Ty Taylor on Tumblestone

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

You probably recognize Ty Taylor as the creator of The Bridge, last year's mind-bending Escher-esque puzzle game. Lately he's been running from convention to convention promoting his team's latest creation, Tumblestone, a fast-paced block smashing game with a more casual bent. Fresh from SXSW, Ty took some time to chat with us about Tumblestone and the indie game scene. Here's what he had to say.

Somnambulant Gamer: I'm sure you're asked this a lot, but how did you get into game design? Can you tell us about some of your previous work?
Ty Taylor: I've literally been designing games for as long as I can remember. When I was old enough to scribble on paper I was drawing mazes, and as a child I would create little block or number puzzles and card/board games for my friends and family to play. I started programming in my first year of high school, and I've been making video games since. My most famous work is my previous game, The Bridge. It’s a casual physics puzzler set in an M. C. Escher world, and it released on Steam and XBLA last year after winning a bunch of indie game awards and getting some great critical acclaim.

SG: What are you playing these days?
Ty: I spend way more time creating games than I do playing them, but when I am playing games, it’s usually local multiplayer games that I play with my girlfriend. Our go-to games consist of multiplayer Tetris, Hexic 2, Ticket to Ride, and some other casual games. It was actually these casual yet competitive local multiplayer games that partially inspired me to create Tumblestone.

SG: What can you tell us about Tumblestone? Walk us through a round.
Ty: Tumblestone, at its outer shell, is a Match-3 block-smashing game. It’s easy to watch a gameplay video of it and think that you've played 1,000 games like it before, but it’s not Bejeweled or AstroPop or Magical Drop. Tumblestone creates a deceptively complex puzzle around the simple system of pairing sets of exactly three colors together. It’s up you to pick the order that you create the triplets to make sure that you can make a successful triplet after that, and after that, and so on. Making a mistake adds a row to your board, and if it hits the bottom, game over. To make things more interesting when you’re playing with friends, every time you make a successful triplet, you add a row to your neighbor, and thus speed is a major factor and it forces you to race against your opponents. 

SG:  You've announced Tumblestone for PC, Mac and Linux. Any plans for a mobile or console release?
Ty: Those are platforms that we’re definitely targeting! My ultimate plan is to release on every major system simultaneously, though for consoles it is much more difficult to release a game, both at a technical level and production level, so we have no official announcement there just yet. But we’ll let the world know immediately once we can say for sure.

SG: How long has Tumblestone been in the works?
Ty: We've been working on Tumblestone since November, where it was originally conceived from a game jam. Over the past five months we've been experimenting with exactly how we want the gameplay to feel, and now we've locked that down. All that’s left is a ton of polishing and getting it ready for consoles. 

SG:  Do you have a target launch date?
Ty: We are tentatively planning on a November 2014 release.

SG: You worked with Midnight City when you released the Bridge. Will they be involved with Tumblestone?
Ty: Maybe!

SG: Is Tumblestone built more for local or online multiplayer? 
Ty: While online multiplayer is a great way to play Tumblestone against your friends all over the world, I personally think the best experience is local multiplayer. The satisfaction you get from making your friends yell and laugh as you knock them out of a round is best when they’re sitting next to you.

SG: Any game comes with it's own design challenges. What have been some of the challenges in developing Tumblestone?
Ty: The biggest challenge I've faced is making the gameplay appear appealing to all types of gamers at first glance. I recently got back from the SXSW Gaming Expo, where Tumblestone was on the show floor. Players who enjoyed casual Match-3 games like Bejeweled were immediately attracted to Tumblestone, since it was clearly a game they knew they would enjoy (and they did). On the other hand, the hardcore gaming crowd typically thought that Tumblestone was something that they wouldn't like. I had to do a bit of convincing, but after they got a controller in their hand, they were hooked. Hardcore gamers and casual gamers were playing side-by-side, thoroughly enjoying the game and sometimes playing for hours. 

