This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. You can find the rest by clicking here.
Wilmot's Warehouse tasks players with organizing stock in a warehouse, drawing upon that a strangely compelling desire to arrange objects. With over five hundred types of stock to put around the warehouse, it's up to the player to figure out how to best place everything to keep the warehouse from becoming a chaotic mess.
Gamasutra spoke with Richard Hogg and Ricky Haggett, developers of Wilmot's Warehouse, about what it is that draws players to want to organize objects in games (even when they're shirking real-life organization to play them), and how they designed objects and play that would create that appeal in slowly, slowly bringing order to this place.
What's your background in making games?
Hogg: We have been making videogames together on and off for just over ten years now. We used to be in a band together, then we started making games, with Dick (Hogg) doing the art and Ricky (Haggett) doing the coding. We share responsibility for design. Probably the game that we are best known for is Hohokum. We like collaborating with interesting people on things like animation, audio design, and music. On this game, we worked with Eli Rainsberry for the first time, who did all the music and sound effects.
How did you come up with the concept?
Hogg: I have wanted to make a game about working in a warehouse for quite a few years. I worked in a couple of warehouse jobs in my youth, and also spent a year working in a picture archive, which is kind of similar. I really enjoyed all three jobs, and it occurred to me that I enjoyed them in quite a videogamey way. What I mean is that I made the job interesting for myself by being better at it. By knowing the warehouse and its contents better, by optimizing the warehouse and my routines within it as much as I could. I was always doing this more for the pleasure of it than necessity.
What development tools were used to build your game?
Hogg: Haxe and OpenFL.
How much time have you spent working on the game?
Hogg: About six months.
Wilmot's Warehouse appeals to those who enjoy organization. What do you feel it is about organizing that players enjoy? About the process of bringing order to a chaotic game world?
Hogg: I think there is something therapeutic about organizing a load of stuff. Regardless of whether you consider yourself a "neat freak" or not (I generally don't), there are occasions where this kind of activity feels satisfying and rewarding beyond knowing that you are going to benefit from the intrinsic utility that organizing that stuff might also offer. It is one if those activities that feels a lot like a chore, something menial and boring, but is also compelling and strangely fun. I am really interested in what happens when an activity like this is done explicitly for pleasure, either as part of some kind of hobby or in the context of a game.
So, for instance loads of people have told me that they have enjoyed tidying up in Wilmot's Warehouse when, ironically, they were playing it at the expense of tidying up in real life. This is a feeling that I know all too well, and I love the paradox of it. It is so human to be weak in this way. We are simultaneously lazy and hardwired to enjoy 'work' and we mix the two urges in interesting ways. Understanding this might be a key to somehow being better at life. Happier and more productive. I should probably write a self help book about it.
What thoughts went into turning the act of organization into a game? Into creating play from cleaning up a warehouse?
Hogg: A central guiding principal was to draw from real life as much as possible. Every design challenge we encountered was met with the question; what happens in a real warehouse? How does a real warehouse present this challenge and how do the people working there deal with it? In that sense, the game already existed, and we were just making a digital simulation of it.
That only goes so far, and of course there are lots of ways in which a simple videogame has to differ from a real-life warehouse. So, beyond that core principal of realism was a regime of lots of play-testing. Trying lots of different things. Playing the shit out of the game and trying to take quite a forensic, diligent approach to play-testing. It's not particularly exciting, but it's how you make good video games, in my opinion.
The objects in Wilmot's Warehouse had to lend themselves to being neatly organized. How did you design objects players could interact with so that they would feel good to clean up?
Hogg: There are 500 stock items in the game - all just squares with pictures on them. Obviously, some individual products are more distinctive or memorable than others, but mostly it is about the connections that may or may not exist between different groups of objects. We put a lot of thought into creating an interesting melange of relationship types between all the objects.
There are distinct themes that are hard to miss. There are themes that are more subtle and open to interpretation. There are things that sit comfortably in multiple overlapping categories and there are things that hopefully defy any meaningful categorization. There is a fair amount of deliberate inconsistency and ambiguity so that organizing all this stuff is inevitably going to get messy and complicated, just like in a real warehouse.
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?
Haggett: 2017 was such a great year for games! For me, there are four I'm especially happy to see getting nominations. Night in the Woods was one of my favourite games of last year (and the only game that's ever made me cry). West of Loathing was another one of my 2017 favourites, and one of the the funniest games I've ever played. Chuchel is the best experience of playing a game with my kids I've ever had. They were laughing their heads off the entire time. Kids was already strange and playful and beautiful when I played it last year. I can't wait to see what it's like now.
Hogg: I am just going to add Tormentor X Punisher to that list. I can lose myself for hours in it's beautiful, magical world :^).
What do you think are the biggest hurdles (and opportunities) for indie devs today?
I think the hurdles and opportunities you are going to face are completely dependent on what you are hoping to achieve. Within the diaspora of Indie development, there are people looking to achieve very different things. Wildly different! Beyond that very general observation I really couldn't comment.