I don’t know what kind of voodoo they are practicing within their studios, but Double Fine seems to be able to work some sort of magic. The team at Double Fine seems to be able to take the most mundane topic and turn it into a magical game. As I mentioned in my recent review
they have done it in the past and they did it again recently with Stacking for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation Network.
Recently, Gaming Nexus had a chance to speak with Lee Petty, the project lead on Stacking, on just how they turned something as simple as Russian stacking dolls into a hilarious adventure. Here is what Lee had to say:
Stacking is an extremely interesting concept, particularly that it is based on Russian nesting dolls... how did it come about?
It just happened one day when I saw my daughter playing with a stack of Russian dolls that someone had given her. I wondered what if the player could control these dolls, find other dolls in the world, and “stack” them together. What sort of story would a stack of dolls tell? What types of things could they do? What type of world would they live in?
I took that idea and combined it with my interest in revisiting the adventure game genre. I thought that the dolls, and the mechanic of stacking, could be an interesting way to streamline the experience. The dolls themselves could become the tools that the player uses to solve adventure game style puzzles. They would be the inventory, the verbs, and the characters that you interact with all at once.
Could you explain how the concept of presenting the game as a silent film came about?
When we began to imagine about how these dolls would interact with one another, it seemed strange to think of them as actually speaking aloud. There was something charming about their simple, painted faces that we didn’t want to ruin. By keeping the key story beats told entirely through silent film “stage plays”, it gave the game and the world a really unique sensibility. We also spent a lot of time creating a really rich audio design for the game, in both the music and the sound effects. Our audio team did a really fantastic job.
What design ideas did you start with and then left by the wayside?
There were lots, but one that really stands out is the combat system that we decided to not move forward with. It REALLY didn’t fit, but we originally thought that it might be necessary to give the game enough moment-to-moment gameplay. Instead, we pushed ourselves to develop ideas that all related to the core mechanic of stacking with other dolls. I think the game turned out better because of it and forced us to be more creative in crafting a compelling experience for the player.
How does the size mechanic work in terms of the dolls and accessing different abilities?
Doll size is an important factor in the game. The player can only stack into a doll that is exactly one size bigger than their current doll. And the player can only use the special ability of the largest doll in his stack – the one on the outside. This means that the player is quite frequently stacking up or down in size to use various abilities or to stack with other dolls.
Size can also be used to solve gameplay challenges. For example, a small doll might be required to get into a tight area or a large doll might be used to shove something about that a smaller doll can’t.
Would you describe the game as more puzzle or adventure?
More than anything else, Stacking is a new take on an adventure game. The big difference between Stacking’s puzzles and those of a classic adventure game is that all of Stacking’s challenges have multiple solutions. The player is only required to find one solution, but they can optionally find more solutions at any time to earn more rewards. This has the duel effect of making the game’s puzzles more accessible to a broader range of players and also more compelling to core gamers who might be interested in finding all of the solutions and earning lots of rewards.
Given that you now have two smaller games under your belt, do you feel that producing smaller, downloadable titles gives you more freedom and allows you to take more risks?
Developing smaller games has been great. While we always try and take creative risks on any of our games, it’s something that’s very hard to do when working on a big budget game, because taking those risks can cost a lot of money if they don’t work out. Publishers are understandably reluctant to commit a lot of money to something that is very different from the norm.
Do you think that you could have taken titles such as Costume Quest or Stacking to full retail releases?
We did design those games to be smaller experiences, because we were really interested in trying out the downloadable space, but we could’ve made them larger, full retail releases. Regardless of the format, our goal is to give the player a fun experience that could only have come from Double Fine.
We’ve read that Doublefine is using Scrum as a development methodology, could you talk about how it’s helped you develop games? What was the biggest hurdle in adopting Scrum?
The goal of Scrum, or other forms of agile development, is really to empower the team and to maintain flexibility throughout development. Rather than locking yourself into a strict feature list before production even starts, the strength of agile development is in the idea of constantly re-evaluating what is working on your game as you develop it. This allows you to make the changes that are needed to make the best experience possible as development progresses.
Probably the biggest hurdle in adopting Scrum is that it’s just very different than what people are used to. It also requires a great relationship between the developer and publisher for it to work correctly. Fortunately for us, working with THQ on Costume Quest and Stacking has been great.
Is Doublefine’s next game going to be another downloadable game or will it be a full sized game?
We can’t make any announcements at this time, but we can say that we are interested in doing both.
Is there anything we missed that you think is important?
Yes. You didn’t ask how to spell Tim’s last name. He likes that question.
All of the staff here at Gaming Nexus would like to thank Lee for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Raha for coordinating the interview.