His games may make you cry, laugh and scream, but they always keep you coming back for more. We get under the skin of Bennett Foddy to find out what drives him to make the web's most innovative games
Bennett Foddy is a one-man gaming phenomenon. Ever since his nigh-impossible and frequently-hilarious running simulator QWOP exploded across the internet, he has juggled his day job as a tutor of moral philosophy at Oxford with the demands of being a cult games developer.
Since then Foddy has produced a succession of bizarre and addictive Flash and iOS games which frequently turn game design on its head. He is in demand as a speaker at game development conferences and is even in the process of producing a title for the PlayStation 3, as part of the Kickstarter-funded Sportsfriends pack.
As fans of Foddy’s games, we wanted to find out what makes the man tick: where his game ideas come from, how he puts them together and what other independent game developers can do to follow in his footsteps.
Before we go any further though, grab a PC or laptop, fire up a browser and head to www.foddy.net. All the games there are free to play, so you can follow us through the feature while trying out his titles for yourself.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF GAME DESIGN
Foddy’s academic work at Jesus College, Oxford focuses on the philosophy of addiction. This may go some way towards explaining why his games manage to be utterly maddening but still keep you coming back for more.
Much of the games’ addictive qualities come from the way he imbues them with a sense of consequence. Foddy has little time for games that don’t allow you to fail, such as the plot-driven blockbusters that are the norm from big publishers.
“The most difficult part about video game design is to make it matter whether you win or lose. Most games now that have a story don’t allow you to fail in ways that would jeopardise that, you have a motivation to play but you don’t have a motivation to play well. I was playing Crysis 2 and I was on autopilot as I don’t care if I lose, nothing bad happens if I lose,” he says.
This approach shows up in the sheer finality of his titles. In QWOP, where you attempt to run the 100m sprint by individually controlling the thighs and calves of your athlete, one false move and your athlete is on his back and it’s game over. You can fail at 10m, you can fail at 99m, it’s still the end and you have to start again from the beginning. In GIRP, where you have to scale a cliff face, if you fall all that’s left is the distance you managed to climb.
QWOP is difficult to master and you can fail at any point, making it more rewarding when you win
Foddy is adamant that being able to frustrate players is integral to designing a fun game. However, it’s important that the frustration remains within the player’s power to overcome. Foddy’s games may be hard, but they are certainly fair; if you fall over in QWOP, drown in GIRP or get bowled out in Little Master Cricket, it’s definitely your fault.
He feels that games that kill you out of the blue are thankfully a thing of the past, when titles were sometimes unfairly difficult in order to artificially inflate the challenge. He points to Amiga title Sword of Sodan as an example of unfair game design.
“You’re walking along, suddenly this thing comes out of the ground and kills you, the only way around it is to play it 100 times to memorise the position of the hazards, and that’s not much fun,” he says.
Sword of Sodan is an example of unfair game design, where you can suddenly get killed out of the blue
Rick Dangerous, with its emphasis on nigh-unavoidable trap deaths, is another example from the Amiga era. Foddy sees the game designer as taking the role of a Dungeon Master; it’s a game played between the developer and the player, where the object is to inflict pain on the player. However, in order for the game to remain fun this pain must be tempered by a sense of fairness. “You’re kind of an evil mastermind,” says Foddy, “it’s like how Doctor Evil always gives Austin Powers a chance at escape.”