EXP Podcast #209: The Great Escape


Lately I was interviewed about the submachine series. Here are the results:

exp_excape



interview for Casual Girl Gamer


Mateusz Skutnik is a rarity: a gifted artist who is also a skilled coder. He is responsible for some of the most beautiful casual games on the web.

There are two types of artist. The first sort can spend an age on a work of art, painstakingly, bit by tiny bit, building it up until, finally, often years later, they deem it ready for public consumption. And then there are those rare individuals who are blessed with such an abundance of talent that they can turn around wonderful artworks in the time it takes some of us to read a book.

In the casual gaming world, Mateusz Skutnik is undoubtedly one of the latter. Over the past few years, his output of games has been nothing short of phenomenal. Eight games in his hugely popular Submachine point-and-click series, no less then 12 Ten-Gnomes games (quirky takes on the hidden object genre), two editions of the much-acclaimed Daymare Town series, three Covert Front games, and that’s before we even get on to some of his lesser known works, including my personal favourites, the Squirrel games, of which there were more than 25 at last count.

And we are not talking low production value games here. His games are notable for their brilliant artwork, gripping storylines and imaginative reinventions of existing genres. Mateusz is that rare specimen, a gifted artist who also has the wherewithal to write computer programs and market his creations. Until relatively recently, he created the majority of his games single-handedly, doing all the graphics and programming himself. With growing recognition of his work, Mateusz quit his regular job a year ago to focus on his gaming business. He now runs a small game studio – Pastel Games – with Karol Konwerski.

Your output of new games over the past few years has been nothing short of phenomenal. And you do all the graphics as well as the programming. Do you ever sleep?

Umm, sure. It’s not like all those were made simultaneously. For example it took almost two years between Covert Front 2 and 4, and one-and-a-half years between Submachine 5 and 6. Besides, developing doesn’t take that long. To create a game from scratch I need about three months, so it leaves more than enough time to think all [the game] stories through, create a game and have a normal life afterwards.

Where do you get your inspiration for your games?

Everything and nothing. In 10 Gnomes it was the surrounding that I was setting the game in. Sometimes it takes just good sounds or ambients to spawn an idea, sometimes something I see in a movie or TV.

Your games are notable for their brilliant unique graphics. How did you become such a great illustrator?

Years of training. Twenty years of drawing comics, five years of learning how to program these things. There’s no way around it. Time is the answer.

Do you think games can be considered to be art?

10 Gnomes received a Storm of the Year Award in 2008 in the multimedia category. That’s an art award. Does that answer your question?

What are you working on at the moment?

Daymare Town 3 point and click game, and trying to get on track with a new Revolutions comic album, but that’s on a hold right now.

Which of your games are you most proud of?

Can’t judge. There’s no favourite, besides they’re all different and incomparable really.

Is it possible to make a good living out of developing casual games?

Yes. A year ago I quit my regular job and I’m still alive today. That proves the point.

You have recently moved into iPhone development. How does developing games for the iPhone differ from creating Flash games?

Teamwork, proper programmers, graphic and level designers, project managers. Kind of professional compared to one-man developing process.

Are their any game developers whose work you particularly admire?

All stuff made by Wada Nanahiro, Amanita Design and Ferry Halim.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to draw a full comic book next year. Concerning games – probably new Covert Front, Submachine and Daymare Town. The usual point and click trinity.

Tasha Granger



Building games – interview in Warsaw Business Journal


Online gaming is going through a renaissance, with hundreds of websites offering free games to while away the time. One company making waves in the sector is Pastel Games – a Polish game developer responsible for such hits as the Submachine series and the Squirrel Family games. WBJ.pl speaks with company founders Mateusz Skutnik and Karol Konwerski about their their business model, the state of the industry and developing for the iPhone.

Roberto Galea: Since the flash games that you produce are free to play online, where does your income come from?

Mateusz Skutnik: The income comes from our sponsors. We sell games to online flash-game portals, such as Arcade Town, Spill Group, Armor Games and others. They pay us for ad space within the game, mostly logos and links redirecting to their portals.

