The indie gaming community was taken by surprise in late February when Gaijin Games, creators of the BIT.TRIP series, announced that long-time engineer Chris Osborn was leaving to pursue his own endeavor. That endeavor is Tracer, a new studio that Osborn is working diligently to get off the ground.
Tracer’s first official game is still wrapped in secrecy, with the only known detail being that it is targeted for a Fall 2011 release date. However, Tracer’s website sums up the studio’s mission in four simple words: “indie games future music.”
I was fortunate enough to speak with Tracer’s founder, Chris Osborn, on the studio’s progress, mission, and upcoming first release. Along the way, Osborn also discussed his ongoing relationship with his friends at Gaijin, the adjustment to going solo, and his past at Eidos.
IGC: What led to your decision to branch off from Gaijin Games and how difficult was it to leave?
Chris Osborn: Working with the guys at Gaijin Games was easily the most rewarding part of my career. Everyday was fast, fun, and full of challenges. But as the BIT.TRIP series was ending, I couldn’t ignore the itch to move in a new direction. So Tracer became my little experiment to see what a game programmer / music nerd can do on his own.
IGC: It’s been less than two months since the Gaijin Games blog broke the news that you were leaving. Have you been in touch with your old partners (Alex Neuse, Mike Roush, Danny Johnson) since your departure? Have they offered any input or advice to help you get Tracer off the ground?
Chris Osborn: Oh yeah, we definitely keep in touch. A few beers here and a few more beers there! Santa Cruz is a small town so it’s best to combine forces for maximum domination. Don’t forget we have Team Meat and now GRL Games (Graeme Devine) in the house too! Everybody’s been super supportive.
IGC: Heading up your own gaming studio is a huge endeavor and I can only imagine that it hasn’t been easy. What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced while trying to launch Tracer?
Chris Osborn: Well, one of the hardest parts for me has been adjusting to working from home. I’ve was totally an office guy, so now it’s pretty surreal spending your whole day and night in the same little box! Another tough thing is forging a new creative process. I’ve had to learn how to fire up the ol’ right brain and catch original ideas as they float by. I always thought programming was hard, but man, this art, design, and music stuff is killer!
IGC: Up to now, you’ve largely been known as one of the faces behind Gaijin Games, but you also had some past experience as a Lead Programmer for Tomb Raider: Underworld. What’s been the biggest difference between working independently (Gaijin) and working for a larger-scale publisher (Eidos)?
Chris Osborn: By far, the biggest difference is creative control. When you work with companies like Crystal Dynamics and Eidos, there’s always another layer above you (and often a few more above that!), all with opinions of how the product should look and play. And that’s not a bad thing for a global brand like Tomb Raider. As a programmer in this scenario, I found it best to kind of ignore the creative side and focus on the cool tech behind the scenes.
In contrast, at Gaijin we started with an original concept and our publisher, Aksys Games gave us full reign over the features, difficulty, marketing, all that stuff! They provided great support along the way, but they never wanted to alter the creative vision we had going on. Well, that’s not entirely true: we did have to comply with the anti-seizure guidelines and tone the graphics down. You should’ve seen it before.
IGC: What advice can you offer young indie developers that are looking to develop their first game or even launch their own studio?
Chris Osborn: The best way to get good at making games is to make more of them! So get a copy of Game Maker, Unity, Flash, or whatever feels best for you, and make as many as possible. Your first games probably won’t turn out like you see the one in your head, but it might be even more awesome! Then get your games to as many people as possible and see what people like. If enough people dig them, it may be time to start a little company to sell them. Oh, and if there’s a game jam in the area… do it!
IGC: Part of Tracer’s mission statement, as seen on your Facebook page, is to bridge the gap between music and games. In what ways are you planning to do that?
Chris Osborn: People are saying the music game is dead. I think it’s just stuck on repeat. Trying to make music games for the masses simply leads to homogenized pop serving for the soundtrack. The global music scene is literally exploding right now, with some of the best music I’ve ever heard coming out of LA, Brazil, Sweden, Africa… you name it. And thanks to the hyper-connected nature of this era, this stuff is transcending the usual boundaries and crossing over into live visuals, fashion, and art. Tracer’s mission is to bring games into this intoxicating cultural mix.
IGC: Who are some of the artists and musicians that you’ve been collaborating with?
Chris Osborn: Ah, it’s a bit too early to say yet, but I am talking with a few of my favorite musicians about collaborations. I also bought myself a MIDI keyboard and I’m trying to spawn some beats of my own… but let’s just say I may need to rely on the pros for that.
IGC: I know you’ve had your hands full and that your first project is largely under wraps, but can you offer a clue to readers as to what they should expect from Tracer’s first release?
Chris Osborn: Man, I wish I could drop a clue, but honestly I’m still swimming in prototypes right now. The plan is to get a decent product out by the Fall on PC/Mac, with iOS following after that. I can say that if you dig the BIT.TRIP games, you’ll feel right at home with Tracer’s work. If you’re curious, follow my blog while I try to work out an audio/visual aesthetic that matches my games.
IGC: Thank you, Chris Osborn, for taking the time to speak with us about Tracer!
Those looking to follow Tracer’s ongoing growth can do so through Tracer’s Facebook page and Chris Osborn’s Twitter feed. Osborn’s Tumblr page also includes various music clips and offers a taste of what to expect from Tracer’s first game. Indie Games Channel will follow Tracer’s progress and release more details on their first title when they become available.
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