Continuing Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, we talk to 2D Boy's Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler about their IGF 2008 Seumas McNally Grand Prize finalist World of Goo.
The title, which was one of the most-nominated in this year's IGF, is a physics-based puzzler to be released for PC, Mac, Linux, and Nintendo's Wii - and featuring balls of goo that don't realize they are delicious.
What kind of background do you have in the game industry or in making games?
KG: Previous projects you might not have heard of include QBasic Spinning Magenta Square and the Totally Broken Networked Ascii Turn-Based Pong for TI-82 Graphing Calculator(tm). Those were the glory days. Later, some buddies and I started the Experimental Gameplay Project at CMU, and I worked with EA for a while (it's not so bad!), eventually met uber genius Ron, and we concocted evil plans to start our very own 2D Boy Mega Corporation.
RC: I started making games in basic on a Commodore 64. They weren't much to look at, but for a 10 year old me, it was THE medium of expression. Professionally, I've worked on various graphics related products and in 2004 I finally got a proper game job developing casual games for pogo.com.
What motivated you to create World of Goo?
KG: Tower of Goo was a small gameplay prototype I had made a while ago which was fun, but not very deep. But as one dashing gentleman put it, "That was a TOWER of goo, this is a whole f***ing WORLD of goo!" That's pretty much our motivation.
Where did you draw inspiration from in its design and implementation?
RC: The artistic vision is all Kyle. I'm in awe of his creative talents.
KG: There was a control freak girl in undergrad who was a party planner and she held her hands out front like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, never touching anything, just commanding others to move things, pour things, drape things, all with tiny flicks of fingers and wrists, and in that way, entire interior makeovers would happen like a puppet show. It was fascinating.
Giant disembodied hands are a prominent theme in World of Goo, indicating that events larger than you are happening. Or that you are very small. Something like that.
What sort of development tools are used to make World of Goo?
RC: We started out making this game for PC and at some point decided to make versions for Wii, Mac, and Linux, so I ended up rolling our own platform-agnostic framework which now uses SDL, D3D, and Bass under the hood. I'm so grateful for open source initiatives!
We use ODE for physics, TinyXML for all our animations and config stuff, SVN for version control, Mantis for bug tracking, and custom level and animation editors. Developing this game would have been very painful/expensive had it not been for a solid open source foundation.
What do you think the most interesting element of your game is?
RC: When I first showed the game to my mom she played it for two hours straight and only stopped when her back started hurting. Kyle's cousins actually fought over it. People who have never played a game before laughed as they played it. To me, this kind of draw is magic and I can't explain it. Maybe Kyle has a theory.
KG: People seem to like "the friendly Sign Painter" - a mysterious tipster leaving you signposts in each level. The Sign Painter becomes increasingly involved and uh... friendly. Anyway, there is a deliberate "story" that happens throughout the game, but it is entirely optional and never explicitly told. I mean, it's just a dumb physics game, and I hate forced story in games! It ends up being more a "suggested emotional journey" through "themes" (giant corporation stuff, booth babes, quest for self discovery, enlightenment, blah blah blah) - see, it sounds stupid when you say it, so we just don't. Forget I said that. It's all about feelings!
Roughly how many people have been working on World of Goo, and what has the development process been like?
RC: Until very recently it was just Kyle and I. Last month we started working with a very smart and talented developer by the name of Allan Blomquist on the Wii version of the game. Regarding the process, it's totally ad hoc. The glue that binds it together is a daily Skype video call where we talk design, brainstorm, coordinate work, and just remind ourselves that we're working with another human being.
When I don't see Kyle's face regularly, in my mind he somehow becomes this 2D caricature of his real self. Face time plays an important role in fostering connection, cooperation, and good will.
KG: This is my kitty Madonna who sleeps in our SVN server and holds it all together with fur.
If 2D Boy had to rewind to the very start of the project, is there anything that you'd do differently?
RC: There were a few large architectural changes in the code along the way. They were fairly time consuming and had I known then what I know now we could have circumnavigated them and saved a couple of months of work. But it's all part of the learning process. The game has undergone a lot of changes, particularly in its early life.
When I get some time I'm going to post a "Life of Goo" series on our blog, outlining the development of World of Goo, mostly through screen shots and movies from all stages of development. You'll laugh when you see what this game looked like two weeks in. It's weirder than the first Simpsons episode, though not as funny.
What are your thoughts on the state of independent game development, and are any other independent games out now that you admire?
KG: Indie games are the new form of self expression for the motivated misfit. I'm blown away by little Flash games oozing with style made by kids who aren't even old enough to drink, wtf? The community of lovable and terrifyingly capable indie developers is steadily making big budgets irrelevant.
Actually, that would be a fun game. You get a Nuclear Irrelevant Gun 5000 and blast giant studios and they bleed money. Maybe there's a time limit.
You have 30 seconds left to live and you must tell the game business something very important. What is it?
RC: Thanks, it's been fun!
KG: You're beautiful, damn it.