Maddy Thorson

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Maddy Thorson
Maddy Thorson
Thorson in 2021
Born (1988-03-18) 18 March 1988 (age 34)
Nationality Canadian
Occupation Video game developer
Known for Celeste, TowerFall, Celeste Classic 1, Celeste Classic 2

Madeline Stephanie Thorson, also known as Maddy Thorson (born 18 March 1988), is a Canadian video game developer, known as one of the lead creators for the video games Celeste and TowerFallWikipedia, developed under her[1] studio Matt Makes Games. Since September 2019, Thorson has effectively shut down Matt Makes Games to relaunch the team under Extremely OK Games (EXOK); Celeste is now effectively published by EXOK.

Career[edit | edit source]

Helix Games[edit | edit source]

Around fourteen, Thorson's mother helped her acquire a copy of Game MakerWikipedia, a software tool to help develop video games. Through working in Game Maker, she was connected to others in online forums who were also interested in making games, including Chevy Ray Johnston.[2] She developed a number of small pay-what-you-want games through Game Maker in high school and through college,[2] including Jumper and several sequels, FLaiL, and An Untitled Story.[3] Several of her games were described as "masocore", masochistic games that were extremely difficult for the player to complete; Thorson felt her goal was not to make her games near-impossible but instead to make games that helped direct the player to improve themselves so that the player could beat the challenges she made for them.[3] Early games were published under the name "Helix Games", but in April 2008, she rebranded it as "Matt Makes Games", considering the name a more important brand for her work.[4]

Thorson's goal in college was to get a computer programming degree and join up with a large game development studio, but as she progressed, she realized she could still make video games without having to be attached to a studio.[2] Following her graduation, Thorson moved into a Vancouver apartment with Johnston where they shared game ideas. Most of these were browser gamesWikipedia, and they successfully had a few of theirs published by Adult Swim GamesWikipedia on its site.[3]

Thorson and Johnston were frequented by friends they had made online.[2] During a visit by Alec HolowkaWikipedia, he and Thorson participated in a local game jamWikipedia and came up with an idea of a single-player platform game based on an out-of-shape archer trying to ascend a tower, collecting treasure and money to help with each attempt to climb it.[2] They had considered pitching the idea to Adult Swim Games, but decided to expand the idea on their own, bringing in Johnston to help. The game morphed into a multiplayer battle game, where each player would try to defeat the others by shooting them with a bow-and-arrow while avoiding falling off the tower. Because of the frequent visitors to their apartment, they were able to gain feedback and improve the game to be a party-style title.[2] This would ultimately become TowerFall, Thorson's first major commercial game.[2]

Recognizing the potential success of the title, Johnston suggested that they get a house in Vancouver to bring in others to help, which they acquired around October 2012, calling it the "Indie House" and inviting other collaborators to join them. Thorson incorporated Matt Makes Games as Matt Makes Games Inc. shortly afterwards in November 2012.[5] Later, Holowka recognized Thorson as TowerFall's main creator and relinquished his stake as a co-creator. Holowka remained on the game's development team as its composer. TowerFall was ultimately developed as an exclusive for the OuyaWikipedia console.[6] Following its initial release in 2013, the team reissued the game in 2014 as TowerFall: Ascension for most other gaming platforms with additional features.[2] TowerFall: Ascension was critically praised, and within a month had brought in over $500,000 USD.[2]

Thorson (centre) with the Celeste development team at 2018 Game Developers Conference Independent Games FestivalWikipedia Awards

In August 2015, Thorson and Noel Berry, another member of Matt Makes Games, had a four-day game jam to create a PICO-8Wikipedia game about climbing a mountain with difficult jumping steps. When they completed this, they recognized the opportunity to flesh out the game into a full release, forming the basis of Celeste. Full work on the game started around January 2016.[7] The game was released across multiple platforms in January 2018. By the end of 2018, it had sold more than 500,000 copies,[8] and received numerous industry awards.

