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Interview: Anna Anthropy (Mighty Jill Off)

DECEMBER 2, 2008


We've been meaning to interview the developer of Mighty Jill Off and Calamity Annie for a while now, but alas Eegra and Lesbian Gamers got to her first. Still, better late than never as the old saying goes. What follows is a chat transcript of our discussion about fanart, art games, indie games, IGF, IFs, and more.


Hi Anna, how about we start off with a short introduction of who you are and what it is exactly that you do.

i'm anna anthropy. my nom de game is "auntie pixelante." i make games.


When did you start making games? And how many games have you made since then?

i started making games when i was little, with whatever tools i could get my hands on: zzt, stuff like that. i still use whatever i can find to tell stories. i like games that allow for creativity as much as destruction, so i spend a lot of time with games that have level editors. my own games i usually put together in game maker, which isn't ideal but is easy and cheap, which is why it's brought a lot of people into game design who wouldn't otherwise be.


Which of your creations are you most proud of?

mighty jill off seems to be the game i'm most associated with, though i'm just as proud of other projects. calamity annie is important to me, as it came out of a time of trial for me -- i'd just gotten kicked out of game school for using the word "art" to refer to something other than photoshop and i felt a drive to prove myself. i made a game this past weekend, a one-switch version of mighty jill off called "jill off with one hand," and maybe i'm still in the afterglow but i'm very proud of that right now.


Games

Were you pleased/thrilled with the number of turnouts for the Mighty Jill Off fanart contest? Which entries were the most arousing to you?

my only disappointments with the competition were the entries that didn't get finished! josh rylander pencilled a wonderful drawing of jill creeping over a pit of spikes that seemed to have claimed the life of an earlier jill, and mariel cartwright sketched a perspective drawing of the queen stamping her boot on jill's face, which is the sort of thing i am all about.


How long do you see yourself still sticking with making freeware (or donationware) Game Maker games?

donationware is a good model for me: what's most important to me is for people to be able to play my games. if those players feel there's value in what i do and want me to continue to do it, that's dandy. "donationware" allows players to decide how much my games are worth.


Which of your game has done the best in terms of donationware, and why you think that is the case?

calamity annie was the first game i asked for donations for: players who donate any sum receive a password that unlocks hidden characters in the game, a totally superficial extra. i like to think that both as a measure of the game's quality and as a show of support from my players during that rough time, annie made more than enough money in donations to pay for both annie's and mighty jill off's admittance to the upcoming independant games festival.


Is there actually any secret easter eggs that fans of your games don't know about?

calamity annie is pretty much all easter eggs. but here's one i like: get the "happy ending," then play three games without losing before you reach the bar. you'll see a special message i wrote to my slut.


Do you harbor plans on milking Calamity Annie and Mighty Jill Off for all they're worth by releasing sequels in the near future (besides Jill Off Harder)?

i think our medium is too obsessed with sequels: sequels to videogames tend to offer new content but not new ideas. i say this, of course, after having spent a weekend working on a one-switch spin off to mighty jill off. i'm not interested in retreading ground i've already explored, though it seems i'm building a cast of characters.


Are you currently working on anything new then?

always. at the moment, not to give too much away, my projects include a reimagining of the data east game nail 'n scale, a rom hack of megaman 2, and an rpg of the "pen and paper" variety, though it most likely won't involve either pens or paper. and i'm dangerously prone to getting sudden ideas and spending the next few days putting them together, so i can't make any guarantees.


Let's just say you have a choice of collaborating with any indie game developer out there, would you do it? Who would you choose, and why? And what sweet games would you make?

i ought to collaborate with messhof. we keep being in the same room and nearly meeting. i can't say exactly what we'd create, but it would have lots of flashing colors. if anyone reading this is messhof, feel free to collaborate with me.



Playing Favorites

Which game genres are your favorites?

i think that discussing games in terms of genre is dangerous and paralyzing. part of the reason we see so many games that are the exact same experience is because our critical vocabulary only allows for us to discuss games, and what games might be, in terms of these very limiting, established models. though i have to confess, i'm typically drawn to shooters (of the "space invaders" variety) because what they represent is the most basic, abstract form of videogame interaction: one actor sends a signal, another actor receives it, and reacts.


Any favorite indie games then?

among freeware games, those that have impressed me recently are knytt stories, barkley, shut up and jam: gaiden, karoshi 2.0 and psychosomnium. nifflas, jesse venbrux and cactus are among the designers i most admire, them and emily short. and linley's dungeon crawl is probably the game i will have spent the most time with, in total, when all is said and done.


Your favorite IF writers? And favorite IF games?

i admire emily short immensely: she's interested in the discussion of design, which is something we need far more of. i very much like zarf's work, particularly "hunter, in darkness" and "so far." i like some of adam cadre's more formal experiments, like 9:05 and shrapnel. and i consider victor gijsbers's the baron to be pretty important, since i keep citing it as an example of how games by hobbyist game developers are allowing the medium to shift away from men with guns and toward the exploration of more relevant and human topics.


