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IndieCade 2011: Tom Sennett cares about Deepak Fights Robots

When Tom Sennett stepped on stage to pick up the Game Design award at this year’s IndieCade, his entire speech suggested strongly that he doesn’t, um, really care. But here’s his secret: He actually does. “I take the work very seriously,” he said. When it comes to Deepak Fights Robots (currently available on Mac, Windows and Linux), Sennett actually cares very much.

Sure, the graphics look like they were created with free software and a mouse (they were), the action ranges from surreal to nonsensical, and the game’s funky soundtrack and aesthetic (that extended even to the signs around Sennett’s IndieCade display, as seen above) might make you think Deepak Fights Robots is just a joke. It is funny, but once you dive into the game mechanics at play here, there’s a surprising amount of depth and insight built on just a few standard platformer-style tropes.

Deepak Fights Robots “started as a collaboration between myself and Matt Thorson,” Sennett said. “He made this prototype where there was a character that was pretty much powerless, and had to avoid all of these enemies. He showed it to me and was like, I don’t know what to do with this, and I suggested, how about at the end of the level, you get some kind of weapon or powerup so you can turn around and kill all of those enemies? That’s kind of where it came from.” Thorson later moved on to work on other things, but Sennett stuck with the idea that eventually turned into this release a year later.

In the game, you play as Deepak, a bespectacled and blue-tied Indian worker who’s thrown into a labyrinth of robots. Deepak needs to jump around a series of stages collecting atomic bits and trying to avoid the deadly robots in the rooms with him. Pick up enough atoms, and he gets super-powered, able to fly anywhere in the level and crush the robots with ease, until it’s on to the next room, back to his weak form, and back in search of atoms again.

That simple framework makes for lots and lots of really incredible experimental gameplay. Sennett plays with platforming tropes at first — Deepak simply has to jump around a series of platforms to collect his items and avoid the enemies. But then you come across enemies that mimic your movement, or levels with complicated traps and layouts. Deepak operates with Pac-Man rules (leave one side of the screen, show up on the other), so some levels are experiments in minimalism, with Deepak and the robots simply falling infinitely from top to bottom onscreen as he tries to grab the atoms. There are also nods to other indie games, like VVVVVV, which Sennett says was a big influence.

Not all of that complexity is apparent right away, even to folks who should probably know better. “I applied for Steam back before I released it, and I got rejected,” he says. “I didn’t really try and sell it to them, I was kind of just like here’s the game, play it. And there’s a lot of secret content, there’s a lot of stuff going on in the background that you wouldn’t really catch the first time through. I’m sure they see tons of games.” Sennnett wants it clear that there’s no hard feelings against Steam, however: “I might be re-applying at some point.”

As for a console release, Deepak seems like it would work well (the controller at IndieCade was an actual NES Advantage, since there’s only one button needed for jumping), but Sennett isn’t sure if he wants to take that on. “I haven’t even tried, I haven’t approached anybody. But I’ve heard — have you heard about Super Meat Boy? Those guys, their experience developing for Xbox sounds like a nightmare.” If the deal was right, Sennett says he would consider it, but “a year or two-year journey where no one’s going to care about the game half as much as you do? Then yeah, I’d be a little iffy on it.”

Sennett himself just got a day job working on mobile applications, and he says he’s doing more relaxing into a routine than working on game development currently. But he’s got ideas that he plans to get back to in the future. Don’t let the swagger fool you — Deepak Fights Robots is a flash, MS Paint-styled, tiger-riding visual trip of a game, but Tom Sennett put all the thought and care into it that he could.

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