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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Cellarfold

Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, we discover some interesting treasures in Jeff Smith’s free, browser-based adventure, Cellarfold.

What’s your game called and what’s it about?

Cellarfold is a 2D action-adventure-fantasy game about dreams and nightmares. It plays in the top-down, screen-by-screen style of the original Zelda, a format I’ve been obsessed with for years. I tried to balance action with exploration-based gameplay: a non-linear map, hidden items, and mechanics that are discovered more than explained.

What inspired you to make Cellarfold?

In the second grade, I started drawing my own maps for games like Mega Man and The Legend of Zelda. This is the first game I’ve actually finished since then. It took longer than I planned — there were many influences, and they all seemed to point to exploring. I remember clearly the first time I used the whistle while standing by the lake. I remember riding the ostrich all the way back to the beginning of the level to find a hidden barrel. I remember tracking down each and every upgrade capsule. It seems less popular now, but for me, finding things without any hints is fun.

I just played a bit of Cellarfold, and it’s ridiculously charming. Why did you decide to create a game inside a dreamscape?

I was reading a lot of Sandman at the time and really wanted an excuse to design without the restrictions of logic. The further I went with it, the more I liked it, and it stuck. I wanted something with a very minimal story, more atmosphere than narrative. Somewhat Myst-like. At the same time I wanted a thematic core, something I could center my weird ideas around. Something to give some closure to the ending.

What’s the coolest aspect of Cellarfold?

Personally I really like the end. Also, you can switch between computers and/or phones — it’s a browser game — all on the same save account.

What was the development process like?

I created Cellarfold in my spare time over a period of about a year. I switched back and forth between code and Photoshop, in which I was simultaneously designing and drawing the map. Drawing, in this case, refers to grabbing a bunch of stock photos and just going nuts with the clone stamp tool. I played it as I went, testing each piece as I built it. I wrote the text last.

Do you make money off of Cellarfold, or is it your vision to provide the game for free, for gaming’s sake?

I don’t make any money from it. You could say it’s for gaming’s sake, or maybe for the sake of my 8-year-old self. It’s a project I did for fun! I wanted it to be free.

What do you wish people to do with the open-source engine for Cellarfold?

I’d love to see others make games with it, or even add to and improve the engine itself. Cellarfold wouldn’t exist without sprites and sounds and code libraries that others provide free of charge. This is my contribution. Mainly, I hope it makes someone else’s game project a little easier to realize.

Sell Cellarfold in one sentence:

Cellarfold is The Legend of Zelda meets Shark! Shark!.