Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Christopher “Jack” Nilssen Of "Dark Acre Games"

CHRISTOPHER ‘JACK’ NILSSEN is an independent game developer, science fiction author, runner, yogini, and lover who is awake before you in the morning. He spent his twenties living and working in Tokyo, Japan, where he learned to celebrate diversity and appreciate privacy. When asked what his favorite anything is, he usually responds with “I don’t play favorites“.

What is the current project your working on? 

The main project for the last year has been "The Child", an isometric point-and-click adventure game. There's a secondary project, code-named PREVENGEANCE, that's a 2D tower defense "brawl" for iPad.

How do you measure success?  

If even a single person plays one of my games and gets some tiny iota of entertainment & enjoyment from that, I've done my job.

How do you handle rejection? 

It's hard to get rejected in game development. You either "hit", put together some winning combination of player interaction and content, or you don't. When you don't hit it can feel pretty crappy but you get over it quickly by producing more and more content. Then it just becomes a marathon race with an undetermined finish line.

Did you always want to be a game developer? 

Nah, the first career I remember wanting to have was that of a movie director, like Steven Spielburg. It wasn't really until about 10 years ago at age 27 that I put it all together in my head that making games might be a good thing for me.

What inspires you to create games? 

I love games, I love the interactivity of them. That you can create something that someone else can play with and get their own experience from is fascinating to me. I also have a few stories I want other people to "find" (as opposed to just "telling" them, like books & movies) and games is the perfect platform for that type of narrative delivery.

What is the best thing about being a game developer?  

Sometimes it's cool to think I'm part of a "new media" movement. A lot of the stuff we do, if we do it well, no one's ever experienced before. There's a lot of "explorer reward" to that, like being the first person in space, or on the bottom of the sea.  Also making the attempt to be in tune with the games industry unearths a lot of rare gems in the form of games "normal" gamers may never hear of.

What is the worst thing about being one? 

Creating a videogame (or analog game) that WORKS, one that runs or plays without fault, is easily communicated to a player, and provides some form of enjoyment is a HARD LABOR. Thinking up the initial idea is easy, almost anyone can do that, but carrying that idea through the execution process to completion is one of the most difficult things to do. Why do you think the major game studios require a hundred people working a whole year to produce a game? And even then those games come out with bugs and problems. At the core of it, game development is hard work, and for solo or small-team independents like myself it's just that much harder.
That and not being able to really explain to anyone else what is precisely that I do, beyond "make games". That can be frustrating.

What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on? 

At the time of this interview I've been a game developer for 3 years, and I've published 22 games and abandoned 5. I have yet to publish a game for money, and I believe at most my games have gotten perhaps 10K plays.

What is your favorite game of all time? 

I don't play favorites, but the game I've most enjoyed in recent memory has been Polytron's absolutely phenomenal FEZ. If you own an XBOX 360 and love charming, exploration-based platforming with unique mechanics and style, you've got to check it out. It's this generation's "A Link to the Past".

How has your life changed since you created "Dark Acre Game Development"? 

I don't punch a clock anymore. I'm not beholden to a boss. The profit of my labor is solely mine. I don't need to wear pants. I go hungry a lot yet am somehow getting fatter...

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to become a game developer?

I can only really speak to those with independent aspirations: Be prepared to work hard, and to fail. Don't be afraid to publish. Have enough money in the bank to survive for 5 years without a payday. Never give up, never stop learning. Don't let anyone tell you it can't be done; prove it to yourself.

What do you like to do besides creating games?

I'm a science fiction author with 3 published stories and more to come. I'm an avid runner when the weather's right, and just an annoyed one when it's not. I enjoy ashtanga yoga. And of course, playing games both analog & digital.

Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become a game developer?

Yeah, I've done all kinds of stuff. A lot of kitchen work as a youngster, from dishwashing up the chain to chef. I've been a security guard, an errand boy, and an accounting assistant. In my "dark years" I was a drug dealer & a bit of a gangster. The longest and most profitable stretch so far was 10 years in Japan as an English teacher.

How would you describe your education? 

A waste of time and money. Aside from the basics, all post-secondary has taught me is that if you know what you want to do go out and do it. Unless of course it's brain surgery then you're probably better off getting professional guidance. Personally, I wish they'd do away with standardized education and bring back wholesale apprenticeships.

