[In the latest Road to the IGF interview with 2010 Independent Games Festival finalists, Gamasutra speaks with designer Tyler Glaiel and artist Jon Schubbe about Closure, a finalist in both the Excellence in Audio and Technical Excellence categories.]
Closure, first introduced in a Flash version, is a puzzler that challenges a very basic principle of gaming: That light is always good and darkness is always bad. In Closure, that which is illuminated exists, and that which isn't, doesn't, producing no end of brain-bending environments.
Here, programmer, designer, producer and director Tyler Glaiel and artist Jon Schubbe discuss their design and inspirations -- and the the upcoming expanded version of the game's subtly sinister undertones.
What is your background in making games?
Tyler: I've been interested in game development pretty much my whole life. When I was young, I used to draw levels for Mario and Sonic on big sheets of paper and pretend to play through them in my mind, and thought, "man I wish I was the one who designed these games, cause I have so many ideas".
I got to play around with actually making a game when I was 11 (using Flash 4, titled "Pigeon Pooper"), and have been practicing and evolving my skills ever since.
Jon: One of the first games I made was an RPG Maker game called Book of Miseries and Mysteries (Copyright 2002 Jon Schubbe Inc) and from then on, I've been making personal Flash animations and games for Newgrounds.com in my spare time.
What development tools did you use?
Tyler: I use flash all the time for prototypes and web games. The new version of Closure is written in C++ (XCode on the Mac, Visual c++ Express on Windows). And I'm powered by Coffee™.
Jon: Adobe products get me by.
How long did you work on the game?
Tyler: The Flash prototype took two months to make. Following that, we've been working on the new version for about nine months so far. There is still a year or more to go to finish it up, and business stuff can move pretty slowly at times.
What gave you the inspiration to do a game that worked with light and dark contrasts, and how did you come up with the main concept?
Tyler: In most games that have "dark levels", there is a very distinct separation between darkness and light. It's usually "Dark = Bad, Light = Good", or in stealth games, it's flipped.
I hate that dumb division between the two, so this game sorta plays with how, in some situations, you need the light, and in others it just gets in the way. The concept was just an idea that popped into my head during brainstorming.
One thing I noticed about it when I played it was the odd little touches that gave the world in-game more of a sense of place, rather than simply being a puzzle-oriented geometric landscape. Can you talk about that, and why were there mailboxes?
Jon: Tyler's past puzzle games have mostly been very simple, abstract, graphic design-looking. For the Flash version of the game, I came in to animate a character and draw environment assets to enhance the experience and give the game a vague storyline.
Mailboxes are used to represent the fact that you are on a road outside people's homes, and eventually leading you into a forest. In our latest new version, being created from the ground up, I am animating and drawing all new graphics for the new game.
I will also be essentially decorating the landscape this time, creating a whole new abstract appearance for the new game, as opposed to the old geometric pattern in the Flash game.
The title is very distinct. In what ways does it relate to the game concept, and did you mean to give the experience of playing it such a subtly sinister overtone?
Tyler: The word "Closure" means about 500 different things. The way to advance through levels is to go through a door (closing and opening a door), and the storyline and plot deals with closure to an extent, but the main reason the title was picked was because of the gameplay.
I read Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics", and he had a chapter on "closure", and about how it's how the brain connects images together, or how if you see two parts of a bridge obscured (by darkness, per say), your brain connects those images together.
He had a panel in that chapter where he wondered if stuff he couldn't see disappeared (behind him), and the reason the brain actually remembers that there is something there is through the process of "closure". I was like, whoa, that fits my game, except I'm forcing people to ignore that instinct.
That's where the name comes from (and is a way more interesting story than where the idea came from, but everyone always cares more about the idea's inspiration for some reason).
It's also funny, cause the word can mean so many different things, the number of puns that have come about during it's development, like "foreClosure", "bringing closure to Closure", and others too.
Jon: Blair Herter from X-Play: "These two guys were in a relationship at one point and 'Closure' is what they didn't have have in their relationship."
If you could start the project over again, what would you do differently?
Jon: The project IS being started over again! The new version of the game is the one that was entered into the IGF! From the old one, I am including lots of hi-def artwork and smoother animation for loads of new levels with new mechanics and sound.
Tyler: Yeah, the flash version had a lot wrong with it. I could go over it in super detail everything that went wrong, but it would take PAGES. Luckily, since only two months were invested in it, it was completely painless to just start from scratch for the big version.
No more Flash (it's slow), HD so there's more room for designing interesting levels and creating interesting mood and plot, less "guesswork" puzzles and more "thinking" puzzles, less lag, and more mechanics to allow for more variety of puzzles without resorting to some of the cheap tricks theFflash one did to extend the game. Physics, water, spotlights, and more. It's kinda nice to work off of a base project like that that got a ton of feedback.
Were there any elements that you experimented with that just flat out didn't work with your vision?
Tyler: There were a lot of levels I had to trash, and a couple stuff in the flash version that just wasn't an interesting enough mechanic to redo in the new version. We've yet to implement our riskiest idea though, so stuff remains to be seen.
Jon: As far as graphics go, I'm experimenting with different styles of black and white, keeping the style of the atmosphere as close as possible to the first game, while improving it vastly. Some things that don't work at all with the atmosphere is sometimes my cartoony drawing style to things gets in the way.
I'm keeping the drawings right on the edge of cartoony and creepy to create a unique look for the limited black and white palette of the game.
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you particularly enjoyed?
Tyler: I've played Super Meat Boy, a little bit of Rocketbirds' demo, Star Guard, Today I Die, Tuning, and a bunch of the student winners too (Puzzle Bloom, Continuity, and Spectre). Super Meat Boy is great, so is Today I Die and Tuning, and I'm really excited for this year's selection, since there's a ton on the list I want to try, like Vessel and Monaco.
Jon: Of course! Meat Boy's Flash version was a lot of fun because I love masochistic platforming. Shank is a fun game with sweet combos and I like the comic book ink-shaded look to it. It complements the over-the-top action.
I've also played Tuning and Today I Die, which are fantastic abstract experiences compared to your every day 'video games'. I've also played Puzzle Bloom in the Student Showcase, and it was a very fun and challenging experience.
Spectre is another I've played from the Student Showcase and it has a cool unique art direction and way of storytelling. Heroes of Newerth I haven't played, but I have played DotA, a WarCraft III mod that HoN was based off, so I could probably predict that game is amazing too.
What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?
Tyler: It is great. Two years ago all I knew about the indie scene was Gish, Alien Hominid, and Castle Crashers. Then I got involved in it a little (after realizing that what I've been doing for so long IS indie development), and it's been one hell of a ride since then.
It's crazy the people I've met and the places I've been since then, and it doesn't look to be getting stale any time soon.
Jon: I think it's great! There's a lot of dispute over the definition of 'indie' but I think people know deep down that combining the various personal situations people are in as they make the game, and the final product, they can judge whether or not it is 'indie' by intuition for themselves.
[Previous 'Road To The IGF' interview subjects have included Enviro-Bear 2000 developer Justin Smith, Rocketbirds: Revolution's co-creators Sian Yue Tan and Teck Lee Tan, Vessel co-creator John Krajewski, Trauma creator Krystian Majewski, Super Meat Boy co-creators Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, Sidhe's Mario Wynands, who worked on Shatter, Daniel Benmergui, creator of Today I Die, Klei Entertainment's Jamie Cheng, executive producer on Shank, Star Guard creator Loren Schmidt, Miegakure developer Marc Ten Bosch, Joe Danger creator Hello Games, and Limbo partner Dino Patti.]