Your flash games, including Submachine and the “room escape” series, have become immensely popular worldwide. What kind of reaction have you seen from the Polish gaming community?

 

MS: The gaming community in Poland reacted in much the same way as the rest of the world. They liked it. The developers did and so did the players. This is the kind of genre that suits everyone I guess. It’s something that you can’t really predict, but that is what’s most precious in this business.

How hard is it to break into the global gaming industry with so many artists competing for the spotlight?

MS: It’s harder than you’d think, because since every single game that you make is pure genius and fantastic for the creator, the only way to determine its value is to release it to the public and listen to what [players] have to say about it. Well, maybe not listen to their opinions, because the more people play, the more [their] comments become a white noise of polarized opinions ranging from love to hate. But the mere number of players says all that we need to know about a game. It is quite tricky, it took me about three years to find the specific genre that we’re good at and people love.

As an artist working in Poland, how does the country’s current social and political landscape fit into your work?

MS: Not much. Our creations are not locally based, they’re global, and keeping that in mind we don’t include social or political matters. We’re in no way dependent on the state of the country. All the work that we do goes straight abroad. We export our intellectual property mostly to Western Europe and US.

You also write games for the Apple iPhone. When it first came out, the iPhone took the world by storm as a fashion and technological breakthrough. Entrepreneurs are now realizing its business potential. How do you see the iPhone evolving as a tool in the coming months?

Karol Konwerski: Over the last year, the iPhone has become more of a handheld gaming console than just a multimedia gadget. Recently in the first time in history, the four-top selling applications at Apple’s App-store were games. Furthermore, something which is important for us, and on which we have based our business plan, is that the iPhone determines new trends for handheld gaming devices. The best proof of this is the new device from Sony – the Sony PSP Go. We can say that it’s more than just a temporary trend or fashion. What we are observing at the moment is just a natural progression of the whole gaming industry. That is why we haven’t had a problem finding an investor.

What management models do you practice at your company?

KK: To speak about management models, we have to separate flash-game development from iPhone games. In developing flash games we prefer to work with freelance graphic designers and programmers. As we have learned from practice, a team created specifically for a concrete project will be much more effective and creative [than a static team]. This is important for us – as well as for our clients and users – since you can tell exactly who was working on a specific game. That kind of “artistic touch,” let’s say, has distinguished our work from that of other flash-game developers. It is completely different when we talk about iPhone games. Developing games for Apple’s smartphone is much more complex than working on flash games. First of all, Apple’s device opened brand new possibilities for developers, [since] each game has to be totally unique but there are no solid programming grounds like in flash games. What we had to do was to create a developer engine. To do that we could not use freelancers. Right now we employ three full-time workers and three others for concrete tasks in two divisions – graphic design and programming.

 



Revolutionary Daymares of a Submachine – an interview


an interview by Igor Hardy.

In modern times great adventure games don’t come in big shiny cardboard boxes and on multiple CDs. In fact very often they are just one click away from you in your internet browser.

Among some of the best of those are the works of Mateusz Skutnik of Pastel Games. His episodic adventure games resume consists of such well known series as Submachine and Daymare Town.

These games despite simple interfaces offer complex, creative puzzles in visually fascinating hand-drawn game worlds full of eerie atmosphere and a kind of surreal beauty.

Besides being a game designer Mateusz Skutnik is a highly regarded Polish graphic novel author. He is especially well known for his series Revolutions – the fifth book is coming shortly. Concurrently, on June the 17th in Polish cinemas has premiered a CG 3D animated short “Kinematograph” by Oscar-nominee Tomasz Bagiński which was based on one of one of the stories from Revolutions.

We are grateful to Skutnik for answering a few questions about his works for us.

____________________________________________________________________

Igor Hardy: Could you briefly introduce the Pastel Games team, tell us how you work together, and who and in what way is responsible for which game series?

