It's time once again for How to Be Me, HCF's series of casual, vaguely instructional interviews with games industry professionals, conducted entirely over instant messenger services.
This week we spoke with Finnish independent game designer Petri Purho, who creates monthly experimental games on his website Kloonigames.com. Petri's best-known game Crayon Physics Deluxe won the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the Independent Games Festival Awards in 2008 and is currently available for PCs and iPhone.
Hey, Petri! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Petri Purho: No. Well, maybe a little. I'm an independent game developer, I live in Helsinki, Finland and I like to watch weird movies. Weird movies, you say? For instance?
Petri Purho: I knew you were going to pick up on that one. Last really weird movie that I watched was Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain.
Petri Purho: Yeah, that one. I generally like to watch a lot of movies from a lot of different genres, so it's not just weird movies all the time.
Sometimes you like a good romantic comedy, then? Something with Meg Ryan?
Petri Purho: Yes. I actually like romatic comedies a lot. I'm a bit ashamed of that.
You shouldn't be! Romance and Comedy: it's a winning combination!
Petri Purho: Add zombies and you have a classic.
I'm going to try to steer this back to video games: when are you making a romantic comedy video game? Correction: When are you going to make a rom-com zombie game?
Petri Purho: There was someone who said that the most difficult thing to do in games is a romatic comedy game. It's something that's easy and cheap to do as a movie, but nearly impossible to do as a game. I have no idea how to go about doing it as a game. Maybe something in the vein of Facade.
What do you think is the difficulty there? People speak of video games as the next great artistic medium, but why can't video games capture a genre as simple and abundant as the romantic comedy?
Petri Purho: Well, there's two big issues in a romatic comedy. First, doing a game that's actually funny is something that's very difficult and seldom done, but it can be done. But doing a game where you fall in love or anyone falls in love in a way that it actually touches you on the other side of the screen... no one has done that yet and I don't think anyone will. Games are not a good medium to transfer human emotions. They're a great medium in creating certain emotions in players and building an interactive structure around that. Unfortunately, love is not one of those emotions that we have learned to generate in our players.
This is interesting. So often people write about games that make them cry or how games should be able to make people cry. What's everybody crying about? Is it really happening?
Petri Purho: I don't know if crying is the ultimate goal. But I think that the reason why movies and theater are such good vehicles for emotion is because of empathy. When you see someone expressing an emotion you feel that emotion yourself. The problem is that we are really good at figuring out when someone expressing an emotion is faking it. And video games might not ever reach that point where we can fake emotions so well that it will work. Also, telling stories or doing cut-scenes (which are usually the ways that we try to express these things) are not the best use of our medium. They don't have any real interactive input in them. So, in my mind doing it with cut-scenes would actually be really bad for games. You have to figure out a way where you can craft the rules of the game to give players the emotions that you want to express through your game. And that's really fucking difficult. Especially when you try to express something like love.
Have you tried injecting emotion into any of your games? I imagine with your one-month-per-game schedule, that might prove difficult.
Petri Purho: We'll I tried experimenting with it. The Forbidden.exe was an experiment in trying to express tension and horror through gameplay only. SM Word was one that tried to express anger through gameplay rules. Crayon Physics Deluxe had a little bit of that as well: I tried to express childlike creativity through the game. Truth About Game Development tried to communicate my feelings about the game industry and how I felt when I was working there.
Do you feel that you succeeded in these attempts?
Petri Purho: Yes and no. Some of them worked and some of them didn't. The bigger problem was that some of them failed as games or they were pretty bad as games.
Ah, see, I went to your talk at GDC and I felt you were very hard on yourself! (A portion of Petri's GDC talk "Crayon Physics Deluxe Postmortem" included a very critical look at the game.)
Petri Purho: That's they way I've been raised :) I didn't realize it until after I gave the GDC talk, but that's the way people probably saw the talk. I didn't want to do a talk where you're all like "Hey, look at this. I made this awesome thing. I'm so cool. I'm so awesome. Buy my game."
I think I went to that talk. :p
Petri Purho: Hahhah. But, instead I wanted to point out all the problems I had with the game. So maybe people could learn from my mistakes or at least know that they're there.
Well, that's a noble goal. Did you ever think, growing up, that you'd be giving talks at GDC? Did you ever imagine the success you're having now?
Petri Purho: Never. I just wanted to do games. I wasn't really interested in even talking about it. I didn't think anyone would ever be interested in knowing what I have to say about games. It wasn't my plan to do a commercial game. It just kinda happened.
Can we talk a little about how you started out? I read that you decided you wanted to make games at the age of 6. In the same article I read that you also like magic and your dad is a magician!
