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PS3 Attitude

Monday, 22 September 2008

Wishlist; Braid and Flipside for the PSN

Time after time we see interesting and innovative games appearing on other platforms that we would love to see on the PlayStation Network.

With that in mind, we got some time with Jonathan Blow and Thomas Pilgaard to talk about their respective creations; Braid and Flipside.

Along the way we find out what inspired them and the chances that two of our favourite non-PS3 titles might eventually make it on to the black monolith, and how Braid may even get a PSP outing.

Let's begin with Jonathan Blow and Braid.

[PS3A] Thanks for sparing us some of your time Jonathan. Tell us more about the original concept for Braid...

[JB] I wanted to make a game that was about visiting different worlds, where time would behave differently in each world. When creating the ways that time behaves, I wanted to explore some of the paradoxical things about relativity and quantum mechanics and the ways in which those branches of physics seem to contradict our daily, human-scale existences.

In presentation, I wanted the game to tell story the way a book tells story rather than a film (which is what games usually pattern themselves after). Italo Calvino's book "Invisible Cities" was the primary influence.

[PS3A] We've seen a few 'time shifting' games in the past. Why do you think Braid has caught people's imagination where others in the genre failed to ignite an interest?

[JB] Braid is designed differently from those games. Time manipulation is in the absolute core of Braid's gameplay, whereas in other games it has been a tacked-on feature. The rest of Braid's design had to conform to the time manipulation in order to make the most harmonious construction.

For example, there are no "lives" in Braid; you can never really die. What is the point in that if you could just rewind whenever you want to anyway? So now if you can never die, it doesn't make sense for the game to be about life-threatening action situations, because all the tension would be gone from those. You know you can't die and you know you could just flail your way through even the hardest challenge, so the game had to become something else. That's why it's a puzzle game.

[PS3A] Have you considered bringing Braid to the PS3 and PlayStation Network? Is there anything stopping you from approaching SCE about this?

[JB] Yes, I have considered it. There is a time-limited exclusivity clause in place that prevents me from going to Sony now, but in the future I could if they are interested. I could do the PSP now, but I am not sure how technically feasible that is and most publishers don't seem very interested in that, anyway; I guess they think it won't sell.

[PS3A] What forthcoming games excite you right now?

[JB] I'm interested to see how Flower turns out. Also, whatever Jonathan Mak is working on, whatever Rod Humble is making next, and whatever non-sketch game Jason Rohrer is making next.

[PS3A] Where do you get the inspiration for your games, and what's next for you?

[JB] The inspiration just comes from somewhere. The idea for Braid had some initial seeds that had been hanging around for a while, but when I sat down to work on the game, it just all popped up at once. The same thing happened last month, when I started seriously thinking about my next project. I'm not saying much about that project right now because I might change my mind. In some ways it is related to the ideas in Braid, but in other ways it has absolutely nothing to do with Braid at all.

Another game that has raised our interest is Flipside. Developed by 13 Danish students from universities and art schools, this title captured the imagination when it was released. Thomas Pilgaard told us more about this unique game.

[PS3A] Thomas, please tell us more about the original concept for Flipside.

[TP] The main character of Flipside suffers from split personality disorder and rapid mood swings which is manifested in the way the player can flip between playing on either side of a flat level in a three-dimensional game world.

The two-dimensional game world in three-dimensional space paved the way for the card-board aesthetics that was considered in all aspects of art, sound and animation. The player plays out an imagined escape from an asylum. Depending on which point of view the player decides to take it will be either very lush or gloomy to reflect the main characters extremely volatile state of mind. The possible actions of the player are reflected by this, which means that he can do no harm to his surroundings on the lush side but move around rapidly whereas the gloomy side enable him to deal damage while movement is somewhat obstructed.

[PS3A] I understand you created it using the Half-life engine, but it couldn't look any more different to that game if you tried. Why did you choose that route? And what benefits did the engine deliver for you?

[TP] Using the Source engine was a requirement from the Danish National Academy for Digital, Interactive Entertainment. This is a collaboration between universities and art schools in Denmark that makes student game productions such as this one possible.

We definitely set out to challenge preconceptions about what a Source engine modification should be. Rather than accepting that we had to do a FPS-style game we wanted to explore the possibilities more freely. This presented some challenges and occasional show-stoppers that directed our work towards the result that is seen today.

Even though the Source engine is well-documented in comparison to many other alternatives out there it can be very difficult to work with once you dive into the more esoteric aspects of the engine. However I am sure other engines work similarly; I expect it would be difficult to do a FPS in a RTS engine for instance.

[PS3A] Have you considered bringing Flipside to the PS3 and PlayStation Network? Is there anything stopping you from approaching SCE about this?

[TP] When we first considered whether or not to continue work on Flipside we also discussed advantages and disadvantages of many different platforms and distribution models out there. There are definitely a lot of interesting ways of bringing games with smaller budgets to their audiences today than just a few years ago.

Flipside in its current form does have many things going for it. However there are also quite a few risky aspects. For instance, however enjoyable the prototype level in its current form, it does not prove its potential to entertain players beyond the first 10-15 minutes of play. The main reason for this was the one month of intensive development that went into Flipside with the goal of creating 3-5 minutes of gameplay represented through a vertical slice of an intended game experience.

Taking the potential and difficulties of making Flipside into a full-fledged game into consideration the PSN is an intriguing possibility, but something that is unlikely to happen unless current circumstances are significantly changed.

[PS3A] What forthcoming games excite you right now?

[TP]There is a lot of great stuff in the works with a lot of developers, but to keep some restrain on myself I'll just stick with one game on each of my favourite platforms: Spore on the PC, LEGO Batman on the Wii, LittleBigPlanet on the PS3 and finally Fable II on the X360. LittleBigPlanet is particularly interesting as we actually toyed with some ideas for a physics-based gameplay in Flipside.

[PS3A] Where do you get the inspiration for games like Flipside?

[TP] The inception of the game concept happened as a collaboration between the game director and myself. However the realisation of our dreamy vision required the creativity and professional competencies of the rest of the team of students we were a part of. The expression and reinterpretation of the initial game idea through art, sound, animation and code was necessary for it to form the whole of the experience that is Flipside.

As we began conceptualising what would become Flipside I was very attentive of the inspirations of the game director on the project. From the beginning he was intrigued by Danish artist Hannibal Hildorf, a musician/entertainer who is extremely happy and positive as well as the aesthetics of two-dimensional cardboard pieces and the ways in which their arrangement/size can be used to simulate depth.

Through a joint creative process we bridged the concepts by introducing a dark contrast to the seemingly eternal happiness of Hannibal Hildorf and fusing them in the mental instability of the main character. This came together with the idea of using flat objects in the game world as either side could be used to express one of the two mindsets we were working with.

Keeping in mind the technical limitations and possibilities of the game engine we were required to use we came up with the idea that the player should have freedom to experience the game world freely from both extreme moods and with the differing abilities that could be derived from them. This put the flip in Flipside and led us to the solution of turning the camera 180 degrees around the player character when switching sides.

We'd like to thanks both Jonathan and Thomas for giving us their valuable time. Maybe one day we'll see their brilliant creations on our favourite platform...

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Blogger Danny_D said...

Great interviews, I hope Flipside gets more development time and delves deeper into the human psyche theme.

22 September 2008 14:43  

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