Are you a fan of both solving interesting puzzles *and* adorable teddy bears? Then boy, do I have something to tell you about!! LocoLoco is a fun, lovable new title from Australian independent developer Garoo Games. The gameplay of LocoLoco is simple – build tracks to get your train safely to the train station while picking up at least one passenger along the way; the more passengers you manage to collect, the better your score. Swipe up, down, left and right anywhere on the screen to lay tracks, and be sure to remember to pick up enough wood to build your tracks and complete each level! I caught up with Garoo Games Director Derek Proud to chat about LocoLoco, the diverse and experienced team that brought it to life, and how one of the major inspirations from the title came in the form of a 1989 Game Boy title.
Amelia Laughlan: (while finishing playing demo) This reminds me of an excellent mini-game from the WiiU title Game & Wario called ‘Taxi’, did the idea for LocoLoco come from somewhere in particular?
Derek Proud: For me, this game is similar to a game called Pipe Dream from the ‘90s. In Pipe Dream you are given a bunch of pipes, and you must place them so that the green goo you are redirecting doesn’t stop and clog up the pipes. I wanted to do something similar to that, but using trains.
AL: So would you say that’s the main inspiration behind the game?
DP: Yeah, I would. I wanted to do something top –down, and when I pitched it to our artist he said, “Well, why don’t we do a curved world, so you can see a little bit more of the field and we can make the visuals a little more interesting?”. So each puzzle is kind of a little ‘mini-puzzle’ in itself where you must try and collect all the bears to progress to the next level. You don’t *have* to collect ALL the bears in order to progress, you just need to collect at least one. So if the puzzle is too difficult you can just collect one bear and come back to it later.
AL: I love the bears, they’re very cute. Why did you choose teddy bears?
DP: Well, our artist thought they were cute and that we could do different types of them. There are special passengers throughout all the levels, so there are lots of different bears to collect as you go along. The game becomes a little more interesting when you bring in ‘Specialists’. (While demonstrating) so this is the first level which has the lumberjack, who can cut through trees. There’s also a bridge builder, who allows you to cross bodies of water. In some levels we give you a particular type of Specialist, but you also have the option to go back and do any level using a Specialist, once you have unlocked them, to try and get a better score.
AL: And do you have leaderboards where players can compare their scores?
DP: Yes, if players link the game to their Facebook account they can compare their scores with friends. You can also upgrade your trains in the game. You’ve got the main train, the ‘Wedding Train’ which has an extra carriage on it so you can pick up an extra passenger. The ‘Gravy Train’, which doubles your coin value, the ‘Drain Train’ which sucks in coins and passengers from surrounding squares, the ‘Safe Train’, which slows the train down when you need it, and the ‘Soul Train’. So the game features switches and when you drive through a switch it will alter a certain state. But if you’ve got a Soul Train you can radio ahead and avoid the change that the switch triggers.
AL: It seems like you’ve built the game in such a way that a lot of different people could enjoy it, with all the different trains and Specialists – I’m guessing this was the intention?
DP: Yes, I’m really keen, now that it’s out on the market, to see what players do with it. Because I think they’ll think of ways to solve the puzzles that I didn’t think of when I was making them.
AL: I can see the potential for that, definitely. The game has that Snake element as well (as in, the mobile game) – you seem pretty free to make your own path.
DP: Yeah, that was the problem with Pipedream. The pipes were in blocks and you couldn’t rotate them. So we started to mess around with that, but we found the blocks confining. We realised that we just wanted to be able to draw the track wherever we wanted to go
AL: It’s really smooth and easy to pick up. It seems like good fun! And it’s already released, is that right?
DP: Yeah, we released the day before PAX actually.
AL: Oh wow, so *just* released.
DP: Yeah, it’s been out for a month in New Zealand – we sort of wanted to test that everything was working right and all that sort of stuff before releasing it in Australia.
AL: So tell me a little bit about your previous experience making games. I think I saw on your website that you come from a AAA background?
DP: All of us do, actually. I’ve worked on titles including Harry Potter and Destroy All Humans and some of the Rugby games. My programmer worked on Heavy Rain for Quantic Dream, and L.A. Noire. And my artist worked on Brink and some Unreal mods. So we’ve all come from that kind of background.
AL: So what brought you together in this game?
DP: We were all working at a studio in Sydney and that studio closed, and we really liked each other and the way that we worked together, so we just decided “let’s do it” – let’s make a game together.
