With little fanfare and no marketing budget to speak of, one of the more interesting titles to be found at this year’s Gamescom event was a little known indie game from German developer Black Pants Studio called Tiny & Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers. A uniquely inspiring 3D platform title for the PC, the cartoony-looking physics-based laser-cutting game stood out for me as one of the more polished titles at the crowded Steam booth. Indeed, with two of its developers (Johannes Spohr – Engine Programmer, Christian Niemand – Programmer + Marketing/PR) at the event, I quickly took the opportunity to ask them to showcase the game for me, and to tell me a little bit more about the game and how it came about.
You’re at Gamescom 2012 and you’re showcasing an indie title called Tiny & Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers. What’s the game about?
Johannes: It’s about Tiny, and it’s about Big. Tiny is the main character, who you play, and he’s after Big who stole his most cherished inheritance.
For those who aren’t aware of the title, what kind of game is Tiny & Big?
Johannes: It’s a genre mix of platforming, physics-based puzzles, and “jump and slice” – where we have incorporated several game mechanic which are quite unique. We have a laser which can allow you to slice every object you find in the world. We have a rope which allows you to pull stuff, as well as a rocket mechanic which allows you to push stuff away. You can have a lot of fun by messing around with these mechanics and allowing the physics engine to do its magic. The fun comes from having big objects around you, and you yourself being this little fragile character who messes stuff up and slices everything around him so as to make everything crumble to pieces.
Christian: One of the core features is that you collect music tapes, and these music tapes contain songs from real-life independent bands from around the world. The indie bands licensed their songs for free, but all the money we earn from selling the soundtrack (on Amazon, iTunes etc) we forward to the bands. So it’s a win-win situation where we have a cross-marketing concept.
How hard was it for you to obtain licenses from (what I assume are all underground) independent bands?
Christian: It was very easy. We sent one or two emails to the bands, and most of the bands came back and said “wow, we get to make music for a computer game? That’s great”.
Bearing in mind that you’ve just admitted to licensing music from bands for inclusion in the game, did you ever consider making your own custom music for Tiny & Big?
Christian: Yeah, I made one song for the game – ‘Retro Blues’ – which is a song for the tutorial.
Why did you decide to make Tiny & Big as a 3D platform game and not as a 2D platform game?
Johannes: (Tiny & Big) is our first game, and we weren’t really smart about what to do, and what not to do. We just started out, and we built a prototype. We had a 3D engine back then, which was really just some code lying around from our university days that we used for a few projects and games that were never finished. We met with these people from art school who had experience in making short films, as well as a few art-works with 3D stuff in it – with special shaders so as to make them look like traditional animation. They used 3D tools to make their movies anyway, and we thought it would be good for us to make something in 3D which would benefit from their 3D modelling techniques.
We never thought how hard it would be to make a 3D game that successfully melded gameplay with physics in large open levels. It just didn’t occur to us back then, as we weren’t experienced enough.
If you could go back in time, and knowing what you know now, would you change anything about the game?
Johannes: We would make the game much more simple, and give (the design) more thought at the beginning. We changed a lot of stuff during the development of Tiny & Big, and this wasn’t always great for the project. You can tell which levels were early in the project, and which were added later, where they don’t play in the same way.
At the end, we tried to go over the whole game again, and bring it to the same level of quality. But it was hard as some levels were started very early on, where the decisions made back then weren’t entirely smart. To carry out the whole process again, and to balance the game, would have been too much work – where even fixing the broken aspects didn’t make the game as good as we’d hoped.
In future, we would spend more time in the beginning, where more prototyping would be done, before jumping into the game development itself.
How long did Tiny & Big take to develop?
Christian: I think we worked on Tiny & Big for 2.5 years – but not full time. For half the game’s development, we worked on it part time. But after we first met (in 2003) we started to work on our own engine.
How many people comprise Black Pants Studio?
Christian: Currently there are 6 people (within the studio). We are also working with 5 freelancers, who aren’t full time, and they’ve helped us with the project over 2-3 weeks.
Why did you decide to make your own engine as opposed to going with something established?
Christian: We have a technical interest in making games, and the first step is making our own engine. Back then, there was no ‘Unity’, and licensing other engines was extremely expensive.
Do you have any plans for supporting the game post-launch – patches, DLC etc?
Johannes: We are in the process of fixing bugs, for which we will be releasing a patch soon.
Regarding DLC? That depends… We are a very small team, and we are planning for our next project… It’s difficult to say because when you work on a project for as long as we have, you only really get feedback once the game is out. Although you think it would be awesome to enhance it and give people more stuff to do, you also quite like the idea of the project being finished, and trying something else. So I guess it’s not entirely out of the question, but it also won’t be happening any time this year. Probably later…
What was the inspiration for naming the game Tiny & Big?
Johannes: The inspiration…? I guess it was just something that someone came up with. The name came up very early on in the game’s development, and we just never got round to changing it. We released the beta prototype, and once it was out there, it was too late. Many people have stated that it’s a cool name, but it’s not our dream title. In hindsight, we would have changed it if we had the chance, or if we had a good enough idea.
What future projects do you have in mind?
Christian: We have a new project (in the pipeline) that focuses on love and hate. We also have another game coming out this year for IOS.
The PC is often regarded as being an open-platform – and although there are barriers to entry in making one’s game a success (by having it be approved on portals such as Steam etc), how likely are you to recommend the PC as a platform for developers to release their games on?
Johannes: I think the PC is the best platform for beginners, indie developers and those who want to work on original ideas without having someone tell them what they can and cannot do. You have the most choice when it comes to your game’s distribution, and the deals are very good from those distribution services. You have little to no certification to go through in order to get your game to market, which frees up the developers. Maybe it’s not the most prestigious of platforms (on the market), but for our small team, it’s the best choice.
Christian: You also don’t have to purchase expensive development kits. You can just use cheap PCs, which means development for the PC is open to all.