Tastes So Goo-d: 2D BOY Interview

By John Walker on October 13th, 2008 at 12:18 pm.

Do you think games will one day have red carpet launches?

World of Goo launches today. In fact, if you look at the 2D BOY website, it seems to have quietly launched already. Buy! It will also be appearing on Steam, Direct2Drive, Greenhouse, and Beanstalk as the day goes on.

Despite their crazy pre-launch weekend, 2D BOY’s Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel generously spared some time to answer our questions about the process of developing the game, the complicated life of the independent developer, and why it’s so very important to care deeply about your game (rather than your cat).

Are you beautiful enough?

RPS: Can you tell us your backgrounds. What were you doing before you got together to make games as 2D Boy, and why did that mean you decided to strike out on your own?

Ron: We were both at EA, I was making casual web games for pogo.com. It was a good job, good hours, good people, I really didn’t have anything to complain about. Still, every morning when I sat down for my one-hour-each-way-public-transit commute, I died a little. I’ve always wanted to make a game and it didn’t take much to get me rolling in that direction.

Kyle: Back in school, we always thought the halls of EA would be filled with plastic balls and tricycles and stuff, since it’s a game company, which means it’s essentially Santa’s workshop. But that wasn’t the case. The halls were filled with carpet and disillusionment. And time-worn tracks leading to the bathroom and coffee machines. Even so, I was really lucky that my whole job was to make a bunch of colorful disposable rapid prototypes every week or so. All I had to do was make people happy. But it was all for a small audience. By going indie, and making our own game, I’m hoping we can reach more people. We’ll see. Our game launches today, and we’re terrified.

RPS: Obviously World of Goo came from Tower of Goo. But why did you make the decision to make a full game?

Kyle: Originally we were going to make a game about a tree with wavy branches and you could grow flowers and vines and wispy seeds and mouths with sharp teeth to eat people, but it really wasn’t capturing our imagination. Then we noticed an eastern European company making a Tower of Goo knockoff for some sort of mobile device, and it really hurt. There was a sense of being violated, like when your car is broken into, or someone steals your bike. Ever since making Tower of Goo back in the Experimental Gameplay Project days, I had thought and hoped it could evolve into a really fun big game, but never really had sufficient motivation. Luckily, having the game concept almost stolen was just the kick in the pants we needed.

This is awesome out of context. Figure this out.

RPS: There are some names that come up when the game is discussed. Tim Burton, Tim Schafer, Danny Elfman. That’s the sort of crowd you want to be compared to! Were any of these conscious influences? Who else has influenced the style behind the game?

Kyle: That’s an honor! I think the thing in common with all of them is their saucy mixture of joyful overtones with sinister undertones. The art was inspired mostly by Dr. Seuss. The music was inspired mostly by Danny Elfman and Vangelis. And the story is a giant metaphor for the story of 2D BOY – a naive and curious new indie game studio hoping for the best, facing the reality of cold publishing and distribution corporations. Except, it’s naive and curious Goo Balls colliding with World of Goo Corporation and their global network of distribution pipes and delicious processed Goo Product.

RPS: Can you tell us about the music. Has that been a passion for you, something you’ve worked with in the past?

Kyle: I secretly studied music on the side in undergrad. Writing music is the most relaxing thing in the world, and all I ever wanted was to write music for movies and games or anything really. But that’s one of those things where you move to LA and wither away as a tired old waitress in a diner. So that plan basically went up in flames. The good news is, if you make your own movie or game, there’s nobody on staff who’s job it is to reject you!

The music is all synthesized and recorded in my computer, using a bunch of fake instruments and then I try and supplement it by recording real live instruments, or banging on chairs and boxes, or making mouth sounds, or anything to add organic noise as much as possible. It was important to have the same feeling as the rest of the game though – a primary emotion on the surface, and a conflicting emotion underneath to keep things feeling turbulent. Some of the tracks in the game are excerpts from stuff I wrote a few years ago, so we were lucky it fit together ok.

RPS: You’ve said before that people’s pre-orders gave you the opportunity to keep developing. Is this an effective model for other indie teams, or was it terrifying?

