Featured on the PAX 10 at the highly nerd-popular Penny Arcade Expo last month and recently Greenlit on Valve’s Steam service, “Escape Goat 2” is getting the hype its predecessor, “Escape Goat,” never got. Set to come out within the next month or two, it was created by the studio MagicalTimeBean, which is the name of independent developer Ian Stocker’s company. He, along with a few contractors, is based in Berkeley as they’re finishing up the game and readying for its release.
We sat down and talked to Ian Stocker about the upcoming game and working as an independent game developer in the Bay Area.
The Daily Californian: How did you start working in game development?
Ian Stocker: I started in games as a composer, and I spent eight years doing contracts for music and sound for games and did about 40 titles in that time. And in around 2008, I started making my own games because of the economic downturn and projects getting canceled in the audio realm. So I made a game, purely as a hobby, and launched it without any expectations, but it did well enough that I kind of wanted to do a sequel. And then, I just kept taking it more and more seriously. So “Escape Goat 2” is my fourth game, and I’m actually able to do this full time.
DC: What aspects made you go independent, and why did you decide to stay in the Bay Area?
IS: Well, to retain the IP (intellectual property) is pretty cool so that I can build a brand on my own and hopefully, as it gets ported to more platforms and gets more popular, the revenue increases rather than being a contractor where you just get one check of money for your work. So it’s a little bit more like building a business, which is what I’ve always wanted to do.
The Bay Area is one of the hotbeds of indie game development in the world. GDC (Game Developers Conference) is here, and some other conferences are here. It’s close to LA and Seattle for those conferences, and there’s tons of indie developers if you poke around, like I just meet new people every couple of weeks.
DC: How did the concept of “Escape Goat” come about?
IS: “Escape Goat” started as a challenge to make a single-screen puzzle game in one week, and it was going to be a clone of a DOS game called “Jetpack.” But in the midst of cloning it, I decided to add one new feature, which is having blocks that stack on top of each other. Once you have that, you’ve got a completely new challenge, which was making a physics engine. Any time you have anything stacking or pushing, it’s a physics engine.
So I spent the next 10 months working on what became “Escape Goat.” It started out as something very small, and it was not even supposed to be more than a tiny detour away from my other game series. The title came from a Reddit thread on the best misused English phrases, and I always thought that “Escape Goat” was a perfect title for a game, so the whole theme came from the title.
DC: What made you decide that you wanted to make a sequel?
IS: When I first launched “Escape Goat,” I wasn’t actually that confident in it, because it was a completely new style of game for me, and I wasn’t really sure how well it would be received. But it turned out to be even more popular than my other series, so even though I had intended to go back and work on those games, which is the “Soul Caster” series, I kind of looked from the business perspective that I’ve got some momentum from “Escape Goat” and that maybe I need to keep working on that series and further that brand a little bit more.
DC: What did you add from “Escape Goat” into “Escape Goat 2”?
IS: If you look at them side by side, the difference in graphics is pretty striking, because “Escape Goat” is very 8-bit looking; it had four color sprites and very small titles and was very pixelated. I did all the art for that one myself, and I choose pixel-style because that was something I could do in a reasonable amount of time.
For “Escape Goat 2,” I’m working with an artist, so the graphics are way better than they would be if I were to try to do it on my own again. Plus, we have a new render that has lighting and shadows, so there’s a lot of great visual effects.
In terms of gameplay, it plays pretty much like the first game — I didn’t tamper too much with the gameplay. There are a lot of new gadgets and new abilities for the goat and mouse. There’s also a new layout for the world, where instead of just going linearly from one room to the next, there are branches and secret doors and alternate path to get through.
DC: What are your favorite aspects and least favorite aspects of working in the Bay Area as an independent developer?
IS: My favorite aspect would be connections to other developers, because there are so many around here. My least favorite — rent is high. I’d say California as a whole is not an ideal place to start a new business or to run any business. I would think very carefully before trying to grow and have employees and stuff like that in California. But so far as a one-person operation, it’s fine.
DC: What are your plans for the future, in terms of the studio?
IS: I’m probably going to stay technically as a solo developer for the foreseeable future, and when I work on projects it will be like a strategic partnership.
DC: Are goats your favorite animal?
IS: Right now, yeah probably.