IGS 2010: Fantastic Contraption Postmortem

By: Brandon McCartin (BMcC)

On: April 16th, 2010

Colin Northway Speaks, Has Beard (photo by Chrissy Chubala)
Colin Northway Speaks, Has Beard (photo by Chrissy “Nava” Chubala)

Colin Northway gave a fairly business-oriented postmortem of his game Fantastic Contraption at this year’s Independent Games Summit called (no big surprise here) Postmortem: The Design & Business Behind Fantastic Contraption. He had actually given this talk previously at the last GDC Austin, so I can link you to Brandon Boyer’s detailed Offworld coverage of that session rather than typing up all these darn notes myself! In short: Flash is good, Box2D is great, and anyone can create and publish a successful game all by themselves. (Though, backup from Andy Moore certainly doesn’t hurt!)

Okay, it was a bit more in depth than that. Read on, if you dare!

Fantastic Contraption was conceived one night when Colin awoke and scribbled down a note beginning with “Cool Shit Idea.” The majority of the game was done within a few weeks, using only notepad and a command line compiler. A bunch of user (i.e., family) testing and website work later, the game was released. After going away for a weekend, Colin returned to find the game had blown up on StumbleUpon, crushing the servers. “It was a good problem to have, but there are no good problems, only problems.” Needless to say, the game quickly became a success. Andy Moore was soon brought in to manage the rapidly growing fan community.

Apart from the stats and such, what I really took away from this talk were some great messages for independent (and wannabe independent) game developers in general. Colin built a solid game that seemed to perpetuate itself, putting no resources into press, portals, publishers, ads, or anything. Here are some of the more quotable quotes:

“Box2D is the Fire Flower of game development.” (He even kicked back some of the profit from the game to Erin Catto, which is awesome.)

“Money is dumb and lonely and just wants to be with other money.” Once the game took off, people started coming to him. But “pay attention to the slime factor” when dealing with the business end of things. (Colin was at one point offered a couple hundred bucks for the source of and full rights to the game.)

“Go into the wilderness” when deciding what to make, “make what you want, not what people say” — you will find success with your own creativity. Sometimes “everyone says no” but “you don’t need permission to make a really good game, or a successful one.” “There are no gatekeepers.” (This is my favorite!)

Embrace social networking; you don’t need to conquer it to use it. And “close the information gap, talk to other indies.”

Also, Colin casually said “fantastic” (outside the context of the game’s title) like fifty times. I wonder if he noticed. :)

All in all, pretty inspiring stuff!

  • http://b-mcc.com// BMcC

    Cool Shit Idea indeed! :)

  • paul eres

    at least we can’t call him a hipster (he has a mac, but he also has a beard)

    i also think it’s good that, for once, a talk about game design recognizes that people should make what they want, not what the guy talking says you should make

  • Andy Moore

    What? He doesn’t have a Mac. :P

    I think that was GDC’s projector machine on the table ahead of him.

  • Flamebait

    It was one of my favorite talks. And it’s good to see that you can still give away a huge chunk of a game free and make money off it, like in the shareware days (although then it was more sleazy, cause the free part was always way higher quality).

    I got the impression he was a hippy rather than a hipster.

  • William

    I thought beards were a common hipster attribute as well.

  • Anonymous

    This is way off topic, but had to mention it. At the very bottom of the main page, it says “valid XHTML and valid CSS”

    Obsessive-compulsive as I am, I run sites that put that on their page through the validators. CSS is valid, but the HTML-validator gave 48 errors and 2 warnings. You guys might want to check that.

  • Derek

    Thanks, Anon! I figured we weren’t valid, but I hadn’t gotten around to looking at it. I will check it out now.

    EDIT: It seems like a lot of the errors are from posts, which probably can’t be helped (getting all of the editors, including myself, to write valid XHTML would be too much of a pain), but there were some errors in the sidebar, so I fixed those, at least.

  • paul eres

    maybe the mac shown in the photo was just for presenting the talk rather than his — o well. anyway yeah, hippies are the best, way better than hipsters. eva-jolli once called the game i’m working on a ‘hippy game’.

  • Derek

    Neither hippies or hipsters are very productive, in general, so I don’t think these guys fall into either category!

  • alastair

    I guess most other indie developers do then.

  • Dinsdale

    more hipsters giving speeches!
    seriously, hippie? with such beard? not bloody likely!

  • undertech

    paul, I don’t believe eva ever said/typed the word gamE for one second.

  • paul eres

    what u talking about — the phrase ‘new game’ is clearly visible on the title screens of most her games

  • undertech


  • hmmm

    uh, where can one watch it? :S

  • paul eres

    i don’t think it was recorded, these are just notes

    also, every time i hear about someone finishing a game and then taking the weekend off, only to return to the game having a lot of bugs or being down due to so much traffic, i wonder what they were thinking. contrary to what you would expect, the weekend after you release a game is usually busiest time a game developer will ever have! it’s no time to relax. you need to fix bugs that you missed, you need to make sure there are no major problems, etc. etc.

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  • gaycocks

    ahaha look at that dude's beard

  • Troy RULES

    Oh my god! Its indie jesus! http://www.dobi.nu/yourscenesucks/indiejesus/in