Out of the eight Independent Games Festival Student Showcase finalists and five honorable mentions, there are a couple of titles that have yet to see a full release. One of those games is The Floor is Jelly from Kansas City Art Institute student Ian Snyder.
Snyder has been designing games for a number of years. He released his first game in 2005 when he was a freshman in high school. Since then, Snyder has worked on nearly a dozen games, including first-person exploration title and IGF 2011 entrant Feign. He has also been recognized by the independent gaming community for browser-based titles, such as Ambia and Push.
The Floor is Jelly is a 2D puzzle platformer in which the entire world is literally made of gelatin. This results in some off-the-wall physics, complex platforming, and the kind of joy that can only come from nonstop bouncing. Think of this as the gaming equal of jumping on the bed or playing in a bouncy house.
Before The Floor is Jelly makes its appearance at this year’s IGF, Ian Snyder made some time to talk about the game and his blossoming career as a game designer.
Indie Games Channel: Tell us a little bit about The Floor is Jelly. How long has the game been in development?
Ian Snyder: The game has been in development since July last year. It began as a prototype born of frustration with another game I was working on at the time. I needed something silly and inconsequential to distract me for a day. That day turned into two days turned into a week turned into a month and here we are now.
I didn’t realize it then, but it was the perfect time to start on this project, solely for the fact that “July” is so phonetically close to “Jelly”.
Indie Games Channel: How did you come up with the idea for the game? What inspired you to make a world made out of gelatin?
Ian Snyder: Have you ever considered how much pain is the result of living in a world of solids? All of it is. I dreamt of a world in which I could fall from a great height and feel no pain, in which I could trip without fear of scraping my knees, in which the phrase “stubbed toe” makes as little sense as “margarine handgun.” I believe this dream of a better, softer world is something central to all of us. It is not merely an idea which humanity has, but the very idea that makes us human.
We are, however, powerless to enact this vision upon the world. Our architecture is sadly reliant upon “structural integrity,” our societies are hewn into a rock flying through outer space, and our childhood dreams of a better place are now just half-remembered fantasies of filling swimming pools with Jell-O.
That is why I am making this game. To remind us of the time in our youth when we looked out at the Earth and believed it could be made of anything other than earth.
Indie Games Channel: You’ve been making games since your freshman year of high school and they’ve all been solo efforts. What are the benefits to being a one-person team? Would you consider it easier or more difficult than working with a team of developers?
Ian Snyder: There are benefits and detriments to each. When you’re working alone everything has to stem from your own mind. While that gives you a greater amount of control over the project, it also means that if you’re stuck on making a certain part of the game, you’re really stuck. There are times when all my ideas feel threadbare and thin, but I have to keep working anyway because there’s no other option.
That said, I’m not sure how much I can really claim to work alone. A good set of testers can make the difference between a good and a great game. The games I am most proud of tend to be the ones I had the most help with.
I will say that one of my favorite things about working alone on a game (or, more accurately, being its sole developer) is that it forces me to constantly learn new things. Before I made Feign I didn’t know a thing about 3D. I had to trudge through the bowels of the Papervision API before I got to a point where I could make that game. My strategy up to this point has usually been to teach myself something I don’t know much about rather than get someone else to do it for me, which is a process I find personally rewarding, but it might not work best for everyone.
Indie Games Channel: Have you had any trouble with The Floor is Jelly so far? Has anything gone wrong over the course of the development cycle?
Ian Snyder: Most of my trouble has arisen from dissatisfaction with what I’ve made so far which results in reworking it. Many of my previous games had a very loose approach to level design. Whenever I made a level, it was pretty much in the game, but for The Floor is Jelly I’ve thrown out about two levels per every three I make. As a result, it’s growing much more slowly.
I also tend to swing wildly between productivity and lethargy. There will be a span of several days where I work from the moment I wake up until I fall asleep, followed by several I spend wearily remaking the same level over and over again, getting nowhere.
Indie Games Channel: What’s been the most enjoyable part of developing the game?
Ian Snyder: I find something really rewarding in creating a complex system of code that’s all interacting with itself — maybe not flawlessly, but — well enough to be functional. I derive a certain satisfaction in building up a world that moves and feels alive from a set of data points. There’s this divide between the code and the application. One is an abstraction of the other, but they’re the same, in essence. It’s fascinating to me to be able to look at both of these things and understand them in different ways. One I can move through, the other I must imagine.
I also enjoy watching people play through the game. It can be frustrating at times when I’m watching them repeat a jump over and over because as a designer I haven’t communicated something clearly enough, but it’s a rewarding feeling to see them enter the game with a certain level of skill and leave it with another. You’re watching somebody learn something, an intangible process made tangible.
Indie Games Channel: With the game still in development, is there anything about The Floor is Jelly that might change between now and the final release?
Ian Snyder: Absolutely. I’m not at a point where I have even half the game’s content in place yet, so the majority of production is ahead of me. Things are bound to change in that time period, and indeed already have.
I think it’s good policy to never declare any part of your game “done” until it’s all done. Say, for example, you begin making a game in 3D. What happens if all your level ideas occur on a functionally 2D plane? Do you push forward with the 3D simply because you started working in 3D or do you scrap it all and start over in 2D? Will your game suffer if you keep going in 3D? Will it be better in 2D? These are hard questions to answer, but it’s important to always be asking them.
Indie Games Channel: As we’ve mentioned, you’ve been creating games for several years. Is there any advice you can offer anyone looking to get started on creating their first game?
Ian Snyder: Your first project will probably be ugly and broken. Love it anyway.
This was my first game, Cows in Space. It doesn’t have a working health system, you have to resize the browser to see all of it, there’s no sound at all, the title never goes away and just hovers over the gameplay, and so many other things. I still loved making it, and that’s what matters.
Otherwise, now is an excellent time to begin making games. The internet is absolutely overflowing with helpful resources. There are all these amazing tools now, like Unity or Flixel/Flashpunk, that make game making incredibly easy (and usually free!).
Indie Games Channel: What are your future plans once this game is finished? What can players expect from you next?
Ian Snyder: I’ve wanted to make an Electroplankton-style game since about as long as I’ve been making games. I might finally just sit myself down and make it. Every now and again I attempt something like it, but it never ends up going anywhere.
Honestly though, I have no idea what I’m doing next. I can’t really keep more than one game in my head at a time.
Indie Games Channel: Do you have a target release date for The Floor is Jelly?
Ian Snyder: I don’t have any specific date, but I’d like to finish the game by the end of this year.
Indie Games Channel: Ian Snyder, thank you for talking to us about The Floor is Jelly.
The Floor is Jelly will join seven other Student Showcase finalists at this year’s Independent Games Festival from March 5-9 in San Francisco. Look for The Floor is Jelly to reach the public later in 2012.
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