Since it was conceptualized in 2012, Mushroom 11 has had the ability to turn heads for its strange set-up. It’s a puzzle platformer set in a post-apocalyptic world in which you control an amorphous blob. The main mechanic in the game is erasure.
To move the green fungi through the environment you have to constantly delete it so that it re-grows in the direction you want it to move. It’s similar to The Ooze on the Sega Genesis in how it all works. Despite that comparison, Mushroom 11 is unique in the video game world, and it’s this that had us eager to find out more about it.
Siliconera spoke to Untame Games’s creative lead Julia Keren-Deta to find out how Mushroom 11 came about, how it has been developed from a basic concept into a game with potentially infinite possibilities, and to discuss the differences between the PC and tablet versions of the game.
First off, could you give us a bit of background on yourself and Untame Games?
Julia Keren-Deta, creative lead: Untame was founded by Itay Keren in 2008. The company’s first game was a mobile puzzle game called Rope Rescue. Shortly after the game’s launch, Itay and I participated in a Global Game Jam where we stumbled across the idea for Mushroom 11. Itay continued working on it while I was working at a game studio in the city called Arkadium. About a year into Itay’s development, he reached out to a friend of ours, Simon Kono, a super talented artist. Simon and his wife Kara quit their jobs to travel around the world. Itay convinced Simon to start working on the game while he was traveling. About a year after that I left the studio to join the team and Kara also joined as our producer.
So, Mushroom 11 came about during a game jam in 2012. Could you explain how you came up with the idea and how you and Itay developed it into a working game back then?
When we went to the Global Game Jam, we didn’t have any idea beforehand which I think is important for jams to work. Go in there not knowing what to make allows you to take chances you wouldn’t have outside the jam. The theme was Ouroboros or the snake eating its tail. Itay very quickly came up with the idea for Mushroom 11. I remember him telling me the idea and I was like “Sounds great but there is no way you can do that in 48 hrs”. 8 hrs into it he had something basically running and so we just went with it.
What about that initial concept had you excited enough to run with it as a bigger game project? Was this a big risk for you?
It got a lot of great response when we showed it at our game jam site NYU game center, and we we even won Best Game Design, which was quite reassuring. It was a risk but it came at a good time. Itay was already indie and he was looking for a new idea to run with. I was working at Arkadium so we were secure in terms of financial support. As he was developing it, it got more and more attention over time; first at IndieCade, then at the Experimental Gameplay Session at GDC. Each time made it more clear that this was something worth spending time on.
Given that Mushroom 11 is physics-based have you had any frustrating or amusing moments trying to get it to work right? Any specific examples you can detail?
We had a bunch of issues. Even in the original Global Game Jam version, mushrooms would interlock and grow into each other. Even now with unusual forces, you might end up going through the surface due to the unusual collision structure. And of course, experimenting with new bosses is always fun and ends up producing plenty of funny unexpected behaviors.
Was there ever a desire to provide a more playful mode in Mushroom 11 outside of the puzzle platform challenges? It has a similar feel to a digital toy or art tool, for instance.
We actually aim for Mushroom 11 to be a puzzle with plenty of opportunities for exploration. Our level selection screen for example, is a safe area where the player can just toy around with the mushroom.
Why did you want Mushroom 11 to have a narrative—is it necessary? How is the narrative delivered throughout the game (presumably not text or speech)?
While we worked on an elaborate story to help us understand and build this world, we’d much rather players form their own conclusions as to what happened. We believe it’s much more effective if players can make their own connections and they will probably come up with better stories than we could imagine. We do litter the world with some clues of what happened that appear in the background such as signs, objects and formulas. I think that on a very high level the game challenges the idea that humans will always be around and that while we have left our mark on the world what does that mean for the creatures afterward? It could also be a reflection. Does what we value have any meaning on a larger timeline?
Could you break up the types of challenges that you give players in Mushroom 11? In other words, how do you get mileage out of that core mechanic across its levels?
We feel we’ve actually stumbled upon mechanics that’s as basic and as versatile as walking and jumping. Itay’s sketchbooks are filled with completely new systems that will have to be cut out of the game as it’s already packed with systems and challenges. Every level introduces at least two brand new mechanics, some doing a quick appearance for one area only. This system is so new and the variations you can do with it are vast. In a way it’s almost like matter teleportation.. splitting yourself into two so you can grow in different parts of the screen. Using and maintaining momentum with a changing mass almost had to be reimagined since it’s completely theoretical. And of course, you have different materials the mushroom can interact with that changes its physics such as water, steam, acid etc. This all creates an almost infinite logical and skill-based puzzle space. In fact, we feel we’re just scratching the surface of what you can do with it!
People have already started to speedrun Mushroom 11. Have you worked in any systems in the game to encourage others to give speedrunning a go?
We didn’t design the game to support speedrunning. In fact, it was designed to have no pressure applied except for whatever the puzzles themselves throw at you. We didn’t think about speedrunning until we showed the game at PAX Prime for the first time where players started competing who completes level 1 faster, so we decided to add a timer to support that mode.
Mushroom 11 is coming to many platforms. Is there anyone that you feel it works better on for any reason?
We simultaneously designed the game for both mouse and touch/stylus input and we believe they’re both equally fun. Desktop gives people more uninterrupted space to view the game (even though it is minimal, the hand can still obscure parts of the screen on a tablet) and some players feel they have more control. Tablets also allow for multiple inputs. While this in no way impacts the puzzles, we have noticed in many cases, players tend to use multiple fingers to better control the mushroom. They sometimes even share the screen between players and work together to complete the level, which is a great emergent behavior.