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Interview: Arthur Lee (The Underside)

DECEMBER 15, 2007

An interview with Arthur 'Mr. Podunkian' Lee, developer of The Underside.

Hi Arthur, let's begin with an introduction of yourself.

Okay, I'm a college student. I use pretty much entirely Multimedia Fusion and GraphicsGale for most my games, but recently I've gotten into some sound design with old toys and homemade electronics. And I made Punishment 1, 2, and Flywrench. But before that I made Wally, Bool, and Booloid.

I'm just kidding, let me get serious here.

Hi, I'm Arthur "Mr. Podunkian" Lee, I'm a college student and I guess I've been making video games for 13 years now, and that's more than half of my entire life, which makes me either an expert in making video games or a big fat nerd.

Are you trying to interview me so you can ask me to show you a picture of a project I'm working on because if you are lemme tell you, you're going to find yourself in a world of disappointment!

You caught me red-handed. Actually, I'm just trying to make sure that The Underside isn't abandoned.

What games have you made so far? I mean, just name the games that you want people to Google for. I know about your past projects, but unfortunately some people think you've only done The Underside. Oh wait, can I use the words 'Cave Story rip-off' excessively in this interview? Or just sparingly?

Yes, preface every question with it!

Haha... can I end each question with the same words as well?

I'm trying to think of what I've made that's still online, but there's really nothing that I've done that's still online.

Metal Gear Santa, The Serious Sam spoof...

Well, I think my first big project was a game called Super Fun Dungeon Run, which featured a little fellow running through and an endless dungeon full of traps. Since then I've made Operation: Human Shield 2 (and I guess by extension, Operation: Sitting Duck 1), Circy 1-3, Novabrain's Grand Adventure, Merry Gear Solid, Serious-Sam-I-Am, and I guess this little game called The Underside.

In which year do you think you will finish development on The Underside? Will there be another demo before that?

See, I used to tell people that The Underside would be finished sometime between Team Fortress 2 and Duke Nukem: Forever, and now that Team Fortress 2 has been released I'm basically in deep trouble. I really have no idea when it'll be done, there's still a whole lot of the game I've gotta do. As for another demo, I've been thinking about it, but I'm sort of against putting out too much media, because it's kind of like vanilla ice cream. If you have vanilla ice cream every once in awhile, it's basically a no-pants party in your mouth. But if you have vanilla ice cream too often, you're going to get sick of it. The same thing applies to other flavors of ice cream too. My game is ice cream.

Okay, how much of it is done?

I just finished the second "boss", but I use the term really loosely, because he doesn't really fight back at all. It's kind of hard to explain, but he's actually an inside-joke/cameo sort of a thing.

What do you think of Pixel's comment about The Underside?

I was really surprised and flattered -- I had no idea he'd played, much less heard about my game. Though I'm worried a bit that he had to give up in the beginning because the game was too hard. And this is the fellow who made the 'Hell' level. I've created a monster.

Is Derek Yu still one of your favorite indie game developers after the recent debacle? Since you've mentioned his name in a list somewhere...

I'll answer your question with a question of my own: Remember that one time. That one time you put a link to my forums on that one post with a picture of Buddy murdering some puppies. Remember how you removed that link? Remember how you thought no one noticed? Well guess what, buddy. Someone did.

That's not really a question though.

But yeah, Derek Yu is still one of my favorite indie developers. I felt that the post I made was long overdue, but he apologized, and I still think his artwork is amazing, so it doesn't really affect my opinion of him.

Have you tried out the Aquaria demo yet?

I bought it the HOUR it came out. I threw money in his general direction. Thirty digital cyberbucks.

Your opinions about Aquaria then. Or what you've played of it so far.

I figured it would be my way of burying the hatchet. To pay him. I paid him as a way of saying "sorry." It's the best, most sincere sort of a "sorry."

Well, if you want me to be COMPLETELY HONEST,...

Yes, complete honesty please. I mean, he has your money anyway. He probably could care less about what you say.

