September 27th, 2012 | By Alex Wilkinson
Colin Northway is the founder of Northway games, an independent gaming studio currently developing Incredipede. You play as a Quozzle who is in search for her sisters, she has however a unique ability to grow new limbs to overcome all manner of obstacles. With the beta starting next month I thought it would be a good time to get a bit more perspective on Incredipede and Colin Northway in general.
I interviewed Colin Northway about all things Incredipede along with delving into his love for Spelunky and travel. The interview follows below.
Me: From what I have read you seem to enjoy travel but what places have you visited of these last few years?
Colin: Ok, lets see, in order: Turkey, Czech, Italy, Malta, Scotland, Paris, Honduras, Costa Rica, Philippines, Greece, South of France, Austria. We spent at least a month in every place so our list is more quality than quantity.
Oh I forgot Hong Kong and Tokyo, can’t leave out Tokyo!
Me: Tokyo has always been a place I have wanted to visit, one of my friends went earlier this year and loved it how did you find it?
Colin: I highly recommend it! Tokyo is one of our favourite places. One of the only places we’ve been to twice. It’s neighbourhoods are all different so it feels like having a whole country you can take local trains through, you can spend years exploring just Tokyo.
Me: I have heard that prices in Japan are much higher than average, did you find this in your experience over there?
Colin: We didn’t find the prices in Tokyo crazy. I mean we stayed in a tiny place and ate sushi exactly twice, but it’s definitely possible to enjoy Tokyo on a budget.
Me: How did travelling affected your game development overall?
Colin: Travelling is great for game development because games thrive on new ideas. When you’re traveling you are constantly being bombarded with new ideas. It keeps your brain electric.
People often think we must get no work done but if you spend a few months in the same city in the same house you get into a routine. There are a few weeks in the beginning where you get very little done. After that you can be very productive, this is more true on little tropical islands and less true in big exciting cities.
I love to see new things, people and places. Your brain is always making these little connections and drawing threads between things. It’s like a storm up in there. The more experiences and ideas you shove into it the more you get out.
Me: Incredipede really does have some interesting ideas, is it safe to assume a lot of the ideas do in fact come from your creativity whilst travelling. Was there any one place particularly that really ignited the game?
Colin: The game wouldn’t exist without Honduras. It grew up in a lot of places but it was born in the Bay Islands of Honduras. We were living in a boat-house slung out over the water in the middle of nowhere. We would go snorkeling every day and see these amazing fish, rays and cuttlefish.
Then we’d get home and have to fight off the local insects. I liked climbing around in the mangrove forests, climbing in trees over the water somehow feels great. Once I found that I was sharing the branch with a baby boa constrictor. That’s what Incredipede is really about, it’s about playing in that world. In the wet gooey world of life and movement.
Me: So the whole idea of the game was born in the mangroves
Colin: Pretty much :)
Me: So before this you didn’t really have any idea for a project? Or where you playing around with a few ideas?
Colin: Before that I had spent two years prototyping games trying to find something worth writing. I had just given up on a game called Clutter, it was kind of Captain Forever but on land instead of in space (Farbs was nice enough to let me use his amazing building mechanic).
After six months it just wasn’t developing how I wanted, I gave it up in Honduras and Incredipede walked into my life.
Me: So was this a dry spell in creativity before Incredipede the reason you wanted to travel away to Honduras or is that just unrelated?
Colin: We had been traveling the whole time. I worked on Clutter in Malta and Czech and a bunch of places, it just didn’t turn out. The thing about original games is that they are very hard to write. You can’t tell how good an idea is until you try it. You can guess, but you can’t really know how good a game will be just by imagining it in your head. Even a simple game can be too complicated, so having one good idea isn’t usually enough. You need to have a bunch and then hope one of them works out.
Me: So it seems to come down to the concepts and the way you try to portray them in the game, with some ideas not being workable or just won’t turn out how you want them too.
Colin: I’m a very mechanical designer so I always have some systems and interactions I think will be interesting. Often those interactions just aren’t interesting. There is a sweet spot where the game is just complicated enough to be interesting but not complicated enough to be confusing. It’s hard to find something right in that sweet spot.
Me: So from what I can gather design is your favourite part of the development.
Colin: Design is definitely the best part of making games. It’s just so.. hard, no one has figured out how to do it well and the solution space is huge. Imagine how many amazing unwritten games are out there to find. You need a machete to cut your way through all the bad ideas but when you find a golden idol sitting amongst them it feels so good. It took me two years of machete work to find Incredipede.
Me: It must be very difficult at times continuing with design work, especially after a string of unworkable designs.
Colin: The pain of something not working out is always offset by the joy of working on something new. The number one enemy of finishing what you started is the siren call of the new. The hardest part is knowing when to give up. Sometimes it takes awhile to figure out if something is going to be fun or not. A lot of the time, it seems you’re just one idea away from making an idea really great. Some people spend a long time chasing that feeling.
Me: How do you know when you are onto a great idea? Does it require outsider opinion or is it just a feeling.
Colin: I think you can tell yourself how good a game is at its core. It can take a lot of work to make it fun for other people but if it’s fun for you then it’s at least possible. I like the idea that good games design themselves. If the idea is truly good then you will be choosing between all the amazing things you can do. If an idea isn’t great then you’ll spend all your time trying to figure out how to make it better.
Me: Once you find a good game does it all just flow for you and did you have any problems with developing Incredipede, once you have the idea.
Colin: There are two prongs to game design. One is the raw idea (that’s the most fun and the hardest). The second is about bringing that idea to players. Imagine you are out in a desert and find an amazing oasis. You come back to town and you tell everyone “I found this amazing oasis, you should come see it, it’s amazing. It’s only a five hour hike through the desert”.
No one wants to come see the oasis you found, no matter how cool. So you have to build a road to that oasis, which can take literally years and a lot of hard work and ingenuity to build a road in the desert. When you finish however people will finally play in the oasis.
That’s the second prong of game design. Building the road. For Incredipede designing the road and writing the core of the game took about a year,the second year was pretty much all polish. It is kind of frustrating that people won’t hike out to the oasis, we’d have a lot more great games if they did.
Me: It must be difficult as you may have the greatest game concept in the world but it may only appeal to a very narrow niche.
Colin: I am in such a state of bliss about the indie game market right now. I am so far away from being frustrated, I can’t believe how much it’s grown in just the last four years. SpaceChem is my favourite example of this.
I love SpaceChem, I am one of the 2% who have beaten it. I tried to get all my friends to play it, I even offered a cash bounty for beating it but I think only one person I showed it to actually bought it. It is great but so hard to play, though it made enough money that Zach is paying a small team to work on his next game. If a game as hard to play as SpaceChem can be successful than it’s a wonderful world we are living in!
Me: How do you feel the indie community differs from the community revolving around the AAA titles.
Colin: I think a big part of the indie community being so good is that we don’t view each other as competitors like the AAA guys do. What’s good for SpaceChem or Spelunky or Minecraft is good for Incredipede. We don’t fight over the existing players, we’re all fighting to bring more people in.
Check back to The Indie Game Magazine next Wednesday at 5pm for the conclusion of the interview with Colin Northway. We just had so much fun talking there was way too much to just put into one article so I decided to split it up instead. Don’t worry the second half is just as good as the first as I explore Colin’s obsession with Spelunky.