Road To The IGF: Jones and Pulver's Snapshot
In Snapshot, players guide Pic through a colorful, pastel-hued world in which they can capture objects or creatures with a photograph, then place them elsewhere to reach previously inaccessible areas, complete puzzles, or move around creatures.
We spoke with the game's core team, designer/programmer Kyle Pulver and designer/artist Peter Jones, about Snapshot -- which was nominated for an Excellence in Design award at this year's Independent Games Festival (part of Think Services, as is this website).
Subjects discussed include how the team motivated themselves to complete the project, the designers' thoughts on I Wish I Were The Moon's photo element, and planned features for future Snapshot builds, which include a Portal-esque mechanic that allows players to record and redirect the velocity and direction of moving objects.
What kind of background do you have making games?
Kyle Pulver: Being fresh out of college, I don't have any actual games industry experience just yet. I've been making games in one way or another since I grabbed a copy of Klik and Play when I was 10 or 11 years old. And of course, [I've been] playing games all my life.
I didn't really get into this whole indie games scene until last year when I released Bonesaw: The Game after almost a year and a half of working on it. Since then, I've been just making some small games for the competitions at TIGSource with Everyone Loves Active 2 and Verge.
Peter Jones: I, too, have never really had any actual industry experience, but like Kyle, have grown up on video games. During college, I was involved with some personal projects like Splotch! and Puzmagraph with other students. Since Snapshot was submitted, a friend and I released Memix, a puzzle/memory game for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
How did you develop the idea to add this photography element to a platformer?
PJ: I actually had a really weird dream in October of 2007. I was being chased by this crazy animal, and for whatever reason, with a disposable camera in hand, I snapped a photo of it just as it lunged at me. After I lowered the camera, it was gone.
I like telling people it was this huge bear, but I think if I remember right, it was a squirrel or something like that. After that, I woke up, frantically wrote it all down, and spent most of that morning's Biology class explaining to Kyle how it would make an awesome game (without much resistance).
KP: It really seemed like the perfect idea to pursue. As for being a platformer specifically, I just happen to love platformers to death, and I think Pete and myself both knew that making the game a 2D platformer would be the best bet. I had just finished a rather lengthy platformer game, so that's the genre I have the most experience in.
PJ: That was a crazy dream.
The game has been in the works since November 2007, right? What has the development process been like?
PJ: Kyle and I had used Snapshot as our thesis project at Clarkson University, so we were lucky to have imposed deadlines to keep us on track. Our assignment was to create more of a proof of concept. The idea of moving objects around seemed pretty complicated to us, and we weren't sure how it would translate on the fun scale.
Since the thesis presentation (and graduation!), Kyle and I have been involved in separate projects with plans to pick up development after this year's GDC.
KP: The deadlines definitely helped when we were working on it last year. Either we finished the project, or we didn't graduate. That can really motivate you to work on something. We got a lot done while at school, but since then, it's been tough to pick it back up with both of us going separate ways. The IGF nomination has definitely put us back into the zone though.
Can you tell us about the game's hero, Pic, and his motivations in Snapshot?
PJ: We're still working on the details of Snapshot's story, but I can give you the general idea from a gameplay's perspective. Snapshot obviously revolves around a mysterious camera. Parts of Pic's camera are stolen and scattered around his world.
During his adventure to collect the missing parts, a separate more sinister plot will arise and Pic will find himself in the middle of a conflict bigger than himself.
KP: Whoa that sounds pretty epic. I can't wait.
What are some examples of some of the more clever ways players can move around objects?
PJ: One of my favorites is that Pic will eventually gain the ability to rotate pictures and also take "action shots." Any objects that are captured will retain their velocity and direction so that you might have a projectile that you can capture, flip 180 degrees, and fire back at its shooter.
KP: In the future we want to move toward more of a freeform physics-based gameplay environment. Rotating photos and carrying an object's momentum is a great example of something we want to achieve in upcoming builds of the game, and something that will add a lot of life to it.
Imagine that there's a box that falls down from high above, and if the player is quick enough, they can snag it in a photo as it's falling. Now, when they go to place that photo, they can rotate it in any direction they want before it gets pasted. The box will launch out of the pasted photo depending on how its rotated.
If the player finds a bomb that has a button on one side of it, they can snap a photo of it, rotate it, and drop it so it lands on the button and it blows up, and that can knock down a wall or damage a large enemy or something along those lines.
Were there any new ideas for new snapshot uses that you came up with while experimenting with the game's mechanics?
KP: One of the ideas we came up with while actually messing around with the engine was the idea that you can take pictures of a door and paste it back onto a wall to access a new area. We added this in at the very end of the level in the IGF build.
The player finds a door that seemingly leads to nowhere, but hovering the camera over it shows that it can be captured in a photo. If the player can find where to paste the door, they can walk through it and advance to the next area.
