Slide To Play Q and A: Trainyard

Developer Matt Rix, creator of the minimalist, masterful puzzle game Trainyard, caught our eye not only with the game, but also with his blog, which chronicles in detail the development of Trainyard from its inception on up to the present. We recently caught up with Rix to ask him a few questions.

Prior to Trainyard, what kind of game-making experience did you have?

The last time I made a publicly released game was when I was around 15 years old (I’m 26 now). It was a unique bat-and-ball game called Metabounce 2, which was created with a games-making tool called ‘The Games Factory’. It was actually pretty popular at the time.

Since then, I’ve made tons of game prototypes and even some full games in my spare time, but I never released anything. I hold myself to a fairly high standard, and so it’s really hard for me to feel motivated about a project if it’s not quite good enough or if I just get bored of it. I guess it’s kinda like what Blizzard did with Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans and Starcraft: Ghost, although obviously not on that level.

What’s your day job? Do you plan to keep working there for the foreseeable future?

For my day job I work at a company called Indusblue here in Toronto, where I’ve been working for five years. I make iPhone and iPad apps for ‘big name’ clients, although I actually started out doing Flash development. I really love the work I do there, and the people are awesome, but at the end of the day I’d rather be making games. I’m going to work there until the end of the year to finish up my current project. In January, I’m going to set off on my own to build a small (probably just me) game studio.

I know it hasn’t been that long, but how has the success of Trainyard changed your life?

I can’t say it has done that much yet, but it definitely will over the next few months. The biggest change is that I can now be comfortably self employed for at least a year. That’s awesome, because it’s always been my dream to make games full time. It’s also cool just to see people playing and enjoying the game. I’ve been getting a bunch of emails from distant family members saying they’ve played the game and love it. I also think it’s done wonders to help get my name out there in the game industry, where before, I would have been completely unknown. I feel like I can always say ‘I’m the guy that made Trainyard’ and someone will know what I’m talking about.

What was your main inspiration for Trainyard?

I take a train to work every day and usually spend my time thinking of game ideas or coding game prototypes on my laptop. I guess I was inspired by the fact that I was on a train, and starting coming up with ideas for a puzzle game involving trains. I’ve always been fascinated with colors and how they mixed, so combining trains with colors in a puzzle game just seemed logical. The initial ideas for the game were way more confusing than it is now. I originally envisioned a game where there were ‘cargo cars’ and engines and variable speed trains and all kinds of craziness, which I luckily simplified over time.

How do you go about creating levels for Trainyard? Do you start with a solution and work backwards? Some of them seem downright unsolvable at first.

I basically come out with a layout that I think looks cool, and then I make sure that mathematically the colors add up. FOr example, you can’t have a purple goal if you only have a red train and a yellow train. At that point, in theory the puzzle should be solvable. I’ll attempt to solve it, and 99% of the time, I’ll eventually arrive at the solution. I’ll assign the puzzle a star value depending on how long it took me to solve. There have been two or three puzzles that I’ve just never been able to solve even after 5-6 hours. I mark those puzzles as impossible.

Did you create Trainyard by yourself, or did you have help from anyone?

Trainyard was basically a solo project. All of the code, graphics and sound effects were created by me. I had a fantastic group of around 15-20 beta testers who were very helpful and gave me a ton of good feedback. I also used a bunch of open-source libraries to help speed up development, especially Cocos2D for iPhone.

What kind of updates are you planning for the game, and when can we expect to see them?

I’m planning at least two major updates for the game (with probably more in the future). I haven’t decided exactly what will be in each update, but they’ll both have a bunch of new puzzles. I’m also planning to add Game Center support and I’ll be adding a ‘puzzle creation and sharing’ mode. You can also expect to see an update that introduces a new gameplay piece, and I have some interesting ideas about how I’m gonna do that.

Have you started work on another game? If so, can you give us any details?

At the time Trainyard started getting really popular, I was working on a new game codenamed ‘The future game’. It has an 8-bit style and it’s kind of like Canabalt mixed with Tony Hawk, but that’s about all I can say about it. I’ve decided to place that on the backburner while I focus on Trainyard for the next little while, but it’ll probably be the next game I release. I’ve also done work on a game that’s similar to Trainyard but a lot simpler, and a game that’s completely different: it’s a two player cooperative iPad game.

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