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Destructoid interview: Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler, creators of World of Goo

3:23 PM on 11.07.2008 // Anthony Burch


We here at Destructoid rather liked World of Goo. Imaginative, challenging, and incredibly entertaining, the tower-building, goo-connecting puzzler from 2DBoy charmed the everloving hell out of us.

To find out exactly why our everloving hells were charmed out of our bodies,  I interviewed Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler, the two main forces behind World of Goo's creation.

That interview can be read after the jump.

DESTRUCTOID: Can you tell us about the genesis of World of Goo, especially in relation to the prototype Tower of Goo (in particular, did the decision to make the full game come before or after Tower?).

KYLE GABLER: Tower of Goo grew out of the Experimental Gameplay Project which was a little project some friends and I put together back in grad school. The whole point of the project was to make a bunch of games really fast, and avoid falling in love with any one idea. One of the small games I made in the project, Tower of Goo, kind of caught on.  Even though it was a buggy mess of a game, the basic idea of building with little balls to create structures seemed promising. Over a year later, when Ron and I were forming 2D BOY, it seemed like a good game idea we could totally steal from and turn into a whole world of goo. Another recent example is Petri making Crayon Physics, people liking it, and his decision to turn it into Crayon Physics Deluxe. And I think Dylan and Audiosurf also had similar rapid prototyping origins.

DTOID: Your production team is incredibly small -- how did this affect the game's creation? Did you stay up at night wishing you could hire more programmers, or did the fact that less than five people worked on the game at any given time free you up in certain ways?

RON CARMEL: I really like working in a small team. There’s hardly any overhead, it's easy to make decisions, and most importantly it's easy to change directions and try things without needing to have a meeting to discuss and coordinate everything.

DTOID: How do you feel about being indie developers? How has the downloadable market helped or hurt you?

RC: You know, I’ve often thought about what it means to be indie and I haven't been able to pin down a definition. But for me, indie means a design first approach to game development.  The most important consideration is design, to make the best game possible, and within reason, this trumps technical challenges, financial considerations, time considerations, etc.  But I’m straying from the question... the downloadable market has certainly helped Indies.  We no longer need to kiss the feet of the gatekeepers (big publishers) to get our game out.


DTOID: What, in your opinion, makes a good puzzle? Did you try to build World of Goo around that?

KG: I'm not sure about what makes a good puzzle, but in World of Goo, whether it was a good idea or not, there were some specific rules and criteria for levels:

    1. No level can rely on luck or randomness. Luck causes frustration!
    2. No level can be like any other level. Always introduce something new.
    3. Every level must be visually distinct and iconic. Helps build the fiction of the world.

These probably won't work for a lot of games, but they worked ok for us. And they were the reason about 2 out of every 3 levels got killed!

DTOID: John Walker from RockPaperShotgun said, and I agree, that many of the mechanics the player is exposed to for only a few levels could sustain full-length games of their own. How did you decide on the game's structure and design philosophy, in terms of constantly showing the player something new in every level, knowing that many individual mechanics often had enough depth to warrant far more levels than they are included in?

KG: I was worried that people would immediately assume that World of Goo would be a crappy expansion of Tower of Goo - a game with a bunch of levels, where each levels is slightly different, maybe with more gravity, or weaker balls, or a time limit, or an ice world where everything is slippery. So, out of self consciousness, we went the other direction, constantly introducing new goo species, new puzzles, new art. I hope it didn't turn out too erratic!

DTOID: On that note, with so much that could be done with the goo physics, what guided your decision to often go in one direction (the huge chapter 4 twist comes to mind) when you could have chosen many others?

