This is the face of a British indie game developer. Examine it. Imagine your hands caressing his cheeks. Feel your fingers play over his ears. You are touching Cliff Harris of Positech Games. And this is the third in our series of spotlights on indie game developers. Our first spotlight was one on our own studio, Dejobaan Games. The second was on Alex Neuse of Gaijin Games.
Before we jump in... If you played AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! -- A Reckless Disregard for Gravity and loved it, you will hopefully be overjoyed to hear that we just became IGF Finalists!!!!
--> LEO JAITLEY OF DEJOBAAN GAMES: Please introduce yourself! Who are you, and what's your background as a game developer?
CLIFFSKI: I'm Cliff Harris, an English geek who started programming age 11 (yes really), but had a detour as a rock star wannabe before ending up working at Elixir, and then at Lionhead before eventually going full time as bedroom coder, about 20 years after everyone else did it.
--> LEO JAITLEY: I've heard through the grapevine that you just bought a new mansion. Congratulations! Care to tell us about it?
CLIFFSKI: I have indeed moved out into 'the sticks' as we say over here. I used to live near Guildford, but I've moved to deepest Wiltshire into a very strange house built 20 years before Napoleon was born. It has a well in the cellar and we occasionally find pheasants and deer in the garden. It's about as English as it could possibly be. If you ignore the TV aerial it would actually look at home in a BBC costume drama. Plus it's not far from Salisbury plain where they train British tanks, so you see 'warning, tanks crossing' signs locally. It's cool.
--> LEO JAITLEY: They call you Cliffski - I thought you were English, not Polish! (Who came up with your nickname?)
CLIFFSKI: I worked for a guy who was called muffski, so they called me cliffski. I don't know why. I'm not polish. It was best not to ask questions back then.
--> LEO JAITLEY: Gratuitous Space Battles. A good name or a great name for a space game?
CLIFFSKI: An awesome name. Plus it doubles up as a great headline for reviews.
--> LEO JAITLEY:Why did you go indie? What did you mum, dad, husband, or wife say when you said you were "going indie"?
CLIFFSKI: My better half is very supportive. Other relatives are suspicious. I'm not sure they really understand that I don't have a boss, or that I'm not unemployed. People in my family don't start businesses as a rule. There is always a lot of nervous twiddling of thumbs when we all get together and people bitch about their employer. Still, I was a boatbuilder, then a musician, then I worked on financial software, so it's nothing new for them to not really understand what I do for a living.
--> LEO JAITLEY:Tell us about your workspace - are you a "work from home while watching Oprah" kinda dev, a "get out of bed and trudge through the snow to the office" kind, or something else?
CLIFFSKI: I only trudge downstairs to the office, but it is freezing in this house, so I wouldn't rule out snow in the living room. I do actually leap out of bed and code straight away. I'm not the stereotypical lazy geek who starts at 10AM. I'm coding by 8.30 most days. To clarify, that's in the morning...
--> LEO JAITLEY: You wake up on a Wednesday morning. Congratulations -- you have a full day's work ahead of you! What do you get done in the first hour?
CLIFFSKI: Email. Email is the first warning sign of disaster, so I check it first. I always check the sales to make sure they haven't totally collapsed, and I zap through my website forums to check for anything really urgent. I have this guarantee that people can redownload a game they bought even 10 years ago, so over the years that builds up into a constant trickle of emails from people who need their download link re-activated, so there are always some of them. I flip through a lot of games news sites quickly as I eat my bacon butty too.
--> LEO JAITLEY: Okay, go on and tell us about the subsequent 10 hours.
CLIFFSKI: Lots of staring at code, then some typing. A bacon sandwich. Then some frowning. Some Tea. Then some more typing. Some staring at code. A bigger sandwich and maybe crisps. Then some frowning. Some Tea. Then some staring at code. Some typing. Then lamb meatballs with spaghetti. Then a game of Company of heroes, accompanied by white wine. Then some typing, some staring at code, some tea, and bed.
--> LEO JAITLEY: Would you classify yourself as more of an artist or a tech wiz? Master of biz? Maybe you do it all, tell us about it Jack...ummm Cliff
CLIFFSKI: I do everything at a level slightly above mediocre. hence my immense success. I'm probably not a tech wiz. I'm very good at working out what I need to know, and working with it. I know the C++ and the php and the marketing that I need. A lot of tech geeks become experts on irrelevant stuff they never use. I think it's called .Net. I just don't waste time learning stuff I don't need. That's why I can't swim or click my fingers. If I did a game about an underwater wizard who cast spells by clicking his fingers, clearly I'd rectify that.
--> LEO JAITLEY: We have a few favorite moments in our studio's history -- care to share one of yours?
CLIFFSKI: Feargal Sharky led a chorus of Happy Birthday to me at a press conference on my last birthday. That never happened when I was a boatbuilder. I was very happy to get the boxed copy of Kudos, just because the box looks fantastic. I also got to write an article on games for the national 'Guardian' newspaper, and thus tell everyone I was a proper paid journalist. That was fun.
--> LEO JAITLEY: Tell us about a game that inspired you to MAKE games.
CLIFFSKI: Elite. Or Sim City. They are both so staggeringly awesome given how small the code was, that it just boggles my mind. I always feel that the ghost of the still-alive David Braben is sitting on my shoulder saying "You have 2 gig of RAM, is that the best you can do?"
--> LEO JAITLEY: A picture's worth a thousand words. Got any photos you'd like to share of...yourself, your team. (Before coffee. After coffee. Whatevs.)
CLIFFSKI: I am the team. I hire people to do work for different games, depending on requirements. I've used the composer Jesse Hopkins a lot. I used a great spacehip artist called Charles Oines too. I have visual studio dominating my workspace. That and the windows sidebar, just so I can watch the value of the dollar exchange rate through gritted teeth, and grumble about the weather on twitter. Back in meatspace, my new office is pretty good because there is a tree right by the window that has a bird feeder on it, and I often spot a squirrel hanging on to it by his teeth, which amuses me vastly.
--> LEO JAITLEY: Is there a question you wish we had just asked you (and what's the answer?)?
CLIFFSKI: You didn't ask me if I was really married at Vegas by Elvis, or about driving that Challenger Tank. Or if it's true that I taught Richard E Grant to use a computer, Or me winning a helicopter lesson in a gunfight, Or about my father being a redshirt in Star Trek TOS. And you certainly didn't ask me which one of those I made up.
So, there you have it. An interview by Dejobaan Games with fellow indie Positech Games. Like this article? Check out some of our others with the likes of Dejobaan founder Ichiro and Gaijin Games. Or, better yet, check out Aaaaa! because it's awesome."