So, Matt, where did the idea for The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom come from? Which came first, the game, or the thesis project?
The game idea came first, then I pitched it as my thesis. The concepts were developed throughout various courses at USC during the three years of the program. Looking back through my coursework, many of my past projects explored themes of replay, alternate timelines, and looping. My thesis statement centered around getting players to think in a new way about their actions in the past, present, and future and of course delicious pie.
As a first-year student in Steve Anderson's Survey of Interactive Media class, I was shown the short experimental film Tango by Zbigniew Rybczyński. The film consists of one stable shot that layers looping characters on top of each other until the scene is full of complex choreography. The film resonated with me, and I started to think of a game system based on looping to generate content that would build in complexity.
At the same time, I had a pipe dream of a game that would capture the essence and the charm of an early silent film. I studied film production as an undergraduate and always wanted to put as much of my previous leanings into games.
At some point around thesis proposal time these two ideas merged, and Winterbottom was born.
Speaking of Winterbottom, where did the name itself come from?
So, one of the films I made as a first year was a mockumentary on Parkour that starred a bumbling fat man named Weatherbottom. On one of the script revisions the name mistakenly got changed to Winterbottom. The film never got completed, and Winterbottom was too good of a name to pass up, so he resurfaced into a pudgy pie thieving humbug with a heart of gold.
Was there any other inspiration that helped to develop the character?
As far as developing the character we studied at all the silent film greats Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. We also took an in-depth look at Pixar animated shorts and observed simple characters with simple motivations that led to great adventures.
Comparisons between your game and Jonathon Blow's recent release, Braid, seem inevitable. In fact, Blow served as an advisor on P.B. Winterbottom. How did that relationship come about?
After developing what would become Winterbottom (it used to have dinosaurs) for about 6 months at USC, I saw Braid for the first time at GDC 2006. World 5 was similar to mechanics I was playing with, and because it was also a 2-D platformer and awesome, I actually stopped working on Winterbottom for about one year.
During this year I worked on other game projects but my wheels kept turning with ideas for Winterbottom. I decided to pursue Winterbottom as my thesis because I felt that although some of the mechanics may be similar, it actually would be a very different experience, and I just couldn't get these new ideas I wanted to try out of my head.
USC requires their Master's Students to have an external thesis advisor. My first thought obviously went to Jonathan Blow. I had seen him talk at previous GDC's, and knew he had very interesting and thought provoking things to say. Fortunately, the USC Network helped me as my professors knew him, and set me up with an email introduction. After going through the original GDD and early prototypes, he guided me on getting to the core of the experience I wanted to present.
We never talked much about actual mechanics or time tricks it was more about what I wanted the player to feel and ways to try to get them there. Jon is a very smart guy and I was lucky to even have a moment of his guidance.
Lastly, you recently established your own company, Odd Gentleman. Was the company formed during the development?
The Odd Gentlemen LLC was formed after graduating in May with my classmate and Winterbottom producer Paul Bellezza to continue to pursue the types of games we wanted to make .
So can we expect to see Winterbottom chase pies on consoles someday?
We are now working on a professional version of Winterbottom for the downloadable console space. I hope to reveal more soon, but that's really all I can say at the moment.