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Road to the IGF: Jason Roberts' Gorogoa Exclusive

February 18, 2014 | By Kris Graft

February 18, 2014 | By Kris Graft
More: Indie, Design, Exclusive, Video, IGF

One look at the video above and you can see why Jason Roberts' Gorogoa is a finalist for the Independent Game Festival's Excellence in Visual Arts award.

Roberts' hand-illustrated game, which is still in development, is mesmerizing to watch, and engrossing to play, as you manipulate a world that lives within puzzles. (A demo is available on the game's official website.)

As we continue our annual Road to the IGF series, we speak to Roberts about the creation of Gorogoa, which also received honorable mentions in the Design and Narrative categories.

What is your background in making games?

No professional background at all. There was a time around the turn of the century when I dabbled in interactive fiction, but I was never able to complete a project thanks to over-ambition. I've been tinkering with game designs in my head, and filling endless stacks of notebooks, for decades.

What development tools did you use?

The game engine, originally intended to be a prototype, is currently custom-built in Java. There's a good chance I'll migrate to another platform before release. I use Photoshop to color and manipulate scanned pencil and paper drawings. I also use Blender to create animations and create 3D data that is used by the engine.

How long have you or your team been working on the game?

Two years or so full-time, and considerably longer than that in my spare time.

How did you come up with the concept?

The idea began as a cross between an interactive comic with movable panels and a magical card game where each card is a window into a different world. But over time the idea evolved, and in the end shed most of the qualities of a comic and a card game to become what it is now.

The game really is beautiful. What influenced the art style?

For my visual influences, I usually list David Roberts, Gustave Dore, Christopher Manson and Chris Ware. Not that my style necessarily resembles any of these, but they were inspirations.

What kind of training do you have in illustration and art?

I've taken a few figure drawing classes and such, but not much formal training beyond that.

What's the most interesting design challenge you've had in creating Gorogoa?

The most difficult--and therefore interesting--design challenge has to do with the role of puzzles in the game. It's been difficult to reconcile the sense of strangeness and surprise that I consider so important with the predictable mechanics of traditional puzzle design. But there's a larger question: should traditional puzzle design even be the goal? I'm still struggling to decide to what extent the experience is about intellectual challenge, and to what extent about exploration and discovery.

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?

I'm ashamed at how few of the other games I've had a chance to play, including those that have been available for a while. But games I have played and really enjoyed include Papers, Please, Luxuria Superbia, DEVICE 6, and Save the Date. I played and loved the original Stanley Parable, but haven't played the update yet. I have recently purchased, but not yet played, The Banner Saga, which I'm especially excited about since it includes the work of my soon-to-be composer, Austin Wintory.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

As someone who began from a very solitary approach to development, I'm not sure I yet have the necessary perspective for an overview of the scene. But I can say that every interaction I've had with other developers, and with indie gamers, has been extremely positive and encouraging. I absolutely wouldn't be where I am without the help and support of other members of the community.

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