Archive for March 2008
Often the charm of an indie game comes from its simplicity. Not having access to huge teams, and running with the occasional necessity of tapering your vision to your abilities can accent the unique gameplay and style of an indie game. An artist is often the most creative when he is forced to act within strict limits. This is one of the things I love about indie games. I assume it is a fun challenge for our favorite indie developers to try and find ways to use their limited resources to transcend audience expectations.
Unfortunately, too often games fall short due to what I expect is an opposing attitude: the game doesn’t have to look good or work perfectly, after all it’s just an indie game. Lazy developers sometimes think their audience won’t be bothered by minor flaws because the game was free. But overlooking these things makes a huge difference to gamers like me. Many simple games could’ve been a lot better by (believe it or not) making them even simpler.
Anyone who has read just about any one of our posts knows that we’re big Nifflas fans, so it was a great honor when he agreed to be interviewed. I won’t bog you down with a bunch of blah blah blah, since you’re obviously here to see what Nifflas has to say, but it is tempting. I could rant for paragraphs about this; however, I guess I’ll just go with the following.
Thank you, Nifflas, for participating, and thank you, visitors, for reading.
“It actually took me around 7 years to realize I should keep my projects small.”
Nicklas Nygren was born in 1983 in Gävle, Sweden. Today he lives in Umeå, working with the intellectually handicapped at a newspaper. His game portfolio includes Knytt Stories and Within a Deep Forest.
You’ve done a wide range of work for your projects, including visual and audio art, besides the general design and engine creation. Is that a result of the difficulty of finding other people or are you just passionate about the entire gamut of game creation? Do you find it easier or more difficult to bring in outsider help as you become more well known?
It’s pretty easy to find help as long as you can convince people that you will actually finish your game. The thing is just that I like the graphics and music creation process so much that I want to do a lot of it myself. However, as you can see in the credits list of all my games, I’ve got tons of help as well.
About how much time do you spend working through the different aspects of game creation? How much time do you spend, for example, on level design as compared to the visual art?
The different aspects are very closely connected to me, when I do all those things in a rather random way. I often create graphics at the same time as designing the level by jumping back and fourth between Photoshop and the level editor. The same goes for music as well. By this reason, it’s quite hard for me to estimate how much time I spend for each thing, but I guess I spend more or less an equal amount of time on each thing.
Is there some overarching philosophy you follow when designing games? Something to guide you as you create?
Fairly regularly, we post some simple original ideas in the spirit of sharing and discussion. I just recently noticed that these posts are not immediately distinguishable from games that we simply showcase in the case that a reader is just skimming through the headlines. For that reason, I have decided to just tack on a column name from now on. Game Brainstorm… Lazy, I know…
Riven, one of the main inspirations of this game, featured a world packed with life, history, and significant details.
Serendipity: An exploration platform game with mystery-puzzle gameplay.
In Serendipity, players explore a 2D world which opens up as puzzles are solved and mysteries uncovered. In terms of interface and control, it will function much like Knytt Stories (does this game come up in every one of my posts?), with the exclusion of enemies and death. I choose to take inspiration from this particular game for a number of reasons:
- The focus of Serendipity will be the environment instead of the player character. I haven’t completely decided on whether or not to include other characters at all. I would really like to because I feel that having memorable characters is second only to music in determining the longevity of a game, but it may detract from the mysterious atmosphere I intend to create.
- Players should be able to traverse the world quickly and intuitively.
- A tiny, featureless player character may allow players to project themselves into the game in the same way that a first-person perspective does in other titles, without having to break into 3D.
So much for interface and control; on to the gameplay.
I spend a lot of time searching through lists of recommended indie games seeking out the best, but as many of you may know, the “best of” lists tend to get a bit repetitive. I wanted to make a feature that listed a number of lesser known games that aught to be tried at least once, and I will… But there’s a problem with that idea. I just can’t keep myself from pulling out the A list.
So… this is not that feature. Instead, this is my repetitive list of must-play indie games, designed to liberate my aforementioned list of lesser known games from the influence of these giants.
The premise of this list is as follows: anyone who wants to be able to hold a knowledgeable conversation must be familiar with these games. That’s not so demanding a task as I make it seem, of course. You probably won’t be able to step away from them.
The order in which these games are listed is arbitrary.
This idea came as a collaborative effort between myself and Eric Harm.
Pillow Fortress: A single player fort building simulation with an isometric perspective and simple point-and-click interface.
Goal: To optimize the construction of a fortress based on the available materials within each room.
Challenges: Resources and space are limited and gravity will tend to collapse the constructions.