Ron: It’s worked for us because of people like you. To date, we got a few thousand pre-orders, which is enough to keep a small team like ours going. In our experience, positive attention from the games press translated into pre-orders and nothing else did. Out of curiosity, I recently put our sales data from PayPal into a spreadsheet and graphed out how many pre-orders were made on each day from the first day the were available until now. Every single spike on that graph is a result of some good publicity that came out that day. This is a good example of the stuff we learned while working on this game and we really want to share this information with other developers. Kyle and I are planning to give a financial postmortem talk at GDC this march in which we’ll try to answer every question we had when we started two years ago and didn’t know who to ask.

Shhh, no one say.

RPS: World of Goo has already received a few remarkably positive reviews. We have a strong suspicion that there are a lot more of them to come. After many months making the game, once you had a playable working code but hadn’t shared it with anyone, did you have an idea what you’d achieved?

Ron: No. Nothing prepared us for the reviews we’d seen so far. It’s hard to describe my relationship to the game and the ways in which it changed over the last two years. Most of the time I scrutinized it, and tried to make it do things it doesn’t want to do, and got frustrated by it when it didn’t do what I wanted. It’s only when the game was pretty close to done and watching people play it no longer felt like being in a straight jacket and gagged that I was able to see the joy that people experienced while playing. I can’t tell you how good it feels to watch someone play the game and laugh out loud.

Kyle: It’s easy to get so involved that your emotional high points and low points are directly mapped to really stupid things, like whether fonts render the correct size or not – and every little pixel that’s slightly out of place is another step towards mental disaster. But once people start playing it, and actually enjoying it, it’s like there’s an invisible seal that gets wrapped around it, and it’s stamped, “ok”, with a little bow, and all the problems vanish. It looks and feels completely different. Now that it’s released, it’s not even our game any more. Who the hell made World of Goo?

RPS: I think what was most overpowering for me about the game – even more than the puzzle design, and the technical achievement – was the sense of joyful glee. I had a non-game playing friend look at it the other night, and she was cheering, grinning at the way the goo balls behaved, and laughing at the sounds they made. Everyone I’ve spoke to who’s played it has said the same thing: it just makes them happy. This has to have been something you were striving for.

Kyle: Thanks! I have no idea, except that it must be a trait of indie games. Petri’s games, Cactus’s games, Edmund’s games, and a bunch of indies that come to mind, all seem to be generators of mysterious intangible joy. Indie developers just really really care. Above all else. We love our games. We love our games so much that it’s ok if we can’t afford food. Or rent. Or to take Madonna the Cat to the vet in two years. The game has to be built, and the only building materials we have are raw love and c++ and maybe a questionable copy of Photoshop.

Blimey, this is a tough level.

RPS: What have you learned from the process? What advice would you give to other small teams of indie devs looking to be the next attention-grabbing game?

Kyle: Some of the best advice I got from Randy Pausch was, “Learn to shoot your baby in the crib.” I think I ended up killing around 2 out of every 3 levels I made, keeping only the ones we thought people would really like.

RPS: So everyone wants to know, do you intend to release a demo? And clearly we have to ask, will we be seeing an add-on pack, or will 2D Boy be moving on to their next idea?

Ron: Yeah, we’ll release a demo early next year when the European version launches. Beyond the moon chapter in the European version, there will be no extra content. I think we’ve reached the point with this game where more is not better. Personally, I’m looking forward to finally relaxing a little and waiting until I’m bored again before starting to think about what’s next.

Kyle: For the next few days, we’ll be constantly horrified, mulling over every comment on the internet about our game. I just hope people like it, and that it doesn’t brick anyone’s Wii. That would be not ideal. Also, I’ve pretty much ruined all of my personal relationships because of this game. It might be time to work on that. Maybe take the cat to the vet.

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55 Comments »

  1. Meat Circus says:

    Lovely, lovely, lovely. The entire game filled me with chortlesome glee from start to finish,

    But, isn’t that trailer playing too quickly? It seems a little off.

  2. AbyssUK says:

    *group hug*

  3. Nero says:

    Ah, this is the kind of interviews that I like to read. I really enjoy everything about this game. Just too bad it has to end (though I’ve got alot of OCD to get left). I find the music pretty awesome, even though they are pretty short tracks that loops I’ve never thought “Oh, great now the music loops again”. It fits perfectly. Thanks to RPS for reminding me of this game and thanks to 2D boy for developing it!

  4. Feet says:

    I hope they make oodles of cash. They deserve it.

    Anyone know anything about the profanity pack, what it is and when it’ll be available?

