Riding The Space Wave: Ryan Vandendyck On Waveform
Eden Industries is a newly formed independent game studio on the block, currently hard at work on their debut game, Waveform. Completely unlike anything we have ever seen before, Waveform has you controlling the amplitude and wavelength of a wave of light as it travels through space. The idea is collect and void certain objects along the way; the game is simple but progression bleeds into a steadily growing complexity.
The game’s head developer Ryan Vandendyck found the time in his busy schedule to sit down with us and talk about Waveform; everything from how it started off as a part time project to it’s final destination on Steam in February 2012. Read on to find out how, of all things, Mario helped shape Waveform to what it is today, as well as how important community feedback was to altering the design and ideas present in Waveform.
IGM: Hi Ryan, thanks for taking the time to talk with IGM. Please explain who you are and what you do.
Ryan Vandendyck: Thanks Chris, it’s my pleasure! I’m the founder of Eden Industries, which is a new indie development team finishing up our first game, Waveform. I’ve done the programming and design for the game in addition to managing the team and handling the business affairs. When you’re the founder of a small team, you have to do pretty much everything so nothing falls through the cracks!
IGM: We know that only too well over here! Anyway, how did Eden Industries start out? As far as we understand, you have been working as a developer for bigger companies for some time.
Ryan: That’s right, the entire development of Waveform has been done part-time while I’ve been working as a programmer at Next Level Games in Vancouver. I’ve always been super passionate about making games and have always used my spare time implementing various ideas and prototypes. The folks at NLG were kind enough to give me permission to take that hobby and turn it into an actual business venture, which very few companies in the industry allow, so I figured I’d better make the most of that opportunity and made it official by creating Eden Industries.
IGM: Oh excellent! Very nice to see those kinds of opportunities exist. How did you come up with the idea for Waveform then? Did you present your ideas to colleagues?
Ryan: Actually the idea was partially born out of the situation I found myself in. Although I was given permission to make a game, I was only a sole programmer with no teammates at the time. So I challenged myself to make a game that didn’t require a lot of art but instead had a strong gameplay core, which is something I’d be able to develop on my own. Now at this time I had recently played Auditorium on PC and Art Style: Orbient on WiiWare, and both games had a very simple, but appealing, aesthetic style and a simple, but engaging, gameplay hook that was based on a mathematical principle. I figured I would like to do something similar and one day I found myself doodling some sine waves on a piece of paper (which is about the closest thing to art I can make!) and it suddenly hit me that a game about controlling a wave could be quite interesting!
IGM: Well it’s certainly unlike anything I have seen before, I will grant you that! It seems like that initial idea has stuck throughout, be it that the game is still based around controlling a wave. How would you describe Waveform to those who do not know about it though? I know you found my previous efforts quite comical.
Ryan: Well you didn’t do too bad! At its core, Waveform is about controlling a wave of light transmitting through space. The only thing you as the player can do is alter the wavelength and amplitude of the wave to line it up with objectives, avoid obstacles, and interact with a host of objects and situations that affect the path of your wave, and the world around you, in interesting ways. So that’s sort of the high level context for the game, but it plays as an action game primarily. Since the wave is constantly moving, you need to analyze what’s coming up and react quickly to adjust your wave accordingly.
A bit of inspiration during the development of the game which may help people understand what it’s about is to picture what a game of Mario would look like if Mario was a wave! It’d still be a tightly controlled action game about getting to the end with a bunch of fun objects and enemies to interact with, but you’d be a wave instead of a plumber!
Comparing Waveform to Mario was actually very beneficial during the development, even though the games on the surface are very different!
IGM: What do you mean by that exactly? Did Mario help you understand your own game? Did it inspire certain ideas in Waveform?
Ryan: Well it helped me realize the potential of Waveform as a full game experience instead of just a tech demo about moving a wave around. The development of Waveform was quite difficult in the sense of having very few games to compare it to in order to draw upon established conventions. Realizing that I was able to form some comparisons to Mario helped frame what sort of game experience I was able to create with Waveform in the sense of having a level structure and a ton of unique objects to interact with.
