Rube Goldberg (July 4th, 1883 – December 7th, 1970), a visionary, cartoonist, ahead of his time and slightly whacky became globally known for having the artistic talent of being able to make a simple task very complicated and convoluted.
Pouring a glass of juice in Rube’s world usually required many strange objects, animals, string and pulleys.
Thursday the 20th of November 2013 I was invited by the Rube Works Team to talk with David Fox (Co-founder Electric Eggplant, Executive Producer/Game Designer), Zach Umperovitch (additional Level Designer) and Jennifer George (Rube’s Granddaughter and Executive Producer for the Heirs of Rube Goldberg) to interview them in New York on their just released iOS App; Rube Works: The Official Rube Goldberg Invention Game.
Shane: What was the inspiration to bring Rube’s Invention Cartoons to life in a game/app?
David: It was kind of a backwards thing for me. I knew I wanted to create a physics puzzler type Rube Goldberg game.
I recall a puzzle game called Bubble Ball, done by a 14 year old and it had, like 10 million downloads. It was fun, a really simple puzzler but essentially created with no budget. With my a game background, I knew that it could be way better in the same genre.
So I started doing the research on games that were already out there, searching for “Rube Goldberg”, and found half a dozen games on iPhone, iPad that all claimed to be “Rube Goldberg-like”.
It kind of hit me, is it possible that no one had actually done an official Rube Goldberg game? I found rubegoldberg.com and sent them an email.
I expected a ‘sorry, we don’t know you, who are you?’ reply in a few months.
I explained who I was and gave them my background and history in game design and next I got this phone call and it was a very nice woman, who talked to me for 5 or 10 minutes before she casually mentioned that she wanted to make sure she honoured her Grandfather, Rube’s legacy.
I didn’t think I heard what I just heard, so I said, wait are you Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter??!! She said, yeah. And it went on from there and worked out really well. We just hit it off, that might have been the easiest part of the entire project, getting the license.
Working with Jennifer it was just like 1 2 3 and it just went from there. I figured that if it’s this easy we will have the game out in a month.
That was the inspiration, I remember as a kid reading them (Rube Goldberg Cartoons) in the Sunday papers.
Seeing his cartoons and going through reading the text with what happens with A through to step B and I loved the concept.
I have always had that kind of love to do a game like this and infact during my time at LucasArts all of the games that I designed there were essentially huge Rube Goldberg machines – you had a puzzle and had to puts the parts together.
So the idea of having a logical and casual game where you could complete a Level in 10 or 15 minutes would be really fun and something that I definitely wanted to do. A Rube Goldberg game that was as fun as it was funny.
Also Unity3D was looking at getting into game publishing, and they said that they wanted our Rube Goldberg game to be the first Unity Games title.
Shane: Why was tablet / smart phone the preferred choice over, say, something like PC or Consoles?
David: The fact that we use Unity means that it could be easily ported. I’ve done Mac / PC builds but we haven’t polished those yet.
We decided that iOS was the biggest market so we started out with that first and closely within weeks [it will be] with Android and if all goes well then we will see it on Mac and PC also. And who knows what else, it could be ported to anything.
Shane: I can see this (Rube Goldberg Game) being a DLC on Xbox Live or the PSN.
David: For sure, if there is a demand for it, it will happen.
Shane: How long did the project take to recreate Rube’s Inventions within a 3D space?
David: 2 years. I first called Jennifer around 2 years ago. Production itself started officially around January (2013) so from the time that Jennifer said yes there was a period where we created a demo and during that time I also was doing game design and then finally getting the publisher then at least another 4 months doing the contract.
All of these steps took longer than some of the other ones but once we got production going it all went really well.
Shane: The current 9 Levels that come with the game and future ones yet to be released; are they all renditions of existing and published Rube Goldberg cartoons or are they completely new?
David: The second 9 Levels which should be released in a few weeks, the first three of those are Rube cartoons, the last 6 are done by Zach Umperovitch and Joseph Herscher (Joseph Herscher is a Kiwi Kinetic Artist based in America – josephherscher.com), and the idea was instead of doing a whole new set of scripting and asset creation through the game, we wanted to see if we could reuse them from the previous 12 Levels and come up with something totally different as Rube would have created them.
Zach: Not as far out there, not too complex and just to really try and use some of the same objects within new Levels and make it our own and also add something to what Rube had already started.
David: Zach worked on machines in real life with 300 steps (processes to reach the final outcome and Zach holds Guinness World Records for his achievements).
Zach: Yeah, the 300 step one ran in two minutes time and most people couldn’t even catch each single step which was built for a competition.
David: So to answer the question, I had about 300 cartoons I was looking through and had to find the funniest for today’s audience and the ones that were most easily translatable into a game.
I [narrowed down] to 50 that I liked alot, then I went down to 20 of which 12 are what we decided we could do first for the game. I’d love to see expansion packs, see sequels and have plenty of cartoons to do that if we get the demand for them.
Shane: Asides from the obvious challenges faced when both designing and programming a game, what was the main set of challenges to bring these Inventions to an interactive platform?
David: When I first conceived of this, I was assuming that it was going to be about 90% real physics, you know a ball hits an object which knocks another over.
Just a physics simulation and maybe 10% would be scripting; an animal jumps up or something. But as it turned out it was much more scripted, maybe 70% and about 30% physics based.
So that meant that we had to make sure you were able to put the objects in the right place.
I didn’t want the game to be about finding the right pixel to place an object in or spend hours trying to place an object in to get it to work right.