  5. ape says:

    After being disapointed by so many games this year, World Of Goo has reminded why I started loving games in the first place. When mechanics, art, theme and sound come together just right it’s brilliant and this game is just that.

  6. kyrieee says:

    Getting this on Steam tonight but I won’t have time to play it for a long time =(

  7. Ging says:

    “Comic Mischief” is quite possibly the most awesome sort of extra text a rating box can have… Perhaps only beaten by “Scenes of extreme peril”.

  8. Tinus says:

    It makes Goo say naughty words. Release to be announed, I guess. I recon they will be working on the Mac and Linux versions first.

  9. Tinus says:

    My above post was a response to Feet… I miss the edit button..

  10. Downloads_Plz says:

    Just as a question to those that have played it, is the game really as fast as parts of this trailer make it out to be?

    I want to purchase this game based on the overwhelmingly positive almost to the point of causing nausea reviews here, but the trailer makes it seem almost like a frenzied click-fest, which isn’t really my cup of tea.

  11. Lim-Dul says:

    No, it isn’t, the gameplay is sped up immensely, but it can become quite hectic at times when there are “forces at work” that are out to destroy your goo structure and hence make you build faster. =)

    Check out some videos on Youtube to see what the actual gameplay looks like.

  12. Chris Evans says:

    Wahooo for insanely sped-up Goo madness :D

  13. unclelou says:

    Just in case the guys read this:

    Finished it last night, and what a amiracle this game is. You brought tears of joy to the eyes of a 30+ jaded gamer who plays games since the 1970s. Pure delight from start to finish.

  14. JonFitt says:

    Does anyone know anything about the Wii version?

    Does it add anything to the experience?
    If not I’ll just buy it on Steam like I was going to.

  15. crozon says:

    Steam here i come :)……….my bank balance hates me :(

  16. cyrenic says:

    MOON CHAPTER!?!?!

    Will there be a way for the dirty Americans to get it?

  17. Xilnold says:

    This game sucks.

    Just kidding, 2d boy.

  18. Bobsy says:

    I love you 2D Boy!

  19. Tei says:

    I am stuck on some level of chapter 2 (or is 3?). Is a nice game. But the idea is very old, I used to play “Pontifex” eons ago. This one game is more arcady than Pontifex, the good thing is that you don’t have to pass the “train” test.

  20. UncleLou says:

    “But the idea is very old, I used to play “Pontifex” eons ago.”

    So have I. But it’s not the basic idea that matters, it’s what they did with it. The idea of “boy meets girl” is rather old, too, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t terrific and original books and films published every year about exactly this topic.

  21. Dest says:

    I’m rather saddened that use American types don’t get the Moon chapter.

  22. K says:

    *Shoots out the love spikes*

  23. Kyle Gabler says:

    We want to make sure everyone is happy – so don’t worry too much about the Moon chapter, we’ll find a way to make it available in some form or another to everyone, even the dirty Americans, somehow, sometime. Thanks for your comments, group hug!

  24. Lim-Dul says:

    I sure hope so, Kyle – I’m not even American but don’t want to be punished again for preordering the game. ;-)

    Luckily the awesome-o-matic message that I will be able to register WoG on Steam (which I’m a big fan of) with my magic code does bode very well for the future and goes to show that you DO care about your customers (unlike Blizzard, hell, I had to make this reference). ^^

    Aaaand if the Moon Chapter won’t be available for the American (a.k.a. “old” version) I can still happily pirate the European edition – will be interesting for the piracy stats you publish on your site. ^^

    Uhm… *ducks and runs away*

  25. MasterBoo says:

    Bought it 3 hours ago and just finished the first chapter. All I can say is DAMN THIS IS FUN (and very creative). I got stuck in the Bridge Building level. In the end I built a tower at the beginning and then pushed it to the right to reach the other side :P.

  26. mcw says:

    It’s available on Steam now …

  27. Monkfish says:

    Just grabbed it off Steam – I suspect it’s gonna be a late night, tonight… ;)

  28. Andrew Wills says:

    Bought it too… Utterly addicted, tore myself away just to post this. Everyone should get this game, it’s wonderful!

  29. Harold says:

    Bought it, lovin’ it.

  30. TheLordHimself says:

    I can’t register my magic code with steam, it keep saying its an invalid code! Has anyone else had this?

