Last week, we asked Gameological readers to submit questions that we could pose to developers on the E3 2015 show floor. We picked four of our favorites (and carried over one from last year’s batch); those questions constitute The Gameological Questionnaire.
Robin Hunicke is the CEO of Funomena, a studio she co-founded with fellow thatgamecompany (Journey) alum Martin Middleton. She and the Funomena crew are working with Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi on Wattam, an adorable game about a mayor in a bowler hat who’s trying to bring a fractured world together through the twin powers of hand-holding and whimsical explosions. After holding my hand through Wattam’s exuberant demo, Robin stepped away from her station’s giant beanbag chairs to answer our Questionnaire (and she had high praise for our readers’ queries).
The A.V. Club: What’s one thing in your game that took a lot of time to get right but players might not notice right away?
Robin Hunicke: I actually think the music is a perfect example, the music system. Because we wanted the music to be collaborative. We wanted it to come together from every voice—every character to have its unique voice and have that contribute to the sound. But when we started thinking about it, it was that it was going to be different instruments, or maybe different beats and instruments, or maybe different melodies, and then they’d harmonize. And we were building all these different types of systems to try to make different voices come together. Then, sort of out of the blue, we had this brainstorm to work on a mashup style, where we could just kind of quickly cut between different voices, and that way everybody could maintain their uniqueness, but also contribute in a way that was meaningful.
And this is actually something that Keita says is really important for any team, you know, and it’s true. Everyone has to be able to contribute something positive, but they also want to feel like it’s really them and not just that they’ve been kind of dumbed down to a more base level, or lost uniqueness because they’re in a group. It’s a core value of the game, and it took us a long time to get there. Right? When you play it, it’s not in your face. It’s pretty subtle. And so the idea is to build something that feels so natural that you don’t even see it.
AVC: If you were to embed a playable retro title into your game, what would it be and why?
RH: I would definitely embed a playable level of Katamari Damacy, because it’s the world’s best game. [Laughs.]
AVC: Okay, other than a Keita game?
RH: [Laughs.] Okay, personally, I would love to put in a version of M.U.L.E. because that’s just my favorite game of all time. It is, really. M.U.L.E. was the big game I fell in love with when I was in seventh grade. I went to a friend’s house and played on the Commodore 64. I was obsessed with the idea of sitting next to someone and playing a game that we were both competing in, and we were also competing with the computer. That was mind-blowing to me at that time. It was just so cool to think about the computer being able to play with us, and then also [for] us to compete. In a way, maybe that’s why I ended up in AI, and doing robots and eventually video games, because of that experience.
AVC: If you had tried to make this game 15 to 20 years ago, what would you have had to do differently?
RH: Well, definitely it wouldn’t have had all of the soft edges and shaders and the graphics whiz-bangs that are in it now. And it’s still not ready yet. There’s so much to do. But I think the number-one thing is that there’s a lot of physics and real-time calculation of how the characters animate and connect with each other and all the music that they’re making. There are a lot of separate systems put together, and 20 years ago we probably would have had to pick just one thing. And you know, it probably would have been 2-D.
AVC: If my resume included a whole summer spent just playing your game, how could I spin it as valuable experience?
RH: [Laughs.] Okay, so this is any easy one. Lots of games have different qualities. You could call them vitamins. This is actually an idea of an academic that I met here this week, and she said, “Wattam has a lot of vitamin D for discovery.” Learning how to make your own fun and discover things on your own is something that is applicable to any job, any relationship, any trip, any adventure in life. And so I think if you were to spend a whole summer playing this game, and figuring out all the things the system can do, you could say, “I discovered so many things, not just about the system but also about myself and how creative and exploratory I am, and how I can basically make anything fun,” which is something that everybody wants to hire into their company. So go for it.
AVC: Last one. If your game were the main course of the meal, what would be the appetizer and what would be the dessert?
RH: [Laughs.] That’s so fun. Okay, if our game were the main course, the appetizer—in terms of food? I would say the appetizer would be a really subtle miso soup to prepare you for the flavor extravaganza of the main course. And then on the other side of it, the dessert would be a cleansing sherbet that left almost no taste in your mouth, so you could think back to the main courses and just enjoy those sensations.
AVC: That’s it!
RH: That’s awesome. That’s the best interview.