1000 Amps is one of my favourite puzzle games in years. Brilliantly designed, and constantly interesting, I went so far as to do cosplay to convince you to play it. Hopefully you did. I am convinced lone developer behind The Odd Man Out, 22 year old college student Brandon Brizzi, is one to watch. Which is why I caught up with him to ask about the experience of releasing a successful game, the motivation behind his projects, and why he no longer has to make pizzas.
RPS: Your previous games have been much smaller, web-based projects. What was the path that led to 1000 Amps being something so much larger, and indeed getting onto Steam?
Brandon Brizzi: I see it as a building process. I started with smaller stuff because I didn't know how to execute on bigger stuff. In fact, 1000 Amps started as a smaller project. It was a much more linear game, with each room being tackled by itself instead of being connected to other rooms. In the beginning the art style was mostly present, and the lighting up of things was there, but that was mostly it.
I think I realized that such a limited scope wouldn't be worth more than a passing glance to most people. Making it worth people's time meant expanding on concepts and scope. Through playtesting and re-building the game from scratch I was able to brainstorm the things that made the game come together: the teleporting, the music, and the limitations of the rooms. Really, I took what might have been a handful of my smaller projects and mashed them together in a complementary manner!
RPS: What has the experience been like of having a game on Steam, and getting higher profile coverage?
Brizzi: Immensely gratifying. Having worked towards something for so long and having people receive it well has been probably the most rewarding part of the experience. Having the game be on a service as revered as Steam has really opened up future possibilities, for both 1000 Amps and any other games I'll be doing, just because of the amount of eyes that are on it.
RPS: Has the game been a success? Have you made money from it?
Brizzi: I didn't make a very heavy monetary investment in 1000 Amps. I think more free-time was invested than actual money. So really, all 1000 Amps had to do to be a success for me was beat out my minimum wage job. At this point, it's eclipsed that mark several times over. I don't have to make pizza's anymore, so that's success enough for me!
RPS: The sheer volume of puzzles in the game suggest that it must have been enormously complex to put together. But you've done this incredibly successfully. How did you come to develop such strong puzzle design, and keep it all balanced in an open game?
Brizzi: Coming up with the puzzles was kind of a puzzle in and of itself. I made a whole bunch of different pieces for the player to interact with, I just needed to assemble them in an interesting manner. I wound up making levels in the order I thought the player would play through them. It's open world, so there's some leeway in where a player can go, but I still wanted to have a 'prescribed path'. I started by making basic puzzles that used as few types of blocks as possible. As I ran out of ideas with the tiles I was using, I'd just pull out a new tile to use, opening up that many new puzzle possibilities! Some of it got quite insidious. I would make several branching paths and then have to pull them all together to funnel the player to the area's power up, resulting in what I call 'boss puzzles'. A bunch of paths smashing together to make an uber-puzzle!
RPS: I absolutely loved Before The Law, and think it asks some interesting questions about what is a game, and what's an animation. How do you define that difference?
Brizzi: That was more or less the question I was pondering when I conceived of Before The Law. What could I do with an interactive medium that couldn't be done in another medium? The answer was: I could allow choice. A normal animation is just a linear series of events that you have no influence on. Interactivity allowed for a seamless experience that incorporated choice. I think most of the discussion comes from the traditional definition of 'game'. Something that can have a winner and a loser. You don't really win or lose Before The Law, nor for the most part do you win or lose a lot of the other 'art games' that are out there. People see that it's not just a normal animation, but afterwards realize that it's not really a normal game. It's like it's some kind of video... game.
RPS: With games like Before The Law and 1000 Amps so completely different, it's pretty much impossible to suggest you have a style. Is that important to you?
Brizzi: Heh, now that you point it out I'm noticing that most of my work doesn't have any strict style. I'm working from the mindset of 'I don't want my game to be mistaken for another game' so Before The Law and 1000 Amps looking that different is a good thing to me. Really, I'm just looking at tropes I'm seeing in video games and trying not to duplicate them. I'm not going to make a SNES era looking platformer for the same reason I'm not going to make a brown colored FPS. If it's been done, in some cases to death, why would I try to beat a dead horse?
So if I had a style, reaching beyond just visual aesthetics, it'd be trying to do things that havn't been done. To do something unique. As far as I know there havn't been any metroidvania games that take advantage of the mouse as part of its core gameplay. There are few examples of literature interpreted as a video game, and fewer examples of video games that focus purely on an artistic message. Also in the minority are games that don't allow you to die, both 1000 Amps and Before The Law do not have any kind of death mechanic. When I'm coming up with a new game, that's generally what I'm thinking of. What hasn't been seen before?
RPS: It also suggests that you may be reluctant to make sequels to 1000 Amps, despite the tease of other trees to power at the end. Can you see yourself making another, or do you want to move on to new things?
Brizzi: Well, I can say that there won't be a sequel in the immediate future. I do have ideas that hit the cutting room floor that I could use to make a sequel, and I certainly did leave story room for a sequel. For now though, I think the universe of 1000 Amps and its mechanics can take a break. I have a lot of other ideas for games that deserve their turn under the sun.
RPS: Thank you for your time.