Interview: Come To The Circus - Making CarneyVale Showtime

Gamasutra speaks to the designers of CarneyVale Showtime, recipient of the Grand Prize in the 2008 Dream-Build-Play competition, which was commercially released for Windows Phone 7 last month.
[Gamasutra speaks to the designers of CarneyVale Showtime, recipient of the Grand Prize in the 2008 Dream-Build-Play competition, which was commercially released for Windows Phone 7 last month.] Developed by the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, CarneyVale: Showtime was the recipient of the Grand Prize in the 2008 Dream-Build-Play competition and was also a finalist for the PAX 10 independent games showcase in 2009. Last month the game saw its first portable iteration when it was released for Windows Phone 7. Jing Ying Yeo acted as assistant producer, contributing to the Games for Windows and Windows Phone 7 editions of CarneyVale. Bruce Chia is a programmer at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, participating in the creation of the Games for Windows and Xbox Live Indie Games releases of the title. We caught up with the game designers to hear about the Game Lab's development process and the making of CarneyVale: Showtime (YouTube video): Could you tell us a little about how this partnership has been organized between MIT and the Singapore campuses that has led to the creation of games like CarneyVale: Showtime? Jing Ying Yeo: The GAMBIT Game Lab is a collaboration between the Singapore government and MIT. Every year we send around forty students from Singapore institutions from various disciplines like the arts, design, coding and audio. During that time they develop game prototypes at MIT revolving around research topics. Having attended the Penny Arcade Expo, what did you take away from having your game exhibited as part of the PAX 10? JY: We were very happy to have the chance to attend the convention. It was really an eye-opener for us. It allowed us to meet all sorts of people while displaying the game at our booth. It’s exciting to see them play and very helpful to receive their feedback. Bruce Chia: The people we encountered were all in cosplay and very spontaneous. It was a very new, unique experience. There isn’t really the same kind of convention over here in Singapore. What led to your choosing to focus CarneyVale: Showtime on the character of a ragdoll circus acrobat? BC: Although we did receive some feedback that a carnival game might not do that well, it was a wacky kind of environment that we really wanted to see brought to life. We had originally developed another game called Wiip for research regarding the complexity of motion controls using the Wii Remote. From there we actually went in the opposite direction, creating as much expression as possible using simple gameplay controls. The ragdoll physics are still very expressive and opened the door for some interesting emergent gameplay. JY: In our case, we’re often following design research, such as developing a game for the visually impaired. Or it might be following technical research, where we are attempting to make use of technology developed by our researchers. For the initial research behind CarneyVale, it was to develop a game that is simple but innovative using an expressive physical interface. Was it of any interest to you to explore non-violent gameplay as means of broadening the accessibility of the title to all ages of players? JY: From the point of view of the developers, we wanted to steer clear of conveying violence, blood and gore. The effect is more of the “comic mischief” variety. BC: Initially there was some inspiration from carnivals that tour in Singapore. However we then received feedback that influenced us to make the game even more comical and fantasy-based. We wanted acrobatics and grabbing onto objects to be the core mechanic of the game. From there we decided to expand it further and see what else we could do with the level design. At what point did you come up with the map editor for CarneyVale: Showtime so that people could create their own in-game environments? BC: Originally we created the map editor for our own design purposes. Along the way we figured out that by adding a few small features we could actually release the editor together with the game. By doing so we hoped to increase the longevity of the game. However, there were a lot of things that came along with it that we didn’t foresee and as a result it was not integrated into the Xbox Live Indie Games or Windows phone versions. Did you encounter other challenges porting the game to multiple platforms? JY: The main change in mechanics between the Xbox Live Indie Games and PC releases was in the control scheme. The PC offers a few variations in the mouse and keyboard controls. After a few rounds of playtesting we implemented the main controls with the mouse and used the keyboard as a supporting control for the gameplay. One of the main challenges for the PC release was changing the programming language to C++ and the Playground SDK for the framework. The Xbox Live Indie Games release is using XNA. What advantages have you found to programming in XNA? BC: Developing in XNA helped us a lot from the start because we started out without a lot of experience in game development. It was much easier than, say, developing for a C++ platform and helped us cut down on development time. For example, the Xbox Live Indie Games version took only about five months to create. The PC release by contrast required about nine months. At the same time, we were able to learn a lot about console development and the Xbox API. Furthermore, winning Microsoft’s Dream-Build-Play competition was definitely an advantage over if we had chosen a free platform like Flash. There weren’t many XNA developers out there in 2008, so maybe the competition was lighter than on other platforms. Does the GAMBIT Game Lab concern itself with preparing people who are part of the program to find jobs in the game industry upon graduating, or start their own independent game studios? JY: For this internship, once the students have returned to Singapore we organize an event called the Industry & Media Day. They get to show off all their prototypes. That’s an opportunity for interns to directly submit their resumes to industry players in Singapore. Some GAMBIT interns have gone on to set up their own companies: Touch Dimensions and The Dumpling Dimension. BC: One more company worth mentioning is Fire Hose Games. It was set up by one of our MIT counterparts who has attended PAX East. You’ve mentioned that you both attended MIT in 2007. What has been the experience for you traveling as part of this program? BC: One of the advantages is that we get to learn about this other culture, collaborating with our American counterparts. I would say that one of the key cultural differences could be "expressiveness." Maybe our U.S. counterparts are less reserved about voicing their ideas. On the Singapore side, we try to take into account our friendship. It can be a slightly different emphasis in that sense. We definitely learn a lot from each other over the course of the experience, and part of the purpose is to get out of our comfort zone in sharing ideas about game design. To find out more about the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, visit the official website.

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