First off, Tell me about yourself? And tell me a little about Italic Pig and what it’s like to work there?
I got into the Northern Irish games scene by way of animation. About 12 years ago I moved to Northern Ireland from Canada to be an art director for an animated children’s series. That company went on to make a game called Hector: Badge of Carnage, which got picked up by Telltale Games. I found games suited me better than animation when it came to telling stories in a weird way, so I stuck with games and formed Italic Pig.
Italic Pig has been around for about seven years. Over those years we’ve risen and fallen with the tide, tackling a big own-IP project every two years; Schrodinger’s Cat was our first. We’ve a couple of big projects in the works and twelve people under one roof (by comparison, Schrodinger’s Cat was done with only three!).
Our studio is based outside of Belfast in the seaside town of Holywood. This tiny town is the epicenter of creativity in Northern Ireland, being home to a number of games and animation companies. Our office is a rambling three-story townhouse that we’re making our own with graffiti art, a cafe space and a custom Schrödinger’s Cat Arcade machine. You won’t find 100-hour workweeks here, but you will find a team of passionate game developers and artists that are given the chance to fully thrive in our studio.
What is your personal favourite puzzle game and/or Platformer and did you take any inspiration from that when developing Schrödinger’s Cat And The Raiders Of The Lost Quark?
My favourite puzzle games from way back (besides the classic LucasArts, of course) were Oddworld and Lemmings, which obviously influenced quite a bit of Schrodinger’s Cat. From Lemmings, I loved the idea that you were handed a sack of solutions but it was up to you to work out what order they went in…the frustration and burden of completion was put on the player, and that’s something most games nowadays worry about (would you like a free hint?).
From Oddworld, besides great gameplay and characters and mechanics, I actually loved the branding – the fact that Abe worked in that well-branded processing factory added so much sarcastic validation to the world.
Speaking of which, where did the inspiration for Schrödinger’s Cat And The Raiders Of The Lost Quark come from?
I’ve always been excited about quantum physics, origins of the universe, etc, since back before it was cool. The problem was that any visual online to explain any of the weirdness is usually made by scientists, so it’s full of math and greek letters and textbook line drawings – usually dull or incomprehensible to a blow-in. I wanted to make a game that showed off all the things I found cerebrally exciting in a visually exciting way, thus making it more accessible.
When it comes to learning stuff, your average joe may say “I can’t memorise anything” and yet can recite the starting lineup for every premiership team in history, or every Pokemon, for example. I figured that by playing a round of Mario and being able to recite all the names and weaknesses, why not try to anthropomorphise elementary particles and build them into a mechanic?
So, I set out to make a game that works on two levels. On the surface, it’s a purple cat in a magical colourful world where stuff happens according to a set of rules. On the deeper level, it’s about the properties of particle physics. This way you can enjoy the game whether you’re in primary school or you’ve got a PhD. I usually refer to it as “a game about quantum physics aimed at an audience too young to know it’s supposed to be hard.”
I imagine that it might have been a difficult idea to get started, because of the physics aspect of the game, so how did you pitch it?
Schrodinger’s Cat was almost a cartoon series, believe it or not. It was developed during my time at the animation company, but it wasn’t exactly the right fit; nerd culture has to be at the centre of the whole thing, and that’s not something you can necessarily dive into in an hour on Wikipedia (i mean, you gotta start somewhere though). The pitch was created, and began floating around the project investment scene, and landed on the right desk. It just needed to find the right people.
How long did it take to develop the game?
Once we had the investment, it was about 18 months from start to finish. That got it onto Steam, followed by another 8 months or so to get it onto Xbox & PS4.
What are you most proud of in regards to the game?
Honestly, the whole thing. I know that sounds non-committal, but in every project you tend to make sacrifices and there’s always something you’re a little sad to compromise on. I had my hand in every part of this project – I did the writing, the game design, the characters, the cutscene animation, some of the coding, the finale – and as a result I look at it and go “yeah, that’s pretty much how I intended it to be.”
Now that it’s been out for a while, is there anything you’d change or do differently?
Nope. I mean, I’d like a higher metacritic rating of course, but there is honestly nothing I could have done to improve them. If you take the time to look deeper into the reviews, and I have, there is no commonality to what the game got marked negatively. Some reviews say “I like the dialogue but not the randomised levels” and others say “I like the levels but not the dialogue.” Can’t win.
