November 17, 2011 11:00 PM | John Polson
[Richard Boeser of PSN-bound ibb and obb (left) and Matthew VanDevander of Duet have come together for a two-part interview to chat about their 2D cooperative puzzle-platformer IGF 2012 entries. In this segment, they share that raw moment when they first saw each other's similar titles, how they handled the anxious situation, and how they feel their games retain their identities.]
The 2D platformer is one of the oldest and most cherished genres in gaming. It has also become one of the most saturated. With important indie competitions offering lucrative purses and clout to its winners, the amount of 2D platformer entries and those of other popular genres are only increasing. The exposure to so many games may lead to one entry's novel mechanics seeming to be derivative or even copied when compared to another's.
On first glance, the above stars of IGF 2012 entries ibb and obb (left) from Sparpweed and Duet from Low Tide Productions look kind of similar. What's more, they both are featured in cooperative 2D puzzle-platformers. In the prototype video of Duet that follows, the characters' color similarity seems more striking, even if coincidental.
Then again, maybe their similarities were not the product of coincidence but of subconsciousness. Consider the colors of two of the most iconic (non-indie, I know) platforming characters, Mario and Luigi: red and green. And further consider that these two similar looking characters became distinguished by height and by functionality. It almost makes sense that these two games at their various developmental stages look similar, while paying homage to part of almost every dev's platformer inspirations.
ibb and obb:
We'll start easy: why red and green tones for your characters?
Richard (ibb and obb): I looked for two colors that would complement each other. Also the colors need to stand out on most backgrounds so players can easily spot them. Red and green work well. I use a pinkish red, or magenta, or actually most people refer to obb's color as pink. Pink of course is commonly seen as girly. The combination of small and pink would have been to girly so the big one became pink, though obb thinks of it as a funky shade of purple.
Matthew (Duet): Well, honestly it was just the first colors that came to mind. Both players should be able to find their characters on screen easily, and the most obvious way to do that is to make them very dissimilar visually. I could've chosen any colors, but the only real reason to pick differently would be so that they were not the same colors as Mario and Luigi. I feel like that would be an attempt to deny that Duet is a videogame, which is sort of dishonest. I would rather embrace the heritage of the medium.
At what point in your development did you become aware of each other?
Richard: A few weeks ago when Matthew posted on ibb and obb's Facebook page.
Matthew: I saw ibb and obb about a month ago, and Duet has been in development for a year now. So, I guess pretty far into development. All of the major design work for Duet was finished back in February. Since then it's just been a rocky road to getting Production going on the project.
So, Matthew contacted Richard. How did you learn of ibb and obb, Matthew?
Matthew: Oh, I have the worst memory, but I think this is about accurate: Terry Cavanagh tweeted about his co-op game At a Distance, and I was reading about that on the IndieCade site, and somehow I stumbled upon ibb and obb (pictured below).
Can both of you recount the reaction you had when first seeing each other's game?
Matthew: Surprise and utter terror. The game looked so similar; naturally I assumed that it was exactly like what I was working on. Also, ibb and obb is much further along in development than Duet, so it was a bit disheartening that I didn't have anything nearly as visually impressive. Honestly, I felt the most depressed that week that I have all year, and both my cats were killed this year. I had to reconsider every reason I had for doing this project, and if I was even up to the task of being a game designer.
Richard: From the start of the project we have been really open about our development process and ideas. Some people told me I should be more careful and this might result in people copying the idea. Occasionally someone told me they saw another game that was really similar to ibb and obb. In the end they were always really different and I felt relieved again.
This time I was really surprised. Duet does show a lot of similarities and there was a moment that I wondered whether this was someone copying our ideas. But talking to Matthew made it soon clear that Duet was really the work of his creativity.
I felt relieved to know that no evil practices were going on. Since ibb and obb is a lot further in development, I don't think this will hurt us in any way, so I didn't feel upset or anything. It does feel 'unfair' towards Matthew. When ibb and obb gets released before Duet does, some people will call Duet a clone. For a designer that is a terrible thing to hear. I've had many people tell me how they could see how ibb and obb was strongly inspired by Portal or the new Mario games, which it wasn't. I've spend a lot of time searching for an original game mechanic to design the game around and when people think you mostly copied it, it feels really bad.
How did you handle this situation? How would you suggest others handle it?
Matthew: Besides sobbing, I tried to figure out how I was going to respond to the game, or if I even should. Tiffany, Duet's artist, told me that she didn't think we should worry about it. She told me to just ignore it. I've been trying to do that, and I think that may be the best advice. Ideas are really a dime a dozen, so it's more about what you bring personally to a project. If you try to put yourself on the line for your project, you just have to trust that your personality will come through in the project. That honesty really creates something that can't be copied.
Richard: I believe that the best way is to be totally open about it. It creates understanding among designers, but also towards possible players. Because Matthew contacted me, we can now get this out to the public and make sure people won't shout "clone".
In the end I hope this benefits us both. There's a good chance that people who like ibb and obb will like Duet (below), and the other way around.
Upon talking to each other, in what ways do you feel your games are distinct?
Richard: Matthew made some different choices, for example the two characters in Duet differ in speed and jump height and a lot of the puzzles are based on this. With ibb and obb I chose to keep their abilities identical; they just look different. The puzzles are focused on moving through the double gravity world.
Also the ibb and obb world is always a line that has opposite gravity on both sides. Players pass through holes in the line to fall into the other gravity direction. Duet lets the players manipulate each other's gravity. It can be different for both players.
I would guess that Duet will have a wider range of mechanics. Some focus on gravity some on reversing time and others on special abilities for each player. For ibb and obb we also add a new mechanic in each world, but they all focus on gravity. I guess this might result in a more accessible game. Duet's set of mechanics allows for more complex puzzles and therefore also harder puzzles. It might be aimed at players that want a tougher challenge. (What do you think about that, Matthew?)
Matthew: I think that the feel of the games are quite different. ibb and obb has a sort of ethereal, almost spooky feel to its world. It reminds me in some ways of Nifflas's games, Knytt Stories in particular. Although the art direction for Duet isn't entirely nailed down, the art style should appear like a moving impressionistic painting. It will hopefully be dense and thought-provoking. Duet has the major mechanical difference in that the characters actually move differently from one another. (The red player moves fast, and the green player jumps high.) Duet is broken up into several worlds that each focus on a fundamental change in the affordances of each player. I can't really speak as to what ibb and obb is doing throughout the course of the game, but Duet focuses on trying to surprise with each new world.
[That's it for today, but please keep a look out for the second part where the developers talk more about their games and ask each other about finding time, funding, and satisfying the player versus the designer! Special thanks to Richard Boeser for creating Part 1's header mash-up image!]