How would you describe the gaming "scene" where you live? 

Surprisingly, even though Vancouver is considered something of a mecca for game development on the West Coast, there's a much less-active gaming scene than other places in Canada like Toronto. Then again for me the majority of my gaming happens in virtual space, and that's been constantly growing for years.

How has social media changed the gaming industry?

Obviously the desire to create a hit "social game" has become the major focus of a lot of studios, though no one can really define what that ideal social game is! You've got games that can Tweet stuff to other people, and games that rely on social networking to function, but all of that still remains secondary to crafting a good, core player experience.

In terms of how social media has helped developers, especially independents like myself, it's become the water cooler. Twitter and other hubs are places where independents can find one an other and exchange ideas and quips pretty easily, so levering that to get some form of social activity has become pretty important for a lot of us. Also it functions well as a grassroots marketing engine, places where we can promote our games and raise awareness.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding? 

When I first started planning for life as an independent I could never have foreseen things like Kickstarter. Sure, we had PayPal donation systems back then, but even pre-orders for games were an alien concept. Now it seems a lot of people are willing to throw their money at ghosts and promises and as a businessperson I don't like it. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't believe in charging people money for things that "might be". But I do think it's great that there's a platform for those that do.

How do independent games differ from the mainstream? 

I think that the main difference is budget and time spent perfecting what you're delivering to your players. An independent can craft something that's every bit as good as something a major studio comes up with, it just takes longer and is more prone to failure. Personally I think an independent would do well to avoid the stigma of being an "indie" and try to present themselves as professionals, if the end goal is competing with the big boys. But the wonderful thing about being independent is you can do whatever you feel.

You could go back in time and see any game being made. Which game would it be and why? 

There really haven't been a lot of games that struck me as "holy crap how did they do that"? In fact, it's really only FEZ that's had me scratching my head and trying to figure out how it's done. As for learning someone else's process I'm not really keen on that. I think we can learn fundamental principles, but it's up to each of us to suss out our own methods of working through attempting to execute.

What's your favorite quote and why?  

"Life is hard; it's harder if you're stupid." - John Wayne. Basically, never overestimate the other person's (or your own!) intelligence.

What is your opinion on game to movie adaptions? 

It seems like they really could be good. Look at the Halo, Mass Effect, and more recently Prototype 2 TV commercials. There's potential in there to craft really great movies using these properties. I think they've gotten this stigma because of people like Uwe Boll who make garbage films as slush funds, and the studios who give the rights so that it happens. Perhaps we're in the same bad old days that comic book movies were in. If it follows that trend then maybe in a few years we'll start seeing some really great adaptations of video game properties on the silver screen.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Buy (or borrow for free if you're an Amazon Prime member) my eBooks! If you like science fiction I think they're decent stories, and those pennies are currently the only active commercial funding channels for Dark Acre Games, since I don't take donations.

Aside from that selfish plug, I'd encourage anyone who's ever thought about making games to go ahead and give it a try. The tools are getting easier and easier to use, and I think it's only a matter of time before pretty much anyone can make games. I ESPECIALLY recommend spending a couple of months in your part time to learn something like Unity or Flash and come up with some simple games to see if you even like doing it, before dropping thousands of dollars on school or several years in a career you might wind up hating.  Thanks for the questions and if you've got any more feel free to hit me on Formspring:



I've seen FEZ via the documentary "Indie Game: The Movie". It looks crazy awesome. I wish you all the best with "The Child", "PREVENGEANCE", your future projects and books.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Artist Kyle Cassidy

When not traipsing off with rock stars Kyle Cassidy vacillates between serious documentary photography and works of sinister whimsey. His critically acclaimed 2007 photo book "Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes" won praise from a broad swath of reviewers from the Washington Post, to Vanity Fair, to Field & Stream. It won's "10 Best Art Books" and "100 best books" medals the year of it's publication. His most recent book, "War Paint: Tattoo Culture and the Armed Forces" (Schiffer, 2012) documents the tattoos and stories of American war veterans. Kyle's spent five days photographing the Dalai Lama, a week photographing the opening of tombs at the Great Pyramids in Cairo, another week in the sewers underneath Romania photographing homeless orphans, and his "In the Hive" project allowed him to trip the shutters of cameras carried by 25 people all across America at random times and photograph whatever happened to be in front of them. In addition to this he photographed the covers for the Amanda Palmer albums "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" and "Map of Tasmania" as well as being one of the principle photographers for "The Big Book of Who Killed Amanda Palmer". He's done numerous projects which you can read about at as well as see an awful lot of photos of his cats.

