Interview No. 133
Interview By: The-Great-One
Today starts the day of the special case interviews for The Interviewer. As I stated in the last one this is not the end, but the end to the regular updates. Our guest for today has made many Newgrounds members laugh with his contributions to satire with :the game:, REPLAYING :the game:, and Reimagine :The Game:. He recently came back into light on Newgrounds with his game Coming Out Simulator. I am pleased to welcome Nicky Case a.k.a. Nutcasenightmare.
Q: How did you find Newgrounds and why did you join?
A: Gosh, I don't remember. Could be one of a bajillion fantastic things that originated from Newgrounds that led me to it. Madness Combat? Brackenwood? The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny? Goddamn I'm having some nostalgia up in here.
Q: At what age did you become interested in art and animation?
A: I started out drawing comics. I would pretend I had a daily newspaper comic - default format, three panels and B&W on weekdays, bigger and full-colour on Sundays - and draw every day, then share the comics with my friends and family. The comic obviously a mashup of my inspirations from other comics and animated films and videogames, and the result was a very surreal series.
The title of my comic was "A Nutcase's Nightmare."
And if comics are just drawings arranged in space, then animations are just pictures arranged in time! So I, uh, obtained a copy of Macromedia Flash, (It wasn't acquired by Adobe yet!) and made some silly animations for a while, participating in NG collabs and stuff. Eventually I noticed Flash had programming capabilities, so that's when I got into make games! (and other interactive art I wouldn't quite classify as "games", e.g. Coming Out Sim & Parable of the Polygons)
Q: I want to talk about the first game I ever played by you and one that got your name out there more and that is :the game:. A satire of many video game tropes and popular things in the media. Where did you get the idea for this game?
A: Heh - I actually used to be very insecure about where I got my inspirations from. I felt like, if my material wasn't 100% original, I was a hack. It was only years later, somewhere between finding out about Creative Commons and reading Austin Kleon's STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST, that I finally realized there is no such thing as 100% original. Now, I openly wear my influences and inspirations on my sleeve.
The point is, for the first time on the internet, I'm publicly "admitting" where the idea for :The Game: came from -- this one minute in this one TED talk. (starting at 12:25) And you'll notice it is shockingly similar. A comedy game where you jump off a platform, then some punchline. All I did was take his concept, simplify it, and expand it to three whole games, I guess.
Another major inspiration for :The Game: was South Park - as seen in my games' ultraviolent, pseudo-intellectual take on big ideas, current events, and pop culture.
Q: REPLAYING :the game: would be the sequel to :the game:. Even though I knew exactly what I was going to get, I was still incredibly eager to play it, as was many others. The sequel introduced a lot of new elements while still keeping what made the original intact. Is this a goal to strive for when making a sequel? How different should a game be? Also what gave you the inspiration to make a sequel?
A: I think the best kind of sequel - in any medium, not just games - keeps the same core ideas, but explores them in radically different ways.
A Game Example: Portal 2 had the same core mechanic of, well, portals, but brings a whole different set of mechanics into play, mostly the paint gels.
A Story Example: The Toy Story trilogy always explored the same depressing idea - "one day, your loved ones might not love you". In Toy Story 1, Woody's jealous of Andy's new toy. In Toy Story 2, they meet Jessie, whose kid abandoned her. In Toy Story 3, Andy grows up and leaves all the toys behind, and the cinema fills with salty tears.
I've no idea how that applies to :the game: at all, since its core concept is that there is no core concept.
I'll be honest, my inspiration for making a :the game: sequel was just "wow people really liked this, I should make more".
Q: We now come to Reimagine :The Game: thus making a trilogy. Making a sequel is one thing, but how can you build on more from a past game while keeping it fresh and new yet not alienating it with past games in its series? Also will we see a 4th :the game:?
