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This interview is part of our ongoing Road to the IGF series.
Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy challenges players to climb up a mountain of trash as they sit in an iron pot, using a hammer to fling themselves up the pile. Doing so is about as easy as it sounds, dooming players to some crippling failures as they tumble all the way back down the mountain after a single miss-gauged swing.
This ruthless experience is nominated for Excellence in Design, The Nuovo Award, and the Seamus McNally Grand Prize in the IGF, but its design isn't rooted in cruelty toward the player. Gamasutra spoke with Foddy about some of the motivations behind this experience, and the hope Foddy has that players will find joy in overcoming (with a little moral support from the creator himself).
I have an undergraduate degree in physics, then I was a musician for a while, and then I was a philosopher for a few years. One day, I started making games, thanks mainly to the encouragement and support of folks on the TIGSource forums. I feel like I’m not answering this question in the spirit it was asked, sorry.
Well in terms of action mechanics, at its heart it is two things: first and most obviously, it’s an homage to Sexy Hiking, Jazzuo’s famous B-game from the early 2000s. To a lesser extent, it’s an elaboration of the single-player mode in my 2009 pole-vaulting polo game, Super Pole Riders. I had the idea that I was making a game that was ‘about’ Sexy Hiking in some way, and I wanted to reinterpret the way that Jazzuo reused assets from commercial games, and so I came up with the idea that the player would be climbing a mountain of discarded electronic trash.
It’s Unity, with an art strategy focused on using free assets. I used some good commercial plugins like FinalIK, FogVolume and Rewired.
I think it was about ten months. I made the bulk of it over the summer break at NYU.
I’m not totally sure, but my hunch is that people actually enjoy the feeling of failure in games. In fact, I think people enjoy it in real life as well, it’s just that the enjoyment in that case is outweighed by the actual harm of failure. It’s like bitterness in food, which can be a hallmark of poisoning or of just eating something that tastes as though it is poisonous. As we go through life, we can learn to enjoy the taste of being poisoned. I think it’s the same with frustration, and pain, and failure.
It was a pretty complex problem actually. Unlike Sexy Hiking, it’s using a real physics engine, and I knew I wanted really heavy, high-energy physics interactions. I also knew I wanted a modern 2D camera that would look ahead up the mountain and smoothly move in a way which is decoupled from the player’s movements. With those two constraints, it follows that the player’s aim target (the cursor) can’t be in screen space like a normal mouse cursor - if it is, then the camera’s movements can mess you up while you’re trying to carefully cling to the cliff.
So, I knew I needed the cursor to be in world space. But that creates its own problems, particularly when you’re trying to do things like make the man stand on his hammer, when the cursor will need to be inside a solid object. The solution I settled on is a to gently move the cursor back to the hammer head whenever the player isn’t trying to move it. It took quite a lot of testing and iteration to get there.
I wanted to really focus on the idea of ‘almost but not quite’ — the moment when the player can taste victory but loses progress instead. Playing Phillip Stollenmeyer’s Zip Zap really helped me to understand this feeling. So, I tried to set up a series of little crisis situations where a momentary sense of relief or progress could suddenly turn into a moment of defeat. That’s the fundamental concept of the level.
I was worried that players might think I was just making the game as a pure act of hostility, and I wanted them to understand more where I was coming from. And honestly, I just always feel as though indie game designers are too anonymous, even though one of the main pleasures of indie games is that they are more personal. Part of that is on the players, who are used to seeing games as products of companies rather than human beings, but a huge part of it is on the developers for not signing their work. So that was in the back of my mind, and when I played Cibele and The Beginner’s Guide it kind of crystallized for me that I wanted to be in my game in some fashion.
Yeah, a lot! I enjoyed Night in the Woods, Luna, Vignettes, and the original version of Celeste. Tormentor x Punisher and Rain World were two of my favorite games of the year - really of the past few years. I’ve played a bit of Baba Is You as well, really great stuff. 10 Mississippi was originally prototyped in my class, so I have a special place in my heart for that one as well.
The obvious one is that there are so many games coming out these days… a lot of really wonderful games (including some of this year’s IGF nominees) have not reached as many people as you might hope they would. The audience is growing too, but it’s not really keeping pace with the huge increase in the number of games out there. I guess the advantage we have as indie devs is we can pivot quickly to new platforms and new fashions, but it is kind of rough and unfair out there right now.