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The Tip of the Iceberg: Storytelling and Reactive Design in Canabalt and Capsule
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The Tip of the Iceberg: Storytelling and Reactive Design in Canabalt and Capsule

November 5, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

Is the way you've presented Capsule here something that can only happen every so often, at a festival like GameCity?

AS: Building a Capsule Capsule is something I could have done on my own. I could have hired someone to build an even more awesome and elaborate setup somehow, but where would I put it? Who would play it? What would I get out of that? Even though Capsule was only originally made for a very small audience, only a couple hundred people are going to get to play it this week. And that's way more than would get to play it not at a festival setting. It's not like [Johann Sebastian] Joust where it can be put into a briefcase.

In my excitement I imagined it as one of those moving, virtual reality rides you might find in a science museum.

AS: There were some ambitious ideas being thrown around, but we buckled down to the necessary constraints of reality. There were versions that involved refrigerated trucks; there were versions that involved actual holes in the ground where you had to climb in from the top. We had to make some compromises, even though burying people would be awesome.

Have you ever played anything similar? I remember one that was pitch black, with no screen --

AS: That's Deep Sea, which was made by Robin Arnott. It was one of the coolest things I've played in all of 2011. The reason that Robin worked on Capsule is basically that game. I was thinking that it would be great if it sounded like [Deep Sea] because I loved everything about that game. Then Robin approached me and said, "We should do a thing together," and I said "I have this game that's a huge mess right now because I don't know how to do any of the sound for it, and it's thoroughly inspired by your game," so it was a good fit.

Was Canabalt a game you worked on entirely by yourself?

AS: I can only think of one game that I worked on completely by myself. For Canabalt, I did all the programming, all the game design, all the artwork, all the sound effects, and Danny Baranowsky did the music, which was awesome. It was essentially made in three weekends, and the middle weekend was when all the important stuff was built. That was done game jamming at a friend's studio -- Flashbang, which doesn't exist anymore -- so there were guys there and we were talking about what we were doing. The big turning point was the morning of the second day. We were having breakfast, and I was talking to Steve Swink, who was doing Shadow Physics but is now doing Scale -- he wrote this book Game Feel, and is a super-thoughtful, interesting game designer.

We were both really in love with Farbs' game Captain Forever, which has a very self-directed nature. The Lego ship-building thing is the cool Captain Forever hook, but I think in a lot of ways the genius insight of Captain Forever was the bit where he doesn't force you to fight progressively harder ships. You get to decide. If it's not your thing, and you're able to get away, you can get away. That's totally fine. You can go and look for somebody to pick on that's more your own size. It goes against some traditional game-making wisdom, but it's obvious that it totally works. There's no pleasure in beating up tiny ships, but it feels so good to take out a giant ship, and become a giant ship.

That was the idea for crates in Canabalt comes from. And if crates can slow you down, it can't be a prescribed, pre-generated level; it has to be reactive. That one morning chat with Steve is where Canabalt's reactive generation came from, and where Capsule's reactive generation came from.

You said at the time you didn't really understand why people loved Canabalt so much. Have you worked out why they do yet?

AS: I'm hesitant to give any specific reason. But my general sense is that there's a clutch of different things that it does that are good: It's pretty awesome right away. One of the things that doesn't hurt it is that the game turns on, the music gets super creepy, things start shaking, you jump out of a window, barely land on your feet and take off running. That's just good. If you just started out on a rooftop, it wouldn't be as good. You need to bowl out of this window, first. Maybe that's a Prince of Persia II homage -- which it is.

I used to have this fantasy when I worked in an office building with this long, long hallway with this glass window at the end that looked out over a river and a cliff. You'd be in this office and a two story party boat would just creep down the river, filled with people partying. What a beautiful thing to feel -- if you were invincible, how beautiful would it be to take off down the hallway at top speed and physically and metaphorically explode out? I quit that job within a couple of months.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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