IGF Factor 2010: Cogs

I want one of these.

How beautiful, how wonderful can you make a sliding puzzle game? With a steam-punk flourish, Lazy 8 Studios’ Cogs shows exactly how far the genre can be pushed. Comrade Walker – our official master of puzzles – totally adored it upon its release. Now that it’s picked up a nomination for Excellence in Design, we thought it time to talk to their Rob Jagnow about all things indie-games. Footage and chattage follows…

RPS: Firstly, a brief intro to those who may not know you. Who are you? What’s your background? Why get into games? Why get into indie games?

Rob Jagnow: I was told there would be 5 questions. I just counted 4, so I’ll try to make these answers really good.

I’m Rob Jagnow, founder of Lazy 8 Studios in San Francisco. I’m sort of a cross between an engineer and an artist. I love the challenge of programming, but also need an outlet for my creativity. Game development is, to me, the perfect match. My creativity can come through in puzzle and UI designs, but I still get to work with the nuts and bolts of the software. Let’s be honest, though — I’m a better engineer than I am an artist. Thankfully, Brendan Mauro came on board Lazy 8 Studios to replace my crappy engineer art with the polished wood and brass that you see today.

One of the concepts that draws me to indie games in particular is the Maximization of Awesomeness per Capita™. Here’s how it works: when you’re just one guy, you can create a game that’s exactly as awesome as what one guy can do. If you team up with the right partner, there’s this mysterious thing that the business gurus like to call synergy that lets you create something that’s more than twice as awesome as what one person can do alone. With three people, you may be able to do more than triple what one can do. But that synergistic power doesn’t go on forever. Ten people can only do a game that is, maybe, five times as awesome as what one person can do. When you normalize this curve to maximize awesomeness per capita, it peaks right around teams of 2-5. I love small teams like that where everyone can really make a substantial contribution to the project. As a result, everyone feels a sense of ownership, which keeps the quality high.

Here’s a graph to make it more clear:

RPS: And… the game. Tell us about it. What was its origins? What are you trying to do with it? What are you most pleased about it? What nags?

Rob Jagnow: That’s eight questions already. I knew it.

Oddly enough, the inspiration for Cogs came from playing minesweeper. It’s not that minesweeper is inspirational. In fact, quite the opposite. One night, while I was trying to beat my best times, I stopped to think about how many hours I’d wasted on such a simple game. I figured that if I spent that time creating a new game, I could come up with something far more interesting. So I thought about what I like — gears, pipes and steam-powered machines — and the concept eventually evolved into Cogs.

What really makes me happy about the result is that even after years of development, I still enjoy playing it. There are, of course, business realities that can sometimes be depressing — like responding to emails from angry buyers who don’t have the hardware horsepower for Cogs. Or more recently, complaints from iPhone customers who think that a dollar is too much to pay for an hour or two of puzzles. But mostly, Cogs has been very well-received. In fact, a Cogs puzzle-modding community is just getting started, so I’m going to try to do what I can to encourage that.

RPS: What’s your feelings on the IGF this year. Pleased to be nominated? Have particular love, bemusement or hate for any of the other entries? Is there anything you think is missing?

Rob Jagnow: It’s an incredible honor to be included in such an amazing list of nominees. I’ve talked with a number of other successful indie developers who said that IGF nominations in previous years were what their games really needed to take flight. And we’re already seeing a lot of extra visibility from our nomination for Excellence in Design.

RPS: How do you feel about the indie scene generally this year? People have been relatively downbeat about 2009, after 2008 being so obviously incendiary. What are the themes, in your eyes? What are people missing?

Rob Jagnow: If I had to pick a title theme for the indies this year, I’d say Camaraderie. I feel like with the big studios, it’s all about secrets and scoops — doing what it takes to get ahead. In contrast, I feel like indie studios understand that when one indie game gets recognition, we all benefit. It gets people to say, “Hey, these little start-ups are delivering far more creativity than the big studios, and at a fraction of the price.” There are so many indie studios that I owe for the great advice they’ve given along the way: 2DBoy, Wolfire, NimbleBit, Dejobaan, Demiurge

Rob and the other half of Lazy 8, Brendan Mauro. Very much videogames' answer to Flavor-Flav.

RPS: And how does the future look for you? What are you working on now and the foreseeable future.

Rob Jagnow: I’m more than ready to move on to my next game idea. I have far more ideas that I’d like to pursue than I possibly have time for. Maybe it’s time to bring another programmer on board. But for now, I’m still focusing my attention on Cogs. We released an iPhone version at the end of January, and it’s doing very well. So now it’s time to get it ready for the iPad. We also want to keep improving the PC version of Cogs, so we should be releasing a patch in a few weeks that will speed up the rendering and add some new language options.

Oh, and for the record: 15 questions.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Cogs can be bought from Lazy 8 Studios’ site. There’s also a demo available. Go gets!


  1. Mike says:

    That is one of the best graphs I have ever seen in an interview. It’s only lacking the word ‘science’ in capital letters somewhere.

    I’m sorry to say that I took Cogs to be a really basic cash-in sort of puzzler, but I will take a look for sure now. I didn’t know it had an IGF nomination either. Books, covers, etc.