The premise of Pillow Fortress is that the unnamed playable character’s parents are spending the night out and her older sister is baby-sitting. To celebrate, she’s going to pass down the ancient art of pillow fortress construction. The tutorial for the game would be her first lessons.
In Pillow Fortress, players are presented with two gameplay options: free play and challenge. Free play is self explanatory. In challenge mode, each level is presented with a certain goal. A few examples could be:
- Build a fort that can hold three people sitting
- Build a fort that can hold two people laying down
- Build a fort that can support two heavy pillows
- Build a tunnel from an existing fort to the kitchen
- Remove and replace dad’s favorite chair without knocking down the fort
This post is mostly a discussion of theory. Editors and Procedurally generated content can be very difficult to make. Especially when under the limitation of some game engines and creators.
We are past the days where designers are forced to provide players with large amounts of content which add replay value to their games. As a matter of fact, by providing players with procedurally generated content or editing tools for their respective games, players theoretically have the ability to create an almost infinite amount of content. Being limited by only your imagination and ambition, players are now able to create very imaginative and challenging levels which the original designers of the game may have never thought of.
Since most indie teams are small and have limited resources these level editors provide a great way to add life to their games. Small communities in which fans share and trade content are growing at a rapid rate. Indie games on the PC are unique in regards to the fact that the games and additional content is easily distributed, talked about (forums) and patched. Some games are even open source like Knytt Stories (we love Nifflas here) and NetHack which spawned a large amount of mods, remakes and levels.
Mods are on a slightly different level than added content such as levels. My definition of mods involve actually editing the game source code or project files to change or evolve the game. I won’t be discussing mods today but I will address the issue later.
Nifflas is a brilliant level designer. While others have noted the influence he’s drawn from Metroid, the experience for me is far more reminiscent of Riven: the Sequel to Myst. While Within a Deep Forest depended more heavily on skill than anything in the Knytt collection, both offer intricate worlds to explore and learn, which start off unknowably vast and actually seem to shrink as new areas open up. The confusing collections of boundaries and obstacles steadily transform from distractions into landmarks as the player expands the arsenal of abilities and brings each image into perspective.
It’s because of this brilliance that I’m confused about the inclusion of a level editor in the release. The effort is, of course, appreciated, but I’m quite apprehensive. With no abilities available in the editor that do not already appear in the pack-in adventure, The Machine, there is little to do besides alter the audio-visual style and craft a new Knytt world; however, the custom worlds (even the official ones) come across as remixes of the original adventure more than anything else.
Here’s a quick one…
I have always been a fan of procedurally generated content; Diablo, Nethack, Dwarf Fortress. This idea is simple: to construct a procedurally generated puzzle game which constantly evolves and challenges the player.The puzzles will be simple, generated by predetermined algorithms. Some of the puzzles could be as simple as figuring out the next number in a sequence, to analyzing patterns in shapes. The objective would be to navigate through the maze of puzzles as quickly as possible. Each sequential level will include more puzzles, timers, harder puzzles and more variety.
I am thinking that by having this game text only would add more of a hardcore puzzle feel to it. Graphics would perhaps detract from the game play. Navigating menus through text and typing answers manually would give it sort of a “hacker feel.” Perhaps the story could include something of that connotation.
If you haven’t noticed this game is semi-inspired by Professor Layton and would be playing in a similar way.
Here are some examples of sequence puzzles that I had in mind.
My original design concept for this week is more complicated than I expect most of ours to be and, as much as I hate to admit it, would probably be impossible to create without a knowledgeable team.
Alchemy: A single player puzzle/simulation.
The premise of this game is that a reclusive, aging alchemist has decided to take on an apprentice in order to pass on his archaic skills before he dies. At the top of his tower, he begins to train the player, his lucky recruit, when he suddenly passes away. The player is left trapped at the top of the tower with no way to bypass its many security systems. The only tools available are the alchemical supplies at hand and his basic introduction to the art.
The basic introduction given by the alchemist could serve as a tutorial.
Gameplay: Different elements must be combined and drawings created to synthesize new materials with brand new properties. The challenge is in discovering the effects that each element has on the synthesis, as well as the effects of the drawings (runes). The runes are by far the most complicated feature. Players are allowed to draw the runes freehand and different shapes will have different effects on the synthesis. For example, circles will have a certain function, which might be altered by bisecting it with a vertical or horizontal line. Concentric circles might interact in different ways than tangent circles. There will be a complex system beneath the gameplay and the entertainment is in uncovering that system.
Here are a few clarifying examples of what could be: