangerous force in the local industry than that. We lack enthusiasm, we need to believe even if it its foolish, to take a leap of faith and take our decisions seriously.
RGG: “Storyteller” won the innovation award at the “Independent Games Festival 2012”, “Today I die” received the Jury Award at “Indiecade”, it made it to the finals for the “Nuovo” price in the “Independent Games Festival” and was also included in the list “Best of 2009” by JaylsGames. Gamasutra itself chose “I wish I were the Moon” as “Best Indie Game 2008”. Did you think that you were going to be recognized from the very beginning? What goals do you have left to achieve with your new developments?
DANIEL: At a certain moment in my life, I realized that I was too slow. When I set my mind to do something, it takes me at least 5 years to do something that is worthy. But with ”I wish I were the moon”, not 6 months had gone by since I had decided to start my life as an indie developer when it got immediate exposition. I thought that it was going to take more time for my work to be recognized, really. I was no less surprised with “Today I Die” or “Storyteller”.
The truth is that I have already achieved all my big “goals”: I travelled to the Game Developers Conference every year, I’m close to the people I truly admire, and a game I made won a prize at IGF. The next step is to make commercial games, and Ernesto is going to be the first of those.
RGG: When are you planning to release the final version of Storyteller? Which platforms are going to support it?
DANIEL: Next year, PC and tablets.
RGG: You are currently working on Ernesto RPG, What is the game all about? Do you have a release date in mind?
DANIEL: Ernesto RPG is a game about finding the best path in a dungeon; fighting, collecting magical objects, buying weapons and doing other stuff that you can do in an RPG game. It is a mix between a puzzle game and an RPG. It should be ready in the next 3 months!
RetroGameGeeks Final Thoughts...
So there we are my fellow retro loving maniacs, another interview with a cool guy who is keeping the indie scene thriving with games created with all the important ingredients taught to him from his love of classic videogames. The circle of retro life continues in full force.
This is also another fantastic example of how everyday more and more talented people are breaking away from the shackles of the corporate way of game creation and returning to what they know best... Telling a story!
From the original text adventures where the player would picture the room or the world around them through to the day's when the Point 'n' click genre exploded the concept of everything revolving around creating a sense of total immersion through real player decision making has continued to evolve and adapt to a mainstream market that just wants you to run around a map shooting people in the face for XP.
By making sure that you as a player feel a real part of the events that unfold a more solid and 3D world is created than anything million dollar graphics engines can ever replicate. In this aspect nothing can touch indie gaming right now because a lot of the time it is emulating in modern ways the stuff that made gaming so great in the begining of the industry.
Daniel is a dreamer, you can see that in everything he does. It's clear from the iconic and superbly crafted sprite work to the layers of subtle debth hidden beneath games that at a glance look simple, much like the Transformers motto 'There's more than meets the eye' here, much more. It is not at all surprising that he has been the recipient of so much praise and awards for his work because class oozes from what he does. To play his games are a pleasure, a joy and most of all tons of fun!
It was great to talk to a man who cares so much about what he does but who also cares so much about the scene itself that he gives of himself and his valuable time to help others and share ideas, tips and methods to help raise the bar for the community as a whole. A true retro loving, scene hero if ever there was one. It's not just Messi who has mad skills!