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Q&A: Independent game developer Hunter Gough

Hunter Gough is an independent game developer, one piece of the rising indie games movement.

Just as independent film shook up Hollywood in the ‘90s, so too are independent games shaking up the computer gaming industry.

The State Press recently caught up with Gough, known on the Web as 'luvcraft,' on the high-speed information superhighway.

State Press: Could you start by telling our readers a little bit about your background: education, traumatic childhood events, favorite blankie, etc?

Hunter Gough: It’s taken years of psychotherapy to help me repress those memories, but I’ll see what I can dig up. I’ve lived in Albuquerque most of my life, but that’s okay because it’s pretty nice here. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies and Media Arts from the University of New Mexico, which I tell people is almost as useful as getting a degree in Navajo Studies from the University of Tokyo. I’m a self-taught programmer, which means there are lots of weird gaps in my programming knowledge, but also means (I hope) that I do amazing things that someone with a traditional programming education wouldn’t think to do without realizing it. The first game I finished was a dropping puzzle game called “Coffee Drop” for the Gameboy Color, which won me third place in the Bung Enterprises game programming competition in 1998. But I usually don’t talk about that because people just start snickering when I say “Bung.” ... I made some Flash games, then I made “In the Pit” for an experimental gameplay competition, then some cool guys ... paid me to make a full version of “In the Pit,” then Xbox Community Games (now Xbox Indie Games) came out and I posted “In the Pit” to that, and it did remarkably well, and then I made “Crosstown.” ... I still have yet to make anywhere near enough money from video game projects to quit my day job, but I still vaguely hope that that might happen someday.

SP: Now that we’ve become experts on where you came from, let’s talk about where you are right now. Your most recent release for the Xbox was “Crosstown,” a brilliantly innovative game. Where did the idea of a toga-clad prisoner slaying countless mutants in his quest to steal four dollars come from?

HG: The primary inspiration for “Crosstown” was an obscure Commodore 64 game called “Crossroads.” Actually, more specifically, the inspiration was a couple of articles that Anna Anthropy and Kirk Israel wrote about “Crossroads,” and their obsessions with it and observations of it. I had also recently played “Game Center CX” (which has since been released in the U.S. as “Retro Game Challenge”) on the DS and wanted to make something similar with a bunch of faux retro games, with sort of a meta game on top where you go to arcades and buy cartridges and get bootleg floppy disks from your friends at school, so it would be as much a simulation of a video game-obsessed childhood as a collection of games. That was, of course, way too ambitious, so I ended up just focussing on making one of those faux-retro games, and that was “Crosstown.” Gameplay-wise, “Crosstown” owes most of its inspiration to “Crossroads.”

SP: Now that we’ve talked about your past and your present, it is only logical that we return to the past. Your other game on the Xbox 360 is “In the Pit.” How brilliant did you feel coming up with an idea for an audio-only game? Also, talk about the game.

HG: I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the success of “In the Pit,” especially because I expected it to be a hit with academics and game industry insiders but totally bomb with the vast majority of average gamers. In fact, it’s been the exact opposite — it was the No. 1 most popular Xbox Live Indie Game for two weeks straight. It’s still getting a steady stream of purchases on Xbox Live a year and a half after it came out, it’s gotten some great reviews from small-press gaming Web sites and Major Nelson even praised it a couple of times on his podcast. On the other hand, it didn’t even make the finals in the two big industry game design competitions I submitted it to (the PAX 10 and Dream Build Play), and despite it being radically different from every other video game out there (or, at least, every other video game that has graphics), I think academics just roll their eyes at it because it has a goofy, campy plot rather than any sort of deeply pretentious “message.”

SP: So we’ve gone past-present-past ... let’s do future. How quickly do you expect your plans for global domination to take hold? And is there any tips you can give our readers in pleasing their future overlord?

HG: Buy “In the Pit” and “Crosstown.” Stop making terrible movies out of ‘80s cartoons and TV shows. Don’t wear sweatpants with “juicy” printed across the [butt]. Eat your vegetables. This I command.

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