Mateusz Skutnik: Pastel team was started by me and Karol Konwerski. Concerning our point and click escape/puzzle games –  Karol writes scenarios for 3 different series – the Fog Fall, the Great Escapes and Covert Front. Submachine and Daymare Town are completely done by myself. Later we started inviting more graphic artists, mostly Polish comic book artists to join our team and draw for us. And so it goes – Maciej Palka draws the Fog Fall series and Kamil Kochanski draws the Great Escapes. Besides those two we also have Barbara Jarosik on board, who writes scenarios and draws her own games, two so far – the Escape Artist and Charger Escape. She works on her third game right now. As I said – all games go through me where I polish them, add more puzzles or logic to the game, and program using my pnc engine developed throughout last 4 years.

IH: The Submachine series seems to have become your biggest and most recognized adventure game creation. How do you look at it now, after new episodes have been appearing for several years, and how did you see the project in the beginning?

MS: At the beginning, the project was a one-game only experiment. Didn’t have a clue that it would gain such appreciation. So after the first one I was very pleased yet surprised by the responce, so the continuations followed. Right now series consists of 7 games with a lot of backstory included. With each game I reveal more and more. This series should go at least until Submachine 10. After that I dont know.

IH: How successful did you find the episodic format of releasing games in several concurrently running series? Do people complain a lot when they don’t get a new episode of their favorite series for a longer time?

 

MS: Well yes, they do. But that’s ok, that just means that they want that game badly. I’ve got only 3 series of my own – Submachine, Daymare Town and Covert Front – given one game yearly that gives me 4 months to develop each episode. That’s more than enough, I dont have to rush things, and people recognize that in my games. Everything in its own time. That’s why Covert Front 3 is taking so long right now. But once its done – it will be great, I promise.

IH: Your games receive a lot of feedback from players of your games and you have a devoted group of fans among them. What are the aspects of your games that you feel appeal to your audience the most?

 

MS: Every game is like a clock. Every piece has to fit perfectly in order to work. There are several aspects of each game taken into consideration, each one of the same value. Having said that, we are ready to create a good game. However – what is so appealing to the audience? atmosphere, logic, well thought puzzles, and most of all appreciate player’s intelligence. It looks like I manage to do that in my games. Luckily.

IH: Given your background in comics and architecture how do you approach drawing and animating the environments in which you set your games?

 

MS: Given that background, I draw games as I draw comic books. Without sketches, what comes out of a drawing – stays there, I hardly ever make changes to what I’ve already drawn. Techniques are very different, comic books are mostly watercolours, here we have vector graphics in flash.

IH: Why did you choose photos instead of drawings as backgrounds for the 10 gnomes series?

 

MS: I always wanted to create a photo-based game. You know – less drawing, less trouble :D . But there was always an issue of on-stage elements that change. Switches, lights, evers etc. How to make that believable. Simple idea of a gnome-findng game hit the jackpot for me, you just look around and try to find hidden objects. The combination was perfect.

IH: Do the limitations of the Flash medium, especially the necessity to maintain small file sizes, produce any problems for you? Given opportunity would you be interested in giving your running series a rest for a while and focusing all efforts on creating a big budget, non-web browser-based game project with things like painting quality art, detailed animations, recorded speech for characters?

 

MS: Sure, given that the budget would allow me to toss everything else away and work on just that. But – flash games are not small, small file size is not a problem, right now we can make 10Mb games no problem, and these are long games.

IH: Could you tell us what it is your main interest in drawing, comic books and visual arts in general. Also, what happened that you started to create games at some point in your career?

 

MS: Don’t have main interest. Or maybe I do – delivering a story. Whether through graphic novels, games or movies – no difference. What happened that I started creating games? Nothing happened. I just started.

IH: What kind of atmosphere and experiences do you seek yourself in other people’s creations (games, art, fiction)?

 

MS: I don’t seek. I just embrace what’s coming. That regards to music, games and books. I’ve got my favorites, but can’t say they inspired me.

IH: Being a very prolific adventure game creator how do you cope with amount of new puzzles that need to be constantly invented?

 

MS: Don’t know. It’s not the puzzle that starts the design. Usually I create environment, and then add a puzzle that fits into that setting. It comes naturally I guess.

IH: How do you compare the experience of playing adventure games (and games of other genres as well) to the experience of creating one’s own?