KG: When we were submitting to IGF, we had only Chapter 1 complete. In total, there were going to be 5 chapters, but we had no idea what they would be about. The day before we submitted, the game still felt small, so we panicked and just made up a bunch of names and stuck them on the main menu - Chapter 2: Little Miss World of Goo, Chapter 3: Cog in the Machine, Chapter 4: Information Superhighway, Chapter 5: End of the World. If the game were a cereal box, it would have said "enlarged to show texture", or something. For the whole rest of the project, the challenge was building a game into the imaginary final four chapters. I'm really glad Chapter 4 offered a chance to do something different. If it had been a normal chapter, I think the game would have become predictable.

DTOID: The game is somewhat short, yet completely devoid of filler -- how did you know when to stop adding levels, that you'd found a game length you were happy with?

KG: Thanks! I think we just wanted to make a game that normal people could actually finish! I suppose it's about 7-10 hours long, and much more if you choose to become OCD - I hope that's not too short. To be honest, I hope we start to see a trend away from mega 40-80 hour games, and more towards short, concentrated, high quality games, like Braid and Portal and Cave Story.


DTOID: Are there any plans for making level editing software available?

KG: Nope, we will not be making an official level editor. But, we are working to make the game more moddable, and it appears some genius guys on our forum might already have some form of a level editor in progress. We'll have to wait and see. (

DTOID: You've decided not to put any DRM into the PC version of World of Goo. Why did you decide that, and how has that experiment gone so far?

RC: DRM is a futile attempt to prevent piracy, and it's expensive.  Every game for which there is demand will be cracked and find its way onto the scene, so why waste time and money trying to prevent the inevitable?  The music industry is coming to terms with this and I think the game industry will come to accept it as well.  In a funny turn of events, the Wiiware version became available on torrent sites before the DRM-free PC version.  Another interesting thing we've seen is that people sympathize with our position.  Reading comments on file sharing sites that serve up the game we've seen people encouraging others to buy the game and reprimanding those who pirate it.  we've even gotten some emails from people who tell us that they torrented the full game, loved it, and decided to buy the game after having completed it, so it's not all bad.  There are those who told us that releasing the game DRM free was what convinced them to buy the game.  I think that the vast majority of people who download the game illegally are not people who would have bought it had it not been available to them freely, so I don't think it hurt our sales in a significant way.  Basically, I believe that time is better spent figuring out ways integrate file sharing into the distribution model rather trying to prevent file sharing.

DTOID: Even just considering the prototype Tower of Goo, the idea is incredibly unusual -- what prompted you to say, "I want to develop a physics engine that will simulate what it'd be like if I could build structures out of black snot?"

KG: Everyone likes building things, and everyone likes liquid I think. The game basically wrote itself!


DTOID: Do either of you have particular favorite levels?

RC: Upper shaft is one of my favorites.  There are CRAZY ways to optimize goo suckage in that level and I really got a kick out of figuring out what the OCD criteria would be for that level.

KG: The windmills in Chapter 2 seem to be a favorite. But I'll always remember Fisty as the level that marked the moment when we finally figured out the personality of the game.  Also, MOM's Computer in Chapter 4 is bittersweet, since it was one of the last things we made.

DTOID: For each of you, what was your biggest mistake you made while making the game that you learned the most from?

RC: Wow, that's a tough one.  Overall, I had to relearn everything I thought I knew about game design.  There is something that Kyle gets about what creates a compelling experience that I was simply not in touch with.  It took a while for me to admit to myself that I’d be better off going with Kyle’s game design intuition and learning from him in the process than trying to steer the game in the direction I had in mind.  I also think we're in for a lot of learning in the post-release days, stuff about how to structure distribution deals, how to promote a game, that sort of thing.

DTOID: If World of Goo sells fabulously well, what could gamers hope to see next from 2DBoy? Is there even more mileage in Goo, or might we be seeing something else?

RC: The best dessert is the kind that leaves you wanting just one more bite!  I’m more interested in trying something new.

KG: Or, I think World of Goo Corporation might be thinking about a mini iphone version, about World of Goo Corporation releasing a Mini World of Goo Corporation Mobile Communication Device that "captivates" the world!

DTOID: Thanks for your time.

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