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Road To The IGF: ViquaSoft (Tommy and the Magical Words)


March 20, 2006
 

Introduction

Continuing our 'Road To The IGF' feature, profiling and interviewing each of the finalists in the 2006 Independent Games Festival main competition, today's profile takes a look at ViquaSoft, the developers for the word puzzle game Tommy and the Magical Words, which is a finalist for the Innovation in Visual Art award at the 2006 IGF. The developers' description of this scientific puzzle mystery explains:

"Tommy and the Magical Words is an innovative word game with a refreshingly new design. Create paths of words to help Tommy reach the end of the book. Have endless fun with the guess-the-word subgame. Includes a full dictionary so you can learn what those words mean."

In this interview in the build-up to the 2006 IGF, ViquaSoft explains the inspiration behind the game among other things:

Q: Tell us a bit about your background in the game industry, when your developer was founded, your location, your previously developed games?

Chanon Sajjamanochai: Being a gamer, I've been interested in developing games since I was in high school. I wrote a Minesweeper clone and a simple shooting game back when I was about 16. I put up some Thai language game development-related sites while in university. ViquaSoft was founded in 2002 in Bangkok, Thailand. I worked on the company on and off between normal business software-related jobs. In the first year and a half, we tried developing mobile games, but after seeing the reality of the market (which we didn't like at that point), we switched our focus to downloadable games. Tommy and the Magical Words is our first downloadable game.



Tommy and the Magical Words

Niwatchai Singtiantrakul: ViquaSoft has been my first experience in the game industry.

Treerat Pinnarong: ViquaSoft has been my first experience in the game industry too.

Q: 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?

CS: Tommy and the Magical Words (TATMW) is a word game with some similarities with Scrabble. We saw successful word games like Bookworm and other indie word games with the same mechanic as Bookworm and thought that we could come up with a good word game with a different mechanic. So TATMW is what we came up with. The game's basic mechanic is similiar to Scrabble, but the aim of the game is different. In TATMW the aim is to lay down words to create a path to reach the end of the map.

We had a programmer (Niwatchai) and a graphics artist (Treerat) working on the game full time, but because I was working on the game on and off, it took about a year and a half to finish. Now I'm working at the company full-time, so our future games will be finished more quickly.

Niwatchai was the person who actually came up with the idea for the game and Treerat came up with the story and the fantasy setting.

NS: I was inspired from the gameplay of Scrabble which has the concept of trying to lay down words to get to the x2 and x3 words but basically when playing Scrabble you're just filling up the board. So I thought, instead of just filling up the board, how about a game about creating paths from one point to another for a character to walk on.

TP: I chose a fantasy theme for the game because I like that kind of theme personally. The pet shop idea came from a movie that I can't remember the name of that I watched when I was a child.

Q: What was the smartest thing you did to speed development of your title, and the dumbest thing you (collectively!) did which hindered development?

CS: The smartest thing was probably having a good artist working in-house. Our artist has been great and having him available means that we could quickly shape up the graphics to a high level of quality. The dumbest thing was having me part-time because I was the producer, project manager and lead programmer for the game which obviously slowed down the development.

Q: What do you think of the state of independent development? Improving? Changing for the worse or the better?

CS: I'm still pretty new to the industry, so I don't have anything to compare the current state with. But for the current state, I believe independent development is great. Today's independent developers have lots of options. They can decide what type of game they want to develop and they can decide what kind of distribution methods they're going to use. Having lots of options is great and this transfers to more options for the indie game player.

TP: A problem I see is that it seems that the current state of the industry doesn't encourage the development of very innovative games or games with totally new gameplay rules which is a little sad because I want to see more of them.

Q: 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?

CS: I'd say every distribution method helps as they all help get the game out to players. Xbox 360 looks like an exciting opportunity for indie developers. Its very exciting to see other indie games on the Xbox and to know that someday it could be our game on there. I'd say it could be a dream come true for some indie developers (and it would for me).

Q: Have you checked out any of the other IGF games? Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?

CS: Rumble Box was pretty fun, everything fits in nicely to create a good experience.

NS: I like Fizzwizzle because it is the only game I've played that somehow really makes solving puzzles extremely fun.

TP: I usually don't play sports games, but Putt Nutz looks like it has very cute and beautiful graphics.



Tommy and the Magical Words

Q: What recent indie games do you admire, and what recent mainstream console/PC games do you admire, and why?

CS: We're having tons of fun here playing Nano from Bonebroke Games. The 3 of us just crowd together on a single PC, with 2 using the keyboard and 1 using the mouse to blast each other. It's currently still beta, but is great fun already. The best thing is that the developer has released a map editor, so you can create your own maps. As for mainstream games, I've played a lot of Battlefield 2. I think it is designed very well, and it is one of the game concepts I have always wanted to play. These days I don't really have the time to get into strategy games or RPGs or even single player FPSes, so I haven't played many mainstream games lately.

NS: Recent games haven't interested me much but I generally like strategy games such as Heroes of Might and Magic, Starcraft and the C&C series. I'm waiting for Heroes of Might and Magic 5 now. I like strategy games because there is usually more than one way to win.

TP: I like Magic Match because of the graphics and the presentation of the game. The whole production shows that the developers were very dedicated to their work. As for mainstream games, I like mainstream games that have unique gameplay experiences, character development, and small but interesting details in solving the problems in the game. And of course I like games with good art direction. Some games that I really like are Shadow Of The Colossus, Viewtiful Joe and Boku no Natsu Yasumi 2.

 

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