独立游戏开发者谈《World Of Goo》诞生记
如果你在2006年时经常出入于旧金山地区的咖啡吧如Coffee To The People、Peet’s和The Grind，你也许见过这两位自由职业者：独立游戏开发者Ron Carmel和Kyle Gabler。他们第一次见面是在EA。Carmel曾是pogo.com团队中的一名程序员，但他觉得单纯地做技术工作太摧残灵魂了。Gabler的工作还算有趣一些——制作游戏的快速原型，但他觉得缺少成就感。
Gabler承认：“当我们成立2D Boy时，我认为我们并不了解我们将前往的领域。我们只是揣着几个想法。”其中一个是让玩家种一棵用来吃人的树。然后，这个想法就没有然后了。后来，一位朋友发给他们一段他正在东欧开发的游戏的视频，那款游戏与 Gabler更早之前设想的游戏《Tower Of Goo》高度雷同，非常可疑。正是在这个时候，他们找到了动力。
《Tower Of Goo》部分来源于Gabler和几个朋友在研究生院做的一个实验游戏项目。每一个学期，每个人都围绕一个简单的概念如“进化”、“重力”或“给你妈妈做的游戏”等，做一款游戏并在7天内完成。他的《Tower Of Goo》是一个不可思议的游戏原型，它证明了两点：第一，玩这些拟人的、会叫的粘粘球是很有趣的；第二，用这些会叫的小球搭建筑甚至更有趣。
这个原型只有一座绿色的小山和100个粘粘球。唯一的目标就是建造一个尽量高的结构。距离一款完整的游戏还很远。“一开始，我们打算做一系列关卡。在第一关里，你要建造一个十米高的塔；在第二关里，你要建造一个20米高的塔；在第三关里，要30米，而且会出现风！我们打算把这款游戏叫作《Tower Of Goo 2》什么的。但是，连我自己都觉得无聊到不想再说它了。”
意识到他们必须重新构思，他们决定给自己立下一个简单的规则：每一个关卡都各不相同。借助开源代码包——包括Simple DirectMedia Layer和用Open Dynamics引擎做物理模拟，他们开始把原型拓展成更大的游戏。
《World Of Goo》不只是一款物理益智游戏。它还以超现实的风格讽刺了巨头公司。可以把这款游戏解读为2D Boy对其前辈‘LargE corporAtion’（EA）的回击。
在游戏中，玩家帮助粘粘球搭成一个通向工厂管道的塔，使他们得以进入World of Goo公司的工厂——玩家在充当它们的拯救者的同时，也把它们导向毁灭。这本可以成为另一款《Bridge Builder》游戏（游戏邦注：这是一款让玩家在有限的时间内利用有限的材料搭桥的游戏），却变成一出类似电视剧《Pythonesque》的讽刺喜剧。
《World Of Goo》中的粘粘球那眨巴的大眼和兴奋的叫声使它们不仅仅是建筑材料。它们也是角色：标准的黑色粘粘球、有粘性的绿色粘粘球和不能刺破的白色粘粘球。就像《旅鼠》中的自杀鼠类或《玩具总动员》中的外星人，它们未必可爱。
它们也是更大的故事中的玩家。《World Of Goo》与许多独立游戏如《时空幻境》和《地狱边境》一样，能够以小见大。这是一款具有宏大主题的物理益智游戏。由Gabler执笔的故事就像你在游戏中建造的一座粘粘球之塔。它的形状越来越不可思议，由简入难，随着粘粘球通过管道到达World of Goo公司，作为玩家的我们也终于见识到游戏深处的疯狂真相。
这是一款令人难忘的游戏，是一款能真正启示玩家的游戏。Gabler表示：“结果我们想出的关卡越来越怪异，但愿能给玩家留下深刻印象。就像可怜的《Fisty the Frog》或风车，或者从大动物的胃里爬出来，你扯掉这的眼睛，当作气球飞上天。”
超越游戏关卡的创作的是它的宏大故事。《World Of Goo》的故事不只是对游戏的修饰，也是对二人定下的每个关卡必须不同这一原则的践行。Gabler补充道：“这款游戏完全反映了我们的生活，所以我认为把我们个性中的怪癖和生活中的东西等加入到游戏中，是合情合理的。”
部分根据Norma Desmond的经历，由Gloria Swanson在经典电影《日落大道》中扮演这位默默衰老的银屏明星，MOM是自《传送门》的GLaDOS以来最疯狂的女性角色。他补充道：“她不知所从哪冒出来的，我只是想象她如果是人类，她会是一个在瓷器店里的胖女人。所以，如果她不是人类，而是一个孤单的、一度流行的搜索引擎，那会怎么样呢？它表达了它自己！她不代表我们现实生活中的MOM。”
因为这个制作团队只有两名成员，所以显然游戏独特的想象不会在这么多开发会议中越变越无聊。World of Goo公司把一切都变成相同的糊状物，而那些小粘粘球却想飞到空中获得自由。也许从中我们可以得到一些启示。
每一位独立开发者都需要生命线。对于2D Boy，那就是当游戏被宣布入围第14届年度独立游戏节的关键时刻。这个消息让Carmel 觉得心中的巨石落下了：“我知道我们至少不会破产了。直到那时，我们也只是得到人们会喜欢这款游戏的证据。我妈告诉我，这款游戏很棒，一定会成功，但她的意见有偏袒我的成分，所以我没有理睬她。”他们在独立游戏节上赢得设计创新奖和最佳技术奖，这意味着组成2D Boy的两人各获得一项大奖。
在经济方面，大量预购和收益颇丰的生意使《World Of Goo》不仅推出WiiWare版，二人的银行经理也终于露出笑脸了。Allan Blomquist是Gabler在研究院时的老朋友，成为2D Boy的第三名火枪手，负责PC转Wii的移植工作。（他笑道：“我觉得自己更像是第三只小猪。”）
在发行方面，《World Of Goo》的玩家粘性就像游戏中的粘粘球一样大。从PC到Wii，从iPhone到Mac，它不仅推出周边产品，还赢得多项大奖。这款独立游戏与《超级食肉男孩》、《时空幻境》和《机械迷城》一起，成为改变现代游戏开发面貌的伟大作品之一。
The Making Of: World Of Goo
