Wattam E3 <3

So - we are finally back and settled in after a very exciting and heartwarming E3. Summer is upon us, and as we stop and reflect on all the wonderful moments, it's a little overwhelming.

What's it like to reveal a game like Wattam to the general public? Well, we can start with: amazing, scary, fun and exhausting. The booth was packed with people every day, between demos, interviews and playing other amazing indie games at the booth and on the floor - we didn't get much rest. But it was all worth it!

LA Times - 10 Games To Watch - "Wattam" is charmingly silly, a game designed to showcase the sheer joy of play and imagination.

Guardian UK - 13 Favorite Games of E3  - This collaboration between Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi and Funomena, the new studio from Journey producer Robin Hunicke was everything we hoped for and more."

Venture Beat – Dean Takahashi Best Games of E3 - Never have we seen such a goofy premise for a video game. I’m not surprised it’s fun.

GamesRadar - Best of E3 - It's colorful, silly, and joyous. It's a celebration of everything that links us together; of our common bonds and togetherness

IGN Best of E3 Nomination - Biggest Surprise  - Suffice it to say, any cynicism that touches this game will immediately recoil in screeching terror as it melts into a bubbling black pool. It’s just that delightful.

It's hard to convey in the face of all this lovely praise just how uncertain it can feel to make something "unexpected." How nervous we were about people enjoying Wattam, even though at its core, it was inspired by the idea that games can be fun for everyone, playing together, without being told exactly what to do.  And how scary it is to "explain" or "sell" a game that has to be played to be believed.

But somehow, our intentions came across \0/

Polygon: There's a lot of that in Wattam: holding hands, hugs, being friends with an eclectic group of things. It's special and lovable, the kind of thing you can play with kids or grandparents, anyone who might want to see what a game is capable of when designed with pure joy as your starting point.

Onion AV Club:  Like the best family-friendly works, it’s capable of both unbridled joy and valuable introspection and moves swiftly between the two.

Killscreen:  Through a combination of wacky rules and rewarding experimentation, Funomena appears to be a digital play space that encourages a mentality summed by up a question: "why the hell not?".

Hardcore Gamer: If you want someone to love the game you simply need to put a controller in their hands and ask them to play. It’s in actually exploring the wonderfully weird world of Wattam that you can truly understand how special it is.

We love making Wattam because it isn't the kind of game you would expect. And we love building the systems within it - which aren't things you would see juxtaposed in other games. We love creating a world full of silly characters and bizarre interactions that are "laugh-out-loud" fun. And we were thrilled to have friends like Fumito Ueda and Warren Spector enjoy the game, to hear their encouraging words and see them smile. It means we're heading somewhere great!

As I explained in Keith's lovely Guardian piece about Funomena and our goals here, game development is an uncertain adventure. And we had no idea when we brought Wattam to E3 just how many hugs we were in for. Thanks to everyone who encouraged us and supported us in sharing this game with the world. We honestly couldn't be more grateful - and look forward to showing more of it to you in the coming months!

Best Interview Questions of E3

Drumroooollll please!! The Funomena Award for Best Interview Questions of E32015 goes to... the Onion AV club! Such a fun set of questions - really made my day! My favorite of them all?

AVC: Last one. If your game were the main course of the meal, what would be the appetizer and what would be the dessert?

RH: [Laughs.] That’s so fun. Okay, if our game were the main course, the appetizer—in terms of food? I would say the appetizer would be a really subtle miso soup to prepare you for the flavor extravaganza of the main course. And then on the other side of it, the dessert would be a cleansing sherbet that left almost no taste in your mouth, so you could think back to the main courses and just enjoy those sensations.

Way to ask these questions in the last hour of E3, Matt/Onion readers! We are (almost) already looking forward to next year... 

Sharing Wattam

Well - it certainly has been a busy couple of weeks here at Funomena! As you may know, we have finally begun to reveal the joyful, musical and silly world of Wattam, which we first announced last December at PSX with this strange little teaser. After a lot of hard work, we let the game loose at a special pre-E3 event where we played, laughed and goofed off all night long in a crazy geodesic dome. To say that this evening of playing and seeing others enjoy the game gave us a warm feeling would be a gross understatement. Keita and I were practically glowing by the time the night was through!

