Over the next few weeks, Gamasutra will be presenting a regular 'Road To The IGF' feature, profiling and interviewing each of the finalists in the 2006 Independent Games Festival main competition. Today's interview is with Ryan Clark from Vancouver, BC's Grubby Games, the developer of 2006 IGF Seumas McNally Grand Prize finalist Professor Fizzwizzle. As the official explanation for the independent PC game explains:
"Professor Fizzwizzle is a fun, mind-expanding puzzle game, where you take control of the diminutive genius, Professor Fizzwizzle. You must help the professor use his brains and his gadgets to solve each exciting level. Do you have what it takes to get past the Rage-Bots and back to the lab?"
In this exclusive interview, we talk to Clark about his game, which has also received the 2005 GameTunnel award for Casual Game of The Year, his company's background, the state of the independent gaming scene. We also discuss Clark's hopes regarding his company's chances for winning at the 2006 IGF, which will take place at Game Developers Conference in San Jose from March 22-24 2006, and where Professor Fizzwizzle will be available to play, alongside the other finalists.
|Grubby Games' IGF finalist Professor Fizzwizzle|
GS: Tell us a bit about your background in the game industry, when your developer was founded, your location, your previously developed games?
RC: We're complete newbies! Neither of us had created a game before Professor Fizzwizzle, but we happened to have complementary hobbies. Ryan had been working on his game programming skills for many years, and likewise Matt had always been an avid graphic artist. Since we are good friends and both happen to live in Vancouver, Canada, we decided last year to take the plunge and try our hand at creating a downloadable game.
GS: Tell us a little about your game - genre, how long it took to make, what it was inspired by, why you wanted to make it?
RC: Professor Fizzwizzle is a platform puzzle game which has been compared to Lemmings, The Incredible Machine, and even Lode Runner. The player takes control of the Professor and must use gadgets and cunning to escape each level. It took about 9 months to create the game.
The game's design was certainly inspired by The Incredible Machine, but also by the indie game Dweep, and even by the classic NES game, The Adventures of Lolo. We wanted to make the game because we are fans of the puzzle genre and don't see enough modern puzzle games on the market. We hoped other gamers out there would agree!
GS: What was the smartest thing you did to speed development of your title, and the dumbest thing you (collectively!) did which hindered development?
RC: The smartest thing we did was to create multiple prototypes. There were three different incarnations of the game prior to the final product you now see. Each prototype helped us to uncover design and coding flaws that would've seriously impacted the development of the game, and the final product.
The dumbest thing was to underestimate the mental energy required to design puzzles. It took a long time to create all 236 levels! Far longer than we budgeted for. It's quite easy to think of puzzle ideas when you first start out, but when the imagination runs dry it's nearly impossible to force your brain to come up with yet another clever idea!
GS: What do you think of the state of independent development? Improving? Changing for the worse or the better?
RC: The indie scene is growing - not changing for the better or worse, but simply growing, naturally. As long as one person (or a small team, as in our case!) can create a game with no external funding, the indie scene will live on. There are countless basement developers like us out there, and I can't see any reason why that will ever end.
|A little more Professor Fizzwizzle? Why, certainly.|
GS: What do you think of the concept of indie games on consoles such as the Xbox 360 (for digital download) or on digital distribution services like Steam? Is that a better distribution method than physical CDs or downloads via a website/portal?
RC: It's great! The more ways an indie can reach a gamer, the better. There are some worries that such distribution services will give too much power to the distributor and not enough to the developer, but so long as an indie can create a website and go it alone, there will always be a way for an indie developer to make its mark. If gamers feel that the distribution services aren't up to snuff, they'll surely fire up their web browser and search the Net to fill their need for innovative games.
GS: Have you checked out any of the other IGF games? Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?
RC: Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space is an amazing game. If Professor Fizzwizzle doesn't win, hopefully Weird Worlds will! Not only is it a space-based game (one of the greatest of genres!), but the implementation is amazingly fresh and fun. You never know what's going to happen when you reach that next star system...
GS: What recent indie games do you admire, and what recent mainstream console/PC games do you admire, and why?
RC: Tribal Trouble is another great indie game. Good graphics, fun gameplay, and best of all, it runs on Linux! I love the humour in it, too. Ultratron (from PuppyGames.net) was also a bright spot for me this year; I spent far too long trying to get #1 on the high scores list! Great retro gameplay, very fitting graphics and sound, and a very low price tag. The joys of indie games!
As for mainstream games, I'm a Mario Kart junkie, so Double Dash was hotly anticipated. Every time Nintendo comes out with a new version of Kart I cringe at the thought of the gameplay and control changes that are coming, but Nintendo always manages to pull it off without angering the rabid Kart fanboy within me! I also really enjoy the Soul Calibur series. Soul Calibur is easy for beginners to get into (since button mashing often has good results!), but also rewards the dedicated player with fun combo possibilities.
Also, like just about everyone else who has tried it, I absolutely adore Katamari Damacy. It's easily one of the most charming and inspiring games I've played since I was a kid!
GS: Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?
RC: Your Kung Fu is no match for mine!
2006 IGF Professor Fizzwizzle Judge Comments
The 2006 Independent Games Festival judges, which comprise a large cross-section of game professionals, made anonymized comments on each entry for the first time this year, and some of the comments for Professor Fizzwizzle included:
"Absolutely wonderful presentation with regards to all components: menus, in-game art, and sound. The varying skill levels that the puzzles take place in ease the gamer into the groove of the game, and allow them to ramp up to some real mind benders."
"Very well put together and complete game."
[The full list of IGF judges includes developers from major studios (Nihilistic, Vicarious Visions, Shiny, Criterion/EA, Activision, Big Huge Games), through journalists from major indie game sites such as TIGSource, GameTunnel and DIYGames, all the way to indie developers behind former IGF-prizewinning titles such as Gish and N.]