Martin discusses his work on the game, Vessel
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Interviewer: I’m here at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco at the IGF Main Booth and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?
Martin: My name is Martin Farren, and I’m a programmer on Vessel.
Interviewer: What’s the game about?
Martin: Well, it’s a 2D platformer and the setting is kind of an 1800s steam funky world. And it’s a puzzle platformer where you’re an inventor and you have a backpack which you can manipulate fluid sucking in and spewing out fluid, and you’re going around solving puzzles with different fluids and different chemical reactions of those fluids drive those puzzles.
Interviewer: What inspired you to make the game or come up with this idea?
Martin: Well, it really was inspired by my partner, John Krajewski who was working on kind of a physics engine, and he started adding fluid to this physics engine, so much like you’ve seen in lots of other type of physics simulating games. And then, we started just really looking into what would make a fun game and we started with the whole platformer concept.
And we kind of worked from there with manipulating fluid of just very simple mechanic of your player can suck up fluid and shoot out fluid. And then, we started going deeper into that, and then we started actually creating skeletons that attract fluids. Now, we actually have skeleton creatures that are composed completely out of fluid.
Interviewer: What were some of the challenges you encountered as you were developing the game?
Martin: Well, I’d say we had a number of challenges where we’re kind of treading into new territory, like a new genre almost to where not many games have gone down this road. So, we have all these basic assumptions of what a platformer is, what a 2D platformer is, like a Mario. Obviously, there’s been so many games like that, and now we’re introducing this new mechanic of fluids.
There’s obviously a number of technical issues with adding fluid, but there’s a lot of unknowns: what kind of puzzles can we drive. So, we’re adding new fluid types, that we just add this explosive fluid where you have a blue goo and a red goo. Separate, they do nothing, but when you combine them, they fully explode. So, you use them to drive machines, kill enemies and we’re looking into add acid and other types of glue which really can drive a lot of basic mechanics and simulate a whole world that almost was driving these puzzles, that people have never seen it before.
Interviewer: What were the challenges of designing puzzles around this kind of new physics mechanics?
Martin: I think it’s pretty easy. The physics actually just lends puzzles themselves. So, I mean, you can take a very basic idea, put it in and the simulation drives everything. So, we almost have a basic idea, like you need to flip this lever which opens this door, but to flip the lever it requires you to be manipulating the fluid in a certain way.
So, John has an awesome background in AI, and a lot of cool stuff he’s doing is working with what we call Fluros which are the fluid creatures, and you’re actually manipulating their behavior based on things like: some of the Fluros are always going to suck up more fluid. So, you have to spray fluid in certain spots which will actually move characters in different ways. So, you’re actually controlling their AI, since they’re machines, to drive a lot of puzzles.
Interviewer: When you were play testing this, what issues did you run into?
Martin: We still ran into some minor issues with some of these physically simulated where things just don’t work, where fluid gets stuck between certain cracks. But play tested-wise, we did most of it ourselves, and then we kind of had a small focus play testing. That’s something we want to definitely address on our next few builds where we want to have a more focused play testing with friends or co-workers. So, then, a lot of minor things we’re tweaking, like player movement and things to make the game a lot more enjoyable.
Interviewer: What platform is this going to be developed on?
Martin: Well, we’re currently deciding that. We definitely would love to have it on a console, so that’s something we’re looking into and talking with publishers and with First-Party. Currently right now, we’re running on PC, so I would say that’s not out of the question, too. But we basically want to make it as enjoyable an experience as we can and to as many people as we can.
Interviewer: Where can folks find out more information about the game?
Martin: Yeah. They can go to strangeloopgames.com or we have a blog. And also, one announcement we made is our teaser trailer which is on YouTube. So, you can search for Vessel Game and check it out. It’s about a minute and a half, and it gives you a whole mind explosion of everything in the game so far.
Interviewer: Based on your experience developing this game, how are you going to develop your future games differently or more intelligently?
Martin: Yeah, well, we spent a lot of time with Vessel actually feeling this engine and what we can do. So, fluid is a high part of our engine and these fluid characters are very unique. And we don’t know of anyone else doing it. You can expect us to go in a new direction and kind of just expand on that. So, we have lots of ideas. But right now, we’re just focusing on finishing Vessel.
Interviewer: You talked about this kind of being a new game genre. Can you talk about that more? How do you feel about it?
Martin: Well, I think you’ve seen a little bit of fluid simulation popping up with kind of a pixel everyday shooter inside, but this is more of a traditional platformer really that I think would work without the fluid. And a lot of the puzzles are kind of puzzles where you might see more in non-fluid sim games, but now that you’re adding this fluid and adding these creatures, you get a lot more unique, I guess, game play out of it.
Interviewer: Because you’re using fluid, can you use even those traditional physics engines, like ODE or something?
Martin: Yeah. Actually, our physics engine is all custom now. We probably could have opted to use a freeware or middleware, but we’re doing a lot with the fluid simulation itself so it just makes sense that we just tie it into our own physics engine as well.
Interviewer: Thank you very much.