Last year, we told you about some intriguing new gameplay concepts from the creators of the witty adventure series Hector: Badge of Carnage. Since then, one of those projects has nearly come to fruition, developed by a new studio called Italic Pig. We spoke with Kevin Beimers, the writer and producer of Hector, about his upcoming mobile game, Schrodinger’s Cat: Raiders of the Lost Quark.
Slide To Play: Schrodinger’s Cat is described as a “platformer-puzzler-punch-up”. How is the game divided into its platforming, puzzle-solving, and combat components?
Kevin Beimers: If you don’t mind, I’m going to answer this in a bit of a roundabout way…
Two of my favourite games growing up were Oddworld and Lemmings. I couldn’t get enough of the amazing backstory and the unique “strategic platformer” style of Oddworld; I’m sure I played all of those games through five times each (I’m a 100% junkie), and was amazed at the perfect balance that was created by a game that was so epically awesome in storyline and cutscenes, but also fully aware of it’s own absurdity by adding elements like possessing your own farts.
On the other hand, I loved the free-form style of Lemmings gameplay; it was a case of “we gave you a level, here are some tools, I don’t care how you solve it… just go!” Also, the fact that you were always aware that these were living things, not just bricks and bombs. You thought twice before blowing one of the little suckers up (or if you got mad you just nuked the lot and it made you feel a little better).
What I’ve set out to do with Schrödinger’s Cat is to create a crazy, colourful world with a clever story threading through it, where the prime goal is exploration. As Schrödinger’s Cat runs through the Particle Zoo, he collects anthropomorphised Quarks– ups, down, tops, and bottoms– each of which has unique problem-solving properties. Some make platforms, some dig through walls, etc.
So, the more you collect, the more you can explore, and the more you explore, the more you can collect. As well, we’re working on making the environments as randomised as possible, which means that every time you play it, the layout will have changed and you’ll be presented with new challenges to overcome. There are tasks and goals and characters, of course, bit it’s mostly a good old fashioned run ‘n jump.
The punching-up is more of a by-product of the platformer environment… part of your job while getting the Particle Zoo back online is to get the escaped “animals” back into their enclosures, as well as entering the enclosures themselves to get something back out. The Leptons, Gluons and Bosons each present different problems, but it boils down to the fact that they’ll steal your quarks when you’re not looking, thus making your puzzle-solving life more difficult.
So, to answer your original question: It’s a platformer first, puzzler second, and punch-up third. But it sounds good when you shove them all together in a tagline.
STP: How do you translate precise platforming and combat controls to the touchscreen? Is there a style of virtual controls that you’ve seen in other games that you think would work well?
KB: I don’t play a lot of platformers on touchscreen, mostly because the controls are garbage. The reason for this usually comes down to the fact that the platformer was made for console or mouse/keyboard, then retrofitted to the touchscreen. Anyone can come up with a “natural” control system when you can work with two hands, ten fingers, and tactile buttons.
As with Hector: Badge of Carnage, I’m falling back on simplicity. At the time Hector originally came out, the only point-&-clicks out there were ports of oldies like Monkey Island and Broken Sword, which were great to replay but also had garbage control systems. We simplified it to a simple tap & interpret system– you tap somewhere on screen, and we’ll figure out what you mean by that. If you tap a person, he talks. If you tap a door, it opens, etc.
With Lost Quark, we’re trying to stick to the same simplicity: tap and hold to make him run in the direction of your finger, tap the screen with a second finger (any) to jump.
The real fun comes in when you start using the quarks, for which we’re toying with swipes as a method of summoning combinations, rather than virtual buttons. Suppose you want to combine Up+Up+Bottom Quarks to create a rising platform: two quick upward swipes will call two Up quarks, and a quick swipe to the right will call a Bottom quark, so you’d swipe Up+Up+Right then tap to place the platform, then leap onto it. That’s the plan, anyway!
Of course, when we release this on PC/Mac, retrofitting to add more buttons is the easy part, but the key is to get the touchscreen right first.
STP: How will the levels be organized? Are the levels short and replayable, or long and involved?
KB: We’re working on that at the moment. The original plan was to have huge levels with lots of celebratory checkpoints so that the word “exploration” actually means something, but we’re finding there’s a limit to how much level a tablet can load in at once. Since the levels are semi-randomised and assembled at runtime, it may be that the size of the levels are defined by the device that it’s being played on.