The game contains everything *I* like about games, but because it spans a few genres and mechanic types, it’s subtractive in terms of reviews rather than additive. If you play it, it probably contains bits you will enjoy, and other bits you have to endure. That’s kind of full-on indie if you ask me. It’s not for everybody, but it’s PERFECT for a passionate few.
What in your opinion is the funniest joke or reference in the game?
I don’t want to spoil it for anybody, but my favourite reference in the game is the final crisis. Being purposefully vague, the final crisis revolves around a genuine lawsuit put forward against the Large Hadron Collider (the story for the game was written when they were still building the LHC, so it was timely). I said to myself, “that theoretical situation needs to be the climax”… but then of course, SC needs to put a stop to it. I went to a small group of Queen’s University Physicists (Belfast) and asked what to do about it, and they gave me a potentially viable theoretical answer. What happens in the climax is a physical interpretation (albeit a tenuous one) of the actual crisis and an actual solution. Maybe only a fraction of a percent of the people will ever understand what’s really going on, but if anyone asks, I’ve got an answer to back it up.
And was humour in your opinion a big part of making a quantum physics based game like this more accessible?
Yeah, nerds like nerd jokes. I’ve always been a big fan of the Terry Pratchett’s and the Neil Gaiman’s of the world, who manage to shape humour so cleverly that even if you don’t get the joke directly, you know darn well that something clever just happened, and it makes you say “I’ve got to get smarter if I want to enjoy this more.” The writing of SC was my own attempt at that, plus a good-sized pile or really obvious science wordplay thrown in.
Speaking of physics, can you tell me a little about Quarks, we like our readers to learn things so feel free to tell us about real life Quarks and their in-game counterparts?
I mentioned memorisation and learning through play a little earlier. I wanted to make a game that fed the player a bunch of terms and mechanics and combinations through gameplay, and never reference the fact that the game mechanics were based on actual really real quantum mechanics. I wouldn’t expect anyone to get a degree out of the game, but by the end of the game, every player should know:
- There are 6 types of quarks: Up, Down, Top, Bottom, Charm (rare) and Strange (very rare).
- Each quark has an antiquark.
- There are 3 sizes of leptons: Electron (small), Muon (medium), Tauon (large).
- Gluons come in different “colours”.
- Bosons come in two types, Ws and Zs.
- Bosons are their own antiparticle.
- The Higgs Boson is hard to find.
All of the particles were turned into creature that exhibited these properties. For example, Bosons are represented by solitary hippo-like beasts (massive floating packets of energy). The fact that Bosons are their own antiparticle was represented by them being fiercely territorial – if two Bosons spot each other, they fight and eliminate one another. It’s the only way to get rid of them.
Each creature or character has some reason for being the way it is… with a fair amount of creative license of course!
Would you consider making any follow ups to the game?
I’d love to one day to a follow up. I’ve actually already written the second story and developed the new characters and gameplay concepts – this time about the four fundamental forces. I’d be excited about it, but maybe I’m the only one… Would be nice to know if anyone else out there is keen to play Schrodinger’s Cat and the Irresistible Force!
How do you feel the game has been received?
Hard to say. Getting published by a partner like Team17 has upsides and downsides. The upside is of course reputation and reach – Team17 can obviously get my game in front of several orders of magnitude higher than I could myself, and having them behind it elevates it to another level. The downside (which is no fault to T17 at all, just comes with the territory) is that it’s easy for the public to judge an indie product made by a tiny team on the same level as a game made by T17 itself. So when T17 puts out a trailer, far more people will see it, but there are a fair share of “stop making stuff this and make more Worms!”, not realising that it was made by a team of 3, not a team of 200. I was one of the first external 3rd party games published by Team17, at the same time as Escapists, Flockers and Overruled. We were all figuring it out as we went along!
Lastly, what other game mascot do you feel Schrödinger’s Cat would get along with?
Marty McFly from the Telltale Back to the Future Series! Not least because they were voiced by the same actor, A.J. LoCascio. I think Marty and SC would travel well together, through time, space, or whatever adventure comes their way.
First Published on: https://offtherecordblog.org/