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Wolfire's John Graham Discusses Overgrowth & Humble Indie Bundles
March 21, 2011 | Jon Carr

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I recently had a chance to conduct an email interview with Wolfire Games, the Indie studio behind the awesome ninja-rabbit fighting game Lugaru and the leads behind the Humble Indie Bundles. John Graham answered my questions on the HIB efforts as well as various questions about Overgrowth's development and the Phoenix game engine they are developing.

Jon Carr: How did the first Humble Indie Bundle get started? What was the concept behind it?

John Graham: We had been working hard to figure out ways to promote Wolfire Games' projects.  We had recently done our own successful promotion called the Organic Indie Preorder Pack with Unknown Worlds and 2D Boy had just done a hugely successful pay-what-you-want promotion for World of Goo on its birthday.  So we were trying to figure out if there was some way to make an even more awesome promotion.  The result was the pay-what-you-want, DRM Free, cross platform (Mac, Windows and Linux), EFF and Child's Play-supporting extravaganza known as the Humble Indie Bundle.

JC: You just finished running the Humble Indie Bundle 2, which was another massive success.  It seems you are pioneering something with not only Indie developers, but also charity. Do you feel these kind of promotions and exposure are vital to the future of small studios or individual game makers?

JG: Humble Bundles seem like an ideal way for developers to both raise awareness for their games and get an infusion of cash that they can use to stay indie in the future.    Some people were wondering if the Humble Indie Bundle was a fluke or if it could be repeated.  We were very pleased when HIB2 was 50% more successful than the first bundle.  I never would have guessed at the start of last year that we would be able to raise a million dollars for charity.  

JC: The HIB was not only available by download from your site, but also redeemable on Steam, Desura and OnLive. How did you manage to partner up with those groups to allow the games to be activated/redeemed?

JG: I think it was an epic win for everyone involved.  Bundle purchasers got more options for accessing and enjoying their games, the distribution platforms got big publicity and exposure to new users and the bundle itself saw a surge in revenue after the keys were announced.

JC: I understand Humble Bundle Inc. has been formed for the purpose of future bundles. Are you already working on the next set of indies to include? Are you considering hooking up with other charities, or will you remain with the same ones?

JG: Jeff and I have a lot of fun things planned for Humble Bundle, Inc.  I can't reveal too much but we will be experimenting with some new ideas in future promotions.  I recommend people keep their eye on and subscribe to our mailing list so they can keep track of our latest news.

JC: Wolfire is not only developing Overgrowth, but also the Phoenix game engine. What can you tell us about this dual process? How do you balance working on the game and working on the engine?

JG: Overgrowth is Wolfire's focus at the moment, so we are mainly building the Phoenix Engine to support ninja rabbit combat.  We've gotten numerous requests from 3rd parties looking to license the engine for their own projects but right now don't have time to offer support for 3rd parties while making our own game.  

However, we are designing Overgrowth to be highly moddable.  We have an exposed scripting layer for the gameplay and an integrated map editor.  We've already seen fans make their own custom levels sometimes even with their own custom assets.  One of our favorites is Markuss' Old China Mod:

JC: Your development mindset is very open and public with the Wolfire Blog and weekly videos. How has this open and accessible workflow helped Wolfire and Overgrowth?

JG: Open Development has been very useful for Wolfire.  I think it's a little dangerous for indies to think they can work on a game for years in a cave and then walk out one day and say "Here I am world.  Don't you love me?".  In the crowded, noisy space that is the internet I think it's better to reach out early and often to the outside world.

Constant user-feedback during development not only helps you make sure you're continuing to create something that other people actually want to play, but it also turns the development process itself into a form of publicity.

In particular Wolfire has seen a tremendous surge in activity in the wake of David and Aubrey's weekly update videos.  David's active ragdoll demonstration was especially well-liked by the community:

JC: The combat system for Overgrowth is still being developed, but is there a chance we will see more ranged weapons like javelins or bows & arrows?

JG: The throwing knife from Lugaru was a ranged weapon of sorts and will probably make a reappearance.  We will have to treat ranged weapons carefully though because we want to maintain an emphasis on brutal melee combat.

JC: Overgrowth has already seen extras like the Overgrowth Comic and a number of soundtracks and samples released for the music. Might we see a printed comic made out of this or a CD soundtrack release once Overgrowth is done?

JG: Physical goods are so last year. ;)  But if there seems to be a lot of demand, merch like this might make sense.  I really liked how Alec Holowka live-streamed a piano jam while packaging and sending out Aquaria soundtrack CDs as people purchased them.  So perhaps something creative like this would be possible for Overgrowth as well.

JC: I know you are hesitant to put any time frame on a release date, but is there a chance we will see Overgrowth released sometime in 2011?

JG: We still don't have an official release date but I think Overgrowth will have substantial playable elements by the end of the year. Now that most of the internal engine tech is in place, David has been able to focus mainly on gameplay.  Running, jumping, rolling, flipping, puching, kicking, blocking, judo throwing, wall-running, climbing and active ragdoll physics have all been prototyped.   I just heard a rumor that enemy AI features are coming soon so I would keep your eyes on the Wolfire Blog for the latest Overgrowth development updates.

JC: David Rosen created a number of small games before Lugaru. Might any of these see sequels or updates with the Phoenix engine, like Black Shades?

JG: That is definitely a possibility, but I think there's a good chance that once Overgrowth is finished, the team will want to start on a brand new idea.

JC: Thank you for your time!

More Info:

Wolfire Games develops innovative, independent games for Mac OS, Windows, and Linux. It was started by David Rosen in 2003 to organize his open source video game contest entries. After graduating college in 2008, he was joined by his twin brother and three friends and Wolfire Games officially dove into the independent game industry.

You can check out Lugaru, Woflire's first shareware game on their website. They are currently hard at work on the sequel, Overgrowth, and you can follow its progress on the Wolfire Blog.

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Archives  Features  Wolfire's John Graham Discusses Overgrowth & Humble Indie Bundles