In on the Secret

I’m lucky to know the indie developers, Chris Klimas and Joel Haddock of
TwoFold Secret in real life. 
Conversations at parties are always fun as they share the same love of
gaming that I do; those conversations are always a nice retreat for when the
women folk are talking about shoes or some such.  Though, to be fair, I’m pretty sure their
wardrobe c0nversations are mostly started because we won’t shut up about games.

I’ve also been fortunate to get sneak peeks into the games Joel and
Chris have worked on or are currently working on.  These previews have done nothing but heighten
the respect I have for their work – if I could be half the writer/designer that
they are I’d be very happy.

With that in mind here are some random questions I sent their way:

Austin Auclair,
Zombie Apocalypse:
Did you learn anything from Where We Remain and Sanctuary 17 that you’re going to carry
over into future projects?

Chris Klimas, Twofold Secret:  It’s incredibly easy to create a very
difficult game. I think I had the naive assumption that difficult games would
require difficult work — e.g. complicated puzzles or intricately-designed
enemies – when that’s not the case at all. So with Where We Remain, we ended up creating a fairly simple game that
turned out to be pretty difficult, especially when you are first starting out.

I really like the idea of learning what a game is about and how it works as you
play, but I think it’s also the responsibility of a game to at least teach you
the basics of how to play it, so that you are having fun during this
exploration. I think it’s especially important when you’re writing a
browser-based game, because players are literally a click away from another
game. You have to provide a good experience within… probably the first 30 seconds
to two minutes? Or else I think you lose people.

Joel Haddock, Twofold Secret:  I would say the most important lesson we
learned is that “hey, we can actually do this!” There had been
half-hearted attempts in the past between the two of us to put together a game,
but for the first time, we finally sat down, grit our teeth, and got the whole
thing done.

Beyond that rather important realization, I think
we also learned the critical, if somewhat obvious, lesson that as the game
designers, we are not always the most objective when it comes to judging the
product. When you build something, know all the ins-and-outs, you start to
forget that what seems easy to you might not be so easy for a regular player,
and that what you think is obvious is not always so clear.

Austin Auclair,
Zombie Apocalypse:
 Is there
anything in particular you hope to accomplish with your next project?

Chris Klimas, Twofold
I have two goals. The first is to make it much, much more accessible than
our previous ones. I’ve been trying to hover over as many people’s shoulders as
I can while they play builds of the game. What I care about most of all is,
where are people get confused? Where are they getting frustrated?

I think it’s possible to have a moment in a game where players are thinking,
“I have no idea what to do next,” and yet be having fun. But it’s
probably not possible to make that happen right at the start. So I’m trying to
make that happen as infrequently as I can.

My second goal is more abstract — I want players to be delighted, in the
sense of being surprised in a happy way, several times while they play. It
makes it really hard to put together stuff for Screenshot Saturday, for
example, because I want to surprise people with even some of the basic elements
of the game. In all honesty, since this is going to be on the Internet, I
expect many of these surprises will get quote-unquote spoiled about five
minutes after it gets released. But I hope not all of them will, and that
people who want to go into it fresh will find some great stuff.

Joel Haddock, Twofold
 To echo
Chris, I think the best thing we can do is create that feeling of
“delighted surprise.” If you can throw something at a player that
makes them smile, even if for just a moment, and think “that was really
cool!” then I think you’ve done something wonderful.   It’s one thing to make a game that is
playable, but it’s an entirely other thing to make one that is memorable.

Austin Auclair,
Zombie Apocalypse:
 What genre
of video game would you be terrified of designing? And if you were forced into
developing a game in said genre, how do you think you’d approach it?

Joel Haddock, Twofold
 Tough one!
 Thinking about it, I’d have to go with a fighting game. I just don’t even
know where I’d begin. All the considerations for balance, player ability, types
of input… it’s a lot to think about.  