There are two modes of play in the same game, which we’ve been referring to by their zoo environment names: Promenade mode and Enclosure mode. The Promenade is the open expanse where the goal is to collect quarks and send the escaped animals back to their enclosures, and it’s meant to be much more free form. The Enclosures are the animal-specific areas, where you have a set task to achieve and escape with all your limbs.
STP: Since the game is based on a scientific concept, is your goal to use the game to educate people about quantum mechanics?
KB: The unofficial tagline to the development of the game has been “You don’t need a degree to work here, but it helps.” My goal is to make a game that stays true and pays homage to the beauty and wackiness of quantum mechanics, and upholds enough of current quantum theory to make anyone worth their salt in physics sit up and say “this guy knows his stuff.” But, in the end it has to be entertaining to the general muggle population too. If I put into the game rulebook “If two Z Bosons meet, they annihilate each other,” an 8-year-old will accept that as a game rule, but a closet physicist will understand why that happens.
Quantum physics is fascinating, and geekertainment is getting more and more mainstream, especially in the gamer community. So, I’m not out to “educate” per se, but it would bring a tear to my eye if one day in the far future I were to meet someone who went into university physics because they played my game as a child.
STP: Does the character of the Cat have a distinct personality? For example, does he talk, express himself, and have a personal goal?
KB: He does. Schrödinger’s Cat will be voiced by A.J. LoCascio, best known as the voice of Marty McFly from Back To The Future: The Game by Telltale Games. I’d always thought of SC as having a hint of Marty, perpetually stuck between mock-confidence and out-of-his-depth panic. I was lucky enough to score an audience with him through my Hector contacts, and he loves the concept and the visuals. That’s his voice– the voice of SC– on the teaser.
In the game, the tasks are dispensed through conversations. Contrary to Hector where conversations were interactive and multi-threaded, in Lost Quark the conversations play out like mini-cutscenes. I just like a bit of characterisation, as opposed to “red key in the red door”.
Schrödinger’s Cat as a general series concept actually started a lot sooner than this as a pitch for a web cartoon, an animation series, and a massive 3D AAA adventure game before finding its feet in this format, so there’s a lot of backstory that’s not covered here. Lost Quark, funnily enough, is sort of a single-serving adventure played out like SC is an established serial hero. I like to think there will be future episodes, but not necessarily sequential. More like Indiana Jones (hence the Raiders reference): a string of unconnected adventures linked only by the central character.
STP: How will the game be monetized? Will it be a premium purchase, or a free download with optional in-app purchases?
KB: The plan is to make Lost Quark a paid title. I’m well aware that this goes against the current F2P trends, but I also believe that (a) Free to play bears too much influence over the style and pace of the game you are making, and (b) the initial audience and subject matter for Lost Quark is very niche. I’m aware that I’m not making the next Candy Crush or Jetpack Joyride, but from what conversations I’ve had at gaming events and the positive response to the trailer, I believe this game will spread through the sorts of communities who don’t mind paying a few bucks of the top for a good old fashioned adventure game, where you’re not constantly bombarded with ads and upgrades.
There are in-game upgrades, mind you: there’s a Gift Shop at the Zoo where SC can upgrade his quarks to be harder/better/faster/stronger, but quarks are also the currency in the shop. I’m not going to allow players to buy 100 quarks for a dollar, just to make a dollar. They’ve got to earn it. Tough luck. As far as in-app purchases go, we’re toying with “special” items, like devices that will allow you to swap your quark numbers, or recollect them after use, but not a situation where you MUST buy them to win the game. They’ll be helpful, but not essential. Anyway, those specials are in the “Feature Creep” section of the development plan.
STP: How close is the game to completion, and when do you expect it to launch on the App Store?
KB: Heh heh. Hmm. Yes. What I like to say about this is: Right now we’re as far from the start of production as we hoped to be, but further away from the finish than we’d like to be. The game is massively ambitious for a startup like ours– the number of quark combinations alone is over 20!– but as you can see by the trailer we’ve got some really exciting things happening in the way of gameplay and animation and every build gets just a little closer to awesome.
We hope to have the game out for iOS and Android in early 2014. Keeping it vague for now… we’ll keep you posted.