Sunday, April 26, 2009

Video + Podcast Interview: Experimental Game, Shadow Physics

Scott talks about the experimental game Shadow Physics. Check out the video interview + demo and then the audio interview with more details...

You can download the additional audio interview here...

or listen to it here...

Show Notes:
Interviewer: I'm at the Indie Developers Conference and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?

Scott: Yeah, I'm Scott Anderson. I'm working on a game called Shadow Physics where you play a 2D platform similar to Mario and the shadow is projected by a 3D world. So, here's a guy who is seen walking around in the shadow not on the actual objects, and he is projected on the wall. He can walk alongside the wall and back in the wall.

Interviewer: Cool.

Scott: A bunch of interesting game play mechanics came out of that basic idea, like if you push the object the 3D object itself falls. You just have to solve this puzzle here.

Interviewer: Aw nice, it's tight, dude.

Scott: Then, we have some other mechanics. The interesting thing about being in a world created by shadows is that if you move the light that the shadows are being cast from, you are changing the entire world underneath the guy. So, we have puzzles where you can manipulate the world to get the guy to a different place.

Interviewer: Sure. How do you go about manipulating the objects? Is that hard to do considering that you're also controlling the character?

Scott: Yeah, it's a little hard to do. So right now, it's basically left play.. It's really hard to play on a track [?]. It's left play and then drag to move the light around and the character controls a very simple platform and controls these arrow keys and space jumps.

We're still working on the control stuff, especially the camera stuff. It just seems a little awkward. Right now, it's just a free camera. We're looking at other alternative camera means so we can stay kind of hands off.

Interviewer: Sure. How close are you then to completion?

Scott: I'd say, at least, a year or two off.

Interviewer: Wow. OK.

Scott: The game is still very early. We're still exploring a lot of the mechanics.

Interviewer: Sure.

Scott: Here's another example of things that come out of the system. There's multiple lights. So, there's a light here and a light here.

Interviewer: Sure.

Scott: And that projects two shadows. You can kind of from a single set of objects kind of jump over here on the platform over here.

Interviewer: OK. Any other game play mechanics that are interesting, emerging properties that came out of this rule set?

Scott: Yeah, Here's one more where we had enemies that war just existing shadow objects like you, and you get hit by the guy. You can actually crush these guys, too, just like you get crushed yourself by shadows.

I don't have a good example of that right now, unfortunately, but hopefully we'll have that soon. Here's another light manipulation puzzle where he creates stairs by moving away.

Interviewer: Oh, tight.

Scott: And there's other mechanics that we still haven't explored yet.

Interviewer: Sure.

Scott: One example is to use bright light to white out shadows so you can fall through things or fall slower. Another example is to use different colored lights, and the different colored lights would have different physical properties.

Interviewer: OK.

Scott: So, maybe, gravity is reversed or maybe in one light, for example, blue light, you can swim in the blue light without falling into this. That's pretty much the game.

Interviewer: Cool.

Interviewer: I'm here at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?

Scott: I'm Scott Anderson and I'm working on a game called Shadow Physics with Steve Swink.

Interviewer: And you had a game in the Experimental Game Design?

Scott: Yeah, Shadow Physics is in the Experimental Game Play Workshop. It's a game about playing a 2D platformer in the shadows created by a 3D World.

Interviewer: How did you come up with the idea? What was the process?

Scott: Steve actually had the idea years ago when he was first working at Neversoft. They were working on a game that had shadows, and he was looking at the shadows and the programmer spent a lot of time, spent like a month or two, just getting nice shadow technology. All it ended up doing was looking a little bit nicer than other shadow techniques would have. Steve was thinking about ways of doing game play ideas with the shadows. He spent so much time on it you might as well use it for game play.

Interviewer: Sure.

Scott: So, he wanted to do a game where you could play in the shadows. When I moved to Arizona a couple of years ago we had a meeting and we were talking about different game ideas that we had and he pitched the idea to me. I was like, oh that's a pretty cool idea. Maybe, I'll do it.

Fast forward, like a year later or more and I actually sat down during TIG Jam and implemented an early prototype of it and it was a pretty cool idea. We've just been working on it ever since.

Interviewer: How long did it take then to implement the first basic prototype because it seems kind of complicated in the sense that you have this 3D world and you have to kind of run off the shadows or something else like that.

Scott: The game is actually using semi-advanced technology. It requires high end hardware. It's all shader model 3 stuff because we're doing collision attraction, like classic per pixel platform collision attraction against the shadow mat that is generated in Real Time and using standard shadow mat techniques. The original prototype took me about three or four days to put together, actually.

Interviewer: Awesome.