I suppose, to start, I’d think of a theme, and sketch out some
characters based on that.  Then I would start to think about the most
basic of actions available to them, and try and build a basic system with
nothing but kicks and punches, just to get a baseline system in place. From
there, it’d be a matter of moving up the tiers of abilities for each character,
one at a time, seeing what feels right, and then testing them against each
other to make sure nothing is skewing in any one player’s favor.
 Fortunately, there are plenty of fighting games out there to watch and
learn from, and that’s an amazing resource by itself.

Chris Klimas, Twofold
That’s a really good question. 
Probably a puzzle game along the lines of the Lolo series for the NES, or Braid.
So many of the puzzles in these games require lateral thinking or some other
flash of insight. So it seems like for every level you design, you’d have to
figure out some new trick to base it around. It feels like that would be a lot
of pressure on you as a designer. 

As for how I’d handle it, I guess I would try
to build a sandbox level, set up some objects and basic rules, and try to find interesting
implications from them by noodling around. But a much better answer to this
would probably be to hit the books on puzzle design. It’s kind of the same
challenge as designing those puzzles made out of wood or metal where you have
to rearrange pieces — it’s not the moves you make themselves that are
interesting, but the 
thought process that drives them.

Austin Auclair,
Zombie Apocalypse:
 If an
elderly indie developer passed away leaving you countless millions with the
requirement that it must be spent on Twofold Secret, where would you start?

Chris Klimas, Twofold
I would buy ourselves time. Both of us are doing this as a side gig, which
has its ups and downs. We’re not beholden to pretty much anyone; we can do
whatever we want and the worst that can happen is people on the Internet hate
on it. But it does mean we work much slower than we could. So of course it
would be nice to have our cake and eat it too, to work on things fulltime
without having to worry about commercial implications.

Joel Haddock, Twofold
 Again, to
echo Chris: time. We are past our college days where we could ignore our
schoolwork and spend our days and nights plugging away at this, and now we’ve
both got careers and a multitude of other responsibilities to take care of. If
I could pull a regular paycheck doing this, and spend far more time focused on
it, it would be an amazing thing. Of course, as Chris does say, with this being
a hobby (essentially), we don’t have to worry about the price of failure.
 This gives us a lot more freedom in terms of creating things that we want
to, not those that we think we have to. 

Austin Auclair,
Zombie Apocalypse:
 Your first
two games do a good job of developing an interesting narrative as the game
goes on and as main character runs for his life.   Simply put, how do
you like to tell a story?

Joel Haddock, Twofold
 I am a firm
believer in telling a story through game play, and of making sure that the
player’s choices have an important bearing on how that story develops. Games,
unlike books or movies, have that element of choice for the person experiencing
the story, and to ignore that is not take full advantage of the medium.  I
think nothing draws a player more into a game than the feeling that they are
building the world themselves. If you can let the player act out their
“but what if…” questions, you are giving them a (hopefully)
fascinating experience.  But what if I don’t rescue the princess in time?
But what if I don’t want to fight the dragon?  Even in a heavily scripted
experience like a Final Fantasy,
there should always be room for player decision making. 

Also, to get back to the idea of “delighted surprise,” having
stories grow in directions the player didn’t expect is always important. I
attended a talk recently called “Losing Should Be Fun,” about looking
at new ways of dealing with failure in games, and it gave me some interesting
ideas about how to defy player expectations in new ways when it comes to life and
death in games.

Chris Klimas, Twofold
That’s a hard question. I think it’s much more interesting to have narratives
develop as a matter of course during game play, rather than have cut scenes or
a big intro at the start of the game. I’m a huge fan of the Marathon series, which used this tactic
really successfully. Because players aren’t given a lot of information right from
the outset, what drives the narrative forward is finding out exactly what’s
going on in the story. So, from a design perspective, your job as a designer is
to give people interesting questions and then, eventually, provide satisfying

For our upcoming game, I wrote a synopsis of the plot, maybe five paragraphs
laying it out. Which is funny as I never would write story outlines before I
started making games. I’ve been writing the actual text as level design
progresses. It’s really neat to write and do level design simultaneously —
there’s a rhythm to game play that you have to take into account when writing
text, almost like working with meter in poetry. Too much text in one spot is
overwhelming, obviously, but there are also a lot of interesting possibilities
when you couple game play to narrative. You can make some passages slower or
faster to read, or you can force the player to pause at a specific point in the
text by spacing things out.