Hrrmmmm, I was a little bit underwhelmed. You have to realize I grew up basically idolizing Derek Yu's pixel art style, starting with the original Trigger Happy, which I found on some AOL boards (heh, heh, AOL) a long long time ago, and I can't help but feel that the skeletal animation system they've got in the game makes the game look a little stiff and lifeless compared to his other stuff.

And the whole "gesture-based-everything-can-be-controlled-with-a-mouse" seems more like an unnecessary gimmick than anything that really contributes to the overall experience. But besides that I'm enjoying the atmosphere and story.

I have a feeling that this is going to be a long interview.

END TRANSMISSION. Haha, dats all i gosta say.

Really... I was hoping for more.

Hahaha. Basically those are my only gripes. The skeletal animation system is really really underwhelming. And the controls are affffffffffff

I think I should leave it at that, I don't want people thinking I'm an a-hole.

Haha, okay. Well I'm sure you can't change the minds of those who already think you are.

I've played just past the first boss, so my opinion on the game might be a little biased.

Do you plan on joining IGF with The Underside anytime in the near future? Derek Yu and Joakim Sandberg (who is also in your list of favorite indie developers) have already gone down that route... and did you ever consider joining this year?

It's something I want to do in the future, but probably not with The Underside. The IGF is always full of really unique and interesting games, and well, let's just say I don't think it's the right place for a game as traditional as The Underside.

What do you think of Noitu Love 2? It's basically a 2D platformer, and since it made it into the IGF finals, I'm confident that The Underside has a good chance of doing the same.

I think Noitu Love has a unique control scheme, and an interesting art style, which sort of puts it past "just another 2D platformer." The Underside is not so much a reinvention of anything as it is just the synthesis of a lot of good ideas. It's like a casserole of video games. It's also ice cream. I've got food on my mind.

How much did you receive in donations so far? Messhof only got $25...

Only $25? Son, you could practically buy a copy of Aquaria with that kind of money.

Well, Messhof's mom only gave him $20 to buy Aquaria, but Derek increased the price to $30. BUMMER.

Actually, I think I've gotten $25 in donations too. Maybe $25 is some sort of a lucky number.

Who donated, by the way? you should ask them for more money...

Give me more money.

...since you have their email address and stuff. Are you going to make a small game this Christmas?

I was planning on it but then I realized I have too many unfinished projects going on.

Such as? surely you mean, 'the project'...

This one's never going to be finished. I'm also working on a fake Spectrum game called "Let's Get Willy" with a good fellow named Duncan 'LikeRock' Roberts and a game involving a clock. A time travelling clock. It travels through time. I can't tell you what the clock is called but I can tell you that it starts with a Z and it rhymes with Zybourne, and that the clock is called the Zybourne clock.

Any hints?

Yeah, it's called 'the Zybourne Clock'.


What I was gonna say about The Underside was that it's been tough working on it because my musician hasn't been doing any work for me lately, so I've been having to write my own music which as you're well aware by now can be kind of disasterous (route 66, the cacophony that is the main theme, etc.). It's because I just punch my keyboard and hope that pleasant sounds come out.

Worked for Messhof.

I think the hardest part about writing The Underside is that I'm really trying to go for a kid-friendly, RATED E FOR EVERYONE script, which means I can't be too dirty with it. But at the same time it really helps the script as a whole because it lets me tackle sort of awful subject matter with a happy, ironic tone. Like a man who's face is too wide and has been stuck in his house for years.

Okay we all know your favorite indie games of all time (Cave Story is definitely not in that list), but have you played anything recently that you felt was spectacular?

Flywrench probably. It's really simple, short, but not too short, and really funny in a dry sort of a way too. There's this other game called 'Pasi the Pumpkin Worm', but I don't think anyone has the depth of mind required to fully appreciate it.

Is there anything you want to say or repeat to the people who said The Underside is a Cave Story rip-off?

Basically that I love them, that I care for them. That I hope they never change. I wish for their very best, and that they succeed in every aspect of their lives.

No, I mean, really....


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