SG: Any other particularly interesting moments from SXSW?
Ty: SXSW was the largest event where we've shown Tumblestone to date, and we got the game in front of thousands of gamers who have never heard of it before. It’s not a single particular moment, per se, but the overall response from nearly everyone who played it really blew me away. There was an entire expo full of unreleased games from other indie developers and AAA studios alike, yet some people got so hooked by Tumblestone that they stayed and played for hours. On the second day, people ran to Tumblestone’s booth to beat any lines. Children as young as 4 were able to play along gamers in their twenties and put up a fight, and those kids would pitch a fit when their parents had to literally pull them away from the game. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience for me.

SG: How do those challenges differ from your previous work on The Bridge?
Ty: The Bridge was a bit different with how it attracted attention. It was enough to for people to see the completely unique black and white hand-drawn art style, and that captivated them. Gamers of all types were drawn into The Bridge because of this, in addition to its really unique gameplay. Tumblestone also has really unique gameplay, and I believe it completely reinvents the Match-3 genre, but at first glance it’s not as easy to notice that about Tumblestone as it was with The Bridge.

SG: Do you have any favorite moments from the development of Tumblestone so far? 
Ty: My favorite moment in Tumblestone’s development happened on our first day. It was during a game jam, and we had invented the core concept just hours earlier. As soon as we had gotten a simple playable multiplayer prototype working, Alex, Justin, and I were immediately addicted to the gameplay. It was the middle of the night, we were all exhausted, yet we sat in front of that rusty prototype for an hour, playing “just one more round” indefinitely, and making such a ruckus that we woke up Alex’s fiancee. It was at that moment that I knew we had found a perfect formula. It's been reinforced by the exact same positive reactions that we've gotten from gamers at expos. That was the defining moment when I knew we absolutely had to create Tumblestone and develop it to its fullest. 

SG: You mentioned the "rusty prototype" was developed at a game jam. What is the general structure of a game jam?
Ty: A game jam is when make a game in 48-hours based around some theme, either by yourself or with a group of friends. In the case of Tumblestone, I worked with Alex and Justin, and there were two themes: Rainbows and Perseverance. This resulted in us creating what we called “Crush 3” , a concept that later evolved into Tumblestone. 

SG: With the indie game scene growing rapidly,do you have any advice for burgeoning designers?
Ty: The Bridge was my first major game, and I learned so much during the process of creating it that I’d love to pass along. First of all, start with a small team (at least 2 people, with no more than 4), and make sure you've got a talented programmer, designer, and artist. Don't create an overly ambitious project, as your first game will probably take at least three times longer than you expected (and beware of feature creep!). Spend plenty of time polishing your game (the minor details are always really important!), and playtest often. And finally, try to bring your game to as many expos and game shows as you can, and enter every contest there is. 

SG: For people looking to get more into game design, what can you recommend as a good place to start?
Ty: The best way to get into game design is to start making games! If you have absolutely no experience with programming or scripting, perhaps create a tabletop game or puzzle. Make all of your friends play it, and iterate on it until it’s perfect. Then make another, and then another. Once you’re ready to start making video games, check out a program called Game Maker, which is great for beginners. Go through all of the tutorials and really learn how to use it. Then do the same process. Make lots of games, playtest with friends, and iterate until they’re perfect. Make really small games (on the scale of Tetris or Space Invaders) so that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. As with anything, practice makes perfect!

SG: Is there anything I haven't asked that you'd like to talk about?
Ty: You didn't mention PAX East! If any of your readers are going to be there, we’ll be showing Tumblestone at the Indie MINIBOOTH on Sunday, April 13. Be sure to stop by and play some Tumblestone!

You'll find Tumblestone here, at booth 574 at PAX East

There you have it. We'd like to thank Ty Taylor for taking the time to chat with us. Any of you headed to PAX East, stop by the Indie Minibooth on Sunday, April 13th and get some hands on time with Tumblestone.