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Road to the IGF: Ominous Development (Strange Attractors)


March 15, 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 Ominous Development from Kalamazoo, Michigan, the developers for unique one-button game Strange Attractors, which is a finalist for the Innovation in Game Design award at this year's IGF. The developers' description of single-input title explains:

"Strange Attractors is a single switch game. One button controls your fate as you use gravity to navigate the various two-dimentional levels avoiding hazards, slinging helpless spacemen through the void and gathering points."

In this interview in the build-up to the 2006 IGF, Ominous Development reveals why they made a one-button game:

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

We all met in high school, have other responibilities, and when we can, we try and make games. I would say this is the first game we've ever really finished, but the graveyard of half-done and sorta-fun projects dates back about 7 years or so. As for location, we started in Kalamazoo, Michigan and due to the previously mentioned "other responsibilities" we've spread out a little. Most of our contact happens through e-mail or over the holidays. It still feels pretty surreal to have been nominated.



Strange Attractors

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?

I'm not really sure what genre it would fit in. Sometimes it reminds me of billiards, sometimes golf, and sometimes pinball. I guess I would call it an action oriented arcade/skill game.

The original game took about a month to make, using the basic 'game engine' we've been slowly developing for years. We were inspired by a "one switch" competition hosted by RetroRemakes and Barrie Ellis's OneSwitch.org.uk organization. The competition was only a month long, and I found out about it a few days late. We've been updating it sporadically since.

The idea dates back to the first Pong clone I ever wrote. I didn't know how to put spin on the ball, so to liven things up I made gravity wells pop up every now and again that would change the trajectory of the ball. We thought the effect was pretty cool, so we made another game where two people controlled an array of gravity generators to try and get a ball into their opponents goal. I guess that was nearly a decade ago. Strange Attractors is basically just the inverse of that, where the ball itself is the gravity generator.

We wanted to make it because its what we do, and we wanted to see how something we made would stand in relation to other peoples games. Not to mention bringing some attention to accessibility in video games. Due to the competition, we had a very specific deadline, specific rules, and a decent plan. I think this is really the first time that all of those things have come together, and we are all still very amazed at the success of the game. I really can't thank Barrie Ellis of OneSwitch.org.uk or OddBob of RetoRemakes.com enough for motivating us to do this game.

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

There was really so much good fortune involved in developing this game that this is a tough question to answer. I think the smartest thing we did was to trust in each others talents. I believe that in a lot of our past projects we all tried to push our ideas on each other. With Strange Attractors we really just let each person do what it was that they were good at, and even if it wasn't what we had in mind, we trusted that person's judgment. The sound, the graphics, and the gameplay all flow very well together and all of it was done, for the most part, in parallel. With a one month deadline, we didn't have much time to do it any other way.

The dumbest thing was probably the downtime between the RetroRemakes competition and the deadline for the IGF. Since we are not really making any money off of our games (yet...) it's difficult to set and enforce deadlines within the group. We are all very busy too. Having a definite deadline set by an outside entity was a major factor in getting anything done. I kind of dropped the ball in the months between the two deadlines. As the IGF deadline approached, Bret and I had to spend many long nights in front of the computer making all the changes we had been considering. It would have been nice to have more time to tweak the physics and play balance the game. Its incredibly helpful to be getting feedback from people about things that seem so obvious now, but that we overlooked during those last frantic hours.

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

It's hard to say, we just got here... It seems like its growing, but it also seems like 'indie' gets associated with 'casual' a little too much.

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?

I think indie games on consoles is a wonderful idea, especially if development tools for the various consoles were made easily available. I really don't know enough about Steam to make a comment on that, one way or the other. I can't speak for other indie developers, but digital distribution over the internet is really our only option. We simply don't have the resources to do it any other
way at the moment.

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

I understand Darwinia is supposed to be a great game. I haven't had much luck playing it on my computers, but what I did play was pretty cool. I'm sure everyone thinks this, but I really liked what they did with the resolution of the various entities in the game. They found a way to let your imagination "fill in the blanks" while still looking visually innovative. It really is an honor to be in direct competition with them.

I had played Rumble Box before the finalists were announced. I like the concept a lot and I hope they do more with it in the future. I may just have a soft spot for physics in games though.

Professor Fizzwizzle is a lot of fun too. Mostly what impresses me about that game is the balancing and the puzzles. A lot of forethought had to go into that game and I find that very admirable. I think I would have a hard time making a game like that, where, since I made all the puzzles and I knew all the solutions.



Strange Attractors

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

I really admire all indie games. It has always been inspiring to play fun games that other people made because they thought wanted to make something fun.

For mainstream, I'm a fan of the Halo series. I like the depth of the story, and the way the enemies are implemented.

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

Beware the Head of Doom, the winner is definitely buying drinks, and keep playing games that are fun.

 

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