Matt Whiting is a professor in the USC Games program and teaches courses in Viterbi’s Information and Technology Program (ITP) and Advanced Games Projects (AGP) courses. Before becoming a full-time professor, he was a programmer for a multitude of commercial games, including the original Spyro the Dragon. Matt also works as a contractor to help companies with optimization and porting to various platforms. Currently, he is working on Maquette, a first-person recursive puzzle game developed by Graceful Decay and published by Annapurna Interactive.
Here are some highlights from our talk with Professor Whiting, edited for brevity and clarity.
What is Maquette?
Maquette is a unique puzzle game that also explores the relationship between two people. The game’s puzzles have a recursive way of looking at models of the world. You’re in a world, and within it, there’s a smaller model of your world. You can pick up an object in the model world and move it around. Then, the full-sized object in the world you’re walking around moves with it.
The first puzzle involves a giant brick that is in the model world, which looks identical to the world you’re standing in. When you pick up the smaller brick and move it to another location, you see that behind you, the giant brick has moved as well. And then if you look out beyond that, you see there’s another layer. You can change the scale of objects by moving them from one world to the next. This is how you solve puzzles. It’s a very puzzle-y, cerebral type of gameplay.
While you’re focusing on the puzzles, there is also a story that is unfolding before you. As I mentioned, the game also reflects on the relationship between two characters over time: how they met, how they develop their relationship, and ultimately where it went after that. The voice acting for this thing is truly phenomenal, as is the writing. Our final voice actors–Bryce Howard and Seth Gabel–are really fantastic. They have great chemistry. So when you hear them saying the lines, it’s really moving. I’ve heard the story so many times in bug testing, yet it still moves me.
What did the development process look like?
Annapurna Interactive approached Graceful Decay, who had the beginnings of the game. As a publisher, Annapurna is able to fund the continuing development and allow the team to make it a really polished commercial product. I’ve worked with Annapurna before on several titles: Gorogoa, Kentucky Root Zero, and one of our favorites at USC, Outer Wilds.
Annapurna calls me in to bring experience to a team that is usually in their last six months to a year of development. Usually, the team will have been developing on PC for maybe a year. I have a lot of experience with game consoles, such as PlayStation. So I bring my expertise to help the teams publish their games on those machines. Sometimes, I’ll just do performance analysis and performance improvement. The team might just need another programmer for a few months to come in and make the game run a little faster.
What do you hope players gain from playing Maquette?
The story is very moving, and I hope players get a really good experience from that. It’s an emotional story; it’s a story about growth and development. Maquette is one of these games that’s really a piece of art–Annapurna produces a lot of these. It’s like a piece of literature or a film, where they have something deeper in them. I think players and critics are going to find it moving like I did, and say, “I learned a little something about myself by experiencing Maquette.”
Also, I think people will go online and discuss the puzzles. Some of the puzzles are truly puzzling. People will have conversations with strangers and friends online about this game. I think that’s really the exciting part. Some people get really excited about solving the puzzle themselves, but for me, solving a puzzle in a group is more fun.