Imagine for a second that you’re trapped in a giant maze with your best friend. Now imagine that the only way for you to escape is by working in unison to solve the puzzles that hold you as prisoners. Could you do it?
Cooperative games like DYO challenge you to do just that. Do you have the skills to master communication and harmonize with your fellow player to complete your missions? Team DYO did. Here they are talking about their mind-bending game and how they worked together to bring it to a console near you.
What is the objective of your game DYO?
DYO is a cooperative puzzle platformer where you play as two Minotaurs trapped within a cursed labyrinth. The player’s goal is to find the exit of each level and progress through the labyrinth in the hopes of escaping it once and for all.
Can you describe the unique cooperative aspect of the game?
At first glance, DYO appears like a typical split screen game. The twist, however, is that players can merge and split their two halves of the split screen at will and hop between them. This allows them to create new pathways through the labyrinth by positioning their split screen halves in just the right way.
What inspired you to create the game in this cooperative style?
DYOs cooperative gameplay demands effective communication between both players. Ultimately, DYO is more about arguing and verbal problem-solving with your partner than it is about moving the player characters on screen. Solving problems together is fun. And you learn a lot about each other in the process. We thought that this kind of cooperative play style was underexplored in games, so we decided to give it a shot with what is now DYO.
Do you think other game developers should move towards making cooperative games as well?
Personally, we love local co-op games. But the market for these kinds of games is arguably not that big compared to single player or online multiplayer games. So it’s hard to argue for making a purely local co-op game if you’re looking for it to be financially viable. But in the end, people should create whatever it is they are passionate about!
Why have you chosen Minotaurs to represent DYO players?
The setting and theme of the game really evolved from the game’s mechanics. In our first prototype, players were only rectangles walking through a level made from other rectangles. When playtesting, we quickly noticed that trying to figure out how to find a way to your goal by merging and splitting the screen felt a lot like being trapped in a labyrinth and looking for the exit. So we thought about what kind of interesting characters would be trapped in a labyrinth and quickly ended up with the famous minotaur. The minotaur is supposed to be this bloodthirsty beast that haunts its labyrinth and kills whoever it meets, but we liked the idea that they’re really just misunderstood. Being trapped in the labyrinth is really boring, so they’re looking for a way to escape!
How long have you been working on this project?
DYO started out as a holiday project back in 2014. Since then, we’ve been working on it in whatever spare time we could find during our university studies. Only the last couple of months before its release in February 2018, we actually worked on it full-time.
What kind of bugs did you encounter after the Steam Release of DYO? How have they been fixed?
It’s mostly been very boring stuff like game crashes and performance issues really. There was this one funny bug that allowed players to complete levels way quicker than intended. One of the rules in DYO is that in each level, there are two doors and each player has to reach their own door to finish. If one minotaur enters a door, it closes, and the other one can’t enter. Well, it turns out that it was possible for both players to enter the same door if they did it perfectly simultaneously. It was pretty hard to pull off since it required very precise timing, but it was possible with a little practice. The funniest thing is that some players apparently thought this was the intended solution and beat most of the game way faster than they should have.
Can you tell us about the DYOLAB?
DYOLAB is basically a level editor that allows you to build and share your own DYO levels. Or play levels built by the community. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a community at all, so there currently aren’t really any levels to play. But you can still build your own ones. Which is quite fun, given that building a level around the whole split-screen mechanic can be a puzzle in itself.
Would you agree with the notion that puzzle game developers are slightly sadistic in how they challenge the cleverness of the player’s mind?
I think it can often feel that way to players, but I’m pretty sure for most developers that’s not the intention. For DYO, one of the biggest challenges was to make players feel smart, not dumb. Which is tough, because the line between the two can be very thin, and sometimes you need to make players feel a little dumb before you can make them feel smart.
Have you ever had difficulty solving one of your own puzzles?
Constantly. When working on a new level, I’d usually make a first draft in one afternoon and come back to it the next day to have a second look at it with a fresh perspective. And a lot of times, I wouldn’t remember the exact solution. Which was actually useful, because that way I could evaluate a level’s difficulty way better. If even I got stuck on my own level, that meant it was definitely too hard.
