Though the eShop has been bombarded with new titles in December, one that has stood out is Gorogoa, earning praise for its elegance and smart design. It takes a unique approach to puzzle-solving along with a beautiful aesthetic and artful storytelling - we loved it in our Gorogoa review.
Eager to learn more about its development and design we caught up with its creator, Jason Roberts, to talk about its long and varied road to release.
First of all, congratulations on bringing Gorogoa to the Nintendo Switch.
Jason Roberts: Thanks!
The critical reception has been overwhelmingly positive, even since its first demo in 2012. As this is your first game, did you seek much advice regarding dealing with conventions, public or the media?
Hmm. Not specifically, no. I've been to many shows over the years since 2012 and have interacted with the public and press at sort of a low simmer for most of that time. Maybe this gives me a false sense of security regarding my ability to deal with it, I don't know. Of course now I'm also very fortunate to work with a publisher that handles a lot of PR duties.
Gorogoa is a perfect advocate for video games as an art form, but as a game, how difficult was it to implement the story you wanted to tell and the type of puzzles you designed?
It was very difficult, and took a huge amount of trial and error. Because the pieces that make up the puzzles are also scenes within a story, gameplay and narrative are entangled in such a way that pulling on one thread would always dislodge something else. Balancing those constraints was really the overarching challenge of the whole project, and it took me the first year or two before I even understood that.
Were there any games that influenced you artistically or technically during development?
Let's see. This is going way back, but one game that ended up changing the course of the design early on was a game called Continuity, a clever 2D platformer with levels divided up into sliding tiles. When I saw that game I was still designing Gorogoa, mostly in my head. I had imagined sequences for Gorogoa where the character traverses a 2D maze from tile to tile, but since Continuity was already doing that successfully, I decided to try and explore in a different direction. Gorogoa came to play more like a first-person game within each tile; scenes were designed to emphasize z-axis "depth"; tile stacking became a big part of gameplay; and puzzles involving elaborate character traversal were toned down in favor of more "first person" object-based puzzles.
After that big swerve in the design I tried to worry less about other games. Once the 2012 demo was made the design took on its own momentum and it was basically too late to fundamentally change direction again. And I'm glad I didn't!
Did any other core ideas change dramatically during development?
I don't know about dramatic changes, but there were points where I decided to break rules that I had previously set for myself, for example by including timing-based puzzles that involve some degree of dexterity, or a scene where two tiles interact in a way unrelated to visual connection between pictures. I broke those rules because surprise and variety felt more important than consistency.
There's a wonderful 'old fashioned' process and methodology to your work - you've produced pages and pages of hand drawn sprites, backgrounds etc. how did you balance designing the game (literally) on paper and building it digitally?
I drew the art on paper (and then colored it digitally) but most of the design was done in the game engine itself (using highly simplified art), because the shifting perspectives that make up the puzzles are really hard to sketch on paper!
Any plans to document it all, either commercially or just as a personal momento?
I'll probably write some articles about the development process at some point. I'm looking forward to that.
How did you balance the time frame of publicly showing the game and its eventual release?
There really wasn't much planning involved initially. I submitted the original demo to IndieCade in 2012, and then spontaneously decided to make that demo available online to everyone for free. Because the game is hard to describe but easy to pick up once you have your hands on it, I felt the demo would be the best advertisement for the game. From that point on I always underestimated the time it would take me to finish, so it's hard to say that I consciously planned out the timing between each wave of publicity and final release. Only once I started working with Annapurna was there a plan for PR timing.
Were you excited by the interest being generated or did you feel more pressure from the public's expectations?
Both. The pressure of expectations created by the original demo was always a concern, especially when I started taking the game in a somewhat different direction. I just had to trust that the sensibilities that made the first version work would ultimately be there in the final version and people would feel that. I don't know.
Looking back to 2016, what was your knowledge and interest regarding the rumours surrounding the NX?
I read about it on gaming sites before it was released. I was definitely intrigued because it looked like it would allow people to approach a game either like a touch-based tablet game, or a portable game with dedicated controls, or a living room couch console game. That resolves a lot of the pressure for players when choosing between platforms with wildly different modes of interaction.
While you were working on your game, when did the Switch become a platform of interest?
I think maybe the similarity between the tablet interface on the Switch and the mobile interface made it feel like a comfortable console to approach. From there we went on to develop a controller-based interface for the game, which turned out to be an enjoyable challenge.
When did development start on the Switch version?
About 4 or 5 months prior to release, I think?
What was the Switch like to develop for?
Apart from the challenges of designing the controller interface, which I was involved with, I'd have to defer to the port engineer Matt Whiting who did the actual coding for Switch.
Going forward, are you interested in utilizing the hardware or seeing a future project on the system?
Absolutely. As I said, I really like its versatility, which supports the many different ways people fit gaming into their lives.
What was your exposure to Nintendo growing up and do you have any favourite games/ franchises?
JR The truth is I wasn't a console kid growing up, so missed all the early generations of Nintendo. My first Nintendo console was the GameCube. I really fell in love with the Metroid Prime games on that system, and those are among my favorite games to this day.
We'd like to thank Jason for his time.