 

MS: Incomparable. You can’t compare making and consuming. Both are fun and trigger different emotions – that’s for sure.

IH: Besides adventure games what other game genres does Pastel Games dabble in? Are there some special traits or design goals that connect all your company’s games regardless of the different genres they belong to?

 

MS: We just opened our brand new iPhone division – those games will be completely different from what we do best on the internet. Mostly action, platform and skill games. No, there is no pattern connecting all the games. They’re far too different from each other to try to introduce something like that. Take Submachine and Daymare Town for example. Impossible to connect.

IH: Speaking of  iPhone, what new opportunities and/or challenges does this popular platform provide? Does the iPhone audience differ in their expectations from the people who play your games on their internet browsers?

MS: That’s a completely different target group, different background and age. We will be trying to understand the differences and create games that appeal to that audience. Maybe we will succeed. That’s a biggest unknown right now for Pastel Games.

IH: Recently Pastel Games released a new adventure game The Scene of The Crime that gives the player more detective work like challenges than traditional puzzles. Does it take a different approach to create this kind of gameplay? Is it a beginning of a longer series?

MS: It’s a bit different approach mostly because the plot is non linear. There’s no given path in which you have to discover objects – like in all other pnc games – here you can find different items in different order and the story still has to make sense. that’s a bit more difficult to achieve than creating a regular point and click. About longer series – we’ll see. if this game creates a buzz, then maybe. But right now I’m not into creating new series, while my main game series suffer from lack of new episodes. I want to revive Covert Front, Submachine and Daymare Town and maybe then think about possible new series.

IH: Can you share of your plans for game releases in the next months, or at least give a few hints about what new surprises can we expect from Pastel Games?

 

MS: Covert Front in June or July, then Submachine 6 which should take around 3 months to finish, so around October, November, and then Daymare Town before the end of the year. That’s my plan for my games. What will pop up in the meantime from other Pastel Games creators is a big unknown for now.

IH: Let’s step out of the gaming topics for a brief moment… A short animated movie Kinematograph by Tomasz Bagiński based on a story from your Revolutions is just having its premiere. However, the style of the art in the movie is very different from your graphic novel. From a brief chat I was fortunate to have with Tomasz Bagiński recently I learned that he was given free hand with his vision and interpretation. How does it feel to have your own story reinvented for such a high-budget production that took many years to conceptualize and complete? Will the release of the movie help you to publish your graphic novels internationally?

 

MS: Honestly don’t know. Comic books are a tough item to sell and if anything would help – it’s that movie. About the reinventing – the story  isn’t reinvented – it’s an exact copy of the comic book scenario with additional minor changes, only the graphic side is changed. And for the better. Original comic graphics are more artistic than commercial, and the movie took more open approach to wide audience. The movie in its present form is acceptable for the mass viewer. If it resembled original comic characters it would be just eyebrow rising.

IH: What advice would you give to fans who inspired by your adventure games would like to create games of their own with similar strange, escapist worlds ?

MS: No advice. Anything I might say to someone who’s about to start creating games would be useless. On the practical side? nothing more that dozens of online tutorials have to offer. On the artistic side? Nothing to say. Everyone has to evaluate this on his own. It’s simple as that. You cannot be taught how to create a game. You have to feel it and learn it on your own.

IH: Thank you very much for the interview. We wish you best of luck with your future work and an expanding group of fans.



Flash Games with Design – an interview – X 2008


Flash Games with Design  Daymare Town 2. integrating excellent illustrations into a puzzle game

By Ko Maruyama

There are plenty of games that you can play through simple browsers.  Some of them are created with beautiful illustrations and artistry that takes advantage of the small file sizes for these games.  This month, I took a look at the sequel game: Daymare Town 2.  The simple puzzles (although sometimes tricky) are packaged with the great looking rough drawings.

I had a chance to talk with Designer, Illustrator, Programmer Mateusz Skutnik in Gdansk, Poland.  A traditionally skilled architect, Mateusz now called himself an architect because of his construction skills in game design.  His skills however, aren’t merely about flash animation.  He also creates some comics which he continues in Rewolucje.

