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Rewarding curiosity in charming explorer Tux and Fanny

Road to the IGF 2022: Tux and Fanny is, technically, about inflating a soccer ball. It's also a celebration of the wonder that lies all around us, if we only take the time to look.

This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series.

Tux and Fanny is, technically, about inflating a soccer ball. Players will quickly find themselves in an ever-changing world that rewards curiosity, being filled with all manner of things to play with, sights to see, and hidden games to play. It's a celebration of the wonder that lies all around us, if we only take the time to look.

Ghost Time Games' Gabriel Koenig and Albert Birney spoke with Game Developer about their IGF Nuovo Award-nominated game; including the challenges that come with loading a world with secret fun and hidden delights everywhere, how this world let them cut loose with some silly ideas that might not have fit elsewhere, and their hopes that the game encourages people to find more wonder in their own lives.

tux_and_fanny_1.png

Who are you, and what was your role in developing Tux and Fanny?

Gabriel Koenig: I’m Gab, and I was the half of the team responsible for building the game itself, writing code, and assembling levels. I also did some of the writing and designed a bunch of the mini-games as well.

Albert Birney: I’m Albert, the other half of the team. I made the pixel artwork for the main part of the game and wrote a bunch of the story.

What's your background in making games?

Koenig: I’ve been making games in Unity since 2013, almost entirely making the games by myself (doing design/code/art/music). Making Tux and Fanny was my first time having a proper collaborator, and it has now completely changed how I think about the game-making process.

Birney: This is my first time ever making a game. I mostly make movies. I had such a blast making this game with Gab that I can’t wait to make another one.

How did you come up with the concept for Tux and Fanny?

Birney: The game is based on an animated film I made in 2019, also called Tux and Fanny. Since the characters were already firmly established in the 82-minute film, it was pretty easy to write for them in the game. The game serves as a prequel to the film, with the ending of the game leading directly up to the start of the film.

Koenig: I was a huge fan of the Tux and Fanny film since the day I saw it back in 2019, so when Albert hinted at the idea of making it into a game, I knew it was something I could absolutely get behind.

What development tools were used to build your game?

Koenig: The game was all built in Unity3D. It was great having such a robust engine so I could switch up styles very quickly on the fly. I used Blender3D for all of the 3D elements of the game.

Birney: I drew the pixel artwork using a website called pixilart.com. This is the same site I used to make the film, so it made sense to use it for the game as well. I love this website because it’s easy to animate and export GIFs. I also used watercolors and colored pencils to make the bird/bug/flower books.

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Tux and Fanny feels like it will allow the player to make discoveries and find interesting things no matter which direction they head off in. What challenges did you face in creating an open world filled with neat things to pull the player along?

Birney: One of the biggest challenges for me was knowing when to stop. Month after month, every strange idea or tangent we thought of would go into the game. I think we would absolutely still be making the game, filling it with more mini games and weird new maps to explore, if we hadn’t given ourselves a deadline.

Can you tell us a bit about the process of deciding what you would put in the world? How you picked what you wanted to include in this world?

Koenig: A lot of the time, one of us would come up with some strange tangential idea that we’d joke about, but almost immediately decide that it was also something we should add. Because, if we found an idea interesting or fun, then we usually couldn’t think of a good reason not to include it. I loved the openness and spontaneity of that process.

Birney: Yeah, I think pretty much 98% of the weird ideas we had made it into the game. Gab was an amazing collaborator because he never really said “No” to any of my ideas. Or he would take my initial idea and expand upon it, immensely improving it. And I still don’t really understand how Gab built the game. All of the technical stuff feels like magic to me. Unity3D might be a spell in the back of a wizard’s book for all I know.

What was the appeal of making a game about curiosity? About drawing curiosity about the ordinary world out of the player?

Koenig: I love the small details in life. It’s something that the film Tux and Fanny captured so effectively. There’s all these wonderful details hidden everywhere, you just need to slow down to find and appreciate them, and many of them can be so fleeting. There’s a lot of joy to be found in discovering these moments in life, so being able to encourage that way of thinking in our game felt like a way to promote happiness in everyday life.

Birney: I love video games that reward exploration. Like in a Final Fantasy game when you enter a random town and walk into a random house and then walk down into the basement and find a secret room that contains a treasure chest. I wanted to make a game that was constantly rewarding you for being curious.

Why did you choose to give the player four different characters to play as? What do you feel their perspectives added to the experience?

Birney: The Tux and Fanny film begins with a flea infested cat entering T&F’s house. I always wondered what the cat and fleas were doing right before the film starts. The game felt like a perfect place to answer that question. Playing as the four of them, Tux, Fanny, the cat, and the fleas, was one of the first ideas I had for the game.

Koenig: Ironically, we had no idea what the cat and flea sections were going to be until we were almost done building the rest of the game, but I think that worked out for the best - finding a way to weave them in that supported what we’d already done. I love how the cat and flea each had their own proportionally scaled story-line, so they didn’t have to compete with Tux and Fanny.

tux_and_fanny_3.png

There are many in-game games to play throughout Tux and Fanny. What drew you to add other games within the main game?

Birney: I was playing the new Animal Crossing game and within the game I bought an arcade machine. I was so excited until I realized that I couldn’t actually play it. I think if there’s an arcade machine or computer in a game, you should always be able to turn it on and actually use it.

Koenig: When we started, Albert had a couple of games in mind to play on the in-game computer, and I think just seeing all the space on the in-game computer desktop made us realize we could keep expanding on the mini-game idea, and those games formed out of many different places of inspiration. 

Most of the mini-games wouldn’t ever have legs to stand on if they weren’t bundled together in this strange collection, so it feels like Tux and Fanny has become a perfect home for these stray miscreant ideas. It was wonderfully liberating to take a break from building the main game to explore these brief tangentials.

What thoughts went into the creation of these other games? What made you give them an array of different art and play styles?

Koenig: Again, the film was a definite source of inspiration here, which drastically changes styles at multiple points, so it felt logical to extend that feeling into the game. Frequently, Albert would give me the name of a mini-game, and I would go off and build something new based on the name alone, like Cool Cloud, Agile Auto, or Fire Family. The Magic Maker text-based adventure game was a concept I had at one point during development and we found a way to include it because there was already a precedent at that point for the mini-games to do whatever they wanted. 

Albert wanted an addictive Puzzle Fighter-like game for Tim Tooth, so we figured out a way to make that happen. Some mini-games were certainly more successful than others, but overall our approach was to have fun and try new things.

Birney: My main years of gaming were 1988-1998 so many of the games look like games from this era. It was very fun to talk with Gab about which games we played as kids and then try and make our own versions of them.

Tux and Fanny feels as if it wants to remind players about the adventure and excitement to be found in everyday things and life. Was this your intent? And if so, why do you feel this is such an important message for people right now?

Koenig: This was a core component of the game. Especially these last few years with so much social isolation, many of us have probably spent even more time in front of screens, and so often those screens present to us a distorted and unimaginative world. Tux and Fanny gave us the opportunity to infiltrate that medium with a reminder that there’s a real tangible world outside of the digital one, full of mystery, absurdity, and beauty.

This game, an IGF 2022 finalist, is featured as part of the IGF Awards ceremony, taking place at the Game Developers Conference on Wednesday, March 23 (with a simultaneous broadcast on GDC Twitch).

Game Developer and GDC are sibling organizations under Informa Tech.

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