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Road To The IGF:  Toblo 's Zach Peterson

Road To The IGF: Toblo's Zach Peterson

February 9, 2007 | By Alistair Wallis




Continuing Gamasutra’s ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, which profiles and interviews Independent Games Festival 2007 entrants, today’s interview is with Zach Peterson, producer of third person capture-the-flag game Toblo.

Peterson developed the game along with four others over the period of a year while studying at the DigiPen Institute of Technology. The team describes Toblo as “a fast-paced capture-the-flag game set in an entirely destructible world made of blocks” with a focus on multiplayer, allowing up to four competitors via LAN.

Additionally, the team point out that Toblo doesn’t use any middleware - the game’s physics engine was written from scratch by team member John Jensen during the development of the title. The game is, uniquely, both a Student Showcase winner and nominated in the Innovation In Design category of the Main Competition.

We spoke to Peterson about the game, its entry into the IGF, and its development time.

What is your background in the games industry?

I am currently a senior at DigiPen Institute of Technology and was a junior when I worked on Toblo.

When did you start working with the team you did for Toblo, and how did you find the experience?

The Toblo team is a great group of guys. The five of us - Ben Smith, Brad Rasmussen, John Jensen, Steve Chiavelli and myself – started working on the project in the summer of 2005 and finished it up a year later. The best part about working on Toblo is that everyone was very excited in the beginning and that enthusiasm carried on all the way to the end of the project.

What inspired the game, and why did you decide to make it?

The game was mainly inspired by our desire to create something simple and fun. The theme came from our lead designer, Brad, but the rest of the idea was a lot of collaboration as a team. We wanted something that could be picked up quickly and where the player could have fun within the first 30 seconds of the game. Our design changed over the course of the project but the main goals of accessibility and general awesomeness remained throughout.

Where did the idea to make the game block-based and so heavily destructible come from?

When we first started designing Toblo we were actually attempting to make a tower building game in which the two teams were going to create giant elaborate structures. After the first couple of months of production however we realized that the play-testers were having a lot more fun destroying the world than building it up like we had hoped. We then figured out that we should just encourage this destructive behavior and design the game around that instead!

What were your expectations from your game, and do you feel the end product lives up to those expectations?

Our end goal was always to make something that we were proud of and that people would play and enjoy. We never had delusions of grandeur with Toblo and everything that has come from the game has certainly surpassed what we had ever dreamt of. It's a lot of fun to have no expectations and then get the praise we have had. In the end it just makes us celebrate harder whenever Toblo is nominated for or wins an award.

How important did you feel it was for Toblo to be multiplayer?

I think it's the most fun way to play the game. Some of my favourite development moments from Toblo are the multiplayer skirmishes that would break out. It's always fun to be playing with one of the guys and run out of their base with the flag while they curse you out and chuck every block in sight at you.

What do you think the most interesting thing about your game is?

The feeling of satisfaction a player gets from knocking down the large towers with a bomb block is what appeals to me the most. No matter who is playing, when that bomb goes off, they always get a little smile on their face. To make a feature that consistently enjoyable is hard to do when you pull it off you just know that you did something right.

How long did development take?

The development time was one year. We started with some rough designs and ideas in the summer of 2005 and finished up the final touches around August of the next year. It never ceases to amaze me that the five of us could accomplish so much in such a short amount of time while we were all also full-time students.

What was the development process like?

We started out with nothing but the idea and worked from there. After we fully fleshed out the idea and wrote up the documentation we then tried to find every spare moment we could to work as a team and code the game. The one unique idea we embraced as a team is that we should make sure that we were friends who would do things together and not just a team who worked together. This led to weekly outings that would help us keep our sanity and gave us the boost we needed to take on the next week.

What do you think of the state of independent development, and how do you think independent games fit into the industry?

I think indie games are really starting to carve out their niche in the gaming industry. With the advancement of distribution avenues such as Xbox Live and Steam it is making it easier and easier for independent games to find an audience. However, even with these advancements it's still hard for indie developers to make a living doing what they love.

Hopefully with more and more people catching on to the entertainment that can be had with smaller budget games the community will flourish and be able to sustain itself.

Have you checked out any of the other IGF games?

Yeah. I've been able to spend some time with Golf?, Armadillo Run, and FizzBall. Unfortunately most of the games out there this year do not have any way to play them. I'd really like to be able to try out the other games that are the running for the Design Innovation Award.

Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?

I am a really big fan of FizzBall. There is just something very engaging about rolling up a monkey in a bubble. I'm not quite sure if I'm exactly the target market for a game like that, but I did get to brush up on my barnyard animal noises, and that's always a bonus.

Which recent indie games do you admire, and which recent mainstream titles do you admire, and why?

I really admire the work that the guys at The Behemoth are doing. They have a pretty good catalog going for them so far and it looks like Castle Crashers will only boost that reputation. I also think that Hampus has done something pretty cool with Toribash, especially by building the community that he has around his game.

The most recent mainstream game that I've really been wowed by would be Supreme Commander by Gas Powered Games. I've had the chance to be in on the beta for the game and the sense of scale and destruction is incredible.

Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?

I'm looking forward to an awesome time down in San Francisco this year. It will be great to have a chance to meet all the other developers and anyone who wanders by our booth while we're set up. See you all at the show!


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