IGF Factor 2012: At A Distance

Terry ‘VVVVVV’ Cavanagh’s ultra-minimalist, abstract first-person co-op puzzler At A Distance is nominated for the Nuovo award at this year’s Independent Games Festival. As part of our seemingly infinite series in which we chat to (almost) all the finalists, Terry talks about the concept behind the game, what he’d like to see win at the IGF this year, his disappointment that the Pirate Kart didn’t get a nod, and his answer to the most important question of all.

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

I’m Terry Cavanagh, I’m a game developer, probably best known as the guy who made VVVVVV. I’ve been interested in making games as long as I can remember. I’m not sure I can really explain why, when you put it like that – I don’t really want to do anything else.

RPS: Tell us about your game. What were its origins? What are you trying to do with it?

At a Distance is a game I made for last year’s No Quarter exhibition in New York. I like to describe it as a two player game about solitude in shared experiences. It’s a puzzle game for two players, played on two adjacent computers in two separate worlds. The puzzle is largely about working out how the two computers are connected, which makes talking about it without spoiling things a little difficult.

RPS: What are you most pleased about it?

If I had to single out one thing, I guess I’m most pleased about how well the game ended up working visually – some people hate it, can’t even look at it, and that’s fair enough – but I’m personally very satisfied with how it turned out.

RPS: What would you change if you could?

The game I set out to make when I started working on it was quite different, actually. It used to be designed so that people could come and go over the course of an evening, changing the game world for the next person who came along. That aspect of the game never really worked as well as I liked though, and I ended up cutting a lot of content to focus on the parts that did work. I’m very happy with what it’s become, but I sometimes wish I had been able to get the original concept to work better.

RPS: What are your feelings on the IGF this year? Pleased to be nominated? Impressed by the other finalists? Anything you worry has been overlooked?

I’m incredibly honoured – I’ve never been an IGF finalist before! The Nuovo category in particular is very strong this year, and to be part of that is amazing.

One game which I think got overlooked is Lone Survivor, which I’ve played a bit over the course of its development. It’s a really beautiful, personal game – but kind of a slow burn. It’s not for everyone, but the people who are able to get into it will really love it, I think. It’s something that builds as you play – it has a feel to it that’s not really like anything else.

I’m also a little disappointed that the IGF Pirate Kart isn’t a finalist. I think there was something really special about it, something that maybe got overlooked because of all the protest drama surrounding it. It’s a shame. But I’m really looking forward to taking part in the new Pirate Kart later this month.

RPS: Which game would you like to see take the Grand Prize this year?

Honestly, I don’t really know – until a couple of days ago, I hadn’t played any of the games up for the grand prize except for Frozen Synapse. I’m looking forward to checking them out at GDC this year.

I can’t wait to play Dear Esther – I put off playing the original mod because I heard this version was in the works – it looks amazing. I played the original version of Spelunky to death, and I’ve no doubt the new version is every bit as good. Fez looks cool too, I’m very curious about it.

If I had to pick one, though, I think it would be very cool to see Joust win. I finally got a chance to play it at Bit of Alright, and had a blast – I played for as long as I politely could. It’s fantastic to see something as non traditional as that being considered for the grand prize, and I think it would be very cool if it won.

RPS: How do you feel about the indie scene of late? What would you like to see from it in the near-future?

It’s a very exciting time to be a game developer! The amount of people getting into game making seems to be exploding right now, even compared to just a year or two ago.

RPS: And how does the future look for you, both in terms of this game and other projects?

At a Distance is finished, and I’m not really thinking much about it anymore. I have some loose left over ideas I want to assemble as a sort of B-Side at some point, but I’m not sure when that’ll happen.

This year I’m trying to be a little more disciplined about what I work on, so I’m planning to flesh out some of my old prototypes from the last year or two. I’m really optimistic about what’ll result from that.

RPS: If you could talk to the monsters in Doom, what would you ask them?

I’d make awkward polite conversation, probably. Ohh, that gives me an idea for a pirate kart game…

RPS: Thanks for your time.

At A Distance is out now, and free.


  1. Nevard says:

    Let’s be honest, while the pirate kart was INTERESTING, it wasn’t really a shining beacon of excellent gameplay

  2. Kdansky says:

    The color scheme is seizure-inducing, and is it supposed to lag so badly? Hard to care about something that tries actively to be as ugly as sin when there are things to play that don’t give me eye-cancer. Either they do it on purpose, or they didn’t do the homework titled: “How the eye / brain can improvise depth information in the absence of stereo-vision: Colors and feature recognition.”

    Non-photorealistic games can look good too. Case in point: In Momentum.

    • gganate says:

      It looks very arty, but those trailers did very little to sell the game to me. The environments reminded me of some amateur half-life levels from my youth.

    • MondSemmel says:

      I watched a Let’s Play of the game, and it looked quite interesting. But I’m a bit sad to see a developer who made a game as good as VVVVVV make a game that so incredibly few people will actually ever be able to play. I’m not going to try and _somehow_ set up two computers side by side in the same room…

      (Actually, it sounds like this game could be easily played in our computer room at university. If I actually had anyone to play to play with there, I would curse myself for watching those Let’s Play videos.)

    • devlocke says:

      I thought the point of the game was that you weren’t supposed to be in the same room to play it, and would have to work out a way to communicate just via the game? Maybe I’m thinking of something else.

  3. ZIGS says:

    It’s a remake of CUBE!

    link to youtu.be


  4. GallonOfAlan says:

    Looks like it’s done in Freescape.

    • terry says:

      I was thinking the same thing :-) Anyone for a game of Castle Master?

  5. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    This was a game I just didn’t get. I played it with my flatmate, and it was interesting for a short while. Once we realised the core concept—which took a few minutes, it rapidly became tedious.

    It ended up being essentially turn-based co-op: for one player to make progress, he has to wait for the other player to do some actions, with nothing to do in the meantime. And the core mechanic would have worked just as well in a single-player puzzle game. Together, these made the co-op feel a bit redundant and forced.

    The platforming was annoyingly floaty and slidy, and we had several setbacks as a result of missed jumps.

    We persisted though, and got to a point where both screens faded to black, and stayed that way for several seconds. Thinking it had finished, I quit my game, just as the other started turning to red. I don’t know if it was actually the end or not.

    I was disappointed with the game. It had simple mechanics, unjustified co-op, intentionally terrible graphics—thanks to the fixed render size and dithering, I had to run it in a small window for the dithering to resolve—and overall felt very un-tight. This was a surprise to me, considering how tight VVVVVV was.