World of Goo is taking the gaming world by storm at the moment, garnering off-the-charts reviews and lavish praise from all corners of the gaming press and blogosphere. I've been playing it pretty much non-stop since its early release last night, so it's likely I'm composing this post in a sleep-deprived state of delirium - which seems an appropriate state of mind for the madcap rush of delirious joy that is World of Goo.
This isn't a review. If you'd like to read one of those, I recommend John Walker's superlative-filled response to the game at Rock, Paper, Shotgun; a site, by the way, not given to fits of critical happy dancing.
I want to reflect, instead, on the positive effects of doing things right. Because if there's one thing that can be said about Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler, the two guys responsible for this bundle of joy, it's that they deserve every bit of praise raining down on them. From they beginning, their approach to building this game and bringing it to us can be seen as a model for how to do an indie game right.
I met Carmel and Gabler at the Independent Games Festival at GDC last February. World of Goo was running in a kiosk wedged into rows of other kiosks featuring indie games like Audiosurf, Crayon Physics Deluxe, and The Path. Curious attendees jammed the aisles, gathering around each demo, straining to hear the designers answering questions about their games. No crowd was bigger than the one huddled around the World of Goo booth.
For three days I watched Carmel and Gabler patiently and enthusiastically walk endless streams of visitors through the game, explaining their inspirations, answering questions, and generally serving as amiable hosts in the worst atmosphere for conversation imaginable. Each time I tried to make my way to them, I was crowded out or simply ran out of time in my schedule. Finally, near the end of the third day I was able to chat with Gabler by myself, and I must say he looked shell-shocked. Hoarse and bedraggled after hours and hours on his feet, he was nevertheless friendly and fully-engaged, and he made every effort to explain his game for the zillionth time to yet another guy with a badge bearing the name of a blog he had never heard of.
This is what you do at GDC when you're an indie developer trying to get your game noticed, and World of Goo certainly generated more than its share of buzz. It won IGF awards for Design Innovation and Technical Excellence, and 2D Boy emerged as one of the most promising new developers at the show. Carmel and Gabler's excitement and gratitude at the awards ceremony were a delight to see.
Fast forward eight months, and World of Goo continues to do things right. 2D Boy releases a demo and announces versions will be available for PC, Mac, and Linux, as well as the Wii. Linux users like me leap for joy. Forums open and Carmel and Gilbert regularly appear to answer technical questions and track down bugs. A spirit of friendly, jovial cooperation permeates the place. There is even a dedicated forum devoted to "Pictures of your Cat."
Finally, last night the game is released "quietly" a day early. After purchasing, I receive an email with confirmation that World of Goo continues to get it right:
We are trying an experiment: World of Goo has absolutely no copy protection or DRM at all, since we want to give you (and everyone) the best experience we can. Thanks for not distributing this, and helping us make this possible!
The message is signed: "With Love, 2D Boy Automated Email Friend." With love indeed. Everything about World of Goo exudes a spirit of love for games and gamers. Even the installation process receives the wry 2D Boy treatment, lampooning corporate largesse:
Install screen 1: World of Goo welcomes you, valued customer, to an enjoyable installation process!
Install screen 2: Here at the World of Goo Corporation we understand that your disk space is valuable.
Install screen 3: Your enjoyable installation process is complete! Good luck.
The game loading screen scrolls platitudes and self-critiques by you almost faster than you can read them:
Constructing non-linear narrative
Blitting powers of two
Meticulously diagramming fun
Deterministically simulating the future
All this before the game itself even begins. World of Goo is a truly wonderful and quietly subversive game. I hope the game community rewards 2D Boy for going out of its way to treat us with respect and, yes, even love. In my view, it's the least we can do.