What is the current project you are working on?

Right now I'm finishing up the Bed Song Book with Neil Gaiman, that's something coming together this summer (2012) that will be done & out probably in September. It's a limited edition art book available only though Amanda Palmer's kickstarter as a $1,000 reward. It's a script by Neil that I photographed based on a song by Amanda.

I'm also working on a huge portrait project of roller derby players -- you can see some of that at I was inspired by the individuality as well as the athleticism and I'd never photographed sports before. After seeing a game last year I was really motivated to try and capture some of the personalities. That's really the big thing. I've been traveling all across the country working on these portraits and it's coming out really well.

How do you balance your professional and personal life?

It can be tough. I"m away from home a lot which is difficult but my wife is an actress and she's got her career and is very supportive and I actually think that celebrating one another's accomplishments while apart has been a good part of our relationship. Being away means you get to come home more. Also, a lot of the time the two collide so it's exciting for me to hang out with actors and go to my wife's opening nights and cast parties and things like that and she's often along while I'm working so there's a constant flux of rock stars and models and writers and playwrights in our lives.

I think one key to having a public life is to be very decisive from the beginning about what's public and what's private and drawing those lines very distinctly and not going over them.

Do you prefer to use a digital camera or film camera when taking photos?

Digital. I don't like having to wait a week to see if I screwed up the lighting. That said, I have a lot of film cameras that I love -- I've never had a love affair with a digital camera the way that I have with film cameras, sadly, they've become just tools -- the romance is gone but that's not a bad thing. Taking photos because you like holding cameras is sort of like having babies because you like naming them. If you're not in it for the work, for the final product, you're probably not doing the best work.

How do you measure success?

Well, there are a lot of ways, it's not as simple as counting up Twitter followers and the number of people buying your books -- I remember the day I found out that Kurt Cobain had killed himself -- he was one of my idols and really, it seemed to me, at the top of the world. Realizing that I was happier than him, sharing a one bedroom apartment above a noisy tire store, living on $5,000 a year -- that had a profound impact on the way in which I measured how well I was doing.

There's a formula that includes "how much have I produced?" and "how happy am i?" and contrary to popular belief it's not just "how happy am I?" either -- I'm pretty happy sitting on my sofa and watching Frasier on Netflix. And I'm certainly miserable standing in the security line at an airport with 50 pounds of photo equipment strapped to my back trying to take my shoes off wobbling about on one foot -- but the discomfort there is rewarded in accomplishment -- so you give up some happiness and you get back something you produce, the work, and hopefully you realize that the discomfort is temporary and important to the final thing. It hinges on that. I'd rather sell 50,000 books and be happy in moderate obscurity than sell twenty million and be like Kurt Cobain.

There are other little things too -- the number of times you get recognized on the street, people who send you meaningful letters about how you've affected them, those are all points along the way. And, invariably, you compare yourself to your friends. I think that's inevitable. You're sitting at the dinner table looking across and your friends trying to calculate if they've been on the radio more last week than you or if they got a better review than you or some fancy gallery show, but that internal nagging monologue is motivational, and it's entirely human; it doesn't go away but you try and recognize it for what it is.

How do you handle rejection?

Usually with astonishment, but also great resilience. By the time you've gotten successful you've been rejected over and over and over and over so you're used to it, but you get to a point where it stops happening with any regularity because you know what works, and you know what you're good at and you know how to package things. So when something does get rejected I'm usually really surprised, but you bounce off of that and charge ahead because you've read all  those stories about how many times the Cat in the Hat was rejected or whatever. I don't usually spend a lot time thinking about that, but just where to go next. "No" just means you haven't asked the right person, so when you get rejected you try again right away with someone else.

Did you always want to be an artist?

I wanted to be a reporter first. Which is still kind of what I am sometimes.

What is the best thing about being an artist?

The company you keep and the realization that at night when you go to bed something beautiful exists that didn't exist that morning and wouldn't exist at all without your having made it.

