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Road to the Student IGF: Gabe Cuzzillo on Foiled

Local multiplayer dueler Foiled is "Super Smash Bros meets Nidhogg," with platforming influenced by Super Meat Boy, explains Foiled co-creator Gabe Cuzzillo.

John Polson

March 5, 2014

6 Min Read

Local multiplayer games continue to see a rise in popularity, with Independent Games Festival Student finalist Foiled and its soul-theft dueling system being one of the newer entries. Described by the developers as "Super Smash Bros meets Nidhogg," Foiled sees two players battle on a single, fixed screen for soul supremacy. Once players hit their opponent, they gain their soul and must carry it to the goal before the timer runs out. Foiled is available now as a free Windows download, courtesy of duo Gabe Cuzzillo and Aaron Taecker-Wyss. Cuzzillo is an NYU Tisch undergrad film student who designed and coded Foiled, his first game. Taecker-Wyss provided the sound and visuals. Continuing the Road to the IGF series, we spoke with Cuzzillo about his pet project and how he feels film and games relate, now being a student of both. How did you come up with the concept? It started as a test game. I had never made a game or programmed before, and I started doing GameMaker tutorials over winter break of 2012-2013. I was very excited about Nidhogg at the time, and I decided to make a simple game where you could also clash with swords, but you had to jump and dive to get around your opponent's defenses. I didn't think it would take very long. The rest of the game slowly grew out of that as ideas begat ideas. You describe the game as part Nidhogg and part Super Smash Bros. How are these reflected in your game, and what parts are genuinely Foiled? The Nidhogg parts are fairly clear, I think; the clashing mechanic is similar, and it’s about fencing. Super Smash Bros. isn't really very related in my mind. The comparison only came up in retrospect when I was releasing it and needed a way to describe it to people. The other true inspiration was actually Super Meat Boy. I studied that game for a long time, analyzing how they made the platforming feel so nice. In terms of what's genuinely Foiled, I suppose systemically the combat and scoring mechanics had no direct inspiration. That said, I think it's hard to say any part of the game isn't genuinely Foiled, because the context totally changes the ways in which you use the systems from these other games. I also think that the execution of those systems in Foiled totally changes the way they feel. I think game-feel is quite undervalued in general when people talk about games. You mentioned to me that you wanted to do something completely different from film. Sometimes we hear games compared to film. How do you think the two relate? I think games are much more uncharted territory than film. New games still come out every year that change how I think about games. That’s really not the case when it comes to modern film. Bad games still can be really interesting, whereas I haven’t seen a movie made in the last decade that was bad in an interesting way. Games and how we think about them are evolving extremely rapidly right now, and it seems insane to me not to be a part of it. There’s a big difference in the feedback you get when you make films and when you make games. I’ve made a few shorts that people seem to really like, and the biggest reaction they ever received was a laugh at the time, or occasionally someone telling me they had been thinking about it a lot that week. Watching people yell, and laugh, and swear at each other is a lot more rewarding; it’s a lot easier to feel like you’ve done something worthwhile. I get emails from people from time to time thanking me for making Foiled. No one’s ever thanked me for making a film. In terms of the medium overall, I think a lot of games are trying to be films in the triple-A space right now, and separately there's the interactive movie thing Telltale is doing (which I actually really like). Games are just so broad that it's hard to reconcile what Telltale is doing with what I'm doing as the same medium. Telltale aside, I think games and film are inherently better and worse at wildly different things. For example, I think games are much better at creating high stakes and tension than film. Frequently in a movie, you know whether or not the bomb will go off based on the context, genre, and where in the three-act structure you are. In Goldfinger, you know the bomb won’t go off, the bomb could never have gone off--it wasn’t even a bomb in the first place. In games (at least in certain kinds of games), the bomb is functionally a bomb, and could easily go off. There are certainly also games that lie to you about the bomb, I just haven’t been very interested in them recently. The process of making a game has its pros and cons. The part where if you sit in your basement long enough you can come out with a game eventually is actually really nice. A film requires so many talented people to be good, and it’s refreshing not to have to rely on that. On the other hand, with games, you’re sitting in your basement for an indeterminate amount of time and that’s how people go insane. Finding a balance can be challenging. What development tools did you use? I used GameMaker Studio. How long did you work on your game, and why did you choose your target platforms? I worked on it for about six months. I chose PC because that's what GameMaker does well. How many people were on your team, and what lessons did you learn in working as a team? The team was just Aaron Taecker-Wyss and me. We were friends from High School, and he did all the art for the game. I think the main lesson I took from the experience was how intrinsic to design art is. Very minute changes to the way things were visually presented had huge effects on game-feel. What multiplayer indie games have you played in the past 12 months that impressed you and why? I really like Samurai Gunn; I play it almost weekly with some friends. It’s great how alliances start to form and crumble as everybody gets down to their last few lives. Choosing when and how to engage in a three-person game is really fun. I also really like Spelunky Deathmatch. This is kind of a weird pick, and it wouldn't hold up in high-level play, but after playing so many well-balanced symmetrical games with minimal systems (including my own), it's great to play something in which huge advantages and disadvantages present themselves at the beginning of each round. It's really exciting to overcome nearly impossible circumstances with an unexpected maneuver. Have you decided to make another game, and at what point in time did you decide this? I started making another game right after releasing Foiled, more or less. It’s been going more slowly than I would like, and I’m also learning Unity at the same time. It’s been hard trying to take in the reaction to Foiled while working on this new game. It’s weird to be recognized for anything publicly, even in this relatively small way. I haven’t really learned how to deal with it, yet. That said, I’m actually beginning to be really excited about the new game taking shape.

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