This second, in a coffee shop in San Francisco, someone sits hunched over a laptop. They could be checking their email, or maybe creating a playlist. Or they could be one of an army of lonely home-workers who abandon their desolate apartments each day to seek out free Wi-Fi, triple-shot espresso and the approximation of human company that comes from sitting among strangers.
If you frequented branches of Coffee To The People, Peet’s and The Grind in SF in 2006, you might have spotted a particular pair of these free-spirited souls: indie developers Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler. They first met at Electronic Arts. Carmel was a programmer with the pogo.com team, but found doing solely tech work soul-destroying. Gabler had more fun – building quick-turnaround game prototypes – but felt restless.
They both dreamed of something more: escape, freedom, a world where nobody served cookies in the company’s common area (actually, scratch that, they quite liked the cookies). “Ron and I both had special moments where we looked up into the sky with big wet eyes and thought that something out there is probably better than what we’ve got now,” Gabler jokes. “I think Dorothy and Ariel and every Disney princess have also had very special moments with very special songs about that same feeling we’ve all had.”
Despite barely knowing each other, they decided to take the plunge and go indie. Carmel approached his manager about taking a three-month leave of absence, but was turned down. When he immediately handed in his notice, EA relented and approved the request. It was too late.
“I was offended that I needed to actually quit in order to be treated well,” he says, “so I told them I no longer wanted a leave of absence because I didn’t want to work there any more. I might not have said it so politely, though. I can’t remember.”
“Ron is one of the most well-principled people I know and always speaks his mind,” Gabler chips in. “It’s called ’Ronesty’.”
With no development deal in place, scant savings and a good chunk of student loan debt still to pay off, they couldn’t afford an office. Instead they holed up in cafes among the other “coffee shop slackers” and prepared the papers needed to launch 2D Boy. It was surprisingly easy. “If you have saliva you can form a company in California,” Gabler says. Little did they realise, as they licked envelopes, what good fortune they sealed with that gooey drool.
“It was Ron’s warm, wet tongue that slithered all over our company registration,” Gabler tells us.
