IGF Interviews is an interview series with each nominee at IGF 2016, conducted by an NYU Game Center MFA.
Finalist | Nuovo Award
Sarah Northway is one of the creators of Fantastic Contraption.
Alexander King: All game projects start with some kind of spark, from a design question to a feeling you wanted to evoke. What was the spark that grew into your game?
Sarah: Oh yeah, I never had that was so like… it just happened all at once, you know? I mean, so yeah, [the original Fantastic Contraption] was this 2008 2D game, and we were talking about, you know, we should do like a sequel or a ten year follow up, and it was in the back of our brains, and we had been thinking about it. Then we went and we tried, we got like a friend of a friend, to take us over to the Valve offices, and actually tried the Vive for the first time. And I’d tried the [Oculus Rift] DK-1, and that was my comparison- Sitting there, playing something that made me really nauseas. I tried the Vive, both me and Colin tried the Vive, and we came out of it, just going… just like “fuck it, completely mind blown,” like immediately going, “we need to do something with this! This is great!” I was in the middle of shipping my game Rebuild [3: Gangs of Deadsville], and I was like, “Let’s do this! … but in six months” and Colin was like, “Ten days. Today! You’re going to drop everything.” So we had to go find other people to work on it with us, and our friends Radial, who were the ones who helped us get the demo and everything, they were ready. And we just kind of like, spent literally the two days after we had seen the thing like brainstorming what we could do in it. The thing we had liked the most, this is the spark, the thing, was like Tilt Brush. Have you played Tilt Brush, the drawing one?
AK: No, no I’ve seen it but I haven’t played it myself yet.
Sarah: Beautiful game. It’s a simple idea and it’s so well executed. But the idea is like, you’re really moving your arms in these huge movements and you’re walking around and using the space. And we wanted to do something like that, and then had this vision like what if you were building a thing, that’s larger than you are, and you’re stretching the rods and placing wheels on the car. And you’re building this car, and that takes a lot of big movements. So that was the start of it, we were like: we need something with big movements, and then, a building game… we were like, oh, Fantastic Contraption. The other thing is that it’s perfect for the space, because the original Fantastic Contraption you gotta like, build something, you have a starting zone that you have to use, and we were like, that’s perfect, we don’t need an interpolation mechanic, we don’t have to explain how to get out of the zone. You just have a cool starting zone whatever the size of your living room is. And it just all clicked. Literally two days after we tried it, we all put our hands in the middle and were like, “we’re going to make a game!” So fun.
Alexander: Yeah and I believe it because I was a little bearish on VR myself and it was actually seeing, one of the early videos that you guys released that I was like, with the motion controls, I was like, “oh now it’s starting to make sense”, now I’m seeing the application for it. So, that leads into my next question. On a lengthy game projects, many developers say they enter what you could call a “valley of despair”. Did you experience this during your development process and how did you push through it?
Sarah: Well it was so fast, so we decided to make this game in July of last year, and originally we wanted to be a launch title with the Vive and originally it was supposed to launch in December so we were so pressed for time, we had no time to get into that valley of where you’re just polishing and nothing feels right. Yeah, we had fun the entire time we pushed hard the entire time. And if something was really not working we just did something else. We had a really easy time of it because the core gameplay we already knew was tested and it was fine. We just had to figure out how to translate that into 3D. The game is completely different with the way that you feel about doing building, there is a lot of iteration there’s not one right answer you have to come across, there is a lot of tweaking, like, you know that works, you don’t have to worry about it. You can continue to have that be the feel of the game. You start with an idea, and then you make changes until it works …
Alexander: … and that’s game design!
Sarah: And that’s game design! Yeah. I mean, originally in 2008 there was a lot of iteration in game design coming to that model and the idea of like, “is it okay to keep people in a box?” and all that nonsense. So we were fine with that. Yeah, the only things that we tried and threw out were things like, how you spawn pieces in the world, how the menu system works, we did a lot of menu systems. Colin did a talk at GDC here, it was called “Fuck Menus”, and they renamed it to “Menus Suck”, but the idea was like, we came into it being like, we’re going to have some 2D menu on your hand that you take pieces off and then going, that’s not the VR way… you know, you want a physical thing in the world so we have this cat, who’s like a toolbox. That is the menu. That’s where you get your pieces from, and the cat moves around, you can call it over. So that was a big “oh my God” moment where we threw out the ideas from earlier and switched to doing that. But mostly, everything we’ve done has been like, “What’s fun in VR? Let’s put that in.”
Alexander: And lastly, how different did that end product end up being from your original vision?
Sarah: The menu thing, definitely that was different, but I feel like overall it’s what we imagined. It feels the way we imagined it was going to feel, which is really good. We made these big movements, it’s not tiring, it’s like you’re happy to be in this space, in that way it’s exactly what we thought. In the first two days we were like, we want a game to feel just like this and we succeeded in that.
Alexander King was once an analytics and strategy consultant, who used Excel, statistics and common sense in order to improve businesses. Now he puts those skills to much better use in making games!