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I bring electricity to remote villages in Africa and got Eva Green to narrate my story. Samuel L. Jackson and other huge stars talked about it. AMA!

May 15th 2017 by tristan_ko • 52 Questions • 9952 Points

I have loved games all my life, made board games as a kid, started programming computer games in 1975 in college, then professionally since 1980. I was one of the first 10 employees at Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts, The 3DO Company, and Dreamworks Interactive. More recently I focused on Serious Games in education, health, training, and neuroscience, before becoming Google's Chief Game Designer for 4 years. I quit there last month to get back to my first love: making games people love to play, with cutting edge technology, new creative tech niques, and great collaborators.

Some games I've contributed to include the arcade game Sinistar, LucasArts games like their flight simulator line, as well as Graphic Adventures like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and Fate of Atlantis, The Dig, and the first two Monkey Island Games.

Here's a more complete (but still partial!) list: http://www.mobygames.com/developer/sheet/view/developerId,1657/

Proof: https://i.redd.it/nx8rsfanqjvy.jpg

Q:

Toxic Charity is one of my favorite books. It has guided my nonprofit's mission ever since I first read it.

A:

Playing through Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis was one of my defining childhood memories. What was the process of making 3 different middle sections (fists, brains, pair)? Was there any sense of how many people played through each or all 3?


Q:

Also watch our film :) You'll see we're on the same page If you want to go further, we also have a Medium blog: https://medium.com/turnthepoweron

A:

That was my idea, we'd experimented a bit with mixing different play styles in our Last Crusade adventure game, and I wanted to take it further. Hal went along with it, somewhat reluctantly because as project leader it fell on his shoulders to implement all the extra work involved in 3 paths (I think it meant the game was about 2x as hard to make as if it had been one path, not 3x as there was a lot of commonality/reuse of assets). We had fun coming up with ways to appeal to each type of player. I don't have figures for sure, but I'm pretty sure that only a minority of players - I'm thinking 10 or 20% - played through on all 3 paths, but that was mostly anecdotal, we didn't have analytics built into the game as it would now. The intention was not for people to replay so much as for the game to essentially adapt itself to the favored style of the player - but we also knew that completeist players would want to try every variation, and the "Indy Quotient" system was designed specifically for them, to encourage them to keep going. To get all 800 points you needed to play all 3 paths AND several variations and "achievements" that were possible within each.

Interesting side note, that 3 path structure inspired Louis Castle at Westwood to do something similar with his Bladerunner game, and took it several steps further. Brilliant game, I'm looking forward to see what kind of games come out of the current movie sequel to that.


Q:

How did you manage to get Eva Green to narrate? Awesome job!

A:

Whoa whoa whoa

YOU made Fate of Atlantis?

I don't have any questions man, I just wanna say that game is so good, it's my childhood, I had a CD for it, I loved it so much

You're awesome, LucasArts games were godlike

God bless


Q:

It took a lot of persistence, some guts and a little luck! I really wanted to have her narrating. I reached out to several of her agents. Most did not reply, or told me she was not available. At the last minute, one of them replied: she was in! It's really a dream come true. She's very nice for doing this!

A:

Aw, thanks - I co-designed it, there was a big team and Hal Barwood had the most influence on the game, but as it was the most successful adventure game LucasArts ever did (at least before the recent mobile game remakes, don't have figures on that) and did better than either of the other Indiana Jones games we designed without each other, I think it hit a sweet spot of collaboration, where Hal's writing and cinematic experience blended well with my game design skills. And as with so many things, there was a good dollop of luck and timing, but thank you in any case for the kind words. Incidentally, a bit of trivia - for a long time the working title was Indiana Jones and the Key to Atlantis, but we weren't really satisfied, and I think the manager of the division was particularly adamant that we change it. There were dozens of alternatives thrown around, including some I've forgotten except that they were terrible (and had strong supporters nonetheless). But I think "Fate of Atlantis" was perfect, short but provocative, and with a tinge of foreshadowing since Fate often implies a bittersweet ending. Names are one of the hardest things to do - not kidding, anyone who has worked on a game will concur.

To digress - I remember in particular one 3 hour session doing nothing but hashing out the name for "Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe" - that was actually thrown out as sort of a joke, along with "Hitler's Greatest Hits" which I expect would not have been a wise move. For the record, we had a long talk about the ethics of making a game where you could play the German side, but we thought (and I still believe) that in doing a war game, allowing people to play both sides is important to remind you that there were human beings on both sides of any conflict.


Q:

How do you fund your projects?

A:

What is your favorite out of all the games?


Q:

Right now, love money from family and friends (around €70k). I was very lucky to be able to count on them. In the near future, we will launch a crowdfunding campaign to upgrade to solar

A:

Well, the cliche is that it's like picking a favorite of your kids - but the truth is, it depends on what the criteria are. Probably the one I've gotten the most satisfaction from hearing player's comments is Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. But I also have a soft spot for Sinistar, my best-known arcade game work - which was also the first professional game I did that was published.