Extremely OK Games[edit | edit source]

Four stylised letters of different colours arranged in 2-by-2 grid reading "EXOK"
Extremely OK Games' logo

On 5 September 2019, Thorson announced that she was effectively shutting down Matt Makes Games, while re-establishing the same team under the new name "Extremely OK Games" (abbreviated EXOK). The purpose of the change was twofold. First, the new name recognized that Thorson was not the sole creative force behind the games and ensured that the whole team was fully recognized and shared in the collective output from the company. Second, the change coincided with a move to a new set of offices in Vancouver to house the entire team, which had been previously spread across the world, including some in São PauloWikipedia.[9] EXOK was technically founded in March 2019, but the first six months had been spent working to move these international developers into Canada and dealing with immigration requirements.[10] The "Extremely OK" name itself came from a humorous {{w|Twitter|tweet]] that operations manager Heidy Motta had seen that wished its readers an "extremely OK afternoon".[10]

Thorson stated that TowerFall and Celeste would remain published under Matt Makes Games, and that the team had already started the early exploratory work for their next title, codenamed "EXOK-1".[9] With everyone in EXOK working in the same office, it had made development time faster, allowing them to test through multiple prototype games to come onto their next project within six months.[10] The team went through three prototypes (named EXOK 1 through 3) which Thorson said "ventured way too far from our comfort zone for them to realistically ever get finished", before coming up with a fourth prototype that evolved into their first game under the "Extremely OK" name, Earthblade, announced in April 2021, described as an action game in a "seamless pixel art world".[11] The game has tentative 2023 release date.[12][13]

Personal life[edit | edit source]

Thorson is transgender[14] and goes by she/her pronouns.[15] By around 2020, she had adopted the name Maddy Thorson over her birthname.[16] The character of Madeline in the game Celeste was shown to be transgender, which Thorson said in a later blog post reflected on her own coming-to-terms with her gender identity.[14]

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For those whom desire it, the so-called experts at Wikipedia have an article about Maddy Thorson.
  1. Thorson, Maddy [@MaddyThorson] (29 Sep 2021). "for those unaware, this means that the correct way to refer to me going forward is by using feminine and/or gender-neutral pronouns. Thanks ^_^" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Plante, Chris (2 July 2014). "What It Feels Like To Launch An Indie Hit". PolygonWikipedia. Archived from the original on 25 May 2019. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Polanski, Lana (20 November 2011). "Profile: Matt Thorson". Kill ScreenWikipedia. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  4. Thorson, Maddy (17 April 2008). "New Name, New Site". Matt Makes Games. Archived from the original on 21 April 2008.
  5. "Matt Makes Games Inc". Canada's Business Registries. Archived from the original on 26 July 2021. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  6. Campbell, Colin (16 November 2013). "Is TowerFall's move to PS4 and PC, a big blow for Ouya?". PolygonWikipedia. Archived from the original on 30 May 2019. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  7. Cousins, Jon (22 January 2018). "Feature: Conquering The Indie Mountain With Celeste Creator Matt Makes Games". Nintendo LifeWikipedia. Archived from the original on 19 February 2019. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  8. Kerr, Chris (27 December 2018). "Celeste has sold over 500,000 copies since January". GamasutraWikipedia. Archived from the original on 14 July 2019. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Kerr, Chris (6 September 2019). "Celeste developers form new studio Extremely OK Games". GamasutraWikipedia. Archived from the original on 26 July 2021. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Marks, Tom (5 March 2020). "Inside EXOK Games: The Brand New Studio That's Already Sold a Million Copies". IGNWikipedia. Archived from the original on 6 March 2020. Retrieved 5 March 2020.
  11. Prescott, Shaun (19 April 2021). "Celeste and Towerfall studio announces new action game set in 'seamless pixel art world'". PC GamerWikipedia. Archived from the original on 20 April 2021. Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  12. Hirun Cryer (2022-04-14). "Celeste dev's new game aims for a 2023 launch". gamesradar. Retrieved 2022-05-09.
  13. Jordan Gerblick (2021-04-20). "Celeste studio announces Earthblade, a 2D pixel art "explor-action game"". gamesradar. Retrieved 2022-05-09.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Clayton, Natalie (5 November 2020). "Celeste creator confirms that yes, Madeline is trans". PCGamerWikipedia. Archived from the original on 6 November 2020. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
  15. Thorson, Maddy. "Madeline Stephanie Thorson (@MaddyThorson)". TwitterWikipedia. Retrieved 2022-10-27.
  16. Hernandez, Patricia (13 March 2020). "Dev reveals the many ways their tough game secretly helps the player". PolygonWikipedia. Archived from the original on 29 June 2020. Retrieved 4 September 2020.