Interview With Chris Jorgensen of Cascadia Games

So tell us a little about Cascadia Games. How many people call this studio their workplace nowadays, and what’s it like being an indie developer in Portland – do you have a lot of developer clubs, conventions and other resources nearby?

I don’t know if anyone calls Cascadia Games their workplace outside of me. We’re more a loose coalition of creative people, a “pseudio” if you will, with me owning the company and driving things. Thus far, six different folks have worked on one game or another. I like the core group and when I can I hope to hire them on for steady hours.

Portland’s a great town for indie developers. People here are independent and entrepreneurial (in a quirky sort of way). Plus, there are a lot of talented folks with similar skills — the digital marketing agency business is widespread in the city. That makes for great connections to individuals with skills in video, music, social media, etc. I don’t personally attend many conventions, but having Seattle a short drive away makes Portland attractive as well.

Between Cavorite and your other titles, have you been able to develop games full-time, or do you still find yourself padding the ol’ budget with contract work and other jobs for now?

Definitely the latter. The majority of our time is still spent doing non-Cascadia projects. The good news is, things are moving in the direction of more independence. I think when we can start hitting the major app stores (iPhone, iPad, Mac, Steam) at launch with every release, our revenue is going to jump up considerably.

How did the idea for Cavorite come about, both gameplay-wise and scenario-wise? It has kind of a romanticized Jules Verne or H.G. Wells feel to it – did early sci-fi works have a direct influence on the direction you took with this franchise?

The story for Cavorite is very loosely based on H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon. Early on I wanted to create a direct sequel to the book. Mr. Bedford would (somehow) get back to the moon and descend down to find Dr. Cavor. I had a puzzler in mind from the start, but I imagined Bedford would be armed with a gun and a rope. The idea being, he could shoot stalactites off the cave ceilings and onto the Selenites’ heads, rope across ravines, etc. Initially, the style was to be dark — like a steampunk Limbo.

Reality eventually set in. That type of game was just too hard for us to tackle, primarily due to art complexity and cost. Instead, I mulled the idea for about nine months before taking it on again.

The first big change came when I realized that the game might be more interesting if it were about Dr. Cavor’s escape. I liked the idea of a clear, positive goal. That led to Dr. Cavor needing some sort of tool to aid him. The cavorite spray gun grew out of that thought.

Visually, we absolutely wanted to fit in with the steampunk genre. Fortunately, the game’s pixel artist (Tom Filhol) and I clicked pretty early. He picked up on the color palette I liked and did a great job staying within a specific style. The word ‘Victorian’ was tossed around for the art, especially with the UI.

For the music, we wanted something that felt like it came from the era (and then composed on an 8-bit chip). We used Claude Debussy as the early inspiration. I still love the “Lava Tunnels” musical theme the most. I like that it retains a sort of refined demeanor about it while simultaneously highlighting the dangerous atmosphere.

Now that you’re drawing closer to the finish line on Cavorite 2, what’s been the hardest part of designing a sequel? How did you decide which features to add, and did you turn down any ideas because they might have taken the game too far away from the style of the first?

The hardest part was not repeating ourselves. The idea for each Cavorite world is to feature a different gimmick that keeps the play fresh. We had to come up with enough of these gimmicks to sustain our interest without violating the key components of the gameplay. That takes quite a bit of discussion and the end results are usually a marriage of ideas.

For any feature it comes down to how many levels we think we can spin out of it. If it is simple to code, doesn’t add a lot of art overhead, and has potential to create many new experiences, it probably goes in. Many of the new features in Cavorite 2 we had cooked up for the first game but simply didn’t have time to implement.

We, of course, talked about new abilities for Dr. Cavor: weapons, jetpacks, etc. But I think the heart of the Cavorite games is mind over matter. Anything that empowered Dr. Cavor was rejected.

I’ll also note that it’s always hard to be patient near the end of a project. It takes an insane amount of play-testing and polish to get a game ready for release. Each level probably undergoes a dozen passes before it’s deemed ready…at least!