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Llamasoft's Jeff Minter

On Space Giraffe PC and other animals.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

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.

EurogamerHello 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!

EurogamerWe 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.

EurogamerIsn'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.

EurogamerLet's talk about giraffes. Space Giraffes. The PC version comes out today for USD 20 (GBP 13.50), is that right?
Jeff Minter


EurogamerWasn'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.

EurogamerWhat 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.

EurogamerYou 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.

EurogamerWould 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.

EurogamerYou 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.

EurogamerYou'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.

EurogamerHave 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.

EurogamerHappens to the best of us!
Jeff Minter

This is my second Xbox [360] 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.