Austin Auclair,
Zombie Apocalypse:
 What was
the last indie game you played?

Chris Klimas, Twofold
suteF, which I’ve been trying to tell as many people
about as I can. The level design is clever, and there’s also a great WTF factor
to the game. I’m not sure why but I love games that unnerve me — not like the Resident Evil series, where it’s mostly
stuff jumping out at you from the darkness, but stuff like the old Silent Hills or Deadly

where there’s this feeling things aren’t right, but you don’t
fully understand it.

Joel Haddock, Twofold
 I don’t know
if I can actually say?  It hasn’t actually been released yet, and the
designer just sold the license for it to a very popular website, so I really
don’t want to spill any beans that I shouldn’t be. At any rate, it had a
certain pop to it that just made you want to smile, and it dealt with the whole
theme of character death in a very interesting way as it related to puzzle

Austin Auclair,
Zombie Apocalypse:

Austin Auclair,
Zombie Apocalypse:
 Can you
tell us about anything about the next game you’re working on?

Joel Haddock, Twofold
a platformer, and I’ve gotten to animate an awful lot of birds.  The rest
writes itself.

Chris Klimas, Twofold
The summary I’ve been giving people has been “It’s a platformer
a man who dreams of rebuilding his life after his home burns down.” I can’t
give Joel enough credit, he didn’t bat an eye when I pitched the concept to him
and that statement was punctuated with “uhh I think it could be
about…” and “maybe.” But even now, I realize that’s kind of out
there as a game concept, but that’s part of why I like it.

Austin Auclair,
Zombie Apocalypse:
 What’s your
favorite adventure game?

Chris Klimas, Twofold
For graphical adventures, I think it’s a tie right now between Indiana Jones: Fate of Atlantis and Full Throttle. I remember Indy’s puzzles
as being more enjoyable, and obviously it has more meat on its bones with its
three paths, but Full Throttle is
ultimately much more memorable. I could narrate out almost everything that
happened in Full Throttle even now,
but with Indy it’s a lot foggier. I remember places 
but not plot points.

I probably will be struck dead for what I’m about to say since I have not
played Grim Fandango and everyone
raves about it, but to me Full Throttle
is the game where LucasArts and Tim Schaefer were at their peak. And I think,
of all the companies doing it back then, LucasArts got the graphical adventure
most right. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to the IF world here,
too. This is actually harder for me to decide, but I still have really good memories
of Anchorhead. Just a well-designed
set of puzzles, not too hard or too easy, and it’s probably the best riff on
Lovecraft I’ve 
seen in a game.

Joel Haddock, Twofold
 Maniac Mansion will always hold a
special place in my heart, as it was the first adventure game I played way back
on the Apple IIe.  Though I never managed to beat it back then, I just
enjoyed playing it so much I would start over and over again.  Of course, Day of the Tentacle is one of the
greatest adventure games ever made (in my opinion), and much like Chris and Full Throttle, I could quote you entire
passages from Day of the Tentacle
from memory.

The Space Quest series took up
a lot of my time in my younger days as well, though they haven’t aged quite
gracefully due to their somewhat unforgiving difficulty and often pretty
arbitrary puzzle design. That being said, I’d still love to see the series make
a comeback.  By the same token, the Quest
for Glory
series was a personal favorite, and had the misfortune of ending
on a rather sour note with part V, which didn’t really seem to know what it
wanted to be. 


Austin Auclair, Zombie Apocalypse: Thanks for the time gentlemen!  Readers, go play their games right away.  

Where We Remain

Sanctuary 17


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