Interview | Adam Saltsman
Interview | Adam Saltsman
During last year’s GameCity festival, Brendan Caldwell caught up with Adam Saltsman, developer of Canabalt amongst other things.
AS: They’re just the absolute most ridiculous cutest little bunnies that I’ve ever seen.
Resolution: You do have a thing for the cute stuff. We heard you say once that Costume Quest was adorable.
AS: Oh my god. It’s so cute. It’s so cute. I like things that manage to invoke nostalgia without doing it in a blatantly crass, commercially exploitative manner. Lots of things that were nostalgic five years ago have become, like, geek chic. Comicon fodder for, like, this whole lousy sort of industry of taking everything I loved as a child and destroying it.
AS: I just prefer them to respect it I guess. This is way, way off topic and I apologise. But we went out to see Predators –
AS: Man! So, I love Predator and I love Arnold Schwarzenegger and I love John McTiernan and Predator is this marvellous, like, fairly complicated piece of an action movie. And Predators is making a lot of claims just by virtue of the name. It’s claiming that it is to Predator what Aliens was to Alien. But what it did is it methodically went through and deliberately shat on all of Predator step by step throughout the entire film. Like, they took pains to try and make stuff that made sense and was really impressive in the first film, worse and stupider, like, deliberately. It was to try and elevate their film. I was like, “No, no, no, no no no nononononnnn—this is… no. This is not right.”
Reso: To focus this interview, does that then translate to games?
AS: I think it really does. I think … like, in comics there’s this cool thing that’s been happening for years now which is there is a kind of … on the US West coast there’s a collection of largely Asian American young illustrators and storytellers… well known now is like, what’s his name? The Scott Pilgrim guy… Yeah, Brian Lee O’Malley is another one of these guys. This collection of guys who are heavily influenced by Miyazaki and by manga and by anime and they’re heavily influenced by Bill Waterson, the Calvin and Hobbes guy. And they’re not just cashing in on “People like manga, yay!” or you know, “Wow, people really love Calvin and Hobbes.” It’s not that. It’s like a synthesis of something wonderful that had a big influence on them but synthesising more than the surface elements, like, looking under it and putting it in their own words. Like, I think that’s a really awesome thing.
AS: It absolutely happens in games too. To compare something like New Super Mario Brothers Wii or Sonic 4 to something like Super Meat Boy. They’re all platformers and they all obviously reference the kinds of platformers that guys who are in the twenties and everybody who is in their twenties grew up playing. But one of them does it in an original voice and really, like, dives down into what a platformer is, how a platformer should feel, what the mechanics imply and does it with kind of an amazing original voice at the same time – and that’s Super Meat Boy. And the other ones are kind of like, things that were – as far as I can tell – dumped into the laps of people who had never made those games before, never played those games growing up and had really badly textured 3D graphics just thrown in and thrown it up on digital distribution or the nearest retail store to make as much money as possible as fast as possible. And I see those games more like Predators and less like Scott Pilgrim and the Flight Anthologies and Amulet and all of these kind of comic equivalents.
AS: That’s a hard thing to do ever.
Reso: Does that come in to your design philosophy? Sonic 4 didn’t do anything new and it was still not great because people’s expectations have evolved. What Sonic used to do has been surpassed. Jonathan Blow said earlier that old adventure games were fundamentally broken. Do you think then old platformers are fundamentally broken in ways?
AS: In some ways… I think that there’s gonna be a lot of historical attention paid to the very first batch of games made by Nintendo. Because they were made in a really interesting way I think. But they were [also] done for really commercial reasons. Nintendo still approaches things like this. Like, they haven’t changed that much in twenty or thirty years. But twenty-five years ago they actually sat down and said “We’re making a new game system and we wanna make sure there’s lots of good games for it. We wanna make sure there’s a game for everybody.” This was twenty-five years ago. Obviously, they still do this with the Wii, et cetera. But they didn’t wanna count on third party. They did it all internally. So they put together like, eight or ten teams to make a game in every genre to launch on the platform when it came out. So they ended up with these really weird reasons to make a game that had maybe not a whole lot to do with games that were successful before that.