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Jeremy LaMar: Doodles, Dawdles, and the Creative Cycle [Interview]

bernard1 Jeremy LaMar (aka SnigWich) is renowned as one of the best designers of the ZZT/Megazeux community. Before Bernard the Bard, though, he cut his teeth on a series of games that earned him an intense and loyal audience.

LaMar produced his Blinky games with Recreational Software Designs‘ Game-Maker, then moved on to other design platforms. Some while later, the games found their way to a games section on AOL, where unbeknownst to him they became cult favorites, subject to fan fiction, dedicated websites, and tribute videos.

Following his MegaZeux work, LaMar retired from game design, changed his name, and returned to his original calling as a cartoonist. We tracked him down to chat about his body of work, both known and missing, his experiences with various game design platforms, his other creative projects, and, following a long hiatus, his planned return to game design.

Your Blinky series seems to have attracted something of a loyal following — rather unusual for a Game-Maker game. If it’s all cool, I’d like to ask you a few questions about the games, your experiences with Game-Maker, and your broader creative and professional life.

I agree that the popularity of the Blinky games is very strange, especially considering the number of DOS games around at the time. Honestly I don’t even remember uploading these games, but somehow they spread and attained a sort of cult following. There was even some very baffling fanfic written about the characters at one point, but I don’t think the site exists anymore. It’s not like they’re even very good games, especially the frustrating jumping mechanics of Blinky 3… I really can’t explain why these games keep popping up!

Normally I’d try to separate myself from something I created so many years ago, and under a different name no less… but the continued and persistent popularity of Blinky 2 and 3 really has to be addressed… so ask away, I’ll provide answers as best I can!

I saw a couple of references to that fanfic, but as you say the site no longer seems to exist. Did you save a copy of it? It’s a bewildering development, and seems worth preserving somehow.

Actually, turns out the Wayback Machine had it. Check out the other two Blinky stories as well. It’s really strange stuff. I’m still not sure what to make of these, but evidently somebody was a big fan.

That is indeed fascinating. For the other two fics I’m just getting about a paragraph of text. Is that all correct, or am I missing something?

Nope, that’s all there is. I couldn’t begin to explain those fanfics.

Going by what you’ve said elsewhere, I take it none of your Game-Maker work still survives in your hands?

Sadly, no.

Tell me more about the original Blinky, and how it came about. I understand that the first sequel is more or less a remake.

The very first game was the first thing I did with the Game Maker utility… as a result, it had a lot of flaws. Gameplay was nearly identical to Blinky 2.

In the second game you do some slightly complicated things with the engine, like the one-way cliffs, the multi-segmented bosses, and those spore clouds. How many of those tricks are in the original?

Almost none, to my recollection. The only boss was the final boss, Shnookwad, but I’m pretty sure he was just a normal-sized monster that took multiple shots to kill.

It sounds like the second game is much more advanced than the original. How long would you say passed between the first two Blinky games? Did you work on any other projects between the two, to practice or develop ideas?

It was definitely a lot more polished. Blinky 1 was the first thing I ever did with Game-Maker, so it was pretty rough around the edges. I’m not really sure how much time passed between the first and second games… probably not a lot, to be honest. Couple months at the most.

I think it was only a couple months between finishing Blinky 2 and the beginning of work on Blinky 3. Blinky 3 was one of those projects I picked up and put back down several times, however. I always had several games going at once. I remember it sat unfinished for quite a while before I decided to just sit down and put together the last couple of levels, and finish the damn thing.

It’s interesting that you went for such different game concepts with the two surviving Blinky games. Return of Blinky clearly owes a bunch to Link to the Past. Was Blinky 3 influenced by anything in particular?

link-to-the-past

Not that I recall. I think I just wanted to make a side-scrolling platformer, to see if I could pull it off under the constraints of the program. Trying to play it now, it’s an exceedingly difficult game… and the between-level art is just horrendous. I remember I was using an extremely limited paint program at the time, but it’s still pretty embarrassing. Still, it seems like the Blinky games hold some nostalgia value for other people as well, so I’m glad they’ve been recovered.

So where does Blinky come from? Did the characters previously exist?

The characters were created specifically for the game. I used to draw little comics all the time as a kid, most of them really off-the-wall and fairly nonsensical… Blinky had his start there. Not sure why I settled on the color scheme I did, or why the doughnut obsession, I guess it just seemed like a good idea at the time!

Do any of the characters have a life outside of the games?

There was a little comic I had drawn that more or less followed the games, but they’re long-lost by now.

What was your design process like? Did you tend to plan projects out extensively beforehand, or did ideas arise more as a result of experimentation?

Blinky3Integrator

I did very little planning ahead of time with my Game-Maker games, mostly I just sort of made things up as I went along. It was a lot of experimenting and spur-of-the-moment decisions. I may have drawn out a map ahead of time for how the levels link up, but that’s about it.

How many games did you make in all, if you can recall? The latter two Blinky games are polished enough that it seems like you must have spent some time experimenting.

