Finalist | Best Student Game

Gabe Cuzzillo is an NYU Game Center graduate and the creator of Ape Out.

Each year at GDC, MFA students from the NYU Game Center interview the Independent Games Festival nominees, asking them three questions about their development process. In addition to this interview, you can read all the insightful interviews from 2016 here. These conversations, and much more, will happen when the Game Center returns to GDC in 2017. Learn more about the Game Center at GDC 2017.

Alexander King: All game projects start with some kind of spark, from a design question to a feeling you wanted to evoke. What was the spark that grew into your game?

Gabe: There wasn’t really one. I was going to try to make a time travel stealth game. And then I decided instead to make it a stealth game about an old man, where you couldn’t see through walls. And then it turned into a game where you grabbed and pushed people and you didn’t use guns. And then I decided that instead it should be a gorilla because that’s what gorillas do. That’s what they do best, at least. They grab and they push, so that made more sense, slightly more harmonious. And then the rest of it has just kind of slowly shaken out of that.

Alexander: And what prompted that initial idea? The top-down stealth, why was that something you’re interested in at the time?

Gabe: I think I just played a lot of stealth games that I didn’t like. They all felt like maybe I should like them more than I did. Like Monaco felt like it had a huge amount of potential but I didn’t actually enjoy it, or other games that are like this… What were the other stealth games at the time? Like maybe Mark of the Ninja? But I was just going to try to make a stealth game that was kind of the anti-Mark of the Ninja, that was more about just reacting to stimuli quickly and improvising versus having all the information available to you all at all times. Turns out that didn’t work as well as I think it did.

Alexander: On a lengthy game projects, many developers say they enter what you could call a “valley of despair”. Did you experience this during your development process and how did you push through it?

Gabe: I’ve had a lot of breaks from it. There’s never been a point where I had a huge amount of despair. There’s been several points where I didn’t know what to do to it anymore and I kind of had reached the goal, like my sub-goal at the time, and I didn’t really know where I should go from there. But I’ve been lucky that I can just step away from it for a month or two, when that happens, without feeling useless. That helps. Sometimes it sucks. There hasn’t been an extended despair, there’s been moments of despair, there’s been fleeting despair, but there hasn’t been one big long despair time.

Alexander: And lastly, how different did that end product end up being from your original vision?

Gabe: It’s not finished. I have another year. I said it would take another year, I have funding and I have a publisher now and it’ll take another year. So I hope it’ll be done in another year.


Alexander King was once an analytics and strategy consultant, who used Excel, statistics and common sense in order to improve businesses. Now he puts those skills to much better use in making games!