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Interview: Matt Thorson (Jumper)

JUNE 12, 2008 - Article by Laughing Crow

Matt Thorson (AKA YMM) is an indie games developer, specially known for the Jumper series, An Untitled Story, and most recently FLaiL, a game I am a fan of. I recently contacted him, and asked him whether he would like to do an interview with me. You can now see what the answer was.

We were both quite busy lately, so we had to go with an email interview. I would have liked something a bit more interactive. But Matt did his best to answer each question as well as possible. And I would like to thank him for that.

Here you can check out more of his games.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Okay, my name is Matt Thorson. I'm 20 years old, and right now I'm working at HermitWorks Entertainment in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Right now it's just kind of a summer job because I'm in between semesters and will hopefully be going back to university in the fall for the third year of my Bachelor of Science degree. What else? I'm a cat person, and enjoy playing my guitars and riding my longboard around town on warm nights.

Matt Thorson

What made you start developing your own games?

I just really wanted to make games I guess. I don't really remember any specific inspiration that made me jump up and look for a toolset and get started. I've always wanted to make games since I was a kid; I remember filling notebooks full of level designs for Super Mario- or Donkey Kong Country-style games that existed only in my imagination. It's just something that I don't really need external motivation to do (usually).

Where do you usually find inspiration to make your games?

I guess mostly the games I played as a child. Like I mentioned above the Super Mario and Donkey Kong Country games were huge in my childhood. Yoshi's Island is still in at least my top 3 for favorite games of all time. I love designing levels for platformers so a lot of my games use play mechanics very similar to those classic games.

I'm also influenced by all the amazng indie developers on the scene now. I love going through the indie sites and just playing all the new stuff that's always coming out. It's really cool to see so much effort being put into this stuff.

I also try to put a bit of myself and my current state of mind into all my games. I guess I just do that so my games reflect who I was when I made them.

You recently changed your website from Helix Games to Matt Makes Games, what made you take this decision?

I don't even remember why I called it Helix Games in the first place. That name is now meaningless to me, and I felt like something more personal would be a better fit. I think Matt Makes Games sums up the site and my work much better.

Up to this day, the only game you made that has received a sequel is Jumper. Why?

Jumper is a really easy game to make in that it pretty much is just pure platforming craziness. I don't have to worry about much other than making it super difficult and keeping it reflex-based. With Jumper I could do whatever the hell I want with the story and I don't think anyone would even notice, it's just that type of game.

Plus back in the day when I made Jumper Two I was a lot more concerned with public reaction, so I'd wager it was also largely a "PR" decision to make a sequel since the original was so well received in the Game Maker community.

Your latest games, FLaiL and An Untitled Story are also the most complex. How much time did you spend developing them?

An Untitled Story was something like 2 years in development. That took so freaking long, I'm still shocked I finished it. FLaiL was more like 6 months I'd say - about 2 months of engine development and level design somewhere in the middle of AUS's dev cycle, then 4 more months of tweaking and polishing later.

Most of the games you developed come with a level editor. And looking around your forums I could see a considerable amount of fan-made levels. How do you feel about the amount of involvement with your games?

I love it! It feels good to see people using the tools I provided and having fun with it. It's cool to see.

Do you have any sequels planned for any of your games?

I have ideas, but not plans.

Jumper Three will probably come out of me eventually, but I have no desire to work on it anytime soon. I like the idea of working on it sometime in the future but I don't want to jump in and do it right now.

I actually have a really cool idea for a sequel to An Untitled Story where you sail around to islands and search for a new home. It's not a very concrete idea yet because it doesn't actually include how most of the game would work, so I guess it's more like a dream rather than an idea - just the concept of sailing around and exploring and the feeling of wonder you get when you find new things. I probably couldn't pull it off the way I envision it, now that I really think about it.

You have recently announced that you are curently working with Tom Sennett on another title in his RunMan series. How far is it indevelopment?

I don't really want to talk about how far along it is because that's ambiguous even to us right now. We really have no idea how much work is left to do in it, we're just having fun with it. Plus my life recently exploded into chaos and so I've had to take a reduced role in the development. It looks like I'll just be helping him with level design now, as opposed to the two of us collaborating on every aspect of the game as previously planned.

I have played the other RunMan games, and almost every game is different in gameplay. Is the new game going to change the series again? What genre would you say it belongs to?

Oh, it's definitely a platformer, and it's definitely still about running. It's much larger in scale than the old RunMan games. By that I mean it isn't a minigame - it's sort of like the old Sonic the Hedgehog games, but I hate making that comparison because I hate the old Sonic the Hedgehog games. They're too frustrating, you pretty much have to memorize everything to be really good at them. I'll just say it's a really happy game about running.

Have you guys scheduled a release date?

No. Personally, I usually don't do that until about a week before it's done otherwise it'll be late. Tom has his own style, and I think that style is to fall almost completely off the radar until the last second, then jump out of the bushes with an awesome new game. But he was talking about being more public with the game's progress than he usually is, so you might get some updates along the way. He'll do what he thinks is best for the project - posting screenshots and stuff as it develops would encourage us to get it done, to avoid looking like asses.

Are you working on anything besides RunMan?

Some friends and I recently started a game development club at the local college, and at our meetings I've been working on a platformer.

The game is about a monkey who wants bananas and has a hot air balloon, and the scarecrows that guard the banana trees from monkies. I'll give you some screenshots. It's really fun to work on.


You are about to finish your degree in computer science. What are your career plans?

I plan on somehow making games for a living, preferably indie games. It's sort of up in the air right now, and it's kind of scary but that's life.

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