Tell us about the team of people working on your game.
Team DYO consists of four guys who met during their studies at university. While we had a say in the overall game design and came up with the concept together, each of us had his own field of specialty during development. Fabian Golz is our Artist who came up with the look of the game and made most of the graphics and animations. Ragnar Thomsen composed the beautiful original soundtrack for the game as well as the sound effects. Max Warsinke did a little bit of everything. From level design to additional graphical assets. And then there’s Josia Roncancio, who took care of the programming and most of the level design.
How would you describe the indie game scene in Germany, where you’re from?
Germany is a big place, so we can only really speak for Berlin. In Berlin, there are all kinds of events ranging from game jams to VR-Meetups, to artgame exhibitions. Whichever aspect of game development you’re into, there’s probably a meetup for it. And, of course, there’s A MAZE, which is a yearly indie game festival and definitely worth a visit! All in all, I’d say Berlin is a pretty great place for indie developers.
What is a game that made you say “Wow! That’s what I want to do”?
We keep hearing a lot of players say DYO is “like Portal but in 2D”, which I think is true. When we came up with the concept, that wasn’t really our intention, but we quickly noticed the similarities. Especially with the Co-op part of Portal 2. So we played that during development to see how it solved certain design problems, and it definitely inspired the puzzle design in DYO.
Did you go to school for what you’re doing and/or how did you learn to do what you do?
Yes! All four of us studied game design at HTW Berlin. We started to work on DYO after our first semester. In some way, we learned a lot about what we’re doing now by working on DYO.
What have been the steps you’ve taken to get to where you are in your career?
I guess we were pretty lucky with how things turned out for us. We all went from studying game design straight to founding our own little indie studio. None of us really worked in a big game studio or anything.
How was DYO funded and what challenges did you encounter while reaching your financial goals?
Initially, DYO was meant to be nothing more than a quick holiday project. Eventually, it became a hobby project that we all worked on alongside our university studies, but we never had any financial aspirations. Then, in 2017, we had the honor to win first prize in the Newcomer Category of the German Video Game Awards, which probably isn’t very known internationally, but it’s the biggest game award in Germany. Winning came with considerable prize money, which enabled us to finally work full time on DYO for the last couple of months up until release.
What did you build DYO with and why?
We used GameMaker: Studio, basically because that was the only engine I knew how to use when we started the project. It’s a pretty great tool for getting a working prototype done in a matter of hours and allowed us to quickly test new ideas without a lot of overhead. It’s still the engine I like to recommend to beginners since it’s so easy to learn and use.
What has been your reaction to all the positive feedback, including awards, that DYO has received?
It’s great. Really, all the positive feedback from players at events is what made us decide to even pursue the concept further after we had our very first prototype. I’m not gonna lie, awards are always nice to have, especially if they come with a bunch of money. But for me personally, seeing people play the game and enjoying themselves is worth so much more.
On the other hand, how have you dealt with critiques of your game? How do you respond to negative feedback?
While positive feedback feels better, negative feedback certainly is more valuable when it comes to improving your game! Honest negative feedback is immensely valuable. Only when it’s repetitive or hostile, negative feedback can become frustrating. Luckily, there hasn’t really been much negative feedback to the game so far. We got a couple of complaints about bugs, but mostly players have been really nice to us. The only thing that got some people really mad is that the game doesn’t have online multiplayer, which is understandable.
Now that DYO has been released, are you planning any future cooperative puzzler games?
I can’t talk too much about our next project yet, mainly because it’s still very early in development and nothing is set in stone yet. But it currently looks like it will be a local co-op game. I can’t promise there will be puzzles, though!
What Dev to Dev advice do you have for other indie game developers?
Surround yourself with people who are passionate about the same things as you. I think this is one of the most valuable things I personally took away from studying game design. Having the opportunity to meet and work with other people who also want to make games is incredible. Without that, Team DYO would have never found each other. And it doesn’t have to be university. Visiting game jams, meet-ups or other events is a great way to get in touch with the scene and get to know people you might want to work with in the future.
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