Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around
hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

GDC Austin 09: The Fantastic Contraption Postmortem

5:10 PM on 09.15.2009 // Ashley Davis

Fantastic Contraption is a Flash-based browser game. Colin Northway is the man who made it. He is now a full time game developer for it. It's as simple a story as the game itself.

The Independent Games Summit of GDC Austin 09 gave Colin and his game tester/community manager, Andy Moore, half an hour to present the postmortem. The duo are a very colorful pair that had a lot of strange and entertaining things to say and show about the game, how it was made, and how it became a successful business venture.

Hit the jump for a summary of the talk, although I can't possibly do it justice.

Colin opened up his talk by showing the audience his presentation. Instead of the normal slides, up on the projector was a platformer starring him. As he spoke, Andy played the game up on the projector. As items of discussion came up, they would also appear in-game in an often humorous way. This must be explained first in order to make later parts of the talk make some sense.

Fantastic Contraption had its beginnings in a dream of Colin's, after which he woke up and took notes (an image of which popped up in the game; the note began with the phrase "cool shit idea"). Obviously, the game was inspired by the classic Incredible Machine, but Colin also cited World of Goo, Bridge Builder, and Armadillo Run. Most of these games make the player manipulate the environment to make an item move towards its goal, so he set out to make a game where one must manipulate the item itself.

Colin described his design philosophy as "less is more". He wanted to make the game have as few tools and simplistic gameplay as possible, as he believes simplicity allows for more creativity from the player. He believes that sometimes, not implementing things is the best way to implement them. This seemingly contradictory statement was followed up by an example pertaining to the development of Fantastic Contraption. The original solid bar tool could be crossed over and over to make structures. But the current version of the game does not allow the player to do this. The reason for this change was that solutions became too easy if the player was given that huge degree of freedom. Again, simplicity provides much better gameplay.

As for the way that the game's physics work, he set out to make the contraptions work according to the human mental model of how things should work. "Design what feels right instead of what is actually right," he told everyone. He made an example of himself by attempting to do a double jump in real life. Even though it feels like it should be something that can be done in real life, it can't.

He then showed off the first four builds of Fantastic Contraption, each step up showing some margin of improvement. These beta versions were played by Andy as Colin described the evolution. During all stages of development, he gave the game to friends and family to try out and collect information from. "I like to give people a toy and see how they play with it," Colin said of beta testing. The things that they did (and the things they didn't) with the early versions of the game ended up shaping it in big ways.

The inspiration behind the final build's tutorial levels is Colin's belief that nongamers are scared of exploration, coupled with his other belief that the average person tends to just drop a Flash game if they can't figure something out. He explained that with other games, there is usually some incentive to stick with it, such as justifying the money spent or its physical presence in one's home. But there is such a tiny barrier to get through to play a Flash game, it makes it just as easy to quit. This is why you have to "spoonfeed" new players through a Flash game as quickly as possible, which is what his tutorial levels try to achieve.

The next point he made about the developing process was to not be afraid of Flash. Flash games are usually seen as cheap, one-off games that have no substance, but that is not the case for them all. The combination of Flash and 3D Box actually helped him to move much more quickly through the development process; this part of the talk was mirrored in the presentation, where game-Colin jumped up a flight of stairs made up of Flash and 3D Box logos to acquire a fire flower. He then went on to stress the importance of having a community manager, if you plan to release a game like Fantastic Contraption. "It helps you keep your focus on the game," he said. Up on the projector, people started to rain from the sky in-game, smothering Colin's character. A second character, bearing the appearance of Andy, swooped in to help repel the "community" so that Colin could continue moving.

People like games that reward them for what they want to do individually. People also like to share what they do with others. Colin called his use of these truths "pride-based marketing". He first discovered the value of this while the game was still in beta; everyone who played the game really enjoyed showing him how they solved each puzzle. Giving people the ability to create their own machines and share them with others through a database has helped to make the game even more popular. Someone can put the URL to their contraption in a blog or social networking service and draw hundreds of new people to it.

Colin sees the Internet as the best distribution model there is because you can "just let it do its thing". He credited a lot of his success to sites such as StumbleUpon for spreading the word. Such easy publicity is not possible when you release a game on a console or other type of distribution service. People can find a game and share it instantly if it is made available online in a form that can be played right away.

