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Interview: Matt Verran (Ooki Bloks)

JANUARY 6, 2008


An interview with Matt Verran, one half of the Ooki Bloks development team.


Hi Matt, let's begin with an introduction of yourself, and what you do for a living.

Er well I'm an indie game developer from the UK, been coding games for years but started hermitgames about five years ago. Oh in the real world I work for a games company as a programmer.


And what are you working on now?

Ooki Bloks with Studio Work3, which is an IGF finalist and 3 or 4 other little, probably freeware, projects I need to finish off.


Who is behind Studio Work3, and how did the collaboration came about?

Studio Work3 = Brian Flanagan. I saw some of his art on a forum, he was using one of characters from Ooki as his sig picture. I asked if he needed a coder and he kind of did so I started converting his Ooki prototype.


And when was this?

I'm trying to get the chronology right, I think actually Brian got me to code up another of his ideas, and that kind of proved I was "good" enough to handle Ooki. We started about September 2006. He had been working on Ooki for more than a year before that.


So you're saying the game has been in development for more than a year?

As a concept yep. Brian actually worked loads of stuff out first by making it in Multimedia Fusion. But it was running quite slowly at 640x480 and the music stuff wasn't how he wanted it.


How did you manage to keep the game as a secret throughout the entire development period?

Well we just didn't tell anyone. I'd rather not announce stuff until I know it's going to be finished soonish, and Brian is the same. I've started loads of projects that just meander on indefinitely.


When did you make the decision to submit Ooki Bloks to the IGF?

About a week before the deadline.


Why the sudden shift to puzzlers? Your last release (and pretty much everything you've done) are basically arcade shooters or action-based games.

I really like making all types of games, I've a fair few puzzle games sitting unfinished, I guess it's only shooters that have reached escape velocity and been released. In Ooki's case it was Brians game and I loved the art and the concept so am chuffed to be working on it.


What will the final version of Ooki Bloks have? And when do you think it will be ready for a release?

Should be finished by next Xmas. Around about ten worlds, each with five-ish levels and a boss. Every world has different gameplay block types, enemies and music.


Who made the trailer?

Brian put the trailer together. The Haiku story is a traditional japanese story I believe. We kind of thought it was arty enough to fit with the IGF vibe.


I dont know where people get the idea that art games are generally more welcomed in the IGF than any other game genres..

We wanted to be a little arty with it, and thought the contrast was funny, not everyone liked the switch to the game stuff though.


You mentioned a prototype for Ooki Bloks... was there a version made available for the public to download?

no no Brian was very careful with Ooki, it was a while before he let me see it at all. I'd agreed to recode it based on just a few bits of art and a rough description.


Will you be releasing any more trailers, screenshots for Ooki Bloks before GDC? For fans of your works, of course. (especially oddbob)

I dont think so, we'll be concentrating on getting a really good version for the showfloor. Brian is working on some excellent stuff for the booth, like the joystick. Brian is pretty good at modelling and pysical art stuff, he's done an Ooki toy prototype as well.


Are you surprised about Ooki Bloks being in the IGF finals? Were you pleased with the nominations, or did you expect at least two or three?

Yeah we're really pleased, I know some really cool stuff didn't even get in at all.


Such as?

Like Gish 2 and Cortex Command.


Who do you think is your toughest competition in the same category? Were there any submitted games which impressed you in this year's IGF?

The Fret Nice video makes it look kind of amazing, and Audiosurf is up for the grand prize so I expect it must be good. Personally just getting nominated is the golden ticket, I get to go have a great holiday in SF.


Your pick to win the excellence in audio category, and the grand prize?

That's really hard to say without playing any of them really. I think the grand prize will be World of Goo or Noitu Love 2. Audio maybe Fret Nice?


What are some of your favorite indie games? And your recent picks?

I really liked Flywrench. So much so I knocked up my own version so I could play about with the mechanics, I need to contact messhof about that. I hope to have a game out on hermitgames in the next month, nothing Ooki related, just an old project I want to finish off.


Freeware or shareware?

Free. Not got the time to do more than one project worth buying at once.


Will there be am Ooki Bloks sequel? What will your next project be (besides the freeware game you're releasing next month)? Action, arcade? Or another puzzler? and will it be another hermitgames and studio work3 collab?

I dont even know if I should call Ooki Bloks a puzzler..


Yeah action puzzle is how I've been describing it. In the final game some world will lean more towards puzzle and some more straight action. I think work3 and hermitgames will most likely do another game, we're having lots of fun doing this one.


Genre?

We've talked about a few things but nothing set in stone yet.


Are you ever going to make another vertical shooter? Or maybe a sequel to Fren-ze?

Yes most likely, I'd like to work with Chalk again who I made Fren-ze with but I've been far too busy with Ooki. Possibly he'll make another game and i'll do a bit of support coding.


pictured above, screenshot from hermitgames' upcoming raidenphaec


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About The IGF


UBM TechWeb (producer of Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra.com, and the Game Developers Conference) established the Independent Games Festival in 1998 to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize the best independent game developers.

The competition, now in its 13th year, awarded a total of nearly $50,000 in prizes to deserving indie creators in Main Competition and Student Competition categories at the IGF Awards Ceremony, held in March 2010 at the Moscone Center, San Francisco, CA, as one of the highlights of the Game Developers Conference.

The Independent Games Festival will return in March 2011 at GDC in San Francisco - look for more information soon. [More information...]

About The IGS


Featuring lectures, postmortems and roundtables from some of the most notable independent game creators around, the Independent Games Summit is a yearly event, with iterations thus far taking place in March 2007, February 2008, March 2009 and March 2010 at Game Developers Conference.

UBM TechWeb (which curates the IGF and runs GDC) plans to continue and grow the Independent Games Summit in subsequent years. [More information...]