EGM had the chance to sit down and speak with Chris Miller, the COO of Fun Bits Interactive, the developer behind Escape Plan, which is one of the launch titles for the PS Vita, and Deborah Mars, Senior Producer at Sony.
EGM: Why don’t you guys start off by telling us a little bit how you guys went from your last game, Fat Princess, to this title, a more traditional adventure game. It’s a bit of a departure, but the humor still shines through.
Chris Miller: Escape Plan is something we’ve been working on for a while and it’s something we’ve always just had in the back of our minds. It’s a passion and a love we’ve had for many years and we’re just happy that Deborah approached us with the opportunity to work on PS Vita with it. We really wanted a game where we could interact directly with the environment and the characters and using the back touch and the front touch of Vita has allowed us to do that. And the game has just blossomed out of those early chances to just get our hands on the Vita dev kits and start working on the game together.
Deborah Mars: Chris and I have actually had a long working relationship together. He was at a separate company and that development team, which was Titan Studios, that development team did all the work on Fat Princess, but then he split and formed his own company and that core team did Fat Princess: Fat Roles DLC and so it’s that same team that is working on Escape Plan for us. But really, the idea and the concept and the seed of Escape Plan was born, what, five years ago?
CM: Yeah five to six years ago now.
DM: Yeah so now we’re just really happy that it’s coming to fruition.
EGM: Yeah I mean obviously with this type of game it’s kind of a high risk/reward because you never know how someone is going to react to this classic adventure style, but then again the Vita was made for products like this so it must be exciting for you guys to showcase all the capabilities of the touch screens in the way that you do.
CM: We’re really excited. I mean even working on the game we were looking for what other inspiration there was for this out there and we really couldn’t find any really good examples of just gesture interface and character control. And we love the fact that its action/adventure and its got platforming elements and its also got puzzle solving. It’s got a lot of different genres just being mashed together. Just to create Escape Plan has been a lot of fun and to see that people are having fun and responding to it and are excited by it, we’re just really happy and excited about that.
DM: I think that one of the really great things, and we were talking about this earlier, is that the idea has been floating around for a while and it has that nugget of soul and we have such passion behind it, that bringing it to the Vita, from the original game that it was to what it is now, its just such a perfect fit on the device. It’s really leveraging the unique aspects of the hardware with the front touch and the back touch and using them together and the tilting aspect and those kind of things have just made the concept really blossom and turn it into the game that it is today.
EGM: I think another big part of the warm reception is the characters of Lil and Laarg themselves. The game has a very distinct sense of that classic animation and I think that all helps convey a certain sense of charm.
CM: A lot of inspiration came from even old black and white movies like Charlie Chaplin and a lot of Laurel and Hardy and just a lot of classic comedy and very physical humor, which we really enjoy and is a huge inspiration. But even just that Lil and Laarg are very humorous in their own way anyway. They’re wearing these big rubber suits and what is going on there. Laarg is always just jolly and happy no matter what is going on or what happens, he’s just happy but he’s always kind of ignorant at the same time. It’s like every time he falls and is about to die he goes “Wheeeee!!!” [Laughs] He has no idea what’s going on and you just can’t help but love him and he’s such a cute, cool character to work with. And then you have Lil who is a little feisty, a little impatient, and then you have the Minions, who just look like their caffeinated all the time which is just great and they’re like angry Oompa Loompas who are just out to get you.
EGM: Another thing you mentioned while we were playing the demo is the audio, which is just fantastic, whether talking about the score or the sound effects. Can you tell us a little bit about what went into that?
CM: Audio is always a huge part of any project that I’ve ever worked on and with the Vita, whether you’re listening through headphones or the device’s speakers, you just want to make sure that it is really a good, deep experience. We’re really fortunate because we’re working with Rob Mills again who was our audio director on Fat Princess, and he is a phenomenal composer and is making original tracks for Escape Plan and has conducted the Escape Plan theme already and we’re also putting in some original orchestral pieces as well. Like classic things that people will be familiar with and respond to and its just great to hear these beautiful classic symphonies with very grim deaths happening at the same time where the character is just being splattered all over the room. It’s a good time and a key part of the exposition.
