The Skinny on Rolling Stone's Insider Chat with Dong Nguyen, Flappy Bird Creator

Flappy Bird developer Dong Nguyen is three parts mystery man, one part passionate indie developer. Nguyen admits some surprising things, and details why he chose the take the game off the market in the first place. But is a new Flappy Bird version due?

The gaming world is all aflutter with news that Flappy Bird's Dong Nguyen might be bringing back Flappy Bird.

That's right--the irreverent game itself may be due for a comeback, although Nguyen has suggested that it will have several tweaks if and when it ever does.

Although many game journalists have approached Nguyen for an interview, it was Rolling Stone Magazine that finally won the interview with him. Even though Nguyen didn't show his face on camera, David Kushner was able to carry his words over to a video where he explained how the developer truly felt. What he learned about Nguyen is very interesting.

As it turns out, Nguyen grew up in a very small village and didn't even have access to video games until mid-childhood. His first system was a regular Nintendo, and it's clear that this system spurred him on to become a developer.

The interview goes on to state that he created his first game at the tender age of 16. From there, he continued with his passion for games. But Nguyen is different than most developers in many aspects; he's seemingly disinterested in chasing fame or fortune. Perhaps a result of his humble roots, it's difficult for many of us to understand how the close to $50,000 a day he was making could be so easily turned down. It's a sad commentary, in a sense, on what the focus most people today hold--a focus for money.

The developer eventually attended a university in Hanoi. From there, he went to work for game development company Punch Entertainment. As this was quite literally the only game development company in Hanoi at the time, it's likely that this was out of necessity rather than choice. 

Nguyen's speed and ability to produce high quality games was immediately noted, with the company allowing him to work unsupervised. His boss at the company, Son Bui Truong, said of Nguyen being permitted to work without a supervisor, "He wasn't comfortable with it. So we said he did not have to report to anyone."

That's a rare thing for most development companies.

Unfortunately, Nguyen soon grew bored of the games he was creating, mostly sports games designed to be much busier and complex than the simple Flappy Bird eventually was.

When asked about why he chose to create Flappy Bird,

"I don't like the graphics," he says. "It looked too crowded." Nguyen wanted to make games for people like himself: busy, harried, always on the move. "I pictured how people play," he says, as he taps his iPhone and reaches his other hand in the air. "One hand holding the train strap."

It may be a simple concept, but simple is also beneficial in a number of ways. It both allows for quick learning of the game, while providing the opportunity for immense challenges to be built into the base of the game itself. This is likely why Flappy Bird became so popular. 

Where things become murkier is with regard to statements that Nguyen "ripped off" art from the Super Mario Bros franchise. Nguyen makes it clear that he only created the game to share with people, never expecting success as it wasn't something he had enjoyed in the past to any real degree. He also admits that, yes, the game was inspired by a poster that sat above him on the wall while he made the game. According to Rolling Stone Magazine, 

The year before, he'd drawn a pixelated bird on his computer that riffed on Nintendo fish, called Cheep Cheeps. He drew green pipes – a homage to Super Mario Bros. – that the bird would have to navigate.

About the physics, Nguyen said that the game was modeled after paddleball - simple, yet incredibly difficult to keep up the pace without "missing." He originally tried making the bird's death more violent, with pixelated bloody drops, but eventually settled on the faceplant. This was done to incite humor; of this approach, Nguyen asked Kushner if it had made him laugh. "The bird is flying along peacefully," he apparently said, "and all of a sudden you die!"

But the game languished in the Google Play store for nearly eight months, when it suddenly shot to fame on January 17, 2014. 

"Seeing the game on top, I felt amazing," Nguyen reminisced during the interview.

But if he was so happy, what prompted the shutdown?

It was sheer popularity, papparazi, and even insults and threats that caused Nguyen to feel he had to take the game off the market. Parents were sending him messages reprimanding him for distracting youth. Other people were threatening suicide, whether real or in jest. Nguyen was suddenly responsible for the lives and emotions of thousands on a global scale. His parent's house was flooded with media and peace simply could not be found.

It was then that he decided to remove the game. As he stated, 

"It is something I never want," he tweeted. "Please give me peace."

Another tweet later on said, 

"I can call 'Flappy Bird' is a success of mine," read one. "But it also ruins my simple life. So now I hate it."

But even the eventual removal of the game wasn't enough to win him the peace he so sorely desired; rumors abounded about how he had harmed himself, Kotaku blamed him for cashing in on fraudulent art, and clones abounded. But as Nguyen has said himself, 

"People can clone the app because of its simplicity," Nguyen says, "but they will never make another Flappy Bird." 

Since that time, it's clear that Nguyen has continued to make money off of those who did download the game before it was removed. Hopefully, that money is enough to soothe Nguyen's battered public image and soul. When asked about creating a new game, the developer had only this to say,

"I'm considering it" he says. He also clarifies that any new game will come with warnings stating to "Please take a break." It's clear throughout this interview that the real Dong Nguyen is an interesting, multi-faceted human being with strong feelings about many different aspects of gaming. Regardless of what the man believes, he has a right to his peace.

Article source here: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-flight-of-the-birdman-flappy-bird-creator-dong-nguyen-speaks-out-20140311

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Published Mar. 16th 2014
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