Colin Northway is pretty awesome. Not only does he make wow-worthy games such as physics puzzler Fantastic Contraption, he lives a life most of us only dare to dream.
He’s presently travelling the world with his wife Sarah (who makes her own games) as they further the legend that is Northway Games. Along the way, they are gathering inspiration for the current life-like physics puzzler Incredipede, which still poses some design challenges to Colin that must wait until after the game’s release.
The following trailer should explain enough of Incredipede so that you can follow along in the first part of our conversation. Or, maybe it will bespell you just enough (like it did to me) to make you want to read more!
DIY: Selling everything and travelling the world sounds as awesome as it is scary.
Colin: When we started doing it I assumed everyone would follow us in a year and soon the whole indie community would be bouncing all over the world.
I used to run up to people at GDC and say “omg we’re doing this great thing, you’re going to love it, lets all get tickets to Istanbul!”
But it turns out it’s not that easy. Most other people can’t do it for various reasons. A big one is Wives/Husbands. Usually your other half has a job that won’t let them travel. Another big problem is dev kits. If you’re making a PSN or XBLA game you can’t really take your devkit to Thailand.
So we’re kind of lucky to be geographically agnostic.
DIY: Agreed. Marrying a lawyer sucks; each state requires a separate bar/exam.
Colin: Haha, yeah my cousin has that problem. She’s stuck in Washington state. Which isn’t a bad place to be stuck, but still.
DIY: I wish Florida had an indie scene…
Colin: It’s surprising where doesn’t.
Berlin apparently doesn’t have a very tight scene.
DIY: So much for bringing the wall down.
DIY: Alright, let’s talk some Incredipede: what kind of name is Quozzle?
Colin: It took a long time to come up with a name I liked for Incredipede. I really really like the name Kingdom for Keffings.
So I was looking for a nonsense word to make a title out of. Quozzle’s Quest was where Quozzle came from just because it rhymes with Quest. But, good god, I can’t be responsible for another game with “Quest” in the title.
DIY: How is Quozzle controlled exactly (a and s seem too simplistic)? What’s up with the purple muscle, as the pink seems standard issue?
Colin: You are right to think those two things are related. Pink mussles are controlled by one set of keys, purple another, orange another, etc…
Almost all the creatures in the trailer only use one muscle. Generally speaking, better designed creatures use fewer muscle groups. The only one that uses two is the swinging monkey. I needed finer tuned timing to grab the branches.
DIY: What does each muscle group control?
Colin: All pink muscles are controlled by the a&s keys. So a&s could control ten muscles or one muscle. Some muscles are reversed, though; so a will make one contract and another expand, which leads to a surprising flexibility.
DIY: So all muscles move in tandem?
Colin: All muscles that are the same colour move in tandem.
DIY: Other than traversing land, what kind of goals are you giving the player?
Colin: Mostly your goal is to collect things. At the moment it’s fruit but as the art and story come more into focus that could change.
Some fruit you can eat with your face but some fruit you have to get to the end of the level. Some fruit is fire-proof, some fruit is on fire, some fruit are wheels, some fruit are sticky, there are lots of weird fruit.
DIY: In what ways are you hoping to differentiate this from Fantastic Contraption (in that you build in both games)?
Colin: I’ve not had to consciously work to make it different from Fantastic Contraption. The game wants to go in a different direction. I’ve spent six months on it already and most of that has been design work. It started out a lot more like Fantastic Contraption but the nature of the game keeps pushing it in these other directions.
That’s kind of an odd thing about game design. You don’t really know where the finish line is when you start out.
DIY: With your goal changing to lifelike bodies instead of lifelike brains, what is increipede centrally missing in its livelihood? Will it have the ability to “reproduce” asexually or otherwise?
Colin: The big feature that Incredipde wants but doesn’t have is a nervous system. It wants you to design the brain as well.
DIY: How so?
Colin: For a few months you also designed the brain. I had a simple clever system based off of ideas from a very interesting Italian neuroscientist named Valentino Braitenberg.
While the system was simple it was really hard to wrap your head around. Players just couldn’t get their desired behaviour out of the system. In the end it was just too unweildly and got cut. It’s a big reason I want to do Incredipede 2, though.
The nervous system was just another victim of rigorous playtesting.
DIY: Nice to know you have a challenge waiting for you
Colin: That’s the thing about very new games. They are hard to make so they’re fun the whole way through. I don’t know how people dedicated years of their lives to making yet another cover based shooter where all the interesting questions have already been answered by other games.
[The conversation will continue this weekend! Also, we'll get to see Incredipede and other games in action from wrapping up the Tokyo Game Show's Sense of Wonder Night 2011. Stay tuned. RSS-ed, or however you follow us!]
Header photo via Rock Paper Shotgun