Q:

Have you looked at any solar OEM to tie up with? Will it be a pay as you go model or something that the crowdfunding completely pays for?

A:

FoA was one of my favourite games as a kid. I still use a quote from the game regularly: "I don't think that will work."


Q:

partnerships are incredibly hard to land when you are only starting up. Maybe this will be an option in the future, since we gained a little recognition thanks to that film.

The model is indeed pay as you go. The villagers only pays for the electricity they use and this allows us to pay a salary to our local manager, fuel and maintenance, and hopefully profits that we will reinvest in other grids.

The crowdfunding campaign will help us pay for the investment for solar panels, etc. In the future, we expect to be sustainable and profitable on our own

A:

We enjoyed the recurring catchphrases that we stuck into our subsequent games as Easter Eggs. My favorite that I wrote was originally in the Last Crusade game, "I'm selling these fine leather jackets" - that showed up in many subsequent games.


Q:

Nice.

Here is one I'm raising funds for!

https://milaap.org/fundraisers/lightupladakh

Yes, there is a huge market in India. You should try and get in touch with IEEE smart villages to help you!

A:

What do you think to Ron Gilbert's Thimbleweed Park? I saw in your MobyGames credentials that you were a play tester :D


Q:

Thanks for the advice! Good luck on your funding. You will most likely make it since you still have 36 days to find $264! Good job!

A:

Loving it - I've been very busy job hunting since it came out so besides my early testing, I've only been able to get partway into the game so far, but I think Ron and company did a perfect job of capturing the feel of our old games, while actually upgrading the quality in many ways. It's not so much an authentic 80's game as it is an evocation of our memories of what the games were like - when you actually play an 8 bit game now it can be shocking how primitive the tech feels. I'm eager to finish the game.


Q:

I am participating in this one, but I really hope to find an opportunity to startup myself.

A:

How was it to be a part in the beginning eras of gaming?


Q:

I encourage you to do so!

A:

Great! I began making computer games in college in 1975, purely for my own satisfaction, but realized I could apply it to my degree (I went to Hampshire College where they let you design your own curriculum) and used games to show off the programming, physics, and astronomy expertise I was gaining. Never thought at the time that it was preparation for a career, except as a programmer doing boring stuff (I did a lot of business programming during my college summers to make cash, and figured that might be my career, but wasn't too enthusiastic about it). But as soon as I graduated I got lucky and got right into the games industry, and never looked back. Certainly being part of the birth of Lucasfilm Games/LucasArts was an early highlight that I will always treasure. I realize now we were very lucky, those of us who started in the 70's and early 80's, because we got to figure out the rules and learn on our own, with no one telling us what to do - we made a lot of mistakes, but there was a freedom and freshness that I miss today. But at the time, particularly when I took my first job at Milton Bradley, people were telling me that I should be wary of "this video game thing" and that it might be a fad that would blow over. I believed them, but it made me even more determined to enjoy it while I could. I don't think it's a fad any more...


Q:

How much do they pay compared to the cost of installing and running a grid?

You said it is for profit in a different comment chain, how far into the future is that?

A:

Why did you make Sinistar so goddamned hard?

Run, coward!


Q:

Installing a hybrid solar PV-batteries-generator grid for a ~3,000 inhabitants village costs around €200,000. The village would never be able to pay it upfront. Instead Power:On invests and builds this local grid, and sells electricity to the families, entrepreneurs and public services. We expect to have paid back the investment after 3 to 5 years, maybe a little more, depending on how fast the village is developing.

A:

Money! The game was significantly easier up to about 6 weeks before release, but it was averaging about 3.5 minutes of play per quarter, and we needed to get it down to about 2 minutes in order to optimize earnings. We didn't want to make the first level too hard or no one would come back, so unfortunately we had to goose up the difficulty of level 2 a lot, more than we wanted for fun, but the earnings were critical. The "legend" is that RJ Mical still has a set of the ROMs of the easier build lost in his garage somewhere, but I'm dubious about that.


Q:

Would you be interested to expand to such projects in India?

A:

Mata Hari is one of my favourite 'modern' adventure games, and one of my favourite games that you've worked on. How did it come about and what was it good to work with Hal Barwood again?


Q:

Unfortunately, India is a bit far for us (we are in Benin, West Africa). But similar startup exist in India, which is the world's biggest market for electricity access

A:

Glad you liked it! That one came about as a request from the publisher. They approached me, and I thought it was the kind of thing Hal would be interested in. At the time we were living about a 10 minute drive apart, and both available for freelance work. The theme of Mata Hari was actually a bit tough, not what we might have chosen on our own, but the historical references and spy work were close to our Indiana Jones experience, and we had a lot of fun on it. We got several trips to Germany as a result too, to the developer's offices in Hannover mostly, but also to meet the publisher in Hamburg, and to show it off at Gamescomm, the big German games show. German fans are, per capita, the biggest fans of the old LucasArts adventures, so that was a fantastic experience. (To support that claim before anyone protests, we sold 10x copies per capita of Monkey Island 2 in Germany than we did in the US)


Q:

I helped fund a kickstarter for a similar non-profit in Africa a while back. Might want to consider that route. It has since become more commercially oriented, but started out with a lot of non-profit ideas.

