Chris Makris of Wild Rose Games is a video game designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Chris got his start studying visual communications (graphic design and illustration) at the Alberta College of Art and Design, after which he spent several years developing graphics for Nintendo DS and Mobile products at Powerhead Games, including such IGF nominated titles as ASYNC CORP and GLOW ARTISAN. Chris also teaches visual design for games part-time at the NYU Game Center.
Chris's goal is to produce video games that feel like a unique and complete expression, that separate themselves from other games and that exhibit good craftsmanship. The point is to be interesting, worthwhile...and a little bit weird. His latest creation, Enzo, is an elegant rotating puzzle game that challenges the player with a furiously unstoppable rotating disc, while simultaneously presenting them with an enjoyable zen-like experience that is hard to put down.
Ryan Tomko: How did you get started as a video game designer?
Chris Makris: I began making Doom levels around 1995, and that may be the first thing I ever did which would qualify as video game design. I also made levels for Quake, which eventually began to include custom texture sets, character models, animations, etc. Most of it was just inquisitive exploration propelled by an interest in imaginary worlds and visual fantasy and fiction.
Ryan Tomko: Can you remember the first game you played that made you think specifically about how it was made?
Chris Makris: I can't. I can remember being curious about game development since encountering arcades and the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), but my understanding was so indescribably dumb. I couldn't make any sense of it. I was definitely able to make strides toward understanding some aspects of video game construction around the time that I was building content for Quake, largely because I was forced to interact with certain processes over and over. I was dealing with design and presentation content, though. I didn't understand the technology at all. Duke Nukem 3D (1996) made me ask a lot of questions, because it was so technologically similar to Doom, yet curiously different from it. For example, a physical "bridge" could not exist in Doom (where an object can pass both over and under another object), yet it could exist in Duke Nukem. Basically, not having even a rudimentary knowledge of computer programming put my internal concepts of these things in a pretty limited place.
Ryan Tomko: What step in the game design process do you find to be the most challenging?
Chris Makris: The most challenging steps for me occur at the point when a design is 50% understood. If I'm into the general direction, which usually means I'm excited about the visual presentation and I feel certain that there exists something special in the central idea, then making the decisions that bring out the most from that central idea can be excruciating. You're forced back to the beginning over and over. Because game design isn't a quick process, there is some art in understanding your projects for what they are (as in, how others see and respond to them) and not growing numb to them. Part of that art includes stepping away from a project (alternating with another project can help), forcing constant change onto a project as you work on it, and testing your work with an audience over time.
Ryan Tomko: What was the best video game experience you've ever had?
Chris Makris: One single best? I couldn't say. Multiplayer game experiences have been the most exciting. I'll go with 4 vs 4 Halo in 2001, because the physical work in lugging a TV from one house to another, configuring sofas and chairs, ordering pizza and generally preparing for an entire day of gaming is difficult to compete with. That being said, single player games offer such a different type of experience that I believe they aught to be judged separately, in which case I'd go with Braid in 2008. I played Braid after a 6 to 7 year period of playing very little in general, so the experience for me was a little more profound, not only because the game is smart and surprising, but because it got me significantly more interested in system design.
Ryan Tomko: What are some of your favourite video games that most gamers might not have played yet?
Ryan Tomko: Tell us a bit about Enzo and how it's played. What makes it different than most games out there right now?
Chris Makris: Enzo consists of a disc and an ever-reflecting laser beam contained within it. The player has the ability to rotate the disc by dragging left and right along the screen. It is through this rotation that the reflection angle of the next laser beam is determined, so a certain amount of preparation for the "future state" is an essential part of the game. The laser beam will alternate between two colors as it reflects around the disc, and lasers will only intersect if they are the same color, or else the game resets. There is a count above the disc (a set of dots) that lets the player know how many of any laser color to expect in concession. So, the game experience should begin with some curiosity. Some sort of emotional or otherwise internal desire to keep the laser beam from crossing the wrong line. From there, the player is dealing with a geometry problem, as well as pattern recognition and hand-eye coordination. Crossing beams and sustaining the reflecting laser is meant to be provide a sense of satisfaction (like cleaning a surface) and so the game is as much an arcade experience as it is a zen-toy. Beyond the default mode (called "rising") where the beam's speed increases over time, there are a series of constant speed modes that the player can configure.
As for what sets Enzo apart from other games right now, I think the rotation interface is quite novel. There's a dotted line at the bottom of the screen that moves 1-to-1 with the disc and acts as a subtle visual cue to the rotation function (like a string attached to the disc). I think a lot of players don't quite pick up on this at first and struggle with the rotation mechanic. I'm ok with that. I also think the colors and general presentation of shapes and proportions help to set Enzo apart from other games.
Ryan Tomko: What were some of your inspirations for the unique visual aesthetic and game mechanics of Enzo?
Chris Makris: I'm inspired by a lot of early 20th century graphic design, as well as film and computer graphics from the seventies and eighties. I like how geometry and flat shapes were used in those eras. It bothers me when graphics are made as a "throwback" to that time period, because if you understand the appeal, vibe and function of the sensibilities from those eras, then you don't need to reach back and stick that aesthetic together like its some sort of feature or add-on. You just use that same set of sensibilities, because it speaks to you, in a modern context and in combination with whatever else informs your tastes.
The mechanics of the game were almost solely motivated by the Global Game Jam 2012 "Ouroboros" theme, which is where Enzo began. I definitely gave thought to games like Tetris and Helicopter (flash) when I picked up development again in 2016.
Ryan Tomko: What's the next big project that you are working on?
Chris Makris: I'm working on an illustration-heavy graphic adventure for some unannounced hardware that I'm excited about. Narrative is central to the game, which is giving me a chance to struggle with all of the unique challenges that building a world, designing a story and writing characters have to offer. I'm also working on, though it's on hold for the time being, an action platformer for the PC called Fader, a game where you control two characters whose worlds are visually overlapped.
Enzo was recently selected as one of Starbucks's Pick of the Week free downloads in the United States, and will soon be featured at the upcoming A MAZE game festival in Johannesburg, South Africa. More information regarding Enzo can be found on Chris' website at http://wildrosegames.com/enzo/. If you'd like to test your hand at this exciting new game, you can find it in the Apple App Store.