His monetization strategy with Flash-based Internet games is to just do it. There is a stigma that people expect games like these to be free, but he urged everyone to completely forget that. "People will buy it anyway," he said. "Just don't set out to make a pay game. Focus on who will pay and what they would want for it." In the case of Fantastic Contraption, a good chunk is playable for free. With the $10, a level editor and more levels are unlocked, and as he has found, a lot of people will give up their money for extra content like this. Another big thing is to point out to the consumer that the money will support an independent developer. People are moved to spend money if they know that it will go toward a good cause, such as enabling the developer to make more quality gaming experiences.

Overall, Colin's postmortem reflected exactly what he was going for when he made Fantastic Contraption: a fun and enlightening experience. At its end, the crowd cheered him on for his great successes and great attitude towards Flash game development.

Ashley Davis,
 Follow Blog + disclosure

This blog submitted to our editor via our Community Blogs, and then it made it to the home page! You can follow community members and vote up their blogs - support each other so we can promote a more diverse and deep content mix on our home page.

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

Status updates from C-bloggers

Gamemaniac3434 avatarGamemaniac3434
Hey, my new blog is up! A few days ago! Go read it! Before......before its too late. Please. *walls start crumbling, reality starts oozing out, things begin to eeeeeeeeeeeeeee
Amna Umen avatarAmna Umen
Alright so I'm looking for a few games for my newly repurchased DS. I'm already set on RPG as it's all I have pretty much. Were there any good puzzle games? I've heard good things about Professor Layton.
FlanxLycanth avatarFlanxLycanth
I made chocolate and banana cake because why not.
able to think avatarable to think
After hearing Persona 4 Dancing All Night come out of my surround sound system; I can safely say my $20 Playstation TV purchase was totally justified. The bass on Best Friends (Banvox Remox) literally shook the floor. It's freaking awesome!
LinkSlayer64 avatarLinkSlayer64
I wish I could say I made this 'shop. [img][/img]
SeymourDuncan17 avatarSeymourDuncan17
Triple brown, triple brown, triple brown meow. Triple brown, triple brown, triple brown meow.
Alfie avatarAlfie
Was on the front page and was greeted by a new post, which I clicked to find "You cannot see the future". Then refreshed and it was gone. I saw Chris's post on Eight Days' cancellation as it was brought, new and unready, into the world! Rare and wonderful
Archelon avatarArchelon
Community Question: Have you ever purchased a game only to regret it later and then sell it/give it away, only to even later regret selling it and wind up purchasing it again?
gajknight avatargajknight
A decadent staircase adorned in gold rises into infinite darkness. Writhing beings beyond comprehension lurk in the shadows, their mere presence encroaching on the edges of human understanding. A blood moon glows . I am losing my mind. I need more eyes...
Mike Wallace avatarMike Wallace
We need to be implanted with microchips because I'd really like to know how much time I've spent playing different video games my entire life.
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
If there are rainbows in Xenoblade Chronicles X, Reyn must be in it as well. You can't have a rainbow without Reyn, baby!
The Dyslexic Laywer avatarThe Dyslexic Laywer
I really hope Xenoblade become it's own franchise, it has way too much potential to simply being reduced to 2 games.
Sotanaht avatarSotanaht
Touchable Holograms? When this eventually matures and hits market, almost all our regulars will vanish for weeks.
Serethyn avatarSerethyn
Xenoblade Chronicles Wii for €10? Sure, Nintendo, don't mind if I do!
KnickKnackMyWack avatarKnickKnackMyWack
Super Smash Bros. 4 has too much content. So much so I almost don't want a sequel. I honestly hope that NX gets a "Super Smash Bros. For NX" port rather than a new installment. It could be a GOTY edition and come with all of the DLC.
Batthink avatarBatthink
Flegma avatarFlegma
Bought my first full-priced physical 3DS game ever - New Style Boutique 2: Fashion Forward. I'll try to write a post on the previous game at some point before doing the same with NSB2.
Terry 309 avatarTerry 309
How do you guys manage to buy all these games at day 1 with such huge backlogs?
FlanxLycanth avatarFlanxLycanth
Guys if I were to do a thing, how many of you would watch my thing because I was thinking of doing a thing but I dunno if people really like that kinda thing so I just wanted to know if you liked that thing because I'm thinking of doing a thing, you know?
Atleastimhousebroken avatarAtleastimhousebroken
Bayonetta 2 is 40% off in the EU Nintendo eShop today. If you have a WiiU and don't have this game you are a horrible person and I want nothing to do with you. You can amend your errors by buying it. Xenoblade Wii is also 50% off as well.
more quickposts



Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -