Space Giraffe launched on PC yesterday, just over a year after the psychedelic shooter carved a divide between critics on Xbox Live Arcade. And as a colourful, retro, and often bewildering blaster, Space Giraffe flaunts many of the same characteristics as its creator, Jeff Minter, who's been making games with Llamasoft since 1982. Working across just about every popular gaming platform, Minter has turfed out classics like Tempest 2000 and Gridrunner. He also rather likes animals, and lives on a farm with nine sheep, two llamas and one pygmy goat. To mark the release of the PC Giraffe, we sat down with him for a chat.
Eurogamer: Hello there, Jeff Minter! Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and why you're so famous?
Jeff Minter: Well, I guess just because I've been doing it for a long time. We founded Llamasoft in 1982, and we've worked on just about every machine between then and now. I think really, if I'm famous at all, it's just by dint of still being around. And occasionally hopefully coming up with something good!
Eurogamer: We like to think of you as a bit of a hippy. But in a nice way. You do live on a farm, after all. What's farm life like? Could we cope?
Jeff Minter: It's very nice and chilled out actually. What I like about it out here is that if you get stressed you can go outside and just chill out with the sheepies [laughs], and it's all very relaxing and calm. It's nice to go to the city every now and again to visit, but I find it's always nice to come back here in the end.
Eurogamer: Isn't it quite cold out there at the moment?
Jeff Minter: Reasonably cold. But I'm in a nice warm house with central heating, the sheep have got thick fleeces on, so we all manage okay.
Eurogamer: Let's talk about giraffes. Space Giraffes. The PC version comes out today for USD 20 (GBP 13.50), is that right?
Jeff Minter: Yeah.
Eurogamer: Wasn't it only 400 Microsoft Points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80) on Xbox Live?
Jeff Minter: Yeah, but what happened there was that I think people perceived it as being too cheap! As far as I'm concerned, I like to do things cheap, but ever since I did that on Live, loads of people have been telling me I was trying to sell it too cheap! There's this thing called 'perceived value' I suppose, so I'm now just trying to be in line with what other independent games are like on PC, really - roughly the same ballpark, I think. And also, you do get more with the PC version, because we've put twice the amount of levels in it. Plus there's the ability to add level packs to stuff, so it's not exactly the same.
Eurogamer: What other new bits are in the PC version?
Jeff Minter: We remixed all the levels to make them more accessible; we found some people thought the original levels were a bit too psychedelic. Ha! So we chilled out the main level-set a bit, and we still offer the original set as an included level pack when you get the game, so you get 200 levels instead of 100. Plus, during the time Space Giraffe came out for the Xbox 360 and now, the underlying Neon engine has been evolving, so there's new effects and shaders that we've been able to use, and I think the new level sets, as well as being less offensively psychedelic to some people, are just aesthetically a bit more pleasing as well.
Eurogamer: You mentioned the ability to add level packs before. Can users do that?
Jeff Minter: I can make and release level sets; I don't know if I'm ever going to release the editor for it. But I can make and release level sets if there is sufficient demand for it. We don't just have to make remixes of the original levels, I can make entirely new levels if I want to.
Eurogamer: Would you ever consider putting space sheep in there?
Jeff Minter: I could put a space sheep in there! That would be easy enough. We could do themed levels; it might be possible to do a space sheep-themed level set, you know.
Eurogamer: You weren't that happy with how Space Giraffe was received on Xbox Live Arcade at the time. What do you think about all that now?
Jeff Minter: I just think it's been a bit of a learning experience. The thing with Xbox Live is that you have to basically get a lot done in the first couple of weeks, then the game goes into a bit of obscurity after that. We were dealt a very low blow by the Official Xbox Magazine, who basically spoiled our launch completely. We actually had some very favourable reviews of Space Giraffe, and if you look around, most of them aren't bad. It's just most of them came out too late, and by the time the better reviews came out, the game was already off the front page [of Xbox Live]. So it was just a bit spoiled for us, really. We're hoping this time round we haven't got that same thing of being on the front page for two weeks then being shoved away; we should be out for a bit longer.
Plus, I have taken steps address the issues some people had. I haven't just sat there and said, "That's the way it is, smeg off." I have taken constructive criticism onboard where it has been offered, and I think we've ended up with a better game because of it.
Eurogamer: You're not the only one to accuse Xbox Live of burying good content, but Microsoft has tried to change all that with the New Xbox Experience. Have you been playing with it?
Jeff Minter: It's a lot nicer now, and I was obviously talking about the way it was when Space Giraffe came out. It is nicer now, because you can, in fact, direct people there from off-site. And also the whole interface is a bit easier to navigate than the old version. On the old version, once Space Giraffe disappeared off the front page it took about five minutes to navigate to where it was, so you really needed to want it to seek it out and download it. I think the most important change is being able to drive external traffic there from the normal internet. That is a great help.
Eurogamer: Have you made yourself an Avatar?
Jeff Minter: I haven't actually, because my Xbox 360 has Red Ring of Death, so I need to get that sent back and changed.
Eurogamer: Happens to the best of us!
Jeff Minter: This is my second Xbox  and it happened playing Duke Nukem 3D, shortly after that came out, which isn't exactly the most demanding game on the console. One time we went to turn it on, and there it was: classic Ring of Death.
Eurogamer: Do you think Microsoft is going in the right direction with XNA [Community Games]? Will it rekindle the good old days?
Jeff Minter: It's nice to let people have programmable hardware, one way or another. That's one thing I think is missing from the modern user experience. Back in the old days, when you had your Spectrums, and your Commodore 64s, everybody would try their hand at a bit of code as well. Now you get consoles and you take what's dolled out. And it's quite nice that they've opened up a way for people to have a try themselves. I think it's a very good idea.
