December 6, 2011 3:00 AM | John Polson
Feign developer Ian Snyder has stepped away from clever maze constructing to create a platformer where the ground is made entirely of jelly in the aptly named The Floor is Jelly. Snyder's browser title Feign was quite popular last year; it even earned an honorable mention from last year's IGF. Snyder hopes to up his game and impress the judges further with this year's gelatinous entry.
Snyder is aiming for a Windows and Mac release for The Floor is Jelly. Though he would like also to do a Linux release, he's currently restricted while coding in Flash. He's aiming to complete the game in about a year.
In the following interview, Snyder shares how "games are basically magic." He discusses how his new game is played, how lessons from Feign - such as the patience of a player - helped shape Jelly, and why he chose the substance.
So what genre(s) is this? It appears to be a platformer.
Ian: It is a platformer, yes. SO indie.
How is the game played?
I'm trying to keep the game as simple as possible, so right now it's regulated to three keys for running in both directions and for jumping. The world currently consists of a series of smaller levels which are connected by their exits.
Open our eyes to the world made of jelly. Are there any concrete (excuse the pun) mechanics or implementations you can share beyond this video?
The mechanics are still congealing (oh ho!) as I go.
Ok, I'm going to be completely honest here. I only said that because I wanted a good excuse to use the word "congeal".
That said, I want to leave much of it up to the player to discover. There's always a vast difference between playing a game and observing it from a distance, and its especially true here. Much of the game lies in the feel of it, in the kinetic satisfaction of movement. It sounds like such a cop-out, but that's something I simply can't convey through text - or even video!
I will say that I plan to fill the game with secrets. The trampoline-like nature of moving through this world opens up a lot of passages that aren't immediately apparent. If there's ever a high-up place you shouldn't be able to get to, the game will reward you for using the jelly to get there.
Because "Jell-O" is trademarked... and because, when it comes down to it, there simply aren't enough things to bounce on in this world.
Right now I've been focusing a lot on what the jelly means with regards to level design, and I'm moving up from there. The consequences of characters living in a jelly world are a little weird, for example. Where do they live? How do they build houses? I think at one point everyone tried to build houses out of the jelly, but they all got hungry and ate them.
Sometimes I'll start daydreaming storylines for the game and I'll get carried away trying to write these really serious, grave things. Eventually I have to remind myself that everything is essentially made of jello. It demands a certain level of whimsy.
What did feedback from Feign and other games teach you for making Jelly?
Wow, I can't think of two more disparate games!
They do share certain characteristics, though. The central focus of both games is less about how awesome the protagonist/player is and more about the supernatural nature of the environment around them.
Games are basically magic. Want to walk around in a non-Euclidean maze? No problem! Want to run around wildly on a floor made of jello? Go for it!
One big lesson I took away from Feign is how patient the player can be. Maybe I had to abuse that relationship a little bit to understand that it was there. I felt for a while after Feign that I had to make these 'apology' games that were much kinder to the player.
There's a certain threshold a gamer crosses when they really commit to a game though. There's this point between where they're only trying it out and where they're actively trying to reach the end. Once the player steps over it, you can basically take them anywhere you want to. That's one of the key differences to me between games and other mediums, suspension of disbelief is a built in feature. When something happens in a game, no matter how fantastical that thing is, it is actually happening.
What IGF awards are you aiming for with your title and how do you think your game succeeds in those areas?
As for awards, I've not really built the game with the goal in mind of winning any particular award. To me, that seems like an easy way to lose focus of the game as a whole.
I'm trying to work evenly on all parts of the game as I go. I'm really proud of what I've done so far on the music and graphics, and the feeling of just moving around in this world is obviously something I'm also working to perfect, but it feels presumptuous to me to say, "My game is better than anyone else's at this and this and this!"
There are so many great games entered this year. Regardless of whether I make it in or not, I'm excited to see the list of finalists.
Those programmers curious about how Snyder has turned the floor into jelly should continue reading on his blog. I don't know about you all, but all this talk of jelly makes me want a snack.