This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. You can find the rest by clicking here.
She Remembered Caterpillars fills a section of quiet woodland with tiny, colorful creatures called gammies, all of whom want to make it to the right platform in order to fly away. Their paths are made up of branches, logs, and vibrant caterpillars and other creatures. These insects will only let gammies pass if they're the correct color, and only through combining these creatures (and creating new colors) can the player help them reach their goals.
All the while, the game shares a story of grief and loss, a broken relationship that appears between moments when the player needs to make these little creatures work together to survive.
Told through striking visuals of somber places -- in hidden woods in crumbling ruins -- that are filled with cheerful insects and creatures that shine with vibrant colors, She Remembered Caterpillars earned a nomination for Excellence in Visual Art from the Independent Games Festival.
To learn more about the colorful puzzler, Gamasutra spoke with Jumpsuit Entertainment's Daniel Goffin and David Priemer to find out how they created an art style that's both beautiful and informative.
What's your background in making games?
Goffin: I have no formal training in making games. I studied illustration, comics, and animation. I have tinkered with games over time in some form or another. However, my breakthrough moment was after being fired from an app development company. For various reasons, we never even got to the stage of a playable prototype there.
This was so frustrating that, when finally having been kicked out, I told myself: "It cannot be that hard. I will start with a very simple idea, draw everything myself and look for an interested programmer”. After another year or so I had successfully published my first game: Symmetrain (IGF Student Showcase 2014).
Priemer: Besides SRC I have not worked on any commercial videogame projects, but I created tiny games, mods and sketches ever since elementary school.
How did you come up with the concept?
Priemer: I was messing around with physical layers in unity3D, developing walls that let objects pass through based on their color. At some point, I started to experiment with logical connections between the different colors, ending up with the fundamental gameplay concept for She Remembered Caterpillars.
What development tools were used to build your game?
Goffin & Priemer: Pen, paper, Unity, Clip Studio Paint, Flash… Nothing out the ordinary.
How much time have you spent working on the game?
Goffin & Priemer: We worked on the game more than 5 years. David started working on the core mechanic in 2012, and Daniel joined him in late 2013. We met our publisher Ysbryd Games in San Francisco at the IGF 2014 (my first game, Symmetrain, was nominated for the Student Award). After we signed the publishing contract, we started working full-time on the game In September 2014.
She Remembered Caterpillars features a gorgeous visual design. How did this art style come together? How did you design one that suited the puzzle game you had in mind?
Goffin: The aesthetic went through multiple iterations. Many ideas were good, but it took quite a bit until they started to come together.
If you take a look at our blog http://jumpsuit-entertainment.com/posts/ you can see how many things we tried. At the beginning, I really wanted this to be a 3D game, but it never really worked for me. I never could envision it properly. In the end, I decided to focus on my own strengths and make this a beautiful, hand-drawn 2D game.
However, that doesn’t mean that I threw away all ideas that I generated earlier on. Ideas of organic structures that blend natural and architectural elements, etc., were translated into the final version. The rest happened after Cassandra Khaw joined the team and we started talking about what a kind of world this might be.
What challenges do you face in using color with puzzle design? How do you create effects designed around colors that will challenge the player's mind?
Goffin & Priemer: Color-based games are not easy to explain. Basic color theory is not something many people can explain. Early on, we realized that, in order to make the game more accessible, we needed to stretch out the introduction of the various mechanics.
Additionally, a large part (~10%) of potential customers will have a color-deficiency of some sort. Meaning, if we wanted to develop a color-based game that as many as possible can play, we had to make sure that not only the mechanic works, but also that it’s readable.
How do you create clues and communicate how to solve puzzles purely through visuals? What thoughts go into this?
Priemer: The layout of levels plays a major part in making the solutions more accessible to the players. There are no actual clues that provide information about specific steps, but a readable and clear setup helps players to translate the visible content into a logical structure.
Sometimes, though, composition is used in an opposite way. For example, when a purple character is placed next to a purple bridge, players get tempted to interact with these elements even if it leads them away from the solution.
She Remembered Caterpillars features a touching narrative alongside its puzzles. How do you feel this story enhanced the puzzle gameplay? That it gave the world's visuals have even more power?
The narrative adds another layer to the puzzles and aesthetic. The connection is not immediately visible, even intentionally obtuse at times. The general consensus on narrative in games seems to be that the more all elements are entangled into each other, the better the resulting product will be.
We went in the opposite direction, since the story is about a dysfunctional relationship that is past the point of saving. We did not want to give players a false sense of agency. The story does not follow the monomyth - there is a protagonist but there is no heroine. And yet, the unique thing about this game is that without forming relationships, the gammies (the creatures the players control) would not be able to reach their destinations. Only by combining their individual strengths can they overcome obstacles that they alone would not be able to surpass.
Similarly, a relationship can be a hindrance in itself, and parting is the only way to get them where they need to go.
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?
Goffin: I have played demo versions of Old Man’s Journey, GøNNER and Burley Man at Sea. All of them attracted me because of their aesthetic.
Priemer: Hyper Light Drifter is an extraordinary game in terms of atmosphere.
What do you think are the biggest hurdles (and opportunities) for indie devs today?
Goffin: It depends on what you are aiming for. It depends on your ambitions. It depends on all the resources you can think of. You can make a game in less than an hour. You just have to do it. But, having a sustainable income from making independent games is already such a high ambition that only very few people will ever achieve it. If you want to create something that appeals to many people, you will not be able to create anything radically new. If you want to be a pioneer and avant-garde, the likelihood of living off of that is near zero.
Priemer: A big advantage for independent videogame developers today is tons of free software and education. Which might also be a hurdle, since it opens the market for a lot of people.