At the beginning, success seemed as distant as the cloud-shrouded peaks of Mt Kinabalu. It was all the more scary because what little startup capital they had was vanishing with each passing minute. They may have been working for themselves, but they were still on the clock.
“It was very uncomfortable watching my savings drain to nearly zero,” remembers Carmel of his trips to the ATM. Subsistence living meant they became used to thinking about money in terms of food, not devkit costs. “Fun finance fact: $12 is about two burritos,” Gabler says, laughing. Time – and their bank balances – conspired against them, and inspiration was in short supply.
“I don’t think we knew what in the world we were doing when we first started 2D Boy,” Gabler confesses. “We just fumbled around with a few ideas.” One involved a tree that you could grow and use to eat people. But it went nowhere. It was only when a friend sent them a video of a game being developed in eastern Europe that looked suspiciously similar to Gabler’s earlier game Tower Of Goo that they discovered their motivation.
“It hurt and felt weird, like getting your bike stolen,” Gabler says. “And that really gave us the kick in the pants we needed. It lit a fire in our tummies. Because if someone was going to clone one of my small games, we’d do it better, first!”
Tower Of Goo was part of the Experimental Gameplay Project that Gabler and some friends started in grad school. Each semester, each person would make a game in seven days based around a simple concept like ’evolution’, ’gravity’, or ’a game your mom would play’. His Tower Of Goo game was a weird delight, and it proved two things: first, that playing with anthropomorphic, talking balls of goo was fun; second, that building structures out of those squealing goo balls was even more fun.
The prototype had just one green hill and 100 goo balls. The only goal was to build your ramshackle, sticky structure as high as possible. It wasn’t much to hook a full game on. “At first we thought we’d make a string of levels where in level one, you build a tower ten metres high,” Gabler deadpans. “In level two you build a tower 20 metres high. In level three, 30 metres high and there might be wind! And we were going to call it Tower Of Goo 2 or something. But, gosh, I bore myself even talking about that.”
Realising they needed a rethink, they decided to set themselves a simple rule: every level must be remarkable and unlike every other level. Working with open source packages – including Simple DirectMedia Layer and Open Dynamics Engine for physics simulation – they got to work expanding the prototype into something bigger.
Background art took a surreal turn, and gameplay altered with each new iteration of the goo balls (among the team’s favourites was the yellow Pokey Ball, but because of the way the physics engine was put together they could only ever have one Pokey Ball in any level at any one time). It was a slow, organic evolution. Even with a staff of two, 2D Boy soon found itself coping with its own version of office politics.
“We had some rough patches because we’re such different people and work in vastly different ways,” Carmel remembers. “Kyle works in spurts. Two weeks might go by in which Kyle’s brain grinds and spins and nothing seems to get done, but at the end of those two weeks, he spits out multiple fist-sized diamonds in a matter of a couple of days. I’m more the tortoise than the hare, so it was difficult for me to imagine how Kyle’s process was anything other than him simply slacking off.”
World Of Goo isn’t just a physics-based puzzle game. It’s also a surreal satire of (among other things) corporate power. It might even be read as a barbed riposte to 2D Boy’s former masters, that ’largE corporAtion’.
Helping the game’s goo balls to build gelatinous, teetering structures up to the factory pipes that will suck them into the World of Goo Corporation’s factory, you’re both their saviour and the unthinking architect of their doom. It’s a testament to the game’s whacked-out meta-story that what could have been Bridge Builder with snot instead morphs into a Pythonesque comedy of the absurd (with snot).
With their blinking eyes and over-excited shrieks, the goo balls in World Of Goo are more than just building blocks. They’re characters, too: standard black goo, wall-clinging green goo and the spike-impervious skull goo. Like the suicidal rodents of Lemmings or the needy aliens in Toy Story, they’re improbably cute.
They’re also players in a much bigger story. World Of Goo, like so many indie games from Braid to Limbo, knows that even the small can think big. It’s a physics puzzler with epic dreams. The story, written by Gabler, is like one of the goo structures you build in-game. It grows and grows into improbable shapes, speeding us from the opening simplicity of leading goo to suction pipes towards a mind-blowing exposé of the insane truth behind the World of Goo Corporation.
