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Road to the IGF: Bennett Foddy's  GIRP

Road to the IGF: Bennett Foddy's GIRP Exclusive

February 13, 2012 | By Mike Rose

Bennett Foddy has been creating wacky games that make players want to scream for a good while now, but it's arguable that ham-fisted runner QWOP was his 'breakout' title, firing him into the limelight.

Anything that Foddy puts out now is passed back and forth all over the web, and with good reason, as his flair for the unique and slightly twisted hasn't deminished one iota.

GIRP continues his trend of silly, ridiculously addictive titles, as players attempt to scale a cliff wall using all the keys on a keyboard -- think Twister for your fingers in video game form.

The game has now been nominated for the Nuovo Award at this year's Independent Games Festival. As part of Gamasutra's Road to the IGF series, Foddy explains where GIRP came from, and where he thinks the indie scene is headed.

What is your background in making games?

I taught myself to make games while I was procrastinating from finishing my dissertation in philosophy. I've been playing games ever since I got my first computer (a 48k Sinclair Spectrum) at age 5, and ever since then I've tinkered around trying to make games. But in 2007 it finally became easy enough for me. And it's got easier since then, too.

What development tools did you use to develop GIRP?

I used Flex, Box2D and Flixel for the code, and I made the art in Photoshop.

How long did you work on the game?

It's always hard to make this judgment, because sometimes I have to leave a game on the back burner while I think about how to move forward with it. It's not my day job so I don't tend to rush things out. In terms of actual work, a few weeks, I guess? I could be kidding myself on that one in either direction... I'm not sure.

How did you come up with the concept?

GIRP was one of those ones that must have formed subconsciously. I was in a cafe in Oxford, listening to my wife talk about something not related to climbing or video games, and it just popped into my head fully-formed. It was like how Dr. House is standing there while someone else is saying something on an unrelated topic, and he'll suddenly realize how to cure his patient.

Once the prototype was working, I had the idea for the bird while I was walking along the canal, looking at the ducks and the swans. Swans will mess you up.

Are there any elements that you've experimented with that just flat out haven't worked with your vision?

Yeah, Doug Wilson (of Johann Sebastian Joust fame) told me once that 75 percent of his ideas are bad, and I think this is true of just about everybody including me. With a game like GIRP, there were lots of obvious ideas that would have been pretty boring. I could have had disappearing handholds (like in Crazy Climber) falling rocks (like in Final Assault) or multiple types of bird enemy. The real trick is to recognize which of your ideas are bad before they're locked into the game.

If you could start the project over again, what would you do differently?

I don't think I'd do anything particularly differently. It's a small idea, and I think it basically has come out the way I want it. If I could start the project over again, I'd use the time to start another small project and finish that one.

Your games are usually always based on awkward yet masterable controls, and GIRP is no different. Do you do this to mess with the players, or do you simply enjoy experimenting with control schemes?

I think 'messing with the players' is the fundamentally what makes game design fun for me. Most game players come in with such a strict set of expectations... it's pretty easy to turn the tables on them as a way of inspiring feelings of frustration, confusion, or even rage. Game design is a pretty good pursuit if you were born with troll blood.

Both GIRP and QWOP have brought you lots of attention online. Do you plan to continue this series in future, and if so, what sports or activities are you considering tackling?

I've been tinkering with a horse game, called CLOP, but it's proving quite difficult to get it to a playable point. I'd like to make more games in this vein, but I won't churn out sequels just for the hell of it - I need to have good ideas. I can guarantee I'll make more sports games though. FIFA and NBA Jam are amazing games, but I think their success has halted innovation in developing innovative ideas in the football and basketball genres, so that's probably the most fertile terrain for experimentation.

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

Joust was probably my game of the year for 2011. And English Country Tune is extremely good too - it's a slow burner, but like all of Stephen Lavelle's games, it has some amazing moments of epiphany.

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

Over the last two years I think we've seen a pretty amazing commercialization of the indie scene. I don't mean people have 'sold out' (although a few have) but rather that a lot of people who used to be fanatical about releasing freeware have started to take game development seriously as a source of income. And I actually think that this has resulted in a rapid increase in diversity and quality.

If you're making your games for a living, you can't just put out another 8-bit Metroidvania game, or a vertical-scrolling shooter... those games won't sell. When you've got paying customers, you need to think a bit more about where your game fits in the market and in the artform, and I think that pushes the form forward. It's an exciting time.

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