Yesterday I brought to you our special spotlight on Lazy Brain Games. Today we have the first part of our two part interview with John Bell himself as he explains his decision to retire from game development.
Who makes up Lazy Brain Games besides yourself?
John Coxworth did the cutscenes for Philly Under Fire, and Micheal Sterns did “box art” on some of the games. There has been a revolving door of musicians; my brother Conor did a bunch of games, but also my friends H. Arnold Jones, Anthony Swinnich, and Sam Weiss. I did plenty of my own music too.
I’ve always done all the in-game art, coding, and design though.
How did you get into game design and what tools specifically do you use?
I always enjoyed games; one day I picked up a book called “make your own games” which had Game Maker in it. I’ve been using Game Maker ever since. I used Photoshop for the art, and Mixcraft for the audio.
What is the basic design philosophy behind Lazy Brain?
For Lazy Brain, a lot of it was about making a small thing quickly that was fun. I was always going for the maximum amount of player enjoyment per minute of development time. I wasn’t ever trying to be profound or anything, that would be too much work, I always strived to be “lazy” and just get the games done. Whatever cool thing I couldn’t get done in a game just got put into the next one.
You have created 16 games spread across 2 seasons, what is a typical season for you and how do you spend the time cultivating these games?
Season 1 only uses 12 colors, I eventually wanted to change the style a bit, so I thought breaking them into seasons would help to punctuate that change. I originally started with a game a week, but eventually you want to do slightly bigger games so I quietly stopped touting them as “once a week” to facilitate that.A screenshot of Anyman from John’s earlier group Golden Beast Studios
What was the evolution between Golden Beast Studios, where you initially began producing content to Lazy Brain Games?
The big difference was that with Lazy Brain I had a set style and deadline (once a week, at least at first). Everything that came before it was so unfocused. Anyman was the transitional one where I started getting more retro and shortening the games.
There is quite a noticeable change in art direction and music between the two studios. What was it that finally focused you on 8-bit NES styled graphics and audio?
As the name implies, Lazy Brain Games was a good fit simply because retro graphics are easier to create than say, PS1 resolution pixel art. The charm of 8-bit is a good way to leverage content; you’re not that inhibited creatively since you can afford to experiment and jettison content if needed. It wasn’t until more recently that I acquired a love for NES style art really.
Do you still have any Lazy Brain T-shirts or other merchandise?
I sure wish I did! I had shirts, but my apartment flooded so they where all destroyed. The store thing was a huge setback; I basically got swindled out of $1,200 by a company called CSPreston. That bears repeating: A man called Brett Miller with CSPreston is a lying piece of shit bastard. I could go into a whole tirade about that, but it REALLY sucked, and I never got a store. This is the kind of shit I’m dealing with man.
Now, you posted a somewhat dramatic Game Over on your website (which has since been taken down). Can you explain why you are on hiatus and why it was removed?
Basically, I can’t make games anymore because I’ve just been so damn irresponsible. It’s very hard to care about your credit rating when all you want to do is make games. It sort of became a weird addiction that was screwing up my affairs. In order for me to fully focus my efforts on all my problems, I had to jettison Lazy Brain so that I’m not tempted to work on games when I should be working on making more money to pay the damn rent. Shit man I don’t even have a valid license! There’s been so many personal and financial setbacks, it’s all very tragic and all fucked up. I only took it down because I didn’t realize how silly it was to post on the site.
Having a dramatic resignation as the first thing people see on a site doesn’t exactly engender fun with games. Plenty of people read it, it didn’t need to checker the site in perpetuity.
Crowd funding is a thing that many have used to cover many stages of game development including rent. Have you considered that route?
I did attempt a Kickstarter with Infernal Edge 2 but my pledge rewards sucked. When that didn’t fund, I learned that doing a Kickstarter is a big undertaking unto itself. You need a good camera, a prepared speech, game footage, good audio, and really good rewards. It’s a lot of work to MAYBE fund, but moreover I don’t even have the money to get a camera, print shirts, rehearse a speech, and spend the time to make it happen.
I’m totally trapped in the now. Long arcing plans to eventually get money aren’t viable to someone that’s broke as hell!
You have been creating freeware for 2 seasons, it is certainly sad to see you retire for a bit. Will you possibly consider charging for the games you have created? The only profit creation on the site I can find is through a small donate button at the top.
All the games on the site are practice games. I really earned my stripes as a designer with my final game Philly Under Fire. The existing games aren’t ready to survive the rigors of the games market, they just aren’t formatted that way. The amount of development time to get them ready equals what it would take to just make a new game, but making little games is something I’ve done plenty of but no longer have time for. I’d love to come back and make games, but I dealt with some heavy shit this year; my mom got cancer and it just turned my whole life upside down (not to mention hers). The level of emotional distress around that is palpable, compounded with moving to a new city, having your apartment flood, and just a ton of bad luck, and you’ll see why I just had to bail on making games. I’m just a wreck, but also very very broke.
I had to write that letter just to help me let go of Lazy Brain on a emotional level. I can’t have Gondo Blaze nagging on my mind when I should be figuring out how to make ends meet. If only there was some way to get my hands on the money I need to get Gondo Blaze made, but its just too crowded of a market to even be noticed by investors really. Crowd funding takes time a resources I don’t have. There’s just to many factors conspiring against me.
It’s a damn shame for sure, but I tried like hell man. I fucking tried.