Discussing The Industry With The Creator Of Soda Drinker Pro
PAX East was a hotbed of intriguing new concepts sprung from the minds of independent developers. At the Indie Megabooth, we had the chance to play the stellar Transistor, the terrifying Outlast, and a clever adventure/puzzle game called The Swapper. While these titles drew attention at the Megabooth, independent developer Will Brierly stood on his own across the floor, demonstrating the daring Soda Drinker Pro (billed as "The most advanced first-person soda drinking simulation in the world"). He was kind enough to sit down with me and share his thoughts on the industry, and you can read them here.
Are video games art?
I’d say so. I think art is all in what you’re trying to do and how well you accomplish it. It could be anything. I think you could make doing taxes an art, if you do it with passion and with your intent on trying to create something. Sometimes it’s about moving someone. Sometimes it’s about not moving them, or making them laugh or cry. But you can do that with music, you can be a hairdresser and do it, or you can do it in video games, and I think a lot of people do that in video games.
Do ESRB ratings provide enough information to parents about potentially objectionable content?
I remember when the ESRB first came out, with Mortal Kombat and all those things. I’m not a parent, but if I was a parent I wouldn’t really think about the rating as much as trying to understand what my kids are into. That way, they can make the decision for themselves. I can see it being helpful at a quick glance and being like, “Oh, my kid’s playing a game where they’re shooting people,” or whatever. I think it’s more important to understand what they’re feeling, what they’re thinking about when they’re playing the game than whether or not they’re going around shooting people. You see it in TV on the news. I remember the first time I shot someone playing as Bond in Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64, and I felt really bad. That felt a little too real. It’s an interesting topic.
Do you think that Soda Drinker Pro could model any unhealthy behavior?
I got a message shortly after the release about a woman who drank four 2-liter soda bottles a day, and she died. She was what some would consider the ultimate soda drinker, but she took it to the max. I hope it doesn’t encourage that activity, as it’s all about moderation. That’s the nice thing with playing Soda Drinker Pro – you can experience it without having to do it. I’ve had great responses from food websites who think this is a great activity instead of drinking soda. Other people say it quenches their thirst, but I think it’s whatever you make of it.
Is a download-only future inevitable?
I think we’re headed in that direction. I love getting apps on the Android market and I don’t really buy CDs anymore unless I’m at a concert and I’m getting it right from the band. I really like Steam, I really like all these [download-only services]. I don’t want to have stuff. I like the feelings you get from it. I don’t need pieces of plastic unless it’s a giant arcade game.
What are your next-gen plans?
I would love to see [Soda Drinker Pro] on the Wii U with a second screen. I don’t have any actual plans for it yet, but I think it could be pretty sweet to be able to look in two directions while drinking a soda. Also, the Oculus Rift I think is a perfect technology for soda drinking because with that you could really, really experience soda, so I’m very excited about that. The Ouya could be a nice option too in terms of soda on the go. It’s just a great place for indie developers.
What are your thoughts regarding EA’s handling of the SimCity launch?
That was an interesting one. The whole always-on DRM thing, I think that turned off a lot of people. I personally am not into it. I think when people are pirating your stuff, that means you’re doing a good thing. I don’t know the exact stats on it, but I’ve worked in the music industry for like a million years, and I know that when I see people torrenting the records, that’s how I know when we’re actually selling them. Sometimes you download a thing and you buy it after. It’s nice they gave away some free games and stuff, and I like SimCity. It looks like a really pretty game. I haven’t played it yet, but I wish they handled it a little differently.
Was there ever any talk of doing always-on for Soda Drinker Pro?
The only talk we’ve had on that is maybe making, not as much DRM, but just a hardware piece that you could put in your house so it would just play Soda Drinker. So it’s kind of like a box you can plug into your TV and it would just be the hardware for it. I don’t think we’ll do it but it would be cool. Or build it into a fridge or something.
Was there ever any talk for implementing an online pass for Soda Drinker Pro?
I don’t think so. We talked about an MMO though.
John Riccitello recently stepped down from EA. Will this have any impact on the future of Soda Drinker Pro?
I don’t think so. We don’t have any relationship with EA at the moment. But if they are interested in talking, I will talk to anyone. We’ve been approached by a few of the major actual soda brands recently and there some things in the works. These companies are interested in people looking under the cap and maybe unlocking a new soda level or something. That could be pretty interesting, but it’s kinda still in the works.
Any plans for a mobile port?
You know, I’ve thought about it. It’s possible. I do like to drink a soda on the go. The only thing is, you have to think about the control scheme. Touchscreens are a little tricky, so maybe some gyroscopes and stuff so you could actually tilt it into your mouth. That could be pretty good. Or maybe some augmented reality aspects to it where you could walk around and collect bonus sodas in real life. That might happen too.
