November 21, 2011 11:00 PM | John Polson
Developers Richard Boeser of PSN-bound ibb and obb (pictured left) and Matthew VanDevander of Duet continue their conversation about their seemingly similar 2D cooperative platformers, both entered into the 2012 IGF main competition.
In the first part of this group interview, the developers shared their reactions surrounding when they found each other's games and how they feel their games are different from each other. In this second part, the developers explore their own inspirations and ask each other about finding time, funding, and satisfying the player versus the designer.
What was captured in this half felt wonderfully raw, in that allowing the developers to ask each other questions turned into a natural flowing dialogue. For those who missed the first part of the interview, I have embedded footage of the games after the jump.
ibb and obb:
Looking at your games, I wonder what inspired your creation, and how do you feel yours differ?
Richard: Super Mario Bros and Katamari Damacy. And maybe even Altered Beast. The last one because I used to play that co-op with my brother. The game play itself isn't that special, but the fond memories of beating a game together are. Definitely one of the reasons why ibb and obb became a two player game.
During the early development of ibb and obb I played the old Super Mario Bros again. For me that game is inspiring for many reasons, but mostly the controls and the excellent use of secrets.
Katamari Damacy is exactly the kind of game I'd like to make. The core mechanic is original and simple to understand. The game is really accessible, also to non gamers. And the game world has such a great feeling to it. From looks, story to music, everything feels unique and has the perfect dose of craziness. I hope ibb and obb is similar to Katamari Damacy in the joy it brings to players.
Matthew: Jonathan Blow's design philosophy has had a huge impact on many of the decisions that I've made throughout the project. Consequently, Braid has been an influence in many ways. Other games that have blended in there are Terry Cavanagh's VVVVVV and Vacuum Flowers' Star Guard.
How has seeing the other game influenced your own development?
Richard: We mailed back and forth a little to talk about the similarities. During the development of the game I've often had people coming up to me like:' Hey nice game, it really reminds me of this other game called...' Every time It scared me a bit, but those games always turned out to be quite different.
In the case of Duet I was surprised by the similarities. For me it is actually interesting to see how another designer has tackled some of the design issues in this kind of game. Though I don't think it will influence my game design a lot since we're already quite far in development now.
Matthew: I don't think that ibb and obb has really influenced the development of Duet at all. At least not consciously. I think it might be better to avoid looking too deeply into what Richard and his team are doing; the projects have different appeals.
Matthew: As an indie, it can be difficult or impossible to find the funds and time to complete a project. What have been your issues with these types of constraints, and how have you overcome them?
Richard: For us it all really started when IndieCade selected the game and showcased it at the E3 in 2008. I went there to see what would happen. It turned out that a lot of people where really enjoying the concept. And Sony picked up on it and wanted to talk about getting the game to PSN. From there it still took us a long time to really get on the road. This is our first project and we still needed to find out everything. We didn't make a deal with Sony in the end, but managed to finance the game partly subsidy, partly (cultural) loan, partly external investor. We still have full rights over our intellectual property and have total creative freedom. We don't pay ourselves much, but enough to float.
In our case we were lucky that here in The Netherlands some financial support exists for more experimental games.
Matthew: Do you feel, as a designer, that it is more important to satisfy yourself, or your players?
Richard: I want to make games that I'd like to play myself. That doesn't mean that I don't take in account feedback from others. Seeing people play the game and enjoying it is one of the most motivating things for me. But for me this can only be really satisfying if I like the game too.
Matthew: I suppose I should rephrase that question. After watching play testers struggle, I made the mistake of removing a frustrating section in Duet, even though I thought it was interesting. Now I have to go back and reinsert that puzzle, even though it means some players will give up. Obviously game design is an iterative process, but do you have much trouble reconciling your desire to see people enjoy the game with your desire for artistic integrity?
Richard: As I see it there are a few sides to this story. The first is difficulty. I've prototyped quite some puzzles for ibb and obb and some can get pretty difficult. I don't want to make the game easier, just because players might get stuck and give up. But I do want to avoid unnecessary difficulty.
For example, if a puzzle requires a complicated level layout with lots of game elements in it, it might become difficult just because it is difficult for the players to oversee the whole thing. I try to optimize the puzzles so they become clearer and use the minimum set off elements required to achieve the intended puzzle mechanism. Some puzzles in the game will be a difficult, but the combined brainpower of two players should be able to manage.
Personally I really liked games like Braid and Portal. I find some of the puzzles in those games really challenging, but in the end also really rewarding. I hope ibb and obb will offer a decent challenge too.
Secondly there are other more artistic design choices. For those I tend to listen less to players. We feel pretty free in just going with our personal preferences and give the game a look and feel that we like ourselves. I prefer to play games that feel like a personal expression, so I think I should do the same thing.
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 would agree that the game has some hard puzzles, especially towards the end, although I have never aimed towards being difficult. I just explored the consequences of each new mechanic as fully as I felt was within my grasp, and I'm attempting to present the most interesting bits in a hopefully attractive and surprising way. I liked Braid a lot, so I think that players who enjoyed games like Braid might like Duet. The rewind world in Duet is kind of like an extra two-player world for Braid, it clearly explores different territory than any of the stages in Braid.
Richard: I really wonder how you feel about a hint system or any other way to prevent players from getting stuck. We won't add a hint system or easy way out. This will cause some players to get stuck when puzzles get harder.
Matthew: Hint systems are only necessary if your puzzles stem from some random idea you had, (cat-hair moustache) rather than a complex system. I don't really worry about if some people get stuck and quit. I know that some people just won't be interested in the subjects I'm presenting, but I'm not really trying to make a game for everyone. However, I do attempt to place the puzzles in a learning order that makes logical sense.
Richard: How do you feel about online co-op? And what do you think are the biggest drawbacks?
Matthew: I would prefer that everyone who plays Duet, play it with a real person beside them on a couch. It's just more interesting that way, and communication is easier. Unfortunately that may not really be possible for a lot of people, so online co-op is a good option to allow more people to play this kind of game. As for whether or not I will be implementing that? Netcode is pretty difficult from what I hear, and in this kind of game, timing can be crucial. Still, there's a time for everything, and it will come if I deem it necessary.
I'm curious: can you play your game with one controller?
Richard: Yes. For those who like to give their brains a good workout there will be a single player mode. The levels are identical though.
Matthew: Currently, the game is played by two people sharing a single keyboard on a PC. You can map the controls to controllers using Xpadder or some other third party key-mapper, so I guess it could be played with one controller if you would like. Ideally the game should be played by two people though, that's where you get the most interesting dynamics of play.
When and where can people play your game?
Richard: We'll release on Playstation Network first. Somewhere around March 2012. Some months later we'll release the PC version on Steam.
Mathew: When it's done, and on whatever platforms it gets done on. Probably on PC, though.