    • James G says:

      I got cogs as part of a bundle with The Path, Defense Grid, Democracy 2 and, uh, Zeno Clash. I ignored it for ages, assuming like you that it was shovelware. Then I noticed LewieP heavily pushing it when it was discounted on Steam, so gave it a go. Good fun, although I do need to learn some of the more common movements in sliding block puzzles, such as how to switch two adjacent pieces around. At the moment I do everything by far too much trial and error.

  2. Ginger Yellow says:

    Cogs is a weird one. At heart, it really is just a sliding puzzle game, albeit with a few twists like puzzles with two sides. But it has a really cunning twist which lifts it above ordinary sliding puzzle games – namely that half (or more) of the game is figuring out what the “picture” in the puzzle is supposed to be. I was a bit underwhelmed at first, as I really don’t like sliding puzzles, but as the pictures got more complicated, I got more and more engrossed.

  3. Rob says:

    Ah Cogs, brilliant game. Picked it up during the Christmas sale on Steam and promptly bought it for 2 other people, cleverly wiping out my saving in one blow.

  4. nabeel says:

    I managed to get this game free when someone supplied me with a Steam code, I don’t think I would have got it otherwise. I may actually try it if it’s that good.

  5. RagingLion says:

    Still haven’t tried it out myself having got it in one the Steam sales before Christmas, but it’s right there whenever I feel like some lightweight puzzling.

  6. postmanX3 says:

    I almost considered buying this for my iPod, but I’ve never liked sliding block puzzles. However, I think this is going on my to-buy list…

    • Tacroy says:

      If you actively dislike sliding block puzzles, Cogs probably won’t change your mind; the core gameplay is always click click click slide slide slide aargh why can’t I get the piece where I want it, with a few twists (eg: sheets that have elements on both sides, so sliding a block on one side slides its pair on the other). If you’re just indifferent, it might sway you. I’d say that you should try the demo first.

    • postmanX3 says:

      Well, I find sliding block puzzles fun if they’re done well and I have some way of getting hints… the only place I really hate them is when they’re tossed into a bigger game where they don’t belong at all. (I.E. the hair-loss-inducing sliding block puzzle to get Shale in Dragon Age.)

  7. Phil says:

    Bought Cogs a while back. Have to admit that in the end the sliding block mechanic didn’t really grab me: I still haven’t finished the basic game, never mind the challenges.

    On the positive side, everything about the game is gorgeously physical: the way the menus flip over in fron of you to open new options, the way the puzzle takes off when you succeed, all of it is not only beautifully animated, but feels solid and real in a way that many games never achieve.

    It almost hooked me with that interface alone, just poking it was reward enough for a bit, but in the end the game just wasn’t enough to keep me coming back. If you’ve any interest in game design at all though, you should get hold of a copy just to play around with the interface: it’s lovely.

  8. Zyrxil says:

    The main problem I have it with is my humongous dislike of any kind of time limit in puzzle games, whether it’s simply for medals, or a hard time limit on completing the puzzle. To me, part of puzzles is just taking the time to look over it, take it all in, as if it were a physical object, then slowly understanding how it works before you try the solution you came up with in your mind.

    Timing it is rather pointless, unless it’s some kind of puzzle you can play head to head vs another person, and the puzzle is one neither has seen before. Once you know the solution, then the clock only serves to check how fast you can click through it. It’s the worst measure of puzzle solving capability, and it actively hampers my ability to enjoy puzzles.

  9. Taillefer says:

    I like Cogs. But found it very hard to stick with it. I think it definitely needs some of the more creative presentations earlier on to keep the interest level up. They start to trickle in later, where it feels like you’re connecting up machinery, or rockets, etc, rather than just sliding tiles on an abstract board, and it’s the former which are most fun. Maybe take some lessons from 2DBoy and even discard some levels altogether.

  10. Carra says:

    Looks like my kind of game, I’ll try the demo.

    And I’ll bite: one dollar for the iphone and 10 dollars for the pc version? Shoo!

  11. Ginger Yellow says:

    The iPhone version is episodic. It’s $1/59p for the first ten levels, then another $1 for every ten levels after that.

    • Dominic White says:

      I’m still fairly sure that adds up to only $5 for the full iPhone version, too.

      iPhone gamers are STILL complaining about getting ‘nickel and dimed’ or ripped off, though, despite getting the same game, in optional portions, at half the price.

  12. Gabe McGrath says:

    Anyone who…
    (a) Makes up a silly marketing law
    (b) Adds “™” to it, COZ THEY CAN
    (c) Then makes up a graph to ‘prove’ the law…..
    ….deserves a BIG HIVEMIND HUG!

    *bonus hugs for: (i) ‘Zany’ photo and (ii) Counting the number of questions.

  13. JuJuCam says:

    Count me amongst those who find the sliding puzzle element gets in the way of a brilliant tribute to The Incredible Machine. I’d play it to completion if there were an absurdly easy direct tile swap mode.

    • Dominic White says:

      Erm.. This game is absolutely nothing like The Incredible Machine.

      If you want a TIM clone, Crazy Machines 2 is on Steam and is great.

    • JuJuCam says:

      I really meant more the “put things in the right place and cool stuff will happen” style of gameplay. I realise it isn’t at all trying to be TIM but somehow it brought the essence to mind when I played it. *shrug*