Daymare Town is a story that takes you through a creepy, illustrated world that you can navigate with simple clicks of a mouse.  The tasks necessary to get through the maze are logical steps that aren’t always as easy as clicking the mouse.  Some tasks involve combining elements in your inventory while others require you to perform an action while an animation occurs onscreen (and those are some of the easy ones).

Did you go to art school in addition to traditional architectural school at the Technical University in Gdansk?

 

No, I didn’t go to any art school thank god. I started drawing about 20 years ago, and after 15 years of drawing crap I finally learned how to do it.  That’s the way it goes.  There’s no way around it – that’s a kind of advice for someone that would like to learn how to draw fast.

 

You work as a flash animation artist now, but how did you develop your programming skills after architectural school?

Watching the tutorials, going through countless trials back and forth and some small help of my fellow programmers that were kind enough to share the knowledge.

What was the first flash game that you made?

Funky Forest. This maybe not totally the first game ever made, but I don’t think that earlier attempts are online. We can assume Funky Forest is the first publicly released game.

What was the most difficult part about learning to program that game?

Understanding the basics. After this – it’s all very simple. To some level naturally, I’m not a programmer per se, so I’ve got my limitations.

What kinds of books do you read?  What kind of television or film do you watch?  What type of fine art do you like? As an illustrator, how do these influence your work?

If you ask me about my inspirations – I cant name that.  Everything is an constant inspiration I guess.

The strongest inspiration would be music, I like to visualize what I hear. Ambients, separate short sounds, etc. When I hear something I usually see it. Then draw it.

Probably the most popular puzzle games you’ve made are still the deeply layered Submachine Series and the fun 10 Gnomes Project.  What is the new project you’re working on?

I’m working on Covert Front 3 right now. After that Submachine #6. And I’m also working on 10 Gnomes series – one game per month, and also I program games for PastelGames.com.

Do you think that web delivery of flash games is a good thing for you entering the market?

Yes, most definietly.

What is the next part of flash / scripting that you want to learn?

Honestly don’t know. What I learn is determined by problems and obstacles that I encounter during development of a game. Finding solution is learning in my case. Can’t predict future programming problems ;)

If people want to find out more games that you like that other people have created, what would you suggest?

 

They should visit amanita design for their amazing samorost games and wada che nanahiro for his sheer absurd.

Thanks for fun and wonderfully illustrated games.

Thank you!



interview for IndieGames.com


Interview: Submachine Developer Mateusz Skutnik

An informal chat with Mateusz Skutnik, developer of Submachine and the Covert Front series.
Hi Mateusz, can you provide us with a little introduction for the benefit of the readers who are unfamiliar with your works.

I’m a flash games architect, most known works include Submachine series, Covert Front and DayMare Town, and I’m also graphic novelist, with ongoing series of Rewolucje, Blaki, and more one shot albums. I live in Poland and here are my graphic novels published, that’s a reason why you probably associate me more with online games, than comics.

Which do you prefer to be associated with, if you had to make a choice? Your art, or your games?

Hard to tell, if you’d ask me that question before the Submachine outbreak I’d say by my comics, but now… They’re equal let’s say. Besides I do manage to fit my art into the games as well, so it’s like the same story, just different medium.

You’ve created a couple of spin-off Flash games in recent weeks, The Great Kitchen Escape and 10 Gnomes – can we expect more of the same? Or will you be sticking to Submachine, Covert Front and DayMare Town?

Kitchen Escape isn’t mine. I was just a programmer on Kitchen Escape. I don’t consider a game “mine” until it has my art and my scenario. That’s why Kitchen Escape wasn’t featured on my blog for example. About 10 Gnomes. It’s a full year project. One game monthly. 12 games in 2008. I already have an episode for february finished.

Will all twelve games involve searching for ten gnomes? Or are you planning to introduce something different for each episode?

No, ten gnomes in each game.

There have been comments that some of the gnomes in The Rooftops were very difficult to find – are we to expect the same difficulty for subsequent episodes?

