Interview with MagicalTimeBean
Made by MagicalTimeBean, published by Double Fine, Escape Goat 2 is a goat-based puzzle platformer - plus a mouse. HonestDragon and Cat asked Ian Stocker about all the goatliness, more goatliness on PS4, and financial realities of indie life.
HONESTDRAGON: Was the game protagonist always a goat? If not, did you have any other animals in mind for the game?
IAN: Escape Goat 1 started as an unthemed platform game for its first few months in development. When I heard the term Escape Goat come up in conversation, I knew I had to name the game that, and that called for a goat protagonist. No other animals were in the running. At this stage, the game was using placeholder art from Soulcaster, and even had ladders... I was happy to be rid of them, since there are enough ladders in games. I wanted to have a special laddergoat easter egg room, but never really found time to put it in.
CAT: Goats in indies. Are they the new vampires*? I see them cropping up in roguelikes, simulators and er, platformers...
(*Editor’s note: Obviously I’m a little behind the times, since Armin Ibrisagic has already dubbed them the new zombies)
IAN: The real question is, why did it take so long? Goats are the perfect complement to just about any game. They can be associated with everything between the occult (survival horror) and companionship (farming).
HONESTDRAGON: Did you have any inspirations for making this a puzzle platforming game?
IAN: The original inspiration was Jetpack, from the DOS days. Any single-screen puzzle game, like Lode Runner, Adventures of Lolo, or Solomon's Key were definitely gameplay inspirations. The goat's movement is a combination of Alucard and Robot Unicorn Attack. The theme borrows a lot from Castlevania, especially the soundtrack.
HONESTDRAGON: The artwork looks amazing. Was any of it hand-drawn?
IAN: All of the art was 100% hand drawn by Randy O'Connor. Every frame of animation (and there's a ton) was hand animated and shaded in Photoshop.
CAT: Can you talk about the value of artwork vs gameplay? What kind of balance has to be struck in development?
IAN: Gameplay always comes first, so the tiles always needed to read properly so you know what is a platform and what is part of the background. The different gadgets have to look unique. But with that said, there are a lot of liberties we can take with the foreground and background walls in the game. Randy came up with all of the tileset concepts, and it's hard for me to pick a favorite (though it would probably be the library). As for the music side of things, it's important that the songs have a particular pacing and energy level that drives you forward without distracting you from solving the puzzles. It took some iteration to get that down.
HONESTDRAGON: Do you have any plans to make another installment of Escape Goat in the near future?
IAN: I don't think I'm starting on EG3 any time soon--but there might be some updates in the goat world...
CAT: You're not planning EG3 at this time, what other ideas are bumping around in your head?
IAN: I've started tinkering with my first series, Soulcaster, to make a third installment. Over the last two years, ideas for new features in that world have been piling up, so I need to spend some time there. Who knows, I might not be able to resist including a goat this time around...
HONESTDRAGON: Any chance of the game to make an appearance on console?
IAN: Escape Goat 2 will be on PS4, launching this summer if all goes well!
CAT: We gamers are greedy. Have any thoughts about those things that may be added to the game?
IAN: I come up with new ideas every day, though tragically I have only so much time to work on stuff. I haven't done much new content since the game launched, because my focus has been on fixing bugs and distribution deals. That stuff is winding down though, so I am moving forward. I don't want to list things here because I may not follow through with them--but I would like to add another campaign, and get a free demo going at some point.
HONESTDRAGON: What did you enjoy most when making Escape Goat 2?
IAN: My favorite part of development is playtesting. I like to observe a person's reactions to the game and think of ways I can adjust things to make it more fun.
CAT: You've said more than a couple times publicly that Dark Souls is your favorite game - and that you liked it before it was cool. Can you: a) prove it? b) talk about how your favorite games inform your own game'(s') development?
IAN:Hope I "liked it before it was cool" doesn't end up as the 32-point pull quote for the article. But I will say that when I first saw it at E3, not only was I interviewed on my impressions by Adrianne Curry (video evidence at bottom), but it became an obsession for me to watch Japanese let's plays every evening after work, mostly from EpicNameBro because of English language commentary. As for influence from this and other games, I'm not terribly aware of that happening, but I know it happens subconsciously. The Escape Goat series is not intended to be the epic onslaught that the Souls games are, so the ties are pretty thin--but I did like the minimalist tutorial the game offered, and have my own version of that in EG2.
CAT: What does being an independent developer mean to you? What do you think of the current indie scene?
IAN: We are in a very peculiar time in the history of game development. On the one hand, the rate of indie games being launched per day is increasing, so marketplaces (on PC in particular) are getting more crowded. You have to figure out how you're going to get visible. On the other hand, we have more support than ever from companies like Sony and Valve who are really showing strong support for indie game development. The big change from when I first started was the prevailing wisdom being "just focus on making a great game"... which is really a bad plan in 2014, if that's all you're doing.
CAT: What about the finances of being indie - what does this *really* look like?
IAN: Pour yourself a stiff drink. I'll just say that the average earnings of an indie is probably around zero (I can generously count negative numbers as zero), and it takes years to rise up out of that pit--excepting of course the occasional indie "out of the blue" success story. I'm still clawing my way up to making what I made before I went indie (doing game soundtracks as a contractor). I can only really do this because a) I had savings from contracting, b) I can still take occasional gigs, c) my wife works full time, d) my games are actually profitable thanks to a multitude of distribution deals and shoestring development budgets.
Day 3 | MagicalTimeBean