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Road to the IGF: Colin and Sarah Northway's Incredipede

As part of Gamasutra's Road to the IGF series, Colin Northway discusses how the idea for Incredipede came about, and how the game's Greenlight debacle actually benefited the game in the end.

Mike Rose, Blogger

January 23, 2013

8 Min Read

We've covered the wonderful story of Incredipede on Gamasutra before, but it's worth reiterating the basics -- this is a game developed over four years, across 12 different countries. It's also a game for which the artist was previously a woodblock designer, who was found by Colin Northway through the Wikipedia page for jumping spiders. It's the game's visual element that has helped the game receive a nomination for the Visual Art award at this year's IGF. Whether Incredipede goes on to win the award or not, there's no denying that its art style is extremely exciting and rather inspirational. As part of Gamasutra's Road to the IGF series, Northway discusses how the idea for Incredipede came about, and how Incredipede's Greenlight debacle has, in fact, benefitted the game in the end.

What is your background in making games?

I've been making video games ever since high school computer science class. The first game I ever released publicly was Fantastic Contraption in 2008. People loved Fantastic Contraption and it paid me enough to quit my job and go indie full-time. After a year or two of supporting Fantastic Contraption and prototyping new games, my wife Sarah decided to go indie to write her popular Flash and mobile series: Rebuild. Now we travel all over the world working on our games. Incredipede was started in Honduras and I've worked on it in over ten countries around the world. incredipede 1.jpgThomas Shahan is the brilliant artist behind Incredipede. He is a recent art school graduate and this is his first game. Most of his illustration work is in the form of woodblock prints, the same style he uses in Incredipede. He's also an accomplished photographer, his spider macro photography has been featured in National Geographic. Thomas is just a ridiculously talented human being and I am lucky to get to work with him. You can find his work on his webpage here.

What development tools did you use to develop Incredipede?

Incredipede is written in.. surprise, surprise, Flash. It doesn't look like a "Flash game" because it uses Flash's Stage3d library which lets me talk directly to the graphics card. That way I can get smoking performance and write my own shaders and draw terrain with polygons but still let people play the demo online and look at their friend's creatures online. I use a modified version of Starling (a 2d Stage3d library) to simplify the graphics programming and Box2d for the physics. Unfortunately this will probably be the last project I used Box2d for because the Box2d Flash project is kind of dead. To keep the game small for easy web-download we store almost all the graphics as vectors (I bet you didn't guess that!). By also streaming the music we manage to keep the game download to a tiny 5 meg.

How did you come up with the concept?

Incredipede could only have been born in the jungle. We lived in a little house slung out over the water in Honduras for a few months in 2010. I came up with the idea while I was pacing back and forth on the deck. As I paced humming birds zipped past my head and fish swam under the house. Ants were sneaking into our kitchen and lizards were hiding in the trees. We'd been spending a few hours every day snorkeling and I love climbing around exploring mangrove forests. I'd even found a baby boa constrictor that Sarah immediately picked up and played with. Everywhere you looked there was life. That's what Incredipede is about. It's about the stunning variety and fascination of life. It's about playing in that world, about building creatures to explore and swim and jump. It's about getting your hands dirty with the raw wet strings of life.

You spent two years playing around with various concepts before choosing this one. Were there any concepts that you made during that time that you've kept on the back-burner as a possible future release?

There is one game I've been trying to make for years. It's about evolution of behaviour. Incredipede is all about bodies and how they move, but equally fascinating is animals and how they act. The whales that corral fish with nets of bubbles, wolves that hunt in packs, butterflies that migrate huge distances. I love the intricate crazy things that even insects get up to. I want to play in that world but haven't managed to make any prototypes work.

I know you've been hoping to get onto Steam for some time, and had tussles with the new Steam Greenlight process. Of course, now that you've been nominated for the IGF, you'll get an automatic pass onto the service [The game was actually Greenlighted before this interview ran]. Does it feel like a huge weight lifted off your shoulders, or were you sure that you'd get onto Steam eventually anyway?

I was always very confident about getting onto Steam. Incredipede was #8 on GreenLight on January 7th when the IGF nominations were announced. With the next round of GreenLight games going up on January 15, Incredipede was all but guaranteed to make it onto Steam in that round.

As you told me previously, your artist Thomas Shahan was not originally a video game artist at all, but rather made woodblocks. Do you think for a future release you'd also look outside the realms of video games for artist styles?

I think there is a big risk in looking outside the confines of the game world for collaborators. Making art for games is very different from making traditional pieces. Everything is cut up into little pieces and you have less control over the composition (especially if you're releasing a level editor like Incredipede). incredipede 2.jpgIf an artist doesn't have their own inherent interest in figuring out how to make their art work in this weird new world then I think things could go sour fast. If you make it work though, you can end up with a game that looks really different and special. I was lucky that Thomas had an interest in games and was eager to put the work in. I think it also helped that I've never worked with an artist besides my wife Sarah (who programs and does art). I had no firm ideas of how things should be done so we worked it out together. If Thomas was really truly stuck stuck on something Sarah was nice enough to jump in, she composed most of the menus and did much of the vectorising for example.

Do you plan to do anything extra with the game for its upcoming Steam release?

GreenLight delayed the release of Incredipede on Steam by four months but for me this might have been a blessing in disguise. It turns out Incredipede is hard - harder than I realised - so I'm currently knuckling down and making big revisions to the game to make it more pick-up-and-play friendly. I'm not dumbing it down, the hardcore break-your-brain game will still be there as it is now but there will also be an option to play a much gentler experience. Because of these changes I'm going to push the Steam release back until around GDC in late March. This way the Steam version will be better than ever and I can celebrate the release with everyone at the Game Developers Conference.

Is there anything you attempted to do with Incredipede that simply didn't work with your overall vision?

So so much. So much stuff I still want to squeeze into the game. Like a nervous system. I really want to add a nervous system. Hopefully it will do well enough to justify a sequel and then I can stuff some of the stuff I had to leave out back in!

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you particularly enjoyed?

I got seriously into Super Hexagon. I played it for like 10 hours straight on a flight from Europe back to Canada. I believe I was the first non-Terry [Cavanagh, the game's creator] player to beat the Hexagonest difficulty. I also really like Hotline Miami and working on a level over and over until you just flow through it. Sarah is playing the hell out of Cart Life right now. I'm looking forward to Kentucky Route Zero, I bought it yesterday and Sarah and I will probably play it together tonight.

What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?

I think we're making a lot of rich and interesting games. I have great hopes for our communal boredom. I think boredom is important to art. You need to be bored with the art you have before you make new art or look for new art. Lets all just keep getting bored and trying to figure out what weird new things we can delight ourselves with.

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