AL: Excellent. So how long did it take to get to where you are now with LocoLoco?
DP: So it was all part-time and it’s taken 2 years.
AL: Yeah, it seems like the more people I meet who work making Independent titles, the more I come realise that it’s almost nobody’s full-time job. There are very few lucky people who get to do that.
DP: Yeah, and you know we’ve all been working in and around the games industry for a while, so it’s nice to be able to do our own thing for a change.
AL: Yeah, I bet that’s nice! So, I was going to ask about the game’s aesthetic, which we’ve already touched on a little bit. You mentioned that you pitched something top-down and then your artist sort of had the licence to come up with the game’s aesthetic that I experienced today.
DP: Yeah, it was the artist who said “We don’t have to make this a 2D game; we can make it 3D and have depth and characters.” We did toy about halfway through development with making it an endless runner. So instead of completing the level you just keep progressing upwards. We ‘ummed’ and ‘erred’ about it but eventually came back to the puzzle element of it. We really like the puzzle side of things, so we stuck with it.
AL: The puzzle side of things is good, I think. People like the satisfaction of completing achievements and the sense of progress you get from completing a puzzle and moving on. I think it’s harder to keep an endless runner interesting for the player, despite the recent boom in popularity the genre has seen, thanks to Crossy Road.
DP: Yeah, I find myself feeling frustrated at dual-matching games, such as Candy Crush. I was playing it and I’d fail a level. Then I’d play the same level in the same way, and I’d succeed, and to me it just feels like the game progresses independently of what I do. So with LocoLoco I really wanted to make a puzzle game where all the elements to solve the puzzle were on the screen, and accessible, and you just had to figure out the right method and order to put them in.
AL: Yeah, I know what you mean. I find Candy Crush and those sorts of games really good if you don’t want to think very much. But I basically never play them because strategy and story are the two game elements that are really important to me – so if a game doesn’t have one or the other I likely won’t’ find it interesting.
DP: Yeah, I’m the same.
AL: So earlier you said that you were inspired by the game Pipe Dream. When you originally conceived the idea for LocoLoco did you basically see it as a 2D train track laying game?
DP: Yeah, that’s what I went to the guys with. And they sort of said, you know, top-down is great from a programming perspective, but how are we going to make really nice-looking train carriages and passengers? How is the player going to see things if everything is top-down?
AL: So, finally, did you have someone in mind when you made this game? Who did you feel you were making it for?
DP: Well, I grew up playing Pipe Dream and games like that so I really felt like I wanted to find the audience that enjoyed that type of gameplay because I think that recently we’ve seen some success in finding the in those types of retro games and bringing it to a new audience with a new graphical style. So I think that’s why I like the world we’ve built and I’m really happy with it.
AL: Yeah, you can tell that there’s some really good strategy and puzzles underneath the fluffy, teddy bear exterior. So many games, especially mobile games, might look nice, but there’s just no depth to them. But I can see that what has driven LocoLoco is you wanting to make the puzzles first and it’s really nice to know that there’s a very solid base of gameplay. So I think I’ll definitely be downloading it!
DP: Great! There are more than 100 levels and it takes me only about five minutes to put new levels together using the level building tool that our programmer put together. Our programmer is just amazing – Stefan is incredible and can do anything in minutes using Unity or C#. He’s French so he’s always like “Unity and C#? Too easy!” Stefan created a level editor. So it takes about 5 minutes to draft a new puzzle and then a few hours to tune and tweak it, and make sure that it’s fun. So what we’d love to do is start releasing this on different platforms, get it out on PS Vita and other platforms – because it’s very simple really; the only controls you need are up, down, left, and right.
AL: Yeah, I can see it being a very watchable game because of the nature of the satisfying naure of the short challenges. I can see a lot of potential for LocoLoco as a WiiU title – the gamepad makes it really well-suited to your gameplay – but I’ve heard that getting a game licenced to sell on the Nintendo Store is very time consuming and costly. But I think it would work really well as something families could pass and play. I was also going to ask, have you thought about releasing the level editor to the public?
DP: Yeah, that was going to be my next point! It is so drag-and-drop that it really wouldn’t take much to make that a reality. So maybe we’ll release on Steam in the future and a level editor to go along with it. I’d love to release this to the wilds and see what kinds of levels people come up with.
AL: Cool! That all sounds great. Thank you for that.
DP: No problem.