Among those to play the game were Game Trailer's Brandon Jones, Destructoid's Jordan Devore and Venture Beat's Dean Takahashi, who each had lovely things to say about Wattam, how joyful it was to play, and how important arty, different, unexpected Indie Games are within the overall ecosystem of games as a medium: 

The indies such as Funomena aren’t going to replace the corporate titles ... but the indie games will give fans something to play in between the giant releases. They quench our thirst for original games, art, and stories. They’re like Miramax, delivering the Academy-Award-winning movies while Hollywood cranks out the blockbusters.
— VentureBeat

It feels good to read these previews, knowing how hard we have worked to make a game that defies description and categorization. Why do such a thing? Because only by defying the status quo can we explore new territory - which is the goal of all Funomenauts!

As news and footage of the game spread, we began seeing more talk about Wattam's unusually compelling, open-ended gameplay. This candid walkthrough and preview from Polygon's Michael McWhertor made us all smile. It's true - Wattam is about a bunch of things that seem playfully disconnected... until you realize that the fundamental mechanic of the game is connection itself. And that connection feels... kind of awesome:

Learning how these friends interact and what particular skills they have — a toilet friend can “flush,” a coffee bean can “buzz,” a turntable can “party” — is where the fun experimentation of Wattam comes in. It’s a small but repeatable pleasure to make the turntable go nuts by pressing the party button, causing strobe lights and dance music (complete with totally obnoxious and delightful air horns!) to overtake the game. Hunicke, who was watching a stream of people play the game and must have done so dozens of times, punctuated the room with sharp, genuine-sounding laughs when things like this happened on screen. It’s a laugh-out-loud game, stuffed with silly characters of Takahashi’s design, adorable little animations and charming musical cues. Everything about Wattam feels good.
— Polygon

Let there be no doubt: our laughter while playing Wattam is genuine. It was genuine at the event, and it is genuine each day when we play at the office. While scrubbing the build for bugs and testing new features, we constantly push the system in silly-yet-rewarding directions. We are genuinely amused, surprised and delighted by what the game gives back to us.

Wattam is an exploratory game, based primarily on the physical interactions between tiny simulated people and their gradually unfolding world.  In that universe, Sushi and Poop can dance with Mushrooms and Flowers, as well as stack, grow, bounce, flip, and hold hands. Charming possibility is what the game is all about - which means that we're constantly discovering what Wattam can be as we build it. That discovery is a truly joyful experience. It's why we love making games.

The process of development is not without its frustrations. Building a strange, arty, creative game that encourages you to explore off the beaten path (while still providing you a clear path through its story and challenges) is no task for the timid!  And I would be lying if I said that we weren't incredibly nervous to show Wattam to the press a few weeks ago. What if it's too different? What if people don't get it? What if ... there is no concrete way to say why it's fun?

For us, the game still feels imperfect... like our best work is yet to come. But watching people play and enjoy Wattam on that rooftop in Venice really truly, deeply inspiring. In a very concrete way, that one night of fun gave us the courage to let go and enjoy what was there already, right in front of us.


Wattam isn't finished yet - but it is ready. Now is the time when we see if the world really wants our smiling, magical, technicolor, exploding-with-stars-fish-and-pasta, making friends & playing with family kind of game. 

This is the kind of game best played socially with a group of friends and some beers, or perhaps with a child. Its creation was influenced by Takahashi playing make-believe with his two-year-old. That inspiration shows. Wattam is coming to PlayStation 4 next year, and I am pumped.
— Destructoid

So are we!! And we're thrilled that people are looking forward to it as much as we are. We'll be on the floor at the E3 2015 IndieCade booth, South Hall - #601.  Keita and I will be there playing the game, hanging out with our team, handing out goodies & gathering hugs. If you're around - come say hello!


