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We Ask Indies: Matt Rix, creator of Trainyard and Disco Zoo
by Nico Saraintaris on 03/19/14 06:13:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Matt Rix is the creator of Futile (a code-centric 2D framework for Unity) and the mobile hit Trainyard. He has teamed up with Owen Goss to make Milkbag Games. Disco Zoo is his latest game. Now he answers our questions! matt_rix1. How long have you been making games?

My first experience with programming was when I was pretty young (probably 6 or 7) playing around with QBasic. My computer came with the QBasic files for two games called Nibbles and Gorillas, and so me and my dad would just open the source files for those up and then try changing variables to see what it did. Later on in my mid teens, I did a lot of game programming with Klik n’ Play and The Games Factory, which are these really cool visual programming environments that a lot of people still use. I used those tools to made a couple really cool little games that are still sitting on some hard drive somewhere, but I haven’t been able to find them recently. After that, I learned Flash programming (AS2 and then later AS3), and I went through a phase of a few years where I was mostly just making “multimedia” with Flash instead of actual games.

2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.

It really depends what I’m trying to accomplish, but usually creative process involves taking multiple concepts and asking what it would look like if they were combined together. Most of my game ideas, especially my puzzle games, tend to come from me sitting and doodling in a graph-paper notebook for hours until something seems interesting.

3. Trainyard is one of our favourite puzzle games on mobile devices (we've played it both on Android and iOS). How did you come with its core idea? Also, what are your favourite puzzle games for Android and iOS?

I actually came up with the idea for Trainyard while I was sitting on a real train, on my way commuting to my job one morning. I wanted to bring together the idea of model trains, especially switching tracks, with mixing of colors. The original idea for the game had distinct “engines” that would pull colored cars behind them, but I eventually simplified that into what the game is now. Hmm, favourite puzzle games is tricky… One of my favourites is actually Bad Piggies, I love the idea and I think it’s executed really well. I think Helsing’s Fire, Stickets and Threes all do really interesting things and stand out as unique games. I’d also throw 868-Hack into this category, because it’s a fantastic game and it often feels like a puzzle game to me.

4. One of our most-loved features from Trainyard is user-made levels. How was working on this feat like? Any crazy user-made level you remember? Any favourite?

Working on that feature took about three months of full-time work, but it felt like an eternity. There was a ton of backend work to do, and designing and implementing the UI for the puzzle sharing system (both on the site and in the app) was draining. There are over 100,000 user made levels now, so it’s pretty hard to pick a favourite. There are a couple users that have single-handedly made over 1000 puzzles, which is just mind-blowing to me because I’ve only ever made about 300 myself. There are lots of puzzles that are good enough that I could even include them in the real game (ex: http://trainyard.ca/S3GzW).

5. You've teamed up with Owen Goss to make Milkbag Games. Why did you chose this name? Also, you've just released Disco Zoo and you have more than a million players... wow, how did you guys celebrate reaching this milestone?

We wanted a name that felt Canadian, but most of the names we thought of had to do with snow and cold. Most milk in Canada comes in a bag, and so we realized that “milkbag” would make a name that was both strange and yet very Canadian. Most Canadians instantly understand the name, and most people from other places are like “what’s a milkbag?”. It works! :) We haven’t really celebrated that milestone yet, but we’re heading to GDC next week, so hopefully we can celebrate it there with some of our friends :)

6. Snow Siege (your upcoming title) is a mashup of TD, CCG and Tetris... (mind blown) Do you like mashups? Do you consider mashups important for game design? What are your favourite mashup games?

Snow Siege is a very strange game! I think mashups can be good, but it’s really hard to make sure that you’re not ruining the things that make the different genres fun in the first place. I don’t know if they are important for game design, but it’s definitely an easy way to come up with unique ideas. I think my favourite mashup game is probably Spelunky, which is a perfect mashup of platform game and roguelike.

7. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?

Hah, that’s a tough question! I think one would have to be Jonathan Blow. He says a lot of things that I don’t agree with, but he also says a lot of brilliant things, and he does more than anyone to push games forward as a medium. I’m *really* excited about The Witness; I think it’s going to be fantastic. Next would be Derek Yu, because he also says a lot of really smart things, and I can’t wait to see what other games he has up his sleeves after Spelunky. The last would be Dan Cook (of Lost Garden + Spry Fox). Each of his games always does something really unique and fresh, and he has tons of insightful things to say about game design.

8. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?

I was really into Starcraft for a long time, and then Day of Defeat after that, but these days I’ve tried to cut out most of those type of “addictive games with online multiplayer” out of my system because otherwise I’d just play them and never get any work done. I play most of the major indie releases that come out on Steam and on iOS, but often don’t complete them. I play just enough to get to the core of what makes them interesting. My current go-to guilty pleasure game is TagPro. It’s an HTML5 2D physics capture-the-game with online multiplayer. It’s really, really good once you get into it and you get over how ugly it is ;)

9. One last random question. Which game character would make a good president or global leader and why?

Billy Blaze (aka Commander Keen), because he already saved the earth once, so he has the credentials.

 

*We Ask Indies is an initiative by Beavl, an Argentinian independent game studio putting some teeth into videogames. You can check all the interviews here (caricatures are made by amazing artist Joaquín Aldeguer!).


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