Community interview: The Maw developer, Twisted Pixel

A few weeks ago, I gave you guys the opportunity to ask the folks at Twisted Pixel — the developers of the Xbox LIVE Arcade game, The Maw — a few questions. Boy, did you guys come through. 

You asked questions about The Maw‘s design, development for XBLA, comparisons to classic titles, and more. Nothing was off the table — you guys even put them in the hot-seat over the upcoming (and somewhat controversial) downloadable content for The Maw. Twisted Pixel was more than happy to talk about it all.

Hit the jump for one of our first full Destructoid community interview with Twisted Pixel, the developer of The Maw.

What inspired you to create The Maw?

Josh Bear, CCO & Director:
The idea for the actual game came from conservations Dave Leung (art director) and I had when we would come up with game ideas we wanted to someday make.  Some inspirations came from Mario, Ico and games that have strong characters with that you can form an emotional attachment to. 

But the actual inspiration to make an original IP came from meeting a great group of people who had the same desire I did: make a game with characters that are memorable that people can care about.  A lot of games have gotten away from that recently, and we intend to bring that back in a way. Characters and experience are why I play and create games, and I want those things to reflect in the games Twisted Pixel creates.  
Char Aznable:
On the RetroforceGO! podcast, Destructoid editor Conrad Zimmerman described The Maw by saying it was like playing an interactive Pixar movie (paraphrasing). What are your thoughts on that assessment?

David Leung, Art Director:
As an artist trying to tell stories with characters, and especially as animator most of all, Pixar is the pinnacle of what I do. So any comment comparing any of my work to Pixar in any way is the ultimate compliment. I definitely know I have so much more to grow and learn before I can completely agree, but hearing people mention that at least tells me I am doing something right.

Do you have any plans for a full retail version of The Maw with maybe more content?

Michael Wilford, CEO & Engineer:

That’s a great idea!  We got a lot of requests from fans at PAX asking for Wii and other versions of the game, so it’s definitely something we’re looking into.

How about putting The Maw on other services like PlayStation Network or Steam?

We are considering our options, but we haven’t made any announcements yet.

Do you have any future titles coming, or a sequel to The Maw?

Why yes, we do! 

We’re working on three new levels for The Maw as downloadable content at 100 Microsoft points each. Not only will each level have substantially more gameplay than the levels in the main game, but there will be new characters, game mechanics, cinemas, and more.  We started working on these levels months ago, when development on The Maw wrapped and we had time to kill. Keep your eyes peeled over the next few weeks.

We’ve also started working on a brand new original IP.  All I can say right now is that it’s going to be hilariously fun.

When is the DLC planned to come out? If it’s a few months away then people are definitely overreacting. However, as gamers have been burned by launch/near-launch DLC enough in the past the timing of the announcement is understandably suspicious. Do you now feel that maybe they should have waited to announce the DLC until closer to the release date?

Good question. I understand people feeling burned by DLC that they feel should have been part of the original game. In the case of The Maw, we decided to do extra levels while the game was being certified.  We had finished what we originally tried to do, and had some spare time to make some new levels.  We were able to make these levels quicker than the other ones because we had our pipeline down with tools, engine and all that good stuff.  I also think people don’t realize how long certification can take … you can’t touch your game anymore at that point.

We never made these levels and then held them back intentially to make “more money” or something like that. We made the game we intended to make.  The DLC levels are a bonus for people who would like to experience more of what our game is about. Like the main game, we tried to out-do what a lot of other DLC offers (a new character, a few new things, etc.) and made brand new levels with new cinemas, characters, and other stuff for a really good price.  We could have waited to announce the DLC, but on our end we wanted people to be excited that there was more of The Maw to see, coming sooner rather than later.

As for the release date, no official announcement yet, but the new levels should be coming pretty soon.

Are you going to create any Maw merchandise? The Maw is so cute it would be awesome if there was a plushie of him!

Maw merchandise is definitely something we want to do. We are actually doing some plushie tests right now, just want to get it right and not rush it.  A lot of people have noticed our Maw Maquettes and have shown interest in those as well.  Getting all that stuff made takes a lot of time, but I’m looking forward to getting stuff out there to people who really want it. 

When is the store opening on The Maw Web site and what’s going to be in it?

No solid date for the store opening, really just waiting to figure out what we are going to put up there and how much of it we should have. Selling merchandise is a new thing for us, so I want to take our time and get it right. Definitely in the coming months something will be available in the store link, and I’m sure we will add more things as we go.  

Stuff we are talking about putting in there are Maw plushies, Maw Maquettes, cool t-shirts, and a few other things.  I would like everything on there to be of quality, so it takes some time to get it made just right. I’m glad somebody is looking forward to Maw merchandise, that is cool. 🙂
How long *DOES* it take to get a 3D action puzzle/platformer-ish onto XBLA? or at least, when were you guys finished bundling up the game in its final form?