A: Reimagine :The Game: was a really interesting turning point for me. After two anti-games in the series, this was the first time I tried my hand at actual game design, with real platforming puzzles, and each character had a different unique power loosely based off of a pop culture reference. (Double Rainbow Guy could double-jump, Lady Gaga could walljump with her Super Meat Suit, Justin Bieber could attract young girls with the power of song.) There's only two levels in Reimagine :The Game: where it's just you-jump-off-a-platform. And after Reimagine :The Game:, I spent a few more years doing mostly mechanics-focused games, like Gap Monsters and Nothing To Hide.
Also, by the time Reimagine :The Game: came around, I'd pretty much used up all the Big Ideas in the first two games - leaving me with mostly current events and pop culture. Which is why, I think, Reimagine has become dated far more quickly than the original :The Game: did. These two things -- a shift towards traditional gameplay + a bigger focus on pop culture & current events -- did alienate half my fans... but the other half loved the new direction I took in Reimagine, and thought it was the best in the series. Very polarizing reaction.
As for a 4th :the game:, no. I think 3 is a good number to end on, and besides, I've more or less explored all I can out of the core concept. In fact, by the time I made Reimagine :The Game:, I'd already started to move away from the core concept, hence the polarization amongst fans.
There is one thing I still feel I could do more with from :The Game:, and that's the hopping faceless caricatures. You won't see a 4th :The Game:, but you will see more of hopping armless fellas.
Q: When scriptwelder was here we talked about his game Don't Escape, which is an escape game, but in reverse. You have to find all of the elements to ensure you don't escape and hurt people. You would do the same with stealth games with Nothing To Hide. When I asked scriptwelder how he came up with it he answered this...
"'what would be the biggest twist to a certain game genre?' and just going for it with the answer."
Would you agree with this? Whatever your answer could you tell us why?
A: That's a pretty great approach to going about game design! And I loved Don't Escape. It was concise, clever, and well-executed.
Nothing To Hide's design process was really weird. It started out as a survival horror game, oddly enough. Seriously. Here's a GIF of the very first Nothing To Hide, first posted on reddit.
And then there were these half-camera-half-human hybrid monsters, whose behaviour would depend on your line of sight. (Kind of like SCP-173, or Slender) Only after a few months, I realized that satire would be a better fit than horror to talk about mass surveillance, and turned line-of-sight monsters into line-of-sight puzzle elements instead. And then I came up with the idea of it being "a reverse stealth game".
Yeah it's weird.
Q: Parable of the Polygons is a wonderful game built on diversity that anyone can play or even use in a sociology class. Where did you come up with the idea of this fun outlook on diversity?
A: Thanks! Although Vi Hart (my collaborator on Parable of the Polygons) and I deliberately avoided calling it a game.
It's the darndest thing. When I published Coming Out Simulator, I expected people to dismiss it as "not a game". What I didn't expect was for people to praise it as "not a game". A few mainstream press journalists, when writing about Coming Out Sim, took time to reassure their readers that it was "not really a game", and they meant that as a compliment. Because, sadly, most people (including some gamers) feel like games can't/shouldn't be anything other than escapist fun.
So, for the sake of reaching a larger audience, and avoiding the preconceptions that come with the word "game", Vi Hart & I avoided calling PotP a game. I still wouldn't quite call it a game.
As for the inspiration, math! And game theory! PotP is based off the work on Nobel Prize-winning game theorist, Thomas Schelling. Thomas Schelling proposed a game theory model, where you move around people with very small bias, and the counterintuitive result is that it leads to massive segregation. (You might know this phenomenon as "The Tipping Point," as popularized by Malcolm Gladwell) So, the first half of PotP is the same as Schelling's model. But the second half explored a bit further - could we have a tipping point in the opposite direction? Could a small, local "anti-bias" towards diversity undo the damage of segregation? And we found that, it could! We all kind of know this already - the civil rights movement was a largely bottom-up movement, and most lasting social change is done from the bottom-up, too.
As for why use cute shapes, it's because we sure as hell weren't gonna make people drag around "white people" and "black people" characters and segregate them. That's just weird.