A:

Do you think Fate of Atlantis can be made into a movie? Do you think these point and click adventure will make a comeback?


Q:

How much did you raise? It's exactly what we're going for now

A:

Can be - sure! Will be - very unlikely. Steven Spielberg enjoyed it - he is a hard-core game player, I have a lot of stories of seeing how dedicated to games he is - but he has plenty of ideas of his own about Indiana Jones, as does George. I got to brainstorm with the two of them together when I was the first project leader on The Dig, and really respect their depth of knowledge and their creativity, so I don't think it will be chosen as a movie plot, unless at some future point there is perhaps an animated series like George has done with Star Wars, giving them the option to explore many different stories.
As to point-and-click, it's already made something of a comeback, I'm amazed at how many new games are being made in the genre. I'll put in a plug for an indie game called Agatha Knife, from a Spanish studio called Mango Protocol. I saw it at a conference in Barcelona last year and it's just been released, very biting satire and funny, although it takes a lot of swipes at organized religion and has a pretty (charmingly) horrifying premise. I'm excited to see how the genre has stayed alive and in recent years, grown quite a bit. But it will never be as central as it was in the late 80's/early 90's.


Q:

I was just a supporter. The dude was developing mobile apps for data collection to be used by other non-profits. I think he raised like $50k. We all got local beads from Africa for our contributions. That was when Kickstarter was just starting out, so things may have changed.

But with your video and story, I would think you could do well, perhaps with a Tranches e.g. raise enough for one village solar install. Make a video of that and the results, then raise money for many more.

A:

What would you say is an often overlooked aspect of game development by most people?


Q:

Thanks for sharing this! what do you mean by Tranches?

A:

Hmm, I'll answer that from the viewpoint of developing games, not playing them, I think that's what you're after but correct me if I'm wrong. Writers (if the game involves writing/story) often are short-changed, with professional writers only brought in mid-way or later in the game, when the best story games have good writers on board from the first day. Musicians also feel overlooked, but unless it's a music-oriented game I don't think they have as good a case.


Q:

I am not sure how much you think you need to raise. I had meant that you could either try to raise it all at once, or raise a part of it, demonstrate you can build out at an initial site and then come back and raise more with a better story and better idea what you need.

Happy to help if you want.

A:

I grew up playing fate of Atlantis and have almost gotten a tattoo of Sophia's necklace or the oricalcum statue thing. Where did all of the art come from? Also, was there any real strategy involved in the fist fighting? I quickly learned the sucker punch command and ended most fist fights as soon as they started, since I was an impatient kid, but was there more to it? Was I missing out on some sweet mortal kombat-esque fighting sequences?


Q:

Ok got it. To upgrade our existing grid and go solar hybrid, we need around €150k

A:

All of it was created by the artists on the team, inspired by Minoan art and directed in some cases by Hal Barwood. There are some fans that have created versions of the necklace and statue, really quite nice, you can track them down online. I bought a few for myself from someone in Spain who shipped them. A tattoo would be awesome, I know someone with a Sinistar tattoo but not any Fate of Atlantis ones, but I expect they're out there.


Q:

Have you ever read "A Good Man in Africa?"

How do you feel about the white savior syndrome aid workers appear to suffer from?

Im saying this from a point of love as I am a disaster aid worker.

A:

What were the challenges of working on a 4th Indiana Jones story when there were already episodes/stories in existence? Was it difficult to come up with something new & fresh while still keeping within the general feel of an Indiana Jones story?


Q:

I am aware of that syndrome. It's partly because of this that Power:On is a startup, not an NGO. We are selling electricity services to clients, not beneficiaries. If we don't do a good job, they will simply stop buying it, we'll go bankrupt and somebody else will take our place. I think it's a really good thing: it keeps our interests aligned with our users. Also, Louise, my co-founder, is Beninese, and so is Jean, our amazing employee.

With that said, I really respect aid workers and NGOs in general. Some issues still cannot be addressed by enterprises (education, justice, human rights, famine, natural disasters... and so on).

A:

No, it was a pleasure. We had lots of ideas - had narrowed it down to the one we chose, and one about a quest to find Excalibur, but rejected that one because it wouldn't have easily given Jones a reason to go anywhere but England, while Atlantis gave us a lot more interesting options. Game developers always have many more ideas than time and resources to implement them.


Q:

I plan on watching the video later, but I appreciate your reply. Since you are aware of it, have you done local economic impact reports on your ops? What are your long term training strategies to make sure you are creating industry in the communities you work and not just extracting wealth?

If this is in the video, I'll learn after work, but I appreciate your replies!

A:

do you think games are any more violent today than they were in the 80's?