So we came up with these connect-spots or snap-to’s where if you put an object near to where you want it to go it will go into its place. That way we know how the animation will work.
If a cat jumps off a radiator we know that it’s from a specific place on the radiator.
So that allowed us to do these interactions and that worked alot better and gave us the number of possible things that could happen. Like, the cat wont jump unless it’s in this one spot and the ice is in another spot.
What I like about the game alot is that you can become creative with other ways to trigger a win.
You wont be able to do it with all of the objects, usually but you can find shortcuts which will result in getting the Golden Prunes, and you’ll get the three Golden Prunes if you do it perfectly.
We also reward you with a Rube Goldberg cartoon at the end of each completed Level. But you can also find a one Golden Prune or a two Golden Prune solution. So there’s alot of replay value and alot of Easter eggs to be found.
Zach: There’s also rewards and Accomplishments.
Shane: Question for Jennifer – Rube Goldberg is your Grandfather; how much direct input into both the look and playability of the game have you had?
Jennifer: I have to say that I am pretty vocal when it came to the look of certain things. Mostly, it’s all aesthetics with me, you know, I don’t really know how to play games, but I love playing this one, go figure – maybe I’m a gamer at heart.
I felt that the creatures had to be kinda funny, and they had to have some funny little movements, and the rooms had to be not just a blank space they had to have wallpaper or something else going on. A window or light coming in.
And then I was very involved in the text, the Achievements and there had to be funny, goofy names.
David: Jennifer wrote all of the text for the Achievements.
Jennifer: I wanted the Achievements to sound pretty substantial, you know, and I figured that if it made me laugh others would get it too. It had to have the the feel of Rube. Rube drew funny and he came up with names [for objects / creatures] that were just whacky. I don’t know, he just had a screw loose so the humour has to be a little out there.
David: Part of this was an education for Jennifer. She was always pushing getting it to look better and better. It’s a balance… I would have loved to have had much more complex scenes, but we had to do everything within the constraints of the target platforms.
Jennifer: I really wanted it to be honest [to Rube Goldberg’s cartoons / inventions]. I also wanted the Golden Prunes and the ability to store your Golden Prunes and feed them to a chicken, or octopus [any of the creatures featured in the game] and watch what happens [at the end of the game].
David: We both wanted the same thing and it was discovering how to do it and the best way for it to work.
Shane: David – having come from LucasArts, how did you find it creating games on a potentially smaller scale for mobile devices?
David: Interestingly during the time that I was at LucasArts I don’t think that any of the games we did were big budget. They were generally teams of three to eight people and six months to nine months for most of them [projects].
So in a lot of ways this is identical. The budget [for the Rube Goldberg game] was less but in terms of the amount of people working on it was in the same ball park. I love how with a small team you can pivot and make changes. I could give our production team at Kalani Games a design and they would do something way better than I had ever imagined.
So there’s that kind of attention to detail and that shows in the finished game.
Shane: David, in one sentence or so describe the Rube Goldberg game.
David: It’s bringing Rube Goldberg’s cartoons to life, where YOU are the one who puts them together and gets the excitement at the end of being the one that actually built one of Rube’s machines.
Zach: I see it from that I build these Rube Goldberg machines, literally thousands of hours, so this really opens it up to anybody to build these machines.
Shane: Jennifer – Did you ever envision something like this (Rube Goldberg’s cartoons being ported into an App) would occur?
Jennifer: I grew up when there were only thirteen TV Channels and I played my records on a record player. I never could have conceived anything like this.
I believe that Rube’s work has a longevity and a lifespan that will exceed my days on this planet and my children and my children’s children and it’s nice to see him in this new context, this new lens of technology.
It’s just so cool and so refreshing to see it in this technological wizardry. It’s magical. It’s a testimonial [to Rube Goldberg and his cartoons].
The first time I saw the first Level I was stunned, I couldn’t even talk. I think I played it over and over, I knew where everything had to go. Just where my Grandfather put it.
Shane: Both Jennifer and David – What do you think Rube would think of this App / Game?
Jennifer: He would love it. Why? Because he was a press monger, anytime anyone was talking about him that was a good time. So I think he would be very pleased. He would probably want to start designing in a 3D space.
David: He [Rube Goldberg] would absolutely recognise his work and hopefully he would say that’s what I had in mind when I drew it. And that’s a great honour. Infact my co-designer on this game is Rube Goldberg.
Zach: I’ll definitely echo what they said.
I think he [Rube Goldberg] would be absolutely honoured. Wouldn’t any of us want to have our work immortalised and brought into every day technology. I will flip it and say that I know if I were Rube, I’d say these things [Inventions / Machines] should never be created, ever. I think it’s awesome that it’s turned into a video game.
Infact (turns to Jennifer), Jennifer you can correct me if I’m wrong about this, but he (Rube Goldberg) said that these Inventions should NEVER be created in real life.
They are just insane.
He (Rube Goldberg) would think it’s the perfect medium (video game space) for this (his Inventions / Machines).
Shane: Thanks guys for taking the time to partake in this interview, from my self and shanethegamer.com, it has been great and of course a real honour to meet you Jennifer.
David: Yeah, thanks Shane, it’s been real fun.
Jennifer: Shane it’s been my pleasure and my honour to speak with you too. It’s great to meet you.
Zach: It’s been good to meet and talk with you. Thanks.
“Rube Works” App is now available on iTunes here and will be available on Android in the next few weeks.
Watch out for our review on the game coming in a few days.
A Rube Goldberg like Invention put together by Kiwi Joseph Herschel.