What is the worst thing about being one?

The worst thing is that people seem to think that artists don't need to get paid. We live in a society surrounded by artists that undervalues what they do.

What is the estimated number of projects you've worked on?

I couldn't really say, and it wouldn't be a useful number anyway. I mean there are things that you knock out in a day and there are things that take years to finish and there are ones you're not even sure if you should count. But there are usually three or four going on at a time.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to become an artist?

Bring art into your life and study it, make it a part of your every day, surround yourself with artists.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

Jaws, The Exorcist, Troll Hunter, Lost, Breaking Bad, Rare Exports, I'm really liking Game of Thrones right now.

How has social media changed the art industry?

It's allowed artists to very easily stay in touch with the people who like their art. It's helped to cut out the middleman whose job used to be "make sure fans know about this"

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

We live in the world of ten-dollar Medici's. It's a good thing and a bad thing. It serves to democratize things but that's not always where art flourishes best -- sometimes you need the one person at the studio who says "nobody wants this film, but I believe in it and I'm going to fund it!".

How does independent differ from the mainstream?

Usually one's built upon spectacle and the other from story. Spectacle is easy to understand, it's made of broad strokes and loud sounds and flashy costumes. There's time and place for both. Independent often requires much more work from the audience and more of an understanding of not just the work you're looking at, but related works. You don't go home from watching Speed talking about the difficult questions of life. But independent isn't necessarily a synonym for good, it just means "less money". Sometimes there's a reason for that. And mainstream doesn't necessarily mean bad.

You could go back in time and see any piece of art created for the first time? Which would it be and why?

The Sphinx. I would have liked to see the planning that went into it, the architects, the artisans, the craftspeople and the laborers working together. I wonder what that construction site must have looked like, how everybody got fed, who might come in and look at things and say "thin up the beard" or whatever.


Thank you so much for doing the interview Kyle. I'll be sure to check out your artwork when Amanda & The Grand Theft Orchestra come to Boston in August. I will check out & spread the word about your roller derby portrait project.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Musician Chad Raines

While in Austin, TX, Chad Raines found his musical niche, becoming a talented multi-instrumentalist, playing everything from bluegrass banjo to salsa trumpet and most everything in between.

At 19 he became a late night television personality on Austin Music Network – a cable channel that featured Texas artists and on cable access television producing bazaar television shows (Eccentrics Anonymous) as a visual aid for his music using experimental video production techniques and super 8mm film and animation.

He formed the Elastic Wasteband after writing music for his first play at the Doghouse Theate, which formed a chamber music ensemble that would perform original music for dance, theater and clubs around town.

From that he studied music theory and composition at Texas State University.

In 2005 he joined the Stingers, a roots-ska band that toured Europe with Jamaican legends such as Desmond Dekker, Doreen Shafer and Laurel Aitken as a keyboard/trumpet/guitarist/vocalist.

After moving to New Haven, CT he soon earned critical acclaim with The Simple Pleasure, an electronic rock band for which he fronted and wrote music for, With that band he wrote an original score for Yale University’s production of Bertold Brecht’s “Baal” as well as playing with such acts as White Denim and Ra Ra Riot.

Yale Summer cabaret productions starred him as Tommy of “The Who’s Tommy” and “Hedwig” getting rave reviews as a theatrical rock star.

While at the theatrical Sound Design program at the Yale School of Drama, he wrote and premiered works such as “Missed Connections” and “Project Realms: The World of Henry Darger” as well as designing and composing for Yale School and Repertory productions.

Currently, he lives with his wife and daughter and plays with Amanda Fucking Palmer and performs, composes and designs in the New York area.

What is the current project your working on?

Right now, I'm working on three things intermittently. I'm finishing up an EP with my pop music group The Simple Pleasure - for whom I sing and write for - Its a lot of fun and its sounding great - some final mixes and a few vocal takes and its done - also, I'm in the middle of a technical rehearsal for a new play entitled "From White Plains" written by Michael Perlman. I'm doing sound design for it now and tomorrow is the last day I have to get all the music cued up and ready for showtime! You can check that out here - - And of coarse not to mention touring and recording with Amanda Fucking Palmer. YOW!

How do you measure success?

