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Neven Mrgan’s Curious Incident [Games, iPhone, iPad]

I had a chance to talk with Neven Mrgan about his upcoming game, The Incident.

What’s the basic premise of The Incident?

The Incident is a fast-paced, retro-style game. Its hero is one Frank Solway, an ordinary guy whose life becomes a frantic adventure when he tries to hail a downtown cab one morning. His world gets turned upside down and shaken loose – quite literally – as seemingly everything in the world starts to rain down from the skies. Frank does his best to avoid this deadly shower of stuff and climb the growing pile towards the source of it all.

To develop The Incident you partnered with Matt Comi of Big Bucket software. How did that partnership come about? Did one of you approach the other with a basic game concept, or was the design process more organic?

I met Matt right around the time the first iPhone came out. Matt lives in Australia, where they didn’t get the iPhone right away – it takes a long time to sail Her Majesty’s ships laden with iPhones there – so he emailed me to ask if I could test his web app, TV Forecast, on it. (TV Forecast has since become a native app.)

Matt then made a physics puzzle game called Pocketball, which I have yet to beat…! It was his idea to work on an action game next, using what he had learned about game physics. His pitch to me was the same one-liner we use now: what if stuff kept falling from above and you have to avoid it. I loved the idea, and I only loved it more when Matt mentioned wanting 8-bit art.

Since then, we’ve both been constantly brainstorming the story and the gameplay, deepening it far beyond the original idea. We work with a crazy nine-hour time difference, which can be sort of neat. I wake up and Matt briefs me on his progress before he goes to bed; sixteen hours later we trade places.

The Incident is definitely Matt’s baby – his story, his code. I’m the guy with the fun task of drawing pixel versions of everything in the world.

It’s interesting that you mention working with a time difference as being something beneficial to development. I imagine a ‘changing of the guards’ type scenario. But was the time difference a hindrance during early development, when various concepts had yet to fully formulate?

It took one half-hour conversation to see that we were on the same page with regards to the look, feel, and basic gameplay. This was right before the holidays last year, and we then went offline for a while. Matt worked on the physics engine and I played with some art styles. When we came back in 2010, I was psyched to see a working demo of physics objects on our stage, and Matt seemed happy with the art. From that point on, we’ve only had to discuss specific features, which our pre/post-bedtime meetings cover nicely. I think it’s been a pretty smooth road so far!

To that effect, how would you describe working entirely independently from one another? Are ideas difficult to communicate, or do you find that the ambiguity often enables your creativity, allowing one of you to take paths the other would not necessarily have anticipated?

Matt and I are eerily similar individuals, I think, to the point that upon seeing photos of each other’s homes, we noticed we had some of the same furniture. My wife calls Matt my “doppelganger down under”. That means it’s usually easy for us to communicate our thoughts.

There are specific advantages to working this way. When I wake up, there’s usually a new build of the game waiting for me, and I try to have new art for Matt to check out. It’s refreshing to see that instead of hovering over each other’s virtual shoulders and dissecting each step. We trust each other’s abilities!

A technical note of possible interest: we collaborate using Dropbox. I love it to death.

You’ve stated on your blog that there are “few things you enjoy doing more” than pixel pushing. Stylistically, you also mention that MobyGames was extremely helpful in providing you with reference materials. Are there any games that inspired The Incident’s style in particular?

No particular game, no. Super Mario Bros 3 is my favorite game of all time – I love its art and gameplay.

How does the games 8-bit style change your typical artistic process?

I don’t know that I have a typical artistic process! I hadn’t done any serious 8-bit pixel art before this game. I love learning new styles, though, and this was one particularly enjoyable because it sent me back to the days of drawing on my C64 with a joystick (and later on an Amiga 500 with a mouse.)

My process, as it is today, consists of basically going in with pixels right away. I don’t sketch, I don’t outline, and I rarely do multiple versions. I take that same haphazard approach to all design. It seems to work!

The Incident’s trailer shows Frank dodging a number of fairly diverse objects. Are there any official estimates on just how many objects there are to encounter in The Incident? Any personal favourites?

You’ll have to play the game to see how many items we have :) (trailer)

My favorites are: Tutankhamun’s mummy, a maneki neko, a Smart Car, and a bust of Charles Darwin.

Can you shed a little light on the games structure? You mentioned earlier that players will be given the chance to discover the exact cause of The Incident by climbing the mass of stuff that rains down on them from above. Does this mean that each playthrough will have a finite ‘height’ the player can reach?

All the levels are finite and carefully crafted; they tell a story. It would be hard to make them infinite while maintaining the sort of arc we’re going for. It’s a pretty standard setup – finish a level, move on to the next one.

Can players expect some sort of ‘infinite’ arcade mode?

We’re looking into alternate gameplay modes. We’d love to do multiplayer, different challenges, downloadables etc. It’s all on the list – we just wish there were enough hours in the day to implement all our ideas!

That said, the game, as it is in its beta state, offers many hours of enjoyment. I don’t think we’ve had any beta testers finish it yet!

Are there plans to integrate any sort of communal scoreboard to encourage competitive play?

That would be great. The Incident has a pretty simple basic score metric: how high did you climb? (In meters, as required by the International Stuff Falling From Above Council.) We love hearing that this tester climbed 37 m and that tester got up to 94 m.

When can we expect to see The Incident on the iPhone, and are there plans to bring it to the iPad?

We’ll ship the game when we’re done, but we do stand by our promise of “soon” :)

It already runs great on the iPad in 2x mode. I was surprised to see what a good fit it is for the form factor. We’ll look into optimizing it, of course, but it plays like a pretty great comfortably-sized console right now.

Posted on: 18/04/2010

Posted in: Featured, Games, iPad, iPhone

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