Double Fine should be known by most gamers out there, partly because Tim Schafer, one of the creative heads behind timeless legends like Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and Brütal Legend, is head of the studio. Just a short while ago, the guys from Double Fine brought Costume Quest to PSN and now we can look forward to their next downloadable title: Stacking, which lets you play with those famous Russian figurines called Matryoshka dolls.
Interestingly, each Matryoshka doll has its own power and if you jump in another Doll with the one you are currently playing, you get to use the new doll’s power. This alone gives you plenty of scope for unique puzzles and hours upon hours of funny gameplay, thanks to the standard and tone of storytelling that we expect from Double Fine. We recently spoke to Lee Petty, Project Lead for Stacking and Art Director at Double Fine, about his vision for Stacking.
Why matryoshkas? Who came up with this idea?
When I set out to design Stacking, I knew that I wanted to make a contemporary version of the classic adventure game. I was looking for a way to distill the adventure game experience down to a more approachable, compact experience without losing the charm and character driven story telling of the classic adventure games.
At the same time, I saw my daughter playing with a set of matryoshkas, and I realized that they would be a perfect way to create a new game mechanic, condense the experience, and add a unique personality to the game. The matryoshaka dolls became the verbs, the inventory, and the characters that the player interacts with to solve puzzles.
Will Stacking tell a story or did you focus on the puzzle aspect of the game?
We wanted to both tell a compelling story and also focus on interesting puzzles. Stacking follows the story of Charlie Blackmore, the world’s smallest stacking doll on his quest to save and reunite his family from an evil industrialist known only as The Baron. The puzzles that the player solves put Charlie one step closer to saving his family.
I saw a funny trailer of the game which was, as far as I noticed, mainly set in a train-station-scenery. Is this train-station a single level in the game? How big will these levels be?
The Royal Train Station is the first environment that the player encounters and acts as a ‘hub world’ for the game. Players will board various trains from the train station to travel to all of the other locations in Stacking.
The player will return to the train station several times throughout the game, and each time the train station will have new challenges to solve and new areas to explore.
The levels are constructed in such a way to let the player solve the puzzles in the order that they want. The levels are large, but not expansive spaces where the player will get lost or become uninterested. We wanted to create lots of detail in the environments for the player to find and appreciate.
How many levels will the game contain?
The game contains the Royal Train Station, three additional full levels (each set in a unique location), and one ‘final challenge’ area (also set in a unique location). Players can also make return visits to any of these locations. The game also features a rich game over state, where the player can freely move throughout the entire game to complete all of the optional gameplay, such as collecting unique dolls or finding additional solutions to challenges. In addition, several bonus challenges appear in the levels after the primary playthrough has been completed.
The trailer speaks about different levels of difficulty. How will these be felt in the game? Will there be totally different puzzles depending on the difficulty settings?
We approached game difficulty differently than most games. All of our puzzles (or “challenges”, as we call them) have multiple solutions. The player is only required to do one of the solutions to move the story along, but is rewarded for finding additional solutions. The solutions vary in difficulty from easy to hard.
This means that a casual player can choose to find only one of the solutions for a challenge and move forward with the game. However, a more core player can choose to find more solutions at any time — including the hardest solutions. This approach allows the player to focus on more difficult solutions if a particular puzzle interests them, but doesn’t force them to grind on a puzzle that they’d rather be done with.
Once again you are working on a download only title. Did Costume Quest convince you of this format?
Not specifically, since we started all four of our download only titles at the same time. However, we have been encouraged by Costume Quest’s success and are excited to continue moving forward with this method of making games.
Tim Schafer has a huge fan base which loves him just for being Tim Schafer. What role does Tim have in the games from Double Fine Productions these days? Is he sitting in his office, sending “awesomeness-waves” of inspiration through the building or is he involved in the whole development process?
Tim is the creative force behind the studio and has a lot of influence over the games. His direct involvement with each game varies. In the case of Stacking, Tim and I designed several of the puzzles and developed a lot of the major story beats together.
Tim also likes to patrol the team areas and beat people with reeds when they make eye contact.
Can’t anybody make a Day of the Tentacle-HD-remake? (Not like this question would have anything to do with this interview, but I felt like no interview with a Tim Schafer company could be complete without it.)
Well, we can’t do that, but we do hope that Stacking takes on the world!