Q:

I'm happy to reply :) Yes I mentioned impact analysis on another comment. This is essential

A:

Hard to say - objectively, probably so, but I think that's mostly a result of the power of the platforms and the graphics. If you look at books, movies, even opera, themes of live and death - and violence - have always been popular, although with games as with other media the violent ones are minority of the total.


Q:

Is this a non-profit or do you plan on making money off this?

A:

was there a particular reason for you not working on Indiana Jones & the Infernal Machine? :)


Q:

It's for-profit, however I'm not making money from it yet (not since 5 years). It's basically philanthropy right now.

The reason we are for profit is that I want to we prove that we can bring electricity to the remotest villages on the planet in a sustainable and profitable way. If I succeed, I'm convinced this issue will be solved very quickly. I wrote a post about that: https://medium.com/turnthepoweron/ngos-fail-1fc03aa1f917

A:

I wasn't at LucasArts by then! I was working at The 3DO company on their game console (first one using a CD drive as standard).


Q:

Your website looks like a classic charity contribution site. Do you think about sharing financial projections and how someone's €1 contribution generates profit and ultimately have €5 worth of impact? (whatever the numbers are?)

Are the access fees just to cover operating costs and you treat the initial installation as a donation, or can the whole concept be profitable?

edit: wording

A:

One game you wish you could redesign?


Q:

Yes, a impact assessment team is actually bound to the village next week. They will help us really understand how electricity is changing the lives of the people, how it creates wealth, etc. This will be very interesting data.

As of today, the grid is only live from 7pm to midnight each day (because we are using a Diesel generator, and we did not want to burn fuel 24/7). But we expect to be profitable once we upgrade to solar: we will be able to generate 24/7 clean and cheap electricity.

By selling electricity to business clients during the day, we expect to create a virtuous circle. Electricity will allow them to generate more revenue, develop their business, and consume more electricity, and so on. This is really our core mission: trigger economic development in the villages

A:

Interesting question - with all of my games I usually know even before they are shipped of several things I would have like to have done differently, but didn't have the time. I think that's very common among designers, we're always tinkering and if you indulge the urge to change everything, you end up with one of those disasters that goes on for years and never comes out. Like - no, I won't be catty. I think that with hindsight, I would have made the most changes to Koronis Rift, the first game I did at LucasArts. Looking back, I made many mistakes that a rookie designer tends to make, chief among them trying to do too much, and also putting too much effort into parts of the game that weren't enhancing gameplay. In some ways that was one of the very first FPS games, and I think I could have made it a lot more exciting if I'd made it less strategic.


Q:

Did you think to collect any before data?

A:

What prompted you to leave Google, and how was your experience with working there?


Q:

Of course! An impact assessment team was in the village two years ago. A new one will arrive next week! We will keep everyone posted, just sign up to our website!

A:

I've summarized my reasons for leaving here: http://www.theinspiracy.com/noahs-arkive/the-evolution-of-a-game-designer Bottom line is, I joined there to work on really big game projects but the VP who wanted to do that left the company shortly after I was hired, and I never got to do the kind of game design work I'd come there to do.

But I have to say, Google is a fantastic company. I very much enjoyed working there for a long list of reasons. Lots of incredibly smart and talented colleagues, very interesting challenges, amazing benefits (I still miss the food... yeah, kind of shallow that way) and it was reassuring to feel that they were supporting me when I traveled, I saw about 15 of the offices around the world and never tired of exploring new ones. I highly recommend it as a place to go, and if you're a 20-something hot coder, it's probably the best place in the world to work on many accounts.


Q:

How did you start your work ? Did you have a team back then or were you alone ? Did the government take an initiative to help your work ?

A:

[deleted]


Q:

I started alone, which I actually really not recommend. But I chose Benin for this project because I already knew the country (I had worked in a NGO there) and most importantly I knew Louise, who became my cofounder (you can see her in the film). We now also work with Jean, our local manager. He is very committed to our mission and we are lucky to have him.

The good thing with this kind of project is also that many people genuinely want to help. Jacques is a friend who knows all about electricity and he played a big part in the beginning of this project!

The government was always curious and let us work, nothing more (yet). This is good enough for me, for now!

A:

Tough call. Ruling out games I worked on myself, I guess the first one that comes to mind is Star Control 2, I loved that game. Very creative, and a great blend of story and gameplay.


Q:

Looking for any help? I'm a Journeyman Electrician in state of MN and CA, and I would love to help out. I've done 4 years of solar.

A:

What's your favorite adventure game?

Do you think point and click adventures still have a place in modern gaming?

What could developers do to make them more attractive to a wider audience?


Q:

This is the kind of offer that keeps our motivation up! You would have to speak French though to help on the ground...

