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IGF Factor 2010: Vessel

Strange Loop Games' Vessel picked up a nomination for a technical award this year, in its fluid-based character-puzzle game with a mass of glorious steampunkisms. We talk to John Krajewski and Martin Farren about it, the IGF and the future...

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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?

John Krajewski: I'm John Krajewski, I'm project lead on Vessel. I got started making games on the Commodore 64 back in the day, typing in programs from magazines and changing the code in other people's games. It's pretty much been a natural progression from there.

Martin Farren: I'm Martin Farren, I'm tech director on Vessel. From a young age I was fascinated by computers. I studied both hardware and software in college and gravitated toward the latter. The deciding factor, for me, to enter the gaming industry was creativity. Taking a simple concept, expanding on it with various ideas, and turning it into something real is a very rewarding experience. Oh, did I mention that games are fun?

John Krajewski: We've both worked in the games industry for awhile at larger studios (we met at Pandemic Studios in Brisbane Australia) but struck out on our own as indies with the goal of taking a different approach to games; applying the massive power of modern hardware to gameplay, not just graphics.

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?

Martin Farren: John and I started to work on Vessel in late 2008. It started as a 2D fluid physics engine but over time core mechanics were added and Vessel was born. We’re continuing to explore new features which will enhance the game. Our focus at Strange Loop is to make engaging, meaningful games.

John Krajewski: One thing we wanted to ensure with Vessel is that the mechanics, story, and visuals were all tightly packaged together, they played off one another. As Martin says the seed for that was our physics engine - we wanted to create a fully interactive world that used simulations in a way never seen before, and our liquid characters (called Fluros in the game) grew out of that. Thematically they represent a space between living beings and machines, a semi-living invention, and we want the game to explore the consequences and meaning of that.

We're happy with how the simulation has turned out and the number of gameplay situations and puzzles that kind of emerge naturally, that's been a good success. There are still things we'd like to tune and improve before we release, we want to tune up the art a lot, and make the player controls cleaner.

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?

John Krajewski: The Nuovo category is a great addition, I think that really opens up the realm of games that can be honored with the IGF and there are some great picks in there. The thing I love about the IGF is the incredibly diverse range of games you get, stuff that looks nothing like the typical line up on a retail shelf. It's the breeding ground for new ideas. Monaco is one of my favorites, I love that old-school style of gameplay mixed with new approaches in game design. I was a bit disappointed Space Phallus didn't make it in the finals, that game was a great a critical take on what games always seem to be hinting at with their ridiculous male power fantasies. It was nice to see someone take that to its logical conclusion.

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?

Martin Farren: It’s an exciting year. I think prototyping and iteration are the fundamentals of a good game design. This year, I have see many shining examples of these in indies games. Many established companies have cut out prototyping and replaced iteration with sequels. The indie scene needs to avoid these habits.

John Krajewski: We seem to be in the middle of an indie game explosion, looking at the sheer number of games entered into the IGF, not to mention their rising quality. It feels like a movement building steam. Mainstream games usually feel very narrow, focused in a few particular genres - indie games are a scatter shot, everything you can imagine across the board. Sometimes ideas hit, sometimes they don't, but they're pretty much universally new and fresh. In my opinion the games industry badly needs that injection of new ideas that the IGF provides.

I have a (probably obvious) soft spot for games with deep simulations in them, and I think some of the past bests of IGF really succeeded in their use of them - Braid, World of Goo, Crayon Physics, Blueberry Garden. That is something I'd like to see more development and execution of, and it's what we want focus on with our games.

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

John Krajewski: Vessel is our focus for the immediate future. We want to do a lot of work before we release, we have some great ideas coming for the art, and new types of fluid and fluid creatures.

We're piling up ideas for future projects though, new types of simulations and gameplay, and other uses for the fluid tech we've developed. It's going to be a busy year.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

You can follow Vessel's development at Strange Loop Games' site.

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