Hard to say. I can’t objectively judge that. I know that if the game wasn’t mine I’d never find those little bastards. I’m lame at solving puzzle games. So I can’t tell you. :D

Will you be working with the same group of people again, on a sequel to Kitchen Escape (or different projects) in the near future?

My business partner, Karol Konwerski, co-owner of the Pastel Games is a story writer. He wrote Covert Front, and few of my graphic albums. We both agree that it’s time to extend our horizon of possibilities by hiring more graphic designers. So he contacted few polish graphic novelist, researched on who has a good Flash background and picked this one to do the game. Karol also wrote scenario for this game. And yes, we already have “The Great Living Room Escape” in our plans, also with the same kind of humour and the same graphic designer. Along with other projects..

Any release dates for some of your games you’d like to share?

We have two new games coming up in February for ArcadeTown. Besides that – it’s hard to say. There are no release dates, because we don’t set them. Even if the game is finished and sent to the sponsor, it can take up to two weeks before release. But besides our normal schedule I create games by my own, for example DayMare Town 2 which is made after hours. And I don’t have a slight idea when it will be finished. :D

You’ve attempted a couple of platformers and arcade games in the past, with varying results. Will you still attempt something to that effect?

I’m not really a programmer. There is a certain level on programming skill that I won’t reach. It’s good enough for puzzlers or simple platformers, but that’s it. That’s why we’re hiring programmers to turn our ideas to reality. Now I don’t have to think how in the world am I going to program what I’ve just imagined. I’ve got a programmer to do that. So we’ll try other genres of games with better results I hope. :D

How is it humanly possible for one person to create this many games in such a short amount of time? What is your work schedule like?

I just work fast. Would you believe that after completing the engine for 10 Gnomes it takes me one day (1) to create another episode? Go shoot some pics in the morning and put them together in the afternoon. Add some gnomes in the evening and voila! :D

Which game or series of yours do you enjoy working on the most?

The one that I am currently working on at given time. Right now it’s 10 Gnomes and Daymare. Later on it will be Covert Front.

What are your plans for the next three years? Amanita Design has decided to create a large scale adventure game after their success with the Samorost series, have you considered attempting the same?

I’d need a proper contract to do that, to have time to create a big game. My plans for next year or so is to expand our company, create as many good games as possible. I want to create DayMare Town 2, Covert Front 3 and possibly Submachine 6 this year. And those 12 games of finding gnomes.

Do you have a set number of episodes you’d like to create for Submachine, DayMare Town and Covert Front? Will we ever see an ending to these series?

Only Covert Front has set number of episodes – 4. Karol wrote it like that and we will see the ending. Other are open stories, and DayMare Town is just the beginning.

You’ve mentioned a compilation CD recently. How is that coming along, and when will it be released? What will you include, and how much will it cost? How do you plan to distribute it?

Well, I have to retouch 3 Submachine games. Those long ones. 2, 4 and FLF. That’s why this project is on hold right now because I simply don’t have time to do that. I also want to include more movies – as seen in games but not only original soundtrack with special extended versions of tracks made by Thumpmonks. Some Submachine theories, walkthroughs. The whole thing. CD will cost about $10 but I have no idea yet how its going to be distributed.

Played any good games lately? Any unknown developers that you think deserves some mentions? Any inspirations?

Makibishi Comic is a completely insane flash game, high quality art. Wada Nanahiro constantly amazes me with all his works. Hats off. You’ve mentioned Samorost before. Just a level above everything. But I don’t take inspiration from games. Maybe Wada taught me that a game can be sketchy, like DayMare Town. But besides that – I’m going my own way.

Since we’re on that topic, are you looking forward to Machinarium? If you had the chance, would you consider a collaboration with any of these developers?

Yes, Machinarium is something to look forward to. I remember waiting for Samorost 2. Oh the tension, the impatience. But collaboration? I don’t think so. All of those developers live in their own reality and we just want to look at it with their eyes, joining different worlds could be disastrous.

Anything you’d like to say to your fans?

Thank you for your constant support in whatever I do. :D


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