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Interview with Tom Fulp

The CMP Game Group (producer of Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra.com, and the Game Developers Conference) established the Independent Games Festival in 1998 to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize the best independent game developers. They saw how the Sundance Film Festival benefited the independent film community, and wanted to create a similar event for independent game developers as well as the student population of game developers.

Tom Fulp, one of the creators of Dad ‘n Me which won the Best Web Browser Game category at this year's IGF, takes some time out of his busy day to answer some questions about the game.

Who are you and what was your role on Dad 'n Me?

Tom: My name is Tom Fulp and I was the programmer behind Dad 'n Me.

Congrats on making it into the IGF finals. Is this your first attempt at entering the competition?

Tom: We entered last year with the console version of Alien Hominid and were nominated in the open category. We ended up taking home awards for Innovation in Visual Arts, Technical Excellence and Audience Choice!

What made you decide to enter Dad 'n Me into the IGF?

Tom: The IGF has a category for best web download and we felt Dad 'n Me could have a shot. We also really enjoy just hanging out at the IGF and having something to show people. Also, Dan Paladin (the artist) and I don't live in the same state, so we need excuses to meet up once in a while!

How did you view this year's competition? Do you think the IGF is heading in the right direction?

Tom: The entries this year were great! I was especially impressed with the student showcase, which was loaded with original, imaginative titles. If the student showcase is any sign of what's to come, the IGF will keep getting better each year! My only critique this year was the floor layout was more cramped than in San Fran the year before. The kiosks were in several tight rows where I sometimes felt like I was getting in the way if I hovered around a game.

How did the idea for Dad 'n Me come about?

Tom: It all started with a game called Chainsaw the Children, which is available on Newgrounds. We wanted to make a game featuring a chainsaw, so we made one where you chase kids on a beach and cut down the trees, where they seek shelter. Dad 'n Me was originally meant to feature the same character, beating up kids on a playground (we're just mean like that). The dynamics of the large character beating up kids didn't feel as satisfying as we had hoped, so Dan created "the son" and Dad 'n Me was born. We still want to let the big guy beat up on kids, though.

Besides size and scope of course, what's one of the more prominent benefits to creating a browser game versus a regular PC/console title?

Tom: The thing I love most about Flash is how accessible it is. I grew up making home movies and cartoons on my Amiga, but rarely had an opportunity to show them to anyone other than my immediate friends. Whenever a classroom project allowed for a video, I would make one. Even then, I'd only get to show it to 30 people. When the web came along, I suddenly had a potentially limitless audience. It's amazing! A lot of kids nowadays probably don't even appreciate just what they have, because it's always been there for them. I am full of appreciation for the ability to make something and share it with the world so easily. That's always been the main goal of Newgrounds, to share stuff with as many people as possible.

How much did the game evolve from its original inception? What drove this evolution?

Tom: I guess I just sorta answered that one. The only big change is the protagonist changed from the big beefy dude to his son.

What's your most enjoyable part of the game and how did that feature come about?

Tom: My favorite part is probably throwing kids into traffic. It's a more non-traditional part of the game that to my knowledge hasn't been done in a 2D brawler, but it feels completely natural alongside the other mechanics. Kids are always told not to play in traffic, so we figured you had to be able to play in traffic with the kids.

During the development of Dad 'n Me , what were some major issues that caused problems and how were they solved?

Tom: From a programming standpoint, the biggest issue I faced involved depth swapping with thin diagonal objects, such as fences. For example, let's say I am on the left side of the fence (in front of it, perspective-wise) and a kid is on the right side of the fence (behind it, perspective-wise). However, depth-wise, I'm further in the distance than the kid. The problem here is my character should be sorted behind the kid, but I'm in front of the fence and he's behind it. This sort of thing can be really frustrating in Flash. I ended up having to create a mask of the fence which gets overlaid on whichever character is behind the fence. The mask is contained in the player clip and actually moves around to stay lined up with the fence in the game. I hope that didn't sound too confusing.

Was the decision to restart the game from the beginning when you die part of the design of the game itself or more a staple of web games in general since they're not usually that long?

Tom: It seemed pointless to have the player respawn where he died, because we could just give him a longer health meter if we wanted him to live longer. The other option was to have checkpoints, although maybe I was just lazy with not adding that. The game isn't especially long, so if we had checkpoints people might not have gotten as much replay out of it.

Assuming there is one, what's one feature you couldn't have in the game due to time or technical constraints that you miss the most? If not, then looking back now what's a feature you wish you had thought to include while developing the game?

Tom: I do miss not having the fancy playground equipment. I wouldn't chalk much up to technical constraints - more time constraints. The problem we have is since we make up games as we go, we never run out of ideas to implement along the way. The original scope of Dad 'n Me was to follow the father and son through multiple levels where the player could alternate between them. We still plan to revisit this some day, but for now people just get that one level.

What tools/technology was used for the creation of Dad 'n Me ?

Tom: Dad 'n Me was done completely in Flash. Dan uses a Wacom tablet to draw the art and I use notepad (I recently upgraded to textpad) to write the code.

Was there anything you had to leave out of the game due to limitations in Flash?

Tom: Nothing I can think of off-hand. The engine didn't support some of the more advanced playground equipment interactions, although that was more a limitation of my own programming. We wanted to have stuff where you could run up rope ramps, through tubes and down slides. It was a mess to integrate that with all the fighting action, though - so many things could potentially go wrong.

What's the one thing about the way you develop games that you think helps you do your job best?

Tom: We don't plan as much as we should, which results in a much more organic, stream-of-consciousness approach to our games. We get crazy ideas and we find a way to throw them in with everything else. We work fast and furious!

So was there a schedule at all?

Tom: No schedule, we just worked on it when we could. We had finished 80% of the game in a very short time, but that final 20% is always the killer. I remember we got sidetracked by Comic-Con, then it ended up being months later before we wrapped things up.

Was there a time where it felt like the crunch was on and was there something you could have done differently earlier on to have eased that later period of crunch?

Tom: We should have just burned through the game in one shot, rather than let it drag. There was never a set release date, so there was never a real serious crunch.

What's next for you?

Tom: With the Behemoth team, Dan and I are working on a new console game featuring medieval knights. Fans of Dad 'n Me will definitely enjoy it, as we're taking the brawler formula a lot further and introducing fun RPG and treasure hunting elements. It will still be completely dark, violent and cute at the same time. We're feeling really good about it!

Thanks much for your time. Enjoy the rest of the conference!

Interview conducted by Drew "Gaiiden" Sikora

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