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Night in the Woods' co-creator explains improv game design

February 2, 2018 | By Bryant Francis




Night in the Woods, 2017's cult classic cat-punk adventure, landed on Nintendo Switch not with a bang, but with the sounds of a sweet jam band on an autumn night. Nevertheless, we at Gamasutra were interested in digging into the creative process behind this evocative title, so today on the Gamasutra Twitch channel, we were lucky enough to be joined by co-creator Scott Benson for a conversation about the game's design and development. 

Since we didn't get to chat with Benson last year (he told us he needed to take a long nap after the game shipped), we were excited to discuss the personal touches and weird inspirations that make Night in the Woods so unique. In particular, we had a lot of fun talking about 'improv' game design, where pre-planned, thought out moments would be tossed aside in favor of spur-of-the-moment ideas that came to the game's development team. 

You can watch the full conversation up above, but in case you're off doing crimes, you can read a few key takeaways for other developers down below. 

Improv game design

There's a lot of great moments in Night in the Woods that, according to Benson, didn't come out of some pre-planned meeting about making the most creative game ever. A lot of design choices, like the game's weird interactive moments with Mae's paw, came from spur-of-the moment inspiration whose only "test" was making sure someone else on the team thought it was cool. 

In particular, Benson pointed out that those weird grabbing bits with Mae's paw were inspired by he and fellow Night in the Woods developer Bethany Hockenberry (Benson's wife) being so amused by the fake animal limbs used in commercials, which is why they're so stick-like in the actual game. It's a way to make content and systems for your game that relies more on instinct than data (and leads to a lot of cut content, says Benson), but it's one that can create rewarding moments for your players in the long run. 

Storytelling on the Switch

While Benson himself didn't do much technical work on the new Nintendo Switch port, he talked about the response he's seen from players and his thoughts about portable storytelling. What he thinks is notable about the Switch's potential for narrative games is that it opens doors to players who play games for narrative design, but struggled with the time commitment they often asked for. Since the Switch's portability allows for playtime on the bus, plane, or train, or just lets them make progress while someone else in the family uses the TV. 

Crunch sucks and it's bad for your health

To get more real (and a bit sad) for a moment, it's important to call out Benson's reflection on the amount of hours he and his colleagues put into Night in the Woods, and how that severely impacted his own health. After pulling many 16-hour days to make the game, he says his doctor advised him that if he were to do that again, he might not be able to recover.

Benson's still proud of the game he helped make, but for the next game he and his colleagues work on, he says he wants to do a better job managing his time and his health. So if you yourself are marching down the indie path in hopes of making a cult-classic game, be advised of the health risks and do your best to not bring them on yourself. 

For more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel.



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