The full transcript is below, but here are the main points:
- The Men Who Wear Many Hats are responsible for indie instant classic Organ Trail Director’s Cut. The game is available on virtually every platform, has over a million players, and exceeded its Kickstarter goal by 500%.
- The game succeeds by being a combination of things people love; zombies and nostalgic game play.
- They were influenced to do a retro title in part because it brought down the barrier of superior animation skills.
- Ryan predicts that retro titles will continue to be popular because they are an accessible way for new indie talent to enter the market.
IAN : This morning I’m speaking with Ryan Wiemeyer, co-founder of the indie games studio, The Men Who Wear Many Hats, and co-author of the cult sensation Organ Trail: Director’s Cut which had well over a half a million players in its first year and overshot its Kickstarter goal by 500 percent. Thank you for joining me, Ryan.
RYAN: Hi! Thanks for having me.
IAN : So Ryan, what do you think contribute most to Organ Trail: Director’s Cut‘s success?
RYAN: Well, the game pretty much sold itself, I’d say. It’s a combination of things that people love—there’s zombies, there’s nostalgia. And then there’s—like kind of the retro look which kind of fits in the nostalgia as well. When—like, the game named itself. It’s kind of a pun—Organ Trail as opposed to Oregon Trail. And a lot of times, people walk by to see it and they go like, “Oh, I get it.” And then like they get the pun and all of a sudden they get the game play. And they just think about, “Well, what happened if you could—zombies in Oregon Trail?” It just sold itself at that point. So I think that’s probably the reason it’s doing us pretty well.
IAN : Yes. When I first started playing it a few weeks ago, I kind of felt like, this is one of those stories that must have been easy to write. Like it must have written itself. Once you had the idea out there, it seemed so obvious.
RYAN: Yes. I mean, when we came up with the idea originally, it was just like, Organ Trail is already a game about traveling West with a small group of people and dying slowly and scavenging for supplies, to some degree. And there’s like diseases already built in. They just—it’s aligned so well with the original flash works that we made. At this point, maybe three years ago had—it’s almost a one-for-one homage. Like, we just literally re-textured and re-worded everything. Like, tried to build the game from the ground up to look exactly the same. And it was only for the Director’s Cut that we’re selling now that we decided, “Okay, we should probably make this our own.” And we added a whole new bunch of stuff to it.
IAN : Can you tell me more about what convinced you to co-author a retro game?
RYAN: (Ha) So originally, The Men Who Wear Many Hats was just two dudes sitting in a living room and that really changed too much. And that’s two dudes sitting in my home office which is just like 10 feet away from where I used to be. And we just—we wanted to make really cheap, accessible games because the three of us in the team at that time, had just graduated from college and got real jobs and we didn’t really—we weren’t used to the—like, work on something for two or three years’ vibe. We’re used to the work on something every 10 weeks of college. So we were like, “Okay. We’ll try to make a bunch of tiny games and make them accessible,” because we used to make games in Unreal that like, had to be installed in its proper way and they’re like, multi-player. Nobody ever played them. Like, they didn’t really exist in the wild. They only existed in our play test. And so we’re like, “Okay. Let’s make really tiny flash games”—our website—because everybody can play flash games. And that’s where it started—is just like—we wanted to make things to share with people. But then, people started really liking this one and saying, “Hey, I really want to play this on my phone.” I think the first year was like 600,000 hits. And at this point, we’ve got over a million players for the flash version. So, like that’s the best marketing tool for the full version that we can ever come up with. So… (Ha)
IAN : Yes. You guys had some serious following very quickly. Do you think the whole nostalgia element really helped build up that following?
RYAN: Yes. Absolutely. I mean, like, I said, we’re tapping into multiple different fan bases. And like, anybody who grew up in America knows our source material, which, you know, like, it’s a little weird if I run into somebody from Japan or Europe. And they’re like, “Yes, no. I don’t know what it says.” Oh, my God. Sorry.
IAN : (Ha)
RYAN: It becomes a lot more difficult to pitch it because it’s like, “Oh, it’s based on this really old kind of crappy educational game.” “Well, whatever.” It’s about zombies.
IAN : I’m sure you’re aware that we have this whole bit revival movement going on in the gaming culture right now. Chip tune music and other people doing retro games or pixel kinds of games. Do you think, even if this sounds a little oxymoronic, that there’s a future for retro gaming? Or is this just a fad?
RYAN: Oh, okay. So—and part of your question that I forgot to answer was the reason that we got to doing Organ Trail—is because we had two programmers and a designer, and not really anything else. And so I do art as a hobby. It’s like, I can do it badly. So I ended up becoming artist for the flash version and making really retro art specifically set like the Atari II—was within my capacity because it was like, “All right. Well, make a dude with like, 15 colors and like, 30 pixels.” And so that limitation makes it really easy—to figure out. It’s like there’s so many possible ways you can draw a guy. And you only have like, with one kind of pink. And so it was very much within our capacity to make this retro game. And I think the reason that retros are going to stick around is because it’s pretty easy to convey an idea and you don’t need to be a beautiful illustrator. And so it’s really the idea that’s—it’s a low-fi communication channel that makes it easy for somebody to represent an environment characters all this stuff that’s relatable in some fashion and recognizable in some fashion, and anybody can do it. So I think that’s the strength of retro gaming. I remember the other day, I saw a thread on Reddit. It was like, “Man, how come indie games don’t have like HD graphics? Like, they’re such cheap bastards, I’m so tired of retro.” And it just seemed so out-of- touch to me because if I didn’t realize that—that indies generally don’t have money. And so (ha) these HD models that get made and big games are touched by like, anywhere between three and 10 people—for animation, and rigging, and texturing, and concepting, and all this stuff. It’s just like a simple sprite sheet. That only needs one person.
IAN : Well, thank you for speaking with me, Ryan. If you haven’t already, then you can play Organ Trail: Director’s Cut on Mac, PC, Linux, iOS, or Android. Available through Steam. Desura and Amazon Apps. Also, check out more from Ryan and The Men Who Wear Many Hats at hatsproductions.com.
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