I was recently browsing the internet, and I came across a title named Vessel. Being developed by Strange Loop Games, Vessel takes water physics to a new level as you take control of Arcwright, an inventor who has developed cheap labor that requires nothing more than a few drops of liquid. We were lucky enough to get an interview with the developers of Vessel, and I am excited to say that it went quite well. The answers in this interview are answered by Strange Loop Games artist, Mark Filippelli.
1,) Tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you came together to work on Vessel.
We all met working at Pandemic Studios Brisbane, but it wasn’t a situation of us sitting around one day and deciding to make a game together. It was John who left originally to pursue indie development and created the original physics tech demo. After Pandemic closed its doors, we all moved into other companies and one by one, but eventually joined John to help in our specific areas of expertise.
Although we’ve technically worked together for years, I personally haven’t actually worked directly with any of the other guys except Milenko [Tunjic]. I knew Martin [Farren] well because I used to lurk around his desk in the morning as he had a tendency to regularly buy donuts on his way into the office.
I knew John [Krajewski] more from hanging out outside of work, and honestly, I still don’t think he’s forgiven me for dragging him to a cricket game that he refers to as “the worst 8 hours of my life.”
Kieran [Lord] was always good for a chat first thing in the morning while he meticulously perfected his coffee making skills like a mad scientist.
Milenko, well Milenko is just Milenko. I met him in the first week of my career as just one of those guys in the office everyone knew. He is an outstanding artist, although his personal work was often considered inappropriate for the workplace, it doesn’t take away from how beautifully it was executed.
Leonard [Paul] is the most recent member to the family and although we didn’t know him prior to Vessel, he has been a perfect fit, bringing the audio skills we need.
2.) Was making games based upon liquid physics one of the main things that brought you guys together?
I would say it was more the opportunity to work with a group of talented people on a game that we all felt could be made great.
John and Milenko first showed me the game in a pub in Brisbane. At that stage, it wasn’t much more than a group of flowing balls that would collect themselves around a rig, but the potential of what it could become was obvious.
3.) How has the shift been from working at a big company like EA to joining the Indie scene?
It was very easy. There is certainly something special about working on a large project with a large team, but you can end up becoming very detached from the final product and end up becoming specialized in areas that don’t interest you.
On Vessel, we have all been creatively involved, all the time, and are responsible for a wide range of things. Despite being physically far away, [though it is based in Seattle, members of Strange Loop Games also live in Brisbane, Australia, and Vancouver, CA], we were constantly in contact throwing ideas back and forth. If I need something, I can just hit up one of the guys, we’ll have a quick chat about it and I’ll have what I’m after by the next day, rather than the convoluted system of a large studio where your message would filter up a chain of managers to be decided on through a series of meetings. Working the way we do doesn’t have that factory line feel and simply becomes a group of mates who enjoy making a game.
4.) Did Vessel turn out how you originally planned? Has it taken any twists and turns along the development cycle?
I think what makes Vessel work is that it didn’t go as we planned. We have had a lot of ideas to better the game over the last couple of years, and some were great, but others were far from it. It’s easy to get caught up in the momentum of progress and lose sight on what you’re trying to achieve. It’s also easy to keep following a path you know is wrong because of how much time you’ve already invested into it. We’ve made it a point to regularly step back and look at the game and revaluate the direction and not be afraid to change it. It’s yet another luxury of working on a small team.
5.) Did any other games influence Vessel, or was it just something you came up with?
There’s always going to be some kind of influence from other games whether it’s intentional or subconscious, but we never drew any elements directly from another game.
The whole concept was based around a tech demo of dynamic fluid that could attach to a rig and be animated and so, the fluro was born. The demo was specifically designed as a challenge to do something that hadn’t been done before and that was the stem from which the ideas grew.
6.) I notice that Vessel does have a story, but is it going to have a big impact? Or is it just aesthetic?
Like the game itself the story evolved along the way and has actually had a lot of influence in other aspects of the game, particularly the art style. However, we didn’t want it to feel intrusive or get in the way of the game itself, so we left it to the player to decide how much they want to know. We don’t have cut scenes and the player can move through the game without needing to know any information other than the games mechanics, all of which is added to journal entries that can be referred back to later.
7.) With any puzzle game there comes the chance of level editing or downloadable level packs. Is that something you have thought about for the future of Vessel? Have you thought about the future at all?
We’ve made a conscious effort not to get ourselves too involved in the future and concentrate on what’s important now. Our number one priority was to make this game. We’ve focused on what we wanted to achieve and set our sights on making it as polished an experience as possible.
8.) What is it that got you guys so interested in water physics in games?
It’s not just water physics; it’s all physics in games. Outside of the game’s goals, you can just enjoy playing with objects. You can be playing a game for weeks and still see a string of events that you haven’t seen before that makes you laugh.
Physics games give you the freedom to manipulate objects however you desire and sometimes in ways even the developer didn’t expect. It just all adds to the fun and longevity of a game.
9.) Are you guys happy with how Vessel turned out (in terms of the final product)?
Of course. Developing Vessel has been a major part of our lives for the last few years and we all felt that we had to do it justice. That is why it hasn’t been released until we were happy with it.