A:

Fav adventure game - probably Monkey Island 2. I didn't have a lot to do with the production, so I didn't get sick of it from having to play it too often. I think Ron, Dave and Tim made an amazing team, and certainly brainstorming with them was incredibly fun, and seeing how the game came out, there were many bits that would make me laugh even after seeing the same joke many times. I still remember one of my favorite points in making the game, where we were talking about how Guybrush could slide down a rope - "What if he used a hook?" "Not funny enough" "How about a rubber chicken?" "Nah, a rubber chicken wouldn't slide, you'd get stuck." Silent thought, and then someone (could have been me, I honestly don't know because several of us can't agree) said, "not if it was a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle" - and we all cracked up. Modern gaming - see above, I'm happy to see as a genre they're doing pretty well, but I don't think they'll ever be as popular as they used to be.
More attractive - Hal Barwood and I had an idea we toyed with in Mata Hari involving turning dialog and information into physical tokens. I still think we could go much farther - we came up with the idea fairly far into design, and if we designed a game from scratch around it I think it could be amazing - but I doubt it would make them really mainstream. I think they're an acquired taste, and it's like a specific genre, e.g. "mockumentaries" that some people find really enjoyable, but never are breakout hits these days.


Q:

I know I'm late but my family members in Kotido have some access to power via solar panels but what is preventing actual electricity is the Ugandan government. Are any policies or government entities making life difficult?

A:

Thanks for the reply! Monkey Island 2 is one of my favorites as well, although I'd have to say my absolutely favorite is Sam and Max Hit the Road.


Q:

Benin is working to facilitate projects like ours. Local authorities are aware of what we're doing, and I hope we'll soon be able to work more closely

A:

Are you aware that Steve Purcell, who created the Sam and Max comics and inspired us to make games around them, is now at Pixar?


Q:

What all things you've had to sacrifice to be where you are right now ? What do you actually want from life in general ? What is your philosophy ?

A:

As a pioneer of the Adventure Game format and point and click adventures, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced when creating these amazing worlds? given the technology you guys had. (Monkey Island universe and Fate of Atlantis innovative world)


Q:

The most basic thing I had to sacrifice was the last 5 years of my life without a salary. My friends all have jobs but I still live as if I was a student. But this was a conscious choice and I'll do it again. It was no accident I ended up doing this. I really want to work on something that has a meaning. I even wrote a manifesto about it on my medium account (https://medium.com/turnthepoweron/why-i-am-an-entrepreneur-5e3246473ae1)

If I make it, I'll be able to make a living out of this project though. That's the goal

A:

Perhaps the hardest thing was coming up with puzzles and situations that were tough to solve, but fair, and lent themselves to solution with an AHA! moment when you kept thinking about them. As Ron has said, "it's all locks and keys" and the trick is learning dozens of ways to disguise that.


Q:

You sir, are very inspiring. One in a million. I guess this is just the beginning.

A:

Sinistar was awesome! Did you believe at the time that the inclusion of synthesized speech in games would develop into full speech soundtracks or were you of the opinion that it was a passing novelty?


Q:

ahah thanks! I hope you're right!

A:

It was too new, we just thought it would be fun to try. Sinistar wasn't the first arcade game to add speech, but it was the first one I think to create a specific character, and with only 7 utterances (see this for a marvelous analysis: http://onastick.net/drew/sinistar/ ) Ken Fedesna, the head of engineering, was responsible for giving us the permission and encouragement to use the speech chip, it had been developed for a pinball game (Black Knight? I don't recall) and he thought it would be a good fit for Sinistar. It definitely is what most people remember from the game.


Q:

Sustainability also applies to your ability to stick around and be happy... and paid. There are many very wealthy westerners who retired to international development that would be more than willing to show you how to fundraise and make sure you get paid.

A:

what's the strangest unreleased game you've played, developed, or heard about from colleagues?


Q:

You are absolutely right. That's the plan indeed, as for any enterprise. I need 10-20 operational grids to get paid a westerner's salary. I had to start small and hope to find partners along the way

A:

That's a hard one. Lots of strange games abandoned partway through over the years - many more than are published. Maybe not strange, but unusual is one that Ron Gilbert proposed that never got made or even started, "I was a Teenage Lobot". You can see the doc here: http://grumpygamer.com/teenage_lobot


Q:

Are you competing with Akon?

A:

What is the Citizen Kane of videogames?


Q:

Akon is mostly distributing solar lamps for public lighting and solar kits for domestic use. He is absolutely loved in Africa for this, and it's nice to see someone like him commit to such a great cause. However what Power:On does is building real electrical grids that can address domestic needs, but also trigger economic development. The villagers can use whatever they want, just like people in the city. This is real electricity access

A:

The answer to that is found in the film that is the Tetris of movies.


Q:

Great work guys, out of interest what technology partners are you using for metering and telemetry?

A:

Could there ever be a game that is pure character study, without missions or objectives? Like Glengarry Glen Ross: The Game?


Q:

We're using smart meters allowing to sell pre-paid contracts. When credits run out, lights go out and you need to recharge. This is key to our success. In the past, many projects failed because people were not able to pay when the electricity bill came at the end of the month. And if there is no money, you can't maintain the system and pay the people in charge of it.