The way the player interacts with the game never changes, but each level introduces new objects, or new twists on old objects, to keep things fresh and interesting. That high-level framing for how I wanted to construct the level progression was inspired by Mario. Actually a few objects you interact with were as well, most noteably the Radar Array in Waveform which was inspired by the POW Block in Mario.
In the end I don’t think anyone would ever look at the game and say, “Oh this reminds me of Mario!”. But I think the same flavour exists in both games, although manifested differently in each.
IGM: Essentially, how the game evolves through player progression is what you are citing as the inspiration. Which, I think, is very understandable. To look at Waveform now, it does look like a full game experience, whereas like you say, it could have remained as a tech demo if there was no basis to structure the game design around. Saying that, you are still working on Waveform, and are even inviting others to help out as seen in your Kickstarter project. Are you incorporating this idea of communal game design any further in Waveform at all?
Ryan: Yeah, one of the main goals of Kickstarter has been to reach out to the community in order to get their feedback and ideas on how to make the game even better! One of the benefits of being an indie is the ability to interact on a more personal level with the community, which is more difficult to do in a traditional industry company. For Waveform in particular I’m quite proud of the level editor I’ve made for the game, which is entirely in-game so level authors have a what-you-see-is-what-you-get experience.
The ease of content generation means there’s very little in the way of someone with a great idea making a tremendous level, and this is something we wanted to empower people to be able to do through our Kickstarter project. But beyond just the levels, I think the idea of communal game design can be extremely beneficial if channeled correctly. Although I had the initial design for Waveform, a lot of the evolution of the game has occured through the ideas of people I’ve had play it. So without that external input, the game wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as it is today.
IGM: The idea of communal game design is really still quite young, but its impact has been quite large; many games have benefitted from being open to suggestions by its players. Waveform is certainly one of those and it seems success will come its way too – we heard more recently that it may make its way on Steam. Was this a difficult process, and what benefits do you think Waveform will reap from being available on Steam?
Ryan: Actually it was a surprisingly easy process! Almost too easy…what is Valve up to I wonder? But kidding aside, it actually seems like a miracle in retrospect; I happened to work with a guy named Chris Iacobucci back when I was working as a game designer at Silicon Knights that now has his own art studio PixelNAUTS. He somehow knew a guy at Valve that told him to send any good Canadian devs his way, and after Chris introduced me to him the process of talking with Valve about Waveform was incredibly smooth and enjoyable. They liked Waveform and said they’d be happy to have it on Steam, and shortly thereafter they hooked me up with everything I needed. So that was a fantastic experience. And having Waveform on Steam is pretty much a dream come true since it’ll be my first independently released game. I hope it’s financially successful, but even if it’s not I’ll be happy just to have it available to the world!
I do think having Waveform on Steam comes with a lot of other benefits as well. The first is being able to utilize a lot of what comes packaged with Steam, including leaderboards to track high scores and the ease of adding more content to be enjoyed by the players. The community aspects of Steam are a huge bonus as well as it’s a great way to interact with the players and fans. Beyond that though I’m excited to have Waveform on Steam since hopefully it’ll serve as a foothold for getting our future projects on there as well.
IGM: So there will be future projects then? Eden Industries is a full time company? Would you say you have any particular characteristics, what kind of games do you hope to make?
Ryan: Oh there will definitely be future projects! I actually have a programmer friend from my days at Silicon Knights working full-time resurrecting an old JRPG prototype I made about 5 years ago called Destiny of the Crown. He’s hard at work transforming that into a full game and that’ll likely be the next project for Eden Industries, although we’re also going to be involved with creating additional content for Waveform in the form of new levels and expansion packs that expand upon the core gameplay. I wouldn’t quite say we’re a full time company yet. If Waveform is successful then I think we’d become one; if not, I’ll probably have to keep working at NLG in order to fund the next game!
