Two Tribes Interview – Potato Sack Aftermath

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As a follow up to all of the excitement surrounding the Portal 2 ARG that led up the release of the game, we had a chance to talk to Two Tribes, developers of two of the games in the Potato Sack of indie games. Those games were Toki Tori and Rush, two great games from the puzzle genre. The following is what Two Tribes had to say about their involvement in the Portal ARG and all the spuddy goodness that it involved.

1. To kick this thing off, why don t you fellas (ladies?) tell us a
bit about Two Tribes as a developer. How would you like people to identify you?

[Collin van Ginkel – Lead designer Two Tribes]
We started out doing mostly contract work. We made games like Garfield, Worms and Rubik's World for Wii and Nintendo DS, but we always wanted to do our own thing. With the arrival of the digital download culture, were able to make the jump to being fully independent, which is awesome. We try to be very open about what we do and I'd like to think people see us as a friendly bunch, who care about delivering high-quality games.

2. It seems like the retro style of gameplay has sort of returned to
glory a little bit in the last year or two with games like Donkey Kong Country Returns, New Super Mario Bros., the upcoming Sonic Generations, etc. Toki Tori, which Two Tribes put on Steam recently, also has a pretty retro vibe to it. Did the decision to bring back Toki Tori on a more modern platform have anything to do with this current retro revival or was it something that your team had wanted to do for a while?

[COLLIN]
Well, Toki Tori has first been revived on WiiWare in 2008, so perhaps they got inspired by us! 😉 Seriously though, as you can see with the enormous success of 'simple' games on all recent platforms, people are not looking for more complexity in their games. They value clarity and ease of use, something which the old games (aside from their devious difficulty) already had. We're all for this, since it means we can just focus on making great games.

3. Toki Tori has some similarities to other puzzle/platformer type
games, like Lemmings for example, while still remaining unique. Were there any games or series that were a big inspiration in either the original Game Boy version or the remake?

[COLLIN]
I think the entire 90's catalog of games has inspired us. Games like Lost Vikings (SNES), King's Valley (MSX) and Adventures of Lolo (NES) have concepts that are similar. But to be honest, it's been so long ago, I can't tell you how the process went precisely.

4. Rush is quite reminiscent of Chu Chu Rocket, a puzzle game by Sega
for the Dreamcast, only with a much sleeker, more stylish presentation. It is a pretty classic type of puzzle, but with Rush you gave it a distinctly modern look and feel, with bright colors and electronic music. Did you feel that the game needed to have a sort of modern appeal in order to sell or did it just feel right for the atmosphere of the game?

[COLLIN]
The foundations for RUSH had been laid by Rubik's World for Wii. Since that had the Rubik's license, we needed something blocky and abstract. When we removed the license and improved on RUSH for the Steam version, we stuck with the blocky theme, but wanted it to have its own vibe.

This blog post gives you a bit more information about how it came to be:
http://twotribes.com/message/guide-to-rush

5. How did Toki Tori and Rush come to be included in the Potato Sack
and how did you feel about their inclusion?

[COLLIN]
We were invited by Valve to participate, I'm guessing based on the quality of our games on Steam. We had no clue this was coming and were extremely excited once we learned what was going to happen. It's been a real high-point in our history so far 🙂

6. Did your team have any involvement with the recent Portal ARG that
Valve ran other than having your games be included in the stack of indie games? Fans might think that being involved in a project like this would mean being privy to all sorts of neat secrets relating to Portal or the ARG, is that the case or were you kept in the dark like the general public?

[Hessel Bonenkamp – Designer Two Tribes and Project Manager Portal 2 ARG]
Well, the password for one of the final phases of the ARG was "collaboration". That didn't only stand for the collaboration within the community to solve the ARG and release Portal 2, but also for the collaboration between the developers and Valve.

So, basically, every developer was responsible for creating their part of the ARG. There was some cross-pollination between developers where parts of a puzzle where hidden in another game but the bulk of the ARG content was made by the developers themselves. Valve did most the more central stuff such as the basic structure (the three updates), the Seattle puzzle, the sites and overlays, etc.

To do our work properly we've got the whole game spoiled for us back in December and we've been in close contact with Valve ever since. So, yeah, our involvement in this project gave us loads of inside information on Portal 2 way before it's release. Though Collin has been able to avoid all Potato spoilers during the development of the ARG.

This is actually quite an interesting question because we have seen that quite a number of people credit the whole ARG to Valve or even to Gabe Newell alone. You now know, of course, that this has been the work of almost a dozen companies collaborating to create a fantastic ARG.

7. I have also heard that some of your team had an interesting little
stakeout when a fan showed up at Two Tribes HQ to sniff out some clues. Can you tell us a little bit about that, or any other interesting stories from during the whole event.

