Regular visitors to this site may have noticed that we have given one game a disproportionate amount of coverage in recent months. We reviewed the game here, we placed the game at the top of our "Games that make you think about life" list here and we reddited about it here. The reason why we have lavished such attention on ImmorTall - an arty side-scroller - is that quite simply we love it. ImmorTall is one of the most emotionally moving games we have ever played. It is up there in the league of gaming tear-jerkers with Jason Rohrer's legendary Passage.
For the game's developer, Evan Miller, the game could have had him crying for entirely different reasons. As he explains later in the article, developing arty games like ImmorTall is a big risk. It can be very difficult to find a sponsor for such games, and he could quite easily have been left out-of-pocket as a result. Thankfuilly, that was not the case - ImmorTall has received widespread acclaim across the internet.
ImmorTall is not the first game that Evan has taken a risk on. While many developers do not stray far from tried and tested gaming formulas, Evan is always prepared to (indeed he is compelled to) try something different. Take a look through his portfolio, and one can't help but be impressed by the innovation featured in there, in games such as Alter (a side-scrolling adventure game with a unqiue way of interacting with the game environment) or Hunted Forever (an exploration game boasting a beautifully animated hero that was featured in Time magazine).
Even when Evan uses a traditional gaming formula, he always gives it an unusual twist. Take Towering Forever, for example, where he avoids the traditional top-down view used for standard tower defence games, and instead sets it in a 2d side-scrolling world and also puts you in control of a monster that can fight off the attacking hordes. Perhaps his most conventional game is his latest: Pixel Legions, a fast and furious strategy game with exceptionally high production values.
In our view, Evan is one of the most gifted indie developers around at the moment. So we were delighted that Evan agreed to answer some questions for us:
ImmorTall is one of the most beautiful and moving games we've come across. What made you decide to do an arty game like this, and did you set out to make people cry?
After making Forever Samurai, where I completely cut out the narrative because of resource constraints, I felt like I needed to refresh myself by making something more emotionally charged.
The goal was to make people feel. Feel sadness, feel appreciation, feel frustration, feel love, feel annoyance at another pretentious indie game; anything.
In order to do this, the game was built for people to see what they want to see. There is no canon, no moral, no agenda and no preaching. It's all about what you decided to feel and what that decision means.
Your games often have very imaginative themes. Where do you get your inspiration for your games?
Everywhere and nowhere. I have a simple formula for creativity.
Rule 1: Take a familiar idea and pair it with something unusual. If it's a bad combination, scrap it. If it's good, add something else.
Rule 2: If you ever find yourself thinking 'well, the typical thing to do here would be...' then do something else.
Rule 3: Apologize profusely when you totally fail to follow Rule 2.
Do you think games can be considered to be art?
I think subjective words are subjective.
Can arty games like ImmorTall be a commercial success? We hope so!
Sure, but it's higher risk than more traditional games. If you're a more established developer who can get onto digital distribution networks like Steam or PSN you'd be a lot better off, I think. Getting a flash sponsorship to break even on a tiny game with not much replayability is tough, but then I guess there are not many people making a living that way in general.
You appear to like developing different types of game, from arty side-scrollers like Immortall to fast-action strategy games like Pixel Legion. What is your next game going to be?
Well, my next game is under NDA, so I can't say yet. But there's also Fowl Space which is a comedic 'run and gun' platformer that's a finalist in Penny Arcade's PAX10 contest this September. I also have another game lying around (on hiatus) which I originally described as Super Mario Galaxy Deathmatch. I've also got tons of demands for Pixel Legions 2 so I have a feeling that will probably be the first sequel I ever do.
Which of your games are you most proud of?
Well, Hunted Forever will always have special meaning for me. Before I started making the 'Forever' series of games I wasted an entire summer making a terrible game that I like to pretend doesn't exist. Epic fail, face-palm, etc. It depressed me quite a bit.
Then I made Hunted Forever and suddenly everyone was really excited and I was getting all this press and making money and I thought that maybe I didn't waste my entire life up to that point after all? Then I thought, no that's dumb but hey look shiny things!
What is your most successful game?
Financially: Pixel Legions made the most money.
Critically: Hunted Forever got in Time Magazine.
Creatively: ImmorTall made (helped?) people feel many completely different things.
Do you do both the art and programming for your games. Which of these two disciplines do you prefer?
Both. Jumping back and forth between various disciplines is a nice way to keep my energy up throughout the whole development cycle. I don't consider myself a programmer or an artist, I just do what needs doing.
Programming is easier for me to focus on for extended periods of time. Artwork tires me out very quickly; I don't like producing large amounts of it. I did consider becoming an animator when I was younger, though. Motion, flow and fluidity are always high priorities for me.
Is it possible to make a good living out of developing casual games?
That depends what your idea of a good living is. I have a ludicrously low-maintenance lifestyle so it's been fine for me so far. Personally, I always expect to make nothing and am pleasantly surprised every time I don't go out of business and starve.
Are there any game developers whose work you particularly admire?
Change 'admiration' to 'rampant jealousy' and the answer would probably be 'most of them'.
What is your favourite casual game by another developer?
I don't know if the term 'casual game' really means much. In terms of indie games, Cave Story is my absolute favourite. I discovered it at a time when I was doing soul-crushing QA grunt work and it was so inspiring it cured me completely.
What are your plans for the future?
I think I'll make some games.