You’ve probably heard of Osmos by now. Ever since its release just over a week ago, this wholly unique ambient puzzler by Hemisphere Games has no real twin on Steam or anywhere else.
I interviewed Eddy Boxerman, head of Hemisphere Games, on the origins of Osmos and what the future holds for the game. Read closely for not one but two teases of potential upcoming content!
How did Osmos originate?
It began as an idea while doing the dishes. (Must have been the soap bubbles.) In fact, it was the result of a lot of background thinking — and related to courses I took over the years on deformable modeling and spacecraft dynamics. Once struck by the initial idea, I put together a simple prototype over the course of a week. I then spent another week or so just playing around with music and sound; from the beginning those have been very important elements in Osmos.
What past experiences led to or helped in the development of Osmos?
On the design and gameplay front there are two sources: a passion for games and design from an early age, and higher education. “Go back to school, kids.” ;-)
On the practial programming side, I learned a lot from some great people during my years at Ubisoft Montreal, Xtranormal and several other companies.
At the risk of putting words into their mouths, I suspect that Dave and our other collaborators would give similar answers.
You guys have been working on the game for a while now. How much did Osmos change over the course of development?
It’s actually been three years since I created that initial prototype! But in terms of effort, I’d say the game has under three man-years of work in it, including everyone’s time.
The original concept and chill mood have always remained, but a lot of work and experimentation went into all aspects of the game. We felt around for some time on the visuals, until my friend Kun Chang helped out and did some mock-ups and designed the first few motes. From there it was mainly layering and production, though I did spend quite a bit of time on the particle effects for collisions, the background, the various mote types, etc. The sound direction never really changed, but it improved a lot once Mat Jarvis (Gas / HighSkies) got involved. Loscil and Julien Neto were really generous with their time and beautiful music as well.
On the gameplay front, we experimented with many concepts to flesh out the initial idea into a “complete” game, and many features haven’t made it into the final game. The big breakthroughs came over time, including the gravity levels, the AI algorithms, the dense/impasse levels, etc. For the curious, I plan to release a couple of early versions of the game once the dust settles.
Osmos is an immensely detailed product that does not feel like your typical indie game in terms of polish. How many people are on-staff at Hemisphere Games, and how much did everyone contribute?
Thanks — we put a lot of love into it. As for “staff”, it’s fuzzy. I’ve been the center of the team over the three years. But over the last year or so, Dave Burke (previously an engine programmer at Epic) has been heavily involved as well. Kun hasn’t put in a ton of hours, but he’s super talented and works quickly — his artwork and video production have gone a long way to making Osmos a much sexier game. My friend Andy helped on the programming front a couple of years ago, but I think it’s more accurate to call him my “spiritual game adviser” (as I am his at snowboarding). He’s actually a Computer Science professor at Rutgers University and teaches courses on game design and programming. His encyclopedic knowledge of games and the industry, as well as on game design theory is… scary at times. And then there’s the extended team… I’d love to name them all, but it’d get long. Check out the Osmos credits. :)
What was the thinking behind adding achievements to Osmos? The way they’re included is very effective and unobtrusive, but it’s not the type of game you’d expect to have them.
Interesting question. We actually had lives in the game at one point, but in the end we scrapped the idea, and simply allow players to start from any zone (or even level) they have previously unlocked. The concept of achievements or scoring may seem at odds with a “Zen” game, and we debated this a fair bit. In the end, attaching achievements onto the completion of certain zones seemed to be a natural fit — nothing revolutionary there, and it does motivate some players to push further than they otherwise would. It’s also a good way to point players at interesting side-effects, such as the “Black Hole Sun” achievement.
Regarding scoring… we experimented a lot with different metrics: completion time, propulsion-efficiency, as well as different ways to combine these, but nothing felt quite right. Due to its physical/emergent nature, there are many ways to play Osmos; and we found that “judging” gamers’ play-style by defining an optimal scoring metric actually detracted from their enjoyment of the game. That said, we have something quite unique and cool coming on the scoring front; fans of the game should stay tuned.
What a tease. Thanks again, Eddy!