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Road To The IGF: Justin Smith's  Enviro-Bear 2000
Road To The IGF: Justin Smith's Enviro-Bear 2000
January 12, 2010 | By Kris Graft

January 12, 2010 | By Kris Graft
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[Gamasutra is kicking of this year's Road to the IGF interview series by talking with Justin Smith, creator of the absurd and hilarious Enviro-Bear 2000, which is up for the Independent Games Festival 2010's alternative-focused Nuovo Award.]

Bears don't drive cars. But Justin Smith's Enviro-Bear 2000: Operation: Hibernation, nominated for the alternative-focused 2010 Independent Games Festival Nuovo Award, takes that widely-accepted notion and tosses it out the window.

In fact, Enviro-Bear 2000's physics-centric gameplay involves tossing all kinds of things out the window--pine cones, leaves, and even badgers to be specific. As a bear behind the wheel of a car, your mission is to eat the berries and fish that fall you’re your vehicle, and somehow drive to your cave so you can hibernate.

Hindering your efforts is your inability to control braking, acceleration, gear-shifting, steering, and badger-tossing with anything more than one hand--or paw, rather. Not only does this intentionally-frustrating limitation add to the game's already absurd and manic humor, but it also shows how much can be done with only a grabbing mechanic.

The IGF Nuovo jury explained that the "'time management' approach to limited player controls" was what attracted them to the game, and in this interview with Smith, he explains how he created a wacky, novel game while letting the user in on the joke.

What kind of background do you have making games?

I've been making games forever. I started as a wee lad typing in code listings from Compute magazine on my C64. Then I did some Atari ST and DOS freeware games. I worked in the big scary industry for several years, then quit that to pursue my love of being unemployed.

What development tools did you use?

I used Visual C++, a 2D graphics engine called HGE, and the Box2D physics library. The art was surprisingly not drawn in MS Paint.

How long have you been working on Enviro-Bear?

I worked on it for about 3 months in total, including the iPhone version, Enviro-Bear 2010. I'm doing some small updates right now, but every time I look at the Enviro-Bear code I want to claw my eyes out.

How did you come up with the concept for the game? We all know bears can't drive.

It started as an entry in the TIGSource cockpit competition. I never seem to be able to complete a game without some kind of arbitrary constraints and a time limit.

The hand-grabbing mechanic was borrowed from the Box2D testbed application. That app lets you grab simple shapes with your mouse and fling them around while experimenting with all the features of the physics engine.

The bear and the foresty setting were just things I figured I was capable of drawing. I didn't really think too much. I just picked some ideas that seemed satisfactorily silly, and rolled with it. It actually started with a squirrel, but squirrels are a lot of work so I went for the bear instead.

What's the point of having one hand do everything?

It's the crux of the game. That's like asking what's the point of all the shooting in Call of Duty. It would have been more logical to have two arms in the iPhone version given that it supports multi-touch, but that seemed like a needless reduction in comedy value.

Why do you think the game struck a chord with the IGF judges, and with people in general?

I suppose because it's very easy to play. It makes no demands of the player. You can just turn off your brain cells for a few minutes, get some laughs, and not worry about failure. So while the controls are intentionally frustrating, I think the game lets players in on the joke, rather than having them be the victim of it. That's about as philosophical as I get.

If you could start the project over again, what would you do differently?

I would probably over-think everything and wind up making a less fun game. Also, I would have made it multi-platform from the beginning.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you particularly enjoyed?

I've played all of them that are available. Even though I consider myself somewhat of an insensitive cad, I did particularly enjoy Today I Die. It's a perfectly original and uncomplicated experience. All beef, no bun.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

I'm not very good at big picture type statements. All I know is the state of my personal scene. Indie games are now at the state where there's so much interesting stuff being produced, I no longer pay much attention to all the latest happenings in mainstream games. So that's kind of a change.

Do you worry the game will encourage real bears to try driving automobiles?

Nah, real bears are pretty dense. I worry more about octopi.


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