Interview with Matt Gravelle, the developer of Optica
Remember our review of Optica? A brain twisting puzzle game about optical illusions, light, connecting the dots. If you haven’t checked out our review yet, now is your chance!
Check out our review of Optica here!
Before we start we’d like to thank Matt Gravelle for participating in our interview and for answering all of our geeky questions! Thanks Matt!
…and without further ado, our interview begins…
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about Optica! Could you kick-start this interview by telling us a little about your studio, yourself, and what drew you into the gaming industry?
I’ll start with my development studio, Graveck. We’re a small team based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota and work on a large mixture of interesting game and game-adjacent things. A lot of our focus is on work-for-hire jobs so it’s always refreshing to get a chance to release an independent title like Optica. For this release we teamed up with our local friends and business partners, GLITCH, to help us publish.
If you’re not familiar with GLITCH, they’re an awesome non-profit with a mission to empower game makers and help new people explore the world of game development as a career and creative practice.
As for me, personally — game development has literally always been part of my life. Graveck was informally started with a good friend in middle school (mid-90s) and slowly worked our way from hobbyists to officially forming a company in 2007. The gaming industry keeps me interested with a constant barrage of interesting and difficult problems to solve. For example, Optica allowed me to stretch my geometry muscles that hadn’t been used for a while!
Ok, let’s start talking about Optica… What are the highlights of your latest release?
Some of the flashiest highlights are pretty prominent: optical illusions (who doesn’t like those?), ease of use, and a stress-free game environment. However, I’d like to point out a couple of not-so-prominent features that are my favorite…
Each grid of levels is themed with a different color scheme and along with it a different set of sounds (often missed unless you wear earphones)! The result is a subtle musical experience that changes as you progress. As a side effect, a path has a consistent “melody” that can be heard.
We’re also in the process of studying the connection between playing Optica and whether it can improve a person’s spatial reasoning skills. We’ll be publishing the results of the first study in the next few months with the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. As somebody who personally believes games are underutilized tools for teaching and improving skills, this is especially exciting!
What was the core idea or inspiration behind Optica? And perhaps more importantly, where do you find inspiration for your games in general?
The main inspiration behind Optica stems directly from its spiritual predecessor: Strata. Strata was a fun and concise game to develop and ended up being a decent success, so we wanted to duplicate that. After a period of exploring different puzzle game ideas, Optica was eventually born.
Since our games vary wildly, our general inspiration comes from a lot of different places. A common influence, however, might stem from what we’ve been working on as a work-for-hire studio. For example, while working on Strata and Optica we were heavily working on complex freemium model type games and to counter-balance, we just wanted to build a no-frills premium experience!
How did you come up with all the different puzzles and illusions that we saw in Optica? I think it would give us a headache trying to come up with so many different puzzles.
Good question! Making levels wasn’t easy. It makes it even harder due to the fact that a solver wasn’t practical since a programmatic solver could take literally days to find a solution (for math nerds out there, Optica puzzles are NP-Complete with no efficient way to solve).
There were three of us creating puzzles and we all had different techniques, but generally, we started with something that looked aesthetically interesting from one viewpoint. Then we’d try to keep that general shape while turning and shifting the pieces to get a good looking puzzle from the other viewpoint(s). In other words, it was a lot of trial and error to create a solvable puzzle that also looked nice.
How long was Optica in development for? And are there any interesting and/or exciting moments or experiences you would like to share with us from that time?
Short answer: too long! Development has been squeezed in between multiple other projects, set aside for months at a time. We had the core game finished two years before launch, and the past couple of years have just been a slow stretch of adding polish and creating levels.
One exciting moment was when GLITCH helped us find a talented person to help build levels. Farzan Fatemi was brought aboard as a level designer in the final stretch and brought exciting out-of-the-box ideas for creating levels and that was a lot of fun to see!
What software, developer-tools, or black-magic(?) did you use when making Optica? Is there anything you would like to share with the developers who read Edamame Reviews?
Optica was made with the Unity Engine. Not a lot of crazy black-magic going on here. One of the more interesting aspects of development was taking these 3D shapes and using geometry to project the faces onto a 2D plane to help determine which faces connect. It was an unusual exercise in intense geometry that’s not often encountered!
Also, we created some fairly robust tools to help build levels — never underestimate the amount of time custom tools can save!
Is there any secret “developer-advice” you can give our lucky players who read this interview?
If you get stuck on a level there are a couple of techniques that may help. (1) Find a choke point and work outward from it. (2) Many puzzles contain at least one face that can only be accessed from one perspective, and once you find that face it can help reveal the path.
What can we expect to see in Optica or from Glitch Creative in the not so distant future? What do we have to look forward to next?
We have some smaller updates planned for Optica. In no particular order, we are planning on colorblind mode, localizing to Farsi (and exploring other languages), and a Mac desktop version. We also have a scattering of levels that didn’t make it in the final cut that may eventually find their way in an update.
Pending its success, we have ideas on how to add on to Optica that we’re excited about — we’re crossing our fingers that we get a chance to add them!
You can head over to GLITCH’s Discord, Twitter or Facebook to follow along with all of Optica’s updates, their other upcoming games, and cool programs for both game players and makers.
Lastly, is there anything you would like to say to our awesome team of Writers, Developers, and Patrons who keep Edamame Reviews up and running?
We greatly appreciate and enjoy your unabashed use of emojis within your reviews. Thanks for covering Optica!
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