Recent indie games which you've been playing?

lately i've been spending time with an early nineties mac game called glider, now freeware. it's neat in that it's played with just two buttons, to move your paper plane left and right, and the y axis is accounted for by gravity and gusts of wind. what's particularly charming about it is the sheer breadth of things that have been implemented simply for the sake of implementation, like a guitar that plays a chord as your plane glides across its strings.


Any unreleased indie games you can't wait to get your hands on?

i'm excited about games that haven't yet been made, because there are so many of them, and lots of them explore our medium in ways we haven't seen so far. i am looking forward to the day when these games are made.


Being Indie

What do you think is wrong with the indie games scene? Any suggestions on how to improve the situation?

a problem i think the "indie" games scene unfortunately shares with the larger community surrounding videogames is that of exclusion. that's why i don't like the "indie" label - there's a sense of this is us and these are our values and these are our private jokes that only serves to keep people out, when what should be the real strength of independant game development - the thing that above all the industry is incapable of - is diversity. independant game development should be an avenue for anyone to tell her stories, not another tiny, self-congratulatory circle.


What are your thoughts on the subject of art games?

i think the discussion of whether games are art, or whether some games are art, or which games are art and which aren't is a diversion and a waste of time. what's true is that games are an expressive and communicative medium and that, at the moment, they aren't communicating very much. we need to be telling more interesting stories, mapping out the potential of our medium, and saying a lot more than we are now.


This is sort of related to the Eegra interview you did back in September (2008). Do you prefer the word gamer or player?

i don't like the term "gamer," as it implies that one defines one's identity around videogames. which, apart from being shallow, ties into this poisonous idea we have in our medium that playing a game should be considered an end in and of itself. we need to escape this complacency: videogames are not worthwhile unless we are doing something worthwhile with them. i find "player" a more useful term in that describes an act -- it describes someone who is in the process of playing a game -- not an identity.


The Festivities

What are your modest expectations on how the two games you've submitted to IGF will do?

i'm not holding my breath. there are categories for innovation in graphics and innovation in audio, which are neat parlor tricks, but there are no awards honoring holistic game design or storytelling. i think that's another trend that it's unfortunate to see the independent game community share with the mainstream: partitioning games rather than considering the work as a whole. there's supposedly a new category this year to address this issue: i'm interested in seeing what it produces.


So what changes would you like to see made to the competition?

i've sort of already answered this question: i want to see the awards recognize progress in storytelling rather than technology. the latter we have plenty of, but it's the former that is going to allow our medium to come into its own. i would like to see more celebration of bedroom coders, of hobbyist game designers, of people that are outside the mainstream and who really are outside the industry and whose lives would actually be changed by getting the thousand dollar prize for their creations.


Played any competition entries in this year's IGF yet? Anything that impressed you?

i'm sharing the entry list with a lot of games i admire: barkley, shut up and jam: gaiden, which i've mentioned before, dino run, i wish i were the moon, dangerous high school girls in trouble. quite soulless is competing, and i hope it and i both make finalist so i can meet vasily zotov. i'm a little disappointed that none of my former classmates seem to be competing in the student competition.


Who would you like to see win the grand prize?

i want barkley, shut up and jam: gaiden to win, and i want the developers to be handed their award by none other than charles barkley himself. then, right there on stage, they break for an impromptu game of b-ball as everyone in the audience whistles "sweet georgia brown" in unison. i can't help it. i think it's an important game. though i don't know if, legally, they can. tim, talk to simon. do whatever you have to do to make this happen.


I'll consider that a prediction then. In closing, any favorite haunts? Any shoutouts?

i'll give a shout out to my comrades at glorioustrainwrecks.com, a site that champions the value of spirit in game creation above technical ability. we have an amazing two-hour game jam the third saturday of every month - traditionally using free copies of klik & play - and all are invited to join in.



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About The IGF


UBM TechWeb (producer of Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra.com, and the Game Developers Conference) established the Independent Games Festival in 1998 to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize the best independent game developers.

The competition, now in its 13th year, awarded a total of nearly $50,000 in prizes to deserving indie creators in Main Competition and Student Competition categories at the IGF Awards Ceremony, held in March 2010 at the Moscone Center, San Francisco, CA, as one of the highlights of the Game Developers Conference.

The Independent Games Festival will return in March 2011 at GDC in San Francisco - look for more information soon. [More information...]

About The IGS


Featuring lectures, postmortems and roundtables from some of the most notable independent game creators around, the Independent Games Summit is a yearly event, with iterations thus far taking place in March 2007, February 2008, March 2009 and March 2010 at Game Developers Conference.

UBM TechWeb (which curates the IGF and runs GDC) plans to continue and grow the Independent Games Summit in subsequent years. [More information...]