I had over a dozen unfinished games, and a handful of finished ones as well. One involved driving a tank, another had a jetpack guy… I even had the first level of Blinky 4 finished. It was a side-scroller like Blinky 3, but had a greatly improved jumping engine.

Jetpack games seem like a popular theme for some reason. I take it that must have been side-scrolling. What about the tank game? What was that, top-down?

Yeah, Jet-Pack was a side-scroller. The tank game was top-down, and was sort of like a Space Invaders style game, pitting you against waves of enemies before you could progress to the next stage. As I recall the last enemy would drop a key that let you progress.

I’m surprised I haven’t seen more games like that. It’s kind of unusual to find Game-Maker games that use the built-in rules and counters to do more than establish face-value properties. Did you hit on any techniques that you never worked into a full game?

Nothing too noteworthy that I can recall.

Did any of these games have titles?

Not that I can remember… they were probably pretty generic titles like “Tank Battle” or something.

How did you come across Game-Maker? By the looks of it, you were using version 3.0 — so that’s pretty late on in its timescale.

I believe it was a Christmas present one year.

Did you interact with any other Game-Maker users?

The only interaction I ever had with other users was among my own groups of friends. The Blinky games were never designed for a larger audience, so their apparent popularity is definitely surprising. I had downloaded and played a handful of games created by other users, but was never really part of the community at the time.

What do you remember about the games you found? Did you learn anything from them? And do you recall where you downloaded them?

I found a bunch on some BBS… I remember Peach the Lobster and a couple others. It was interesting to see what other people had done with the tools.

So your friends also used Game-Maker to some extent? What can you tell me about that?

I’m pretty sure none of their games ever made it online. At least, I’ve never seen any. We’d create games and pass them amongst ourselves, but most of them were not even finished.

Did they have their own copies of Game-Maker, or was this more of a shared resources thing?

I don’t recall… it was most likely a shared resource.

How much influence would you say you and your friends had on each other’s design process? Was there any kind of collaboration or competition going on?

We definitely learned techniques from each other, but I’d say I spent a lot more time with the program than anybody else I knew. I did some collaborative work with Megazeux, but not with Game-Maker.

About this AOL Kids area, where it seems most people encountered Blinky – do you have any idea how this worked? How did the games get on there?

AOL_kids_main

I’m really not sure, I think there must’ve been a way to upload games, but I never really spent any time in AOL Kids. I honestly don’t recall if I had uploaded them or if somebody else did, but either way the Blinky games somehow made it on there, and evidently a lot of people had played them.

I know your ZZT/MegaZeux work is also pretty popular. Did that come before or after your time with Game-Maker?

I recall working with ZZT around the same time, and sometime after as well. Later I got into Megazeux, and it was very much the same situation as with Game-Maker; A couple of my games made it online, but I had a great deal of unfinished work that never saw the light of day.

Does that material still exist somewhere?

It would’ve been nice to have saved those old games, and all the missing material from my ZZT/MZX days. I’ve lost of lot of data to various computer crashes and hardware mishaps over the years… suffice to say, I’m very careful about backing things up these days.

How would you compare the experiences of working with ZZT/Megazeux and Game-Maker?

zeux0

I was much more of an active part of the community during my MZX days. I’d say I spent a lot more time with ZZT/MZX than Game-Maker. Being able to code objects opened up a lot of possibilities

Are you still involved in game design now?

Yes, but not in a professional capacity. There’s an indie project that I’m creating the graphics for, but it’ll be awhile before it gets off the ground. I haven’t created anything game-wise since my Megazeux days.

Can you say anything more at the current stage? What flavor of game is it? The other team members — have they worked on anything else before?

It’ll be a Web-based RPG set in a post-apocalyptic earth, and it involves big robots. It’s just me and another guy, and neither of us have put something like this together before.

Is this a console or PC-style game with full avatars and exploration, or is this more of the Facebook-style stats-and-inventory game? Is this for a single player?

2008_07_02_kingdom

Closest genre I can lump it in is a roguelike. Basically a turn-based dungeon crawl with many random elements. It’s a “light” roguelike in that there’s no permanent character death. It’s essentially single player, but the economy will be global… You’ll be able to buy from or sell to other players. In execution it’ll be sort of like
Kingdom of Loathing.

What platform are you using for this? Flash?

AJAX… essentially PHP and Javascript. The goal is to have it be accessible from as many platforms as possible, and keep server strain to a minimum.

That does sound super portable. Do you have plans to specially tweak and adjust it for different platforms? I’m thinking of how a Roguelike might play on, say, an iPad.

The beauty part is that anything with web access that can handle javascript should run it just fine. It’d actually work wonderfully on an iPad.

I’ve noticed that lately you seem mostly to have circled back around to comics again. Was this something you rediscovered, or was it always going on in the background?

I’ve always had some comic projects going on in the background. Mechageddon is going to feature a lot of comic-related content… when I get around to doing some finished work, anyway. I’ve definitely been interested in getting back into game design lately, especially after the frustrations of trying to compete in the webcomics arena.

A friend of mine keeps joking that we should create Blinky 4… but that’d just be ridiculous.

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