In terms of the particular characteristics of myself and the mission of Eden Industries, I’d say it’s making unique games with very focused gameplay experiences. As you mentioned, Waveform is unlike pretty much anything else out there, and that was a primary goal in its creation. In the same way, Destiny of the Crown has a totally unique battle system that I personally believe sets it apart from other JRPGs and really elevates the idea of what can be done in that genre. There really are a ton of ideas I’d love to make; I have a whole notebook full of them! The challenge for me is finding the time and the talent to come together and make them into something special.
IGM: I love your ambition! Good to hear that you have plenty of ideas as well, and you have proven that you will follow them until the end. I have spoken to so many developers that have said the biggest problem is finishing the game. You mentioned that you will continue to make expansion packs for Waveform. Do you know if these will be free to those who have already purcahsed the game? Also, will you include any user-created levels in these?
Ryan: Yeah I would agree that the biggest problem is finishing a game. I actually didn’t think Waveform would take as long as it did to make, but I hope the extra time and polish pays off in the end! And for the extra content for Waveform, it’ll be a mixture of free and paid. We hope to be able to make a lot of free level packs available for download, including user-created level packs. Since the level editor is so easy to use, we hope to leverage it to continually give fans of Waveform more levels to experience! For the expansion packs, however, we plan on structuring them almost like smaller stand-alone games that leverage the ideas and core gameplay of Waveform in new ways. As a result they probably won’t even require Waveform to play, but would instead be spin-offs, in a sense. So these would probably be paid additions, but the plan is to make them available at a reduced price-tag. So if you like Waveform, you can pay a couple bucks to grab a new, but related, game experience in order to keep riding the wave!
I should probably mention why we’re planning on releasing expansion packs in this way. Due to Waveform’s uniqueness, there were a lot of great ideas that came up during its development that seemed very fun but didn’t fit within the core of what Waveform was about. But since they seem like great ideas, and we already have the tech of Waveform built, we thought it could be good to explore these other ideas utilizing Waveform’s engine!
IGM: That’s certainly very interesting, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for these offshoot ideas too! Your Kickstarter project mentioned that you wanted to get Waveform on as many different platforms as possible, will you include smarphones in these as well, and will the other platforms have access to the extra content?
Ryan: Yes we plan on getting Waveform on smartphones, including the iPhone and Android. I hope to find some people with expertise on those platforms that can help me with the porting process. I definitely plan on getting it done one way or the other, but if I can find someone to help then I’ll be able to focus on new content instead of using all my time with the ports, which I think will benefit the game in the long-run. But we do hope to make all content available on all platforms, so nobody should be missing out on everything Waveform has to offer no matter what device they play it on!
IGM: I asked because I think Waveform is the type of game that will play just as well across nearly all platforms, due largely to its simplicity. It’s one of those simple yet complex game ideas; not an easy thing to pull off. Is there any aspect of the game that you would say you are most proud of? Were there any moments during the development of Waveform that really stuck out as a defining moment?
Ryan: I think you’re totally right, and that is actually one of the things I’m most proud of about Waveform! The fact that it’s so accessible but contains so much gameplay is probably my favourite aspect of the game. In terms of defining moments, one that sticks out for me is the first time I showed the game off to people. This was back in early 2010, and I had created a five-level demo showing off essentially what the game would be about. I intended to show it to just a few of my co-workers at NLG, but it ended up drawing a pretty large crowd of people interested in seeing it and playing it. That to me was a very important moment since it solidified in my mind that Waveform could really be a fun game.
IGM: Those moments are always fun! Well, I think that will have to do us for today. We here at IGM wish you the best of luck with Waveform, it really does look fantastic. Would you like to remind our readers about where they can support Waveform and find out more information about it?
Ryan: Thanks Chris, I had a lot of fun! The best place to find out about Waveform is at our website www.edenindustries.ca and throughout the month of December you’ll be able to support us on Kickstarter. Other than that I hope you’ll pay attention to Steam in late February, as that’s our target for release. Thanks again, and I hope your readers love Waveform and jump in and ride the wave for themselves!