Play for Fun or Play to Win?

Hi Funomenauts! This is Marc. I’m a relatively new hire here at Funomena, and I've been really excited about working with the people here. When I volunteered to write a blog post, I didn't quite know what I wanted to write about. After thinking about it, and reading back blogs, I decided to write something a little philosophical.  So, I’mma dive right in.

A lot has been made about Playing to Win versus Playing for Fun. There are lots of opinions, and I don't necessarily agree with them, but I do agree that when a player sits down to play there is usually a fundamental divide between attitudes of "Hey, I'm here to have a good time with you" and "I am a better player than you".  Neither of these attitudes is inherently wrong or right, neither of them requires a second player, and despite what most people think, they are not incompatible.

I'm using the terms Playing for Fun (PfF), and Playing to Win (PtW), but they are just placeholders for the underlying concepts. While both of these concepts are probably very intuitive to people, let me lay out how I see them.

Playing for Fun is when you start a game with the primary intention of having a good time. Maybe you want to relax after work with a single player game, or an MMO. Maybe you want to play tag with your daughter. Maybe you want to teach your friend that sweet new boardgame you just bought.  In essence, you are playing to enjoy yourself, and if you’re playing with others, you’re enjoying your time with them.

Playing to Win is when you start a game with the primary intention of claiming victory from within the rules.  Maybe your hockey team is playing the top seed in the league.  Maybe you want to relax after work with a few games of a MOBA, or a sports game.  Maybe you want to practice your chess skills for that upcoming tournament. In essence, you are attempting to best the bar set by yourself or others.

These concepts already exist in parallel in some situations.  A mother teaching her son to play basketball (ostensibly a PtW game) doesn't play her best attempting to defeat the boy. This would simply discourage him, and remove the opportunity for a long term shared interest. This doesn't mean that she would never try, it just needs to be a carefully balanced curriculum.  This is the same reason we don't hand second graders calculus books, and simply grade them as failures when they fail to grasp it immediately.  Not only would this upset the children, it would likely discourage them from pursuing math, because consistent failure is not a good motivator.  Consistent success is also not a good motivator, as studies have shown that it will cause children to expect success and give up on failure.  Hence the careful balancing act in teaching.

So the teacher modulates their skill in training to foster a sense of enjoyment and accomplishment in the student. They provide challenge and encouragement in appropriate but not absolute measures.  They engage a sense of fun to help the student want to come back and play again, and they engage a sense of challenge and competition to help drive learning.

Another area that the concepts of PfF and PtW collide is streaming.  When viewers tune in to a competitive game stream, they don't just want to watch that streamer destroy the competition with the same over-powered strategy. The streamer is responsible for entertaining their audience, and they need to provide fun content for them. This might include anything from simply wearing a silly hat, to offering tutorials, or allowing the audience to engage with them.  Neither a high level of skill, nor a silly hat is necessary.  But most of the most popular game streamers are offering both, a mixture of trying to win their game, and providing a fun atmosphere to do it in.

Even regular gamers will run into this admixture of concepts. Say a group of friends logs into an online game together to defeat a raid boss or take on a random five opponents.  Those friends are likely on chat, cracking jokes, catching up on each others' lives.  They are both having a good time, and trying to defeat something or someone, neither of which is predicated on the other.

As with most things in life, the motivation of a game is not a simple dichotomy. You do not have to play solely with a competitive spirit nor do you have to play solely for enjoyment.  These things can and should be mixed, especially if they let players tailor the experience to what they enjoy, or even better, if the games could tailor themselves to what they glean from a player.

This is an area where I think we as game developers need to think, consider and explore.  Imagine a game where each player's goal is to make the other players have a better time - and they were scored as such.  Not only would the winner have the satisfaction of winning, but also of making their friends feel good. Seems like a 2x win combo to me.

These few existing examples of PfFtW are just ones that I've thought about for this blog, and I'm sure you could think of more, or think up game concepts to purposefully mix the two ideologies.  If you think of any good ones, let me know in the comments below.