Quantum Conundrum's Kim Swift gives us some cold, hard fluff

It's Saturday morning. You have a giant bowl of sugar-coated cereal, the comfiest slippers on your feet, and an entire day to spend watching talkative cartoon animals get comically mutilated in some of the most sadistic ways known to man. Quantum Conundrum is kind of like that -- sweet and fun, but with an inherent and surprising darkness, creative director Kim Swift told Joystiq in an exclusive interview.

"It has this very cartoony, dynamic feel to it with the gameplay," Swift said. "Tonality-wise, it came naturally that this game be slightly more lighthearted, slightly more on the slapstick, Looney Toons kind of a feel. But even Looney Toons has a darker element to it -- you're looking at these cartoon characters getting squished and all that stuff, so it's definitely not like we're watching PBS on a Saturday morning. More like Cartoon Network on a Saturday morning."

Swift, known for her work on Portal and its student-project predecessor, Narbacular Drop, has been developing Quantum Conundrum for Airtight Games since 2009. While the title features the same first-person physics puzzle-style of her previous work, Swift said Quantum Conundrum operates in a completely separate universe and has a starkly different feel than anything she's done.

"With Quantum Conundrum, we're a little bit more slapstick and off the wall than Portal," Swift said. "And Narbacular Drop is Narbacular Drop."
%Gallery-147497% Quantum Conundrum follows a young boy exploring the madcap house of his uncle, eccentric inventor Professor Fitz Quadwrangle, who goes missing soon after his nephew's arrival. As the boy, players must attempt to find their uncle with the help of the Inter-Dimensional Shift Device, which alters the physical state of any environment in five specific ways. This week, Swift and Airtight are showing off the "fluffy" dimension, which makes objects 10 times lighter, furrier, and easy to pick up, as Swift demonstrated in a demo video released last month.

The video didn't reveal all of the fluff functions though -- Swift said the fluffy dimension also reduces fall damage, making heavy objects that may happen to careen toward your skull completely harmless.

Quantum Conundrum has five interchangeable dimensions in all: normal, fluffy, reverse-gravity, slow-mo, and one mystery dimension, which Airtight will reveal at GDC in March with a brand new playable demo.

"We're excited to be showing our new hotness," Swift said (and before all the conspiracy theorists jump on that bomb: No, "hotness" is not a clue to the fifth dimension. We checked).

While Quantum Conundrum may mark a departure from the darker approach to storytelling Swift started in Portal, the most important development features remains the same across all of her games, she said: gameplay.

"Gameplay has to come first," Swift said. "I want to make sure that whatever game that I work on has a really strong gameplay core that's really easy to pick up and easy to expand upon and design."

"That feeling of wanting to know what happens next. 'Do I get to find my uncle? Do I figure out what happened to him? Am I able to figure out how to get out of this place?'" - Kim Swift

If gameplay is first, a rich story comes second, Swift conceded. "I like having a narrative there; it helps to drive players through, it gives them a purpose, a reason to keep going. That feeling of wanting to know what happens next. Do I get to find my uncle? Do I figure out what happened to him? Am I able to figure out how to get out of this place? I find that giving players a story motivation helps them keep going and feel engaged."

Swift isn't the only person building Quantum Conundrum; as creative director she leads a team of artists, programmers and developers, all of whom help construct the tone of the final, Square Enix-published game. Her entire team also has input on the creation of puzzles, Swift said – everyone from environment artists to programmers and producers pitched ideas for Quantum Conundrum's physics puzzles, some of which were dubbed downright "devious" by the development team. Just ask producer Greg "Puzzle Master" Poulus.

"I wouldn't say it's easy to come up with puzzles, but when you have lots of people thinking in the same mindset of creating a challenge for our players, it makes it a lot less difficult than you'd think," Swift said.

Quantum Conundrum is set to launch as a downloadable title for XBLA, PSN and on Steam this year, possibly in the summer, Swift said, and she "wouldn't be surprised" if it had DLC eventually. One thing it definitely will have, however, is plenty of fluff.

"I certainly hope that people like cute, fluffy things as much as I do," Swift said. "When it comes to fluffy dimension, it's my favorite dimension. It's just so darn cute."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.