MEET THE DEVELOPER
The Agony of Getting Over It
A former philosopher on his oddly satisfying indie game.
Bennett Foddy has lived at least three lives.
He used to be a professional philosopher. He also played bass for the Australian synth band Cut Copy. And now he’s an accomplished indie developer, the creator of Getting Over It, a game in which a guy in a cauldron swings a hammer to climb an increasingly strange and complicated mountain.
The game is tough. Maddening, even. Yet from his days earning a PhD at the University of Melbourne to his current role teaching game design at the NYU Game Center, Foddy has learned through prototyping exactly how to make games with just the right amount of difficulty: You play, you fail, and you’re compelled to try again.
For Getting Over It, Foddy didn’t have the luxury of experimenting. Digital game-distribution service Humble Bundle had commissioned the project, and he was on the clock to deliver. Getting Over It, an homage to the under-the-radar indie Sexy Hiking, was largely a solo endeavor, except right at the very end, when developers Matt Boch (Dance Central) and Zach Gage (Sage Solitaire, Pocket Run Pool) stepped in to complete work on the iOS version.
Foddy never imagined it would rise up the charts.
“I thought maybe I would have a couple thousand players who would be interested in playing a game like this,” Foddy says. “Because I made it, in my own mind, so niche and so particular and so personal. I thought I was making something deliberately difficult and deliberately obtuse.”
What he didn’t fully appreciate was that people would like the difficulty—and even like watching others succeed (or fail)—on streaming networks like Twitch.
Foddy finds inspiration in Philipp Stollenmayer’s physics puzzler Zip-Zap. The best moments are when you come agonizingly close to succeeding, only to just barely miss.
“That feeling of almost is really, really interesting to me,” he says. “I like singing that’s a little bit flat, a little bit off-key, but just almost on the note. I like characters in movie romances that almost get together and then not quite. I think games are really good at bringing that out.”
Back in the 1980s, as he points out, you might make it to the last level of a game only to die—and then be transported all the way back to the beginning. “Maybe it’s Stockholm syndrome,” he says, “but I grew to like that as a kid. My taste for it has never gone away.”
To commiserate with players (and alleviate their frustration), Getting Over It has a couple of unusual features. Some sections of the game include Foddy’s voice-over commentary directly addressing what happens onscreen, “from the moments where the game sets you back, where it frustrates you, to let you know that it’s deliberate but in a way you’re supposed to enjoy.”
His voice is there “as kind of emotional support to the player. As myself. As a human being who is there with you.”
And for the lucky players who actually finish the game, Foddy went so far as to build an in-game prompt for them to send him an email.
“I do read them,” he says. “Sometimes people are theatrically mad. Usually, actually, by the time they get to the end of the game, any sense of anger or frustration has drained away. They’ve had to reach a kind of a zen state. Overwhelmingly people, I think, feel some kind of brethrenship with me.”
For what it’s worth, would-be brethren, Bennett Foddy’s best-ever time to finish his own game is 35 minutes.