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These Men, These Behemoths:
The Secrets of Alien Hominid

We won't hurt you like those other game developers...
In an industry dominated by eye-popping graphics and efforts to either recapture a movie experience or teach you the mean streets, a little game stood out last year. In the face of all standards, Alien Hominid took a step back and got attention for it. Hand-drawn, in fact almost crudely so, the game even went back to being a side-scroller.

So what made it work? Maybe it was just that the thing has personality. Whatever the reason, it's fun. Apparently the industry agrees, showering the game with awards.

This year at Comic-Con, I caught up with one of the personalities behind the game, John Baez, a co-owner of The Behemoth, the studio behind Alien Hominid.

Fanboy Planet: Do you qualify as the Behemoth?

John Baez: I am the Behemoth. Actually, the Behemoth is four guys. I run the Behemoth company, and there are three other co-owners.

Fanboy Planet: What inspired you guys to form the Behemoth in the first place?

John Baez: The biggest inspiration for us was the ability to look at what was happening in the game industry and realize that just licensed products were being made. And a lot of sequels. Remember, this was a little over two years ago.

Being on the production side of a videogame company, a number of us decided that we wanted to form a new kind of company that focused on developing risky intellectual property that nobody else was doing. That's kind of what inspired us to do it.

We had the technical ability to do it. We had the concept. It was already proven on NewGrounds, so sure, why not?

On the consoles and over your shoulder...
Fanboy Planet: Alien Hominid started out as an online game?

John Baez: It was originally hosted on Newgrounds.com and it immediately went to being one of the most popular games. It was a very interactive, very simple 2D side-scroller. Very primitive.

And we looked at it as a possibility to really do something new in the console game industry. So we decided to make it into a console game.

Fanboy Planet: So let's try to make this make sense. You decided to do something new by essentially doing something very old. Doing a side-scrolling game when the rest of the industry has gone toward 3D.

John Baez: Well, sure. Working in the industry, building 3D models all day and doing hyper-realism gets so boring. It was like, why isn't anybody doing something that's graphically different, rendered differently, that's still fun to play?

Alien Hominid is that. It's all hand-drawn. 95% of it is drawn by one guy. So you're really back in the old-time of the one inspirational artistic fountain that creates the look and feel of the game.

A lot of that is lost in the game industry today, because you have teams of a hundred and fifty people working. You have one guy that all he does is model bricks, and make sure that brick looks exactly right.

Fanboy Planet: So it's one man's vision?

John Baez: Right. That's why we have Dan sign the front of the game as the featured artist. Dan's also a co-owner.

Fanboy Planet: And why the hand-drawn? There's got to be an easier way.

John Baez: No, actually. It's kind of like going into an art museum or gallery. You don't go into an art gallery to buy a perfectly photographed scene or perfectly photographed person. You go into an art gallery to buy the interpretation of a scene or a figure that's done by an artist. It's not photo real.

That's why it was important for us to get back. How do you do stuff that's visually engaging to the user? You do that by connecting them back up with the artist.

Fanboy Planet: You're really doing it for the art. How rare is that in the gaming industry?

John Baez: Pretty rare. Pretty rare. We got quite a bit of kudos for doing that because we put the risk back into it. Here's somebody willing to stand up for his art. It was important that he was willing to do that, not get lost in a crowd. Not follow the trend of everybody.

We had done some 3D prototypes. And it was terrible. It looked like everything else. It's kind of cool at the beginning, but then all of a sudden it was just like everything else that was out there - why did we even bother doing this?

Fanboy Planet: What's been the reaction? I know you've won many awards, but what about with actual game players?
In touch with fans...
John Baez: Oh, yeah, we've got die-hard fans all over the world now. We charted on the independent chart in Europe. Sales have been going so well there. We've won a dozen awards. We've really been recognized by both the game players and our peers in the game industry for doing something different.

Our story is a little bit different because we self-funded the entire game. We didn't go to a publisher with a concept and say, "why don't you give us a whole bunch of money and we'll make you a great game?" We went with pretty much a complete game to a bunch of different publishers and got a number of different offers.

Pretty much everywhere you could go on the decision tree for development, we turned it on its head. We've gotten some well-deserved credit for what we're doing because of that.

Fanboy Planet: Do you want to continue an Alien Hominid franchise? You've got the dolls. Where do you want to go with it?

John Baez: When looking at life after Alien Hominid, it was important to us that we didn't jump into a sequel right away. That's what all the other companies do. They want last year's game wrapped up in a new piece of wrapping paper.

It was such a tremendous amount of work for such a small team to put out Alien Hominid that we wanted to be inspired again by something new.

Fanboy Planet: And you have a piece of that game here. It's untitled, and I don't know how much you can talk about it, but I can at least say it's medieval-themed, right?

John Baez: No title yet. It's a four-player game. It is a 2D side-scroller, but whereas in Alien Hominid you were locked into the 2D, since we have four players you can move forward and backward. It adds some good energy to the game.

Fanboy Planet: What titles have you discarded for the game?

John Baez is just happy to be here...
John Baez: (laughs) I can't even tell you. We would get in trouble. Oh, yeah, we would get in trouble...what it won't be called. You look at Medieval Times and people can probably guess where we're going with the title. We want it to be evident.

But since this is such a sneak preview and not the real big preview launch, we want to keep it under wraps.

Fanboy Planet: Is this your first Comic-Con appearance?

John Baez: No. This is our third year. We started in a small 10 by 10 booth. We thought it was going to be a total waste of time and money. It was really expensive for us our first year.

We realized after the first couple of hours in 2003 that Comic-Con is the place for independent development. Whether you're doing comic books or videogames that have something to do with hand animation, because you get right into contact with the users. You get a lot of them. You get a lot of feedback, and you get a lot of positive people.

That's why we come back every year. We're local to San Diego so it's really easy for us. We throw everything into vans and drive on down to the Convention Center.

It's just so great to be in touch with the fans.

Derek McCaw

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