[HESSEL]
Ha! That was such an awesome moment!

You should know that we hid a set of GPS coordinates (in Braille) in one of our Toki Tori levels. For a while those coordinates were mixed up and the community was focusing on some location near the Seychelles. It took them a while to figure out that they were pointing to the front door of our offices where we'd placed a poster with further clues.

The community was fairly organized and they had an IRC channel running in no-time. All the developers, including us, kept a close eye on the IRC channel during the ARG. One afternoon we noticed that one guy was stating that he lived a mere 20 minutes from our offices. When he left we went to the barbershop across the street and started waiting (I also got a haircut while we were there, you know, to be inconspicuous).

After a while he showed up and after a while he noticed our poster. The poster was hidden from plain sight at the top of a streetlight, but it was still very legible from street level. What we hadn't expected though was that our guy actually climbed the streetlight because he needed to bring back some photographic evidence. If he had looked across the street he would have seen a whole barbershop going mad!

We got his climbing actions on film which Hidden Path then used to create a movie with. The movie started a nice back-and-forth between us and the community. I think they really liked the fact that we were responding to their actions. It might also have creeped them out. A little.

There have been many more great moments during the ARG, but this was definitely one of the highlights.

8. While the Potato Sack and the ARG were generally pretty
successful, especially at promoting indie game devs like yourself, there was some disappointment felt by PC players who eventually realized that Portal 2 s release wasn t going to be significantly earlier. How do you feel Valve handled the whole affair from this angle? Do you think there is anything they should have done differently to prevent potential disappointment?

[HESSEL]
The crescendo event has been addressed in the postmortem, I think it's one of the bigger what-went-wrong points. It was a last minute decision to move it forward a little and it would have been better if we hadn't done that. Then again, a Valve game that releases a good 10 hours early. I don't think that has ever happened before.

9. The Potato Sack, and by association the included games, received
quite a few downloads thanks to all of the commotion and the relation to Portal 2. Was there a large effect on sales/downloads of Toki Tori and Rush thanks to the ARG? Can you give us an idea of how big of an impact this event had on your user base, even if you can t give us hard sales figures?

[HESSEL]
We have an article with a graph for RUSH's sales here: http://twotribes.com/message/rush-sales-statistics/.

That should give you a pretty good indication. An important factor that you can't see in the graph is that a lot of people are now introduced to our, and other indie developers', games. Those people might normally not stumble upon our games.

10. Other than the obvious answer, being your own game, what is the
teams favorite of the other indie games included in the pack? I personally am a sucker for Bit.Trip Beat, and I know Super Meat Boy is another fan favorite. Would you say Two Tribes has a consensus or do you each have your personal picks?

[HESSEL]
I, personally, really like super meat boy. I know one of our programmers has become quite fond of Defense Grid another programmer really likes Amnesia. One of our designers has spent 89 hours in Killing Floor, so I guess we all have our picks.

[COLLIN]
COGS!

11. A lot of fans were joking during the ARG that Amnesia: The Dark Descent's bar on the GLaDOS@Home site would never be filled because the game is just too scary. We here at Capsule Computers know firsthand the sheer terror involved in Amnesia, but what does Two Tribes think? Does anyone around the office have the stones to play it with the lights off?

[HESSEL]
I'm too scared to install it.

[SHAN]
Definitely NO! I don't even dare to play it alone all by myself 😉

12. Finally, let s end this interview by taking a look into the future. What s on the table next for the very talented (and very handsome) people over at Two Tribes? Any big news on the next big thing we should be looking forward to?

[HESSEL]
I'll leave this one to Collin (but where did you get that we are handsome? I mean, we are, but how did that get out there?)

[COLLIN]
We're now almost done with Swords & Soldiers for iPhone and iPad, after which we'll continue on EDGE for Steam and perhaps some other platforms. So we're quite busy!

In September it will have been ten years since the original release of Toki Tori. We will not let that pass without a bang, so expect something awesome around that time 🙂

We here at Capsule Computers would like to thank the good folks over at Two Tribes for shedding some light on the behind-the-scenes details of this huge collaboration. I think it will probably be quite a while before we see an event that brings together the gaming community in quite the same way, for both gamers and developers. Keep a look out for announcements on the future of Toki Tori for its upcoming anniversary this September!

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  • LOL – AMNESIA

    [HESSEL]
    I’m too scared to install it.

    [SHAN]
    Definitely NO! I don’t even dare to play it alone all by myself

    I’m too scared to play it as well… I got over half way through and had to play it during the day and not at night !! haha It’s a Fantastic game !!

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