Interview: qomp2 Devs Tease More Atari Collaborations “Very Soon”
qomp2 is a game about freedom and personal identity, similar to its prequel. It offers players more puzzles and improved mechanics, further expanding upon Atari’s most classic game, Pong, which was the first ever game to attain “wide-scale public attention.” Considering how simple and linear Pong was, Graphite Lab has really shown its creative and talented side with the depiction of these elements.
In order to understand the inspiration behind different themes in qomp2 and the challenges of taking on such a significant title, we decided to speak with Brad Austrin and Matt Raithel, Lead Designer and Executive Producer of qomp2, respectively, over an email interview.
Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your work on qomp2.
Brad: I’m Brad Austrin, the Lead Designer behind qomp2. In the designer role, I wrote the game’s initial pitch, authored its GDD and design bible, and designed a large portion of the game’s levels. I was responsible for the game’s story and designed the initial rough designs for the game’s obstacles and bosses. I also directed the game’s sound and music efforts! Outside of my work as a game developer, I’m a teacher and archivist and a passionate fan of video games and many creators.
Matt: I’m Matt Raithel, Executive Producer on qomp2. My efforts were largely in production, that is making sure the right people were on the project, connecting with Atari and sharing the team’s progress, and ultimately, I had the awesome job of playtesting the game and providing feedback along the way.
Are there any specific mechanics or features from qomp that you wanted to improve in the sequel?
Brad: A lot of the new mechanics were born out of things I wanted as a player in my first playthrough of the original qomp. I had several moments where I would be like, “Man, I wish there were collectibles for me to look for,” or “It would be cool if there was a way to dash and move faster! And! And! If I could like, kick off walls to do an instant boost, that might feel great to time!”. All those ideas were incorporated into the game’s first pitch and made it into the final game.
One thing that I also kept running into in the original qomp was “rebound” situations, moments where you would hit a wall and end up moving backward, but you’d have no good opportunity to immediately turn around until a wall came around. That was one element that I was conscious of when designing new levels, trying to make it so that any rebounds that players could recover from those rebound moments as fast as possible to limit frustration and keep the game flowing.
Lastly, there were harder puzzles in the first one that I wanted to just kind of stop and look at, but there wasn’t really a way to do that. In qomp2, we’ve added what I call “magnets” in many rooms. By charging a dash near a magnet, the player can gravitate and essentially stop moving inside of it. So, players can hold their ball in place to observe the room and think for as long as they’d like!
Seeing as how Pong is one of the simplest titles, what led the team to take this different approach to it?
Matt: Our work on qomp2 wouldn’t be possible without foundation laid by Stuffed Wombat and the original qomp. That was the game that really started us down this path. Here in the second game, we were very cautious to maintain that sense of simplicity from the original while offering some new elements, such as the dash mechanic.
While Pong's historical significance is certainly very high, was there any other reason, besides that significance, that you revisited the game?
Matt: qomp was such a tightly designed game that it left a lot of opportunities for us to explore mechanically. So, from our view as a developer, there were still some interesting stories to tell and mechanics to explore in the sequel. That made it attractive for us to imagine this new installment of the franchise.
How did you go about adding boss fights in qomp2? Did you take any inspiration from another piece of media?
Brad: The first qomp had boss fights, but going into qomp2, it was my intention to ramp them up and make each one feel unique. One of the boss fights in the game is a nod to Atari’s Warlords, another Pong-like game featuring balls and paddles. I’d say it’s more than just a “Look, cool Atari reference!” since the game’s concept meshes well with the themes of this game. I’ll keep the rest vague since I don’t want to spoil anything! One of the late-game bosses is visually reminiscent of an iconic enemy from Castlevania. Another takes inspiration from Neversoft’s Spider-Man game from 2000, if you’re familiar with the final boss in that one! I tried to channel that anxious energy I had when I first played that chase segment, where I always felt like that foe was right behind me and that the end could come at any second.
What would you say are the major challenges of taking concepts from old classics like Pong?
Matt: When taking concepts from older games, there are a lot more challenges than one might assume. You want to bring forward the spirit of the old game but may not want to replicate it exactly – that is, you want to innovate in some way. But then again, we all occasionally will find ourselves looking at a remake or a reboot and lamenting a change that disrupts elements of a classic version that we hold dear. So that may be the biggest challenge of all – what do you change, and what do you retain?
Aside from Pong, is there another classic game that you think would translate well into a whole new perspective?
Brad: A ton, for sure! Thinking about Atari specifically, there are lots of interesting things that could be done with many of their classic games, both high and low profile. I’d love to do a qomp-esque inversion of Centipede. One where the gameplay focuses on cute versions of the Centipede that the player must direct while the bug blaster is the scary menace. I’ve actually got a concept written up for a bizarre puzzle game along those lines. If you’re reading this, Atari, let’s try to make it a reality someday!
After its release, are you considering another installment in the series or perhaps a different project altogether?
Matt: Our team at Graphite Lab is always working on a variety of projects; hopefully, we’ll get to share news of those Atari collaborations very soon! One of our original titles called Hive Jump Survivors is currently part of Steam Next Fest and is featured on Itch.io’s New and Popular charts. That game is a spinoff of our 2019 game Hive Jump. Fans of bullet heaven-style action games like Brotato and Vampire Survivors will feel right at home in that one.
Were there any mechanics or pieces of content you wanted to add but couldn't?
Brad: Yep. In the early design stages, there were plans to add something called a “Darkness Zone.” A radius of light surrounding the player’s ball would be the only source of illumination in these zones, and entering a “Pool of Light” would allow that radius to grow. I also had plans for a “Reward Box,” which was basically a spinning reel that you would need to time your dash into to get some kind of prize like a key or collectible. There were also plans for an asynchronous multiplayer feature, but all of these ideas had to be axed for the sake of time and budget, unfortunately!
Anything else you would like to share with the readers?
Brad: I want to thank you for your interest in qomp2! While qomp1 can be described in a sentence as “a story about freedom,” qomp2 can be described as “a story about identity.” As you take part in the ball’s journey forward, I’d love for you to think about all the elements in the game and how they contribute towards that concept, from the ball’s new circular shape and controls to the obstacles that stand in your way. We took extra care in making sure all the elements in this minimalist game were consistently tied to its themes! I may have my own interpretation, but ultimately, what this game means to you is something only you can decide!
Matt: Thanks for checking out the game! As an indie team, it’s always a thrill to see players sharing the game on social media or making their own videos and that sort of thing. So please reach out to us or tag us @graphitelab so we can repost and share your love for qomp2!
qomp2 is a retro-inspired classic puzzle game developed by Graphite Lab and published by Atari. It will be released on PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, Nintendo Switch, Atari VCS, and PC on February 20, 2024.
Shoaib Rashid is a passionate Gamer and an experienced writer who has been covering the Gaming Industry for over 3 Years. He started his career as a freelance journalist, writing reviews, previews, news, guides, and features for various industries. He joined VA Gaming as a Writer in 2022 and was promoted to Content Editor in 2023, where he oversees the editorial tasks and ensures the quality and accuracy of the content.
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