The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom Q&A

Creative director Matt Korba explains his ideas and thought processes during the creation of this upcoming puzzle platformer.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom captured our attention last year at the 2008 Electronic Entertainment Expo where it was tucked away in the indie section but still managed to shine brightly enough to snag a spot as one of our 10 finalists for Game of Show. A puzzle platformer with a unique visual style, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom uses an interesting recording mechanic so that you can manipulate clones of yourself to collect delicious pies. We had an opportunity to meet creative director and lead designer Matt Korba a few weeks ago to play the game and get an idea of how the game works on the Xbox 360 (more details here). Now, we check in with Korba once again to get more juicy details about the mischievous pie-loving gentleman and show an exclusive trailer.

GameSpot: How did the idea of P.B. Winterbottom originate? What's this guy's story?

Matt Korba: At USC, many of my past projects explored themes of replay, alternate timelines, and looping. I also was spinning around an idea about a game that would capture the essence and the charm of an early silent film. I have my B.A. in film and still love watching early films. These two ideas along with Back to the Future Part II, Edward Gorey, and delicious treats merged sometime around my first year in grad school.

Winterbottom is a mischievous villain with a heart of gold and a nose for delectable sweets. We wanted to create a simple character with a simple motivation, much like Scrat in the Ice Age shorts or any character in a Pixar short. Pie came about as the motivation simply because it was 4 a.m., Paul Bellezza (cofounder and producer) and I were on about 10 Red Bulls apiece, we had to make a presentation in a few hours, and we decided that there are two types of people in the world: lovers of pie and fascists. We sure knew which side we were on; pie was delicious and we wanted to tell the world about it.

GS: How would you have approached the project differently if it wasn't for your thesis?

MK: I don't know that I would have. The process was natural and dynamic enough that we try to incorporate it into our company's pipelines.

GS: The mechanics and gameplay have been compared to Braid. Did that game change or influence how you approached P.B. Winterbottom?

MK: Braid is a wonderful game. The time mechanics in Braid did not influence Winterbottom so much because our concepts were already far along when we saw it. However, the structure of Braid's world helped us to organize Winterbottom's world and ideas. Jon served as an advisor on the project and helped us with how we wanted the player to feel and advised us to minimize all lose cases for what we were going for.

GS: How do you keep the time/recording mechanic fresh?

MK: Because the recording system is so open, we were able to put a lot of variance on the mechanic. We have a huge puzzle document of different spins on the mechanic. We probably have hit one-sixteenth of these ideas in the first game. Some ideas that are covered in the game include: What if your clones were evil? What if you only had a limited amount of time or clones to use? What if there were pies only clones could collect? These ideas, while keeping the same basic actions, allow for keeping the mechanic fresh and puzzles intriguing.

Everyone loves pie!

GS: What was your process when it came to designing the puzzles?

MK: It took awhile to figure out how to design challenging puzzles that allowed players to solve them however they wanted and did not have a set scripted solution. The way we did it was to think of a Winterbottom chain reaction or machine we wanted to see and work backward, placing the pieces in the scene for the player to perform with. Then we would observe how people actually tried to solve the puzzles and tweak and adjust until their way was possible. Other times, we saw a way we thought was too cheesy to allow and would tweak the other way. The goal was to be able to go on YouTube and see a solution that the designers never thought possible. Fortunately, we have experienced this already at the different shows Winterbottom has been at. It's a crazy feeling seeing a 10-year-old-kid show you up in your own game.

GS: Tell us about the art style of the game. Why did you decide to go with the black-and-white silent film look?

MK: Winterbottom was to be a silent film game for a couple of reasons. First, I love silent film and feel that for the most part the humor and charm still hold up. Second, silent film's told their story through funny title cards and action; both tools readily available to a student game maker. I didn't want to tell a story with over-the-top cutscenes and cheesy voice-overs. On top of that, I wanted to make a silent film that functioned more like a creepy children's book. Edward Gorey meets silent film is pretty much the atmosphere we wanted to go for, and the look supports that. While many big companies are trying to tell epic Lord of the Ring-style tales, I feel like we as an industry haven't learned to tell a simple children's book story yet through the medium. So let's start there.

GS: Could you comment on the music and how it fits within the game?

MK: The music is composed by David Stanton whom I met at school. It was one of those moments that just kind of clicked. He looked at the concept art and submitted what is basically the opening track as his audition piece. He was only given one note, "creepy/ quirky silent film," and he went to town. I personally feel that the music is one of the biggest factors that helps sell the world, and we are lucky to be working David.

GS: Did the game turn out the way you'd expect it to?

MK: Yes and no. I mean originally it was a game about time-traveling dinosaurs. The game today is very much what we imagined as students, and it's been pretty magical to see it take shape. Whenever new art or music comes in, it always turns out better then we expected it to be, so that's always a nice surprise. Of course with any production schedule, things had to be cut, but we try to make our limitations our strengths. And perhaps it's for the better that the game doesn't end with an epic moon battle where Winterbottom fights off a horde of evil martians hell-bent on destroying planet earth.

GS: That would have been something. Thanks for your time!

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