Eurogamer: Have our tastes changed as consumers? Do new games and ideas even work any more?
Jeff Minter: I don't know if tastes have changed that much. Technology has driven taste to a great extent; people always want the latest and greatest graphical techniques or whatever. But I can see that quieting down a bit in the medium-term future, because we're getting a bit homogenised now; graphics have reached a point where the improvements are small increments as opposed to huge great strides. The difference from 2D to 3D meant everybody had to immediately do loads of 3D, whereas now, the next generation of consoles will just have the same stuff with a bit more detail. So perhaps that kind of impetus will not be so important.
There is still a taste for old-style games. If you look at stuff like LittleBigPlanet, which I was just playing the other day, it's basically a 2D platform game with physics. If you did that as an entirely 2D game it would still be enjoyable. Perhaps things like XNA will allow smaller projects to still survive and perhaps thrive. It would be a shame to lose them entirely. The older game forms are still valid game forms, in the same way that when film came along it didn't banish books, I don't see why 3D should banish 2D. It would be nice to keep them all alive and keep them all relevant.
Eurogamer: In the aftermath of Space Giraffe you said you were halfway through another game for Xbox Live. Is that Gridrunner+++?
Jeff Minter: Yeah, although that's probably not going to be the final title.
Eurogamer: It's quite hard to pronounce.
Jeff Minter: Ha! Yeah. It's like the third iteration of Gridrunner. That's nearly finished on the Xbox 360.
Eurogamer: Oh! Have you got a release date?
Jeff Minter: No. We sent it off to [Microsoft] months ago, but they've just not said anything - we're just waiting for them. Basically I'm going to carry on with the PC version of it if I don't hear from them soon, because they're just sitting on the demo we sent them three or four months ago. We haven't heard a thing.
Eurogamer: Would you consider making anything for iPhone?
Jeff Minter: I wouldn't mind. I find the whole idea of the controls and the sensors quite intriguing. But it's a question of having time for it to be commercially viable - at the moment we're so skint we've got to make money as best we can!
Eurogamer: Will iPhone games take off? Because mobile games didn't really boom as everyone was expecting.
Jeff Minter: It might do on the iPhone. Part of the problem with mobile phone gaming was, a) the screens were rubbish, b) the controls were usually rubbish as well; if they had a d-pad on at all it was always a rubbish d-pad. With the iPhone, where you're forced to take the controls in a different direction, because you haven't got any buttons at all. If you can come out with a game that works well with those kind of controls... Technically the screen is good, it can do reasonably nice, fast 3D - it's quite a capable little platform. Given that the controls hopefully won't be rubbish and that the platform is ubiquitous and really rather good, I would like to think gaming will take off a lot better on the iPhone than on previous phones.
Eurogamer: Are you working on any other games at the moment?
Jeff Minter: At the moment we're just working on Gridrunner+++, and we should have that finished in a couple of months. But we're probably just going to have a chill out over Christmas now we've got [Space Giraffe PC] out of the way.
Eurogamer: When you do start your next game, are you considering putting different animals in it?
Jeff Minter: Haha! Possibly.
Eurogamer: What animals do you actually have on you farm?
Jeff Minter: I've got my dog who's sat next to me now. I've got nine sheep, two llamas, and one pygmy goat.
Eurogamer: And which is your favourite? Or are they all treated the same?
Jeff Minter: Well they're all treated the same, really - you can't have favourites, although one of the sheep is a particular favourite, I suppose, in that she always comes up and wants hugs and cuddles.
Eurogamer: You mentioned LittleBigPlanet, but what else are you playing, Jeff Minter?
Jeff Minter: I'm also playing Animal Crossing on the DS. I'm playing WipEout HD; we just the other day got my plasma [TV] back from the repairers, as it had blown up.
Eurogamer: We shouldn't ask, but which is your favourite console?
Jeff Minter: So far, probably the Xbox 360, in terms of having the most games I actually play on it. The PS3, after a slow start, is definitely catching up, and it's a nice machine to use. The Wii is good, but for a different kind of gaming, really - it's a different feel of gaming on the Wii. It's a bit more light-hearted. The Wii is what you fire up for a bit of a laugh and a joke around rather than really serious gaming. But it's quite nice. Sometimes that's what you want.
Eurogamer: What do you think, Jeff, should we get a real Christmas tree or a fake one?
Jeff Minter: Well, a real one is nice, but I always think it's a bit unkind to kill it. Get a real one and plant it afterwards, I reckon.
Eurogamer: But we don't have anywhere to plant it, unless we pull up a paving stone and concrete it in...
Jeff Minter: You could go out and do a stealth planting in the middle of the night. You could surprise somebody with a tree in the middle of their lawn.
Eurogamer: And finally, what have you asked Santa for this Christmas?
Jeff Minter: A nice reindeer.
Eurogamer: What? Can they even survive here? Isn't it a bit warm?
Jeff Minter: This is a question I have actually asked somebody who has reindeer. They do like a colder climate; the only herd in Britain is in Scotland. They need this particular kind of moss or something; a plant that they really need and they can only get in that climate. So I don't think really could just bring one down here and shove it in with the rest of the beasties, I don't think it would do well.
Eurogamer: You could dress the sheep as reindeer and pretend.
Jeff Minter: Haha! Could do. I could put antlers on the sheep!
Eurogamer: We've run out of questions, Jeff. Thank you very much for chatting to us, and is there anything you would like to add about Space Giraffe on PC?
Jeff Minter: Only that I hope people enjoy it and give it a chance.