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Power Game Factory Interview
September 12, 2005 | Marcus Albers

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Recently, independent Macintosh game developer Sawblade Software released Power Game Factory, a tool that allows those of us with little to no programming know-how to create exciting 2D shooters in the vein of classics like Metal Slug and Contra. Recently, IMG sat down with the head of Sawblade Software, Jesse Simko, to learn more about the company and Power Game Factory.

IMG: Tell our readers a little about yourself and your company.

Jesse: I'm a 25 year old living in Northampton, Massachusetts. I studied art in college, and conceived of Sawblade Software the summer after my graduation, in 2002. I started developing Power Game Factory during evenings and weekends, while spending my weekdays working for a small online retail business. Last year I quit my day job and stepped up my efforts to complete Power Game Factory, which was finally released on May 31st. Being without a "real" job has given me a chance to spend more time with friends, some of whom have contributed to PGF and other projects. These days I'm trying to do more outdoor activities, but I've also been getting into Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Katamari Damacy, both of which are ridiculously entertaining. As for my other interests, I'd say that the highlight of my summer so far was seeing fifteen rock bands in one day at the Ozzfest (as boneheaded as that may sound!). My medium- to long-term plan is to collaborate with others on new Sawblade Software products for the Mac.

IMG: What was your inspiration for Greenland Invasion and, in turn, Power Game Factory?

Jesse: Greenland Invasion was my senior college thesis project, and my first attempt at game programming. Having spent the previous two years as an art major, a computer programming project seemed like a fresh and exciting (but also daunting) new endeavor for my final year at school. At first, the game was to be an artsy sci-fi adventure in the vein of Out of This World. But I knew that I was going to have to present my work to an auditorium full of college kids, and it occurred to me that the game would be more likely to be a hit with my audience if it were simple, dumb, and funny. For inspiration, I hung an old Nintendo poster in my room and played some Metal Slug to remind myself of what I was trying to achieve. During the presentation of my game, I staged a competition in which several volunteers took turns playing the role of the Eskimo, defending Greenland from an imperialist Canadian occupying force, and competing for the highest score. Greenland Invasion was well received, so I pursued the project further, and completed a user-editable version of the game. Over the next couple of years, I built a game authoring environment around a steadily improving version of the original Greenland Invasion engine. During the late 90's I had done a lot of work with Bungie Software's Marathon map editing tools, and that gave me a pretty good idea of what a game creation program needed to be successful. It took longer than I expected, but the application gradually matured into Power Game Factory.

IMG: What kind of hurdles did you encounter programming for OS X in the early days? Has it gotten easier with newer versions of the OS?

Jesse: During the development of Greenland Invasion and Power Game Factory, Mac OS X progressed all the way from version 10.0 to 10.4. I'm really pleased with how far the operating system has come. I program in REALbasic, and happily it too has improved at a steady pace. As luck would have it, crucial software frameworks and plug-ins emerged at all the right times throughout the development process. I faced a few problems with the development environment that took a while to overcome, but I'm just happy to have been able to write all those thousands of lines of code without anything tragic occurring!

IMG: With the proliferation of 3D game design packages like Blender, Torque and Unity, what made you design a 2D game engine?

Jesse: A few reasons come to mind. First, I didn't have the expertise to create a 3D engine that could measure up to the competition on a technical basis. More significantly, I wanted to create an intuitive authoring tool that would appeal to non-programmers, and the best way to achieve that was to impose specific limitations. Most 3D game development tools offer an intimidating assortments of options. It's like when an artist is faced with a huge blank canvas—it's tough to know where to begin. And making the requisite animated 3D objects is another challenge that can't be overlooked. So I wanted to avoid all that with Power Game Factory. It keeps things simple, presenting the user with a smaller number of more clearly defined options. And since content creation is so much easier in 2D than in 3D, Power Game Factory users are able to finish what they start. Another reason I designed this 2D game authoring tool is because I had a personal interest in games like Super Mario, Metroid, and Donkey Kong Country, and it was kind of disheartening to see the industry abandon a genre that was well on its way to being perfected, while embracing what was until recently a fairly immature 3D gameplay mechanic. I'd love to see Power Game Factory breathe new life into the 2D format, and I'm confident that an audience for this stuff is still out there, judging by the success of Alien Hominid. But in all fairness, I should mention that 3D packages like Unity are being used to make some amazing games, and anyone considering Power Game Factory should also investigate the alternatives and decide which package best suits their needs.


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