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Road to the Austin IGF: PillowFort's Goo!

Gamasutra is talking to the nine Southern U.S. winners of the local IGF Showcase at this month's Austin GDC -- this time talking with PillowFort's Tommy Refenes about action-strateg

Alistair Wallis

September 11, 2008

6 Min Read

[Our new series of ‘Road to the IGF’ interviews profiles the nine recently announced winners of the IGF Showcase at Austin GDC - with the local Southern U.S. indie developers to be showcased at the Texas game development show later this month.] In this installment of our ‘Road to the IGF’ feature, we talk to PillowFort's Tommy Refenes about the action-strategy liquid sim Goo!. The game comes to the Austin IGF after an impressive showing at the March GDC IGF, where it ranked as a finalist in the Technical Excellence category. The allows players to control “a giant glob of amorphous liquid”, competing against “constantly growing and very aggressive Paint Goo”. The game also features color coded AI, so that “different color Paint Goo mixes, A.I.s mix and the Paint Goo becomes very aggressive”. What is your background with video games? Tommy Refenes: I've always had an interest in games and started programming when I was 11. I went to college and ended up dropping out, and started working as a web and server developer. At one point, when I was living in Charlotte, I decided that it was time to take the plunge and pursue game development. At the time, a job offer came up overseas, so I sold my house, car, and all my crap and moved to the Netherlands. After that job ran its course, I decided to come back and work on Goo! with a friend. When was PillowFort formed? TF: PillowFort was originally Amorphous and was founded in May '06. I changed it to PillowFort, because it was difficult to make a logo for "Amorphous". I experimented with some Rorschach ink blots, but they all looked like vaginas.... What inspired Goo!, and why did you decide to develop it? TF: A friend and I started on Goo! together. I was interested in it because of the intense technical challenge it presented. What were your expectations from your game, and do you feel the end product lives up to those expectations? TF: Well, to this day, the game isn't finished and I’m currently going through a major redesign of it which I'm not ready to reveal yet. I think the game lives up to some expectations of mine, but more technical expectations, and not actual gameplay and design expectations. It is an enjoyable game, but there needs to be more to it - hence the big redesign. What do you think the most interesting thing about your game is? TF: The tech is the most interesting thing, I feel. With thousands of particles on the screen rendering the Goos and doing realtime normal mapping on them and still maintaining well over 60FPS - I think that's impressive. How long did development take, and what was the process like? TF: Development is still going on. It's been going on for a while, since May of '06, and I've rewritten the engine several times to squeeze the power out of it that it needed to run the game smoothly. The process has been long and tough, to be honest, but it is really coming along nowadays. What's the scene in the South like? TF: I don't live in Austin, unlike a lot of the other finalists - I live in North Carolina, up in the mountains, cut off from the populace. The only time I leave the house is to go to the gym. Was it an easy decision to enter this local leg, considering the success you had at GDC? TF: Oh yes, definitely. Austin GDC is going to give me a chance to show the game, whet the palate of some publishers and maybe finally get this goddamn game out! goo1.jpgHave you made any more progress on multiplayer since its last minute addition to the GDC build in March? TF: Actually, I have not! When I made the multiplayer versus mode at GDC it was fun for a bit, but it had some very glaring gameplay problems to it that I couldn't remedy. I had planned to do so, and had several ideas and experiments I was going to try, but I haven't worked on that aspect of the game in a while. What do you think of the state of independent development, and how do you think independent games fit into the industry? TF: Independent games offer a new light of creativity into a pretty bland offering from major publishers. Yes, there are some very good games by very large companies, but those companies are all about capitalizing on profits, which is totally understandable, but often times seeing a very creative game makes investors uneasy as they think that people only relate to movie games and games about Hannah Montana. Independent games allow an individual or team of like-minded individuals to create a game without having to answer to investors and publishers. Where do you see your game going from here? TF: Giant redesign: the newest Goo! is going to be totally different from what is currently out, but it will still feel like Goo!. As mentioned above about indie games, hopefully this game will be more relatable to those people that write the checks since I need those checks to buy food. What kind of feedback have you received so far? TF: Feedback varies across the board really. Some people absolutely love it -- they love the colors and feel of the Goo! -- other people don't feel it is anything special, and too repetitive. I actually agree with both of them. I want to make a game that people enjoy. Money is important, but I also want to offer a player an experience where they actually want to play my next game and not go, 'Oh, he made Goo!...that was okay. Oh look - a nickel!' People have really short attention spans, and when Goo! comes out, I want people to remember it, and remember that PillowFort made it, and associate that name with quality fun games. Have you checked out any of the other Austin IGF games? TF: I actually haven't yet. I've been insanely busy trying to get stuff ready for the Intel Game Demo contest and get this new version ready for Austin GDC. Which recent indie games do you admire, and which recent mainstream titles do you admire, and why? TF: I very much admire World of Goo; those guys have made a very solid and polished game and have a great business sense about them. I know they will do well, and I hope that one day I can be right up there with them. I also recently played a game called Dyson that was a very simple game, but extremely engrossing. Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF? TF: I congratulate everyone that will be at Austin GDC and I look forward to meeting everyone. If they are half as cool as the people at GDC back in February, it'll be a wild, wild time.

About the Author(s)

Alistair Wallis


Alistair Wallis is an Australian based freelance journalist, and games industry enthusiast. He is a regular contributor to Gamasutra.

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