Editor's note: In my opinion, The Misadventures of P.B Winterbottom is one of the stand-out indie games of the recent past. I'm glad Stefanie had the change to talk with the game's producer, Paul Bellezza, and I'm curious to see the next game he hints at below. -Jay


P.B. WinterbottomWhen Matt Korba approached Paul Bellezza with an idea for a student thesis project for the University Southern California's Interactive Media MFA program, neither one predicted that their project would go on to become a multi-award-winning independent video game. The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, which 2K Play released on Xbox LIVE Arcade and Steam, garnered a Metacritic score of 83. It also received recognition from the Independent Games Festival, IGN, and GameSpot for its time-bending puzzles, charmingly original art design, and innovative gameplay. Korba and Bellezza have since founded their own game studio, The Odd Gentlemen, in 2008 and are currently hard at work on their next project.
 
I recently had a chance to chat with Odd Gentlemen co-founder and producer Paul Bellezza about how he and Korba did on their student thesis and about the success of their first title. Read on to hear his comments on the possibility of a Winterbottom sequel, hints about their next project, and his advice for students looking to break into the video game industry.


Stefanie Fogel: I'm assuming you guys got a good grade on your thesis?
 
Paul Bellezza: [laughs] We passed.
 
SF: So, you do this project as your thesis. It got picked up and published on Xbox LIVE Arcade and Steam. People seem to like it and it's doing very well. How psyched are you guys about all that?
 
PB: It's wonderful. I mean, it's really only been now where we've been able to sit down and look at the last, really, four years of work. And it went from just kinda ideas coming out of design discussions, to us getting the student team together, to us actually forming a company. It's been a super-long journey, and it's really been a dream. So, I'm still elated everyday that I get to say I'm doing what I love. And a product that came from our hearts as students is actually out in the world, and people are enjoying it. I mean, I just feel awesome. It's awesome.
 
 
SF: Whose idea was it to make P.B. Winterbottom?
 
PB: It was Matt Korba. He's our lead designer and creative director at The Odd Gentlemen. It was his original thesis project. He had been thinking about the idea when we started grad school and then, when it came time to pick a thesis, he had been playing wtih the idea of using time mechanics and recording. And in the middle of 2007, he pretty much modeled the character, had some of the design ideas ready and was like, 'OK, I'm going to do this as my thesis. I need to get a team.' We had worked well together on class projects and research projects for the university, so he asked me to be his producer. And from there we started recruiting other student team members and launched the journey to get the game into the IGF (Independent Games Festival), other festivals, and eventually started our own company. So Matt started it all. He brought me in and together we just got right to work.
 
SF: So was it Matt's idea to set Winterbottom in a silent film world?
 
PB: Yes. Yes. He was an undergraduate…. he did his undergraduate in film studies. He was a filmmaker and he really loved silent film. And he came into our program and wanted to bring the charm and aesthetic of silent films into a game. He had the mechanics in his head and he had this desire to do something with silent film aesthetic and he brought the two together.
 
SteamSF: Winterbottom just came out on Steam on April 20th. How was that process of going from one console to the other?
 
PB: Well, actually 2K China handled all of the porting of the Xbox version for us. So we just checked in with them and made sure that the usability of the PC version was how we wanted it to be. And they were really cool, they worked closely with us. They also helped design a few bonus levels that were added to the game, so we kinda went over design ideas with them and batted ideas around. And they're really cool. I mean, they're talented dudes and they pulled it together pretty quickly. So, it was good.
 
SF: Are there any plans for the game to come out on the PS3 or the Wii?
 
PB: Anything is possible! But at the moment, Steam and the Xbox are where you can get it for now.
 
SF: What about a Winterbottom sequel?
 
PB: Well, time will tell if there is more pie for our dear chap to pursue.
 
SF: [laughs] Fair enough. So, what advice do you have for students who might want to go the same route you guys did to get into the industry?
 
PB: I think the best thing is to make something personal and realize that as a student coming out of an interactive design program… you're never going to be able to make something on the scale of Halo. Just because you're never going to have those resources. Pretty much you should make what you want to make but realize that it's better to make something personal and unique to you becaue it'll speak about your own experiences and that will shine in the design. So, that's first and foremost. Second is that there are tools out there to get your game out. So if you don't really know how to code, it doesn't matter. You can learn programs like Gamemaker and Flash and learn enough to get a prototype out there of what you want to do and, y'know, build a team with that. And the last thing, I would say, would be once you have something and you're proud of it and you're ready to show it, get it into as many games festivals as possible. There's a lot of independent games festivals around now. There's IGF, there's NDK (Nan Desu Kan), there's Sense of Wonder Night at the Tokyo Game Show. There's a ton of festivals. There's a ton of opportunities to get your stuff out. So there's really… you just gotta hustle and good things can happen.
Odd Gentlemen
SF: What's next for The Odd Gentlemen?
 
PB: Well, we have a couple of projects that we're mulling around here. We're working on our next IP right now. I really can't say much about it but it's going to be just as crazy as Winterbottom. And I can say that it's going to be in color for a change. So, we're going a little foward there. It'll be Odd Gentlemen style for sure.