OmniGamer

We interview Life Goes On Producer Erik Johnson

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Life Goes On is the first and soon to be released platform based puzzler from Edmonton based Infinite Monkey Entertainment. I had the pleasure of speaking with Producer Erik Johnson about life, death, and what it takes to create a game in only 48 hours.

Tyler: Can you describe to me your role at Infinite Monkey Entertainment? With a staff of four I imagine you wear multiple helmets.

Erik: With four of us we all sort of do a little bit of everything, and funny enough, we all came together with a little bit of a programmer and developing background. So I’m the programmer that has take on some of the business side of the game, as well as doing level production, design and that sort of thing. Marketing and getting the company set up, a million bits of paperwork that go into that side of making a videogame.

Tyler: I know both you and your Sound Designer are working on Master’s Degrees, was the studio forged by college friendship, or did you all meet at the Ludum Dare gamejam for the first time?

Erik: It was actually Global Game Jam. It was at the university although it was hosted by an organization called Startup Edmonton, but we met at the university, at this global game jam meetup. It’s where we met each other and started things.

Tyler: I wondered what made you decide to pursue this independently versus setting up a Kickstarter campaign?

Erik: Ya, it was kind of interesting in that we really started at this game jam, and came out of it with a prototype that we thought was pretty cool, that people seemed really interested in. So we kept working on it and we thought: Well let’s put together a portfolio piece and release a little game. Then it became a more serious hobby, and then it started to look like a company and full commercial release. By the time we got to that point we were thinking we’re almost done with the game. If we do a Kickstarter now are we really going be bringing something to people to justify saying we need all this money to finish the game, when it’s really no, we’re doing this in our spare time and it won’t be that hard to finish. We were a little naïve about that too though, because we thought we were almost done. Here we are six to eight months later saying well, we’re not quite done, maybe this was a bigger project than we thought it was. At the same time it’s worked out reasonably well for us.

“You have these knights that you’re continually sacrificing, and the next knight can make progress and get a little further because of that.”

Tyler: How far are you into development?

Erik: The project started two years ago, and we’re in the home stretch of wrapping things up right now. We haven’t announced a launch date but it’s coming very soon.

Tyler: Do you have a publisher in mind?

Erik: We are on Steam, and the demo is up on Steam right now. We signed up with the Humble Bundle people for the humble widget, so we can sell directly from our website through them as well as listing on the Humble Store. We are talking to a couple other distributors as well.

Tyler: I know the ouroboros was a big influence. Can you tell me how you came up with the concept of the game?

Erik: One of the things when you’re doing a gamejam, is this idea of making a videogame in 48 hours. One of the things that typically comes with this is a theme suggestion to incorporate into your game or base your game around. The 2012 Global Game Jam theme was this image of a snake eating its own tale. It’s this symbol of life and death and renewal, a serpent from ancient times. We were talking about it at this weekend event, saying what sort of game idea can we do, and how could we make a game that incorporates these themes and concepts into its core mechanics, make gameplay about the ouroboros or this idea. That led to the core concept where you have these knights that you’re continually sacrificing, and the next knight can make progress and get a little further because of that.

Tyler: I like how you put in names. Is there going to be a lineage in any capacity?

Erik: We’ve got a couple things going on. There’s a random name generator. We’ve done a couple conferences and conventions, so we’ve had a write down your name suggestion sheet. There’s also a few in jokes and achievements based on what the random name generator will spit out as well.

Tyler: Is there a golf fan on staff? I really enjoyed the par system.

Erik: I’m not sure how we decided to call it par, it was just something where we wanted to say okay, you’ve got the basic puzzle. Now can we make it a little more challenging, can we give something for people to do it a little bit better.

Tyler: What inspired the graphic design?

Erik: There’s a few things there, we know that we have this game where we have this concept of life and death, and knew that we had this character that would be dying all the time. So we decided we wanted to keep it in the cartoon violence realm, we didn’t want to go for a really gory over the top blood spraying everywhere. We tried to do it more like a cartoon, keep it funny, so it’s grim but it’s not gross. The graphic design, like I said there’s four of us and we all kind of a have a programming background. Ian was the one in our group with the art background, and the project for him has very much been learning as he’s gone. His art style and the art style of the game really developed over that process for him.

Tyler: Is there an overarching plot that we’re going to see throughout the game? Is there an end goal for the knights?

Erik: Not particularly. The full game will be split into three kinds of zones, or worlds. The level progression and mechanics will progress as you travel through them, each of the worlds will end with an end of zone level that does a few things a little different and a little special. Beyond that we haven’t really invested too heavily in the plot side of things. We’ve focused on the puzzle and the style.

“There’s always the idea of doing the expanded version to get some of those features in that we weren’t able to get in the first time around.”

Tyler: I wondered where the furry fellow comes into play?

Erik: So we call the furry fellow Jeff, and we decided fairly early on we should make things more interesting. We should add to our levels a bonus collectible item, but in sticking to the theme where everything in our game is about how your character is dying or sacrificing themselves. We decided that our game, our bonus collectible should collect you. That’s where Jeff came from.

Tyler: What’s your favorite death so far?

Erik: That’s interesting. I think I like the ice cubes personally. We started with flame throwers that burn the knight. Later in the development we decided we should also have ice throwers that freeze the Knight into the blocks of ice that you can use as tools and push around the level. In some of our later levels there are areas where you get the rag doll bodies getting thrown into ice throwers, and frozen into blocks of ice. I like the effect.

Tyler: I thought the puzzles were really clever. How do you come with those?

Erik: Ian’s done the bulk of the level design and the puzzles. I’ve made a number in the upcoming game, but it’s been a collaborative process in terms of making and designing the game. A lot of what the puzzles are has come out of what the mechanics are. What sort of traps are there in our dungeons, how do they work with each other and interact, what happens when you combine them? Then taking those ideas that we came up with as a group, and building those out into saying what sort of interesting things can you do, what sort of challenges can you create from those ideas?

Tyler: Have you had any hiccups in development or has it been smooth sailing?

Erik: Any project is going to have its challenges and its hiccups and headaches. Overall we’ve been very fortunate in how well things have gone for us. We had some ambitious ideas in the past about doing thing like saying, we’re going to have 50 different bottles for the knight and randomly get different sets of armor and helmets, weapons swapped in. As we were working on it we just decided it was way too ambitious for our lone 3D modeler slash artist slash level designer. There have certainly been areas where we’ve had to scale back, but it’s gone very well.

Tyler: Are you working on any future plans, are you looking to stay together for another game after this?

Erik: What happens next will depend a lot on Life Goes On. We all have lots of things that we’re interested in doing with potential future plans, as well as Life Goes On itself. There’s the possibility if we sell well on PC of doing console ports. There’s always the idea of doing the expanded version to get some of those features in that we weren’t able to get in the first time around.

Tyler: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Erik: Try the demo. It’s on Steam now. I hope everyone likes it.

This Editor certainly did. I advise you to download the demo of Life Goes On as soon as possible, and keep up to date with the Infinite Monkey blog on their official website.

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Written by

As Senior Editor at OmniGamer, Tyler spends his free time gaming vicariously through his writing staff, coming up with editorial ideas, and occasionally sneaking in 2 hour indie sessions between editing and posting.

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