Saturday 16 May 2020

IndieDev Interview: Beard Envy

IndieDev Interview: Beard Envy

Beard Envy

When I was browsing the new releases on Steam a short while ago, my attention was drawn by a newly released puzzle game called Filament. The game itself looked intriguing, but seeing that you could buy the “Marmalade edition”, and reading that the developer is called Beard Envy... I just had to go to the developer website. Once there, I read about the plucky UK-based three-man team who make up the “Great Emanating Beard”, and had soon secured an interview with one whisker of said beard: Ben Webster. He tells us about the virtues of game jams, the challenges of creating a puzzle game, and also imparts a few of the lessons the team has learned along the way.

Casey: If someone looks at the Beard Envy website, they won’t fail to notice the humour and whimsy that the text contains. Even the circumstances of how the three of you came together to make Filament, your newly released game, also seem to fall under ‘whim’. How did two games artists and a visual effects artist come together to create Beard Envy, and what was the learning curve like as you all expanded your areas of expertise to accommodate the wider elements of game creation?

Ben: Injecting a little humour into the website was a bit of a crutch to motivate us to actually do it, web design isn't exactly our thing. Regarding coming together to form Beard Envy: we were already good friends and began doing weekend game jams in our free time. We enjoyed doing it and we liked our outcomes from the game jams, so decided to give making a full game a go. The learning curve was not only huge, but something that took a long time. Even now after Filament is done, we're still learning things from it. We have a giant list of things we did in Filament which we wish we had done differently, but that's hindsight, ey?

C: In 2017, you entered the Epic Megajam and had to create a game to suit the theme “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” This is where Filament was born. What was it like to create a game in seven days, which tools helped you to stream-line the process, and how valuable do you think game jams are, as a tool for creativity?

B: Creating a game in 7 days, at the time, was a luxury. Every other jam we'd done was a little over 48 hours (although now, nearly 3 years later, I can't imagine how we'd make a game in a week). During that jam, we actually had no idea what we were really making until around half way through, where we just stumbled across 'it'. So the biggest tool for us, once we reached that point, was the fear of not finishing in time and very little sleep. Honestly, we couldn't praise game jams any more highly. They are simply the best way to get some ideas that you would never normally come up with, and very quickly, get a feel for the game. We're planning our next project and we're doing our own jams for it. It’s so easy when starting a new project to get bogged down in details or to focus on the wrong parts. When you have such a small amount of time, you really focus on the bits that make the game feel right, and they're the most important.


C: Do you guys make use of any particular brainstorming or creativity techniques when you are game jamming your way through an idea, or is it more a case of cups of tea, biscuits and bouncing ideas off each other?

B: We don't have any particular brainstorming techniques really. I should take this moment to shout-out some free software we use: Drawpile. It allows us to all draw on one big canvas together and we can pull images from the web. Perfect for coming up with ideas.

C: In an interview with PC Games N, you said that when you were all brainstorming visual ideas for Filament, you soon realised that it felt important that things were “cosy”. I’d imagine that’s not a word that gets spoken very often in game development. Why did this cosy feeling become so desirable, and was there an element of wanting to soothe the player as they grappled with the puzzles?

B: I'm not quite sure I can put into words why 'cosy' felt right. At the time we weren't really thinking about soothing the player too much (Filament was a little rough then, merely a shadow of its full self). I think we were still looking for the aesthetic but the feel of the rooms we were making, cluttered and lived-in, was exactly what we wanted, what we dubbed: cosy.

C: Filament allows the player to approach its puzzles, for the most part, in the order that the player decides. It’s not even required to complete all the puzzles to finish the story-line. Why was this approach adopted over the more unforgiving puzzle-game variety, and did weaving the puzzles and story together present any particular issues along the way?

B: We decided to, fairly often, have the puzzles be solvable in (more or less) any order. No one likes getting stuck on a puzzle game, but it's somewhat unavoidable, especially if you want your puzzles to be challenging. The best way to deal with this (and I feel like this is good advice for life in general) is to leave what's currently frustrating you and to come back with fresh eyes. We wanted to enable this behaviour within the game. If the player gets frustrated with a puzzle, they will hopefully find something else to do in game and then return to the puzzle later feeling better. This is why you can approach the puzzles in any order. There is also a story to investigate and uncover (we also just really wanted to write a story) and there are secrets to find and solve.


Weaving the story into the game was challenging and I still don't think we got it spot on, we had to make plenty of compromises. We know not everyone who plays Filament will care about the story, they might just want to go to town on the puzzles, so we did our best to have the story force very little on the player, but also to leave much more to dive into for the people that are in it for the story. It's for this same reason that you can complete the story without solving all of the puzzles, the game is hard and if the story is the player's reason for playing, we don't want to force them to solve every puzzle to see where the story goes. Like I said, it's impossible to please everyone, so we aimed for a balance that felt good for us.

C: Sadly we find ourselves currently grappling with the Corona Virus pandemic. Filament released on Steam exactly one month after the UK entered lock-down. What issues did the lock-down cause in the month before release, and how have you all managed to cope with the added stresses that have come into other areas of your lives? Was there any stockpiling of beard oil?

B: We have been affected by the lock-down but nowhere near the extent of others, I'm sure. We made Filament out of our living room so the lock-down didn't hugely affect our work schedule. We all cope in our own ways; I like to go for a bike ride. There wasn't any stockpiling of beard oil. Regarding facial hair, lock-down has been liberating; permission to let it get more unwieldy. I myself am currently rocking (citation needed) a moustache for the first time in my life.

C: If you had one tip or one lesson learned the hard way, to impart to someone who is thinking about creating a game, or who is even a short way into their new project, what would it be and why?

B: It's tricky to give just one lesson, I touched on one a bit earlier, do game jams, or more importantly, get the feel of your game down before you spend time on art (and other faff), your game will be better for it. Another important lesson that we're already applying on our next project is to set a reasonable scope for your project early on and stick to it. We kept adding more and more to Filament, and don't get me wrong we ended up with something we are incredibly proud of, but it took nearly three years and finishing it was really hard. Starting off smaller would have taught us most of the lessons we've learned but in a smaller amount of time, and would have just been far more manageable.


My thanks goes to Ben for kindly taking the time to answer my questions. You can visit the Filament page on Steam for more information about the game, and you can also find Beard Envy at their website and on social media.