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Pax Spotlight: The Rabbit and the Owl- Interview with Formal Sheep’s Gary Chao

By: Scarlette
Wanted to let you geeks know that Formal Sheep is at Pax West 2016! You can find The Rabbit and the Owl playable demo on the 4th floor, the exhibition hall, below the Pax Rising sign. And if you cant find the sign, just look for the Twitch booth or the Resident Evil demo, and you’ll find Rabbit and the Owl nestled comfortably in all the Pax spotlight. Be sure to check out the demo, and let Formal Sheep know that Mithical Entertainment sent you!
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If you’re into puzzles and platformers, we highly reccomend that you check out  The Rabbit and the Owl was recently green lit by the Steam Community and is currently scheduled for a release date of early 2017. The game will be available on Windows, Mac, and Linux DRM-free. You can check out the Greenlight page here for latest updates.
Game Description:The Rabbit and the Owl is a puzzle-platformer which introduces an interdependent 2×2-dimensional landscape. These two characters exist in a world in which a window for one is simultaneously a barrier for the other. You must help the Rabbit and the Owl navigate through the positive and negative spaces of mind-bending puzzles to discover the secrets of the strange land that they are a part of
If you haven’t the utter pleasure of seeing any game play footage of The Rabbit and the Owl you can check out the announcement trailer!
Aboard the hype train yet? Great! We had the great pleasure of interviewing The Rabit and the Owl creator, Gary Chao of Formal Sheep, to see what he had to say about the project and give us some of his insights on what players can expect when they pick up the game.
All images and videos are from in-progress development – subject to change and improvements!
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Scarlette: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into video games?

 

Gary: My name is Gary Chao, and I’ve been a huge fan of games of all genres since I was first introduced to them as a child watching my brother and sister play games like Commander Keen and Zork. I graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s in Computer Science in 2013. As I was studying, I started seeing how bits and pieces of games could have been implemented with techniques I was learning in class. By the time I graduated, I felt it was the best time to take a risk and try developing a game to hopefully launch a career in the industry in which I have the most passion. I’ve always loved playing games so why not make them?

S: Is the Rabbit and the Owl your first video game production? Have you worked on other video game projects in the past?

 

G: The Rabbit and the Owl will be my debut game. After college, I moved back home to save on costs and worked on many nameless prototypes for about a year and a half before coming up with The Rabbit and the Owl. I was never really satisfied with any of them. These include a point-and-click adventure game, an action-platformer, and a twin-stick shooter. I was able to at least learn something from each attempt – I don’t think The Rabbit and the Owl would be half as interesting if it was the first thing I worked on.S: Why use the puzzle platformer genre instead of a different game genre?

 

G: I felt like I wanted an intellectually stimulating game, so I thought the best way would be to engage players in both an interesting story and in puzzles. I also felt 2d was the best way to portray the black and white mechanic clearly. A puzzle-platformer seemed like the natural choice. The side-scrolling view vs. top-down view was just a personal preference.
S: We love puzzle platformers though, tell us about your design process for levels.

G: Designing puzzles is a lot like solving them, except there are so many ways it could go since you start with a blank slate. The best way I go about that is given the mechanics in the game, I figure out what combination of them I haven’t done yet and try to build around that. I always ask myself, “What is the point of this level?” I usually have 1 or 2 points. I also have a set list of rules that I have to constantly remind myself of like “Don’t put more than 4 levers/pressure pads on the screen” or “Difficult to figure out, easy to execute.”

S: The art direction and level design is very straight forward ; is that because the Owl and the Rabbit arent just character to move around but pieces of the puzzles themselves? If so, please elaborate on what we can expect to use each character for.

G: Yes, the characters are part of the puzzles! They need to be in the right place at the right time to solve puzzles. Functionally, each character will be the same – there aren’t any special skills one has over the other. They can create blocks of positive space for each other that can be pushed, pulled, moved with the environment, and used to gain access to places the characters normally wouldn’t be able to own their own. These blocks can also activate pressure pads. Later on in the game, they can even create portals for each other. In many cases, reaching important platforms or locations can’t be accomplished merely on their own. Overall, it’s a lot of figuring out how you can get the Rabbit and Owl to help each other.

 

S: Did you have a story you wanted to tell using the video game medium, or did the story come after knowing you wanted to make puzzle platformer game?

 

G: I didn’t have a particular story I wanted to tell in the beginning – I just knew I wanted to use the core mechanic of using a light and dark interdependent level scheme. The characters used to just be blobs!

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S: Tell us about the background of the game–so far all the information you have put out has left it -puposefully- vague. Throw us a bone! Give us more insight about this world where the Rabbit and the Owl reside.

G: It has been purposefully vague so far! I have a story but working on the details – I don’t want to commit or promise anything. Sorry, I’m just not ready to reveal more! I’m working towards releasing more story details in about a month or so.

S: The Rabbit and The Owl has a very Romeo and Juliet feel to it–what were your inspirations for the game?

 

G: This game has had parts inspired by a multitude of games – Braid, Limbo, Warcraft, and Dark Souls off the top of my head and probably a lot more subconsciously. I really wanted to have a certain feel of simultaneous melancholy, tranquility, and wonder in the game. I suppose the Rabbit and the Owl being the only active characters and that they’re natural enemies in the real world does give that Romeo and Juliet feel to it!

 

S: What was the hardest thing to accomplish with The Rabbit and the Owl?

 

G: Probably coming up with the dynamic collision detection since the playable spaces change constantly for both characters. It took about a month building that from scratch to get that going!

S: What message are you trying to send to your gamers with the Rabbit and the Owl? Any underlining themes we should be aware of?

 

G: My hope is that the story will allow for different interpretations. However, there are some underlying themes – duality, balance, and necessity, to name a few.

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S: Tell us about the proudest moment you had while making the Rabbit and the Owl, and why?

G: My proudest moment probably when I first started to show friends and family what I’d been working on. I’d never shown my old prototypes to them because I never felt they were worth looking at. This was back in October 2015. Their responses were unanimously positive and it gave me enough drive to continue developing the game. I’d almost given up on making games – this game was my last shot I was going to give to myself honestly.

S: Lastly, it’s convention season! Will we able to try any demos of The Rabbit and the Owl at any upcoming shows?

 

G: Currently I’m going to show the game at the Sacramento Indie Arcade in Sacramento on April 9 and at iFEST in Seattle on May 14. I am also working on applications to submit to IndieCade and PowerOfPlay. I missed a lot of application deadlines at the end of last year and beginning of this year because I didn’t think the game was in a good enough state to be submitted. Definitely from here on out I’ll be applying to most everything I can and hopefully we’ll see a lot of the game later this year and the following year at conventions/shows!

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