A:

Sure, and I'm positive it's been done with some of the indie art games, I'm not a big player of that style of game but I've seen enough to think it must have been done. "Her Story" on mobile games is kind of that, although arguably so.


Q:

Hi Tristan, I love what you're doing. Great project! How do you envision bringing green energy to remote places? Is there also a way to use the strong currents of some rivers to generate more?

A:

What's your favorite meme?


Q:

Hydro is the best and cheapest option if you have a river. But you have to have a river! In most cases, you don't. But in Africa, solar energy is also a good option. That's what we are going for!

A:

I'm a fan of Richard Dawkin's original use of the term, I think it's a bit sad it has come to mean what it does and don't really have a favorite. The original concept is so fresh and powerful, it doesn't deserve to be turned into pictures with text!


Q:

Ah that's true, not many places in African countries have a good river with a strong flow. In the case of solar energy, won't the heat generated by the panels be a problem?

A:

What was an innovation in game play you came up with that didn't catch on like you would have thought?


Q:

the PV panels optimal working temperature is 25°C so yes (under the sun, it can easily get to 40, even 50°C). But it's not a really big problem. I'm not an expert but I think it's best to install a solar photovoltaic panel under these latitudes, even at these temperatures, than in Northern Europe for instance

A:

I miss the old game Acrophobia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrophobia_(game) I'm surprised it didn't spawn imitators, or not many anyway.


Q:

I work for a company that builds massive electrical generators powered by a turbine engine , Recently shipped one unit to Aliko Dangote for evaluation. Is this project affiliated with him?

A:

You will have seen the various incarnations of VR and the 3 or 4 times they have been heralded as the next big thing over the last 30 years. Do you think it will ever catch on for real? What challenges in game design do they need to overcome to become more widely accepted?


Q:

Nope, but if you know him, tell him about us :)

A:

I think the current wave is for real. I love both games (Virtual Virtual Reality is really fun) and VR storytelling (Check out Spotlight Stories, particularly Pearl and Special Delivery).


Q:

Since you said this is for-profit, how do you plan on competing with much larger companies in the private sector and those backed by foreign aide/governments?

How do you plan on keeping up with the ever growing demand of electricity?

A:

Walt Disney, or Jim Henson?


Q:

That's the same challenge for every startup, in every sector. We'll just focus on making our clients very happy and building our company around that

A:

John Lasseter


Q:

Do you also educate on efficient energy use and safety? I had it drilled in my head to never go near downed power lines and turn off lights when I leave a room in elementary school. Sorry if this comes off as... idk... demeaning their intelligence, but if they aren't taught those things, you could be wasting energy or have a "bored kid sticks metal into electric outlet" scenario.

A:

What advice would you give to the parent of a pre-teen, who's absolutely nuts about making games, game-design, programming and playing?

They've a talent and knack (from my v. limited perspective), how do I support, encourage and engage without being pushy? (ie. balance of playing vs. creating).

Any pointers from your experience on the 'making side' gratefully received.


Q:

It's a good question! It's indeed important to explain some basics, as we do in developed countries. It's even more important when you are operating with limited resources: our grid is self sufficient, so we can't rely on the main grid if there is a demand spike.

Safety is also a very big concern. The villagers know not to fool around with electricity (as I said, they know what it is as they sometimes go to nearby cities). But it's important to install the proper securities (fuses, circuit breakers, etc) and explain how to use everything.

A:

The gateway these days is often Minecraft, I'd recommend that if your child hasn't yet tried it, it's often a way people get started, particularly 10 year old boys it seems. But I'd also recommend checking out one of the several publicly available game making programs that require very little programming expertise, can't recall a particular one at the moment, sorry! But playing stuff your kid makes is a good idea.


Q:

What's the best and the worst story you know after bringing electricity to these remote villages?

A:

Thank you.

Yes, Minecraft was the gateway, were currently using Unity to participate in online game jams. That's a really good point about playing what's made - I normally advise from a distance, but should be playing too. Thanks!


Q:

Best: chose your favorite from our "Humans Of Igbérè" series. Here's the link to my Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/tristan.ko/ And FB page : https://www.facebook.com/pg/turnthepoweron

Worse: nothing related to electricity (we had no accident). But it pains me sometimes to see that life in the village can still be very hard. People get sick and die, even children sometimes. Each time I go back, somebody I knew is gone. That's why I wish we could go faster. Many lives could be saved with modern services (electricity, but also running water, healthcare, etc).

A:

Unity is a great move, sounds like he or she is going fine. Finding other friends who want to share/collaborate also can help encourage young developers.


Q:

Are you Akon? Because you sound a lot like Akon.

http://akonlightingafrica.com/co-founders/akon/

A:

Sinistar kicked a$$!! Was there any way to get past the 3rd level? I've seen people playing old games (Asteroids comes to mind) to the point where they could play indefinitely. Sinistar was a BEAST. I probably paid for your kids college trying (and failing) to survive the 3rd level.


