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Interview with Mike Henry of The Maw

September 7th, 2008 by

Mike Henry holding the Maw

Mike Henry
Photo by Katie McKiernan

Mike Henry of Twisted Pixel Games was on hand to tell us about his adorable purple people eater, The Maw. The game is a third-person action adventure that you’d get if Jak and Daxter crossbred with Ico, and the baby was a craven purple eating machine (and adorable to boot). The player actually controls Frank, a blue alien with a high-tech leash that in turn controls the Maw. You direct the little predator to eat and grow and do all the heavy lifting that requires no courage at all. Frank gets stuck with everything else.

The Maw doesn’t have a scheduled release date yet, but you can check out the trailer at the official site to get a sense of what to expect when it hits XBLA. In the meantime, read on to find out more about Frank, how the Maw got so cute, and how feasible it is to make a lot from a little as a developer.

Pixelsocks.com: The place to start is with the Maw itself. It’s an evolved alien that wanders around, eats enemies, absorbs their abilities, and grows larger and larger. The striking thing it is that the Maw is just a gelatinous blob with a little eyeball on top, but it’s very expressive despite that fact. I wondered if you could explain how that works.

Maw

Maw
Photo by Katie McKiernan

Mike Our Animator, David Leung, is probably one of the best I’ve worked with. He is really, really good at taking really very little to work with, like you said, no appendages, no limbs, just an eyeball and a mouth, and getting some of the greatest expressions out of it. Actually, the Maw gets big enough toward the end of the game that you really only see purple on the ground and the eyeball. And just animating the eyeball, he’s able to express a crazy range of emotions.

Pixelsocks.com: That reminds me, does the Maw stay cowardly even when he’s enormous?

Mike: No, not much scares him when he gets that big.

Pixelsocks.com: Not much scares him when he’s large enough to eat the world?

Mike: Yeah, he starts out, and he’s really small; he’s kind of a baby. He doesn’t have a sense of how powerful he is. Even at that size, he’s nigh indestructible. He’s just a giant chicken. As he gets bigger and bigger, he learns that nothing much is going to hurt him at all.

Pixelsocks.com: So, that’s the Maw. What about Frank? What’s his deal? He’s standing there quietly, but he’s really running the show.

Mike: He’s the brains of the operation. Maw is . . . pretty stupid. And I don’t know if you noticed in the game, but left to his own devices Maw will try to sneak up on food and totally fail, and things like that. Frank, though, we leave it a little bit ambiguous where Frank comes from, and what his origins are. He crash-landed on this planet, on the same ship as Maw. They’re both incarcerated on the ship, and when the ship crashes, Frank wakes up next to Maw, and they seem to have a special bond between them. So, Frank realizes that in order to get off the planet. So, what better way to get started then with an indestructible purple eating machine?

Pixelsocks.com: Looking at the game, it reminds me of three different games. There’s Kirby games, for the absorbent power thing. Then there’s Katamari, because when you’re small, you eat small; you get bigger, you eat bigger. And then there’s Ico, because you’ve got kind of a hand-holding mechanic, even if it is a high-tech leash. So where did the idea come from—any influences?

Mike: Well, I can’t really give you the whole story, because I wasn’t the one that came up with the idea. That was also our animator, and our creative director, Josh Bear. They have all kinds of crazy ideas rolling around in their heads. They always thought that it would be an awesome idea for a game to have this leash mechanic: where your character really can’t do a whole lot, but what he can do is different that what another character can do, and you can lead him around on a leash. So idea was originally about the gameplay, and the Maw and Frank evolved as good players for that story. Also, we were also big fans of A Boy and His Blob. We deviated from that formula a little bit, but we love that game.

Pixelsocks.com: Something I’ve noticed that something sets you apart from the rest of the PAX 10 is that you’ve got this big, artistically rich game. It’s got to be demanding in terms of art aspects and size. But I understand you’re realeasing it on Live Arcade, so, is it actually going to fit into the standard size limit?

Mike: Thanks to Microsoft increasing the size limit, it’s going to be way under. But it would have fit into 150. It’s about 125, 130, right now. From the start, I think we started working on it back when the limit was 50. So we were extra paranoid from the beginning to set up our engine so we could compress everything down to the smallest size possible while still having animations, and sounds, and music, and that’s not cheap no matter what you do. We wanted to make sure we had enough room for all that and all the expressiveness and music and still fit in that size. I still think that, we’re at 125 right now, if push came to shove, we probably could have squeezed that down to 50.

Pixelsocks.com: So PAX is sporting the first playable demo of your game, is that right?

Mike: Yes, that is correct.

Pixelsocks.com: So how far along would you say you are in the development process?

Mike: We are right near the end. We are polishing the last few things up. Really, after that point, it’s up to Microsoft for when they can fit us into their release schedule. It’s “Coming Soon.”

Pixelsocks.com: So, one last question: if you had to pick one thing that is the one core design idea that makes The Maw fun, and separates it from everything else—what makes The Maw special?

Mike: The big thing we wanted to push with it was personality. So, I would say that even over and above the actual mechanics of the game and all that, we wanted to make sure it was a memorable experience for the players because they got attached to the characters, and they wanted to know more about the characters, and would be sad when the game was over because they don’t get to continue the adventure with the characters anymore. That’s something that a lot of games don’t have the space for, as you said, on X Box Live Arcade. But we really wanted to push that, because this is the first original title we’re doing as a company.

Pixelsocks.com: Thank you very much.

Mike: No problem.

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  • 1 Ron Henry Sep 9, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    The interview was great. The interviewee appears to be the prodigy of geniousity!