Jam packing a puzzle adventure

Ittle Dew by Ludosity

Published: February 8. 2012

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Exploring the big ideas behind Ludosity's upcoming lttle Dew

When Joel Nyström and Daniel Remar started fiddling around with the concept for lttle Dew, it was merely a school project in their university years—a way of exploring games in an academic environment. But as time went on the idea continued to grow, and now Nystrom says the decision to extend development and bring the idea properly to life is probably the best decision he’s made so far at his studio, Ludosity.

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“The original [concept] was one of three initial ideas me and Daniel Remar toyed around with for a game to do for our Game Design Thesis at university,” says Nyström from Ludosity’s office in Skövde, Sweden. “The idea was pure game mechanics at that point, centered around the concept of ‘Compact Level Design’, which was what I also wrote my thesis about.” During the course of writing (as well as creating the game), Nyström found that while the concept felt natural to him, there was absolutely no academia on the subject—and so he ended up inventing the term. 

The game is still today heavily centered around this notion, meaning there are many ‘layers’ of interactivity in the rooms, that players might not even see until they learn a new aspect of the games mechanics. “Compact Level Design is what I would call, for example, Super Metroid's classic level design,” explains Nyström. “There are so many things and openings that are readily visible to everybody in that game—even the first time you play—but that you just don't ‘see’ because you haven't learned what to look for yet.”

He points to the game’s door system, as well as cliff edges that seem impossibly far away, and weak structures that can be destroyed. “When you realize the level of interactivity that's been there all along, it can be absolutely fantastic to explore those newfound areas, or even to replay the game and see if you can take a serious shortcut this time around.” The idea behind Compact Level Design, then, is to cram many ‘interactivity layers’ on top of one another that are hidden in plain view, opening up the game for plenty of exploring, shortcuts, replayability and speed running. In that regard, Super Metroid—which Nyström regards as “the world's second best game ever made”—has been a huge inspiration for Ittle Dew.

The duo’s first brush with Unity came in the summer of 2009. They had been to the Game Developer’s Conference in the spring with a prototype of another game, Bob Came In Pieces, and left without any great leads. “Aimlessly, we started production on a number of smaller games, while basically waiting for some publisher to call us up and say they wanted to give us millions,” Nyström recalls. “It took us some months to realize how crazy that was, so we rebooted Bob Came In Pieces with this new exciting tech I had been toying around with—Unity. We quickly fell in love with it, and have been using it since for five games.” So much so, in fact, that the studio recently started selling its own Unity-Steam integration on the Unity Asset Store. 

> When you realize the level of interactivity that's been there all along, it can be absolutely fantastic to explore those newfound areas.

For the team at Ludosity, Unity has provided the technological foundation required to bring its visions to life. “We’re decidedly non-tech-focused as a company,” says Nyström. “Basically, all modern rendering techniques are either built in or possible to write with shaders [in Unity], and the performance has never let me down. And the amount of stuff they put in with each new update is incredible.” But the real selling point for the folks at Ludosity has been the workflow it allows them. “For example, writing all game code in C#, and the having the best content pipeline we've ever seen in any engine,” says Nyström. “And of course the portability, which kinda almost sort-of actually really is write once/deploy everywhere. Almost.”

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Unity fits into the studio’s approach to ideation, one in which new ideas spring up all the time and beg to be tested. “Most features really start out as jokes, that ever so slowly take hold in our imaginations until we realize we can't not do them,” says Nyström of the team’s process. Planting a portal-block in lttle Dew, for instance, results in a rather springy, popup feel to its animation. “Once we saw it in action somebody said, ‘it should launch enemies if they're on it when it pops!’ Everybody laughed at first, then we became quiet and pretty much said, ‘of course it should’—and then it was in the game the next day.” Now that the feature is working, they team is considering an extension of it: “Perhaps an ending-screen in outer space, where all suffocated enemies slowly float around,” to be precise.

As an indie, Nyström says finding the appropriate business model for the project is hugely important. “Though you wouldn't think we spend much time with that looking at our catalogue, I do [believe it]—it's just that we've steered more towards traditional games so far,” says Nyström, who notes that Ludosity has “a new twist on freemium” for a game that's coming out on the Android marketplace in the next couple of months. “But I think in the end, the biggest hurdles is really the idea,” he says. “There's a notion in our industry that they come a dime a dozen, but it's not true. It's such a hit-driven business, and you need to come out with something really fresh. Anyone can make a ‘me-too’ game, but not anyone can make Braid or Portal.”

As for where he sees littl Dew going, flexibility is very much the key. “It comes down to how fast we can develop in it and its portability,” says Nyström. “Besides Windows and Mac, we're working on getting the game out on consoles. That would be like a dream come true.” Smartphones are also in the cards (the Xperia Play being a given, with its buttons and D-pad), and touch controls are being considered as well.

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It’s a crowded market all around, certainly, but Nyström isn’t stressing it. “It's just like with the music industry—it's a hit-driven market, with a number of smaller niched sub-genres in its fringes,” he says. “You can either survive in that space or you can't…it's just that simple. The reason I don't believe it's a problem is because I don't view the games industry as an essential part of our society. If you look at food, produce, medicine, etc.—then you can talk about real problems in their respective industries. Us? We do this because it's fun and some of us can even make a living out of it. It's a privilege, and we should only be thankful for this space that is available to us. I live such an outrageously awesome life I have to pinch my arm sometimes, so I try to not invent too many problems.”

“It's turning out to be something of my magnum opus really,” says Joel Nyström of his studio’s latest project, lttle Dew. “It's the game that I really truly wanted to make—as opposed to make a game from some sort of market prediction—and every aspect of it is turning out just fantastic. We're moving quite slowly ahead with the project, and we give as much love to each feature as it needs, and for every new stride we make I'm blown away.”

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Inside Man

Joel Nyström’s role has been to serve as the director for lttle Dew, constantly calling out and reworking things he believes are not up to snuff. “For example, I asked for a complete redesign of the entire art direction no less than three times,” he says, noting that the game even used an old-school 8-bit pixel art aesthetic at one point. “As an artist it's hard to throw away so much work, and I'm sensitive to that, but each time we've remade something everybody has been much happier with it afterwards.” He strives to be like Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto in this sense, to maintain a willingness to “upend the table” and bat away any fear of change or more work.

Read more about Ittle Dew and Ludosity

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