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Taking Independent Videogame Developers out of context since 2010.

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About  

A Common Thead: Jeremy Penner

I’m Jeremy Penner, a 30-year-old programmer from rural Manitoba, currently living in Ottawa, ON in Canada. I’ve been making videogames more or less since I learned how to read. I founded Glorious Trainwrecks in 2007, started an online monthly 2-hour game jam called the Klik of the Month Klub, and organized the first Pirate Karts, where people are encouraged to make as many games as possible in a single weekend.

I play the guitar badly, the accordion atrociously, the piano fairly well, and I’m currently employed making audio tour apps for museums.

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You started Glorious Trainwrecks over 5 years ago. How did it all begin?

So, around the time I started Glorious Trainwrecks, I had recently started working in the US at a small company started by a wealthy computing pioneer doing ambitious R&D-type work, building a tool for software development that I was pretty sure was going to change the world. This was surreal dream-job territory for me; for the first time in my career, I was working at a place where I believed strongly in the importance of what I was doing, working with people that I admired greatly. I once got a phone call from my boss FROM SPACE. This was everything I thought I’d wanted in life.

Except that it turned out I was miserable and that I had stopped doing anything that was any fun at all. I was living in a foreign country with no real friends except my wife, and I was paralyzed by a terrible perfectionism - an unshakable terror that if I wasn’t meticulously careful, if everything wasn’t just so, if I didn’t work hard enough, if I wasn’t smart enough, I would screw all of it up. I had gotten fired from my previous (terrible) job after a month because I couldn’t motivate myself to do it; now I worked at what I’d believed would be my dream job and I still had trouble.

So one day I was up at 2AM playing old DOS freeware and thinking about the terrible QBASIC games I had enjoyed making so much as a kid, when I dug out a game called The Last Eichhof, and I realized that I hadn’t played anything so delightfully stupid in a long time. I was more inspired by failed videogame experiments than anything else in my life, so I decided that I’d create a place to celebrate them, and make more of them. It was really just an excuse to give myself permission to make imperfect stuff, and talk about playing weird 3DO games.

Klik of the Month is a 2 hour game jam that happens once a month. Explain the appeal of making a game in 2 hours?

The two hour time limit came about kind of arbitrarily, but I like it because it forces you to be really decisive. If you’re going to make a game in two hours, there is no room for second-guessing yourself: you ask yourself a question, and you pretty much run with the first answer that pops into your head. It gets you into a habit of saying yes to yourself.

The other nice thing about the 2 hour time limit is that basically anybody can set aside two hours of their lives to do something. It’s hard to set aside an entire weekend for doing just one activity, especially if you’re worried that you might not get a result that you’re happy with. But if you commit to having a game at the end of two hours, no matter how stupid or broken, well, that’s basically a strictly better use of your time than say, watching a bad movie on TV.

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What do you hope to achieve with Glorious Trainwrecks and Klik of the Month?

When I started, I just wanted to play weird games and encourage my friends to make weird games. In that, I’ve been way more successful than I’d imagined. I host more weird, amazing games now than I could possibly ever play.

I’d really like to see other people doing the same thing. I’d love to put out some kind of a game-making-community-in-a-box; something that anyone could easily set up so that they could have a place to make stuff with their friends; personal spaces for people to create together with people that they like and trust.

But really, Glorious Trainwrecks is about removing roadblocks to creativity. I was very conscious of all of the things that I was putting in my own way when I started running it - mostly from seeing one of my good friends have trouble getting going and realizing that they were probably problems for him, too. Everything flowed from the simple idea that you should just make SOMETHING. We lay out rules for Klik of the Month, but it’s a common refrain that if there are any rules that get in the way of you making what you want to make, rather than helping, then you should disregard them.

You’ve had enthusiastic support and participation from all manner of videogame developers such as Leon Arnott, Sergio Cornaga and chuchino all the way to the likes of higher profile videogame developers, Anna Anthropy and Terry Cavanagh. Did you expect such high profile and loyal participants?

That is something I’m really proud of, that people who make their living on indie games participate in the same event as people who have never made a game before, and everyone is comfortable and happy with that. But when I started, no, I was pretty much assuming it was going to be me and a couple of buddies who were also into weird games, posting some stuff for a few months before we all lost interest and moved on to something else.

Anna and I actually worked together writing for the Gamer’s Quarter, years ago. She’s been pretty instrumental in championing the cause and helping me understand the value in what I had built.

Have the higher profile names in turn attracted a higher level of participation?

Given that I do absolutely no promotion of the community on my own, probably. ¬†Definitely when Rise of the Videogame Zinesters came out, we saw a number of people show up and make their first game and put it up on Glorious Trainwrecks, which was pretty cool. But the community has remained pretty small over time. I don’t think we’ve ever had a Klik of the Month with more than, say, 20 people submitting something.

I honestly have no idea how people find us and decide to participate. Certainly the Pirate Karts have been helped with a lot with prominent indies spreading the word, and there’s always some portion of people who stick around after a Pirate Kart. But as far as the people regularly showing up and making games? I have no idea how people find us or what makes them stick around.

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There’s a line on the front page of Glorious Trainwrecks: "Together, you and I will bring the true spirit of indie gaming back."¬†Explain what this means?

People just doing what they want to do and putting it out into the world. You know, when I was growing up, my role models were college kids who were making stupid games in their spare time. I’d write letters to shareware authors. I remember working very hard as like a 12-year-old to track down the authors of a game called Megapede so that I could write them an earnest letter about how sampling one-liners from movies for sound effects probably was in violation of copyright law, because I was worried they’d get in trouble.

I have a deep and abiding love for old shareware, because it was almost all made by people who didn’t have the resources to compete with what was being sold in stores, so they just kind of did what they could. They just had a good time making stuff, the best way they could figure out how. Like, I remember when South Park first came out, and people wanted so badly to play South Park videogames that the only thing they could think to do was to make horrible platformers and Space Invaders clones in Klik & Play. I just love that enthusiasm, that desire to make something even though you don’t really know how. That’s what I had in mind when I wrote that.

What are your thoughts on longer 2 or 3 day game jams such as Ludum Dare or Global Game Jam?

Love ‘em! I did Ludum Dare for years before I started Glorious Trainwrecks. Anything that gives people an opportunity to try to do something that they really want to do is a great thing in my book.

That said, one thing about other game jams that really bugs me is when there’s emphasis on competition. As soon as you make it a contest, you have to have “rules” to make sure that it’s “fair”, or whatever. Maybe that gets other people excited? I don’t know. I sort of find it discouraging, when I’m not actively ignoring it, which is generally how I deal. If I take four days to make something for Ludum Dare, say, I don’t want to get told my work doesn’t count. The point of making games isn’t to see who is better at making games, it’s to make what you want to make.

Notes

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