We’re seeing a lot of new trends when it comes to monetization options with free-to-play, microtransactions, etc. How do you plan on recouping your investment with Soda Drinker Pro?
You know, I haven’t thought about it too much. I’m more interested in sharing soda with the world.
Ah, I dunno. I thought about it if the Greenlight doesn’t work. We have it on Greenlight right now and if it gets greenlit, I dunno if we’d charge for it. I mean, I don’t know if they’d let us do a free-to-play game, but it would be nice to be able to get it for free. But if it does get greenlit we will release 100 levels for it. On the website you can actually help decide the places you want to drink a soda, so we’ve got some really cool new ones. You can drink a soda inside of a mouth, next to an empty pool, in an empty conference room, in the dark woods, or near some creepy train tracks. Some of the ones in development right now, you can drink soda on a rollercoaster, underwater, in a dark room with a white tiger. There are a lot of neat places you can potentially drink a soda. With an old man.
As an independent developer were you able to create a genuine realization of your vision, or did you have to make concessions of some sort?
I was really fortunate in having the technologies available to make this. It was originally made with Blender Game Engine and Python. This was before Unity was out. And then I ported it to Unity with the help of my brother. It’s free and it’s a great way to actually start using some tools and making something you can share.
Did you have to take on part-time employment while you were developing Soda Drinker Pro?
No. The first round of it was actually built in a day. I woke up one morning around four in the morning, I was extremely thirsty, and I just totally started making it. I was thinking “I want to live in a world where this exists.” I know the graphics look pretty realistic, but it was actually made in a day. At around eleven at night I went up to Boston and showed it to my girlfriend, and I think I just ate Taco Bell all day and chugged sodas for inspiration. I remember showing it to my dad and he was like, ‘oh that’s fun,’ you know. And my girlfriend thought that I was really insane, but it worked out.
In the wake of Mayor Bloomberg’s banning of large sodas, do you think the public eye has been unjustly turned against Soda Drinker Pro’s subject matter?
When the ban got overturned, that actually was really good for the game. But I think people should be able to drink whatever they want. If they couldn’t, then they at least could drink a virtual soda. I get a lot of emails saying it’s really helpful. You know it’s helping them get through a hard time.
Have you been in any talks with authors or comic artists in an effort to create expanded universe content for SDP?
I would love to. I haven’t talked to any of them yet, but if anyone’s interested, I think I would love a graphic novel. That could be really cool. That’s a very good idea.
Is it cool if we call it SDP?
Yeah, I think so. SDP…I’ve been saying that on Twitter just because you only have so many characters and stuff.
Do you think Japanense developers have lost their touch in the most recent console generation?
I’ve heard a lot of people talking about that and I think that it’s not so much the developers, as I think there are amazingly talented people all over the world no matter where they’re from. I think sometimes people are stuck making games that they don’t necessarily want to make. I know some great developers out there in Japan, but also in the States, that don’t want to be making certain games that they have to make.
Richard Garriott recently said “most game designers really just suck.” Should he have stayed in space?
I don’t know, I don’t think they suck. I don’t know what context it was in, so I don’t really know. I don’t think they suck. I think there are some pretty neat ones. I think everyone’s just trying to get what they want to have done, done. Some are just better at accomplishing it. Some people do a really good job at it and others are still working out their graphics.
A hot topic in gaming right now revolves around gender issues. Did you have to make a conscious effort to avoid reinforcing any stereotypes in Soda Drinker Pro?
Fortunately, I think soda is universal across men and women and boys and girls. I think it’s definitely something that you want to think about – I don’t like stereotyping anyone in any sort of way. I think we’re all interesting and different. You’ll notice in Soda Drinker Pro that there are no actual real humans in it. It’s just you. You’re it. It allows you to be yourself and in whatever way you want to experience it.
Was it a conscious decision not to show the soda drinker? Is the player character supposed to be the gamer themselves or a different entity, a character of some sort?
You are you in the way that you want to experience it. So you’re the soda drinker and I wanted it to be like when you’re walking around in real life with a soda. Because I do that in real life and it’s such a nice feeling, so I wanted to be able to experience that digitally. But yeah, there aren’t humans. One thing we did do though, you’ll notice when you play the game you can see the cursor on the screen and the reason for that is most first-person FPSs will make the cursor disappear. What we did is we actually left it on there so that way you’d know that it’s still a simulation. Because then sometimes you play it and it will get too real, and we want you to know you’re still in the real world.
You want people to be surprised when they play the game. How do you decide what to show in trailers and at shows in order to get people excited while still keeping big plot twists or surprise moments a mystery?
There are a lot of things you can find out inside the game – little nooks and crannys to explore and discover. But I think the real surprise you’re going to have are the feelings that you bring to the game yourself. When you are actually playing it, that’s the special magic that’s added into the game. Without you the game won’t work. That’s the real surprise.