Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Sidebar: Meet Strange Loop Games

Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. In this latest installment, I speak to John Krajewski, Studio Head at Strange Loop Games, an independent developer based out of Seattle, Washington. At the Indie Megabooth, they showed off Vessel, a wonderful and curious liquid-physics-based puzzle platformer. Enjoy!
strange loop john 269x300 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Strange Loop Games
Meet John Krajewski from Strange Loop Games.
Hey John! So, tell me a bit about you and your team.
Hello! My name is John Krajewski, and I’m an indie developer along with my team at Strange Loop Games. We just made and finished our first game: Vessel. Our vision as a company is to make games that use the power of modern hardware to create new forms of gameplay, rather than simply advance graphics, and we’re proud to have achieved that with Vessel.
Where does ‘Strange Loop’ come from?
A Strange Loop is a loop that turns in on itself, a dream within a dream. Like the hands that draws themselves. It’s a loop of creation, pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. A strange loop transcends reality. There are a lot of properties about such a conceptual object that we liked and saw as representational of who we are and the kind of games we want to make.
How did you first get introduced to game design?
Very young. I still have my first game I ever programmed on the Commodore 64 (though the magnetic storage may have decayed on the disc by now), it was called The Fun Thing and printed colored letters to the screen. There was something amazing even at that simple level about the ability to craft these worlds, to create something with a reality of its own, and it stuck with me ever since.
escher drawing hands 150x150 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Strange Loop Games
The self-drawing hands of Escher encapsulate a 'Strange Loop'.
Your professional background is in AI design. How influential was that to the development of Vessel?
Yeah, I was AI lead at Pandemic Studios before leaving to start Strange Loop. It was a big help, because it gave me a strong foundation in traditional game AI, and in Vessel I was able to build on that. The way we innovated using AI in Vessel was to tie it directly to the liquid physics, so that the behavior of the characters depended on the liquid they contained, and they had visibility into the liquid of the world. The characters are able to be a much deeper part of the world than usual this way.
“Change is looming large in this game…”
Vessel‘s art style is like a watercolor picturebook, and the music is almost reminiscent of a dream. Where did the inspiration for the atmosphere in the game come from? Or the game itself, as a whole?
The visuals and storyline, in fact the entire concept, came out of the core mechanic of the game – creating life out of ordinary matter. We wanted to build a mechanical world that would contrast with the sleek, living-liquid machines you encountered in the game, and the music helped to create this sense of something other-worldly and surreal. The soundtrack, composed by Jon Hopkins, has a mix of classic piano and modern electronic music, which gives a sense that change is looming large in this game.
What inspired the move from Brisbane to Seattle? Would you ever consider relocating back to Oz?
A number of things, but mostly because I wanted to start the business here in Seattle, as it’s a great place for video game companies. I loved living in Brisbane though, and would consider going back someday depending on the situation. The game industry there has changed quite a bit. Almost all of the big players have gone under, and the talent there has splintered into a number of smaller indie studios. Overall I think that will be good for the industry and we’ll see some more interesting games out of it.
strange loop demo hub 630x472 Sunday Sidebar: Meet Strange Loop Games
John and Martin (Farren, Technical Director) at the Vessel hub.
How was the Indie Megabooth experience for you?
It was really fantastic. Teaming up with other indies made the workload so much easier to handle, as I was the only one from our team who was able to make it to Boston. I got lots of help from Boston indies, and I’m hoping to repay the favor in Seattle at this coming PAX.
What are the prime challenges you face due to being independent? What makes it worthwhile?
The prime challenge is the same as what makes it worthwhile: no one tells you what to do. You’ve got to make it on your own. That’s a huge amount of added responsibility compared to working at a normal company, but the benefit makes its worthwhile. You get to really see what you’re made of, and you can create with much fewer limitations than you would otherwise. [Laughs] It’s good for the soul to do that, I think.
Vessel has already released on PC to much acclaim. Do you still have designs for the console market?
Yes! We’re working on ports at the moment to bring it to Xbox and PS3. We’ve been thinking about iPad, but that’s up in the air for the moment.
Finally, what is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
I still have my Commodore 64, my first programming platform. I dont think it works now though, and it’s much easier to play on emulators!
Thanks for your time, John!Thank you!
You can pick up Vessel on Steam right here.

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