While walking around the Halloween Playcrafting Expo a guy walked in front of me, said "Hey man, nice shirt. Play our game," and signaled to the pixaly puzzle game that is Herman Electro. If you need a sales pitch, this works really well. So I sat down to give it a try, and found myself having fun solving these clever puzzles. After playing, I wanted to talk to the man who gave me the master sales pitch. So I pulled 3:15 Software's coder and director Ben Most to tell me more.
TechRaptor: Ben! I just played Herman Electro. Can you tell me quickly about the game? Just, like, give me the elevator pitch.
Ben Most: Sure! So, in a few sentences, Herman Electro is a randomly generated puzzle game with electricity-based puzzles. So the entire game is about using these tools you get, which include a saw and a wire cutter and other similar tools, to interact with the environment and do puzzles, and there's a lot of content like different characters, different super powerful tools that you can use. We have, right now, over 600 puzzles and around 16 characters, so a lot of content to explore and a lot of puzzles to solve.
TechRaptor: Now, making a puzzle game. That's got to be pretty tough. What do you do to, like... walk me through the steps of making a puzzle for the game.
Ben: So, we have this built in editor for the game, which you can use to design puzzles, and a lot of the time we'll discuss ideas as a group, with all the developers, and be like "well this is a cool mechanic" and we'll mess around with that. Often I'll just drag random tiles around and I'll sort of see a pattern form. You can just imagine "oh I can see if you put a wall here then a guard here then this cool interaction will arise. It sort of arises randomly, sometimes. So a few different methods, I guess, for designing puzzles.
TechRaptor: Are there any particular puzzles you really liked making?
Ben: Yeah, I think there are some really really cool ones. I think the coolest ones are where unexpected mechanics arise. So for example, it may not make as much sense if you haven't played the game before, but we have these things called spikes that will kill you if you step on them, and then there are boxes you can push around. What we realized is if you have spikes separating a player from an area, then the player can't push a box on them because the player will walk into the spikes. But you can can get an enemy to walk on the spikes, then push the box over. So I guess an example, sort of like an unexpected interaction that arose, and sometimes we'll design a tile and then a cool interaction like that will happen.
Particular puzzles... So I think one of my favorite sets is we have two puzzles that are very similar. One of them requires no tools to beat, you just need to press a few buttons. The other one is very similar to that, but there's a logic gate at the end that sort of messes it up so you actually have to use a tool. So players will play the first version and think "okay I know how to do this", but then they'll do the second version and it turns out they actually don't know how to do that one because they're relying on the previous knowledge. So it's a real fun twist, I think it's a real fun puzzle.
TechRaptor: While I was playing Herman Electro there's a bunch of items you can find. There's wire cutters, there's guns, there's bricks. Each of them have multiple uses. What goes into designing these tools and making sure they work with the game?
Ben: So we designed the basic tools, which is the core set of seven, at the very beginning, and we added our last tool, the sponge, which is the last one we designed in the core set, maybe... six months after starting. Those are all-- really they need to have multiple uses and they need to be flexible, because those are the set of tools you see in every single run. So they are all pretty crucial and they all have a few different things you can use them for.
Then we have about, I think, right now 75 or 100 super tools, which are really powerful ones. These are any idea that we think up and say "that'd be really cool if they could have it". Like a cool use they could have. When we design a super tool they don't need to be as flexible, they can be more specific or more wacky. Some of them will make the screen flash different colors or have cool explosions, and that's sort of more whimsical. So those can be anything we like, but for the basic tools we have guidelines in that they have to have multiple uses and they have to be flexible in this way and very simple to use but difficult to master I guess.
TechRaptor: Want to give me an example of a completely off the walls wacky tool that you made?
Ben: Sure. We have Mushroom Concoction. It's a mushroom beverage that you drink and it makes you invincible for ten seconds and the screen will flash in rainbow colors.
TechRaptor: Awesome. So who is Herman Electro?
Ben: The deal with Herman Electro is that he's an electrician and he's sort of an every man. He's the main character. He's trapped in prison with all these other guys. He's likeable, he's simple. Also there's other characters, like we have a sort of ninja character, a fish, a scientist. But Herman, he's an electrician and a nice guy.
TechRaptor: He's a nice guy.
TechRaptor: You'd go out for beers with him?
Ben: I'd definitely go out for beers with Herman.
TechRaptor: So is there like a story to the game or...?
Ben: There is, yeah. So the idea of Herman Electro story-wise is that you're trapped in a prison. You can play as anyone who's been trapped and you unlock more prisoners and you have to beat these puzzles to escape. The prision is run by the mushroom company in the city of Gauljan which is where it takes place, and it's called Big Mush and they run the mushroom operation in Gauljan, and they've trapped you as slaves in their mushroom factory prison. So you have to escape, learning a bit about the mushrooms and learning about the different characters, and yeah. You learn about the different characters as you go, each have their own unique backstory.
TechRaptor: If Herman Electro is such a nice guy, why is he in prison?
Ben: So Herman didn't do anything wrong, I'll tell you that right now. They're enslaving people left and right to work in the mushroom factory, which is very wrong obviously, and Herman does not deserve this. Which is why we're trying to have him escape.
TechRaptor: Can you play as a dog?
Ben: You can not play as a dog. There used to be dogs that you could fight in the game, but we removed it because it was a bit violent and dogs are cute.
TechRaptor: Okay, fair enough. Alright, so Herman Electro. When does it come out?
Ben: So we are planning on releasing in February 2019. We might push it back a bit, just to make sure the game is high quality. But I think some time mid to late 2019 we should be releasing on PC, Mac, and Linux, with consoles maybe a year after.
TechRaptor: Okay! Well thank you a lot, it was really cool getting to see, I hope to see the full release.
Ben: Yeah, thank you so much.
We'd like to once again thank Ben for taking the time to talk with us.