We sat down recently with Steve Fawkner, head of Melbourne-based studio Infinite Interactive and creator of several classic Aussie games, including the Warlords series and Puzzle Quest. After a worldwide Puzzle Quest 2 release and a frantic E3, he turns his thoughts to I2's next game...
Good ol' Fawkner is such a straight shooter, and a generous one at that, that we've had to split this up into three parts. Below he talks about 3D's (not to be confused with Puzzle Quest publisher D3's) potential in puzzle gaming, how time-travelling pirates will excercise your brain, and what happens when you release a game directly after the mayhem of E3:
We saw you checking out the 3DS at E3. What potential do you think 3D has for puzzle gaming?
I still think there’s a real tendency to use 2D in puzzle games because they’re casual. And a casual player likes to come along and see something he doesn’t have to get his head around. And that’s kind of important when you’re doing a game that someone’s mum can come and pick up and play.
But I think it’s a bit like movies - we went through a 3D movie phase many years ago where things would shoot out of the screen at you. But when you look at today’s 3D movies, 3D is just used as a part of the cinematography. It’s just part of the scene. And that’s where 3D lies in puzzles games, I think. Just to have the 3D effects there as another nice effect on-screen, I don’t think there’s anything particularly applicable for 3D in puzzle games.
If you look at something like Echochrome, it’s an example of a wonderful puzzle game if you’ve got really good spatial relations in your head. But if you don’t, and if you’re a casual gamer who can’t think in 3D like that, then that’s a real problem for you.
Will Infinite Interactive play in that space at all?
Well, we’re obviously going to stay in the puzzle space. And we like our Nintendo DS stuff. So it’s kind of a natural progression, we’ll want to move onto the 3DS I think. So we’ll be looking at ways to extend out our gameplay, and use some of those 3D effects.
Puzzle Quest 2’s US release was right after E3. How did that effect its reception? Was there a danger of being drowned out in the noise?
We were kind of fortunate in that people already knew we were there. I’m not under the illusion that anyone went to E3 specifically to see Puzzle Quest 2, but it had a very good spot on the Namco booth, which was a couple of big screens and a couple of DS booths, right on the very outside of the booth facing out towards the people walking past.
So we had a very good crowd the whole time, and I think with Puzzle Quest 2, certainly a well-known, well-loved title, but not a big triple-A, that’s actually a big win for us at E3 to have something like that happen.
Everyone sees the media side of E3. What’s the show like for a man such as yourself?
Well E3 is actually my favourite conference of the year. Because what I like to do with any spare time I’ve got is just go and play other people’s games. That would be about half my E3 time spent, just running around a bunch of booths like a crazy person, playing every single game I can get my hands on.
The other half of my E3 is spent taking meetings with various publishers, as we try to sign up our next set of games next year. So discussing, perhaps we’ll be doing a licenced game with somebody else’s property, or discussing a new idea we have for a game, and trying to sell those. You never close a deal at E3, but you do get a lot of good leads to follow up on in the weeks after E3. So yeah, it’s 50/50 between those two things.
We’re currently working on a game, it’s a little like a Professor Layton game, with lots of puzzles in it, which is about time-travelling pirates. And that’s being funded here by Film Victoria in Australia, the prototype for that game. So we’ve been running around trying to sell that, all and sundry. People are kind of liking the idea, but I think we have to get the game a bit further along before we get a publisher.
You had me at time-travelling pirates.
Haha, I think I got a lot of people at time-travelling pirates! We did a puzzle game years before called Neopets Puzzle Adventure, and it was exactly like that – a puzzle game with a lot of little stories along the way.
They’re great fun games to work on, and I really enjoy playing them too. Kids who play Neopets (I say kids, but other people play it as well) really liked the game. There was a lot of chatter about it on the forums when it came out.
That’s the ticket with those I think - creating a casual or kids game isn’t creating a game for idiots.
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. That’s one of my things that I say when we design games here. You’ve got to treat the kids with respect. They’re not silly little people, they’re actually really smart people who just haven’t got big yet. It’s amazing, you look at the hint guide to a Pokemon game, and look at the complexity and the depth of the design in those games, and you’ll realise kids are like sponges with this stuff. They can grasp the most complex concepts and run with them and play them. So we don’t need to hold back when we’re designing those games.
Sure, you’ve gotta perhaps lead them in gently, but we find that with older gamers now too. Puzzle Quest kind of proved to me in a way, because it has such broad appeal, that casual gamers are out there amongst the hardcore people as well. There’s lots of people out there who’re big into first-person shooters who’ll sit down and have a game of Bejewelled, or a game of Solitaire just to rest their brain for a bit.
Let’s just say I can’t find any pattern in it. You didn’t like Puzzle Quest because you were hardcore or casual, or because you played RPGs, it just seemed to appeal randomly to one in two people.