College Corner: Interview with David Rosen, computer game-creator extraordinaire

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

While some Swatties find themselves calling home for cash, at least one of us is an entrepreneur already. David Rosen ’08 has found a way to turn his love for gamemaking into a profitable enterprise. For more than a year he has run his own company, Wolfire Software, with some fellow Swatties and sold four games over the internet via shareware. He has garnered numerous awards from uDevGames for new Mac games. He is currently working on a sequel to his most famous game, Lugaru, which revolves around ninja rabbit fights.

Daily Gazette: You started your own computer game company more than a year ago. How does it feel, looking back on those early days– are you nostalgic? Proud? Surprised?

David Rosen: I am mostly surprised at how “professional” my game development hobby is becoming. I started working on Lugaru about two years ago, towards the end of high school, and nobody (including myself) really thought it was anything more than a ‘phase’ of some kind. I was a bit embarrassed to charge money for Lugaru, because I did not expect that anyone would want to be play a fighting game involving ninja rabbits. Fortunately, it was surprisingly popular! Now just a year or two later I have a dozen people working for me, and am working on a new game that will (in my opinion) be more fun and have higher production values than games from the major development studios.

DG: How did you come up with the idea to make rabbits fight in your latest game Lugaru?

DR: There are many reasons why I chose rabbit warriors over, say, human ninja. First, I wanted to make the combat in this game to be very visceral and realistic, and did not want to associate fun with realistic human violence. Also, humans are inherently sensitive to how other humans should look, so if I model and animate realistic humans I cannot be creative at all with their proportions or motion. The rabbit warrior world and concept also makes Lugaru stand out from other action games. If I had decided to make yet another ninja game, or space marine game, or WW2 shooter, it would just blend in with every other cookie cutter game in that genre, but when gamers hear about a 3D rabbit combat game, they stop and check it out.

Lugaru 2 will have much deeper characters and environments, and the anthropomorphic animals can help with that too. I can avoid preconceived notions of how heroes and villains should look and act and sound, and instead let the player judge characters entirely based on what they do or say. By using different animal species, I can address issues of nature vs. nurture, and racial relationships, without interference from preconceived ideas and stigma. The world of Lugaru can provide a breath of fresh air for gamers who are tired of cliched high fantasy and science fiction settings.

DG: What is the best thing about working with your peers to develop computer games? How has your game development technique changed after the switch from lone game-maker to company coordinator?

DR: Since I am taking five credits of classes at Swarthmore, I do not have quite so much time as I did back in high school, so it would just not be possible to do all of the artwork myself again. By working with other game developers, I can focus more on design and programming, and not have to worry about the content so much. When I was working alone on Lugaru 1, I decided to add a sword weapon. I then had to balance out the gameplay design, then draw, model, and texture the sword, then animate the sword combat movements, then program in weapon physics, then create sound effects for drawing, sheathing, swinging, and dropping swords, and so on. This whole process took over a week to do. Now I can distribute the work much more easily, and get things done much more quickly. This will make it possible to create a much more varied and expansive world.

DG: What is truly spectacular about creating shareware?

DR: By releasing my games as shareware, I do not have to worry about publishing and advertising. I just send press releases out to news sites when I release new information about my projects, and if they are interested, they publish it. If the readers are intrigued by the news, or article, or interview, they go to my site and download the trial version. Then if they like it, they buy the full version. This process feels more honest and straightforward than the commercial game development procedure of smothering news sites in advertising, and then buying good reviews from them. I like the idea that gamers buy the full version because they really liked the trial version, and the quality of the reviews correspond to the quality of the game.

DG: What are your feelings on rabbit-hunting, considering the amount of violence your own rabbits commit in Lugaru?

DR: I don’t really have strong feelings on the subject, but I do think it would be a bit fairer if the rabbits could break out their mad kung fu skills and fight back. I also think it would be preferable if hunters killed virtual animals rather than real ones.

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