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Interview with GoNNER’s Designer Mattias “D!TTØ” Dittrich

The first time I heard about GoNNER was when indie developer Rami Ismail tweeted out a picture with a shirt he was wearing that had the game’s logo on it. I was immediately intrigued. I wanted to learn more about this mysterious title and the designer behind it. I had been following the developer simply known as “D!TTØ” on Twitter since I saw Rami’s shirt. From his Twitter, I discovered a treasure trove of lovely prototypes on itch.io that sold me. After a quick search I learned that GoNNER was a gorgeous roguelike platformer coming out soon- so of course, I pre-ordered it immediately. I was not disappointed.

GoNNER is a gem of a game that feels like so many of my favourite games while still being a new and fresh experience. Every part of GoNNER is just gushing with style. The vibrant colourful worlds, the incredible soundtrack, the tight platforming and the satisfying “pop” of seeing an enemy turn into a puff of skulls and smoke. It’s brutal. And it’s awesome.

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I loved GoNNER more than most games I played last year, and in recent memory. I decided to reach out about an interview with the designer. I’d asked plenty of developers many times before but due to the incredibly demanding lives of indie developers and the fact I’m an online nobody I was surprised and delighted when he agreed. So here is more about one of 2016’s best games and one of the coolest up and coming indie devs out there.

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Mattias Dittrich

[Stephan] How did you get started making games? Did you always want to work in games?

[D!TTØ] Since the first time I saw that green scrolling stuff in The Matrix I wanted to become a programmer. In high school I finally got the chance, I started making small little game projects with a friend as a way to practice programming. But when the rest of the class moved on to learn more programming languages and get a deeper knowledge of computers I was hooked learning about level design, game mechanics and rendering techniques.

[Stephan] What were some of your inspirations (games, films, etc.) for GoNNER and your prototypes?

[D!TTØ] GoNNER proudly “borrows” elements from other games that I like. The obvious inspirations are probably Super Meat Boy and Mega Man 2. When the enemies die they turn into a big skull explosion, something that I stole- err.. borrowed from Vlambeers LUFTRAUSERS. The death character takes inspiration from a Scott Benson animation. The tree where your heads grow is inspired by a Norwegian comic called Stay Still Stay Silent. The world snakes are my interpretation of the pipes that Mario jumps through.

[Stephan] How did you approach designing GoNNER’s user interface? It’s so fitting, it moves like the world around it and feels so alive. Was it always so minimalist or was there a process to get down to what made it into the final game?boss-battle

[D!TTØ] The original idea was to keep it as minimal as possible. Early on I had decided that every “living” object in the game needs to be wobbly, bubbly and placed within the world’s space, and so when it was time to create the UI it came pretty natural to treat it the same way! The first iteration had some more elements, it showed what type of weapon you’re carrying for instance. But as we were playing we soon realised we should shave off any UI we’re not looking at, less is more and all that!

[Stephan] Why did you decide to use procedurally generated levels instead of levels you design? The boss fights aren’t procedurally generated, were these added after the procedurally generated levels were implemented or before?

[D!TTØ] I love procedurally generated games. I love the feeling of mystery, the possibility of discovering things that not even the designer knew about. It’s also interesting to involve the computer’s capabilities as much as possible in the game, taking advantage of the fact that we’re now making digital games instead of board games.

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The boss levels are actually procedurally generated to some degree, though they use very strict rules on how to generate those levels. This mostly has to do with the behaviours the boss has, to make sure they don’t get stuck in a wall or something. Designing and implementing even slightly complex behaviour in a procedurally generated world is very difficult!

[Stephan] Is there a mechanism within GoNNER to generate slightly harder levels as the player progresses or is it just divided up by the worlds in terms of difficulty?

[D!TTØ] The difficulty of a generated level is based on how far you’ve gotten in that world. It mostly dictates how long/big the level will be, but a number of enemies within that level is then based on how big the level is. I’ve also put some restrictions on what types of enemies are allowed to spawn in what level, to smooth the difficulty a little.

[Stephan] Why did you choose to skip any sort of onscreen tutorial? Were you worried the game wouldn’t be as accessible or players without a certain level of skill and ability wouldn’t be able to enjoy all the worlds and the music?

[D!TTØ] A lot of games tend to hold the player’s hand too much, explaining every single mechanic to the point that there’s no exploration left for the player to enjoy. I might have overdone it, but I wanted GoNNER to act as a reaction to that. There’s so many mechanics in GoNNER that you’re bound to discover some of them by accident, and hopefully that makes you want to explore until you figure the rest of them out by your own account. Players are smarter than what a lot of game designers give them credit for.

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[Stephan] What’s some advice you wish you’d had at the start of the development
process for GoNNER that someone trying to get into indie game dev should know?

[D!TTØ] Don’t ever, never ever, NEVER think you know what you’re doing. You don’t. Everything is guesswork. You’ll never make an informed decision in your life.

Learn to deal with that and take as many chances as you can.

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[Stephan] Several months after release, how do you feel about the launch and reception of GoNNER?

[D!TTØ] I’m incredibly proud of the game that me, Martin Kvale and Joar Renolen managed to create! Launching the game on Steam and seeing so many people play it was surreal. I love trying to learn what worked and what didn’t in the game, and trying to improve everything I can through updates have been a crazy learning experience in both game design, communication and how to interpret and receive feedback. It couldn’t have gone better I think!

[Stephan] What’s next for Art In Heart? Further GoNNER updates/DLC/ports (PS4, Xbox One, mobile – I’m very excited for the Switch version<3)? Another colourful, challenging roguelike action-platformer? Something entirely different?

[D!TTØ] I don’t want to give too much away, but I’m working on some pretty big updates for the game right now! AND!!! We recently announced that GoNNER is coming to Nintendo Switch!!

For future games, I’m sure they’ll be colourful, but that’s about as much as I can promise! 🙂

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GoNNER was developed by Art in Heart which is composed of @MartinKvale and of course @D!TTØ with an incredible soundtrack by @JoarRenolen. It was published by Raw Fury Games (@rawfurygames) on Steam on October 12th, 2016 and is coming to the Nintendo Switch! Check out GoNNER‘s wicked cool site for more info.

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