  31. Lim-Dul says:

    Same here – guess it’ll take some time to migrate the DB.

  32. dishwasherlove says:

    Curse you RPS for making me spend the US dollar in this turbulent economic climate!

  33. Eoy says:

    Any tips for players that are stuck at Deliverance, the last puzzle of Chapter 4?

  34. cyrenic says:

    @Eoy

    MINOR SPOILER FOLLOWS :D

    Burninate.

  35. Carra says:

    Just bought and finished the first two levels.

    Brilliant. It looks great, is very innovative and even the music is lovely. Besides being extremely polished.

    Might be the game that gets me looking out more for indie games :)

  36. Eoy says:

    figured it out :)

  37. Thiefsie says:

    It’s unfortunately starting to turn up on the torrent sites.

  38. Daniel Purvis says:

    WOG is a masterpiece. Thanks for shedding some further light on the development side of the project. It’s been interesting.

    And, just to reflect, I pre-ordered after reading an RPS preview, way back.

  39. Prelate says:

    The version on the torrent sites is the WiiWare one (they can pirate wiiware now?) not the PC one. Interesting turn-up for the “piracy is killing PC gaming” books.

  40. Thiefsie says:

    The torrent site I looked at had the PC version.

  41. John Walker says:

    Thiefsie – send the details of that to Ron at 2D BOY, as they’re following it all very closely. I’ve only seen the WiiWare version so far, so yours might be harder to find at this point.

  42. Thiefsie says:

    I already have… it is a registration torrent site though, so I don’t know what they can do with that unless they manage to get a login quickly. It has been snatched 163 times so far apparently.

    If it hasn’t hit more public trackers I suppose that is still a good thing?

  43. Thiefsie says:

    I did like how they were tracking where the IPs were from for the people trying to activate the warez version. Funnily enough Argentina was in the lead followed by Israel, with other countries sitting at about 1 try a piece (inc USA, Britain and Australia iirc) Unfortunately they’ve removed their blog due to bandwidth issues right now though. – Will be very interesting to see how this goes.

    There are other reasons for it not being torrented though I believe, first and foremost this isn’t a AAA title (well the wii version is I guess?) hence that is being torrented… secondly there isn’t much publicity around this (at least for a non-gamer person who doesn’t read review sites) and the sheer lack of size makes torrenting probably near pointless. I’d hazard a guess that rapidshare and megaupload are doing their parts?

  44. Thiefsie says:

    Also, if warez groups aren’t racing to crack it… are they racing to release it? I’d hazard a guess at no.

    I would also love to know how many copies they have actually sold, but don’t really expect them to release that, much like Valve.

    This transparency is a refreshing change of pace, much like Cliffski’s survey. If only some industry bigwigs would take a little more notice.

    I’m also of the mind that I don’t know whether I should give this game to my brother or mum for example (who don’t play video games), who would no way buy it unless they tried it and miraculously decided to if they liked it enough?!? (though probably not) but then again it’s not like they would buy it in the first place. I’m conflicted! Is that good or bad??

  45. Daniel Purvis says:

    In Australia, the Wii version currently isn’t being released by any major stores, including EB Games or Game, so there’s no way of getting hold of a copy unless you import or *gulp* pirate. Be interested to see, however, how many Australians even know the game is out there!

  46. Subject 706 says:

    Great game, nice to see some creativivty in a game for a change.

    People who pirate this should be keel-hauled on a barnacle encrusted battleship.

  47. marmite says:

    I love it. Pre-ordered it and got it a week ago! Well done guys.

    Does anyone know if it’s possible to get it to work nicely in 1680*1050? I found the text file that you can edit, but at that resolution when you complete a level the continue flush thing dangles off the bottom of the screen.

  48. Paul Moloney says:

    Not just Pontifex, but also the creator of that game’s followup, Armadillo Run. In fact, there appears to be an ‘omage to it in WoG, with the word “armadillo” being mentioned (tenuous, I know).

    Bought it on Steam last night (I’m really a sucker for impulsive Steam purchases) and have had fun so far in the first three levels. The art design really does raise it to another level.

    P.

  49. Thiefsie says:

    I too am wanting some help with havking the res up to higher standards but without the UI dropping off the bottom so I can finish a level. After 2 seconds fiddling I’m guessing it is to do with the res I’m setting being widescreen and not 4:3 – will try that later when I get home from work.

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