Q: While making these games you have been going through a bit of a turmoil. During :the game: series and Nothing To Hide you had quite the number of life problems. Hans Van Harken (AlmightyHans), Zachary Louis, Brian Schmoyer (CirrusEpix), Edd Gould (eddsworld), and Nathan Malone (ZekeySpaceyLizard) have all shared their stories with me. You would share yours with us through your latest game Coming Out Simulator.
I'm not going to lie when I said I was happy to see you on the front page again. It is amazing when you learn so much about a person, one reason why I started this. I came out on Newgrounds as bisexual back in 2012 and came out to my family during that time. Playing your game brought up a lot of nervousness that I felt and the scenario that unfolded was the one I feared would happen to me. There is a lot of bravery in coming out which there honestly shouldn't be. Were the games Papers, Please and Gone Home inspirations for this game? What was the process you took in making it?
A: Wow. I'm honoured and humbled that my simple storygame could emotionally resonate with so many people, including you. Thank you.
It's always surprising, in a good way, to see the more human side of my favourite creators and writers and fans. Right now I'm just text in a blog post on a web site in a screen, and often it's really hard to remember that your heroes and fans are just like you -- a flesh and blood human, with fears and dreams. But it's a fact worth remembering.
As for the specific inspirations for Coming Out Sim: 1) Anna Anthropy's Dys4ia (another NG classic!) for giving me the courage in telling a personal story through the form of a web game, and 2) Telltale's The Walking Dead for the interactive narrative structure, how every choice you make in TWD matters, but in subtle ways. Flavouring the later story, as opposed to only a few key decisions creating whole new branches. (Papers Please does this too. I describe this further in a little article I wrote titled If Games Were Like Game Stories)
Q: When it comes to game development in giving the player choices you wrote a wonderful article entitled If Games Were Like Game Stories..., you challenge that games should not model after movies when making their stories. More choices that ultimately play out into the same story and ending. You reference Papers, Please where your story choices were your game choices. Should they always coincide or should they be separate at times?
A: Oh! Yeah, yeah I just mentioned If Games Were Like Game Stories in the previous answer.
It would be wrong for me to prescribe any "One Right Way" to make games, or do storytelling in games, but I did hope that article did give peeps useful tips & tricks. And hopefully to get them to see there is a better way than the current "norm" in games storytelling -- a separation of game & story, and at most a narrative that "branches" only at a few points.
There's so many different techniques I've seen - and a lot of them actually come from Newgrounds! I mentioned No-One Has To Die in that article, with its amazing use of multiple solutions to a puzzle as a way to make a story choice. And I mentioned Dys4ia earlier - although you have no control over the story, it brilliantly uses minigames to reinforce the feeling of its narrative, like "my nipples are sensitive" combined with a careful precision avoidance game, or "I feel like I don't fit in" combined with a Tetris piece that just clearly won't fit.
By the way, I wrote another popular game design article recently, this time on how to make educational games that aren't just glorified flash cards. (with lessons I learnt from making Parable of the Polygons) It's called I Do And I Understand, and like If Games Were Like Game Stories, it has a lot of ridiculous drawings.
Q: What can we expect from Nutcasenightmare in the future?
A: Well, well! Here's a LIST.
* A virtual reality animation I'm making with Mozilla. (youtube)
* An augmented reality toy to replace your head with cartoon character's. (gif)
* More playable posts like Parable of the Polygons.
* More interactive storytelling. (e.g. Coming Out Sim)
* More articles like If Games Were Like Game Stories.
Yup, it's a good time to be manic and burn out completely while I'm still in my early 20's.
<laughter to reassure you, and myself, that I'm probably joking>
I knew who Nicky Case was on Newgrounds. Never spoke to him or even reviewed one of his games. However I learned about him through his :the game: series, which I played and loved each and every one. At one point though I forgot about him as I'm sure many others here have as well over time. Until his game "Coming Out Simulator" hit the front page. I believed after that he was long overdue for an interview and thus here we are today.
He has a brilliant mind for video game development and storytelling. I would love to see what a collaboration from him, scriptwelder, poxpower, and Mockery would produce. Quite possibly one of the most perfect indie games we would ever see.