For The Maw, it took a core team of eight guys about nine months with no starting content or technology, with some additional people helping out here and there during production and a bit of art outsourcing of some 3D models and some 2D content. We started in October of 2007 and were wrapping up around August of 2008. That’s when you then go into CERTIFICATION and that is when you enter the void. There is a lot of waiting and nail biting in the void.  We don’t like to talk about the void.

I haven’t gotten that far in the game yet (just bought it last night), but it is my understanding that players can unlock a free premium theme and gamerpics within the game.
If that’s true, how did you manage to swing that? I know Jonathan Blow was oh-so-sorry that he HAD to charge us for his Braid premium theme, so I’m curious how you guys are able to give it away (assuming that’s correct).

Yeah, you can unlock a free premium theme and gamerpics just by playing through and beating the game.

As for Jonathan Blow and the Braid theme, I’m not sure how that whole thing went down.  I know on our end that we very early on asked if it was something we could put in the game and Microsoft was totally cool with it.  Maybe it was the fact that Jonathan put out the theme after the game was already out?  Maybe Microsoft has some weird rule or something, who knows.  We definitely loved putting freebies into the Maw and will continue to do that type of thing in all our future releases as long as there are no strange rules preventing it. 
Seeing as the game is often compared to A Boy and His Blob, do you think of it as a compliment to be compared to this classic?

Of course!  A Boy and His Blob was a fantastic game, and one that we talked about a lot during production. I really liked the companionship feeling between the boy and his blob, especially when you were calling him or tossing him jellybeans, and so in The Maw we tried to make the relationship between Frank and Maw even more important.
Do you guys wish that the game was longer, or are you satisfied with the length? Some reviews claim that the only major fault with The Maw is that it ends too soon. I loved the game and I too wish it was a little lengthier (yay DLC!).

Oh yes, of course we wish we could have given players a lengthier experience. The original game concept of The Maw was a pretty epic full-length retail game. However limited budgets, time constraints and man power forced us to chop the game down to a size we felt we could deliver with those constraints in a polished state. I think we as a company would always choose giving the public a shorter, more polished game over a lengthier, less refined product.  Quality always trumps quantity.
Sam Spectre: [For Dave Leung]:
What inspired you to take the direction you took? And was it challenging to convey Maws emotions with him having such simplistic character design?

I usually have a few references in mind, such as movies and music videos, when directing the artistic vision for a game, but I honestly have to say for The Maw there weren’t any real conscious references I can remember.  I just knew I wanted it to be colorful and fun, and a lot of the designs took form from that mind set through discussion and iteration between myself, Josh Bear (CCO) and the concept artists.

For animating The Maw, the first thing that I spent a lot of time and research on was creating a skeleton for him that gave me a ton of flexibility in how I could control him when animating. That, I feel, was a large contribution to success of his final animation.  But I actually think the simplicity of his design made it easier for me to convey emotions.  There were no bells and whistles or distractions I could fall back on, just a small few elements forcing me to deal with it and make it work. One test every animator has been through sometime in their experiences is making inanimate objects animate and convey emotion, such as a desk lamp, for example. That is sort of how I approached animating Maw.

What elements did you leave out of the game that you wish you could have added? Is there anything in hindsight you regret not adding or removing?

The initial idea of the game was much bigger in scope…it always is with any idea I think.  But you only have so much time, so things have to go.

One of the things we spent a lot of time on early on was combat.  The player would find themselves in situations where Maw was surrounded by Bounty Hunters, and Frank would have to free him by taking out each Bounty Hunter with his leash.  It was a weird cross of the Gears of War camera and movement with Shenmue and God of War Quicktime Event systems.  It had a lot of potential, but ultimately we cut it because it was taking up too much of our resources and wasn’t panning out the way we wanted. 

Another idea we scrapped early on that was funny were the Maw traps. The Bounty Hunters would set traps (a crappy looking wooden standup that looked like a female Maw, etc.) and Maw would run to them.  You had to keep him away from them by tugging on his leash, and if he did get caught you would have to save him. Fun ideas, but at the end of the day they were things that we cut so we could focus on our other vision points.

No question. Just wanted to say that I absolutely loved the game. I’ve never immediately bought a game when a demo finished. I’m painfully frugal. But I didn’t even have to think twice with The Maw. I’ve never been so happy to spend $10. Excellent work. 

Thank you so much.  This comment really helps us know that we hit our internal goals with The Maw of attempting to deliver the best quality, high production value downloadable game your 10 bucks could buy.  

Nick Chester