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Inside the IGF Student Competition:  Clockwork

Inside the IGF Student Competition: Clockwork Exclusive

December 11, 2008 | By Jill Duffy

Game education site GameCareerGuide, an affiliate of Gamasutra, is running a series of interviews with student developers who have submitted works to the 2009 Independent Games Festival Student Competition.

In the latest article, reprinted here, two students from New Zealand discuss a physics-centric game they made called Clockwork.

Rory Rackham and Tom Revill, of Victoria University of Wellington, describe the game as being set in a steampunk (industrial revolution mechanical fiction) inspired world, where the character Zinc must use his ability to manipulate objects with magnetic fields. The player uses the game's physics system to solve puzzles and discover the truth of a mysterious island.

Tom Revill was the producer of the game, but also worked on programming aspects and 3D modeling. Rory Rackham was the project's director and editor, and was concept lead as well as a designer.

Their other teammates include Samuel Kung (concept artist, character design and animator, 3D modeling, and soundtrack), Ankit Patel (textures, UV maps, 3D modeling, and website design), and Magnus Huber (surface construction, development and design, 3D modeling, sound production, and textures).

GameCareerGuide: Tell us how Clockwork came to be.

Rory Rackham: Tom and I were selected to combine our concepts as the base for a group assignment; The two ideas shared a steampunk setting, although my proposal was a lot darker than his.

Tom Revill: This in turn led to us to being put into groups with people who had similar ideas. Over a couple of meetings, we discussed how we could amalgamate our ideas in to a final game.

RR: The final concept had ideas from every member of the group, though it became a pretty seamless merge of the two original concepts.

GCG: What was your goal in developing the game?

TR: In developing the game we had two objectives: First to create a great game that would be useful in our future portfolios. The second was to see how far we could push our concept while still being true to the style of our game.

RR: I like to think of myself as the kind of person who'll take risks on a project like this; Our proposal became very ambitious, but we pulled it off in the end!

GCG: What do you think is the game's greatest asset? What sets it apart from other games in the IGF?

TR: The greatest asset in our game would have to be the mechanic that allows the player to solve a puzzle in a first-person shooter environment.

RR: I think conceptually, the gameplay would be something almost revolutionary, but something our physics engine was unable to handle!

GCG: What drew you to focus on using a physics system?

TR: Many first-person shooters and action games these days have a physics system and not many of them use this technology as a core gameplay mechanic. With this in mind we decided to make it a puzzle game with first-person shooter elements.

RR: The game engine we used had a built-in physics engine, something that worked perfectly with our concept. We really experimented with it and tried to push it to its limits. The software wasn't ideal for our overarching concepts, but as a demonstrator for our ideas, it served well.

GCG: What games (or non-game things) influenced this game? How or why?

RR: My concept centered around an engaging and unique story, and I wanted to tell the story in a way that's only been seen in games like Half-Life. Ironically, that's the game that was our precedent for gameplay, because of its revolutionary physics engine.

TR: Steampunk strongly influenced the style of the game; an example is the castle in the movie Howl's Moving Castle. Another example is the book Dinotopia: The World Beneath by James Gurney, which gave us the idea the idea of living and breathing machines.

GCG: What was the most difficult part of developing Clockwork?

TR: The most difficult part of developing Clockwork was working in a team. When you work as an individual, you have your own point of view on how everything in the game should be done. In a group, you have many different ideas and opinions. Filtering these ideas together is a problem, but in the end can yield better results than if you were just working alone.

RR: Being co-leads rather than the only one in charge was also a new experience for us both, but it really helped ground our ideas. I don't know if I'd say it was a difficulty, but producing what would conceptually become a full game was a sharp learning curve and taught us a lot in a short time.

GCG: Tell us one interesting thing that you learned in developing the game.

RR: I couldn't tell you one thing I learned from the whole assignment; the whole process taught us a thousand things that you can only really understand if you get your hands dirty with a project like this.

TR: The most important thing I have learned in this process is that you have to be flexible when developing a game as there are many different ways a game could go.

GCG: Since making this game, have your opinions or assumptions about game development changed in any way? If so, how and what were they before?

TR: From the beginning I knew that game design was a collaborative exercise. During this process, I found that many other factors came in to play, such as research, testing, and time management. Game development has a big learning curve, but it's also a fun experience.

RR: When you dream of becoming a game designer, you have ideas in your head of games you wish to create one day. When you're building a real game, however, you can't just paste your ideas down into code and publish it. Fulfilling the concept can often mean compromising your artistic dream!

However, this doesn't undermine the potential of the game, only gives it the opportunity to grow and improve. You have to be flexible to create your masterpiece!

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