It is not a game that’s easy to forget, and it’s one that has inspired true devotion in its players (check out, for instance, claymation fan video The Sign Painter). “We ended up with weirder and weirder levels, hopefully with memorable set-pieces,” Gabler says. “Like poor Fisty the Frog, or a field of windmills, or crawling out of a giant subterranean creature’s stomach, out of its oesophagus, and then you rip off its eyes and use them like balloons to float away.”
Beyond the invention of the game’s levels was its epic narrative. More than just window dressing, it’s integral to the designers’ first rule that every level must be distinct. “This game totally hijacked our lives, so I suppose it makes sense that our personality quirks and stuff from our lives ended up oozing into the game too,” Gabler notes.
“For example, I just think plastic surgery and being really pretty forever is hilarious and tragic, so that’s pretty much all of chapter two. By the time we were working on chapter three, we were dead inside, so that chapter is all cold and mechanical, and probably also the most difficult. By chapter four we had lost all perspective on everything, and somehow created what I think is the strongest and most memorable part of the game.”
It’s true. Chapter four’s leftfield turn is as unexpected as it is delightful. It invites you into a green, glowing world of desktop windows (that you can build with) presided over by MOM, the lonely search engine turned spambot harbouring psychotic self-delusions and a nice line in heavily asterisked, end-user agreement small print.
Based in part on Norma Desmond, the ageing silent screen star played by Gloria Swanson in the classic film-noir Sunset Boulevard, MOM is the most bonkers female videogame foil since GLaDOS in the Portal franchise. “She came out of nowhere,” Gabler admits. “I imagine if she were human, she’d be a massively plump, well-meaning woman with a very large bottom in a china shop. So, what kind of stuff would happen if she were not a human, but a lonely, formerly popular search engine? It just writes itself!” Just for the record, he adds: “She is not meant to represent either of our real-life moms.”
For Carmel, these kinds of “unexpected little things” remain the source of the game’s amusement. “After playing every level in the game well over a hundred times, the in-between pieces are what still move me,” he says, flagging as particular favourites the cutscene with the girl putting beauty cream on her face and the telescope shaking off a wayward goo ball in the final cutscene.
With a core creation team of two, it was clear that the game’s unique vision wasn’t being bland-ified through several dozen development meetings. The World of Goo Corporation reduces everything to uniform gloop but, at heart, those little goo balls want to fly away and be free. There’s a lesson in there for us all, probably.
Every indie developer needs a lifeline. For 2D Boy, the defining moment came when the game was announced as a finalist at the 14th Annual Independent Games Festival. For Carmel it was a huge relief: “I knew [then] that we would at least not go broke. Up until that point we only had anecdotal evidence that it was a game people would like. My mom told me the game is great and that it was going to be a hit, but she was not impartial, so I kind of ignored her.” They won IGF prizes for Design Innovation and Technical Excellence, which meant both halves of 2D Boy’s team could share in the kudos.
In financial terms, a rush of pre-orders and a lucrative deal to make World Of Goo into a downloadable WiiWare title was enough to put a smile back on their bank manager’s face. Allan Blomquist, Gabler’s old friend from grad school, was brought in to help out with porting the game from PC to Wii, becoming 2D Boy’s third musketeer in the process (“I prefer to think of myself as a third little pig,” he says).
On its release, World Of Goo proved as sticky a gaming experience as its gelatinous heroes would suggest. Spreading from PC to Wii, to iPhone to Mac, it also spawned merchandise and won multiple awards. It’s an indie game to rank alongside Super Meat Boy, Braid and Minecraft as one of the titles that has helped change the face of contemporary game development.
For Carmel, the good news couldn’t come soon enough: “That last year was probably the worst year of my life and I say this having been in the army for a couple of years, which was no cakewalk.” Without a studio team to run endless levels of quality assurance testing, bug tracking was a particular nightmare.
“There was no worst moment,” the programmer concludes. “That year and a half was one drawn-out worst moment. I had so much riding on this game that it messed with my priorities and my reality in pretty severe ways. After the game shipped it took me six months of doing nothing to recover and feel like myself again. Want to hear something crazy? I’d do it all over again.”(source:edge-online)