DM: And it’s something that is just universal. Even from the early days when we were showing the initial concept years ago and everyone in the Sony worldwide studios, whether you were in Japan, Europe, or America, people just responded to it and so its just like this global language of music that these are tracks that people are just really familiar with. And it seems to fit really nicely with the game.
EGM: As far as some of the puzzles go, I’m sure our audience would love to know more about how the game uses gestures. Seeing the game is one thing, but give us a clue into some of the puzzles and the whole trial and error method of the game.
CM: Well, sometimes you’ll just be using the mechanics of just the characters. You might have to just set them on their path and they’ll be okay or we saw sometimes the player will actually break the room and start moving things around and cause the problems that will kill the characters and they’ll be like “Ughhh I could have just exited”. At the same time, we want the players to enjoy tapping around the room and figuring out what they can and can’t interact with. In one of the later levels, in The Dumps, we’ve got these huge logs and you have to push them in and out of the wall and it’s cool to like back tap and you realize you can push them in and out a little bit and create like this staircase for the character to walk down and when people hit that “A-ha!” moment, it’s really cool when they see they can create a stairway or just fall through and it’s a cool exploratory process. It’s great to just watch people as this happens, we’ve been doing some focus group testing and it’s cool to see how people think. Also, one of the things we’re trying to do since it is a new device, we want people to enjoy the experience of learning how to use it, which is cool. We don’t want to have to do overbearing tutorials or anything like that. We want people to enjoy the experience and then go “Oh, hey, I can back tap and move things or swipe my fingers to move the camera or this is a tilting level”. And then we start moving and layering those mechanics on top of each other in each puzzle to make the game more difficult.
EGM: Yeah there is definitely a great sense of reward as you experience things and even in dying, like you said, there is a lot of amusing stuff going on there. Shades of Lemmings or even the early Oddworld titles. It seems like from you guys there is just a lot of charm in the game.
CM: Yeah, I think we got it from long ago when in arcade games, if you died, you had to feed more quarters into the machine to keep going. I think like Dragon Slayer was a classic one. I put so many quarters into that machine just to see all the different deaths of the characters. So we kind of have this risk/reward where if you do try to explore and experiment via the death of the character, we really want people to enjoy that experience. It’s not like “Ughhh, I got sent back five levels and now I have to play through all that again” and have a lot of unnecessary repetition. It’s like, you died, you got a really funny visual, and now you get to try it again.
EGM: There’s a little badge of shame though when you do die.
DM: You’re marked!
CM: You are indeed marked! It is the badge of shame and we’re kind of interested to see if people can get to the end of the game with zero marks on them and see if they can get the perfect game going on because I pretty much died every room sometimes because I wanted to see and hear the new animations and sound effects we’ve been doing recently, but we know the Vita is going to have a hardcore audience as well so if there is a casual gamer who just wants to play the puzzles and just run through, they’ll enjoy it and not really care if they’re marked or not, but the hardcore gamer, they’re going to want that zero at the end, they want the lowest number possible of deaths when they finish the game. But we’re trying to hit that wider audience where the game can appeal to everybody.
EGM: You’ve even got a little bit of that collectible element in there as well for those people who really like to tinker around.
CM: Well, there are warning signs everywhere placed throughout all the different levels. And we’re going to have them so that you can see them or display them like badges so we’ve got like an acid one with Laarg’s face being melted off and there are all kinds of different ones and they’re all pretty grim [Laughs] like there’s another one where Lil is falling on a huge spike. But basically as your progress through the levels, you might just see them lying there and you can pick them up as you continue on, but as the player continues to go through the game they’ll realize we’ve started to hide them in amongst the levels. Even in the first entry levels there are probably signs that you passed that you probably didn’t even notice and you can go back and play through and try to find them.