Have you played Daniel Benmergui's I Wish I Were The Moon? It has a similar snapshot mechanic, though presented on a smaller scale. What are your thoughts on that title, and its use of photos?
KP: I played I Wish I Were The Moon when the Redux version came out, I missed the first version of it. At first, when I played it, I thought, "Oh crap, there's a game that uses photos already."
It's a great sort of bite-sized game that's easy to enjoy. After spending some time on it, I still don't think I've found all the endings, but I don't want to resort to a using a walkthrough to ruin it. It's pretty awesome that games which are so different can share the same unique mechanic.
PJ: Now I have! I think the idea that your actions permanently change the final outcome is really interesting.
Can you describe how you developed the game's art style, and why you chose this particular look? It's very Yoshi's Island-esque.
PJ: We went through a few different styles for Snapshot and had a tough time deciding how our protagonist would look. Since its submission, we've begun determining a storyline that will probably dictate some sort of change in its general appearance.
However, from the start, we knew Snapshot should be a vibrant, picturesque environment almost out of a storybook. It was natural that we looked to Yoshi's Island as a source of inspiration. It has always stood out in my mind as one of the most beautiful games across the board.
We also never expected Snapshot to get this much attention, so we're excited to continue refining and refreshing its artistic development to provide the most unique and appealing experience possible.
The game is still in its prototype stages -- can you share some of the gameplay elements that you intend to eventually include?
PJ: We have a lot of exciting game play elements that we want to include. We hope to have a way for Pic to take a picture of himself, and create a copy that exists and moves like he does for a limited time. We'll have "gate keepers" that want a picture of something, not necessarily an object, before they'll let you pass.
It would be cool to use the negative space of a pasted picture in order to pass through certain barriers. Double-prints, enlargements, film negatives -- some of our best ideas have come up mid-development, so there are a lot more elements waiting to be discovered.
Oh, I've also always wanted passive animals in a game. Why is everything trying to kill you? That's not cool; so I thought it would be fun to have some animals that even run away at the sight of you. A side quest might be to capture every type of animal and enemy in the game. And then you'd have to build a team, to fight other animals ... just kidding.
KP: Most of the game will be based around the concept that you'll be able to deconstruct and reassemble the level through photos as you play. Besides the photographs, though, we also have plans to incorporate some grapple hook and climbing type stuff, because that's always fun.
We also want to try to appeal to the collectathon lovers out there by rewarding players for bringing back photos of objects, enemies, or anything else they can find, and displaying them in a big trophy room of sorts. The final game will definitely have a lot of layers so there will be something there for all types of players.
What sort of development tools did your team use?
KP: Everything that exists in the game right now is made with Multimedia Fusion. I had built a level editor with MMF, as well as the game engine. Unfortunately, we're starting to hit some of the limitations of MMF, and it has a lot of overhead for getting relatively simple things running, so we're going to have to explore other options in the months ahead.
PJ: We used some software called Adobe Photoshop too, you should check it out. It's pretty effective at creating images.
If you could start the project over again, what would you do differently?
PJ: We had such a small time span to get it ready for our thesis presentation. I think a second go-around would see a little more time spent planning on exactly what we wanted. Since we didn't have too much time, we had to dive right into it.
KP: I think that having a real programmer on board from the start would've been nice. I've been trying to do my best with Multimedia Fusion, and I think I've done a pretty good job so far, but it sure would've been a lot smoother if I wasn't the one coding.
Time wasn't on our side, as we had to have a polished presentation ready in about 10 weeks from when we actually started. Instead of having a lot of half-finished mechanics, we just decided to have a small set of polished ones.
What do you think of the state of independent game development, and are there any other independent games out that you currently admire?
KP: I'm brand new into this crazy world of making games, so I can't really offer any profound thoughts on the state of indie games. It's definitely a growing space with limitless potential (Could I say anything more generic?).
With tools out there like Game Maker, Multimedia Fusion, XNA, and countless others, anyone with access to a computer can make something, and having that kind of openness is going to result in (and has resulted in) some amazing things I'm sure.
I hope that the model of publishing games will evolve in a way that will really open doors for some of the small teams or individuals with great games. Crayon Physics Deluxe is among my favorites right now, and before that it was World of Goo and Aquaria.
I'm a big fan of Konjak's work and Noitu Love 2 was one of my favorite games of last year. Long before that, I really enjoyed Within a Deep Forest, and Lyle in Cube Sector, and so many more that I couldn't possibly name them all.
As of lately, all the indie games on my PC have completely taken me away from my consoles. There's just something about playing a game that was only developed by one person or a small team of people. The experience is just more personal than playing a huge big budget game.
PJ: There's so many great things going on that it's hard to keep up with it. We were both lucky enough to go to college in the same town that Jason Rohrer lives in. I love showing "non-gamers" and artists Passage to see their reaction. His titles reach an emotional level that I can only dream of achieving at this point.