Q:

I answered a similar question earlier, but thanks! I like Akon

A:

Hah, I didn't ever get a cut of the profits from the game - but I did get my first car with bonus money, so thanks! Sure, I've gotten to level 5, and know many people who have gone higher, but it is of course extremely difficult. See above for why that is.


Q:

Why, in your opinion, can Africans not do it themselves?

A:

The excitement of running like hell from Sinistar, spewing bombs but knowing you were 1 or 2 short of taking him out was epic. "Run, coward!!!!"

Thanks for the memories!


Q:

They can! Louise, my co-founder, is Beninese! So is Jean, our amazing manager in the village. Without them, there would be nothing.

A:

You're welcome!


Q:

Africa is a huge continent, where specifically in Africa are you working?

A:

How/where did you develop the awesome Sinistar voice? That thing is impressive, especially considering tech constraints


Q:

Right now we're in Benin. We hope to be all over the continent someday

A:

Answered above, it was voiced by this guy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Doremus

There is a pretty tiny amount of recorded voice in the game, I think about 20 seconds of unique stuff. There wasn't much to work with.


Q:

How much time do you have to invest in the work on a daily ? How do you manage your time ?

A:

Hello, Mr. Falstien! I did an AMA request last week asking for a game designer/writer, so I wanted to ask: what is it like and what is involved to create a character in your game? I've always been intrigued by the minds behind the characters; why they made the character say the things they say and act the way they act.

Thanks for doing this!


Q:

I'm on this project full time. Now I work mostly from Paris, looking for funding to keep pushing!

A:

I don't have a specific system for that. When I've done it, I usually start with the game or gameplay and work backward - what kind of character would have the qualities needed for the game? And I use a technique taught by Orson Scott Card, the writer, acknowledging the first few things that come to mind, but push farther into unusual or surprising or quirky alternatives, rejecting the initial cliches. I also like to try to harness my subconscious, think hard about a concept or character, then purposefully distract myself or meditate (or even let myself come to the edge of sleep) and set a reminder (like an alarm) so that I come back to it obliquely.


Q:

Are you a eel?

A:

Hi! I'm very impressed by your career, you designed a lot of very important titles in history (my fav being the two indy games). Could you please tell us a bit about your time at 3do? What was your role here? What games did you design for them?


Q:

it's a secret

A:

I was the 9th employee, and for the first 6 months was the entire production department reporting directly to Trip Hawkins. I worked on a bunch of prototypes that were shown at trade shows like CES, and was developing a game about Terraforming called Worldbuilders, Inc. when Trip decided to cut back on internal development. Some of the work I did would now be called evangelism, some of it was helping hire out our internal development group that did games like Twisted. It was interesting trying to figure out how to use a CD-ROM built into a game machine, we debuted a year before the first Playstation and so had to do a lot of groundbreaking work.


Q:

Neat, I'm actually finishing up a paper on development in Ghana!

One thing that I talked about us how I thought solar could be very useful to bring power to the impoverished northern regions. The difficulty of bringing them power, aside from the current shortage, is that the energy grid is lacking the infrastructure to reach remote rural areas.

So, I thought solar projects would be a good idea to bring power to distant and impoverished communities. I also thought grants for individual panels on important buildings such as schools and hospitals would be very beneficial.

What do you think?

Second question, what are the best charities to donate to? (Besides yours)

A:

Will you be in this upcoming E3?


Q:

You are absolutely right! What we're doing in Benin could totally apply to Ghana. And yes, it makes sense to subsidize schools and hospitals so they can access energy.

About the second question: the ones you love.

A:

Nope, I have only been to one E3 in the last ten years, don't find it very useful for me any more.


Q:

I've spent more than eight years writing a script for an RPG, could you please make it a game or send me in the right direction?

You're amazing.

  • The Rostical Guild (google it).
A:

Sorry, I don't think I can help with that. Most people (and especially companies) with the resources to make games have more ideas/designs than they can handle, I literally don't know of a single case of this kind of thing resulting in someone picking up a game and paying to make it.


Q:

Did you ever receive complaints in the mail about Sinistar? I wasn't around in the 80's but that game seems absolutely mentally scarring, and I can't imagine it went through without some sort of controversy, internal or otherwise.

A:

Whoops, tried to reply to this but something went wrong. Anyway, no, there wasn't any controversy - people liked being startled for the most part, a few were resentful but most people thought it was a fun surprise, and got over it quickly. In a crowded, noisy arcade I don't think it was particularly scary.


Q:

Oooh this question has been on my mind a while now. I read an article posted in /r/futurology that due to robots taking our jobs, humans will soon find themselves at an existential crisis because their lives have no meaning. One of the proposed solutions is that we will spend most of our times living in VR worlds and having rich lives there. What is your opinion on that?

A:

What makes you think that hasn't happened already? Pretty realistic, huh?


Q:

How much easier did game development went once you started developing for machines with actual operating systems?

