Continuing Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2007
entrants, today’s interview is with Peter Stock, developer of Armadillo Run
Stock is a Canadian programmer, who worked on the game solo over a period of nine months. He describes Armadillo Run
as a “physics-based puzzle game, which requires you to build structures to transport an armadillo across a series of levels” and says that the tools used to transport the armadillo resemble a “virtual Meccano set”. Each level features a budget, and while the player can use the game’s realistic physics to move the armadillo in a variety of ways, the overall construction must come in at a price under this budget in order to progress.
Equally interesting is the game’s storyline, which reads simply: “Armadillo is lost in another dimension. Help it return home by guiding it through a series of inter-dimensional portals.”
We spoke to Stock and asked about the game, its entry in the IGF, and the motivation behind using the titular placental mammal.
What is your background in the games industry?
I'm a newcomer to the games industry. I studied Computer Science at university, which has been very useful, but my previous jobs haven't been related to games.
When did you start making games, and what previous titles have you released?
I only started making games quite recently, in mid-2005. Armadillo Run is my first release.
What inspired Armadillo Run, and why did you decide to make it?
I remember a friend of mine showing me Stair Dismount
and we were both playing it for some time. The accurate physics seemed like a pretty revolutionary idea, especially since the gameplay was centred around it. A little while later, the same chap (who always seems to find the best things) showed me Bridge Builder
, which again got me thinking about the role of physics in games. I'd count these two games as the most significant sources of inspiration.
Why an armadillo?
That's a good question. Although it was clearly not designed around the story, I think games are generally more pleasant if there are some characters in them. I wanted an animal that was spherical - I suppose I could have used a woodlouse, but they seem less loveable than an armadillo. There were some girls I went to school with who had a thing for armadillos, so I suppose they also inspired the choice!
Where did the storyline come from?
There's not really very much in the way of storyline! Getting the armadillo (conceptually a ball) to a goal area seemed like a sensible way to structure the gameplay, and I needed something to attempt to explain this. I wanted to stay away from the clichéd rescue-the-princess-from-the-evil-fiend type stories - I decided that something bizarre would be better. So I named the armadillo 'Armadillo' and made the goal area an inter-dimensional portal. I'm not sure if it can really be described as a story!
What were your expectations from your game, and do you feel the end product lives up to those expectations?
I didn't really expect much - I mostly wanted to make something that was fun, unique and would be something I could put on my CV to show that I'd achieved something with my time. In this respect, I think it's been a success.
I originally gave myself 6 months to assess the viability of doing this as a full-time job, and I planned to go back to a normal job after that if it didn't work out financially. Although I'm not in danger of owning a Ferrari in the near future, it's been successful enough for me to carry on and start work on another game.
What do you think the most interesting thing about your game is?
Definitely the physics. Being an integral part of the gameplay, the game's heavily dependent on this being right. I don't think it does anything groundbreaking, but I think what it does, it does fairly well.
Have you seen solutions to the levels that have surprised you?
Definitely. I gave a couple of early prototype versions to some of my friends who gave some valuable comments and showed me how they completed the levels, sometimes cleverly bypassing the challenges I had created! I suppose that this is part of the appeal of the game - I certainly didn't expect many of the approaches that people have used.
How long did development take?
It took 9 months from starting work until it was released for sale. I have done some work on updated versions since the release (and I still have some work I would like to do for future updates).
What I found surprising was that most of the game engine was actually complete in three months. Possibly due to my inexperience in making games, I vastly underestimated the time it took to turn the engine into a game - making the editing interface user-friendly, implementing the high-level menus, doing the level design and testing. I also didn't initially give a lot of thought to how it would be sold - I had not planned on handling this myself, so it took a few weeks to set this up.
What was the development process like?
Initially, it involved a lot of experimentation. I had a fairly good idea of how I was going to implement the physics, but I tried out some slightly different ideas to assess what the other options were. I found that this also helped clarify elements of the overall game design, since it was so closely tied to the way the simulation was implemented.
Later on in development, it was largely a case of doing more mundane tasks and ticking them off the list. I got some very valuable feedback from some of my friends later on, and this really helped - I found it quite surprising how wrong I got a couple of things. One of my friends pointed out that the editing was painfully difficult (I had initially chosen a different approach because it was easier to implement) and someone else pointed out that the buttons needed tool-tips. Both were really obvious problems, but ones I hadn't seen myself.
What do you think of the state of independent development, and how do you think independent games fit into the industry?
It seems to be happy days for independent games at the moment. The numerous 'match three' casual games aside, many independent games seem to innovative, and they often rival conventional games in terms of production quality. Although there are a few conventional games that are unique or innovative, most of them seem pretty derivative. Of course, games companies are businesses - they wouldn't keep on releasing yearly updates of established licences if they didn't sell well, so there's an argument that innovation isn't necessary for a successful game. However, I do feel that the mainstream games companies are leaving a gap in the market - one which independent developers can take advantage of.
Have you checked out any of the other IGF games?
I've read the descriptions of many of them, but I've only had time to play a few.
Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?
I like the idea of using fluid dynamics as part of gameplay. Plasma Pong
manages to fuse this idea with a familiar play mechanic, but I particularly like Ichor
. I think Ichor
's concept of gaining control of the play area works very well with the fluid simulation. It's also very beautiful to watch.
I also really like the idea of using time in gameplay - although the 'slow motion' and 'rewind' concepts of controlling time have been repetitively exploited recently, Brand
sounds like it's something fresh (it's a pity there's not a demo available yet). Incidentally, this reminds of an interesting platform/puzzle game called Time Slip
created for the PlayStation with the Yaroze development kit, which used the concept of time repeating and players encountering earlier versions of themselves.
Because there are so many entries, there are bound to be some great ones that I've missed.
Which recent indie games do you admire, and which recent mainstream titles do you admire, and why?
I recently discovered Cave Story
(or Doukutsu Monogatari
). I love 2D platform games and it seems to combine the elements from the best ones, yet it's no copycat - it definitely has its own unique style. What I found most surprising is that it was developed by one person, but it has the size and quality to match Super Mario World
The developer has released it as freeware, but in my opinion it would trounce the competition if it were released on any of the new consoles' downloadable channels. Everyone who owns a PC or Mac should buy a gamepad just for this game - it really is that good.
I don't buy too many mainstream games, but I do like the Gran Turismo
series - GT4
is the last word in racing games for me. I like We Love Katamari
- I didn't get to play the original game because it wasn't available in the UK. Although it's not so recent, one of my favourite games is Bombastic
(or its prequel, Devil Dice
), a puzzle game based on rolling dice around to match their numbers.
Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?
The quality of the entries is really very high, with many new ideas - the contestants have done a cracking job.