Mike Kasprzak, also known as PoV, is the man behind Sykhronics Entertainment. He offered an enlightening talk with me about his games, Ludum Dare and more.
Entar: Please introduce yourself, in whatever fashion you deem necessary, and describe some of the projects you’ve been working on.
PoV: Hi there, I’m Mike Kasprzak. I’ve been making games most of my life, and professionally for the past 10 years. I’ve worked on numerous console and mobile games, the majority for Nintendo platforms, but am diversifying. More recently I’m better known for my iPhone game Smiles, which launched almost exactly a year ago today (yesterday actually).
Entar: How did Smiles get started? What sources of inspiration did you have for the game?
PoV: Smiles started as one of several game prototypes I was making. When iPhone OS 2.0 was announced along with the SDK in early 2008, I started experimenting with some game ideas. I iterated through several concepts, and came to the conclusion that “Pattern Trade” (later renamed Smiles) would be the quickest of the more interesting prototypes to finish.
Entar: What are your opinions on iPhone development, especially as it compares to development for other platforms?
PoV: In general I like it. It was a little weird at first, as most platforms I’m familiar with I code in straight C or C++ with an API (or a list of hardware registers). Developing for iPhone OS was different in that I had to wrap various OS calls from ObjC in such a way that my C and C++ code could work with it. I’m a pretty heavy portability nut, so I like being able to run the exact same code on several platforms. I am a weird case though. Most normal people developing for iPhone would have plenty positive to say about X-Code, but for me it’s just where the compile+run button is. In fact, most of my actual development wasn’t even on the Mac, but on the PC instead.
Entar: What are your goals for Sykhronics Entertainment? What do you want to achieve with it that you couldn’t do in your roles at other companies?
PoV: Sykhronics (sans the Entertainment part) was a label/branding I started using some 12-13 years ago for my independent game works. Before that I’d gone by several game company’ish names (notably Gamma Flare Games), but I wanted something more individualistic. Something not so generic as some of my early names. Something distinct. So Sykhronics was my “Mike Brand”. My art, my blog, my games, all creations of Sykhronics. So with that in mind, when it came time for me to establish a proper company, I went with what was already familiar. The goal of Sykhronics Entertainment is much the same as the goal of Sykhronics. The branding of the stuff I want to create. Just now, it’s a legal company. What Sykhronics isn’t going to be is a larger corporation. Sykhronics will always be “The Mike Stuff” branding. Whether it’s entirely self produced or collaborative, if Mike was involved, you’ll (probably) see a Sykhronics sticker on it. What’s changed between what I used to do and what I do now is I get to make the games I want to. Most of what I did was work-for-hire. We a developer would, given a license, produce a game for a publisher. We did it this way because the money was somewhat predictable, and running a proper company has overhead costs. So what’s had to change is the overhead costs. I run the company out of my home, so that cuts out the need for office space. When needed I hire outside contractors, which also cuts out the need for office space. Though with Smiles, it was produced entire by myself, which has some pretty great overhead cost advantages. The code, art, sound, all me.
Entar: Describe PuffBOMB and some of the history behind that project.
PoV: PuffBOMB was a game I created in 2003 for the Ludum Dare 48 hour game making competition. It started out as me playing around with particle effects, and somehow got the inspiration to take a stab at making a physics game… with only a mediocre understanding of physics. Surprisingly, I actually got the game working and somewhat playable in the initial 48 hours. It had (I think) 3 hardcoded levels in it originally, two of them very similar to each other. When I had finished, I realized I was on to a pretty novel game concept. In the weeks that followed, I further refined and improved the game. By the time the smoke from the competition cleared, it had 10 maps and some acceptable art behind it. The game went on to be featured by several freeware gaming sites, and was included on several gaming magazine coverdisks. One of the people in our Ludum Dare IRC channel created a level editor for the game, which has allowed many people to create original levels for the game. Some 2 years later I decided to pick-up the old code and reskin the game. The reskin was further picked up by several freeware sites and game magazines, but the goal was to enter the game in the IGF and Slamdance competitions. And actually, PuffBOMB was a finalist for a special award at Slamdance 2006. It didn’t win, but hey, nominations are still good. Later that year, I began production of a game tentatively tiled “PuffBOMB HD”. I suppose a PuffBOMB remake had been in production on and off since I released the original game, but late 2006 is when things got real. I had my brother working with me as a tools programmer, and in early 2007 I began looking for an Artist to contract some art to. We found somebody great, and made some really great strides towards a proper commercial game. But… well, lets just say we learned some very important lessons with “PuffBOMB HD”. The project was officially shelved some time around October 2007. I still have all the assets and code, that I hope to put to good use some time in the future.
Entar: Describe Ludum Dare, and your role(s) in it.
PoV: Ludum Dare is kind-of 2 things. It’s part game development community, and other part game development competition. Geoff Howland started a forum called Ludum Dare some … well I’m not sure when the forum started. But the competition started in April of 2002. The idea originally was to make a game in 24 hours. Intrigued by the absurdly short schedule, I stopped by the official IRC channel to say hello. Pretty quickly I went from “some guy” to “fellow moderator” in the channel. I’d been making games professionally for a couple years by then, so I imagine that layer of game industry cred may have worked to my advantage. Plus I proved to be an excellent target for Canadian based humor, so it worked out well for all of us. So for me, Ludum Dare became my little “outside work” thing I’d do. Book the weekend off, and power away at a themed game. By the 2nd competition, Ludum Dare had become what it still is today. A solo “create a game in 48 hours” competition. In the early years, my role was “that guy who made sure we ran a competition in April”. Today though, I like to think of my role as the figurehead. As in, guy who acts as the leader, but has no actual authority :). I suppose I do actually have authority, but I like to be sure the 4 of us have had a say before I do something dramatic. Still, I’m the guy who writes all the e-mails and does most of the PR.
Entar: Are you happy with Ludum Dare as it is now, or would you change its direction?
PoV: For the most part I am. Most of the things I want to change are changing. The biggest thing stopping said changes is my own time to commit to Ludum Dare. Ludum Dare is something the 4 of us do in our spare time on our own dollar. The community does help us out with the hosting costs, but we still need to find the time to orchestrate everything. All 4 of us are independent game developers running our own separate businesses, and that eats up a lot of our time. Ludum Dare isn’t exactly something we can do for profit (that’d defeat the purpose), so it’s a weird balancing act for us.
Entar: What advice or comments would you give to independent game developers?
PoV: Have a lot of patience, and a large enough savings account to screw up for a while… because you will. 🙂
Entar: What are some of your favorite games out there today, independent or otherwise?
PoV: I used to play a lot more, but most of what I’m in to are RPG’s and Metroidvanias. The Diablo series I adore, as well as the Disgaea games and pretty much anything by that team at Nippon Ichi. All the recent 2D Castlevanias I seem to put many hours in to. From SOTN to the latest DS game. Aquaria I quite enjoyed too. I’m a Commodore 64 computer nerd too, so I have many classic favorites there too. Master of Magic, Neuromancer, and several more.
Entar: What plans do you have for the future?
PoV: Currently I’m working on some ports of Smiles to a bunch of platforms. PC, Linux, Mac, as well as some other mobile devices. There’s also a Smiles related project that’s looking quite promising. I should hopefully be starting on that shortly. And then once I’m Smiled out, I’ll either be getting back to my RPG project or perhaps something PuffBOMB related.
Entar: Thank you for your time.