//Terry Cavanagh Can't Stop Making Games

by Chris Cantoni
Terry Cavanagh

"Indie games tend to be more personal," Terry Cavanagh argues, "Every small detail in a game gives you a sense of the person who made it, and that's just something you don't get in a game that's made by a big group of people." It might explain why the talented game maker has stuck to making independent games instead of working for a triple-A company. Cavanagh, the creator of indie hit VVVVVV, was recently named as one of Forbes' 30 under 30 in entertainment, a prestigious achievement for anyone, let alone a small developer based in England who "started out using BASIC on a Commodore 64" and has never had a multimillion dollar budget or a crack team of programmers.

"I get inspired by some idea or other, and build everything around that." he explains. VVVVVV, the side-scrolling platformer that was a 2010 IndieCade Festival award winner, replaces jumping with the player inverting their own gravity, turning the concept of a platformer quite literally on its head. "It started with the mechanic - basically I just wanted to make something that explored this one mechanic in detail." It sounds almost too rudimentary, and yet VVVVVV harkens back to the old school gamer in all of us: ridiculously simple controls combined with increasingly intricate levels to make a maddeningly addictive and sometimes frustrating game. Playing VVVVVV feels like stepping back in time to the unforgiving but deeply satisfying gameplay of Pitfall or Super Mario Bros.

Cavanagh was back at IndieCade the very next year, with 2011 Finalist, At a Distance. Instead of platforming, this time it was the notion of multiplayer Cavanagh wanted to explore. At a Distance puts two cooperative players next to each other on separate screens, and together they must work out how to guide themselves through a confusing maze of rooms. "At a Distance came about from thinking about games that would work with a non traditional setup." In the game they can't interact, and must rely completely on talking each other through the puzzle. While most multiplayer games are designed toward conflict, At a Distance wanted to explore collaboration.

Cavanagh has done remarkably well at the IndieCade Festival two years in a row. "It's been really positive. Winning that award with VVVVVV in 2010 meant a lot to me, and it was a huge honour to be a finalist again in 2011. The festival's fantastic." As one of the leaders of the indie games movement, Cavanagh looks forward to what comes next. "A lot of people are identifying as indie now who maybe wouldn't have identified as indie in the past, which is cool - I like that it's such an inclusive term. But I hope that IndieCade will continue to highlight the sort of games it has up to now, regardless of what the term indie ends up meaning in the future."

"Every small detail in a game gives you a sense of the person who made it, and that's just something you don't get in a game that's made by a big group of people."
Terry Cavanagh

The future for Cavanagh is bright, but as to where that might lead, "I just follow where my inspiration takes me." Whether exploring the traditional hero myth in Don't Look Back or a creepy castle in Judith, Cavanagh's inspiration always seems to lead somewhere interesting. VVVVVV was recently released on 3DS and At a Distance was nominated for the Nuovo Award at the Independent Games Festival. As for what's next for Cavanagh, aside from the growing collection of games available at his blog distractionware, or his new venture, free indie games, "mainly an RPG I'm working on with another game developer, Jonas Kyratzes... the working title is 'Nexus City.' I'm hoping to make it my main focus this year."

Whatever project of Cavanagh's surfaces next, it will certainly be nontraditional, and given his track record I, for one, can't wait.