Q & A with Kevin Beimers Creator/Director of Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark

team_kev2>Congratulations Kevin on your new company, Italic Pig and your upcoming game Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark.

Where did the idea for the game come from? Is it something you’ve been kicking around for a while now? Are there any particular games which you drew inspiration from?

The concept of Schrödinger’s Cat as an action hero has been kicking around inside my head for well over a decade now; I was a geek long before it was something to be proud of. The idea started off as a concept pitch for a short serial web cartoon back when I was working freelance for SyFy (back then “The Sci-Fi Channel”) when I lived in NYC, and has since gone through several developmental mash-ups for TV series, a film short, a feature, and finally landed on its feet as a game.

When I first pitched it as a game, Dean (my Hector cohort) and I cooked up a massive AAA big budget dimension jumper in the same vein as something like Psychonauts – huge story, loads of wacky 3D immersive environments, and themes ranging from time, gravity & light all the way over to the paranormal and the afterlife, all revolving around the infamous Box. When the opportunity came up to make it as an app, I had to pull the best “pilot” from the wealth of subject matter I had do work with. I went with the Standard Model – Quarks, Leptons, Bosons and the like; not much to do with the whole Alive and Dead thing I realise, but it made sense to establish him as a long term quantum physics superhero (and me as a dev worth his quantum salt) by having the flagship game deal with the building blocks of the universe. I’d still love to make the big game happen one day, and if the single-concept app takes off and the property blooms, maybe one day I will.

In terms of inspiration, my three word unofficial pitch for some time now has been “Oddworld meets Lemmings”, and I only hope I can come close to living up to that. I’ve always admired the size, story, detail, character and irreverence of the Oddworld series, and have always heralded it as one of the best game series I’ve ever played. As for Lemmings, it was the simplicity of the levels combined with the complexity of the permutations possible to solve them. Lemmings gave you a layout and a handful of skills, and they didn’t care how you solved it so long as you got to the exit.

The plan from the start with Lost Quark was to create a “replayable platformer”: large, semi-randomised environments that encourage exploration and lateral thinking, variance in problem solving methods, and with a good story wrapped around the package.

Are you at all nervous that the fact that the underlying theme of the game is ‘quantum physics’ might scare away more casual players or do you feel like the game is approachable enough to overcome such a lofty topic?

In terms of audience, it’s a funny sell. If I say to someone “I’m making a game about Schrödinger’s Cat…” I get one of two faces: either a knowing giggle, or a waiting-for-the-punchline face. If I get the giggle, I’m already 75% on my way to gaining a fan, and telling them about the gameplay closes the deal. If I don’t get the giggle, then I have to make the call to either explain the cat-box-atom-physics or just settle for “well, it’s a game where you collect colourful chaps that help you solve puzzles. And there’s a cat.” And if Youtube is any judge, who doesn’t like cats, am I right?

One thing I’ve always said about the game: You don’t need a degree to play it, but it helps. If you know your stuff, you’ll understand why I made the Bosons into stubborn hippo-like behemoths, or why quarks only combine into matter when you’ve got three of them. If you don’t, you’ll simply accept the rules we’ve provided for you, because it’s a game. If you question why things are the way they are, then by all means, look it up on Wikipedia. I would dearly love to find out years from now that someone applied to university physics because they played Lost Quark when they were eight.

So yes, the imagery is appealing, and the gameplay is easy enough for anyone to pick up – granted, it requires a little more than your average one-touch wonder, but the concept is simple once you’ve picked up the basics. So I think it could appeal to anyone, but I’m counting on the niche properties of the subject matter to get it passed on. There are a lot of casual geeks out there, more than most people realise.

Aside from its rather unique characters and story-line, what are the key elements of Schrödinger’s Cat that you feel make it different from the existing 2D puzzle platformers currently available on the App Store?

The downfall of platformers and puzzlers in general has always been the single-play factor. When you play Mario, for instance, World 1-1 is always the same. When you’re done, the only reason to go back and play it again is because it was fun the first time, but the second play through is more going through the motions. What we’re aiming to do with Lost Quark is make it (a) replayable and (b) multi-solvable.

See, the quarks are the key to the game. The more quarks you can collect, the more options you have for overcoming obstacles. By himself, SC is a bit average (as heroes go), but by combining quarks he can make platforms, trampolines, propellers, parachutes, drills, missiles and grenades, to name a few. So while there will still be tasks to solve to progress the story, the play-by-play is a bit more sandbox. Exploration gets you more quarks, more quarks lets you explore further.

The quarks provide the multiple solutions, and the replayability comes from the level design. We’ve been working hard to create a semi randomised platformer environment, so that each time you play, the layout is different. The zone layouts are set at the beginning of the game (so that we don’t change things around on you mid-game and you get lost), but if you want to play the game a second/third/fourth time, the game sets up a completely new zoo for you.

How has the experience of making Schrödinger’s Cat differed from your years working on the Hector series? Was it difficult to switch gears from point and click adventure games (which is arguably closer to your animation roots) to a 2D puzzle platformer?

A lot of the methods cooked up during Hector were applied here – how the sprite animation was handled, for example – but the big difference between Hector and SC is that Hector was by no means an “action” game. Hector had to walk, talk, get mad and pick things up (okay, there was a lot more to it than that), but SC has to run, jump, hit, kick, collect, combine, create, climb inside his creations, and transition smoothly between any of these things. It’s a little less conversation, a little more action. Responsiveness of player input differs greatly between an action hero cat and a fat, lumbering, loud-mouthed detective.

But that’s conceptually speaking. Personally, the biggest difference for me is that on Hector, Dean Burke did all the art while I did the programming, whereas with Italic Pig I’m now running the show and handling most of the character art myself. Despite its 2D backbone, SC is being built in Unity for its multi-platform export capabilities, and Eoghan O’Donovan and Erik Farrelly are the chief developers on the coding end. With all the art that’s come through, I’ve barely spent half a day in the past six months coding, so if this game kicks ass you can thank them!

You’ve said that this is the first in a series of planned titles, how did you go about breaking your original game idea down into these separate pieces? Will each game in the series be a puzzle platformer, with differing mechanics or will the series span multiple genres?

Dark Matters (the title for the massive AAA concept) was still broken down into a collection of theme-based levels. Each of the levels had a collection element (i.e. quarks) a puzzle solving element, and a series of tasks working toward a climax. If you think of it like a TV series, each level was like an episode with a start, middle and end, but there was an overall series arc that threaded through the grander game, and of course tasks were more interconnected – the item from Universe A was needed to complete Universe B.

SC as a property was developed in this ‘dual state’, where if Dark Matters was made first, the apps would be like bonus levels, but if the apps were made first, they would act to upwell the potential for Dark Matters. If we ever get the opportunity to make Dark Matters, the quarks will return, but this time in 3D and with a more integrated story.

Lost Quark is a story unto itself, with a start and an end, no cliffhanger. It’s not the origin of Schrödinger’s Cat (that takes place in Dark Matters), but more like the ongoing and disconnected adventures of Schrödinger’s Cat. I didn’t want to make SC episodic, so the series had to be played in a certain order. Instead, I wanted more of an Indiana Jones feel – separate adventures linked by a single central character.

That was a great trailer. How much time has gone into the development of the game thus far and how much work do you have left to do? What development tools / engine are you using?

We had a pitch together in 2012, and in early 2013 I was funded to create Italic Pig and form a team. We’ve been hard at it since April, starting to see some really amazing things happen, but still have a long way to go before we’re polished and ready. We’re shooting for launch in early 2014.

What are some of the games you and the development team are currently playing on your own iOS devices?

Like we’ve got time to play games.