Developer Interview: Stacking

Posted by on February 10th, 2011 | 0 Comments | Tags: , , ,

We recently had the opportunity to interview Lee Petty, project lead on Stacking. Below are his responses. I finished up Stacking for review this evening, so look for that tomorrow, as soon as I collect my thoughts on the game. In the mean time, enjoy the interview.

1: Double Fine’s wildly creative game ideas have often meant that the player is thrust into a cool game world, but they find the gameplay within the world somewhat lacking in places. How does Stacking rectify this?

With Stacking, we spent a lot of effort and time crafting a compelling gameplay experience. The game’s core mechanic of stacking into other dolls and assuming their identity and special abilities provides a fun moment-to-moment experience for the player. The world is also filled with over 100 unique dolls, so it’s very addicting to find these dolls and try out their special abilities to see what they do.

Also, the way we constructed our gameplay puzzles, or challenges, is particularly interesting from a gameplay standpoint. Challenges are puzzles or obstacles that the player must solve to move the story forward. All challenges are solved with a combination of doll abilities, doll sizes, or talking. What makes our challenges unique is that they all have multiple solutions. What’s more is that immediately after finding a solution for a challenge, the challenges reset and the player can optionally find additional solutions right then and there to earn additional rewards.

This allows more casual players to find one solution and move on, but also provides the speed and flexibility for more core players to immediately see how many they can solve, and watch their rewards stack up. It also makes the game more accessible to a broader audience, since the different solutions cater to a variety of different play styles.

2: The idea of stacking russian dolls is a fascinating one. How did you come up with the concept of russian dolls as a gameplay device?

I developed the initial idea during a two week game jam that we do at Double Fine called Amnesia Fortnight. The company is divided up into multiple teams and people are given the opportunity to develop a game in that time.

While I was considering different ideas, I saw my daughter playing with a stack of Russian dolls that someone had given her and I wondered what if the player could control these dolls, find other dolls in the world, and “stack” them together? What sort of story would a stack of dolls tell? What types of things could they do? What type of world would they live in?

It also hit me that if the dolls themselves could become the tools that the player could use to solve adventure game style puzzles, I could streamline the whole experience down to a set of fun and accessible mechanics.

3: Visually, the game looks extremely interesting, pulling of a vaguely “turn of the century” visual style. What made you want to go with such a visually interesting theme?

We always strive to create interesting worlds for the player to explore at Double Fine, and Stacking is no exception. We combined a lot of different influences to give Stacking’s world its own unique sensibility. We looked to the late Victorian era, to provide an interesting setting. This time frame is roughly when Russian dolls were first invented.

We then mixed in some elements from early stop-motion animations. One of the qualities those films had that I really enjoy is what I call “diorama scale objects”, which are large real world objects that are re-used in a different context. For example, cotton balls are might be used as clouds or a thread spool is used as a seat. And on top of all of that we put a layer of environment design that would only exist in a world that multiple-sized Russian dolls live in. For example, a single table might actually have three different height table tops, for different sized dolls to gather around.

4: The dolls in the game have a whole host of bizarre abilities, what’s your favourite ability in the game? Were there any abilities that didn’t quite make the cut?

My favorite abilities are those that let you change the appearance or social status of other dolls in the game. There are a few variants of this, but my favorite is probably the “Corporate Spy” who can give other dolls “guard masks”. While it’s a pretty straight forward ability, it’s a lot of fun to stick evil industrialist-looking guard masks on proper Victorian ladies and watch the reactions of other dolls.

5: In terms of re-playability, how re-playable do you find the missions in the game? Are there multiple solutions to puzzles, or is there only one route through the game?

Stacking has a lot of replayability. Each of the game’s challenges has multiple solutions, which the player can optionally play on their initial play through, or at a later time by making return visits to their favorite locations in the game. In addition, the player can optionally engage in collecting unique dolls or finding all of the hi-jinks in the level. Each of these activities rewards the player.

The levels are also constructed so that the player largely determines the flow. They can do the challenges in any order they wish; the can find one or more solutions for each of them, and they can optionally spend time collecting unique dolls or doing Hi-Jinks, which are fun little mischievous acts the player can do to earn rewards.

Stacking is out right now. Like, right this second.