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[Interview] Adam Atomic

Posted under Interviews by Staff on Saturday, May 30th, 2009 -

fathom2

We take a look at Fathom, his latest experimental game, and talk about developing on the iPhone.

What could you accomplish in the span of 10 days? Read some books, maybe lose or gain a few pounds…. How about create an ingenious Flash game? Ten days is the time it took artist, programmer, and designer Adam “Atomic” Saltsman to complete his latest personal project Fathom, a 2D platformer/shooter with a twist. Just give the game a try and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Saltsman made the most of his development time by using procedurally generated levels and reusing some of the things he learned from working on Cave Story for the Wii.

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Adam Atomic demoing his game

Did you play it yet? If you did, you probably already have a pretty strong opinion about Fathom. Saltsman made a conscious effort to be creative in his design, focusing on a consistent experience instead of practicality. Take the rear-facing flashlight on your gun, for example. It could have been made to point forward, making navigating the dark map easier. But, Saltsman says, then you wouldn’t be able to see the all cool fish that are following you. It also forces the player to move at the level’s relaxed pace . It’s this kind of design decision that makes the game so polarizing – an effect that wasn’t entirely unintended. Love it or hate it, Fathom sparks conversation.

True to the indie spirit, Saltsman will be making the Flash framework he used to develop Fathom available to the public at Flixel.org,

“It’s like the word ‘pixel’ but with ‘fl’ for ‘flash’. Right now it just has a big giant ‘F’ ’cause I didn’t actually release anything yet, but I’m basically not sleeping this weekend and it should be out.”

Asked why he continues to make independent and experimental games instead of taking a comfy office job at a development studio, Saltsman replied,

“It’s kind of hard to be part of the industry and explore games as an art medium rather than purely as an entertainment complex. Like a pet peeve of mine is that game reviews tend to break things down into graphics, sound, playability, like it’s a toaster basically. I think they’re better than toasters and somewhat more complicated.”

Saltsman is also part of the two-man iPhone development team Semi Secret Software, best known for their successful first title Wurdle. I talked with him about being an iPhone developer and what the future holds.

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Wurdle

GD: SemiSecret released Wurdle last year to quite a bit of acclaim. You’ve made an update for the game since then, but your new title is also in the works. How do you see your time being divided between the two? Also, are you guys now millionaires?

AS: We’ve actually got two new titles currently under development, and by under development I mean I am making hasty prototypes to see if the ideas will work while Eric (my biz partner) keeps Wurdle up to snuff. It’s starting to feel a little hectic! And no, haha we are not millionaires, but we do have till the end of summer to get something new put together without having to contract or get investors, which is pretty kickass.

GD: How big of an influence is the feedback you get on the App Store?

AS: Hmm, that’s a good question. I think like any other form of feedback it has to pass through the “ok they say they want this, but does that actually make sense” filter. We definitely can’t ignore it completely, since the reviews are featured so prominently in our sole distribution channel, but we’re working on ways to keep things in context. Like right now there are 20 mean reviews up in the App Store about our new update, but there are 20,000 people using the new update already, which helps us keep perspective on things.

GD: Any hints as to what Semi Secret’s new game will be?

AS: One involves dirt, and the other involves survivors.

GD: Submitting to the App Store seems to be iPhone developers’ bane. Do you see the process getting any easier?

AS: I would be very surprised if it was made any easier. It’s already far more simple and streamlined than any other major download service. If anything I expect them to become more strict or limited in the future!

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Cave Story

GD: Most indie games released on consoles are distributed download-only. Do you think there will ever be a place for titles like Cave Story, A Boy and His Blob, or Fez as retail releases, and as an indie developer, would you want that kind of presence?

AS: I am not sure I believe that retail will disappear entirely in the next few years, but this digital download stuff is NOT a fad, and it makes a lot of sense for games with smaller budgets, especially games that are perceived as risky. The retail route just adds an insane amount of high-risk overhead that is totally unnecessary now that we live in the FUTURE, where we can purchase and play games THROUGH THE AETHER, like MAGIC.

GD: What’s on your mind for your next individual project?

AS: Lots of stuff, too much stuff probably. Zelda, gravity, Lolo, Dwarf Fortress, board games, ADVENTURE, casual gamers, group play…lots of stuff

We’re looking forward to it!

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