Happiness really - having the luxury to focus on things you care about. And how many times I get to ride in a limo - or ride first class, which as of now I'm failing miserably. I don't think I've ever been in a limo. Jeez, I don't know if thats a good or a bad thing. Lots of things could go wrong in Limos. I almost bought a limo with Zebra stripes that was on sale for 2 months in Hyde Park Austin, TX when I lived there. That would have been a good investment.

How do you handle rejection?

Rejection just makes me want to prove the rejectors wrong. It inspires me to work harder. Or to say "fuck them, they don't know what they're missing!" - so I guess not very well.

Did you always want to be in a band?

No. - OH DID I? - I thought you typed DO YOU - my bad. UH.....

I just always wanted to make music - being in a band is awesome- but only if you're making music. Otherwise your just masturbating together in a circle. Big fucking mess in the middle. That tends to happen a lot.

What inspired you to become a musician?

Um. I've never been able to adequately express myself through language. It's something I've been working on. I think it is born out of frustration. Also, I've been exposed to a lot of strange stuff - things haunt me and I have to exorcise the demons.

Who is your favorite musician of all time?

Thats a hard question - There are musicians and there are artists who happen to play music. I think they are very different things and sometimes there are artist who are virtuosos. I think thats rare. OK so - favorite musician of all time...

I know its a cop-out but its gotta be Beethoven. Sturm and Drang baby! virtuoso pianist - first freelancer - deaf? -Didn't bow to no Hapsburg - didn't need to. The beginning of Romanticism the end of Feudalism. The last piano concertos...

How has your life changed since you became a musician?

Well, shit. Right now is the first time I can call myself a professional musician - as in. I make all my money now - doing musical things. No student, no daytime job. Its great doing what you love and what you're good at. Its called "living the dream". Except "living the dream" is such a harder life. There is no clocking out of the dream. There are no 5 week holidays away from the dream. You won't even be able to enjoy yourself because you know there is still so much to do.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to become a musician?

Travel. Meet lots of people. Keep in touch. Do what you want to do.

What do you like to do when your not creating and/or playing music?

I like cooking. Staying at home. Cuttin' Loose. Reading. Staying physically active somehow. Outdorsing. Electronics - Circuit Bending.

How would you describe your education?

I'm an overeducated twit. A near high school dropout that accidentally got a master's at Yale. I still think I'm self-taught for some reason. Sounds better.

How would you describe the music "scene" where you live?

I live in New Haven now, have been for 7 years I guess. New Haven is a very transient town (in more ways than one). People are always in and out - and that's mostly Yale's doing (though not all). I think the state of CT is ranked 49th in keeping young people in their state. And it shows. With so many other places to go so near by, its like - why stay? But that might be changing. The city is becoming a better place to live - and if more Yalies decide to stick around instead of fleeing immediately - there would be such a better "scene". Also - Yalies tend to get to busy to venture outside of their 3 block perimeter of study.

How has social media changed the music industry?

Provided a lot more noise - we go through filters (blogs, twitter)to help identify things we like from the barrage of information. Each person is not competing with other local bands or shows for attention anymore - they are trying to compete with the rest of the world in their particular genre.So artists try to entertain filters with hot web presence. Have you tried to entertain a filter? Then their stage show is weak. Thats ok though - as long as you got banging music videos.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

Awesome. I love what its doing to the music industry.I wonder how long it will last though? Like pledge drives for public radio? I mean, shit - I can go out and buy a tshirt for $10. Why do I need to give you $50 for that shirt -a warm and fuzzy feeling? I can get that for another $10 of Makers.

How does independent music differ from the mainstream?

Mainstream goes: boom si boom si boom si boom si

Independent goes: neener neener neener neener neener neener neener

You could go back in time and see any band play for the first time? Which would it be and why?

An Ottoman Military Band in the 17th century. Mozart heard them on the doorstep of Vienna -so impressed by their exotics, he wrote Rondo a la Turk (sp?). That shit must have sounded like outer space and probably still does. Shifting rhythms and time signatures played by an army of heathens thirsty for the slaughter. Must have raised some hairs.

Music before and after war - that would be a good study.


Thanks for doing the interview Chad. I wish you all the best with your projects. I'll be attending the rock show in Boston in August. Hopefully, we  can meet in person.