Loren Schmidt (Sparky) is the developer of Star Guard, a retro-style 2D platformer that is also a finalist in the IGF's Excellence in Design category this year. He worked on Star Guard part-time over the course of sixteen months while still studying in Laney College, and the game was eventually released as a freeware download in October 2009.


Let's start with a bit of self-introduction, where you're from, and what you were doing before Star Guard.

I'm from the United States- I live in Oakland, California.

Before I started learning to program I wanted to find work doing visual art for games. I did art for a small space MMO once. At a certain point I started taking classes and playing around with the programming side of things, because there were things I couldn't make otherwise.


What was the inspiration for Star Guard?

I keep a log of game ideas, and every so often I get really excited about one of them. Other times I don't end up making the games at all.


What are some of the cooler ideas in your log that you do plan to make into games in the future?

One of my favorite ideas isn't really a game. I've always been interested in things like the game of Life, and I'd love to play with simple simulated creatures that evolve over time.


How long did it take you to develop Star Guard? Can we expect another large scale game from you in the near future?

I definitely like doing larger scale games as well as smaller ones. I expect to continue making both.

Star Guard took about 16 months, though I didn't work on it full time. I was going to school, and that took up a fair amount of my time.


Any reasons why you didn't try Flash sponsorship for Star Guard? And will Tin Can Knight be going down that route?

I did consider getting Star Guard sponsored, but I didn't really feel comfortable with it. Another contributing factor is that I really like being able to download games and play them full screen. I do intend to get a sponsor for Tin Can Knight, however.


Most of Edmund (McMillen's) sponsored Flash games are available as downloads too.

Yeah, that's a neat way of distributing things. I've considered putting up a web version of Star Guard alongside the download links.

Many people would rather play in a browser, there are valid reasons for preferring that.



What was the inspiration for the story and design for Star Guard?

When I first decided to make the game, I wanted to have a set of constraints. I decided game objects had to use no more than twelve 12x12 sprites, and the colors would be limited to white, black, primaries and secondaries. I wanted the colors to clearly label things by function. The first color I picked was red for the enemies. Originally our character was white, but green eventually stuck.

The story is largely inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars books. The series has a lot of charm to it- there are dying races, savage beasts, chivalry, airships, radium pistols... and swords. The swords make no sense at all, but they totally work. The stories are totally ridiculous and laughable, but at the same time deadly serious. A few lines of dialog in the game are lifted from those books, actually.


What is the the story in Star Guard all about?

Hmm, the story... I won't spell things out too much, because it deliberately leaves things fairly open to interpretation. But here's a summary:

Venus is a habitable, jungle- covered world. There was once a thriving civilization on Venus. During this golden age, there were a number of powerful city-states. The Wizard was created or born in one of these. Under his guidance, the city grew and prospered, and technology blossomed. The Wizard began making his own people, and pursuing goals that seemed beautiful to him. At some point, these goals diverged from those of his parent civilization, and war erupted.

At the time the game takes place, The Wizard has all but won. Only a tiny fragment of the original civilization remains.


Any easter eggs?

Well, there are the crystals in each level, but those aren't really very hidden.


Are you good at the game?

Probably relatively speaking, because I've played it so much while designing all the levels and tuning things. I get pretty good times in trial mode, but I have trouble completing the game in hard mode. Think I've only done it twice :)


Will there be a sequel?

No. I do intend to continue making small improvements and fixing bugs.



Is Tin Can Knight done, and is there a specific release date already attached to it?

Lately I've been putting all my time into Tiny Crawl (pictured above). Thanks for asking about the little knight game- actually it's almost done, and I'm trying to get myself to just sit down and finish it. I'm a bit nervous about it, actually.

The Assemblee competition will end on the 10th, and the first version of the RPG will be released at that point.


Are you planning to participate in more short competitions like Ludum Dare in 2010?

I love Ludum Dare :) Absolutely. I'm also participating in the Assemblee competition over at TIGSource. I've got a lot to learn about making games productively, and small community events like these, with restrictions and time limits, seem to be really helpful to me.


Is the combat in Tiny Crawl real-time or turn-based?

Tiny Crawl is going to be entirely turn based, but I hope to make it feel as tactile and responsive as possible despite this constraint.

When we're playing something like Mario, there's this great sense of instantaneous feedback. It's almost like playing with a physical toy. But when we play a board game or a turn based computer game, that feeling is often missing. I'm trying to do things like make rounds extremely fast, switch between rooms instantly, and have special case sound effects and animation for a lot of different events.



Can you explain to us what Tin Can Knight is about, and how it will play?

Sure. It's basically Moon Patrol, except with a horse and a medieval setting.

Wait, don't say that. :)


I love Moon Patrol actually.

I do too. :)

No, actually what happened is that it initially started with a rather different idea, and I simplified it a bit. What resulted ended up having a lot of similarities to Moon Patrol.


How about the story then?

One day the horse was baking cookies, and he realized he was missing a critical ingredient. The knight and the horse set out on a quest to find this missing ingredient.

There happen to be a number of obstacles in between their house and the grocer's.


Moon Patrol was released in the early 80's (close to 30 years ago), yet you were still in school last year. When were you first exposed to it?

Yeah, let's see.. it came out the year I was born, I believe. Ha. :)

As a child, I didn't have a lot of exposure to games. Occasionally I'd encounter an arcade machine in the corner of a pizza parlor, or play briefly at a friend's house. Because of this, most of my experience with older games is sort of archeological. I think my brother and I first discovered Moon Patrol when I was in my last year of high school.


Are you sticking to Flash for development?

I really like how easy it is to distribute Flash games, and I appreciate that it's fairly OS independent, and that it's possible to make games without buying any of Adobe's software. I think it's a great platform for small team and solo developers because of that low bar for entry. Flash is also slow, bloated, and downright frustrating sometimes.

I wish Adobe would stop tacking on gimmicky new features and clean it up instead.


Your favorite indie games.

Flywrench, definitely. Probably also Angband, the Doom Roguelike, Cave Story, Cho Ren Sha 68k, and some of Kenta Cho's stuff (maybe Parsec47).

Spelunky's in there someplace. I also really like Eufloria (Dyson) and Captain Successor.


What are you most looking forward to playing in 2010?

Well, I still haven't played Machinarium. I'm really looking forward to that.


Will you be attending GDC this year?

I am planning on going- I went for the first time last year, and spending some time with other people who really care about developing games had a huge effect on me. I came out of it sure I wanted to try to make a living making games.


Okay, time to wrap it up. Anything else you'd like to add?

I should say in closing that I'm thinking about doing an expanded version of the RPG once the Assemblee competition ends.