[Starting out a new series of interviews on buzzed about and/or overlooked games and personalities, Gamasutra talks to Grubby Games designer Ryan Clark about Flash-based physics sim Incredibots, covering its development origins, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of releasing the title online.]
a “physics game” may sell it a little short. True, Grubby Games’ new Flash-based title revolves around building and maneuvering machines in a 2D world where everything reacts with realistic motion. Yet it’s also a puzzle game, a movie-maker, and anything else that players can pull off within the game’s highly versatile confines.
walks first-timers through the art of crafting various simple machines, and it's easy to turn them into robots, cars, Rube Goldberg contraptions, obstacle courses, and, using the game's movie-recorder, short films.
Everything is made from basic ideas and simple visuals, but IncrediBots
has proven popular enough to overload three servers since its beta launched in November. It’s not the first success for the Grubby Games developers, as their Professor Fizzwizzle
PC puzzle game was the 2005 GameTunnel Casual Game of the Year and a finalist for the 2006 IGF Seumas McNally Grand Prize.
We interviewed IncrediBots
designer Ryan Clark to find out where IncrediBots
came from, where it’s going after the beta, and just how far its user base has taken it:
What inspired you to create IncrediBots? Did it grow out of Professor Fizzwizzle? Did you look to The Incredible Machine series or any other older games?
Ryan Clark: The Incredible Machine
definitely had an impact on my brain when I was young, and games like Armadillo Run
have more recently rekindled my passion for physics games.
didn't grow out of Professor Fizzwizzle
, no. Although we did have an early prototype of Professor Fizzwizzle
that was more physics-based. We scrapped that idea in favor of discrete tile-based movement, as the physics-y version felt more luck/tweak-based, and less puzzle-like.
actually grew from another physics game idea we had, that we ended up shelving for various reasons. Working on the concept for that game got me interested in the various pre-built 2D physics engines that were available. During my research, I saw [Skidloader
]. I couldn't believe how much fun I had with that simple program! And I wanted to construct other bots and play around with them. IncrediBots
How did you develop the game's physics engine?
RC: The game's physics are handled by the amazing Box2D physics engine
. It's the same physics engine used by IGF winner Crayon Physics Deluxe
, and many other excellent games. We've made some modifications to the engine, but the bulk of the code is the same.
You've mentioned that you created multiple prototype versions of Professor Fizzwizzle. Did you do the same for IncrediBots?
RC: No, actually! We didn't create any prototypes. The design of the game seemed pretty foolproof, so we just went for it. How can you go wrong when your design doc just says, "open-ended physics sandbox game"?
IncrediBots is currently in its beta form. What more can we expect in the final version?
RC: We're currently having some server problems (due to higher than expected traffic volumes), and we still have some issues with replays behaving differently on different machines, causing stutters/jerks. These, plus a few other minor bugs, will be fixed.
We also plan to add new features like mirroring, scaling, a "challenge editor" so people can make their own challenge levels, thrusters so you can make flying bots, and more!
I don't think there'll ever be a "final" version. If the game is a financial success, I hope we can keep improving it forever! The community has already come up with a number of amazing ideas for new features ... there's always more we could add.
How will the final version of IncrediBots be offered? Will fans have to pay for the final version?
RC: So far, we're not quite covering our costs, but that may change as traffic continues to grow. If we can't cover our costs, we may go to a "donate and get some extra features" model, where donators would also be able to play a version of the game without advertisements. We definitely want to keep it as free as possible, while still making enough money to pay for our servers and continued development.
Do you plan on putting it on Xbox Live or any other online console game service?
RC: We hope so! We're in talks with publishers, but nothing has come to fruition just yet.
What are the advantages of offering a game like IncrediBots online? What are the disadvantages? Do you think the market for browser-based games is getting too crowded?
RC: The main advantage is that you have the widest possible audience. Pretty much everyone who is connected to the Internet is a potential IncrediBots
player! Being online also allows IncrediBots
players to share their robots and replays, which helps virally spread the word about the game.
The main disadvantage is the difficulty of monetization. Ads certainly make us some money, but the amount of traffic required to cover our costs with ads alone is enormous! For a traditional try-buy shareware game, you only need some thousands of sales to cover your costs. For a complex web game like IncrediBots
, you need millions upon millions of players!
I definitely don't think the market for browser-based games is too crowded. It's obviously very competitive, but that's great if you're a gamer!
The movie option in IncrediBots goes beyond what you'll find in the majority of other machine-building games. What inspired it? What's the most impressive thing you've seen a user do with this feature?
RC: I'm not really sure! Perhaps it came from our roots in Professor Fizzwizzle
. Our PF
games both have a "show solution" option which allows you to view a replay of the author solving the level. We have always received praise for including this feature in our games, so that may have influenced our thinking.
But the feature also just seems to make sense. If you spend hours designing an awesome robot, you're probably quite proud of it, and would like to share it with the world. What better way than recording a replay to show off your skills?
Are you aiming IncrediBots at any specific age group?
RC: We generally go for an "all ages" audience with our games, and IncrediBots
is no exception. The game itself is obviously fairly non-violent and colorful, but some of the user creations can indeed be violent or crass. We've had to delete quite a lot of ... inappropriate ... content, let me tell you!