Interview

Play Curious co-founder Jesse Himmelstein discusses Big Indie Pitch winner Crispr Crunch

Jesse Himmelstein won The Big Indie Pitch with Crispr Crunch

Play Curious co-founder Jesse Himmelstein discusses Big Indie Pitch winner Crispr Crunch

The Big Indie Pitch is a regular event run by the makers of PocketGamer.biz. It sees indie developers engage in a speed-dating-style pitching competition for fame and those sweet, sweet promotional packages.

The event gives indies four minutes to pitch their games to a panel of press, publishers, and industry pundits. The judges then pick three winners and everybody gets valuable feedback.

The indie view

The Big Indie Pitch is getting bigger and bigger as we bring it to events all across the world. To give you an idea of what the event is like, who attends the events and the games on show, we've sat down with a number of past BIP contestants to offer their views.

The Big Indie Pitch goes digital.

Today, we're speaking to Play Curious co-founder Jesse Himmelstein who recently pitched Crispr Crunch as a part of The Big Indie Pitch at Pocket Gamer Connects Digital #6 (mobile edition) and walked away as the winner.

PocketGamer.biz: Tell us a little about yourself and your indie studio - who is on the team, and what are their inspirations?

Jesse Himmelstein: As far back as I can remember, I've always dreamed of making video games but for a while, I didn't really know how to go about it. I ended up following a different path - studying computer science and eventually getting a PhD in robotics. At some point, I got sick of just talking about wanting to make games, so imposed a hard deadline on myself to start doing it for real. 

I finally got my break at a research lab up in Paris called CRI (Centre for Research and Interdisciplinarity), where I started a game lab making games with scientists for research and learning. I was able to create games on a variety of cool subjects like synthetic biology and quantum physics. I also started a group called the Gamelier, where we organised events around game design, such as talks, post-mortems, playtests and game jams.

I think what makes our game unique is the mix between familiar tile-matching mechanics and real scientific concepts.
Jesse Himmelstein

That experience gave me the idea to start a game studio, where players discover cool subjects in science and technology. I recruited my friend JC Letraublon, who does excellent animations with motion graphics. We called it Play Curious and entered a startup incubator at the University of Perpignan.

Now we also have Camille (a talented programmer), Ilyes (a great business developer) and we have been able to work with some fantastic students and freelancers for graphics and sound.

Can you tell us about Crispr Crunch that you pitched at the competition?

In Crispr Crunch, players defend bacteria against waves of attacking viruses. The virus will inject its DNA and you have to match the sequence on a hexagonal grid. There are a bunch of different modes and bonuses and ways to score points.

What do you think are the most unique and interesting aspects of Crispr Crunch that gamers may never have seen before?

I think what makes our game unique is the mix between familiar tile-matching mechanics and real scientific concepts. The science inspires the gameplay and through playing you can learn about how Crispr works. We worked with a researcher named Jake Wintermute to get the biology right, alongside a number of short videos that explain the concepts.

Crispr Crunch is a mobile-first tile-matching puzzler based around real science and defeating viruses. Given the ongoing global situation, not to mention the competitive nature of the puzzle genre, what made you choose to create this type of game and what do you think you bring to it that may not have been seen before?

You're absolutely right, there must be a gazillion tile-matching games out there. Luckily our scientific theme sets this game apart... and who doesn't want to get revenge on all these viruses screwing up our lives?

Actually, we started the project well before COVID-19. As far as I know, there's no way to use Crispr to teach our cells to defend against the virus. But it would be really cool to make a game about the immune system later on!

How did you come to choose the platforms that you would develop Crispr Crunch for?

Up until now, our games have been for browser because that makes it really easy to share and even embed into other websites. However, for this one, we wanted people to be able to play on their phones first and foremost. We're starting with Android and iOS will be coming soon.

Looking at the studio a little more now. How hard is it to survive as an Indie developer?

I can't say it's easy. Even though I have experience running a team, the whole business side of things is new to me. The plus side is that I learn a lot every day.

Are there any tips and advice you would give to an independent developer out there who are just starting out?

Hang in there! Maybe the only other advice I could give is to try to find others to work with. It really helps to work as a team because you can inspire and encourage each other.

How did you find your experience pitching as a part of the Big Indie Pitch?

It was great, actually. The other participants were very welcoming and encouraging, while the event was run very professionally. That's not an easy thing to do - especially over Zoom!

What do you feel you have gained from the experience, and what do you still hope to gain?

It forced me to trim my pitch down to the essential bits and be ready to adapt to different circumstances and questions. I'm sure I have so much more to learn about pitching to publishers and investors.

What are your hopes for this game in the future, and do you have any plans for any future projects?

I'm hoping that we find a group of players who like this game and who would like to see us develop it even further. We have tons of ideas for different levels, bonuses and bosses.

As for the future, I'd love to see us make a whole set of games based on biology, alongside other subjects like renewable energy and space exploration.


Want to show off your exciting new game? We host Big Indie Pitch events throughout the year, so be sure to keep an eye out on our events page for an event near you, or even our new Digital pitches.

All our upcoming pitches including how to enter can be found over on our upcoming events page on BigIndiePitch.com.

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Developer Evangelist & Big Indie Pitch Manager / Special Features Writer

Queen of all things Indie. Sophia is Steel Media’s Big Indie Pitch Manager and Developer Evangelist. She’s also a global speaker and lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that she’s written a thesis on one and lived in the other.

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