Scott: But, it was three or days of straight up crunching because it was during TIG Jam. It was a game jam. People were pulling all nighters. I pulled near all nighters, so I was basically working the whole time. Then, it went through multiple iterations. I took a week off of work at Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment and worked at Flashbang Studios, basically, a full time week and got it to close to where it is now. Then, I've worked other weekends and part time on it.

Interviewer: During that week you took off, did you just work with Steve and just iterate over it? How was that development process then?

Scott: Yeah, I worked with Steve and we iterated and showed him stuff. A lot of the stuff, the technology is still in development. There aren't many tools right now, so it's a little harder for someone to get in and work the game. Steve is technical enough that he can do stuff with it because right now it's all super script driven. We still want to improve the tool so that it is easier for people to build on it.

Interviewer: Can you talk about the technology that you used then for the game?

Scott: Right now, it's DirectX.

Interviewer: OK.

Scott: It's Direct 3D. We use bullet physics for the physics engine.

Interviewer: Sure.

Scott: F-mod for audio engine.

Interviewer: Cool.

Scott: Lua for scripting, as I mentioned before. It's a mish mash of digital technologies.

Interviewer: What is the scripting, the Lua Scripting, used for specifically?

Scott: Right now, it's used mostly for level design, actually.

Interviewer: OK.

Scott: But, also for game play scripting stuff and their ideas are to expand it more.

Interviewer: Sure.

Scott: So it can be used for more things, and a lot of the game play code will probably be written in Lua as well.

Interviewer: Have you ever done any user testing then? I mean, have you had other people play it? And what's the feedback?

Scott: Yeah, we've had a few people test it. Right now, we know a lot of the flaws, especially with the control scheme. Those things will be buried because there are other things to look at the game. We want to iterate on the control scheme some more and then have more people try it out. Obviously, Jonathan Blow and a few other people in the Experimental Game Play Workshop have played it, and a few guys from Flashbang played it.

Our biggest concerns are just camera and light manipulation, so it's control stuff right now.

Interviewer: So now, what's the next step? I know you said it's going to maybe take one or two more years, but what's the next step to get this thing out?

Scott: The idea is to flesh out some of the extra mechanics that we're looking at, things that have to do with colored lights and a few other things. And then, after that work on control scheme stuff; work on lots of content for the game; work on polish for the game.

The game doesn't really have a set visual arts style right now. It looks very prototypy and something with simple shapes. We may do something like that, but we do need to flesh it out.

Interviewer: Is your goal then to release it on PC or Xbox Live or what?

Scott: I mean, in the worst case scenario we come out with the game. It's polished but not something we want to release commercially. We'll just release it for PC. Not as many people as we'd like to would be able to play it just because of the hardware requirements, but a decent amount of people will still be able to play it. It's just kind of the thing - it's a cool game. You can play it for free.

Ideally, it would be a really cool game and we get commercial release on Xbox Live Arcade or PSN or Steam or even some of those other platforms so that we can get more exposure and make some money off of it.

Interviewer: And you talked about TIG Jam and just pulling all nighters. What if you pulled an all nighter for the next three weeks because you've got a daughter?

Scott: I could probably get a lot of the technology done, but I might die in the process. I'd probably get a lot of the technology done, but I think a lot of the things like working out the controls and building levels aren't necessarily going to benefit from an all nighter. They're going to take a little more time.

Interviewer: What about TIG Jam? You talk about that more, whether you benefited from it. How your split was?

Scott: Oh yeah, I definitely benefited from TIG Jam. I met a lot of indies that I had just known about from online from all the forums or whatever. I met Derek Yu. Russell was there, you know, a bunch of people. It was a good thing. It was like a mini GDC almost for indies.

Interviewer: Did it last for five days or what was that?

Scott: It was a weekend. I think it was a three day thing. It was in Phoenix at Flashbang Studios.

Interviewer: Gotcha. Does that happen yearly? If other indies are interested, how do they get involved?

Scott: It happened last year, and that was the first one. That was the first yearly TIG Jam. Since then, people have created local TIG Jams so there's been a TIG Jam UK in the UK, and there's been a TIG Jam Midwest, and I think that was in Iowa, some place in the Midwest. I don't remember exactly where it was.

We're looking to a TIG Jam East, actually. Since I'm moving out to New York, I was talking to Brandon and he's in Baltimore and he's talking about starting a TIG Jam East.

Interviewer: OK. Cool. Alright. Any last words then for other indie game developers who want to do their own game?

Scott: Keep at it. Keep trying different things. I've been doing this for a while now, probably about four or five years. I've had a lot of failures and some successes, so just keep doing it. That's all I can say.

Interviewer: Thank you very much.

Take care,

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