When you guys made games back in the old days, a lot of that stuff was done without any kind of middleware or sophisticated tools - literally just commands executed directly on the hardware. Yet those games are still some of the most fun, clever, and memorable games of my lifetime.

A:

It was pretty gradual as OS improved and tools became available. I'm glad you liked the old games, but overall I think the quality of games overall has improved, we just tend to have nostalgia for the ones we saw when we were younger.


Q:

What was your biggest challenge in learning programming?

I really want to learn, but I find it really intimidating.

A:

That's a tough one for me to answer with relevance, I learned initially about 45 years ago, and frankly the biggest challenge was the frustration of waiting for the punched cards to be read into the feeder and run on the mainframe miles away - and did I mention I had to walk to the computer lab at school 10 miles barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways? :-) I think there are lots of very accessible ways to learn programming these days, but I'm very out of touch with them, sorry!


Q:

Which of your games do you still dust off and play, just to enjoy playing them?

A:

I don't - just never been motivated to go back much. The one I most miss playing (but that I'd rather play a modern version of) was Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. And I wasn't very heavily involved in the development of that, it was very much Larry Holland's work.


Q:

Do you find modern AAA games lacking in depth? Where has the modern gaming industry disappointed you?

What game being worked on are you most excited about?

A:

I wouldn't say lacking in depth, depending on the type of game some are amazingly deep. But I've never been a big AAA game fan in general, except for some strategy or RTS games. I guess I'm disappointed there haven't been more (successful) attempts at funny games. The one I'm most excited about hasn't been announced yet so I can't say more, should be out before the end of this year though.


Q:

What software/hardware were you equipped with?

A:

It varied considerably during my career, literally dozens if not hundreds of answers to that. If you are more explicit in a reply to this I'll try to oblige.


Q:

SCUMM-style game with VR... thoughts? A VR point n click adventure game.

Also, your game history is like my "who's who of awesome", good gaming memories with all of those!

A:

Not sure what VR would add to a SCUMM game, although if you check out the Simpsons 600th episode Spotlight Stories VR you might get a feel for what it could be like. I think there are some VR titles that are reminiscent of point and click, like POLLEN from Mindfield


Q:

How is it that Sinistar was the first game to use a 49 way joystick? Was the control invented for the game, or the game invented for the control?

A:

Invented for the game. We wanted a proportional joystick, but previous attempts (like the control for Tail Gunner) broke too easily. The 49-position stick was invented by my boss, Ken Lantz, as a compromise to give us some gradations of control while making it robust enough that a player could rock the whole game by slamming on the sticks (a frequent thing players did when they lost a game) without breaking them. One of the fun things about arcade game development in those days is that you could design your own mechanical parts like the keyboard/button layouts, as well as work with the hardware guys to make computer hardware changes - Sinistar's vertical monitor with a special circuit to make the control panel at the top of the screen work was one such example.


Q:

What is your opinion on games having loads of DLC and no game? Also Whats your opinion on competitive shooters like CSGO and Overwatch?

A:

Not sure what you're referring to, I guess I'm not playing games of that sort. I've never played CSGO or Overwatch. So many types of games now, and I've spent more time on VR and to some extent mobile games recently.


Q:

As an absolute complete noob to designing games, where do I start the learning process. I don't know java or python at this point. And how does graphic design tie in? What tools do I need?

A:

I'd recommend Jesse Schell's "The Art of Game Design" book as a start, it will answer many of your questions and has lots of great advice. I don't get a cut, I'm just a fan of Jesse's work and this book in particular.


Q:

How often are you referred to as a sadist for making Sinistar?

A:

At least this once! I guess maybe people were more traumatized than I thought :-) Sorry. After all, you do get to blow him up as revenge. Sure, it's not going to end well for the player, but that was true of just about every arcade game.


Q:

I'm a 28 yo male that wants to be a video game producer. I'm going back to school in the fall to finish up my degree in computer science with a minor in business. What steps do I need to make so that my dream becomes a reality?

A:

There are entry level producer positions - assistant producer or possibly another unique name. www.gamasutra.com has lots of job listings. If you are a competent coder you may well find it easier to get a job using those skills and work internally in a game company to become a producer.


Q:

Hi! Developer here. I want to ask you how marketing was for you. How did you maintain a following? Did you gain subscribers on YouTube or followers for your blog about your game?

A:

I don't think that's relevant for me - I didn't market my own games, I've always worked for companies or clients who either handled that, or in the cases of some games, gave them away for free to the people who needed them.


Q:

I'm a computer science major and graduating this year. How do you suggest I get into working for a game company? I've applied to internships with no luck, and I have been making games in my free time already. Here is a link to one I made last semester if curious. https://youtu.be/rKxdbytKNtA

A:

Keep making games, and be persistent. It's a cliche, but that's by far the best way. Persistence is key, keep trying. If you are a programmer I think you'll succeed, don't insist on a job where you get to do the design yourself and you'll get in the door.