Petri Purho: It's true. I've been into magic since before I could walk. I did my first gig in front of people at the age of 1.5 years. My father was having a show and he introduced me and I did a trick or two.
What kind of magic can a baby do?!
Petri Purho: The trick that I did (or so I've been told) was that I had this small mat and I produced feather flowers from it. But the way I got into games was that I played Super Mario Bros. and ever since playing that I knew I wanted to do my own games. So, yeah, at six I played Super Mario Bros on the NES and begged my father to teach me how to do games. He showed me QBasic and bought me my own computer about a year later. I made a text adventure game and it had a bug in it. You could play through it if you just pressed enter all the time.
Do you still have your early games? That would make such an interesting timeline: My Life As a Game Developer!
Petri Purho: I might have it at my parents place on some diskette. There's probably a lot of QBasic games that I made. I should look through them some day.
Did you just keep on making games from that point? Did you ever consider doing anything else with yourself?
Petri Purho: I just kept on learning how to program, but I never thought I could do games for a living. From my point of view, games were made in other countries than Finland. So it seemed all very far away, and impossible to make a living in. I was kinda intrested in having a career as a magician, but that wasn't a safe bet either. So when I got older and learned to program I figured I could probably make a living programming and maybe doing some magic on the side. It wasn't until I got a job as a part-time programmer at Frozenbyte that I thought I could actually make a living making games. And I wasn't sure that I could make a living on my own games until I released Crayon Physics Deluxe. Well, I'm not totally convinced of it yet, but it looks like I could probably make a career out of doing games.
And a little magic on the side? Magician is the coolest side-job I've ever heard of.
Petri Purho: Probably.
So let's talk about your big game, Crayon Physics Deluxe.
Petri Purho: OMG
Petri Purho: That was my sarcastic voice, trying to express my feelings about Crayon Physics Deluxe.
Hahaha! Are you maybe a little tired of talking about Crayon Physics Deluxe?
Petri Purho: Yes and no. In a way I wanted to be over Crayon Physics Deluxe when I released it in January, but I've noticed that wasn't the case. That seemed to be the beginning for all the rest of world as for me it seemed to be the end of this long journey. I don't really have anything else to say. For me Crayon Physics Deluxe was this huge project that started out in June 2007 and ended in January 2009. And I was mentally prepared to be done with it when I released it. But much to my surprise that wasn't the case. I wanted to move on to new things.
Ah, well then let's talk about the new things! What new things have you moved on to?
Petri Purho: I haven't really had the time to move on to new things :(
Aww.. :( Do you think, perhaps, you deserve a nice long vacation after such a long development process?
Petri Purho: Maybe, probably. I'll try to find time to do that. The problem is that I don't really enjoy vacationing. Every time I've been on vacation I crave to get back to home so I can work on ideas that I get when I'm away from home. And it feels like torture if I can't work on those ideas there, because I don't have anything else to do there. So, the perfect vacation for me is to close my phone down and unplug the internet and stay at home for a week or two.
Wow, you can do that? After a day or two without the internet I get very tense and uneasy.
Petri Purho: You can and you should do it. It's really refreshing. Weirdest thing is to see how little has actually happened when you were offline.
Ha! Closest I come is not using Twitter on the weekends. I don't appear to miss much... But, anyway, back to you! Besides taking the occasional phone and internet break, can you give any advice to someone who would one day like to grow up to be you?
Petri Purho: Buy a white hoodie and let your hair grow long?
Does it have to be white? Can it be blue?
Petri Purho: No, I think it has to be white. But, I'm really bad at giving advice. Generally I'd say do things instead of just talking about them. There's a surprising amount of people who just talk the talk and very few people who actually do anything. Even fewer of them ever release anything. Just do a lot of games, if games are the thing you want to do.
Do you think a would-be game maker needs a formal education?
Petri Purho: I didn't have any kind of formal education, so, no, I don't think it's needed. Education in itself is not enough. If you're passionate enough you'll go and learn by yourself. Schools don't really teach you how to be passionate and if you're not, then the education is a waste of your time.
That's fantastic advice. I think, once again, you might be a little hard on your advice-giving skills :p Anywho, thank you so much for chatting with me, Petri! Oh, and I learned this just for you: Kiitos paljon!
Petri Purho: Awesome! Kiitos itsellesi, oli erittäin mukavaa rupatella.
@RevolvingDork Petri gives an *amazing* interview. Even when the questions veered off the usual path, he gave such thoughtful and interesting answers. I want to ask him a million questions about everything!
And, OMG (not sarcastic) you are going to love Crayon Physics Deluxe. Too much awesome in one place...