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Road To The IGF: Justin Mette, 21-6 Productions (Tube Twist)


January 24, 2006
 

Introduction

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 Justin Mette of 21-6 Productions, developer of PC indie puzzle title Tube Twist, which is a finalist in the Technical Excellence category at the 2006 IGF.

The Torque Engine-powered game is described as follows as part of its IGF entry:

"Professor Jaymour, the renowned scientist working on Project TubeTwist, has gone missing! Reconstruct her experiments by building machines that will safely guide unstable Macroton particles through a maze of tubes, spirals, switches, and more. Can you solve the mystery of the professor's disappearance before it's too late?"

Mette talked to Gamasutra on 21-6's history, the trials and tribulations of producing Tube Twist, and some of his favorite other games from this year's Independent Games Festival finalists:


Tube Twist

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

JM: 21-6 Productions was founded 5 years ago by a bunch of geeks that had no background in the games industry other than being avid players. We are based out of Denver, Colorado and now have four full-timers and a large part-time crew working on both independently developed games and game-related contracts using the Torque Game Engine from GarageGames.

Three years ago we released a game called Orbz on GarageGames.com as a bit of an experiment. It was our first game with Torque and really was kind of a bizarre premise; shooting stars with orbs in an online scoring competition.

The game has since grown in content and is now available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Hand-Held devices, Coin-Op Arcades, Xbox Live Arcade, and pretty much every major game distribution site on the web. It's been a great experience developing, playing, and supporting the game. We look forward to continuing to build the franchise in the future.

TubeTwist is our most recent title and should be available on GarageGames.com very soon. It's fantastic timing for the game to be nominated for an IGF award and we are thrilled to be participating this year.

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?

TubeTwist took a whopping 2 and a half years to develop and was inspired by games like The Incredible Machine and Mouse Trap. The game is a straight up puzzle game with out any pressure of timers or a score; players can just sit back and enjoy the mind-bending fun that is TubeTwist.

One of our goals with this game was to introduce a cool story that helped to compel the player to progress through the game and unlock all the content. We've really spent a lot of time on polish and production value with TubeTwist from the cinematics, to the movie-quality sound track, to the voice-overs - making it our most complex and satisfying game developed to date.

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

JM: The game took a long time to develop because we used a lot of part-time developers early on. Over the past 6 months however, we have grown as a company and have been able to put more full-time resources on developing and finishing the game and it has paid off.

Our biggest hindrance during development was trying to use a complex physics system (ODE) for a deterministic puzzle game that runs on multiple platforms. In other words, trying to get the puzzles to solve identically on all processors and operating systems we wanted to support was incredibly challenging and error prone.


A selection of Tube Twist levels

 

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

JM: From our perspective, the independent game development scene is on the rise. At the most recent IndieGamesCon hosted by GarageGames, Microsoft was the keynote speaker and basically told a room full of indies that MS needs their games for Xbox 360 Live Arcade. That's so huge.

We're also seeing new publishers like GarageGames, Oberon, and PlayFirst starting to inject much needed cash into the stream without taking away intellectual property. The result is more creative and inspiring games that have a higher quality production.

Polish sells a game and these higher production values are putting some very cool indie titles in the spot light, paving the way for the rest of us and giving the whole indie scene some great exposure. Marble Blast Ultra for the Xbox 360 Live Arcade is a great example of this.

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?

JM: Last August, we released Orbz on the Xbox Live Arcade so we are a bit biased on this question :) Seriously though, we are totally fired up about Xbox 360 Live Arcade and the potential it brings for indie studios.

XBLA will reach out to a particularly interesting market of casual gamers and hard core gamers alike. This opens up some great possibilities for new games that can incorporate a bit of both worlds. Online multiplayer casual games, for example, are already starting to appear on the system.

All that said, the more traditional channels for indie games are a necessary and stable entity. New channels like XBLA and Steam open up some opportunities but it will take a little while still for them all to be realized.

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

JM: We think Darwinia is going to be the buzz of the show this year. It's a great real-time strategy game with a sweet interface, awesome attention to detail, and cool creative twists on the genre. We especially liked the mouse-gestures for creating units.

Professor Fizzwizzle also caught our attention. The game has a fun story, is very well stylized, and has smooth and fluid controls. Not to mention how addictive the game play is!


Replaying a cunning Tube Twist solution

 

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

JM: Standards are high in our studio. Everyone is an avid gamer and has a lot of opinions about what's good and what's not. One game that has stood the test of both critique and time is World of Warcraft.

Games typically last a couple months (if that) before you finish them and move on. WoW has managed to capture our attention for over a year. That's simply an awesome feat and one that we respect very much being the budding game developers we are.

As for indie games, our admiration and respect has to go to the other nominees for the IGF this year. All of the games nominated are fantastic and we are honored that TubeTwist is listed next to them.

GS: Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?

JM: Of course, good luck to all the contestants in this year's IGF awards. We are looking forward to meeting you all in March and hearing your war stories.

For fans of the IGF, thanks for supporting the establishment and creating this opportunity for such awesome exposure of independently developed games. We hope you all get a chance to try out TubeTwist (http://www.tubetwist.com) and enjoy it as much as we did making it.

_____________________________________________________


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