Monday, 28 January 2013

Interview: Teddy Lee (Mutant Blobs Attack!)

Formed in 2008, Drinkbox Studios's first game was the warmly received Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack!!!, a launch title for the Playstation Vita, which also recently appeared on PC. Teddy Lee, a designer on Mutant Blobs Attack, gives us a little bit of his time to talk about how the game came together, how the inputs of the PS Vita affected gameplay, how the puzzles were designed, sets the record straight on the controls, talks a little about their next game, Guacamelee, and the biggest challenge indie developers face with the onset of the next generation of consoles.
The introductions please: Name, the education/career arc that brought you to the game industry, what you do at Drinkbox and your role on Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack.
Hey, my name is Teddy Lee and I was one of the designers on Mutant Blobs Attack.  I have a University degree in Computing, which is more of a participation ribbon than anything else. I actually got into the industry because an interviewer took interest in these small games that I had made using game making software.  Since then I've jumped through several job positions until I landed here at Drinkbox Studios.

First, Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attacks is a mouthful. Did you ever think of slimming it to “Blobs Attack!”? Did you have a codename for the game during development?
We rarely called it by its full name. I think we just called the game "MBA" or just "it".  Blobs Attack is a much better name though... We suck.

Mutant Blobs Attack appeared first on the PS Vita during its launch window. Can you get into any of the details about – general details is good – about how that happened? How it all came together? Give us a history lesson!
While About a Blob was being finished up, Drinkbox Studios had applied to the OMDC for a possible grant if they made a sequel to the game (MBA). Luckily, at around the same time the the grant was approved, Drinkbox was contacted by Sony showing interest in MBA appearing on their new Vita handheld.

So the stars all sort of aligned, and Drinkbox decided to try and go for it.

Did the input methods for the PS Vita have an impact on the way Mutant Blobs Attack was developed?
Definitely.  MBA was designed explicitly with the Vita in mind.  During development we really wanted to avoid implementing mechanics just for gimmicks sake, which I think worked out well. If we couldn't give a certain mechanic the proper attention or couldn't find multiple uses for it, then we wouldn't use it.  We ended up scrapping ideas for camera and back-touch functionality, and instead focused as much as we could with the gyroscopes, front-touch, and joysticks.

Porting a PS Vita game to PC seems a bit of tricky business because the inputs are very different. How many control iterations were explored before settling on the final configuration?
Not many initially.  The game was actually built first with PC controls, because we didn't have any Vita devkits when work started.  That was a little risky because we were banking a lot on the assumption that what we made would work well with Vita's input options. And by a lot, I mean a H-LOT.

Why can’t I reconfigure the keys? One of my big complaints about the game is that I couldn’t get away from using the mouse. It was either mouse/keyboard or controller/keyboard.
We actually just recently released an update to the game which allows you to play the entire game using a controller.  The Right Stick on an XBox Controller will now do all the telekinetic stuff for you, so hopefully that helps!

Regarding controls, You can actually reconfigure the controls in a document called CustomKeys.ini.  It's not the friendliest way of doing it, and we are sorry about that.

Was there any thought of giving Mutant Blobs Attack a more “realistic” veneer? Something that wasn’t an ode to ‘50s sci-fi and Ren & Stimpy? Did the size of the team dictate the art style?
The original style for the game was made by our Art Director Stephane Goulet. He definitely has a penchant for the '50s, and I think he just really nailed a unique style pretty quickly.  We also didn't want to stray too far off the likeness of the first game in the series, About a Blob.  I don't believe we ever ventured near anything more realistic, because to us the premise really encouraged a more cartoon-styled approach.

If we get a gritty reboot in 10 years could be expect an M-rated gore fest?
Probably in like two.

There are a lot of physics-based puzzles throughout the game and I was often left wondering, “How did they come up with that?” Take us through the process of puzzle design. Did you work with models? Computer simulations? Sketch it out with pencil and paper?
It all depends on the designer.  What works for one person doesn't always work for the other.  For me, I like to work backwards starting with the solution and then coming up with the puzzle to fit it.

As for making the puzzles, I followed a pretty consistent route of starting with a quick doodle on paper to get a general understanding of the room layout.  It also helped in determining the minimum number of components needed to get the puzzle to work.  From there, I would jump into the editor and start building it out.

But sometimes I'd just wing it.

I’d also love some insight into how the titular blob came about. How many versions of it were there before landing on the final one?
It's hard to say exactly how many variations the blob went through as he was constantly getting little tweaks here and there in order to help make him better match the world he was in.  For the Mutant Blob, I think Steph more or less got it on his first go (aside from a few tweaks here and there).

Have you had any feedback from the indie developers who get nods in the background art? (“Phil’s Fish!”)
There were some tweets going out by other indie developers as these reference were discovered. The reaction was super positive.

Also, one of our fans got a sick tattoo of the blob on his shoulder... which was very flattering.

I imagine that Mutant Blobs Attack is in your rearview mirror right now, so is there anything you wish you could go back and change about it?
I wish we emphasized better to players that the game could be speed-runned.  There's a lot of hidden mechanics to the game which lets you blaze through the stages at ridiculous speeds.

"Guacamelee" is the next title coming from Drinkbox Studios.

What’s on your front burner right now? What’s your next project?
Right now we're hard at work on Guacamelee, which is a pretty crazy step up from Mutant Blobs Attack for us.  In terms of scope, it's just way larger than anything Drinkbox has done before and way more awesome, too!  The project is more or less locked down at this point, so right now we're just working on polish and bug fixes.

What is the indie scene’s biggest challenge they’ll have to face with the next generation of consoles?
The indie scene needs to stay indie.  With more power, everyone will want indie developers to step up the production quality of their games, and I think in turn the developers will feel obligated to match these demands.  This mentality sucks because higher levels of production quality means more costly development, which means less risk and ultimately less innovative games.  The necessity to push polygons isn't that big on PC because the difference in graphics power can drastically differ from one machine to the next.  But when you're shelling out hundreds of dollars for the most powerful console on the market, maybe consumers won't settle for anything less than Hollywood quality games.

If this happens, indie games are all eventually going to end up on Steam, and you'll end up with an influx of crappy games made by the mega corporations which have a $29.99 price point as the new "console indie."

Thanks for your time, Teddy!

- Aaron Simmer