The gameplay in Potato Planet! is as physics based as possible. Surfaces can be slippery, sticky, or bouncy. Objects can be moved around and sometimes destroyed. Even the movement of enemy potatoes is physics based. The core idea being that the player should be able to create their own path and solutions by interacting with the environment using the tools provided rather than being completely constrained by pre-scripted events or a single solution.
The inspiration and decision making process behind a game getting developed has always fascinated me. So, I felt that it might be a good idea to share what games have inspired me over the years and how that has shaped the physics based gameplay design in Potato Planet!
Many developers credit the games they grew up on with inspiration for their work now. Often, it is pretty clear there is a certain amount of nostalgia that influences a game. So, what childhood games inspired Potato Planet? Well, not much. Because I’m old and the tech just wasn’t available for physics based gameplay when I was a kid.
I’m old enough that the first game I played was Space Invaders. I never had a console as a child. So, any games I played were at arcades or at friends houses. Of course, growing up during the Atari era, games were not particularly interesting. Things got better when NES, Sega, and SNES came along. But, I still never got a console. Sure, I liked games and I had fun with them. But, none of them ever truly impressed me. Until I got a PC, and I was introduced to Wolfenstein 3D. At that point, I knew games were headed somewhere really amazing and I enthusiastically got into PC gaming.
Quite a few 3D games started to come out and I played as many as I could. They were fun, but I was always disappointed with how despite being 3D, they ultimately felt constrained. Most things could not be interacted with, and typically you were just in a maze with a gun. Much of the way that I spent playing games was kind of unusual. I’d spend time figuring out what the limits were. Like counting how many bullet decals a wall would receive before they faded. Or, I would find all the breakable/explodable objects in a game and make sure they were eliminated. Getting through a level fast was never my thing because I wanted to inspect and interact with every inch of the game.
By this time through school and self teaching. I had learned a bit of several programming languages. So I think there was a certain amount of curiosity in trying to figure out how games worked and why there were not more of the things that I thought would make them more interesting. It wasn’t until System Shock (Which by the way has recently been enhanced and re-released on GOG.) that I started to really get a feel for what I craved in video games. System Shock just felt right. There were physics, lots of things to interact with, and the right mix of action, RPG, and puzzles.
Half-Life took things to the next level and the design theories Valve decided on, were incredibly important. The key idea was that the game world should respond to the player. Things should break, move, and respond just the way the player would expect. Unfortunately, the technology at the time still had a lot of limitations.
However, the key moment for me came at E3 2003 when a Half-Life 2 demo showed off the physics capabilities of the game. I knew at this point that the time had finally come where games could truly be interactive. I was incredibly excited. I watched the video over and over and showed it to all my friends. Unfortunately most of them were not very in to gaming and could not understand why I was so excited.
You might be surprised to know that while I enjoyed Half-Life 2. It wasn’t really for me. It’s an excellent FPS and the story is fantastic. But, I craved more of the physics based puzzle solving. I had so much fun moving stuff around with the gravity gun. However, it’s primary purpose was as a weapon. I wanted to do more with it.
Eventually, the Portal Series was released. I loved the idea of being placed in a world with a set of physics based tools and rules then being able to solve a problem however you wanted. I think that this kind of gameplay is where there is the most room to grow at the moment. Physics and destruction is difficult and we are just now getting to a point where typical hardware can handle a decent amount of it. And with VR becoming a thing, being able to physically interact with a game world is more important than ever.
Although some inspiration for Potato Planet! has roots stretching back to the early 90’s. I would credit Valve’s Half-Life and especially the Portal series with contributing the most inspiration to this project. So, if you detect a few subtle Portal references when playing the game, you’ll know why!