Madeline Stephanie Thorson is the lead developer of the award winning indie game, Celeste!! She’s also worked on a few other games, such as TowerFall, and is currently the director of Extremely OK Games’s R&D department. Maddy is transfem, just like Celeste’s main character, Madeline, who’s name she adopted when she came out in 2020.
- Pronouns/gender: she/they, transfem
- Notable Accomplishments: Lead developer of Celeste and TowerFall, current head of R&D for Extremely Okay Games, named one of the top “30 Under 30” game creators by Forbes in 2014.
Maddy was born on March 18, 1988. Her passion for game making began when she was fourteen, when her mom got her Game Maker, a simple game creation software, with which she created a few simple games while she was still in high school and college. These games were often very difficult, as she wanted to create an experience that forced the player to sharpen their skills to get through. Around this time, she started publishing her games under the name “Matt Makes Games”, an update from her previous alias, “Helix Games”.
Maddy studied computer science at Alberta, Canada’s Grande Prairie Regional College, hoping to join a big game studio, but soon shifted her goals when she realized she could make games without the help of a large studio. After graduating, she moved into a Vancouver apartment with a friend of hers, Chevy Ray Johnston, and started making games with him. They actually got a few of these published by Adult Swim Games as browser games on the company’s website.
While participating in a local game jam with her friend Alec Holowka, the two thought up a game where an out-of-shape archer tries to climb a tower, collecting treasure along the way. Rather than take this game to Adult Swim Games, they decided to continue working on with help from Johnston, evolving it into a multiplayer game where players, equipped with a bow, try to shoot eachother off a tower. This game would eventually become TowerFall, Maddy’s first game to be released on mainstream gaming platforms.
Upon realizing TowerFall’s potential, Johnston and Maddy moved into a nearby house and brought in other aspiring game developers to help them with future games. They did this in October of 2012 and called their new makeshift studio the “Indie House”. Maddy soon rebranded Matt Makes Games into “Matt Makes Games Inc”. Their friend Alex Holowka soon stepped down as co-creator of TowerFall to give Maddy the spotlight as it’s main creator, but still composed the game’s soundtrack. Eventually, TowerFall was released for an obscure console called the “Ouya” in 2013. A year later, the game was rereleased as TowerFall: Ascension for the mainstream gaming consoles. TowerFall was extremely successful, grossing over $500,000 USD in it’s first month alone.
In August of 2020, Maddy joined her fellow Matt Makes Games teammate Noel Berry in a four-day game jam, where they made a short game where the player embarks on a difficult climb up a mountain. After the game jam, having now seen the game’s potential, the Matt Makes Games team decided to build it into a fully realized game. Work began on the game in January 2016 and was released in January of 2018, becoming the award-winning indie hit “Celeste”. By the end of 2018, over 500,000 copies of the game had been sold.
In 2019, Maddy once again rebranded her company into Extremely Ok Games, or EXOK games, a name that recognizes that Maddy is not the only creative force in her company. Along with this name change came a change in location, where EXOK moved to a new set of offices in Vancouver, and brought some of their international teammates to Vancouver with them.
Maddy mentioned soon after that her first two games, Celeste and TowerFall would remain under the name Matt Makes Games, but the newly renamed team EXOK was already in the early stages of developing a new title. Within the next six months, the team had already worked through three prototypes of this new game, codenamed EXOK-1, EXOK-2, and EXOK-3. These prototypes, however, were, as Thorson stated, “too far from our (EXOK’s) comfort zone for them to realistically ever get finished”. Their fourth prototype, however, morphed into their first official product as team EXOK, announced in 2021 as Earthblade. This game is planned to be a Metroidvania* style game in a “seamless pixel art world”, and is set to release in 2024.
Around 2020, Maddy had realized her identity as a trans woman, in a journey that she said in a way mirrored Madeline’s journey of self-exploration in Celeste. Poetically, she gave herself the same first name as her also transfem character, Madeline. Maddy confirmed that Madeline’s identity is parallel to here’s in a blog post, shortly after the release of Celeste’s “Farewell” update, where Madeline is seen with a trans pride flag in her bedroom.
*a Metroidvania-style game is a game with a heavy focus on exploration, where the player must find upgrades and new items to allow them to access new areas. These games are usually, but not always, side scrolling, and very commonly have difficult combat. The genre gets it’s name from a combination of the names of two games that essentially created the genre, Super Metroid, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. A few other notable games of the genre include Hollow Knight, Blasphemous, and Cave Story.